Should You Ditch the Name Field in Your Opt-In Forms?

When generating leads on your website, should you ask for a name and an email address? Or should you ditch the name field and just ask for an email address?

There's a clear trend towards just asking for the email and one of our readers asked for some clarification on this topic.  Watch the video to get the inside scoop on the name field debate.​

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Links & Resources

This post from the GetResponse blog offers a good number of points for as well as against using a name field, all based on test data.​

In the video, I mentioned the problem with faulty test data and here's the example post I was referring to.​ At first glance, this looks like a glorious victory for one of the test variations, but looking at the raw data, you can clearly see that this test was not done yet.

Finally, here's a case study done by Marketing Sherpa, which shows several cases of email personalization leading to higher email open and click rates, thus making an argument for keeping that name field after all.​

Also keep in mind that the way in which you personalize emails matters. If you just insert the name in every subject line, it will likely come across as fake and try-hard. But if you use it cleverly and especially if you go beyond just inserting the name, email personalization can be very powerful.​

Over to You

What's your take on the name field issue? Do you know any other case studies that present compelling evidence on either side of this matter? Do you have any further questions you'd like us to answer? Please let us know by leaving a comment below!

Shane

Author: Shane Melaugh

Shane Melaugh is a co-founder of Thrive Themes. When he isn't plotting new ways to create awesome WordPress themes & plugins, he likes to geek out about camera equipment and medieval swords. He also writes about productivity here.

  • Jay Poole says:

    I agree if you can get a name then it will be better in the long run for building trust & improving conversions, but in the first place with some campaigns i.e. Facebook newsfeed ‘cheese’ then just the email might be better. If your email marketing system has the email as the primary key it means you can just do progressive profiling anyway and build up name and more demographic information over an extended period of time anyway.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thanks for your comment, Jay! That’s a good point, yes. Although I think gathering a name later only makes sense if you also gather further information. I think it would be a bit awkward to send people to a form just to get their name, later. 🙂

  • Brett S says:

    Shane, you’re exactly right… you have to run the test in your own business, and you have to split it into 2 separate funnels, and measure the actual sales/profits coming from each funnel.

    It doesn’t sound that hard to accomplish, however for me, most of my site visitors need to enter name anyway, as bribe gift requires the name, to prepare the gift, so in this case it’s not worth testing. In other markets it may be worth testing, I’ll consider it, as I move forward in other markets, but for the time being I prefer having the customization, and my initial thoughts are it’s worth more, and more valuable to have the name for marketing purposes anyway…

    So, the discussion continues…. I would like to see some hard numbers on these actual tests, in different markets, that would be nice!

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thanks for your comment, Brett! Hopefully, I can run a test or two like this myself, at some point. We’ve had a heck of a hard time getting really good analytics nailed down, that’s why I think a test like this might be more difficult to pull off than it seems at first glance. 🙂

  • Phil says:

    As you mentioned, Shane, one’s choice in this matter of name vs no name will depend a lot on the nature of your business. All things being equal, I’d vote to have more opt ins rather than fewer and one less field to fill in tempts one to think that more people will comply with a name-free opt in form.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      I think it’s safe to assume that removing the name field will generally lead to more leads. But whether or not that’s good for the business depends a lot on what happens next.

  • Mary-Ellen says:

    Great post Shane. I agree it has to do with the nature of your business. More isn’t always better. If you have a very personal type of message in your communication you will turn off many people by being impersonal.
    Testing 2 full funnels is definitely the only way to see what is right for your business.
    Thanks.

  • I really think the points you made about revenue generation and relevancy are right on. Everything will eventually come down to the bottom line, which is revenue per lead. It seems to me that making your offer clearly relevant to a very specific group of people is critical and that personalization will help in establishing rapport. Finally, I think it’s most important that all the elements in your funnel are focused on that specific audience and what they want, and that those elements are also seamlessly congruent. My gut says putting names on emails will help with the conversion goal, but is not likely to be the main factor. None-the-less I prefer to be talking directly to real people. If asking for a name weeds out the tire kickers that’s a good thing.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thanks for your comment, Terry! I agree and your comment hints at something that goes even deeper: building something highly targeted all the way through the funnel. I think there’s something scary about creating and offer and funnel that you know will only appeal to a very targeted group of people. The “more is better” mentality is difficult to get rid of and I think that’s why “remove the name field” has become such a widely accepted idea.

