A contact form is a common feature of many business websites. After all, you want to make it as easy as possible for your visitors to get in touch with you to purchase your goods or services.
However, contact forms have several important pitfalls that you may not know about. There are solutions, but they come at a cost. In the end, you may prefer to just list your phone number and email address rather than dealing with the hassles of a contact form.
Common Problems with Web Forms
1. Flaky Email Deliverability from Shared Hosting
Once a visitor fills out a contact form, your site has to email it to you. If you are just relying on your shared web host to send your email, then it may not be sending you email reliably. Worst of all, you’ll never know how many emails you missed unless you are logging submissions (which has privacy implications, see below).
The fact is, web hosts are optimized for serving up webpages, not sending email. Most VPS’s like Cloudways or Gridpane can’t even send email by themselves.
2. Flaky contact form functionality
Even if you do set up your contact form to use a reliable SMTP email account, your contact form might not work for other reasons.
For example, a while ago I noticed that my Divi contact form was not submitting properly on mobile devices. It was working fine on desktop. I traced the problem to my caching plugin.
Contact form problems can also occur due to your security plugin or your server’s security settings.
To rule these out, you need to thoroughly test your contact forms on desktop AND mobile on a regular basis!
The only reason I discovered this problem is that a friend tried to contact me through the form and told me about the failure. If it wasn’t for him, I could have gone years without knowing because I only tested on desktop up to that point!
3. Submissions going to your junk folder
When you get a lead from your website, the last thing you want is for it to sit for a few days before anyone responds! But, oftentimes, email sent from shared web servers ends up in your spam folder. This can happen even if you use an SMTP email service! You might need to try several before finding one that sends email reliably to your inbox rather than your junk box.
4. Overwhelming Spam
Website contact forms tend to attract huge amounts of spam. I’ve seen sites completely overwhelmed with spam from contact forms, rendering them useless. CAPTCHAs are effective but create extra hoops that users have to jump through, decreasing your conversion rates.
5. Organizational Problems: Who is getting the form submissions?
Unlike a phone number or email address printed on your website, it may not be clear who the form is going to just by looking at the site. You may need a web developer to tell you who the form is going to.
The question is, what happens when the recipient of the contact form submissions leaves your organization? Will anyone remember to go into the website and change the contact form to email someone else? Do you know how to do this? You could go for a long period of time before anyone thinks to do this. In the meantime, you’re losing sales and leads.
6. Privacy Issues
Modern online privacy laws are extremely stringent. Website contact forms are definitely covered by these laws. When anyone fills out a contact form, they have the right to know what their information is going to be used for, how to view it, and how to delete it.
The last one may be tricky. If your site logs submissions, you’ll have to delete their submissions in your website database, and also in your website backups, technically. You’ll also need to delete their submissions in the receiving email accounts and their backups!
Unless you know exactly how to deal with these issues, you could be opening yourself up to legal issues.
7. User Skepticism
Because of these problems, some users have come to expect web forms not to work at all. I know that whenever I submit a web form, I often don’t get a response. If a user of your website sees a web form and no other way to contact you, they may go to a competitor that does provide other means of contact.
If you still need to use a contact form, here are some ways to mitigate the issues above.
1. Use an SMTP Email Service
Whenever a website needs to send email (like from a contact form), you should use an SMTP email service to send that email rather than rely on your shared web host to send.
If you don’t have a large volume of contact form submissions, you can use your Gmail or Outlook account to send email from your site. But note, your email address will be shown as the sender to all email your site sends. You may not want this.
For larger volumes, you’ll need to sign up for an SMTP email service like Mailgun, Sendgrid, Sendinblue, or Amazon SES and have your site use that service to send email. Of course this comes with additional cost and setup required.
If the submissions are going to your junk folder, you might have to try a different SMTP service.
2. Test thoroughly and regularly
Because contact forms are so critical and yet have multiple points of failure, you should test them thoroughly on desktop and mobile, and regularly. I recommend once a month or at least every time you update your site. This will also remind you who the submissions are going to, so you’ll be more likely to remember to change the recipient if they leave.
3. Take Anti-Spam Measures
Some of the older WordPress contact form plugins do nothing to mitigate spam or rely on third-party solutions like Google CAPTCHA, which are not ideal because they make your users do more work to contact you (and sometimes they block legitimate users!)
One contact form plugin with spam mitigation built-in without the need for CAPTCHAs is Fluent Forms. I use it on all of my new sites.
4. Use a shared email address (maybe)
One solution, if you are part of a company or organization, is to have the contact form go to a generic email address, like firstname.lastname@example.org, where multiple people are copied, or you’re more likely to remember to forward it to a new person when the old person leaves.
5. Take Privacy Seriously
Privacy is going to become a bigger and bigger issue as time goes on. You should find a developer who is versed in the latest privacy laws, and you might want to consult your in-house counsel as well.
6. Provide alternate means of contact
If your form doesn’t work, or if someone just doesn’t want to fill out a form, be sure to provide some other way for your website visitors to contact you… unless you purposely don’t want to be bothered.
I am not saying that you should never use web forms. But, after knowing these issues, you may find that they are not worth the hassle. Just having your phone number and email address on your site might be enough.
You may be concerned about getting spam if your email address is printed on the site. There is no way to prevent humans from spamming you, but there are steps that can be taken to obfuscate your email address to bots, which should prevent the majority of the email spam if your email address is printed on your site.
I hope this has been helpful! Please leave your questions or comments below. – Brian