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In the “Build A Better Website” series, we’ll dissect a website page by page and put it back together with purpose and great content so that each page of your site can build trust, earn credibility and drive revenue for your business.
Let me ask you something: how long has it been since you gave any thought to your Contact page? And when you did think about it, did you give it any more thought than simply creating a form with a few fields and a ‘submit’ button?
What if I told you that the only thing standing between you and a new customer is your Contact page?
Bet you’d want to make it a bit better, wouldn’t you? It may be overlooked and neglected, quickly constructed and just as quickly dismissed. But isn’t the whole point of having a website to get someone to contact you? If someone can’t do that then you may as well be shouting into an empty room.
The poor ol’ Contact page is usually the last thing on our minds when we update our websites. We spruce up our bios and perfect our service pages. We make our product pages shine and maybe have a gorgeous work portfolio. But it’s the Contact page that’s going to turn all that gorgeousness and effort into customers and sales. To make the most out of it, don’t simply throw a form up there and call it a day. Try these tips instead.
1. Start It Right
You know what’s boring and uninviting? Contact pages that start and end with a form. Your marketing doesn’t stop at your Contact page! Just because someone got there doesn’t mean they’re going to actually contact you. Crazy, right?
Pay attention to the opening copy on your Contact page. What if someone happened on that page without ever visiting another page of your site? It could happen. Make it friendly, inviting and give people a reason to want to get in touch with you. No need to write a novel or a long list of services or benefits. Just make it clear, friendly and tempting.
2. Ask For The Right Amount Of Information
Notice I didn’t tell you what to ask for. That depends entirely on your business and goals. But whatever you ask for, it has to meet this single criteria: it must be necessary.
Nobody wants to fill out a million form fields, so consider how easy or hard it is for someone to actually complete your form. Are you asking someone to check off 15 options, answer 9 questions and complete an entire dossier before they can get in touch with you? That’s guaranteed to turn people off… if it isn’t necessary. (Chances are it’s not.)
As you build a contact form (or scrutinize the one you have) I want you to think hard about each and every field you put there. I want you to ask yourself, “Do I absolutely, positively, 100% need this information in order to communicate with this person effectively?”
Notice I didn’t say “to do business with” effectively. Some people treat their contact forms like a mini-interview. You may want to know half a dozen things about someone but that doesn’t mean you need to know. The contact form is not there to do the vetting. It’s there to get people to contact you. Make up your mind that you’re going to have to do the screening as a separate action because when someone hits that page all you want is their “ok” to get in touch.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that you should nix the “required” vs. “not required” fields altogether. If it’s not required, why is it on your form? Even not-required fields can bulk up a page and look intimidating.
Unless you have a good reason to ask for more, then asking for a name, email address, possibly a phone number and “whaddya want”? should be sufficient.
3. Use Field Validations
There are two important ways to do this.
First, make sure that required fields are actually required and that the average person cannot circumvent a required field and submit the form without it. This is just a plain good idea. If you require an email address so you can reach out to someone and your “required” field allows a blank entry, then that form is as good as useless.
Usually required fields have that little (*) beside them. That may visually tell a person it’s required but you need some programming magic to make sure it actually is. In many cases that’s not all too difficult. If you use a service like Wufoo or a WordPress plugin like Gravity Forms then setting a required field is as easy as clicking a checkbox.
Even if it is difficult, I advise contacting your developer for help because a useless form is… well, useless.
The second piece of validation is not only requiring an entry but requiring a specific format. For instance, if you ask for someone’s email address you not only want them to enter information into that field but you want it to be an actual email address… not “cl” or “[email protected]” but the whole darn thing; “[email protected] (<–That’s me, if you ever want to ask a question, share your thoughts or otherwise chat! Just don’t spam me. I’ll send a pack of angry wild monkeys after you.)
Messing up is easy to do when you’re filling out a form in a hurry. More times than not I’ll enter my email address with a .cmo. Good thing those friendly reminders pop up before I can submit. You certainly don’t want your only chance to contact someone to be thwarted by a typo.
And now that I mentioned it…
4. Make Messages Friendly
Not much is less appealing than an error message in gigantic all-caps red that says “INVALID ENTRY”. Kinda makes me feel like I’m trying to break into someone’s house or something. Much like validations this can usually be solved pretty easily by thinking about a nice way to say “hey dope, you left out your email address!”
Please is always a nice word to use.
And do let people know what they should do. Here’s another unfriendly message: “Your form contains errors.” Um, really? Which ones? If the email address is at issue, a simple “please enter a valid email address” is a lot more helpful.
