How to Lay Out Form Input Fields

Your goal as a web publisher is maximize the number of (legitimate) respondents to your forms. A first step towards this goal is to lay out your forms in a way that is intuitive to users, makes forms faster to fill in, and minimizes form validation errors.

It follows four points you should consider when designing a web form:

  • choose the most appropriate input field widget for the situation
  • group fields together within logical sections
  • place multi-line text input fields (textarea in HTML) towards the bottom of the form
  • group optional fields together at the bottom of the form

The first point is discussed in details in FormSmarts documentation.

The second point commends, for example, that when you ask people about their contact details, you group all relevant fields (first name, last name, email,…) together. We found that most form designers tend to do that right. The form builder will in the future allow users to define different logical (and visual) sections within web forms.

Multi-line text input fields obviously tend to take longer to fill in than other input fields. They require more effort, thinking and typing, so place them after other fields. Visitors will be less inclined to abandon the form altogether if they have already spent time completing the first part of the form.

The last point is about grouping optional fields together at the bottom of the form. This allows people to quickly review the remaining questions, and skip the fields they don’t want to fill in or don’t apply to them. This may of course conflict with grouping fields within logical sections. In that case, place optional fields at the end of each logical section.

We’ve now enabled comments, and we warmly welcome your thoughts and feedback about this post. if you’re reading this by email, just click on the title to post a reply.

Ever Wished You Could Reorder Fields?

The set of form-making operations supported by FormSmarts form builder was up to now almost complete, allowing to:

  • create a form
  • delete a form
  • edit form properties (name, title, return URL, form filling instructions, recipient email account)
  • add a form input field
  • delete a field
  • edit field properties (name, description, field type, input widget, optional/required)

The last unsupported operation was to allow users to easily change the order in which fields appear on a form. This is often needed to:

  • group fields logically
  • group optional fields together at the bottom of a form
  • insert a field in a existing form
  • move fields around to increase the visual appeal of a form

Reordering fields manually is tedious, as it involves deleting and re-creating fields.

No more. Reordering fields is now a trivial drag & drop: in the fields tab, drag the field you want to move, and drop it in the position you want.

As usual, we welcome your comments and suggestions about this feature.

Text & Background Colors in Embedded Forms

As already mentioned in another post, we are soon going to allow FormSmarts users to customize the look of web forms. This applies in particular to embedded forms.

At this time, the form text color is black, and the form background is transparent. This leads to an issue when the page hosting the form has a black background. If you are affected by this problem, please contact us so we change the text color of your forms to white.

We welcome your suggestions about form look/style configuration options you would find useful, besides colors and border.

Managing Email Accounts & Form Recipients

You can manage the email addresses linked to your FormSmarts account in the Settings tab of the online form builder, under Email Accounts.

Online Form Recipient Settings

Adding an Email Account to FormSmarts

Before you can start using an email address as a form recipient, you must add it to your account and verify it.

To add a new email account to FormSmarts, visit the Settings tab of the form builder. Click the Email Accounts link and enter a name and email address under Add an Account.
FormSmarts verifies that the owner of an email account agrees to his email being used by sending a verification link. Once the email account owner has visited the verification link, the status of that email address will change to Verified. Use the Refresh button to check if a newly added email account has just been verified. You can start using an email address as a form subscriber or as your FormSmarts login as soon as it shows as Verified.

Changing the Email Recipients of a Form

Send Form to Multiple Email Addresses

When you create a new form, responses are sent to your login email address by default. To have a form sent to another email account (or email accounts):

  1. Add a new email address to your account as described in the last section.
  2. Click on the icon showing a pen to edit the relevant form and check or uncheck email subscribers as required (see screenshot above).

Note: An email address will only appear in the list after it has been verified (see previous section).

Changing Your Login Email

You can set any of the verified email addresses registered on your account as your FormSmarts login. Note however that you won’t be able to use an email address as you login if it’s already the login of another account.

A user icon is displayed next to your login email address.

Note: Any email addresses that you use as your login or form recipient has the Active status and cannot be removed (the corresponding trash can will be grayed out).

Removing an Email Address From Your Account

To remove an email address from your FormSmarts account, Visit the Email Accounts pane of the Settings tab and click on the trash can icon corresponding to the email address you want to remove.

