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Say I have membership and donation forms on the website of a not-for-profit organisation. The form is split into multiple stages such that the user submits the first stage (eg. details) and then the second stage (eg. payment) — as in, they have to click a submit button, wait for a round trip to the server, etc.

What effect, if any, does splitting up a form like this have on conversion rate — compared to presenting a single stage with the same number of details? I'd especially like to know if studies have been done that quantify any difference in conversion rate (even studies on commercial organisations would help).

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You can easily find this out for your own forms with Google Analytics "Goals": support.google.com/googleanalytics/bin/… –  Matthew Lock Apr 4 '12 at 4:40
    
@MatthewLock - I didn't know that! But I'd still like to know about any studies on this :) –  detly Apr 4 '12 at 5:24
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If this is a critical part of your website and your development can do so, you really should make use of A/B test. Google Analytics and Website Pptimizer can help here as well. –  greenforest Apr 4 '12 at 5:52
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A List Apart had a good article about single page, multi page and accordion forms. –  Alvin Apr 19 '12 at 6:39
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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I agree with user12999 that the main answer is "it depends". No amount of research of other forms is going to give you a solid answer to this question, because the context — and content — of each specific form will influence the result.

Some thoughts in addition to those of user12999:

  • During usability tests, I have met users who prefer one screen (sometimes no matter how long it is) and I have met users who prefer multiple screens. You're never going to come up with a form that is the ideal for everyone.
  • Chunking into pages can help increase conversion because: it can make the first step less daunting; can minimise the chance of data being lost mid-complete; and can make the overall process seem simple.
  • Conversely, chunking into pages could decrease conversion because: more than one step can make the process seem longer and more burdensome.
  • A big way to maximise conversion and user satisfaction is to manage expectations. If you're transparent up-front about what's going to happen — e.g. first some personal details, then payment info — then there's less chance the form-filler will be (negatively) surprised when this happens.
  • By optimising your form's visual design, a one-page form can seem less intimidating (e.g. by grouping the fields into sections, using accordion show/hide to keep only one section 'live' at a time, using whitespace wisely etc).

Good luck, and if you do some A/B testing, please share the results.

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I like very much the manage expectations. Users drop on a negative expectations bottom line. A nice touch is to show the user she can move back and forward in a multi-page form. Also, using js in order to make page swhitches very fast. Maybe if there there is a button for each step, showing its content on hover, both a title "CC data" and the number of fields or a thumbnail. –  Juan Lanus Nov 11 '12 at 15:55
    
+1, especially on managing expectations. BJ Fogg's model of behaviour design states a task is perceived simple until it requires a resource (e.g. money, time, cognitive cycles) that the user does not have. If you want to make a task appear simple, set expectations high. Practically, this may be (1) acknowledging a task is hard (don't make the user feel stupid), (2) letting the user know it's easy despite the number of steps (e.g. "2 minutes from..."), or (3) setting the tone with that first page or section of the form (e.g. step 1 is easy => step 2 should be easy as well) via visual design. –  VevWong Nov 12 '12 at 2:37
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It depends. Sites like http://www.abtests.com/ or https://whichtestwon.com/past-tests (latter is quite commercial) will give you an impression how even very similar tests will have different outcomes.

Studies or best practices will give you some guidance and a good start. In order to really optimize your site (and conversion rates, that's what you're looking for here) you will need to (A/B) test. Google Analytics and Google Website Optimizer can help a lot.

Thoughts:

  • If it's a non-profit organization and you want people to donate - think about what's really required vs. what's optional (e.g. address for donation receipt might be optional, thus fields do not need to be shown in 1st step)
  • Single page forms are often long and appear more complex - typically you see a high bounce rate here (users abandoning the site/form in the first step because it looks like a lot of work to fill the form)
  • With more steps you will loose users in between (errors, loading times) but in total it might be less than in one long form as the small chunks are easier to 'digest'
  • One way to tackle this: (technically) load everything at once to avoid the sever round trip in between but visually split it into more steps using javascript (e.g. accordion form)
  • If you've got some time and budget then have specialized forms for certain use cases (e.g. membership sign up different than one-time donation) to address each case individually
  • Again, testing is key - maybe start with wireframes and guerilla user testing to develop some hypothesis and later A/B test them

Always worth a look is Luke Wroblewski's book on form design. His website also has lots of insights.

Again, it really depends on your site, context, target users, design etc. and testing is the only way to get evidence. The web is full of examples and serious studies usually put a disclaimer into their findings that it worked for their setup but might not necessarily be applicable to other sites.

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If you have a multiple-page form, definitely let the user know how many steps there are to completion, what the steps are, and what step they are currently on. As a user, I can think of many frustrating situations I've encountered while filling out a multi-page form and not knowing how long it will take, what I need ahead of time (for example registering for something where I need specific information that I don't know off the top of my head, like a bank account number, tax information, etc.).

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