An Open Letter to Job Application Sites: Please Suck Less

Dear Job Site Administrators and Form Programmers,

As much as I can appreciate how hard it must be to vet through all resumes that come across the Internet for positions posted by companies on a daily basis, I believe the sites that collect resumes could be doing a much better job on their process. That is why I am putting out this request to all job sites and job application form administrators on the Internet (should they be reading this): Please suck less.

You know who you are: Your forms are hard to use. They are redundant. They are buggy. They are slow. They are long and ask for unnecessary information. They discourage people from filling them out. In short, they don’t work and they need to be fixed. To aid you in this endeavor, I am providing a few items that when addressed, I believe, will help your sites and forms suck less.

  • Either have me fill out my job history or upload a resume, but not both. Nothing is more soul-crushing than having to repeat information you have just provided. As a job candidate I have gone through the trouble of making a killer resume which your system has requested I upload, only to have to repeat the entire thing in a series of forms. The minute I am asked for 10 years of job history, I’m gone.
  • Eliminate “Country of Residence”. If I have put in my address as being in a state in the U.S., is necessary to specify that my country of residence is the United States? Is there a Texas in Germany or Uganda? If the country of residence is a must, can you please put “United States” at the top of the drop-down list?
  • Single Login, please. Everybody wants their own username and passwords. I literally have an Excel file with dozens. What would so difficult about associating the logins with Facebook, or Google or LinkedIn and relieve us all of having to remember what login and password is to be used with your site?
  • Make the form easy to fill out and scan vertically. Long horizontal forms that do not display information in the standard laptop view hard to fill out. I dislike being scolded for information in a field I could not see.
  • Put special data format next to the field. If you want the date in the “Date” field to be mm/dd/yyyy then put it there instead of having us guess or be scolded with an error message later.
  • Put related fields together. Asking for your primary email address and then having another field for receiving updates on jobs should be the same field, or at the very least, in the same area.
  • Eliminate the disclaimer page. Disclaimer pages (especially the loooong ones full of legalese) come off as untrustworthy and deceptive. Just assure me that my information is secure and private and a short paragraph on what you plan to do with my information and we should be good to go.

See, that wasn’t so bad. These are simple things to fix and would be a long way to sucking less. And who knows, you might even have people completing these things for a change.



Learn More Must Die

Learn More, you have been good to me and I appreciate you. You have helped me tremendously over the past years, especially early in my web copywriting career. When I didn’t know what to call my link, you were always there for me. But like all good things, our relationship must come to an end.

In the world of content marketing, the produced content over the last five years has improved and evolved to fit the changing Internet landscape; content on the web is more centric toward SEO, providing users with the right keywords so it can be found, and has become more information rich and helpful, not the filler content for content sake (like the Top Ten list, a content pandemic that must also be eradicated).

However, there is an exception to this progress and it concerns one of content marketing’s most critical components: The Call To Action (CTA). The CTA is arguably is the most important component of any landing page, article or blog post; its sole purpose is to convince visitors to take the next step and complete a specified action. Yet most CTAs are totally lame and uninspiring, and one CTA in particular is as old as the Internet itself but still in widespread use: Learn More.

To all copywriters and content managers: it’s time for Learn More to die. We can do better. Not only is Learn More tired, it’s deceptive and without detail: the very phrase infers that by clicking it, you will learn something you did not know before, you will be provided with more detailed information. But in reality, this is very rarely the case. Often, it’s a link to something completely unrelated, a cop-out by the writer who didn’t know what else to use.

I say it’s time to start using our imaginations to come up with better CTA’s; no more can we rely on the old cop-outs like Learn More, Sign Up, Buy Now, or, shudder, Click Here. We as web professionals have done our jobs well; the Internet user community has bought into what we have sold and consequently have become more smart and savvy, but also demanding, and are less-likely to click on the links we provide unless they are interesting and enticing.

So what can be used as a good call to action instead of tired old Learn More? Google “Good CTA examples” and you can find literally hundreds of examples; blogger and designer Christian Watson has a list of over 30 CTA’s that you can substitute for Learn More. Hubspot has a PDF with over a 150 CTA suggestions.

