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The Difference Between Generating Opportunity And Not Is Forms


Chris Butler: Welcome to The Newfangled Agency Marketing Matters Podcast. I’m Chris Butler.

Lauren Siler: I’m Lauren Siler.

Holly Fong: And I’m Holly Fong.

Chris Butler: Joining us for her second episode. You’re totally a pro now, right? You’re ready to go?

Holly Fong: Definitely.

Chris Butler: Awesome. Let’s start out as we normally do by talking about something we’re excited about or interested in, anything at all. You want to start?

Holly Fong: Yeah, I’ll start. I just signed the strategy department up for attending The Internet Summit here in Raleigh, which I’m very excited about.

Lauren Siler: Very cool.

Chris Butler: Awesome.

Holly Fong: Yeah. It’ll be a good opportunity to bond and learn. I feel like sometimes just being at an event together, new ideas and new light can be shone on things that you deal with on a daily basis.

Lauren Siler: That’s so true, getting out of the confines of the office sometimes breeds more creative thought.

Chris Butler: Are there any particular speakers or topics that are happening this year that you’re most excited about?

Holly Fong: They really cover all things digital marketing. They have different workshops which you can choose which ones you would want to go into. So I need to give the list a look and see which are going to be most relevant for our group, but we might also split up and all digest something different and then bring it back to the bigger team

Chris Butler: That’s great, I can’t wait to hear more about it. You know, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve actually never been to that event.

Holly Fong: It’s in Raleigh.

Chris Butler: I know, in my 10 years in living in the state I’ve never been, and I really need to get there sometime, so can’t wait to hear about that. How about you Lauren?

Lauren Siler: I’m excited about this event that we’re planning for the Fall. We’re still nailing down the date so I’m not sure exactly when it’s going to be yet, but in between two dates. It’s going to be a content marketing event. We are going to be talking about how to design a more measurable content strategy. It should be fun. There’s going to be a bit of a presentation by me, and then a panel discussion featuring Julia Vanderput, one of our content marketing strategists, and Holly is going to join as well.

I’m excited about it, I think. It’s going to be free for our local community and so I’m excited to bring local marketers together and talk about their content strategy and this, I think, elusive topic of how do I actually demonstrate return on my content strategy plan.

Chris Butler: Yeah, it’s going to be a power panel. I’m excited about that, very much. The rest of us will be there to cheer you guys on and to mingle and that kind of thing. I’m excited. It’s the first time we’ve done anything like that, so really cool.

Similar to never having done it before, when we started this podcast I listened to many, many, many podcasts, and had been a podcast addict for a long time, and had been wanting to do one for so long, both here but also personally. I just really engaged with that format. So I’m going to do a shameless plug for the Podcast I’ve started on my own, called The Liminal. You can find it at

It really has nothing to do with these topics at all, but it’s sort of the other side of things that I’m interested in. I’m talking a little bit more about alternative consciousness stuff, I guess you could just call it weird stuff. Somebody in a review called it, “a generalist weird podcast.” Actually that was Warren Ellis’s review. Warren Elliis’s review called it, “a generalist weird podcast,” and I’m totally cool with that.

Holly Fong: That was perfect.

Chris Butler: Yeah, absolutely.

Lauren Siler: That’s how I describe you.

Chris Butler: Generalist weird. I’m generalist and weird. Anyway, I’m having a blast doing it. It’s growing beyond what I thought it would. If you’re interested in offbeat stuff, or just want to hear a totally different kind of podcast coming from someone at this table, check it out.

Holly Fong: It really is very well done.

Chris Butler: Thank you.

Holly Fong: I’ve really been enjoying it.

Chris Butler: Thanks. So, let’s totally change the subject and let’s talk about something that all of us have ranted about in different ways. It’s funny because numerous times, the three of us plus other people at this company have sat at a table, talking about what we do as a firm, big picture, and all the little things that each of us contributes to that. It’s a lot, it’s complex, the program that we’re trying to put clients through to improve their digital marketing.

But none of any of that stuff really matters unless one thing gets done right, which is forms. I think that is kind of a scary conclusion to make because, number one, most of our clients think of it as sort of the icing on the cake, like the last thing that needs to be done. Let’s just, you know, do forms. Also, I think a lot of people think of it, “Oh, well it’s a technical thing, I don’t really need to think about that. There’s a plugin for that,” or, “That’s something a developer does,” or, “Yeah, it’s just going to work out of the box, right?”

