“Aw fer cryin’ out loud knock it off!” It seems that even though online marketing is now entering its third decade, far too many professionals in the industry continue to have a highfalutin impression of their own importance to their customers that they blindly continue to make truly massive miscalculations and outright errors when it comes to their signup forms. Since they have deluded themselves that they need to collect a huge amount of information at signup in order to “better serve the customer” it is a lost cause to try to convince them that not only are they actually pushing customers away, but if they carefully look at the data which they are managing to obtain, most of it is garbage and gobbledygook.

Enormous barriers between customers and offerings
Far too many companies will place enormous barriers between their customers and their online offerings to the point where they are minimizing their own compliance rates. There are far too many offers of a free download of an ebook, white paper, report, or study which are guarded by overlong onerous forms with every single field marked with that evil red asterisk denoting mandatory field entry. Some of these forms truly cross the line between information gathering and outright intrusion with obligatory fields such as:

  • Name, address & phone – Ok, it’s fair enough to ask for an email address for a confirmation (and a double opt-in to your subscription list) but why do you need their physical address and phone number? You’re doing nothing more than creating a fear in the customer that they will start receiving junk postal mail and even telemarketing calls. Congratulations, you’ve just lost a potential customer!
  • Title & company info – What is the point of asking if the person is a CEO or a mail room employee? Isn’t it enough that they are interested in your offering? And don’t companies with 1-10 employees count as much as the ones with 1,000+ employees? So why ask the question if it has no relevance to the situation?
  • Areas of interest – I recently came across a form where in order to access the download I had to check off from not one but two long lists of areas of particular interest. These were so technically specific that even though I’ve written thousands of articles on online activities, I had absolutely no idea what a single one of them actually meant! If you’re asking your customers to jump through hoops which only the ultimate meganerds can actually decipher, you’re really in the wrong line of work.

The signup form is not the place to collect this data
There is a time and a place to collect information like this but the signup form is emphatically not the place to do that. The collection of information like this is best kept until the individual has signed up and in the best possible case become a happy member of your email subscription list. At that time you can ask them to enter fully optional information into their Preferences Center or harvest that data through a series of again fully optional surveys and polls, backed up by the promise of a valuable incentive or entry into a sweepstakes or contest with a series of sought after prizes. The data that you collect through a reasonable participation with the customer based on how well you can motivate them is going to be far more accurate and useful than the type you glean by making it the only way to break through the wall that you’ve erected around your offering. Isn’t the whole point of signup to show that your company values its customers?

This advice is surely falling on deaf ears, as online marketers will continue stuffing their signup forms with all types of “everything including the kitchen sink” junk which only acts to minimize the quality and quantity of the data they collect. After all, there is no reason why the customer is not going to obtain the barricaded download by entering:

Name: Santa Claus
Address: 123 Elves Hut Road, North Pole, Alaska
Phone: 555-555-1212
Title: Toy Distributor

… and so on…