  • Roger C says:

    You always need enough data for a test to be statistically significant, not sure what “enough” actually amounts to, but I am sure the statisticians among you can enlighten me.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Unfortunately, there’s no single answer to that question. How much data you need depends on your conversion rate, the measured difference in conversion rate between your variation and your control and the type of test you’re running.

      One way to simplify all this is to generally go after big wins: the goal of most tests should be to find a clear winner among a few dramatically different test variations. This will help you get significant results more quickly and there’s not that much debate when one variations is twice as effective as the other.

      If you’re testing small tweaks and seeing an 0.2% difference in conversion rate, you’ll drown in a flood of tables and graphs before you can figure our what’s really going on. 🙂

  • Rich says:

    Hi Shane
    Thanks for another thought provoking post.

    Having been involved in a lot of AdWords landing page optimisation projects I realise that this is also quite a difficult topic.

    We once spent a long time optimising a landing page for a specific action (increasing conversion by 20%), only to find that the actual ‘revenue’ conversion had dropped because the increased traffic was not buying!

    It was a similar sort of problem to the one you are discussing. The click on the landing page was only the first part of a multi-stage process. So we learned (the hard way) that it was often misleading to optimise each individual stage in the process in isolation.

    However, it can take a long time and a lot of data to try and optimise the complete process.

    Rich

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Yes, it’s a tricky problem indeed. It’s easy to say “always test for revenue”, but that’s just not always practical or even technically feasible.

  • Fiona F says:

    Complicated answers are often the ones we need to hear. Thank you.

  • Karl S says:

    The art and science of split testing. Not for the faint of heart.

    Great insights. TX.

  • Steve says:

    Great post. Most of the time I ask for a name and email and depending on my target audience, I ask for phone number. It’s my way of qualifying a lead. A question I would like opinions about is the use of double optins. Once again I use double optins as a qualifier but it’s untested and I could be losing good leads. I really don’t know. Could you shed any light on the double optin question?
    Steve

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      I have a pretty strong opinion about confirmed opt-ins (although as a disclaimer: not all of what I have to say on the matter is based on testing). Check out this post to see what I mean. There’s also a complete tutorial on how to create such a funnel, here.

  • Bart Nash says:

    Shane the reason why so many marketers get it wrong is because most have never really built or run a real business. A business ware employees depended on their jobs and the business depended on bills being paid.

    I think Most of what you here from marketers today are self proclaimed wana be successful marketers. I’m certainly no expert when it comes to marketing online but I do know from experience that if you are going to split test anything it needs to be a complete apples to apples comparison and not hey I get more clicks now then before when I asked for their names.

    I have several niche websites and I not only ask for names but their phone number too. Now I have not completed a real test to see which style of optin works best, name, no name or name with a phone number.

    But I do believe that my lists where I ask for their phone numbers are much more responsive then without.

    The only true way for figure that out is to do a comparison with the same product and see which one makes more money in a certain time period.

    Thanks for doing such a great job on this video.

  • Mark W says:

    I have no data to support this but my gut feel is that if your overall site conveys “personality” and a chatty – 1-1 style (rather than corporate speak) visitors are likely to be more inclined to be happy providing their names. If I’m right, then the “testing” is even more complex because it’s not just the colour of buttons, whether filling in 2 fields rather than one is off-putting etc – it is also relevant to consider where the optin boxes appear – the type of website, the style etc. Again gut reaction – if having the name is likely to be “better” for your business – i.e. membership site where you want to follow up more personally etc, maybe that is an overriding consideration.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Yes, I think that’s a valid point. There are certainly some businesses that can benefit a lot more from this kind of personalization than others.

  • David Sorensen says:

    It’s indeed all about being natural…

  • Eric Ruth says:

    You make us think about the right stuff, Shane. And that alone is incredibly valuable. Another great video from a great marketer. Thank you.

