Save time and trouble with website forms

If you use email to receive enquiries from prospects, the chances are that you will have received some very scrappy ones that make it hard for you to be able to frame a sensible response without a request for further information. Apart from introducing latency as a result of going back and forth, it means extra work for you.

One way around this is to use a form on your website that has obligatory boxes, usually alongside other optional items.

How web forms process data

There are essentially two ways of dealing with filled-in data:

  • you receive an email with the responses
  • the responses are put into a database and you may receive a notification, usually an email, if traffic volumes are not expected to be high

The first method is the simplest and good for low volumes of enquiries but it does require manual processing of the contents and, if need be, the manual copying of the data across to other systems. Manual copying can get error prone, so this leads us to the second method.

A more advanced process will integrate with your office system – for example allow an enquiry to be assigned to a particular person, data transferred to one or more internal systems, ticked when completed, etc.

Deciding what to ask in the web form

Brevity is best, but not always possible

In order to get maximum take-up and accurate-as-possible data, it’s best to gather the minimum amount of information consistent with being able to make a sensible reply. Some data will obviously be essential and should be labelled accordingly but the optional data should not require too much thought.

In a commercial environment, the idea is that this is just the first stage in a selling process and one where the prospect could be just testing the water. From your point of view, just getting the minimum of accurate contact details may be the objective.

Progressive questions

Some forms may need to be dynamic because further questions may need to be asked if they select certain initial options. In some circumstances, the visitor may be quite happy to fill in extensive forms, but guard against asking too much, too early.

With wizards, ideally there should be no page refreshes because when this happens delays might be introduced – the browser window goes blank for a bit and they visitor then has to refocus their gaze. Page refreshes can be eliminated with a group of technologies that go by the moniker AJAX – and it’s only mentioned here so that if your web developer starts talking geek, you may have half an inkling as to what they are talking about.

Prompts to qualify the visitor

If you have a minima – typically a minimum order value – that applies to a transaction, then state that clearly on the form. You’re wasting their time and yours if the prospect is unlikely, if ever, going to be able to afford what you have on offer.

Make it easy for the visitor

There are occasions when you have to present information so that the visitor can decide what to fill in. The obvious example of this is appointments where free slot information is near essential – see our article Book me in! for more about online appointments.

In other situations, you may have to offer visitors choices like colours or sizes.

Although these things may mean the implementation is a bit harder, it should be easier for the visitor to use and you get better data.

Testing your forms

Testing is an art in its own right and can involve eye-tracking, psychologists and all sorts of things, but here we’re just dealing with the simpler end of testing.

Use classic ‘hallway’ testing: ask a variety of people to imagine themselves as ‘ordinary’, non-expert visitors and then have a go with your forms, but don’t help them in any way! See if they have difficulties or attempt to ask you questions.


When a form goes live, you will start receiving ‘real’ data. Use your web analytics to see if people are stopping at a particular point and go through the returns from time to time to see if any of the questions could be refined. Just revisiting a question after a week or two can change your opinion of it.

Side benefits of web forms

Spam reduction

Should you choose, you could completely remove all references to your email address from your website. This means that (nefarious) email harvesting systems will have nothing on which to bite.

Web forms themselves can be subject to spamming but this can be reduced by various techniques similar to those we’ve built into CazMiranda.

Changing the receiving email address

On occasion our clients have wanted to temporarily change the receiving email address. This is relatively straightforward with a web form system.


Contact form example

Here is an image of the desktop, as opposed to mobile, version of the contact form that resides on our contact page. It has three obligatory fields – hinted with bold labels – and an optional field. In our case we’ve elected to leave a general email address on the page and, in practice, some people have used that in preference.