Should you have a contact form on your website? Good question. And while I know you’re looking for a definitive yes or no answer, unfortunately it’s not that simple. The one thing we can say is that if you do choose to use a contact form make sure it’s setup correctly, it works and you’re responding to enquiries as quickly as you can!
Whatever your current opinion of contact forms (I’m sure we’ve all had that experience of filling in a contact form and never hearing back! Where do all those unrequited contact form submissions go??) they are still as popular as ever. Is the contact form the problem, or is it the website owner? Or maybe the web developer? Do we really need contact forms or do we just add them to our website because everyone else has one?
That said, let’s have a look at the pros and cons of website contact forms, and then you can decide for yourself if you should have one on your website.
Contact forms – The good
Contact forms are a lot more than just an alternative to email – if that’s all they were then personally I would say let’s scrap them – fortunately they have a few tricks up their sleeves that make them a valuable addition to the modern website.
- No email software needed – Contact forms allow visitors to your site to message you without needing to load up their email program. This can be a real time-saver especially when the default mail program is not the actual email service you use! It can also be useful if you want to hide your email address from the public.
- Specify what information you need – You can save some back and forth if you ask for the information you need to respond to most customer enquiries upfront. Let’s say you’re a carpet cleaner and everyone wants to know how much – include on the form questions such as ‘how big is your house’, ‘are there stairs’, ‘will you have access to power’ or any other question that can help you provide an accurate estimate on the first enquiry.
- Simplify data capture – Forms can use a range of field types to make it easier for submitters to send requests – drop-downs with pre-populated choices, calendars to choose a date or upload buttons to attach photos – you can make a complicated request for information a lot simpler and efficient. Many businesses actually use them to replace paper forms to save on stationery and manual data collection.
- Online enquiry storage – You can setup your online form to both send an email as well as add to an online list (spreadsheet) that you can refer to. This is ideal for analysing your lead capturing and to check that leads are being followed up on, and converted.
- Route the message automatically – One of the clever things you can do with forms is make sure the message goes directly to the best person to handle the job. Either by routing based on the subject line, or building individual forms for different services or enquiry types.
- Conversion tracking – It can be hard to know if a lead got your email address from the website, or somewhere else. A form can be setup with conversion tracking so you know exactly where the visitor came from e.g. Google advertising.
There are literally loads of great reasons to use an online form – so why do they have such a bad reputation?
Contact forms – The bad
For a few minutes I’m going to wear de Bono’s black hat and tell you what’s wrong with contact forms. This is important because it’s only once you’re aware of what’s not so great about contact forms that you can actually do something about it – and for the most part there are easy fixes available.
- No response – A common complaint from many is that they fill in an online contact form and never hear back. It’s happened to me, and I’m sure you’ve had the same experience. Or maybe it was several days or weeks before you heard back. Either way it defeated the purpose of fast, efficient communication in this modern digital age – you might have well just gone to the competition or maybe you – shock, horror – picked up the phone and had to call someone. There can be several reasons why you didn’t get a response – the form is broken and it didn’t send a notification to the website owner, it went to their spam folder or the owner just doesn’t check or reply to emails very often – but the end result is the same: you lose a customer, or at least put them offside. It’s an easy fix however – just test the form is working and make sure you response ASAP!
- Bad data – Your form might check the email address is in the correct format but it can’t actually check it’s the customers correct email address – that can leave you with an enquiry that you’re unable to respond to – whoops! This is why some websites also ask for a phone number, as a backup just in case.
- Spam – Contact forms are often targets for spammers, so website owners sometimes complain they get a lot of spam coming through their enquiry form. We use Google’s reCAPTCHA security to minimise this – there are other spam blockers available but reCAPTCHA seems to tread that fine line between being too easy (and letting spam through) and frustratingly impossible for actual real-live human beings.
- Too many fields to fill in – It is tempting for website owners to want to collect data about people interested in their product or service but that can backfire. For the casual visitor with a simple question they just don’t want to hand over details about their firstborn chicken, favourite movie quote and dietary requirements. Make it clear which fields are optional and keep it to a minimum – if you have specific cases where you need a lot of extra information consider creating a separate page with a different form.
- Lack of user confidence – The bad experience of many with contact forms means they might well shy away from yours – even if yours is perfect. There may not be much you can do about this except be a responsible contact form owner (RCFO) and make it a positive experience!
Is there a future for contact forms?
We have a long history with contact forms – we’ve been including them as part of our Standard website packages for over seven years and while they look and work better than they used to, the basic functionality of them hasn’t changed. Yes there have been issues, but in most cases they’re easily fixed and generally not the form’s fault.
Contact forms are still relevant in 2018, serving a useful purpose for both desktop and mobile visitors and creating a convenient method of funneling messages, capturing specific information and measuring conversions. What does need to improve is how website owners use them – so if you own a website and it has a contact form, do yourself (and your customers) a favour by making sure it’s working (check your spam folder as well!) and you’re responding promptly. If we all do our bit maybe the online world will start to see contact forms as the useful tools they are, and not the deep, dark abyss that customer enquiries never come back from!
If you really feel like a contact form is not for you, then an alternative can be a live chat form, which basically works the same as an online form, except when you have one of your team online (referred to as an agent) then visitors can get immediate responses to questions – if you need help setting this up, let us know.