Contact forms are the lifeblood of the internet. They offer the most basic way to communicate with an organization and they’re pretty much here to stay.
While contact forms may be a clumsy way of communicating, they can get the job done. The problem: are they getting the job done effectively?
There are three common problems with contact forms. The first problem occurs when a form is too daunting for a user to complete. Usually, the form is either too long, confusing or asking for information deemed too personal. The second problem occurs when the user does fill out the form but the information provided is not useful. This is typically the result of an ill-prepared form that asks all the wrong questions. The third and final problem is technical in nature. If there’s a problem with the server and the form doesn’t submit correctly, not only could you lose the form data, but you’ll also have one annoyed user to deal with.
How can we improve the effectiveness of our forms? Here are a few guidelines that I try to follow whenever I create a form.
- Eliminate all useless form fields. Only gather the data you really need. Do you absolutely need to get the user’s physical address? No? Take it out. The fewer fields, the less daunting the form is.
- Mark required fields as required. It’s annoying when you fill a form out only to have it bounce back because a field you did not know was required was.
- Don’t have too many required fields. Forcing people to do something is usually a bad idea. The more fields you “force” them to fill out, the more resistant they will become to filling out the form.
- Use conventions. If you need a name, ask for their standard first and last name, but don’t ask for their surname or salutation. Most people will have to stop and try to figure out what you’re talking about otherwise.
- Creativity is good, but don’t be TOO creative. Your form should look like a form. The form label should be positioned to the left or top of the field and everything should flow in a way that guides users straight to the submit button.
- Don’t ask for weird information like a user’s SSN or Driver’s License Number. And if you need to collect that information, make sure your form is secure. People hate divulging secretive information, so let them be as anonymous as possible without compromising the usefulness of your form results.
- Tell users explicitly what your privacy policies are before they submit the form. This can usually be accomplished with a little blurb of text stating that you will not divulge their information to third parties and so forth (and make sure you don’t!).
- The submit button should be as obvious as possible. Most people expect it at the bottom of the form. Pad it up a little and make the text bold, and you should be good to go.
- Do not use reset buttons. They’re useless, and if placed too closely to the submit button, might actually cause people to accidentally click it and lose their data. No good!
- Be succinct in your field descriptions but don’t be cryptic. If your field requires a little explanation, provide it in a clear and concise manner.
- If you must use some sort of human verification tool, make sure it’s readable. I know Google uses one and it’s atrociously unreadable and annoying.
- Once a user has submitted the form, send them an auto-confirmation email. This confirms that you got their message on a more personal level. Don’t have the technical skills to do this? Try out a service such as Wufoo.
- Make sure your forms always work. Test them weekly if you must. Otherwise, you’ll have people trying to use your form, losing data and getting frustrated. That’s bound to be a deadly combination.
- Last, send users to a useful success page. Say more than just “thank you.” Give them somewhere else to go or something else to do. You’ve already hooked them.
Anybody else out there have some tips of their own for making forms more effective and useful? Share them!