Online forms are an essential part of any school’s enrollment strategy. They’re often the very first way a member from your school’s admissions team will get the opportunity to connect with a prospective family. Unfortunately, they’re also often very long, could require login information, aren’t mobile-friendly, and probably look something like this:
What if we told you that these “traditional”, “safe”, and “tried and true” forms are no longer the most effective way to connect with families...and that they may actually be a major issue plugging your admissions funnel?
It’s true. If you’re looking to drive inquiry traffic, a good place to start (aside from essential website design improvements) is your forms. Let’s dive in! Would you rather watch than read? Watch an episode of The School Marketing Show Live!
The Problem with Long Forms
While it’s important to receive a wealth of information from a prospective family in the application process, these long SIS forms can prove to be problematic elsewhere.
Reason #1: Long forms will not resonate with those who are early in your admissions funnel.
The reason that a long form works in the application process is that families who are at this point are at the very bottom of your admissions funnel. They’ve done their research, and they’ve already inquired and have had conversations with you. They don’t mind spending time filling out your lengthy form, because they’ve already invested plenty of time into your school and have made a decision to apply.
The same cannot be said for anyone else.
If someone is simply researching potential schools for their child, they are not going to be eager to answer 10+ questions before even getting to know you. In fact, if your school has a long inquiry form, but another school only asks for a name, email address and phone number, that may be the single barrier that convinces them to inquire at the other school over yours.
Think about it in terms of retail:
If you land on a clothing company website that immediately asks you for your email to get 20% off your first purchase, you may go ahead and submit your email — even before you’ve decided if you’re going to purchase anything. It doesn’t take any time, and if you do decide to move forward with a purchase, you know you’ll get that great discount.
On the other hand, if you land on the same website and get asked to give your name, phone number, address, and clothing size before you even fill up your cart, you would likely be put-off and would leave the site.
Reason #2: Your data is not easy to track.
When you send every form to an external SIS form, the best you can do to track conversions is compare your site traffic to the number of form submissions, because the external URL will not be tracked in your own website analytics. This data can get muddy, because you can’t pinpoint exactly where the user came from on your website. While you may be seeing a low conversion rate, it may not be you, but rather your lengthy forms! However, without good data, any analysis can be hard to inger.
Why You Should Shorten Your Forms
Taking the time to create custom forms for your pages may seem like a big task, but in the long run, it will help your school see more inquiries that will, in turn, lead to higher enrollment.
Reason #1: Shorter forms will get your school more conversions.
We know — that's a strong statement. But, historical data supports it. Reducing the number of form fields to four can potentially result in a 120% increase in conversions (FormAssembly).
Think about our retail example. Someone who is generally researching and is not ready to buy yet is a lot less likely to offer all of their information before exploring the site. The same goes for your school; someone who is simply looking to receive more information may only be willing to offer their email address and phone number, at the most. Requiring anything more from them may result in a lost opportunity.
Reason #2: You will have better control over your site experience.
When you offer a shorter, on-page form experience, you can craft the narrative and adjust the user experience. Having this control will allow you to:
Relevantly meet prospective families “where they are” on various pages.
Offer a diverse form experience based on the corresponding stage of your admissions funnel, catering messaging and form fields to what makes sense for your prospective family.
Keep an eye on whether or not the form is resonating through your data. For example, if you find that many people visit your inquiry page and do not fill out the form, you can try to move your form up further on the page or condense the amount of fields.
Common Short Forms Misconceptions
If your school hasn’t experimented with short forms, it’s probably because you’re a bit nervous about the change. You’re used to using your admissions software or student information system. You like having all of that data. And we hear you — this can be a big and even somewhat uncomfortable change. But, let’s debunk some of these short form myths and misconceptions that may have you waiting longer than you should to make this essential switch!
Misconception #1: We’ll get a lot of junk.
There’s no data that supports that shortening forms automatically results in hundreds of fake submissions from robots. (We checked.) With short forms, you’re going to automatically see an increase in conversions, which may result in lesser-qualified families entering your funnel. But, look at this as an opportunity to qualify and educate them on why your school is so great!
Misconception #2: We won’t have all the data we need to do our jobs.
One of the primary reasons schools don’t opt for short forms is they feel tied to having that data from an inquiry form in their database. But, an inquiry doesn’t mean someone is ready to apply to your school — they’re simply interested in learning more. They don’t need to be in your admissions database. Rather, their information can live in your marketing platform (like Finalsite’s Constituent Manager, Messages and Workflows), until they’re ready to apply.