5. Make It Pretty
I know, the Contact page is not your best work of art. You’ve saved all the glory for your home page and portfolio. But ugly, squashed, barely readable forms are a real turn-off. If you can get in there and have a go with the CSS, great. If not, it’s worth hiring someone who can.
For starters, make the font on the field labels large enough and align them properly with the fields.
Space the fields out so it’s visually pleasing and stack them. There’s a temptation to include multiple fields on one line. Often first and last name get grouped on one line and sometimes phone, fax and email. Resist the temptation. Stacking will make your form look much cleaner visually and easier to complete.
If you can’t or don’t want to stack, then just make sure your fields are large enough, spaced enough and distinguishable enough. And be sure that your groupings make sense. First and last name go together but address and email do not.
If your form must necessarily be long then break it up like all good content with bold subheadings so it’s less intimidating and easier for someone to track their progress as they complete it.
Make sure it’s clear that fields are fields. They should have a border or a background color (or both) to distinguish them from the rest of the page.
And let the form be the pretty girl at the party. No need to showcase your artwork, fabulous graphics, amazing photos or anything else on this page. Just a beautifully laid out stack of wonderful fields so that a person can focus on contacting you.
6. Get Rid Of Social Icons
Before you panic, let me ask you a question: when someone gets to your Contact page, would you rather have them contact you or become a Facebook fan? If you give people the option to follow you/fan you/pin you or do anything at all but contact you then there’s a pretty good chance they may do something other than contact you.
The sole focus of a contact page is… you guessed it! To get people to contact you. More than one directive and you may lose that opportunity. Here’s a good example of how too many options can completely derail a person.
Want a Facebook fan? Ask the person after they’ve submitted the form. Your “thank you” page is the perfect place for a bit of upsell or a secondary call-to-action.
And while we’re on the subject…
7. Pay Attention To Your “Thank You” Message
What happens after someone submits your form? First of all I hope the answer isn’t “nothing” although I’ve seen this happen, too. Once in a while I’ll fill out a form and… nada. Zero. Big fat empty set. Where did my form go? Was it delivered? How do I know?
A little “thank you” can go a long way. It can let people know that their submission went through (ahem… it should go through and although “test that s#^!” is outside the scope of this post, it’s worth a brief mention here). It can give you a chance to up the ante and ask for the Like or the Follow. It can give you a chance to throw in a little video that adds a bit of personality and makes you more memorable.
Whatever you do, use it at an opportunity and not a throw-away.
8. Give People Other Ways To Contact You
Some people don’t like web forms. It’s true. I have a client who even hates to email me and will call every time. When we live online it’s hard to imagine that people still actually want to talk! But they do, so make your Contact page the place they can get all your contact information.
Instead of assuming that someone who visits your Contact page wants to fill out a form, let them choose how they want to reach out to you.
Unlike other distractions that can confuse people, multiple avenues of contact will only help people. Providing your phone, fax, direct email if you choose or mailing address will give people the option to select their favorite method of communication.
Plus it will add a bit of “hey, this company is for real” because people will see that you’re available and willing to engage in whatever way is necessary.
Oh, and I guess it goes without saying that your Contact page needs a form! Probably should’ve mentioned that earlier… but why wouldn’t you want a form? It’s the web, gosh darnit! Sometimes people really don’t want to talk to you. Sometimes they’re afraid of the hard sell. A form gives (most) people what they want and makes it super easy for you to receive, track and log communications.
If you’re a local business, why not get really crazy and throw in a Google Map? (Or a Bing Map as you may be inclined.)
And just to really challenge your thinking today, you can always throw in a social icon. But wait! Didn’t I just tell you to get rid of those?? Indeed I did. Unless you want to give people the option to send you a message on Facebook, for example. Don’t ask for a Like, but if you’re so inclined, you can provide a social network as another avenue of communication. Use your judgment!
Treat Your Contact Page Like It Matters
It does! This is not a “set it and forget it” page. The same way you update, rethink and retool the rest of your site, you should do the same with your Contact page, especially if you’ve ever received negative feedback about it. Once in a while give it a test and see how much you like filling it out (this will also give you a way to be sure it’s actually working). Once in a while ask a friend to try it out. Occasionally check to be sure you haven’t forgotten to change to your new phone number. Consider whether there’s anything you can do to improve the intro copy.
Remember, if you can get someone as far as your Contact page, you want to be sure the deck is stacked in your favor so contacting you is exactly what someone will do.
Got any Contact form pet peeves? Share your worst in the comments!