  • Jan G says:

    One important thing is also, how you use the name, after you collected it.

    I have seen people, asking for the name and not using it at all.
    If you just use the name for the “hello %name%,” at the beginning of the mail, it will not make a big difference as if you build a much more personalised email-copy.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Yes, that’s another important point, Jan. Using the name you have in a way that’s actually effective is another challenge this presents.

  • Ethan S says:

    I completely agree with your post. Especially the point of the end goal of your business is more profits, not more email signups.

    Common sense would suggest (again, just a theory with no numbers to back it up) that making it easier and easier to signup would also attract people who will never purchase what you are selling.

    In fact, a few months ago I left a comment about this on the leadpages blog about a post that covered something about “making it even easier for people to join your list”.

    I brought up the exact point you make – how do you know this leads to more sales, or more revenue? Isn’t there a point where you’re just making to “too easy” to sign up which will attract people who are not your target market? What if it only leads to 15% more freebie seekers signing up? –

    I received some “not too friendly” responses, including one from the head of the company, dismissing my question as nonsense. I guess they found it a conflict of interests with their product that is meant to help people get signups.

    Go figure.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thanks for your comment, Ethan! This is the problem with relevancy and targeting: it’s very difficult to get over the belief that more is always better.

      I tend to agree with you, but the only way to get to the bottom of it is to actually test through to revenue.

  • David H says:

    Hi Shane,
    Thanks for taking the time to try and unravel this complex issue. It does appear that there is no concrete evidence for either method, and like you say, only a proper long-term test through a sales funnel would determine the answer.
    Its interesting to read the other comments here too, as we all have mixed views.
    I like the comment (from Mark W) that if we are trying to build a personal site; i.e. we have our photo/name etc. to build trust and credibility, then it makes sense that a prospect would share their name too; compared to an impersonal site where I suspect email volume is the name of the game.
    Either way, its an interesting debate, and thanks for your valued opinion.
    – David

  • Ja Gold says:

    Great video, thanks for your truth 😉

  • Paul says:

    I just posted something similar on this topic on my blog. We looked at 600 popular opt in forms and found 79% of forms only asked for Email. Some interesting case studies mentioned here.

    I think the personalization of email is important and I do prefer when emails use my name.

    Maybe this information can be collected through progressive profiling instead.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Progressive profiling makes a lot of sense. It also adds a pretty serious layer of complexity to the process, though. Not all tools are equally fit to handle that kind of thing.

  • Paul H says:

    I have been reading quite a lot about the 80:20 principle lately and it really is a difficult one to apply for most people who don’t have enough data to be able to test on.

    However, my guess is that 20% of your customers (optins) will account for 80% of your income.

    The 80:20 rule seems pretty true in all cases in life throughout any business, or social sample, achievements, personal earnings etc. 20% of people earn more than the other 80% put together, of that 20%, 20% earn more than the other 80% and so on.

    So, if by asking for someone’s name, even if it reduces the initial optin rate, if it’s bringing you more “serious” customers (more of the 20%) then that’s a good thing, but as everyone else has said, it needs testing and again, that’s not easy.

    So for me, I like to get the name – it shows a serious intent from my side of the deal which I think may encourage my subscribers to also think “Hmm, this guy is serious”. What would also be interesting would be to ask for a phone number – that is very rare these days, but I have one funnel that is getting about 30% of people supplying their number which really surprised me.

    All good fun!

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      I agree that this is a possible effect of having more fields. The question is whether adding a name field just nets you fewer people or whether it means different people will be signing up.

      In general, though, it is a very good strategy to be selective about your audience. Instead of casting a wide net, it’s much better to try and only get the attention of the top 20% for your particular business.

  • I found this video to be very informative and one thing I appreciate about Shane’s videos is his honesty. Many marketing gurus will claim to know whether it it is better to ask for the name or leave it out. However, it really is an unknown and that should be acknowledged, as Shane does here.

    I actually have a very different reason for asking for the name. Despite using double opt-in and different auto responder companies, I have found a large number of spam/invalid emails signing up. By asking for the name, it makes it very easy to identify the invalid sign ups as the name often contains strange characters; contains first name and surname bunched together, when I only ask for first name; and rarely matches the name contained in the email address.

