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I Want My Milliseconds! Make Your Online Forms More User-Friendly

More often that not these days, when I am completing an online form with my mailing or contact information, the "Country" drop-down menu seems to think I live in Cambodia.  It’s the first country that pre-populates the field when I type in "C" and the next country on the list after Burundi.

In this case, simple alphabetical listings decrease usability.

Fortunately, there are several ways to increase the usability of online forms:  (Confidential to marketers: this may seem a little geeky, but your friends in web development will be impressed when you come armed with practical solutions and not just hand-wringing and shouting "make it better".  Trust me.)

(1) Sophisticated sites know their customer base and they will pre-sort their dropdown menus to include, for example, the USA and Canada, at the top of the list.  Really easy to do.  Below is an example from the Globe and Mail – they know their customers!


(2) IP Location software can pre-populate forms for customers who have basic, visible data points. Take the simple example of a user login from Canada. Certain dropdown information such as country of origin, postal code, IP and domain name can be identified and pre-loaded in to the fields using tools such as IP2Location.


(3) AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), is a group of inter-related web development techniques used for creating interactive web applications. AJAX lets web data load "behind the scenes" from a customer’s perspective. This increases the web page’s interactivity, speed, functionality and usability.  One example which addresses the "Cambodian" problem: type recognition.  Type recognitions allows real-time intelligent interaction with a database. So, a customer would be able to type "CAN…" to get "Canada" rather than have to scroll through Cambodia, Cameroon or Cape Verde.

For more info on AJAX and how it can save your customer time, check out this video from MarketingProfs on Simplifying AJAX for Marketers.  It’s an American example, but you get the idea.

So by making some tweaks to your online forms, milliseconds of time are saved for the customer.  I need my milliseconds and so do your customers!

What are your pet peeves about online forms?  Share them here!


  1. sean moffitt
    sean moffitt April 30, 2008

    phone number/postal code entry and nneding to adhere to prescribed formats (dash/no dash) …
    needing to set up a new email account to access userid and password (flickr)
    populating all previously misspelled versions of my userid vs. posting to the top my most frequently used version

  2. Kate Trgovac
    Kate Trgovac April 30, 2008

    Oh, that postal code one drives me nuts! Canadian Tire has that issue on their “splash” screen. Seriously, you’re Canadian Tire .. can’t you fix that?

  3. Kathryn Lagden
    Kathryn Lagden May 1, 2008

    I’d really like to see type recognition when entering province. Some forms have provinces grouped separately at the bottom of the dropdown, others include them in the alphabetical listing of all the states. I lose precious milliseconds figuring out where to find the provinces before I even get to selecting ON. Let me just type ON and narrow the options so I can easily select from the list.

  4. Pete
    Pete February 16, 2009

    I like it when the cursor is already in the form’s first field.
    Also that it moves from input field to input field intuitively as I go through the form.

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