How to Write Error Messages That Won't Send Customers Running

James Geiger

Lead Developer

As a customer, it’s incredibly frustrating to spend time filling out an online form, only to find that an error occurred and everything needs to be redone. No one is ever happy about this, and some customers may turn away completely. However, you need a certain amount of information to push a sale through, so you can’t waive incomplete or inaccurate information to avoid inconveniencing a customer.
 
Error messages are an important part of the visitor experience, so is there a way that you can send customers an error message without ruining their time on your site? Actually, there are several. Let’s explore what they are below.

Place error messages next to the errors
If a pop-up shows up on the screen notifying the customer of an error, they won’t know where the error actually occurred. Did they mistype their zip code? Forget to enter in an expiration date? Place error messages within the corresponding field so that users can quickly fix them and carry on with the transaction.

Use clear and direct language
It’s important that users know what caused the error and what needs to be done to fix it. Use short, direct sentences like, “Email address is invalid” or “A file with the same name already exists. Please specify another name.” The user doesn’t have to waste time trying to guess what’s wrong.

List format requirements
Some forms are sensitive and require information to be inputted in a specific way. If this is the case with your forms, be clear about your requirements. For example,  if your form only accepts phone numbers or email addresses in a certain format, be sure to clarify this with something like, “Please enter your email address in this format: yourname@sample.com.”

List password requirements
Passwords, too, often have to meet specific criteria. To help users choose a good password from the start, list the requirements under the field. For instance, the password may need to be 8 or more characters, with upper and lowercase letters and one or more numbers. When users know this information upfront, they don’t have to keep returning to the field to create new passwords. It’s also helpful if your form rates the password as being weak, medium or strong.

Give users a chance to return to the form
Probably the most frustrating part about setting up an account on a lead generating website is when a person has taken the time to do everything correctly, and they get a warning that says, “An error has occurred. Your account could not be activated at this time.” This will definitely turn some customers away.
 
Instead of closing the door on a customer, give them the chance to go back and address areas that need attention. Or, present them with a new, simple form that asks for their name and email so that someone from your customer service team can get in touch with them and complete the submission.
 
Error messages are inevitable, but there are ways to make them more productive and efficient. Follow our tips above to create error messages that inform users while keeping them on your website.

About the Author: James Geiger

Born and raised at the Jersey Shore, James Geiger is the Lead Developer at SEMGeeks. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Elon University and an Associates degree in Computer Science from Brookdale Community College. He has 4+ years of web development experience, with a major focus on WordPress and user experience.

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