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Pre-Fill or Auto-Fill On Your Forms

Posted on 7.01.2017

Form design and development has been a rather hot button issue since the inception of the Web and for good reason - consumers (website visitors) would rather do almost anything but complete them.

These critical elements in the conversion journey can be irritatingly cumbersome (multi-steps checkout flows) and frustratingly vague (validation errors) - issues that are only magnified thanks to the amount of digital activity occurring on mobile devices today.

The result of poorly designed and developed forms, of course, is often huge drop-off rates. If businesses are serious about generating the most conversions possible from their available website traffic, however, concentrating on the quality of the form and the form experience itself on a website provides the single best possible opportunity. So, where to begin?

One of the easiest ways to correct this very real problem has been to address and support what is known as autofill (prefill) or autocomplete; functionality that automatically completes the form's fields on behalf of users based on the information they have provided at some prior/earlier time. If your current forms do not currently pre-fill information for users, check out this great guide from Google.

Browsers have long provided this functionality/capability natively but today there are also third-party plugins, modules and extensions available to users that makes it possible to autofill forms that are encountered by users.

Here's a high-level overview of how it works: browsers essentially recognize form fields by their names and IDs. Let's say, for example, that a user is completing a form which has a field with the name firstname. The browser then saves the entered name against an input field called, you guessed it, firstname. Should the user fill out another Web form and that form uses the same field name firstname it will automatically input the value that the user entered on the prior form.

Today, designers interested in capitalizing on the benefits of autofill/prefill have a range of possibilities and can handle not only the basics (name, email, phone), but also data related to credit card, social security cards and a whole lot more. The problem is, supporting autofill is not always the right approach in every instance. In this case, should designers/developer not want to let forms be automatically filled by the browser, they should consider changing the form names and form labels with "gibberish" text so that the browser (or those third-party extensions) don't try to do on their own - which could create a range of other experience related problems.

There is a great deal of technical information available on the Web about implementing autofill/autocomplete, and most, if not all, top-tier software solutions provide forms in some capacity (including content management systems and e-commerce platforms) follow developments in the space closely and typically already employ best practices to enable their clients to optimize the form completion experience.

What has been your experience with autofill/autocomplete? In what instance(s) do you mask this capability?

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