Here’s the thing:

Conversion rate optimization is talked about ad naseum.

Marketers love to add it to their list of services. Whole agencies, software companies, and conferences have sprung up around it.

It’s a whole frickin’ industry now.

But can you name one website that does it better than anything you’ve ever seen?

I know my #1 example: home page example

Yes I want to get stronger.


Quick confession: I don’t care too much for – more on that later.

For those that don’t know, Thumbtack is a genius business concept that I wish I thought of. Essentially they match up people who need work done with those who can provide the services. Something that Amazon and Google both want a hand in now.

What every business wants that they have is an airtight conversion funnel. I’m sure they’re converting leads at astronomical rates – and making a killing off of it.

Let’s take a look at what they do so well.

In this example, I play the part of a business owner redesigning my loose leaf tea ecommerce website, and I want a local web designer to help.

Step 1 – I Curiously Search Google and am Not Afraid of AdWords

Enter the tea website owner’s thoughts:

Well my website is a bit ugly. I want someone near my house to help me redesign. 

I want them local so that if they are too slow I can walk over to their office an make them work faster. Let’s start by searching for web designers in Austin.

Well I’ve never heard of but they serve the Austin area. Free quotes, that’s cool. I guess it’s an ad but whatever – let’s clickety click. search example

I know my teas, not my ads.


Back to analysis:

Essentially Thumbtack is playing arbitrage. They’re heavily reliant on enough people who need work done so they can sell the leads to the service providers.

Many service providers don’t know how to set up Google AdWords or bring in their own organic traffic, and Thumbtack capitalizes on that. They charge a few dollars to service providers, and then show them the leads.

So in order for Thumbtack to have a viable business, they need as many people as possible converting.

The funny thing is that many people who need work done don’t even know they’re signing up until they get to the end.

The next step makes that so apparent.

Step 2 – Entering my Zip Code Makes Me Feel Like I Accomplished Something

Well Thumbtack knows I need web design. What do they want now?

My Zip Code? 

Easy. Glad they don’t want my email or anything.

Thumbtack asking for Zip Code

This is the easiest test question I’ve ever been asked.


This is probably one of the best landing page designs I’ve seen.

It’s got the headline. Got the big background image. Got the big publications’ logos all lined up nicely.

But that blue box with one simple question just stands out.

They’re not asking you to fill out a huge form – that comes later. They just want the user’s Zip Code – so harmless.

But the secret is this:

By getting you to perform that one small action, you’ve already partially committed.

You’ve started a journey through their funnel that you didn’t really plan on.

What comes next is not expected:

Step 3 – Where I Get Hit with a Huge Form that I Usually Hate

Ohh crap, what the hell is this.

Ahh well I need a web designer. And I already started this process, I guess I’ll just finish by filling out this long form and then I’ll be done.

I’m glad they’ll introduce me to pros – that’s very generous of them.


Thumbtack long form example

Hopefully they don’t steal my idea for a tea website.


I can just fill out some of these fields, I don’t know all the answers. 

Ohh cool, if I answer I get a green check mark.

Filling out the Thumbtack form.

Green check marks means I’m passing for once.


Raise your hand if you love filling out forms at the DMV. What about the bank? What about to buy that new jet ski online (who does that)?

Nobody likes filling out forms.

But sometimes for the right reasons, it’s a lot less painful.

Like when you really want to find someone to help you solve that problem.

Thumbtack already got you to commit with the Zip Code. Now they hit you in the face with a huge form.

But is it that bad to fill out? It’s could be worse. And it helps you solve your problem.

The key concept here is that when you have a form for your business that you need customers to fill out you have to balance two things:

  1. Make it short enough so that it doesn’t turn people away
  2. Make it long enough so the lead is a “marketing qualified lead

It’s a tough challenge.

Make the form super short and you’ll get a ton of junk leads to wade through.

Make the form too long, and even qualified leads will get turned away and go to your competitors.

The answer to this is more apparent with each step in Thumbtack’s form.

In these two examples it’s not readily apparent what is required and what’s optional. The user can just get started.

The green check marks are good instant feedback. They’re encouraging to the user’s lizard brain that seeks instant reward.

Step 4 – Where I get Slapped on the Wrist for not Finishing

Well they found out.

I skipped a few that I didn’t want to answer I though it was ok. Guess not.

