This week I was a guest on the Press This! Podcast to talk about improving contact forms. I’ve spent the last two years building a WordPress form builder plugin, Caldera Forms, and talking with users about their forms, so this is something I think about a lot.
In our discussion, we talked about keeping forms simple, what questions people should ask themselves but don’t, and the importance of planning. You can listen to the full episode here. I wanted to share some things that stood out for me in the conversation that will help you improve the conversion rate of your WordPress contact forms and lead generation forms.
Don’t Forget To Plan
I work mainly with small businesses and solo WordPress developers and I know that time and money aren’t often a luxury on these projects. As a result, vital planning steps tend to get skipped.
But the discovery process — figuring out what you really need from a form and what you need to do with a form can save you time a ton of time. Asking a few key questions of all of the relevant stakeholders can prevent issues caused by using the wrong tools or having unnecessarily complicated forms.
Below I’ve listed some questions you can ask yourself, your client and everyone else who’s opinion matters. But before everything, you must ask “who is a stakeholder?” Figuring out who is going to fill out the form and who needs something from it, is essential.
Designing The Form
What Information Do You Need?
Sometimes a form is simple — name, email, phone number. Sometimes it’s very complicated — such as surveys or event registration. Before you start building any form, asking every stakeholder what they need from each lead.
Finding out later that someone in your organization needed a key piece of information that you didn’t account for is a major problem. It’s easily avoided with a little bit of up front planning.
Is The Form Too Complex?
In the last section, I suggested asking every stakeholder what they need from the form. If you stop your planning there, you’re likely to end up with a very long list. This will quickly present a problem — the more fields you put in a form, the less likely it is that someone will complete the form.
So for every item on that list, ask if you need that information up front. Too often I see forms that are acting as a lead form and a qualification form and an intake form. All that information in one place can be incredibly daunting for a user.
Let your forms be a process. Lead generating forms start a conversation. Some information can wait. It’s just like conversations. Good conversations start with hello, not a request for a life story.
What Are You Going To Do With The Data?
After someone submits the form, you need to record that information. The great thing about using WordPress for your forms is that you own the data. But, you might want to use it for email marketing, or with your CRM, or with a payment processor.
I always recommend starting with the desired end result and working backward from there. If you have the goal clear, for example, “We need to send a notification to our account manager, and add the lead to our CRM” you can define clear requirements to make those happen.
Accessibility and Usability
Is Your Form Mobile-Friendly?
At this point, a non-mobile friendly design is not considered acceptable by the end user or search engine ranking algorithms. Using a mobile-friendly form builder is essential.
Is Your Form Accessible?
So often accessibility is considered an afterthought in web design. Some of the most popular WordPress plugins don’t take into consideration those using assistive devices. Making sure that your forms are friendly to those who have disabilities that affect their ability to use a computer.
Testing that your form works with a screen reader and can be used without a mouse should be as automatic to you as testing for mobile-friendliness.
Don’t forget that good accessibility starts with generating proper semantic HTML. That has benefits beyond accessibility – better cross-browser compatibility and better results from web crawlers like search engine bots.
Are Your Form Submissions Encrypted?
It’s impossible to guarantee that a form submission will not be intercepted between the browser and the server. But, if the communication happens via HTTPS, which requires a valid SSL certificate, then the risk is minimized almost to zero.
Browsers have already started labeling that any form loaded over HTTP with a password as “not secure.” In October 2017, Chrome is planning to report any form as not secure if it is not using HTTPS.
Even if your form isn’t accepting payments or passwords, your customer’s privacy is always important. Using HTTPS respects that privacy and will prevent your site from being labeled insecure, which never looks good.
Are Your Emails Delivered?
No matter how perfect your form is, if you’re relying on data being delivered via email, then you need to make sure that email gets sent where it’s going. Email is never terribly reliable, so having the ability to resend the email from stored data is also important.
A few years ago, I agreed to make my business centered around a form builder plugin. I naively thought that sending emails from form submissions would be simple. Since then I’ve learned so much about how complicated sending emails reliably from a PHP web app is.
We built an entire web app to make this problem simple to solve for Caldera Forms users. But for other form builders, I’d recommend that you use a transactional email service such as SendGrid or MailGun. That alone isn’t enough as you are still risking getting marked as spam unless your domain is verified with proper DKIM and SPF records in the DNS settings.
It’s A Process
Building a form is a pretty easy with WordPress. There are tons of great plugins to do so. Obviously, I have a favorite, but the good thing about WordPress is you have so many options. But don’t let that simplicity lead to skipping steps that can lead to problems down the line.
When I was on the Press This podcast, I wasn’t intending to talk so much about the importance of planning, but I’m glad I did, as in my experience so many problems could have been avoided by starting with clearly defined goals. With clearly defined goals, you can evaluate your tools, 3rd-party integrations as well as mobile, accessibility and email testing.