The answer to all those things is, no. It’s actually much more complicated than that and the complexity is nuanced, and it’s something that both of you have a lot to do with. There are some aspects of that that even I have to deal with in my consulting for clients, but it’s a huge topic. So where do we want to dig into that? What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the forms being the be-all and end-all of this system? It’s not really the way … I feel like I’m not doing it justice by saying it that way, but really it’s the make or break point, right?

Holly Fong: Correct.

Chris Butler: Yeah.

Holly Fong: Yeah.

Chris Butler: Why is that?

Holly Fong: Well, if individuals are filling out your forms on your website and they are not feeding into your automation system, then you’re not actually emailing the people who’s signed up for your insights. That’s one.

Chris Butler: That’s one aspect of brokenness.

Holly Fong: It’s just one tiny aspect. Then there’s lots of other aspects. If your other forms aren’t connected, so if all the forms talking to each other and progressive profiling isn’t being filled out, if someone for example fills out three fields on one form and they go to another form and have to refill that out, and it goes into another system. There’s a lot of issues with being able to communicate a clear message when you have all of your different form submissions in different places.

Chris Butler: Would it be fair to say that this comes down to four aspects of forms? Number one, it’s the existence of those forms and which kinds of forms. Number two, it’s the function of those forms. What are they designed to do? Because we talk all about forms being specifically designed for certain stage of the buying cycle. Then it’s the placement of those forms, like the context, what content are they related to. Then it’s the integration, right?

Lauren Siler: Yes.

Chris Butler: Four things, right? It’s all of those pieces. What you just mentioned is integration and it seems that they had the forms. It’s also true to say that you can have the greatest content strategy in the world, you could be a brilliant writer, you could be regularly producing content, but if you don’t have the right forms on those pages, or if you don’t have forms at all, who cares?

Holly Fong: Yeah.

Lauren Siler: It’s interesting because, I completely agree with you with those four categories, and it’s interesting how easy it is to slip up at every step of that path.

Holly Fong: Exactly, yeah.

Lauren Siler: Starting at the beginning of the existence of the forms themselves, that often gets discussed first when we’re thinking about the messaging strategy of the entire digital program, because we’re thinking of, okay, once we understand who it is that we’re targeting, what types of content are going to best resonate with them, and then what are the appropriate calls to action that are going to deliver this content in the right way? I think thinking about that, not just as it maps back to the types of content, but mapping back to the stages of the buying cycle is really important, because a lot of marketers are so eager just to have you get in touch.

Like, “Raise your hand, let’s get on the phone. If you don’t have a project in mind, I don’t care about you.” No one’s saying it that aggressively but if you don’t have prepurchase stage calls to actions on your website, then your digital marketing strategy, it’s got a big gap in it. That’s a big part of designing the content strategy in a certain way so that you’ve got gated content that’s expressing your expertise in an educational way that provides these conversion points on the site, so that people can access that thinking without having to be taking that later stage purchaser level step. That’s step one. But then as you mentioned, even if they get that right there are three other buckets that you could slip up in.

Chris Butler: Right. Yeah, Holly in the last episode you were talking a lot about gated content.

Holly Fong: Yeah.

Chris Butler: And that being probably the most critical form for a couple of reasons. Do you want to say a little bit more about that?

Holly Fong: Yeah. One mistake a lot of agencies make is they’ll have two forms on their site. They’ll have a newsletter signup form, and they’ll have a contact form. The problem is, is that people coming to their website might not want to do either of those things. Then what you’re doing is you’re relying on those individuals to come back to your website on their own, right? Versus, being able to convert them and being able to continue to provide them with intelligent information that you’re providing. By not giving them more opportunities to engage, you’re really missing an opportunity to either generate a lead or further nurture that lead, learn more about that lead.

Lauren Siler: Right, and that second point is critical to the progressive profiling strategy. It’s one thing to make sure that there are points of conversion so that that lead has an opportunity to engage with your brand in the way that’s most relevant to them, depending on where they are in the buy cycle stage. But it’s also important to have these various conversion points on the site so that you as the market can employ a smart progressive profiling strategy and learn more about these people as they’re submitting more information about themselves with each new form submission. But if those forms don’t exist, then you don’t have the opportunity to ask them about those pieces of information that are critical to allowing to qualify them as a lead.

Holly Fong: Yeah. I was going to say, it’s great to know what those next progressive profile sets are for those individuals, but what’s also really interesting is to know what information they’re interested in receiving. Not only are you learning more about them, by the fields that they’re filling out, but you’re also learning something about what they’re interested in, by what content they decided to digest. Then you can send them other content that’s like the content they just digested. It helps you market to them.

