‘Placeholder’ or ‘hint’ text can be summarised as being the information in light grey found in an input field, used to encourage you to enter information or to suggest how you should begin.
These days, you can typically find placeholders on almost every website on the internet, but it wasn’t until a recent re-jig of an old user form that its fundamental purpose properly came to my attention.
Websites often use placeholders as writing prompts to help guide the user through a form or input field, and ultimately aims to result in a lower bounce rate on a section of a form. This is the most obvious reason that these prompts are used so frequently.
As web page design has developed and become more usercentric, it is clear that the balance between the number of generated leads and the quality of leads now needs to be reevaluated
In the above picture, I collected a few examples so that you can see them being used in a variety of settings. What you might notice is that some are slightly more persuasive than others; Air BnB’s ‘Try “Berlin”’ breaks the mold slightly and is an interesting example of how a placeholder can be used in an informal and relaxed way, while not forgetting its original purpose. Many examples, however, just stick to the basics. And why not? For the most part, it works.
During my recent spell of curiosity into optimisation, I decided to look further into what users were actually writing when given this kind of a prompt. The form I was working on had been optimised to prioritise lead volume over lead quality, and the input field I was analysing was an open ended question and meant for the end user to put their special requirements down. The field was not mandatory, so as to not burden the users who did not need it.
Roughly a quarter of users were filling in this field and I was able to scroll through a couple of thousand points of data in my search for improvement. What’s more, this field was taking the longest time to fill out according to my Hotjar form report. Looking through the raw data en mass, it was immediately evident that we were getting low quality data even though time spent on this field was still high. This further solidified my quest for collecting better information while also reducing the total time spent on this field, hopefully resulting in higher conversion rates for us and more useful information for our clients.
The first pattern that I noticed was the frequency in which users were using one, if not more, of the words listed in the original placeholder. This was true even if they were confirming or denying information that was not useful in their particular case. This indicated ambiguity for the user and became a measurable success metric to validate improvements.
The second pattern I noticed were that users were given multiple directives within the placeholder text which was leading to the lengthy fill out times. Giving the user one clear task would be the second part of the brief for the new placeholder text.
Test, and results
With this mind, I developed a new version of the original placeholder text which better captured the needs of our users by reducing unnecessary directives and simplifying the text examples. My findings from the test were as follows:
- 4% increase in non-mandatory field fill out rate
- 30% increase in data-rich information, benchmarked prior to testing
- 30% reduction in user ambiguity
- 15% reduction in time spent on field
While these kinds of experiments may seem too small to acknowledge, UX and growth hacking is all about making small improvements that compound over time.
Best practices for form design
As web page design has developed and become more usercentric, it is clear that the balance between the number of generated leads and the quality of leads now needs to be reevaluated – the quality of data has become top dog. In regards to form design, it is well documented that the main complaints are as follows:
- Over complicated forms can be irritating.
- Forms may ask for information that users are unwilling to share.
- Forms that are too long may drive the user away.
Essentially, the focus should be to balance the length of the form and the quality of the data. Form improvements lead to better user data > better data leads to easier and quicker client conversion > better conversion leads to client satisfaction and ultimately retention.
- Non-mandatory fields can be a useful tool in improving the quality of the lead
- Key word enriched placeholders will lead to better quality data
- Company tone can be retained (as we saw with the Air Bnb example)