Well I only skipped two, let me just finish and get it over with.

Form errors on the Thumbtack from.

Dammit this is like the SAT now.


The user committed with the Zip Code. They committed by filling out most of the big form.

Now Thumbtack is telling them not to skip stuff.

By this point the user has committed enough time that filling out two more questions isn’t that much.

How much longer does this go on?

The key concept here is splitting your lengthy form into multiple steps.

It solves our earlier problem of balancing a short form length with needing as much info as possible from the user.

So far Thumbtack is mastering their website conversion funnel.

They’ve greased up the slide so much, the user can’t help but slip right down.

It gets better.

Step 5 – Where the Promises Keep me Hooked

I continue on in the fight to find the “best pros”.

What’s this – another set of questions. Well these are a bit more fun at least.

I guess I’ll just keep going. They’re introducing me to pros after all.


Step 3 of Thumbtack's form fill

Well this isn’t as bad as what I just did.


Some conversion experts recommend showing the user how many steps are in the process. Thumbtack doesn’t do that and it might be better that way.

They’ve split up their form into three steps so far. While they’re getting a lot of information – it’s not as excruciatingly painful as filling out one never-ending list of questions.

At this point the user is pretty far in.

Why not ask a few more questions to make the lead that much better?

Thumbtack continues to highlight the promise to the user, and remind them why they’re filling the form in the first place.


So far, the user hasn’t been asked to give up much personal info, usually a big obstacle to form completions.

But then.

Step 6 – The Part Where I Reveal my Identity at Last

Oh I knew this was coming – now they want my email.

Well how else would they know who I was. How would they contact me – magic?

Alright let’s just finish this – I want to meet these pros.

At least I didn’t have to register for an account.


The personal info asked by Thumbtack.

I knew this would happen.


Lead forms are filled out somewhere in the range of 2-5% on average.

One of the biggest obstacles is that users are afraid of giving their email.

For spam.

What Thumbtack does that all of us can learn from is saving the most important part for last.

You can argue that if they asked for the email first and the user abandoned, at least they would have that.

This way is better.

The most crucial part is a qualified lead.

Having an email of someone who isn’t interested just junks up the database.

This way, the user has committed all the way through.

If they don’t give up their name and email at this point, they never will.

At least they don’t have to register an account, or did they just do it?

Step 6 – Where I Now Realize what I’ve Done

Finally I’m done and I didn’t have to create an account.

Wait a minute…I see that I’m logged in, right there in the top right.

And I’ve got a new project on the left.

Sneaky bastards…I now have a Thumbtack account.


Thumbtack confirmation page.

Wow, now the elves are on it for me.


They’re doing a few good things here. First they’re providing confirmation that the form filling is complete.

And sneakily, the user now is registered with Thumbtack. Later they’ll create a password and all that.

But with one fell swoop, the form was completed, the email was given, and a new account was created.

This might be the most streamlined conversion funnel I’ve ever seen.

Not only was the user ushered through the lengthly form process by being shown many small steps rather than one big form, but I didn’t even have to register. It was done for me.

That was pretty crazy.

As a Service Provider, Do I Like Thumbtack?

I mean it’s a genius business concept.

I wish I thought of it.

But as a someone who provides digital marketing consulting, it wasn’t that great. I tried it and spent about $50 on the service that didn’t amount to much. Many of the leads that came through were not that engaged in the process. Some were just price shopping.

As a consumer it’s great – I found my accountant on there and she was excellent. But as a service provider, not always the most dedicated leads came through. Maybe I was just unlucky. Or not the right fit.

Should we All Blindly Follow their Lead?

Thumbtack has some great practices in here that are surely proven right in their metrics.

There’s a lot of good stuff to take away:

  1. Make the first step super easy and obvious (Zip Code)
  2. Let the user fill out the form with no barriers
  3. Correct mistakes after they’ve committed to the process
  4. Break a long form into multiple steps
  5. Ask for personal info at the end (but not too much)
  6. Don’t ask them to register, do it for them

But you can’t blindly apply all of these to your business. You may not need a super long form. You may just want to give a free download away first, in which you only need their email.

This is one of the best conversion funnels I’ve ever seen – but it’s not perfect for everyone.

Make it your own!

What do you think? Is your conversion funnel this airtight? Do you like this multi-step form process? Have you ever used Thumbtack?