The Perils of Asking for Too Much Personal Data

Almost every website collects personal data. It's useful for various reasons, but you have to be wary of the drawbacks. Collecting data is not only a legal burden. Even a single mistake in your web forms can be costly if you're not aware of it. Your visitors hate unnecessary fields. Have you ever considered that your site might be asking for too much personal data?

Article by Dawid Zimny
I am particularly interested in web analytics. Knowing the way your visitors browse your website will help you improve their browsing experience and is crucial for converting them into clients.

A possible €20,000,000 GDPR data breach penalty would be an extreme example, but you still might be losing money because of how you collect data. In our blog post about the European data protection law, we have explained what data is classified as personal.

While legal issues aren’t to be taken lightly, we are not lawyers. Let’s leave them aside and focus on how you can improve web forms on your site to retain your visitors.

How much personal data do you really need?

Most people don’t like sharing personal data. Even though nowadays visitors auto-fill the forms, they need to feel they’re getting enough back and it often comes down to seemingly trivial matters. The removal of a single field in a web form resulted in $12,000,000 increase in sales for Expedia, an online travel agency.

For example, there is no need to have “First name” and “Last name” fields in a newsletter sign up form. Merging them into one “Name” form will increase its conversion rate.

A shorter web form increases its conversion rate
A single “Name” field seems less personal, easier to fill and will have a better conversion rate in a simple newsletter web form.

Removing one field not only makes the form appear as more attractive, it also gives your visitors a choice. They might prefer to input their first name only because it doesn’t seem as personal as their full name.

This basic example works for newsletters and simple contact forms but what if you’re selling products or offering service and require more personal information?

How to ask for personal data?

Keep it short and simple

If you really need to ask for more data, especially sensitive like a phone number, specify why! If filling your form will result in a purchase make it noticeable that the transaction is safe.

Your form shouldn’t feel like a questionnaire. If it’s really long you could split it into multiple pages, allowing the user to visually track their progress with a progress bar. If you decide to do so, don’t go overboard. Only use a few pages and double-check if the smaller forms contain cohesive fields.

Pay attention to the design

For longer forms, it will be helpful to highlight the current field. You might also want to avoid asterisks or red “required” text, especially if the majority of your fields are mandatory.

Instead, you should opt for an “optional” tag next to appropriate fields. This not only makes the form look cleaner, it also tells people that they have a choice. If your form screams “required” from most of its fields, it might present itself as requiring more personal data than it actually does.

Validate user input

Last but not least, your web forms require proper validation. It only takes a few failed attempts to discourage your visitors. Sometimes all it takes is one false validation error and you lost a client. Make sure your form accepts special characters in the name fields. Don’t penalize your visitors if they input postcode as L40TH instead of L4 0TH.

Summing it up – a good web form gives your visitors incentive, is easy to fill and has good validation. Look at them from the point of view of a visitor and be open to change. One tweak might be all it takes to significantly increase your conversion rate.

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