Misconception #3: Shortening a form will automatically increase conversions.
For those of you who have tried short forms but haven’t seen the promised increase in conversions, there may be some fundamental problems with your digital marketing strategy that you need to address first, including:
Your search engine optimization strategy: can families find you in search?
Your paid ad strategy: are you targeting the right people?
Your website: is it mobile-first, engaging, and easy-to-navigate?
Aside from these factors, your school may have its own specific negative influences on conversions, such as a poor local reputation or steep competition.
Form Best Practices
If you’ve made it this far into this blog, it hopefully means you’re convinced that your school should switch up its forms strategy. Let’s talk about best practices!
Audit Your Current Forms and Plan Ahead
First things first, it’s important that you do an audit of your current forms before making any changes. To do an audit, you’ll need to:
Make a list of all the forms your school currently uses and where they live on your website. Be sure to note the “thank you” page experience that exists — if any.
Gather any conversion data you have — such as total submissions, page traffic vs. submissions, etc. Use this data (if available) to help drive your strategy.
For each form, determine how long it should be, and what the necessary questions are to ask. For example, your inquiry form should look different than your open house RSVP.
Create a Different Form for Each Conversion Opportunity
Once you’ve audited what exists, your marketing and admissions teams will need to work collaboratively to create different forms for the variety of conversion opportunities that exist on your website.
These unique forms should apply to:
General “Request information” pages
Pages that offer a download to a viewbook or another content offer
Open houses and other event registration pages
Donations or fundraising pages
If someone is looking to request more information about your school, for example, would you need the same information as someone who is simply looking to download your viewbook? Probably not. Consider all of the conversion opportunities that you have, and ask yourself if all of the information that you’re requesting is necessary for the goal of the form.
As a reminder, your application form is a unique exception to this rule. You will no-doubt need a lot of information for your application, and your SIS form should still serve as your form for this.
Embed Forms on a Landing Page
Once you’ve determined what the conversion opportunities look like, and how long those forms will be, the next step is to build the landing pages that they will live on. One of the biggest issues with those long SIS or admissions platform forms is the fact that they remove website visitors from your website experience and take them somewhere else. This is confusing for families! By embedding a form on a page on your website, you have the opportunity to control the content and user experience.
We put together this blog on “The Anatomy of the Perfect Admissions Inquiry Page” — a recommended landing page template that works for every conversion opportunity. Here are a few key takeaways for building your landing pages:
Make it mobile-friendly. Families can be visiting your website from anywhere. And if you’re investing in social media ads to drive form conversions, families are most likely visiting from mobile. Optimize your page’s content and form to look great on desktop and mobile.
Tell them what happens next. This is such an easy change that can make a huge difference! What happens after someone inquires? Is it different than when they download a viewbook? When could they expect to hear from someone? How will the viewbook be delivered? While you may know what happens when someone fills out a form, they don’t. And what happens “next” is different for every school — so clearly define what will happen when the form is submitted for a chance to increase conversions.
Focus on answering the “why”. Why should someone donate, inquire, or register for an event? You can’t assume that just because they clicked a button they’re totally convinced. Use photos, videos, statistics, testimonials, and value propositions to help nudge families along to a conversion.
Send Them to a Thank You Page
Once someone converts on a form, you want to capitalize on that momentum. Sending them to a “thank you” page that confirms their submission, serves up their requested content (such as a viewbook) or lets them know what happens next is essential for keeping them engaged. You can also use a thank you page to provide additional conversion opportunities, content offers and information to keep families engaged with your website.
New to thank you pages? Be sure to check out this blog on thank you page best practices before you get started!
Bonus: Enroll Them in a Drip Campaign
One of the greatest benefits of requesting an email address on your short form is to capture someone early in the admissions funnel and send them through an email workflow. Through an automated email campaign, you can send a short series of emails to a potential family that slowly drives home the benefits of attending your school — with the ultimate goal of getting an application and enrolling them. Here are a few email drip campaign ideas to get you started!
While it may be “easy” to send all of your visitors to your current SIS form, these lengthy forms do not resonate with or convert families who are earlier on in their decision stage. Using short, on-page forms for everything except your application form will help you increase your conversions with a better opportunity for higher enrollment. If you’re unsure of whether or not your school’s website experience is where it could be, request a free website report card for some action-oriented feedback!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
As Finalsite's director of demand generation, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, eBooks, and reports, including Finalsite's Inbound Marketing Benchmark Report.