Lauren Siler: Yeah, I see that all the time with our clients on the content program, because we’re being very intentional about tagging every single article or piece of gated content with a certain messaging strategy, or I describe them as message areas of focus. When we are looking at say a quarter’s worth of data, to see how these things are performing, resonating with personas, we can start to see trends emerge. These types of personas tend to really be hungry for the content that falls in this bucket of messaging, so when we are designing the messaging strategy moving forward, we want to make sure we want to put more of that type of content specifically targeting that individual into the plan. But again, if that gated content isn’t there for us to observe those trends and patterns, then you’re just flying blind.

Holly Fong: Yeah.

Chris Butler: You both have mentioned the buying cycle as a key aspect thinking about forms. in particular with gated content. I think most of people that I’ve spoken with, and you may or may not corroborate this, totally get researcher and buyer. They get researchers like, it’s just one form to handle that, it’s subscribe or not, so that you don’t have to bookmark the site and you’ll be made aware of when a new piece of content comes on. Buyer’s pretty straight forward, it’s get in touch, let’s talk about a project, let’s set up a meeting.

Evaluator is where I think a lot of people get confused. One insight that I had recently, actually in the last year, was trying to explain to people that the evaluator’s really multifaceted. It’s not just about evaluating data, it’s also about giving the prospect an ability to evaluate themselves and giving you an ability to evaluate them. So there’s two jobs there. When it comes to gated content, that’s the only form on the site that someone’s likely to fill out multiple times, right? So that’s where you get them to really submit multiple fields of data and go through that progressive profile. In doing so, you’re able to evaluate their fittedness to you. That’s what makes it an evaluator form.

You get to ascertain whether or not they’re evaluating a possible purchase. But in another way, manner of speaking, you’re evaluating their fittedness to you, so if you want to follow up on them. But there’s other forms of evaluator forms, other calls to action that could be suited to evaluators that allow a prospect to self evaluate. That might be an assessment or a calculator, something like that. That’s where I think a lot of agencies really get confused, like, “How do I do that? How do I build that?” Usually the answer’s not that clear because they’re not really thinking that coherently about their messaging strategy, their content strategy, or even their positioning. So the ability to help a prospect self evaluate, it’s really reliant upon those things entirely.

Could you actually design a calculator or an assessment that will help somebody figure out if they should work with you and also give you that data. That’s a complex thing to do, so in the meantime gated content can really get you that data, and most of our clients actually do much more of that than assessment related calls to action. But I wanted to put out there, that on the evaluator side there’s really two different types of forms, and it’s two different ways of looking at the evaluator type.

Holly Fong: A lot of our clients that employing that, it’s not a lot of them but a few of the clients that are employing calculators or assessment tools, are getting a lot of value out of that. What’s also helpful is that when individuals are identifying whether they’d be a good fit or not, you can also determine what other content you might be able to nurture them with. So if they’re saying, “I’m not great at my social media strategy,” you might have a white paper about that that then you can send them, and you can automate all that, which is great.

Chris Butler: Yeah. We’ve talked about existence, we’ve talked about the function, what function are these forms serving. We haven’t talked a little bit about context. I want to make sure we cover that. The context has to do with where these forms live on the site, what they’re related to, what content they’re related to. One thing I wanted to throw out there that comes out most for me when I’m speaking to clients is specifically where it’s located. Is it located in sidebar, is it located at the bottom of the page, is it located mid-stream? Sidebar’s sort of the expected, for most of our clients they think that and they appropriately so, they think that content or calls to actions in the right side.

I validate that over and over again with heat mapping data that continues to validate the L pattern. The L pattern speaks to when someone’s new on a page, they scan up and down, top to bottom, to get a lay of the land, and they scan left for right. Their expectations left to right are left side they expect tools and utilities, like filters, way-finding, sub-menus, that kind of thing. The center column they’re expecting the meat of content. On the right they’re expecting ancillary promotional opportunities, like ads or promotional content, related content, that kind of thing. So having your call to action in the right sidebar is entirely appropriate.

It anticipates their expectation. That’s a great place to put it, especially if it’s a subscribe form, because what we see again and again is that someone might subscribe to that form after being on that page for a second or two seconds. It’s not a prerequisite that they’ve read the page in order to subscribe to a piece of content. But a contact form, like let’s talk about your project, or let’s talk about how you can get the same results that you just read about in this case study, that’s appropriate to have at the end of a piece of content because it speaks to the thought or the mindset that they should be in after reading that content, and you want it to be a filter.

You don’t necessarily care about the subscribe form being a filter because the wider the audience, the more you can target the right people in it, but when it comes to someone actually saying, “I want to talk to you about a project,” you want there to be a filter. You want them to have read about your service or read about the outcome before they fill that out. So having it at the bottom of the page is appropriate. The one last is mid-stream, and we do that a lot on certain pages but not on long form content. Why wouldn’t we want to do that on long form content?

