Ditch the PDF: Benefits of Taking Forms Online

Get tips on when to upgrade your paper and PDF forms to online forms as a way to increase conversion and improve user experience.

Many moons ago, it made sense that in order to put your forms online, you had to make them PDFs. But in the 21st century, online forms are the best path to user engagement and conversion.

It’s Time to Mature Your Forms

While it’s true that portable document formats (PDFs) are also web-accessible, they’re not user- or conversion-friendly.

Since 2003, Nielsen Norman Group – the foremost experts on web user experience – noted that PDFs are “unfit for human consumption,” stating that it’s too easy for users to get lost in a big, linear “text blob” that are optimized for print and not for the screen.

Moving your PDF forms online saves time, money, hassle, and improves the user experience and likelihood that whoever you’re targeting will fill it out. Plus, choosing the right form solution partner should include partial completion tracking and outreach, analytics tracking, and reports.

Who’s Really Downloading Your PDFs?

You probably track your PDF downloads somewhere, often in Google Analytics. You might be able to see how many visitors go there, but once that user (seemingly) prints off the form, are you able to track when they come back to your door?

Probably not.

The beauty of online form providers is they bake in analytics and dashboards so you can monitor the success (or failure) of your forms and the intended audience. With these analytics, you can track things like:

  • Frequency of form being accessed
  • Completions or incomplete submissions (so you can follow up, if necessary)
  • User paths, or where the user started from to get to the form

Tying Google Analytic tracking, such as goals and events, also gives you a realer and more financially trackable away to monitor the success of your forms.

How Usable Are Your PDF Forms?

Paper and PDF forms were all we had for the longest time, but with the advancement of online form technology, you can create more meaningful, intuitive forms that help people provide information quicker.

Marketing professional Josh Gee found that online forms could, in fact, be built much nicer than an old-school PDF when he started moving government forms for the city of Boston to an online format.

“I initially thought there would be a strong demand for submissions that look exactly like current paper forms,” Gee writes, “That hasn’t been the case. In all but one or two cases, I was not only able to move the forms online, but also suggest changes that made forms shorter, more clear, and more accessible.”

A more recent study found that forcing users to browse PDF files causes frustration and slower task completion. If a PDF is necessary, Nielsen Norman Group recommends following their 10-point checklist.

Can Everyone Use Your Form?

More specifically, is your form accessible to users regardless of ability, device, or browsing preference?

Online forms are great because they can be completed on any device, from laptops to tablets to smartphones. But on top of that, online forms are better integrated for accessibility solutions, such as screen readers, which help people navigate the web more easily.

While tools like Adobe Acrobat have options for making your PDF accessible, that doesn’t always work on things like photocopied forms. You’ll have to put in quite a bit more work across all your PDFs to ensure they’re inclusive and accessible to all audiences.

Make Your Forms Accessible to All

Maybe you’re staring at hundreds of forms shuffled away in a file, or you’re thinking about all the places you use PDFs on your website today. It might seem like a daunting task to upgrade all of your PDFs to online forms, but here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Prioritize the forms that matter most. Which forms have the highest rate of conversion? Which forms get consumers on the phone or in your door? Start with those forms first.
  2. Review your forms with an eye to improve. Just because it had 75 fields on its first iteration that you photocopied, doesn’t mean it can’t be cleaned up and streamlined when you move it to an online form. Identify fields that are no longer needed, and remember to follow helpful guidelines to make the most user-friendly forms.
  3. Identify any forms that need special security. If you’re asking for payment or health information, you’ll want to make sure you choose a forms solution that offers business associate agreements (BAAs) for HIPAA coverage, as well as any payment security.
  4. Set a few goals for yourself. The beauty of online forms is you can track their success over time. If you have forms specifically for audience conversion, give yourself an idea for what type of completion rate you’d like to see. Monitor it over time, and use it as a benchmark to report back to your team or stakeholders
  5. Ask for help. If you’re not sure where to start with moving your paper and PDF forms online, talk to potential partners and find out what types of services and support they offer to help you get the job done. Ask about strategic form building services, migration support, and more.

Ask for Demos

When you’re shopping for forms solutions, keep an eye out for vendors that offer up-close-and-personal demos of the product so you can ask all the right questions to find the right partner. Check out our helpful list of three features to look for when selecting a form builder.

If you’re ready to get started, contact Formulate and request a demo today. We can’t wait to show you all the things we can do to help your business thrive.