As writers, the descriptive CTA is our secret weapon; an enticing action that leads our readers and users where we want them to go. With such a powerful weapon in our arsenal, why waste using something as lame as Learn More? Be creative! Who knows, as a writer you might even….learn more.

They don’t work for you: Why your customers aren’t filling out your contact form

Recently, a client came to me with a problem on his website: they were not getting much customer feedback or leads.  This client had been very careful in the construction and marketing of their website: they had selected a good design, had made sure there was on-page SEO and had also ensured there was enough CTA’s to point people to their contact form.  They were mystified as to what was keeping people from reaching out.

I took a look at their site and was able to decipher what the problem was almost immediately: their contact form had 28 fields. The form scrolled on forever, and asked too much personal information not relevant to their inquiry.  A quick check on the Google tags for their form confirmed this: their users were abandoning the form after filling out a few fields.

My recommendation to them was this: cut out the information and fields you do not need in order to help; keep it to what you feel is the bare minimum.  Once you have done that, make that version half as long.  Once you have completed that, you will begin getting more feedback.

They were skeptical to this request.  The fields they included came from their support group: they needed this information in order to better answer the requests that came through.  Without this information, it might take twice as long to accommodate their customers’ request.

I countered: The support group don’t need all this information, they want it.  It will make their jobs easier, and perhaps make the resolution quicker.  However, the burden of having to do all the work for resolution of the problem by filling out the form  is being put on your users; they don’t work for you and this is why they are not filling them out.

We agreed to a test: We would reduce the number of fields on their form from 28 to 5: First Name, Last Name, Type of Problem (Drop-down), Email and Comments.  In 2 weeks we would revisit the feedback and analytics and see if that helped their problem.

The results were spectacular: Their feedback through the forms had gone up over 130%, and their abandonment rate had dropped to 20%.  The time for resolution had gone up slightly as the support team had to do more leg work in contact with the customers, but that time was inconsequential to the stream of feedback and leads they were getting from their users.

It’s always amazing to me that we, as digital marketers, tout the sophisticated study of usability and the urgency for companies to apply it to their websites, yet many sites feature forms that are too long and ask for too much information, the antithesis of usability.

The data and studies are very clear: People do not like filling out forms or giving too much personal information no matter what the reason.

Marvin Russell writing on the website, echos this sentiment: “Have you ever left a store without purchasing anything because the checkout lines were too long? That’s because you are human and humans are impatient, especially on the internet. We use the internet to make our lives easier, not more complicated and definitely not more difficult. A long contact form can be very overwhelming to look at and scare your potential customer right off your website.”

Courtesy of Hubspot

So this begs the question: We know that long forms suck and customers hate them; why do we keep making them?

Much like the client I assisted, the idea that the “more information I get up front the better I can serve you” is old-school thinking, yet a common argument for putting many fields on a form to gather as much information as you can.  It’s only as our users rebel in the form of non-communication do we begin to understand how dysfunctional a practice this is.

And it’s not just the amount of information you are asking for, but also the type of information you might be asking for: according to Hubspot, users are less likely to fill out a form that has “phone” or “phone number” as a required field. While email filters may help against you getting spammed if you enter on a form, many users are wary of getting endless telemarketing calls on their phone, as well as the specter of identity theft, if they give out their phone number.

So what is the best rule of thumb when creating contact forms that users will want to fill out?  The team at QuickSprout have come up with an infographic that lays out some very simple, and useful tips:

  • Keep it simple and easy: 3-5 fields maximum
  • Don’t ask for stuff you don’t need (phone number!)
  • Don’t ask them to “Submit”. This is how Google defines “Submit”:Try something more action-oriented and positive such as “Go!” or “Send!”
  • A/B Test: Try moving the fields around and see what flow works best: let your users tell you how they want to communicate not the other way around.  Another clever test: try putting your (short) contact forms on pages other than the contact page.

All these things can be done very simply, in about a day.  You may have to do more of the work for your customers, but be honest: did you make the web site for your company or your customers?