Why Website Contact Forms Suck

Recently while attempting to leave a comment on a blog that I read regularly, I ran into an error. I wanted to let the blog author know about the problem so he could resolve the issue and I discovered I didn’t have his email address. On the website, I went to his “Contact” page and was disappointed to see a contact form of substantial length.

BustedIn order to send him a note about a problem on his website, I got to fill out a form asking for:

  • my first and last name
  • my email address
  • (optionally) my phone number
  • pick from a dropdown list of preconfigured “subjects” – none of which applied so I chose “Other”
  • a comments box where I could type my message
  • (optionally) my website’s URL
  • (optionally) a checkbox to subscribe to an email newsletter
  • a reCaptcha that took three tries to get right

Let’s contrast that to the experience I would’ve had if I’d been able to send this person an email from a mailto: link. I would’ve created a new message and:

  • entered a subject that’s descriptive as compared to “Other”
  • entered my comments

According to the site, “To help prevent spam I do not share my email address on my website.” Unfortunately, the web visitor is required to jump through a LOT of hoops because the website owner isn’t willing to use spam filtering on his email.

Don’t erect barriers to engagement. I wonder how many potentially interesting or useful bits of communication haven’t happened because someone got frustrated with an ornerous web contact form?

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  • I can understand not wanting to publish an email address, but a long form is a rotten experience when a person is just trying to send a quick note. A person can either set up an email address dedicated to blog-related email (i.e., blog@) or they can have a contact form that mimics an email with only 4 fields: Name, Email address, Comment, Captcha.

  • I totally agree with this. As a compromise between “here’s a form, good luck” and “here’s my email, spam me” I set up a Recaptacha that will trigger a mailto: link if correct, and also will display my email address (as a link) in the window. I know people have a problem with CAPTCHAs, but I think Recaptcha in general does a good job.

    You can see it in action here: http://fredhq.com/contact — I can tell you that I receive a lot of email through it, so I know that it isn’t confusing people, yet no one’s ever complained about it being cumbersome.

  • Agreed, 100%. I used to use a contact form, but now if you go to my site and click on the “contact me” on the home page, you get a page with my email address, and how to reach me on Google+, Facebook and LinkedIn.

  • I publish my email address openly and publicly, using a mailto: link. It doesn’t cause any increase in spam that I can see, but then I use GMail and don’t see any spam of any sort anyway. Works fine.

    You know, back in the day, they used to publish this big list of everybody’s home address and telephone numbers. It was delivered to every house in the country on a yearly basis. It was notable for having pages that were yellow, white, and blue.

    Email addresses were never meant to be private information.

  • I know this might come as a shock to you, but there are still people out there who do not have an email address, and even some people that don’t have a computer at home. For those people, a web form provides a mechanism for initiating contact, to be followed up by phone, and may result in a sale or other business benefit for whoever you may be building a site for, that they would not get otherwise.

    I don’t like forms either – but maybe what’s most objectionable about many of them is the rather officious, shorthand language so often adopted in them – you know:
    Name:
    Email:
    Message:

    Perhaps a more verbose approach (dare I say more feminine) can be more inviting? Here is one I did for a piano retailer:
    http://www.vivacepianos.co.uk/more-info/enquiry-form.html

    I’m not saying it’s great, but it does try to invite rather than command and has been quite successful in getting new custom, including custom from people with no email address!