Making a quick capture

9th January 2017 • Features

by James Lawson, Contributing Editor

Online registration forms sit at the heart of much online marketing, which makes rapid addressing solutions a vital tool in quick, accurate data capture.

Jason Goodwin | general manager, EDQ
Mark Carrington | chief technologist, Data8
Neville Hilton | sales & marketing director, AFD Software
Phil Good | managing director, Hopewiser
Sarah Jones | online marketing executive, PCA Predict

Designing effective online registration pages is something of an art, balancing the value of what the registrant receives with what they are prepared to hand over in the way of individual data. Rapid addressing pays a major role in making this capture process swift, simple and accurate for customer and company alike.

Data collection is most challenging when the site visitor isn’t buying anything and so has no vested interest in providing the correct contact data for payment and postal delivery. Landing page copy, layout and call-to-action all play their part in persuading the visitor to supply their contact details, but the main barrier is the length of the registration form itself.

“If you don’t need a piece of information and there is evidence of resistance, don’t ask for it,” says Neville Hilton, Sales & Marketing Director at AFD Software. “If you need information, the reason should be obvious or stated succinctly along with reassurance about how you will protect and limit the use of that information. An incentive is nearly always a good idea.”

A compromise has to be made here between the extent and accuracy of the data, and completion rates. Some years ago, B2B marketing software vendor Marketo tested various form lengths and found that moving to a short web registration form with five or fewer fields delivered a 34% boost in conversion rates while cutting cost per conversion by about 25%.

“Requiring a landline number is a common bugbear for today’s customers, and by requesting this, their preferred flavour of popcorn and everything in between, you’re wasting their time,” says Jason Goodwin, General Manager at EDQ. “Irrelevant data also requires more time and effort in maintenance and storage, as well as complicating your compliance task of explaining why the data is needed.”

Just as consumers reveal their email in return for updates on their favourite bands, the swapping of contact data for valued content is now a common feature of online b2b marketing. For example, basic information on customer management software might be free to all but a more in-depth white paper on selecting the right application, an ROI calculator or an RFP template will be “gated”; getting hold of it means filling out a registration form.

In one case study, HP reduced its confusing 15-field monster of a registration form to five essential fields. It also collected visitors’ IP addresses and email domain names to cross-reference them with third-party data.

The new form yielded a 40% conversion rate – an increase of 186%. Where length is being cut to the bone, putting the most important fields at the top is the way to go.

“Get the critical data that allows you to contact the person first,” says Mark Carrington, Chief Technologist at Data8. “You can capture this data as you go without waiting for them to click ‘Submit’ at the bottom, so you haven’t lost everything if they give up.”

Where immediate delivery is not the reason for data capture, sometimes name and email is enough to start with. Other data items can be captured on subsequent visits as part of a “drip feed” data collection programme.

Rapid addressing obviously plays a vital part in short-and-sweet sign-up. Simply asking for postcode and street number is usually enough to return the correct UK address from PAF: far quicker than laboriously entering it all manually.

“Saving your customer the inconvenience of typing in their house number, street, city, county and postcode when they register on your website can be the difference between a completed registration and someone giving up along the way,” says Goodwin.

Predictive addressing tools from the likes of PCA Predict or Data8 will only need one capture field. The user simply types in their address and picks the correct match from the returned results. Outside the UK, where reference data is sparser or to check the accuracy of input data, letting the visitor validate their address from a drop-down list as they type in their details is often a better solution.

“Don’t make postcode a mandatory field for international orders,” advises Sarah Jones, Online Marketing Executive at PCA Predict. “There are still many countries that don’t use postcodes at all.”

As the Royal Mail hasn’t required postal counties within addresses for decades, that’s one field that can be dispensed with. If incorporating a county field, Carrington notes that it’s wise, “not to restrict counties to drop down lists unless you’re prepared to keep them up to date.”

Using a visitor’s IP address to derive country of origin can be a clever way to shorten the process by one more field, but unfortunately IP is not a foolproof identifier of location. Autocomplete can have the same hazards.

“You have to be careful with autocomplete, especially where the customer is buying a gift and it’s not being sent to their home address,” says Phil Good, Managing Director of Hopewiser. “Using IP to prefill fields is also potentially a way to build in errors.”

“We use IP to bias the results to find the correct local address more quickly and the results are returned to the user for confirmation,” says Jones. “Our clients can turn it off if they want to.”

An alternative use for IP is to prioritise the order in which countries are presented in a pick list. This way, the customer’s most likely country comes first.

