In Part 1, I looked at the benefits of contact forms, and provided a case study based on my own recent data.
In Part 2, I consider the challenges of contact forms.
Why is it that they sometimes fail to engage potential clients, and what can we do to prevent this?
Too many hoops
As I mentioned in Part 1, relying solely on a contact form is not advisable. Your contact form is likely to deliver messages to your email inbox via both your internet service provider and your website host. If something goes awry on your host’s server, there will be a delivery delay.
In addition, if you tweak the CSS code of your website, this could inadvertently affect your contact form. I was in just such an embarrassing position a few years ago. For a month, none of the messages from my old contact form were being delivered. I had no idea that anything was wrong because I was fully booked up with publisher work. Then, during a coffee break, I pondered the fact that it had been a while since anyone had used the form, which seemed strange. I took the time to send a few test messages, and discovered there was a problem with delivery. I’d tweaked my CSS code and it had caused a snag in the original template. This put me off incorporating a contact form on my website for several years.
The lesson is this – if you do have a contact form on your website, check your dashboard regularly, just to make sure that delivery to your email inbox is working as it should be.
Marvin Russell (‘5 Reasons Your Visitors Don’t Fill Out Your Contact Form’, mysiteauditor.com, 2013) and Jane and Scot Noel (‘Make Your Contact Form a Success’) identify several additional problems with contact forms that could put off potential clients.
Some clients don’t like filling them out. According to Noel and Noel, ‘While there is no perfect rule for every form, short is best, and ask for as little personal information as possible, just enough to get back in touch with them. After all, if they make contact and you start a conversation, you can find out everything you need in a more personal way later.’
Customers don’t like being asked for information that isn’t necessarily relevant (such as phone numbers), nor having to take the time to provide it. Consider asking only for information that’s absolutely necessary at this stage of the process – that way your client won’t feel as though you’re fishing for marketing information. It’s clear that the form is all about them.
Do, however, read the comments in Part 1. They demonstrate that one size doesn't fit all. What works for you may not work for me. Katherine Trail asks for more information on her contact forms than I do, but she offers a more complex and specialized service. John Espirian points out the value of using simple-to-use protection mechanisms to minimize intrusion from spam bots. Ultimately, we want to create balanced contact forms that support our business goals and engage our potential clients.
Consider the confirmation message and the submission button.
Test different wording on the submission button, for example, try changing ‘Submit’ to ‘Send email’, ‘Email [Name]’ or ‘Send your message’.
Also test more friendly confirmation messages such as ‘Thanks for contacting me about your proofreading project. I’ll be in touch shortly!’. Noel and Noel call this ‘leverag[ing] your “thank you”’ so that it acknowledges that your potential client has taken the time and made the effort to enquire about your service.
There aren’t enough forms
Don’t necessarily limit the contact form to one page. I have one on my Contact page, my Get a Quote page, and my Proofreading Bundles page. Each has a different name. That means that when I visit my website dashboard I can see which forms are most popular. Currently, it’s pretty much even. Again, this is something to test. Russell has incorporated multiple contact forms on his site ‘for years and found that very often our visitors will fill out a contact form because it’s right in front of their face’.
No call to action
Noel and Noel also argue that, all too often, people fail to tell their potential customers to use the form: ‘If you don’t ask your web visitors to do something, don’t expect them to do it.’
If you’re not sure whether the contact form is the right way to go for you and your customers, the easiest way to find out is to test it.
Caution: it’s all about the client
Even if your data tells you that, during the test period, your potential clients did not use one particular method of contacting you (e.g. the contact form or your phone number), this only tells you what happened in the past. It doesn’t tell you anything about how a new lead might prefer to contact you in the future.
For that reason, I’d recommend removing particular contact tools with caution. It’s better to offer a range of tools that will cover all your clients’ preferences, rather than losing a great lead because you didn’t make it as easy as possible for your customer to get in touch with you in the way they wanted to.
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and copyeditor. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
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