Web forms Are Very Important!

Did you hear that, Developers?

Web forms are crucial. Stop laughing and read this article dev heads – this one’s for you.

In some cases, a working website can be summed up thus: “Does the form work?” If the form doesn’t work, you don’t get the message. No message = no sale. No sale = no business. Website? = Pointless!

web forms or email?Sure, people can call or contact you by email, but a simple form – when it does work – saves time. Ask any novelist staring at blank page one. Web forms corral people into giving you the right information. A form asking for Name, Email and Phone Number is pretty inoffensive. When faced with a 3 field form, users usually won’t have a problem contacting you. If you are asking them for more personal information (say – before a sale) such as their physical address – they might hesitate.

Form Errors

Ever completed an online survey or filled in a form only to find it won’t send?

Most forms will fail if there’s an error. “Go back and fill in [incorrect] field” is common feedback on longish forms. It sometimes takes a while to scroll through all the highlighted areas you missed out when incorrectly filling in a web form. Other times (like for me this morning) a form won’t recognise your location. Or the form hangs during the send process (usually with a spinning load symbol near the SEND button).

Case in Point

I’m writing this ditty because I just spent 5 minutes filling in a form that wouldn’t work. The (Sitepoint) user survey did not accept Perth as my location, no matter how clearly I worded it.

form location field

The form ultimately failed to send because of this field. Guess someone else will win that Macbook. Meh.

Basic Notes About Web Forms for Website Developers

Forms have fields. Each field is coded as a type. A field might be coded for “text” input or numerical input (e.g. “phone”). Inputting text into a text field should work, but inputting text into a field expecting 10 numbers will not. Numbers, letters, spaces and hyphens will be okay in a text field, while more than 10 digits in a phone field could result in an error. Other field types might be;

1. Field Types (Contact Form 7)

  • DATE (e.g DD-MM-YY or MM-DD-YYYY)
  • PHONE (might be numbers only)
  • EMAIL (needs @ sign and .com or .com.XX)

There’s an issue with this and I’ve noticed it has a lot to do with US-based settings.

2. US Web Form Default Settings

We use DD-MM-YY generally, while in the US it’s MM-DD-YY. In Australia, we also use plus-signs and brackets for phone numbers. A lot of WordPress forms are based on third-party programs such as Gravity Forms ($200 RRP) or Contact Form 7 (Free / donation). Some of these form programs are designed for the US market. Setting the “phone” field in Contact Form 7, for example, will result in a submission error for 99% of Australians

3. Stupid Form Errors

Last year I did an SEO analysis for a site which had lots of good traffic. I wasn’t even sure why they hired me. Tens of thousands of people were visiting the website every month – an admiral number for any Australian Company. Perhaps (as is so often the case) this wasn’t an SEO problem, but more of a conversion problem.

So I went through the ten page site carefully.

These are the things that I noted;

  • No phone number on site
  • No email address on site
  • One form on Contact Page

In bold red, the words, this was written above the form Do Not Contact Unless for a Dress Fitting. This single form was the ONLY way to contact the client. But wedding dress fittings were not the only service the client provided. One can only hope that the form successfully converted into an email.

Instead of being negative or a little terse, I suggested that the shop use a pull down menu and include the 5 or 6 services (including “other”) as choices. If the store wished, they could ignore non-dress-fitting submissions – or funnel those to the right department (one that gives a S#1T about prospective clients).

4. Forms That – Just – Won’t – Send

Usually Because of Form-to-Email Issues

I’m amazed at how many forms simply fail to work. It’s not always WordPress plug-ins. There are many places where things can go wrong between the user and you. In rough order, these are places where your missing form may have been sent. Let’s assume we got a “Form sent successfully” message or we were directed to Thank You page and yet you still didn’t receive the message.

  • Do you receive regular emails okay?
  • Does your email work? Do you know for sure?
  • What computer / browser combination are you using?
  • Do you get mail directly off the server or are you using a client?
  • Is the SPAM filter on your server set too high? (e.g. Spam Assassin)
  • Is the SPAM filter on your email client set too high?
  • Does your email client check the server for mail regularly?
  • Can your email deal with forms sent from a website?
  • Does your smartphone use the correct settings?

Case Where Email Wasn’t received

I recently had a case where a lady wasn’t receiving her forms. The form sent fine. She just didn’t receive the email. You know where this is going . . .

I was using Contact form 7 (WordPress) and included myself in the BCC: field to test it. I was getting form submissions to my Gmail account fine. She was receiving some form-to-emails, but not all of them. Particular clients could email her directly from their website but not fill in the web booking form. It seemed to be a certain bunch of return-email addresses which simply did not send to her. I checked the field types etc. All seemed fine. Plus I was pretty confident the form was working because I was getting the BCC’d copy ok.

We tried a different email address for the recipient and she got the emails fine after that. But the original problem wasn’t fixed.

Form-to-Email and Your ISP

The problem turned out to be her ISP (Telstra Bigpond). It just didn’t like some email addresses when entered in the Reply-to: field of a web form. They recommended she use the test gmail address themselves! Too hard basket. Meh.

Sometimes ISPs have their own Spam Filters and those can be set a bit high. Another client last year had the same issue with Microsoft Mail. If a server’s spam protection is set very high then you might be missing out on leads. Check that the form sends to you first by testing with a different email address. You can use mini email database plugins to at least check emails as they hit your website.

There was an unexpected advantage when using a specific email for form entries

The temporary gmail address that we set up for the client could be accessed by an app on the client’s smartphone. Using the Gmail or Inbox app, my client was able to get audible notices whenever someone filled in her form. Using IFTT technology opens this up even further. You could set your IoT (Internet of Things) doorbell to ring whenever someone fills in a booking form on your website. But I digress . . .

I had yet another client (many years ago) who wanted forms with over 100 fields to fill in. I advised that not only would nobody fill in such an onerous form, but that the possibility for error is huge. While we went ahead anyway, the final project was abandoned when a competitor addressed the issue on another website first. The forms were still huge though.

Web Form Tips : Adding Forms to Your Website

Here are just a few of my thoughts when it comes to web form design and sending website form data to email.

  • Make sure the form is visible
  • Test that the form sends to your email address okay.
  • Send form entrants to a Thank You page so that you can easily track with Google Analytics.
  • The more fields a form has, the less likely a user is to fill them in.
  • Catch form entries with a Form Database Plugin (if using WordPress)
  • Consider setting up a separate email address just for form entries *
  • Make sure you do not have “Don’t Use This Form” written in bold on your contact page.
  • Test forms regularly (once per week is good).

If all else fails, the alternative email option above* is a quick way to solve the ISP issue without getting into the who-to-blame Web Designer Vs. Server Vs. ISP debacle. And because so many ISPs outsource to Asia these days, they may not be even aware of web forms or form-to-email send problems – or indeed – how to fix them.

Use a Gmail account for testing instead of @iinet, @bigpond or @microsoft email.

Further Reading:

Here are some great links:

I know this was a bit of a dry article, but I had to get some of these issue off my chest. I hope you got something out of it, too.

Leave a comment at the bottom of your page if you did. I’d love to hear about some of your own issues with web forms. Stories or nightmares most welcome.

 

Author: Edwin James Lynch

Edwin wrote his first (Harrier Jumpjet) computer program in 1982. Today he builds websites utilising best practice, future-proof web development, online marketing and SEO. He lectured for 15yrs+ at Curtin University where (in 2007) he was voted 5th best out of 2,500+ university lecturers in Australia.

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