    I can remove these spammers quickly whereas it would be incredibly difficult if I only asked for the email address.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thank you for your comment! That’s another interesting point and an advantage that can be easily overlooked.

  • Gordon says:

    Hi Shane.

    Great answer to the question and I agree that accurate measurement of the end result offers the clearest judgement. As an end-consumer … as someone who opts-in for offers to gather information and learn more, I tend to react better to those emails that are personalized, hence, I tend to react better when I see my first name.

    Keep up the great work offering insightful videos and blog posts … I am learning so much.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thank you for your comment, Gordon! I’m glad to hear that you’re learning a lot from our content. 🙂

  • Nefer L says:

    Excellent video, Shane! I love the idea you shared with us, “Test as close to revenue as possible.” Well done 🙂

  • Matthias says:

    Hi Shane, thanks for this in-depth answer: I think we`l give both ideas (w/o name field) a try in a test that runs far beyond the mentioned 60 leads. What would be a minimum to have mathematical evidence ? more than 200 , 500 or even more?
    best regards Matthias

    by the way: very good to understand for non-native speakers / listeners like I am. – great 😉

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Hello Matthias,

      There’s no fixed number of “enough” conversions for a result to be valid. The number required depends on the conversion rate and the difference in performance between the two test variations. Put simply, it takes a lot more data to reliably detect a small difference than it takes to detect a big difference.

  • Joshh says:

    To name or not to name…. in the end, if we have good quality content that meets our customers needs – they will want to more and probably won’t mind giving out their name (as long as we give off credibility in our work)

    Why wouldn’t someone give you their name if you seem like a trustworthy resource?

    Shane, I also noticed that you’ve pretty much responded to everyone’s comment on this page, which makes me more willing to trust you with my name- due to giving that extra personal attention to your readers.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thanks for your comment, Josh!

      I think you’re right: if you build up trust beforehand, having or not having an extra field will make less of a difference.

  • Daniel M says:

    Way late to the party, but figured I would add my two cents. Like most have noted, it really depends. But to take that a little deeper, one of my projects is directed to homeschooling families, and most of that audience consists of homeschooling mothers. The first thing I did was study all of the popular blogs in that genre (homeschooling and “mom-blogs”) to see what they were already doing. What I found was that about half of the top sites (that even asked for subscribers in the first place) were asking for first name and email. What was also worth noting, though, was what the other half was doing.

    Yes, the other half were not asking for first names. But what was more telling was that a huge percentage of the “no first name” folks clearly didn’t put much effort into creating their form in the first place. Many of the forms from this group were poorly designed, didn’t match their site style, had dated looking elements, and other such things. Many were nothing more than a basic feedburner subscription. Point being, most of the folks who didn’t ask for first names didn’t look like they put much thought into this stuff in the first place.

    So, it really does depend. In the particular area I was working in, these moms (and dads) were happy to give their first names. This is how they interact with each other on their blogs, in their Facebook groups, and at their conventions, etc. I have yet to have a single person put in a phony name or spammy comment in the name field. But with a different audience with a different goal, I may get more of that kind of thing.

    Take Away: If you’re not sure which way to go, find out what the most trusted and popular and beloved people in your area are doing and not doing, and start from there. If you take names, don’t use them too much, and use them wisely and carefully.

  • James says:

    hi, i actually run an investing website @ smallcapasia.com and have a question on the name field.

    I started with just getting email addresses for a while and has more than 900 email subscribers.

    However, i would like to change it to include the name field going forward. However, wouldn’t it be weird if i cannot address my previous 900 subscribers by their first name?

    e.g. Hi (single opt-in) vs Hi James (double opt-in)

    Look forward to your replies.

    Thanks,
    James

    • Hanne says:

      Hi James,

      Yes you would have that problem… and there is no real way around it. Some email providers allow you to put something as a placeholder if the field is empty so that would be Hi friend (old emails) vs Hi James for the new emails… that could be a solution to avoid Hi Firstname emails 🙂

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