When we’re building a new website, one of our default pages is a Contact Us page. It’s always important to make it easy for visitors to get in touch with you; at the very least, you should have your contact information on your site, and a form on your contact page is something that internet users have come to expect. Plus, having a dedicated page is good for search engine optimization efforts. For more complex sites, in addition to that basic contact form, we often build multiple forms, such as lead qualification forms, or business-specific purposes like new client intake forms or surveys.
However, having an actual form on your site isn’t always the best choice. After years of battling the unpleasant side-effects of on-site forms, while also seeing just how very useful they can be when used intentionally, we thought it would be helpful to cover the basics of website forms. In this post, we explore the pros and cons of having forms on your website and offer up tips for making the most of your form(s), should you choose to use them.
First things first: understanding web forms
Web forms are an essential part of most business website, allowing users to submit information and interact with the site. They can be used for a wide range of purposes, from contact forms and registration pages to feedback forms and surveys.
At their most basic, web forms consist of a series of input fields (including text boxes, radio buttons, checkboxes, dropdown menus, etc.) that users fill in with their information. Once the user has completed the form and hit the submit button, the information they provided is processed in such a way that it (ideally) automates certain tasks for the site owner and notifies a specific person of the submission. Processing can be as simple as sending an email notification to the site owner, or as complex as storing the data in a database, notifying multiple people based on specified variables, or triggering a series of automated workflows.
Building effective forms is a whole other topic – check out Hubspot’s Ultimate Guide to Webforms for a much deeper dive into this subject.
Take a moment to decide: should you have a contact form?
One of the primary benefits of a contact form is that it gives visitors a choice of how to get in touch with you. Many users prefer to use a form rather than an email address, phone number, social media messaging, or a chatbot, so providing this option can increase the likelihood that visitors to your site will reach out to you.
However, there are some downsides to consider:
- Do notifications make it to the right person? Frequently, we encounter issues with notifications from submissions to the form actually making it to email inboxes. Our form tool of choice for WordPress, Gravity Forms, has the ability to send as many notifications via email as you like to as many people as you like… but it’s all for naught if those emails get stuck in spam. There are tons of variables here, including where your site is hosted, the spam filters on the recipient’s email account, the reputation of your site’s domain as an originator of emails… the list goes on. Often, a mail handling service like Mailgun needs to be configured in order to ensure deliverability of these types of email notifications.
- Is spam lowering the usefulness of your form? Spam submissions can be frustrating for both the website owner and the person filling out the form. If you leave off a spam-filtering tool like a Captcha, you risk your form submissions being riddled with spam submissions. If you add a Captcha, it can deter genuine users from using the form at all.
- Is a contact form really the most effective way to get in touch with you? A contact form may not be the best choice for current and potential clients to contact you for fast responses. Consider your internal workflows and your own preferences when deciding whether or not to have a form, and make sure that form submissions are read and addressed quickly so as to avoid alienating the submitters.
Once you’ve decided that a web form is the right solution for you, you’ll also need to determine:
- what fields you want;
- which of those you want to require a user to fill out versus which should be optional;
- and wording of the form’s instructions and labels.
Pro tip: take a look at other sites (of competitors, or just sites that you like to use), for guidance on ironing out those details.
How many forms does your website really need?
When it comes to choosing how many forms you need, it’s important to consider your business needs. One general contact form may be sufficient for some businesses, while others may benefit from having multiple forms for different use cases. For example, you may want to have separate forms for contacting different departments or for doing a better job of sorting out leads generated through those forms.
When considering how many forms you need, take into consideration the size of your business, the preferences of and demands upon the individuals who will be tasked with responding to or keeping track of form submissions, what kinds of data analysis or organization you expect to do with submissions, and — importantly — how your users will interact with each form.
At BIPi, we use many forms for various purposes. We have a general contact form on our Contact Us page (where most users would expect to find it), but we also have, for example, an intake form that we ask clients to fill out before discovery sessions, and a Support Ticket form that is used by our support clients. Having these different forms allow us to route requests to the exact right person on our team, as well as ensure that a user can avoid filling out fields that aren’t required for their purposes.
You may want to consult with a marketing strategist or website support specialist to dial in the exact right solution for your business.
Types of form solutions for your website
There are many different types of form solutions available, each with its own pros and cons. A hand-coded form using PHP to send form submissions to a specified email is one option, but it doesn’t store the entries. Google Forms or other third-party options can be embedded into a website and store information elsewhere, while form tools for WordPress sites like Gravity Forms or Ninja Forms allow you to store form submission data in your website’s database and configure various form confirmations and notifications.
