Finishing the Form Process

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 by Mistlee

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Finishing the Form Process

By Gary Angel

Perhaps my last post on the Microsoft acquisition of Yahoo was premature. It seems like Yahoo’s board is determined to reject that offer and hope for something sweeter. If Microsoft doesn’t sweeten the deal and I was a Yahoo shareholder (I’m not) I think I’d be down at Yahoo’s HQ with a pitchfork and torch. There are plenty of different opinions about whether a deal is good for Microsoft. Not so many about whether it’s good for Yahoo shareholders!

But enough about high-finance and giant companies, I’m returning to my series on Form Abandonment and in this post I’ll talk about what happens AFTER you seal the deal. Because what you do after the deal is often even important than what you did before.

Nearly every Forms process ends with a Thank You page – in the Functional lexicon we call that page the Completer. And it has traditionally been one of the least used and least interesting pages on a site. The primary role of the Thank You page is to be something like a hand-shake: a formal recognition that the deal is done. This formal recognition was especially important in the early days of the web because order processes were so frequently buggy and broken. People wanted to make sure they had really finished successfully.

Even with today’s much more reliable order processes, however, the Completer page is an important part of the process. It marks a psychological boundary between activities. You are now done with X – you can leave or go on to Y.

And that sentence above gets to the gist of the problem. Because most companies just assume that after a Completer Page you will leave. It’s an assumption borne out by the real-world fact that most Completer Pages have very high exit rates.

It’s often a bad assumption though – and even if it’s true it doesn’t mean the Completer should page should be nothing more than a barren Thank You. You just completed some form of significant process with a visitor. You sold them something. Signed them up for something. Registered them. Isn’t there something you’d like them to know beyond “you’re done”?

Part of what makes this opportunity so attractive is that the real-estate on the Thank You page is wide-open. It doesn’t require much space to complete the Thank You. There aren’t too many web pages with as much open real-estate, with no down-side to distracting the visitor, and with a proven high-qualified viewership.

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What can you do with that space?

Quite a lot. Since the visitor has just completed a discrete activity, they are probably open to some route guidance. And every Completer page really should include some suggested routes. We use the percentage of controlled routes from a Completer Page as the PRIMARY measure of success when evaluating their performance. And because the visitor has just done something real on your site, you almost always have powerful targeting cues for what to suggest.

In addition to suggested routes, however, this is a great time to do some brand messaging. And it can also be an excellent time to collect voice-of-customer information.

To some extent, how you use this real-estate will depend on the type of site and the type of process just completed. If you are lead-generation site and a visitor just downloaded a white paper (or equivalent), you’ve just gained dramatic new knowledge about their level and type of interest. Use it! Lead form Completer Pages are especially likely to be lousy – and yet they are also much more likely than eCommerce Completer Pages to retain customers if used properly.

If your customers have just registered for your site or a specific site service, don’t just say thanks. Give them an immediate routing to some new stuff they can/should do. This first entrée into your gated system deserves careful guidance. The more content you can open the visitor up to and the more you can direct them to the right areas, the more likely they are to fall into a valuable usage pattern on your site. No one should underestimate how quickly visitors fall into specific patterns of behavior with respect to a site. And once they’ve established a pattern, it can be really difficult to increase or change their usage.

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About the Author:
Gary Angel is the author of the " SEMAngel blog" - Web Analytics and Search Engine Marketing practices and perspectives from a 10-year experienced guru.

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