Lauren Siler: Having a mid-stream call-to-action.

Chris Butler: Yeah, so like three paragraphs down into the white paper, you have a call to action for something else, like subscribe.

Lauren Siler: We want them consuming the content.

Chris Butler: Right.

Lauren Siler: We want them actually reading and being educated about what that piece of content is about.

Chris Butler: Yeah. Just the other day I had an agency show me an example of the site that they liked, and they loved this call to action that interrupted somebody on a white paper. I said to them, “Well, I can’t tell you whether or not you should or shouldn’t do that or that’s right for your brand, but let me tell you a couple things that would keep me from doing it. Number one, if this is a gated piece of content, someone’s already filled out a form to get here, so why would you interrupt them to have them fill out another form that has nothing to do with this.

Number two, let’s say that they didn’t, let’s say that this wasn’t a gated piece of content but it was a blog post. Do you want them to read this or not?” That’s ultimately the question, if you want them to read it and you want to let them know other things can happen, put that in the right sidebar because they will know how to scan and process that without doing anything else. But here they might think they’re at the end of the piece, they don’t know, it looks like the bottom of the page to me.

Lauren Siler: Yeah. That’s the thing, there are more elegant solutions to achieve that same goal, which I think is relevant. I’m curious though, how often are agencies asking you about the interstitial popup form?

Chris Butler: All the time.

Lauren Siler: Do you know? You guys have experienced this, right?

Chris Butler: Yeah.

Lauren Siler: Like you’re on a page and you start scrolling and then it’s-

Chris Butler: Yes.

Lauren Siler: What’s your perspective on that?

Chris Butler: I have two opinions on that. One, I think like many design trends on websites, they’re seeing that in a more consumer friendly context. A lot of things that agencies ask me about on the design side are informed by their consumer experience, particularly on the editorial side. They see something that they think is neat and I say, “Well look, let’s talk about why that works in that context but maybe not in this one.” That one, I see that all the time, like go to buy a pair of shoes and you’re on that site, and all of a sudden a popup comes that says, “Hey, do you want to save 15%? Subscribe to our newsletter.” Then it’s like the way to dismiss is, “No, I don’t want to have a great save 15%.”

Lauren Siler: I know it’s so offensive.

Chris Butler: It’s like a nagging approach.

Lauren Siler: No, I don’t care about you at all.

Chris Butler: Right, “No, I don’t care about my face,” something like that. I generally say, “Look, if that’s appropriate for your brand, then by all means.” In most cases the answer’s no and they’re like, “Ooh, yeah maybe it isn’t appropriate.” But there other answer is, “Yeah, what do you want them to do on this page? Do you want them to read the piece of content or do you want to distract them with something else?” The answer is obviously the former, so why do you want to appear needy. In the end, this doesn’t actually help you, it appears needy. If you have on the consumer side a carrot to dangle in front of them, like saving a percentage, then maybe that works. But no one’s going to save 15% on your next white paper, that’s not what’s going on, right?

Lauren Siler: Right, right. Okay, so we’ve talked about the existence of the forms, we’ve talked about the function of the forms, we’ve talked about context, so that leaves integration. Holly, you were saying at the beginning, you were rattling off a couple of common mistakes that you see at the beginning of the podcast. At least one of them was related to how the forms are integrated, so maybe we can talk a little bit about that.

Holly Fong: Yeah, definitely. There’s a few pieces. One of which is that the form needs to be passing into their automation system, because that’s where they’re going to be sending their emails out from. If it’s just going into their CMS, then they have to download that list and import it somewhere else. That’s leaving a lot of room for mistakes. For example you could download that list and then a bunch more people sign up and they don’t get the most recent newsletter, things like that.

Then, the other piece is making sure that all the fields are integrated into not only their automation system but their CRM, so that that information is passing from their website to their automation system so that you can segment by that information and provide them with the most valuable content to them. But it’s also passing into the CRM so that the sales individuals or business development representatives know all of the progressive profile sets that individuals filled out and can have an intelligent conversation with the people who have filled out forms on your website.

Lauren Siler: Yeah. That’s the beautiful thing about these tools, is that they integrate so well together and that really helps both sides of the business development world. Because the sales team is not often going to be inside of the marketing automation platform, trying to get information about this prospect that they’re about to hop on the phone with. And vice versa, the marketing manager’s not typically going to be jumping into the CRM to see relevant pieces of information about a particular prospect or prospects in aggregate, so that they can design the messaging or marketing strategy around it. So making sure that these two tools that are essential to the success of both of those roles are properly integrated, sharing the same information so everybody’s operating from the same centralized point of truth.