“Setting a country list in A-Z order with Afghanistan at the top is always a pain,” says Hilton. “It’s best to pre-set the country based on IP address or apply the 80/20 rule based on site usage.”

Once the address is complete, you can give customers the option to amend the details, perhaps to a preferred or vanity name. At the same time, you can store multiple address options for different delivery points – home, office, gift addresses for relatives and so on.

Amazon is the best known practitioner of this approach (though it doesn’t use rapid addressing). “Amazon splits addresses into billing and multiple delivery addresses which gives customers the choice of which ones to use,” notes Good.

Email is becoming just as valuable as physical address, so validating that on capture is an excellent idea too. Many vendors now offer on-demand services to do just that.

“We include email address validation with our address validation solutions so that an immediate check can be carried out regarding its validity,” says Hilton. “If the email address is still wrong after a request to re-enter it, it’s probably best to ignore the enquiry.”

Using validation also removes that irritating need to type in email address twice. Instead, customers and browsers get on-screen confirmation they’ve entered it correctly as the validation service immediately parses its structure and can even confirm if the address is active.

“This way, you can also prevent people from using disposable email addresses which are often linked to the misuse of voucher codes,” notes Goodwin. “Similarly, with mobile phones you can check a correct number is entered, right down to finding out if the phone is switched on and in the expected country. It’s a useful tool to prevent fraud.”

As mobile becomes the dominant browsing and ecommerce platform, companies need to design capture forms that work on smaller screen sizes, are suitable for finger rather than mouse navigation and also use mobile-specific addressing tools. For example, Hopewiser offers its FastAddress mobile app, powered by its AddressServer in the Cloud at the back end.

“A lot of people are now using our mobile form as part of their websites,” says Good. “We’re currently re-building our own website to be mobile-first.”

Whether for mobile, tablet or desktop, the rise of on-demand cloud services has certainly made rapid addressing much easier to build into websites. Simply drop in the pre-formatted code and off you go.

“Our customers don’t want lines of code, they just want it to work,” states Good. “Modern technology makes it very easy, we use a wizard to take developers through it step by step to build it into their website.”

It’s now easier for developers to integrate address validation solutions using the many plug-ins available for platforms such as Magento and OpenCart. Recent changes to PAF licensing have also made it more cost effective for internal company usage. Regular updating is vital though, as data sets are held centrally and look-ups delivered on demand for most users these days, this is usually taken care of solely by vendors.

One option when building addressing into a web capture form is whether to go for just the standard PAF reference file or to also use the Royal Mail’s additional data sets. Employing the full range maximises the chances of an accurate match during capture.

“The UK has a large number of multiple residences, such as flat conversions, which are not always captured in PAF,” explains Goodwin. “Using the Multiple Residence file along with PAF fills the gap with an extra 300,000 addresses. Adding Not Yet Built will ensure people in new build homes can access your services as soon as they move in – 143,000 new home builds were started in 2015.”

He also suggests taking advantage of the many enhancement variables available to append useful information to the customer postcode as part of the capture process. “You could make the jobs of your delivery drivers a lot easier by including latitude/longitude details, whether a property is a house or flat, and how far the property lies from the road,” Goodwin says.

When it comes to standard b2b or b2c demographics, in many cases it may be actually more effective to buy in and tag extra fields than to ask for it during registration. It could also be more accurate – because site visitors lie on registration forms all the time.

A 2011 study by Blue Research found 88% of consumers had given incorrect profile information. So combining the higher completion rate of a short form to get the basic contact data and then tagging on inexpensive b2b or b2c demographics could be both cheaper and more accurate overall.

An alternative, fast-growing registration option is social sign-on. Instead, visitors can quickly access a site by logging into their preferred social media service (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter). That same 2011 study found that 77% of consumers favoured social log-in over conventional registration, with 54% saying they might abandon a website if asked to fill out a form.

“It speeds up data input and removes the need for customers to remember all those different passwords,” says Jones. “But just remember that physical address still needs to be captured as that’s not usually on a social profile.”

The upside should be access for the site owner to rich social profile information. However there are other pitfalls.

“Consumers that employ social log-in extensively are very exposed if their social media credentials are compromised,” says Hilton. “Organisations are hitching themselves to a third party brand’s reputation while social log-in doesn’t work in health, finance and education.”

Finally, once a form is ready, good direct marketing practice dictates that rigorous testing of competing alternatives is the only way to optimise the critical sign-on process. With all this advice in mind, can you meet the registration challenge?

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