The form solution you choose will depend entirely on what platform your website is built on, existing operational workflows within your business, and your own personal preferences and familiarity with different tools. A marketing strategist or website support specialist is ideally suited to help you determine the best form solution for your website.
What to do about form spam
Form spam is a common problem that can be difficult to deal with and can negatively impact the user experience for your staff and for site visitors. Some common examples include phishing scams and “cold marketing” submissions from people who offer services to fix issues with your site. Fortunately, there are measures you can put in place to combat form spam and ensure that only legitimate submissions are reviewed and taken seriously, including:
- Implementing a Captcha: Captcha is a technology used to differentiate human users from bots;
- Setting up content filters: Filters can be used to detect specific keywords and phrases commonly used in spam submissions, such as “free”, “discount”, or “promotions”.
- Use Hidden Fields: Hidden fields are fields that are added to the form, but not displayed on the web page. Bots will often fill in all available fields, including hidden fields. By setting up a hidden field that only bots can see, you can easily detect spam submissions.
In addition to those measures, it’s important to be aware of phishing submissions. Phishing is a type of online scam in which malicious actors attempt to obtain sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers, by posing as a trustworthy entity.
To identify phishing submissions, it’s important to train your staff to look for suspicious URLs, emails, and form submissions. You can also use online resources, such as the Anti-Phishing Working Group, to stay up-to-date on the latest phishing scams and how to identify them. While you may want to consult with your attorney, we recommend first checking with your website support specialist; some forms of phishing are so common that they’ve likely seen it before, and could therefore save you from expensive legal billing.
Keeping track of quality form submissions
Once you do have a contact form set up, it’s important to have a system in place for managing the submissions you receive. This may involve connecting your form to a CRM tool, flagging submissions for addressing by a specific person on your team, or determining when to add a submitter’s information to your marketing database.
At BIPi, we use different solutions for different forms on our site. We definitely field a lot of spam, but for the most part, it’s spam coming from real humans who are attempting to sell us services. Captcha doesn’t stop that kind of spam, so we choose to manually review submissions. We do store form submissions in a database, but — although we do use Hubspot for our CRM — we’ve determined that connecting it directly to our contact forms would result in more clean-up than its worth. We store submissions in our site’s database, but we’ve also ensured that “transactional emails” (emails that are generated by an action taken on our sites) from our general contact forms do make it into our inbox; we monitor submissions via email notifications, and reference the database on a regular basis to ensure we didn’t miss anything important.
Regardless of what approach you take, it’s imperative that a human is monitoring submissions. Just like with fielding phone calls or incoming emails, timely responses to messages ensure that clients — current or potential — see you as conscientious and attentive. If you don’t have the capacity to monitor form submissions, you’re likely better off not having a form. Alternatively, you can include details in the text of your form submission confirmation(s) that set expectations for the submitter. If you regularly take 2-3 business days to address form submissions, make that clear to the form submitter (and, perhaps, offer up a way to get in touch with you more quickly).
Optimizing your form with analytics
You may not yet be to the point where you a) have enough data or b) are ready to analyze data to make decisions about the forms on your site. Regardless of where you are in the evolution of your site and your business, it’s important to use analytics tools like Google Analytics to collect data that can, in the future, be used to optimize your form — and the user experience of forms — on your website.
While a website support specialist can connect analytics tools to your form, a marketing strategist is ideally suited to help you identify what data to analyze and how to best interpret it to take action. You may want to track form submissions, monitor conversion rates, or use a heat-mapping tool like hotjar to identify where to make changes to your form to improve its performance.
Our best advice: find a trustworthy partner to guide you
Deciding whether or not to use a website contact form can be an easy decision initially, but it can quickly become a frustrating time sink unless you’ve set the form up intentionally. Before you implement a form — or if you have forms in place now that you find to be useless or a source of irritation — consider the advice we offer above. Review the pros and cons of different form solutions, choose the right number and type of forms, and implement effective spam prevention and submission tracking measures. Your form(s) can be optimized to suit your specific business needs.
If you’re curious about how Berry Interesting Productions can provide you with the guidance and support you need to ensure your website’s contact forms are working smoothly and effectively over the long-term, Drop us a line or book a consultation directly with our fearless leader, D’nelle. You can also sign up to get emails from Berry Interesting, and we’ll keep you in the loop.