Holly Fong: Exactly.

Chris Butler: One little detail, a question I want to ask you Holly in terms of what you would advise a client when they’re thinking about, is that progressive profiling implies a sort of ongoing form experience. The first time they fill out a form, it’s first name, last name, email. For me it would be Chris Butler and my email address here, right?

The second time I fill out a form you’re asking me for different information in theory. Whatever might be in your progressive profile, but let’s say that in this case it’s going to be my title, the name of my company and maybe the size of my company, I don’t know, potentially two to three additional fields. On that form though, that I see on the site, are you showing me everything you collected before? Does that mean that later on it’s going to be 15 feels in a form that the majority of which are filled out? Or, what are you showing me to let me know what’s happening?

Holly Fong: We typically recommend that you show the first three required fields, so that first name, last name, email. After that, after the second set that they filled out, they would just see the next progressive profile set plus the first name, last name and email filled out. The reason that we want to show that is in case any of that information changes for that individual, so that they can update their information and create either a new contact in there or something along those lines, and they’re not continuing to fill out information for the wrong prospect on the site.

Chris Butler: Right, it’s also a reminder to them of what’s happening. Per our earlier conversation, that person might have been away from the site for four months, and so to come back and if their cookie’s still active, to see, “Oh yeah. Yeah, the site remember me. That’s what’s happening here.” Because otherwise it would be this weird form that starts with your title, and I would feel really strange, or it would be a really, really long form with a ton of data in it. I just want to make sure that we address that because that comes up quite often and I think a lot of people are confused about visualizing how this actually plays out long term.

Obviously there are design implications to that too, in terms of if you design a horizontally oriented form or a popup modal form or something like that that has a set number of five initial fields, thinking about how that form would actually look if they were filling it out three steps down into the progressive profile, where there might be additional fields or it may not line up perfectly. Like perhaps they’ve designed a form that has two columns of fields, but actually the way it plays out in real life, there’s an additional field and it becomes ragged. They need to think about how that thing might expand or contract around content or content around it further down in that profile experience. Anything else that we haven’t covered about forms? Is there anything that comes up over and over again?

Holly Fong: I think a general piece of advice is just to make sure not to consider forms an afterthought. They should be considered at every step of the way of developing your digital marketing strategy, most likely the choices that you’re making are going to have implications on the forms on your website. So taking the time to be intentional about asking how each choice you’re making is affecting the forms on the website is going to save you a lot of headache in the end. I think where we see clients get in trouble the most is when they get basically to the end and they’re scrambling on making finalized decisions around their forms, that leads to sloppy work.

Chris Butler: Yeah. Yeah, I think we started this off with that thought of nothing matters if you don’t get your forms right. I’ve been kind of intentionally trying to find the most intense overblown way to express this, to sort of sound the alarm. Another way of thinking about this that may be more appropriate is that I think the different between creating opportunity or not online is forms. Honestly it’s not content, it’s not the best positioning statement, it’s not a CRM. It’s forms. The difference between creating opportunity online and not is forms. I think we can end it with that. Let’s give some people some additional things to look at or read about. Let’s start with you Holly, again.

Holly Fong: Alright. I would recommend checking out Making The Most Of Your Website’s Conversions. It’s a past webinar that we have up that we actually hosted in March of 2017, so it’s relatively recent.

Chris Butler: Cool. Lauren?

Lauren Siler: I’m going to pull up an article that was written by one of our former project managers, Page Laubheimer, called, Calls To Action And Usability, How To Create CTAs That Work. It’s interesting because it takes a UX approach on good CTA design and behavior associated with the forms on your site. It’s an interesting read.

Chris Butler: Yeah, I still see that actual article being shared on Twitter a lot. It’s one of those articles that I think is relevant to a really wider audience than we even wrote it for, so that’s great. Similarly, Chris Creech wrote an article last August, about a year ago, called Four Tips For Designing Function Forms. It covers a decent amount of some of these smaller details that we’ve been talking about that I think are often overlooked, so check that one out.

Lauren Siler: Cool.

Chris Butler: Alright, with that thanks for listening. Again, find us on iTunes and give us a rating and give us a shout out sometime at You can contact us, let us know how we’re doing. We’ve gotten a lot of messages here and there about the podcast and people are excited about it, but if you have anything to share, things you think we should cover or things we could change or improve upon, let us know.

Lauren Siler: Alright, thanks for listening.

Holly Fong: Thanks.

Chris Butler: Bye.