Trash can icon grayed out?   The trash can icon will be grayed out if the corresponding email address is still in use as a form recipient by at least one form or is the account’s login. To remove the email address, first edit each of the forms in the Forms tab and uncheck that email address under Form Subscribers (see screenshot above). Then go back to the Settings tab, refresh the list of email accounts, and click on the relevant trash can icon.

Give Feedback!

We welcome your feedback about this feature. This will help us improve it in the future.

Changing a Form’s Recipient Email Address

We get many emails from users asking how they can modify the email address held on their FormSmarts account.

At this time, each FormSmarts account is bound to a single email address. The address is used both as the account username, and as the recipient of all the forms on the account.

We will soon be upgrading FormSmarts Form Builder to provide more flexible email address management.

Users will be able to:

  • change the login email address
  • specify a different recipient email address for each form

How to Embed a Form Into Your Site

Linking or Embedding?

FormSmarts supports two ways to integrate a form into your website or blog: linking and embedding. Embedding lets you place the form on your site alongside other content. Linking gives your form its own separate web page. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Many users think embedding the form into their site gives them more control. That’s far from always being the best option.

Embed a Form When…

  • the web form is short — 10-15 input fields maximum
  • it is self comprehensible and form filling instructions are not needed

Mailing list signup forms and simple contact forms work well embedded.

Link To a Form When…

  • the form is long or complex
  • the form is accessed both by web visitors and via a mailing list
  • the form in intended for a large audience, that may be using a wide range of browsers and devices
  • your audience includes mobile phone users
  • you expect a large number of form submissions

Event registration forms and survey forms may perform better when accessed buy URL on their own page.

  • forms accessed by URL load faster and are more scalable
  • they are statistically more reliable
  • they offer more flexibility
  • there are no sizing issues

A word of wisdom: Resist the temptation to systematically embed web forms on your site for irrational reasons “because it gives you more (apparent) control”. Some web forms perform better on their own page.

Placing the Embedding Code On Your Site


To embed a form into your website, visit the Forms tab, and click Embed to see the form code.

Embed Form

Copy the HTML code, then paste it somewhere in the HTML source of the
host page on your website or blog. If you’re using an online service like Blogger, that’s
all you have to do. Otherwise, you need to publish the page to your web server.

A word of warning: do not try to save the form as an HTML page, and publish that page. This will not work. You must paste the code exactly as given. Do not attempt to alter, remove, or hide the mention “web form by FormSmarts”, or the link to our Privacy Policy. This would be a breach of our Terms of Use, and your account would risk to be terminated without notice.

Changing a Form, Once the Code Is on Your Site

Any changes you make to a form using the form builder will show up straight away on your website. You do not need to update the embedding code. However, as a result of adding more fields, or changing a text box to a larger text area, the frame containing the form may no longer be high enough to fit the form. You will then need to re-publish the embedding code to your site. See the section about Form Sizing below.

Customizing Your Form

You can customize several aspects of your forms in the Form Details screen of your account.

Web Form Sizing

Why Is There Extra Space at the Bottom of the Form?

Forms are contained within an HTML frame (“iframe” for geeks). The frame has a fixed size, which is computed for each form, based on several factors, like the number and type of fields used, and the form layout chosen.
It is necessary to leave room at the bottom of the form for error messages that may need to be displayed during a form submission. That’s the reason for the extra space at the bottom of a form.

Manually Changing the Height or Width of a Form

You can change the size of a web form widget by editing the value of the height and width attributes in the HTML snippet (a.k.a. form embed code) given by the form builder.
We do not recommend changing the height of forms. If you do, remember to allow extra space at the bottom of the form, as discussed in the previous section.
The width of embedded web forms can be resized down to 360px without side-effects, and should degrade well beyond that.

How Do I Get Rid of the Vertical Scrollbar

With time, you may need to add more fields to your forms, but forget to refresh the form HTML code on your site. Since the frame height is hard-coded into the code on your website, the form may no longer fit into the frame, and a vertical scrollbar will then appear. That is not desirable on a usability standpoint, so you are advised to update the code on your site whenever you add new fields, or change a text box to a text area.

Only One Form Per Page

It is against our terms of service to embed more than one form in a single web page.

