Sometimes it’s the small things that make all the difference to hitting your enrolment targets. In this case, it was 18 words.

Let’s look at a specific psychological friction point a visitor has when it comes to filling in your student application form, and how to overcome it using a technique that a Harvard psychologist demonstrated back in 1978. And let’s check the specific results from a split test we ran with one of Australia’s leading private colleges using the technique.

I’ve worked with many Higher Education providers and one thing that I know is that the number of visitors that complete an application form online is much lower than the number of potential students that actually started filling in the application form.

Much lower in fact…

On average I would estimate only 10-25% of visitors who start the application, actually complete it. And if your form is is complex or contains difficult tasks, such as uploading documentation, then you can expect that number to be much lower. 

Are you aware of blockages in your student application form?

Most colleges don’t have form funnel tracking set up. This can be done several ways depending on what analytics systems you are using.  In the real life example below each step of the funnel was set up as a GTM (Google Tag Manager) event inside Google Analytics. Essentially the process was… Visitor clicks on the Apply Now button anywhere on the website and then we track which form fields they complete a one-page application form. (Feel free to get in contact if you need help setting up this level of event tracking in Google Analytics as it can be a pain in the butt to get right.)

In the above example, we show the Form Conversion Funnel of one of Australia’s largest private colleges over a defined period. 15.47% of those who started completed their application. And this is an application form that wasn’t overly terrible. (I have seen a lot worse in the Higher Education sector.) 

How hard have you had to work to get someone on to this page, only for the majority of them to slip away?

Think of every bus advert you have had to pay for – and the design decisions on that advert. Every single google AdWords click, every TV advert, radio advert, every Open Day, every cleverly crafted piece of content on your site.

It’s like running a marathon and tripping over 5 meters away from the finish line.

What to do to increase your application form conversion rate.

There is obviously a plethora of best practice User Interface (UI) techniques (we address some of these in our article: Are you in bad form?) but this test specifically addressed a very common psychological issue.

People are inherently reluctant to provide personal details. Especially when it is likely to mean they are going to have to talk to a sales person.

To combat this we turned to Ellen Langer‘s (Professor of Psychology at Harvard) famous study done way back in  the1970’s…

The photo copier test 

Ellen Langer famously conducted an experiment where she had people request to push into a line of people waiting to use a busy photocopying machine in a college library. The researchers had the people use three different requests when asking to push in line.

  • “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
  • “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?”
  • “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”

And here are the compliance results based on those requests:

  • “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” [60% compliance rate ]
  • “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?”[93% compliance rate ]
  • “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” [94% compliance rate]

Using the word because substantially increased the compliance rate. What is of particular interest to me is that the actual reason that was given doesn’t really matter, as it is fair to say that because I have to make copies is a rather arbitrary excuse.

How to apply this to your application forms

I had a suspicion that this would help reduce friction if applied specifically to the more personal details of the application form. (ie. The form fields that asked for the visitor’s email address and phone number.) We created together a split test to find out. We didn’t specifically use the word “because,” as I thought it wasn’t necessarily the word that made the difference but rather, having a reason for the ask.

Exert from the original form (A)

 

Exert from the challenge form (B)

Proof that it works 

The Challenger comfortably outperformed the original. Two lines of text (18 words in total) increased the number of people who completed the application by 26% (with a 95% level of statistical significance.)

A quarter increase… Not a bad little improvement! It feels good knowing that what you do is really making a difference to the bottom line for your client.

Here’s what you need to do next

Look over your current application & enquiry forms. Can you give reasons as to why you are asking a visitor to provide personal details?

Yes? Great. Do so. And test to see if it makes a difference.

This technique by its self is useful. But it needs to be looked at holistically as to where people are in the customer journey. We have Identified over 25 common friction points that are common in higher education marketing that need to be overcome. To find out what they are, get in contact and I will shoot you an email with more detail.