Online calculators have become effective marketing tools, capable of generating consistent web traffic and prospective clientele for many businesses by engaging visitors with relevant, interactive content. They also improve customer retention by providing value-added services.

Many businesses develop online calculators relevant to their industries. Mortgage companies provide online mortgage calculators as a marketing tool to attract new visitors to their websites. Equipment manufacturers and resellers can provide product configuration and quoting calculators where visitors can select from various product options to customize and price the appropriate equipment for them. Retirement advisors can provide online calculators to help clients analyze their retirement goals. Most businesses can utilize these tools to attract new customers and serve their existing customers better.

However, building and maintaining these calculators can become expensive, so it is important to get the most out of them. Here are a couple of things to consider when building online calculators:

1. Keep your calculators simple

Calculators with too many data entries points will turn away your users. Keep them simple with as few inputs as possible. Wherever possible, use average values or make assumptions for non-critical data entry. Your visitors should be able to get their results in less than one minute.

If your calculator requires detailed information, then create two versions: simple and advanced. Those willing to spend the time to get more accurate information will utilize your advanced calculator and you won’t lose the other customers that want quick access to their results.

2. Enhance your calculators with visual elements like charts and diagrams

Representing calculator results in a visual manner will improve the popularity of your calculator. For example, display the retirement savings on a chart instead of a table in an online retirement calculator.

3. Use defaults values in your calculator

Have your calculator pre-loaded with default values wherever possible. It is easier for a user to change defaults rather than entering data from scratch. They can always keep default values for fields that they are unsure of. Having defaults also makes it possible to display results prior to the user’s data entry, which will provide them with a ballpark range from which to start their analysis.

4. Provide help text that’s accessible with click or mouse over

Don’t clutter your calculator with unnecessary descriptive information – informative help text is important but should be provided as a popup. You can place help icons next to each input label, which users can click or mouse-over to get help; otherwise, keep your calculator clean and simple.

5. Keep your calculators current

Make sure that the information and results provided by your calculator stay current. Displaying inaccurate or outdated information will often do more harm than good for your business. For example, if you have an adjustable-rate mortgage calculator, make sure to update LIBOR frequently. If you have a product pricing calculator, make sure to update your product prices as soon as they are changed.

6. Make detailed results available through email

Capturing contact information is invaluable, but an online calculator should produce results in real-time, meaning that casual users will be anonymous. At best, you can capture the user’s approximate location from the IP address, although even IP-based geolocation can result in large variability and discrepancies based on the ISP.

To collect user contact information, you can always offer detailed results through email, such as PDF documents and reports with generated charts. The interested users will be more likely to request detailed results even if it means providing their email address.

7. Collect user-entered data for analytics

It is important to collect the data that’s entered into your calculators. Even if you don’t know how to identify your visitors, collecting this data will help you understand your visitor base in relation to your products and services. For example, analyzing annual income input on a retirement calculator can provide you with insight on the income levels of your site visitors.

8. Make advanced calculators available through a portal

Some of your more advanced calculators may require entering large amounts of data, which may take a long time. Once entered, any subsequent change will require your users to re-enter those values again. Allowing your users to manage and save their data though a portal will promote recurrent site visitation and will allow you to collect user information through a registration process.