There are plenty of things you’ll need to be aware of when you build a website and plenty of things that can make or break a customer’s experience on your site: the navigational structure, the organization of content, your choice of verbs. But this series is about the small things. Those ubiquitous little annoyances that creep into so many websites and drive even the least savvy customers into fits of frustration.
So if you’ve done half your job correctly, which is getting people to your website in the first place, don’t screw up the other half by sending them packing.
Mistake #1: Annoy Customers With Your Contact Form
There’s a lot to be said for an effective contact form – and no, we don’t mean a contact email address, some lazy info@ or a free Hotmail account.
First of all, putting an email address on your web site is an invitation that says, Hello, please send me spam because I was too cheap to hire someone to program a contact form.
Secondly, it doesn’t help customers provide you with the information you’ll need to do your job correctly. Why would you want someone to send you a poorly constructed email and give them the option to fail to provide you with a name, phone number or any useful information at all?
Thirdly, it simply looks unprofessional, especially if you’re not using an email address that’s related to your domain and have chosen the cheap route instead.
So forget the email address and stick with a form. But don’t annoy your visitors with it and inadvertently sabotage yourself in the process. Watch out for these common traps and you’ll be a step closer to a successful website.
The Contact Form That Never Worked
Assuming you’ve managed to get a contact form up there on your web site, the most important question to ask is: is it working? You’d be surprised by the number of people who simply assume that just because the contact form exists it works. That’s followed only by the number of people who assume that because it worked before it still works now, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
If you’ve launched a web site and never completed your own contact form to see whether it delivers successfully, shame on you. If your form is usable and friendly then it should only take a minute or two to complete it and click Submit, then wait to see if it comes to your email box.
It only takes one little typo to ensure that you never receive a customer communication. Is it worth a minute of your time to make sure that you’re not losing business because someone misplaced the “dot”?
Besides the obvious – missing out on customer communications – there’s also the fact that you’ve got an irate customer on the other end who can’t understand why you never respond to an inquiry.
Take it from someone who is a developer and a consumer: if you don’t respond, I’ll take my business elsewhere, thank you.
The Contact Form That Used To Work, But Stopped
Go ahead and test your contact form. We’ll wait. And then schedule time to do that at least once a month, because you never know when a bug will creep in or some technology will change or Microsoft will issue its latest update or patch and inadvertently render your form inert.
A big company might notice when a day goes by without a word from customers, but small businesses that may only get a dozen contacts in a month may not.
We’ve known business owners who’ve complained that their web site “isn’t doing anything” because they haven’t heard from a customer or potential customer for months. And then we find out that the contact form isn’t working.
“Used to work” will have the same effect as “never worked” in terms of receiving communications and annoying customers. We think it’s worth a minute a month to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.
The Contact Form That Requires Too Much Information
Quick: what’s the purpose of your contact form? If you said anything other than “to allow customers to contact me” then go home and write that in red ink 100 times.
Contrary to what you might want it to do, a contact form is not there to help you build an email list for your newsletter. It’s not there to answer every question you might have about what the customer wants. It’s there for the simple reason that you want customers to contact you. You want them that much closer to making a decision to buy your products or use your services. And if you make that difficult, the customer will walk.
You may think you need all that information, but trust us, you don’t. A contact form is not a screening device. Once the customer contacts you, it’s up to you to do your job and build the relationship. Even if the information that you request is innocuous, nobody wants to be stuck in a five minute survey of their interests and preferences.
If your form is too long people simply won’t fill it out. They’ll find the nearest competitor who is courteous enough to ask only for an email address and a comment and take their business elsewhere.
The Contact Form That Refuses To Submit
If you’re smart, you’ll make friends with the asterisk and put it next to fields on your form that the customer is required to complete. And if your form is done correctly, it will be darned hard for the average customer to submit it without providing you a minimum of basic information. With that tiny asterisk you can even ask a few extra questions and allow the customer to answer them at will.
Of course, having only a few “required fields” doesn’t give you free reign to ask a hundred other mind boggling questions. You should still keep it simple. But required fields with validations can go a long way toward preventing spammy, incomplete and inaccurate forms.
With that said, you can also end up with a whole new problem if you haven’t tested the validations to make sure they’re working. It’s a good idea to require a customer’s email address.
But what if your validation is broken and the customer can’t submit the form even with the email address? It happens.
There are few things more annoying than entering data over and over, trying out various permutations and puzzling over the validation error that probably says something like “you did not enter a valid email address” when you know darn well you did. Six times.
Broken validations have the same effect as broken forms. You end up with no communication and the customer goes to the competition. The only way around this is testing, testing, testing. Go home and write that 100 times.
It doesn’t take much to ensure that you’re encouraging and receiving communications via your website. Don’t be a rookie and lose business just because you never got around to checking out your own contact form.
What’s bugged you about another website’s contact form?
Read More In The “Rookie Mistakes” Series
- Rookie Mistake 1: Annoy Customers With Your Contact Form
- Rookie Mistake 2: Use Bad Photography
- Rookie Mistake 3: Bad Links
- Rookie Mistake 4: Dead Links Pointing To Your Site
- Rookie Mistake 5: Forgetting You’re Not A Rock Star
- Rookie Mistake 6: Too Much (Useless) Information
- Rookie Mistake 7: Dizzy Background
- Rookie Mistake 8: Misusing Technology
- Rookie Mistake 9: Mangling Your META Data
- Rookie Mistake 10: No Call To Action
Join the discussion 2 Comments
Personally, (as a customer, now) I hate contact forms. They’re so impersonal. If there’s a contact form AND an e-mail address, I’ll send the person an e-mail. At least I have a copy of that e-mail in my Sent Items, and I can request delivery and read receipts on it – I’m feedback-obsessed, so every mail I send always requests both, and I get edgy if I don’t get a receipt back. That’s MY issue, I’ll admit, but the Sent Items thing is still valid. 🙂
If there’s ONLY a contact form on a website (and no e-mail address), I’ll definitely think twice before getting in touch.
Interesting. No doubt having multiple avenues of contact is a good idea. Everyone has different preferences. And you’re right about having no record of receipt. You’re never really sure if the form went into the ether (which in a lot of cases, sadly, it does.) Something for business owners to be aware of!