Embed a Form to a Facebook Fan Page

The easiest way to add a form to a Facebook page is to use the FormSmarts URL that comes with each form. Click on the URL link in the Forms Tab of the form builder to show form URLs instead of embedding code. You may also embed the form into your Facebook page using an FBML Box. See instructions to embed a form to Facebook. Feel free to post your questions in the relevant thread of our forum on FormSmarts’ Facebook page if you need help.

How to Advertise Your Form to a Mailing List

A number of users take advantage of our flexible web form platform to
advertise a FormSmarts-hosted survey form or event registration form by
email.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you wish to include a form URL
in a newsletter or mailing campaign:

  • as specified in the terms of use, FormSmarts only allows advertising of a form URL by email for strict opt-in mailing lists
  • you must be a verified form owner
  • you may only reference the form by including its URL, and must not attempt to embed the form in an HTML email

If you intend to email more than 1,000 subscribers, ask for a permission beforehand. We may ask you to schedule your mailing at a specific time if the expected click-stream is high.

When contacting FormSmarts, please indicate:

  • the rough number of subscribers of your list
  • whether this is a one off or recurring mailing
  • the date/time of your mailing(s)
  • whether advertising the form is the main purpose of the mail
  • whether you offer any incentives for form submissions

This information will help us estimate the server load to expect.

Building Successful Web Forms

Web forms play a key role for visitor (and customer) interaction on many
sites. However, many web designers don’t realize that there may be huge
differences in form abandonment ratio, depending on how well the form is
designed. In this post and follow ups, we’ll give you some tips to help
you make your web forms an effective communication channel.

Always provide form filling instructions.

Don’t assume that all of your visitors will understand how to submit a form without further explanation. Short and clear form filling instructions can reduce form abandonment, and increase the quality of the information collected.

  • include a call to action phrase like “Please fill out this form to
    contact XYZ”
  • indicate the purpose of the form and the recipient of the information collected
  • if applicable, confirm that you will reply, and give an indication of the time frame

Select the correct data type for each input field.

Because of necessary form validation, choosing and incorrect data type may prevent a form user from submitting valid information. When this happens, it is likely to lead to form abandonment.
For example, if you specify that a form field can only contain a Number, it may not work for a phone number. 1233456789 will work, but not 123-345-6789. So use
the Phone type instead. In many cases, the form builder will
pre-select a type for you, but not always. Read
more about selecting an input field data type in the form builder documentation.

Choose the most appropriate input field widget.

Don’t restrict yourself to text boxes and drop-down lists. Take advantage of the full range of HTML form fields with radio buttons and checkboxes. Learn when to use each one.
Using a drop-down list for a yes/no question will slow down the form user, and increase the chances (s)he gives up. Use radio buttons instead. Read tips about choosing the best input field widget in the form builder documentation.

Brand your forms for instant visual recognition.

Always brand your web forms with your own logo. This helps visitors
recognize at first sight who they are about to send information to.

Why Does Submitting a Form Require Two Steps?

Many form processors let visitors submit a form in only one step: users fill in the form, and are done after pressing the submit button. With FormSmarts, there is an extra confirmation step, during which users are invited to review and confirm the information submitted. There are two strong reasons why we added the confirmation step.

The first reason is quality. FormSmarts is typically used for transaction where the information submitted is important. Important because the information collected is intended to be read by humans, rather than machines. Important because this information is often intended to be acted upon.


By allowing users to review and modify their submission, we increase the accuracy of the information you get in the end.

Form users understand that, and it increases their confidence that you value the information they are sending you. Most of times, confirmation will only add a few seconds to the whole transaction.

The second reason is security and usability. Many form submissions are automated, or even manual spamming attempts, known as form spam or comment spam.

When a user presses the submit button, a lot more happens on the server than you may suspect. If we spot a likely spamming attempt, we’ll ask the user to complete one or more tests (e.g. CAPTCHA test) on the confirmation page. But in the same time, the bulk of users will never be asked to waste time on a CAPTCHA test.

Form & Input Fields Now Editable

The form builder now allows the modification of input fields and web form details. Click on the Form Field icon to edit a form or field.

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About the Form Builder Blog

The Online Form Builder Blog is published by FormSmarts, a web form service providing all you need to create a form and publish it online in minutes. FormSmarts makes it easy to build a form and embed it on your site. You can then get form submissions by email or store them on FormSmarts and download an Excel report. Learn more about the many other benefits of FormSmarts.