How to Battle Bad Data with Webforms

Tom Corbett, Head of Best Practice at dotMailer, is well acquainted with the nuances of data collection. In this post for our blog, he looks at how exactly marketers should be getting good quality data from their digital presences.


In March this year, eConsultancy talked about the cost of ‘bad data’, citing Experian’s 2014 Data Study that showed 88% of surveyed companies were losing on average 12% of revenue.  Customer service suffered as a result of bad or inaccurate data, not to mention the knock on effects on CRM and marketing automation programs. We went into depth on the cost of correction in an earlier blog – but of course, prevention is better than a cure.

Small businesses and large enterprises alike can struggle with enriching their email marketing lists. Today we have many different channels to help capture and enrich the data we already have – and the most effective, is the webform.

A Fair Exchange

In a study we ran with, we discovered that over 70% of surveyed marketers found the use of webforms to be a cost-effective solution in capturing user data, with nearly half of them also agreeing that they were an important element of their marketing strategies. But how do you get someone to hand over that data?

The action of engaging with a brand and the email address itself, have their own individual values – in the case of data collection, it is most definitely a trade value. One of the most common exchanges, especially in B2B marketing, is content access. Take for example the download page for our Webform Optimisation Whitepaper.


The incentive is quite obvious – a lovely big strategy guide, with the promise of doing wonders for your marketing data. However, the user experience is also part of the trade. Good marketers ask themselves, ‘how much is too much?’ It’s fairly accurate to assume that the more fields you have, the greater the rate of form abandonment.

Data Ranking

The question then becomes, ‘what do we ask?’ There are nine key tests towards ‘data ranking’ that should be applied to every item that a marketer is considering collecting.

  • Can this piece of data be used as a key sales driver – and how?

This is the most important aspect to consider. How is this information going to (eventually) make you money?

  • Are you actually going to use it, or just collect it then leave it redundant in your database?

If your data sits in a dark server or hard disc for months after collection, you’ve just wasted time and money.

  • How easily and accurately can it be collected?

If you’re asking your users for information that isn’t readily available to them (at the point in time of collection), you risk both form abandonment, and also receiving bad data.

  • How can it be used to feed email marketing personalization and automation?

This one’s pretty specific, but given that email is the preferred touch-point for pretty much every single business with a digital presence, you’ll want your data to have immediate application. How can this data help create a seamless user experience across you brand’s digital and physical ecosystems?

  • Will your customer resist giving me this information?

Don’t ever make your user uncomfortable within the context of your data collection. Consider commercial sensitivity, but also the human aspect of what you’re asking. Collecting data on personal habits would probably be inappropriate on a cloud computing business site, but perfectly okay on a site like OKCupid (which is basically the world’s biggest rolling webform!).

  • What is the shelf life of this information?

Divide your data into ‘evergreen’ (timeless) and ‘temporal’ (data with a use-by date). Ideally, if you’re plugging this data into an automation program, you don’t want to be using data that’s going to be irrelevant within a few months.

  • Can it be assumed by proxy?

i.e. Do you really need to ask this question? Can you just assume this data from either the rest of the questions you ask, or the context in which your webform exists?

  • Does it truly help me to understand my customer better?

Again, do you really need to ask this particular question? Remember, if your brand does a good enough job, you can ask more questions further down the line.

  • Can this data be combined with what I already know to make my existing data more valuable?

As with the point before, always consider how every step in your data collection can enrich what has gone before, as opposed to replacing it. Remember, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – but if you can add some cool alloy wheels and go-faster stripes, without damaging the engine, then go for it.

Simplicity through Design

As with all things digital, simplicity is king. Data ranking is really an exercise to strip away what isn’t needed. Consider where your users are most likely going to be, and what they’re going to be reading your web-form on.

The best web-forms – such as Tumblr’s registration page – ask the bare minimum. As more and more of the digital experience happens on mobile, simplicity becomes more important, especially from a design point of view. The mobile canvas is smaller, rougher – and the last thing you want is encouraging your mobile users to have to ‘pinch-and-squeeze’ to interact – or, god forbid, make them use radio buttons.


So now what?

Building a webform is fairly straightforward. Aside from dotMailer’s webform tool which is integrated with our email automation platform, Mashable ran a great article a couple years back on other webform builders that you may want to consider.

Our Marketer’s Guide to Webform Optimisation, goes into a lot more detail into our webform study, along with a lot of more examples of forms in the wild. It also has a list of great ideas on how to contextualise your webforms, as well as other key considerations marketers need to make when building them.

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