Web Design – Rethinking your Website Contact Forms for the Mobile Revolution

 
 Contact forms have always been a thorn in the side for web developers and business owners since they take so much development time to properly implement.  However, contact forms play an extremely valuable role since they bridge the communication gap between the user and website owner.  This is why it’s critical to spend the effort and ensure you contact forms technically function properly and provide good user experience.  
 
Mobile is seriously on the rise.
According to Google, the number of mobile searches surpassed desktop within the last year and the number of mobile searches continues to rise at a steady rate.  Most of you small business owners already went through the hassle of making your website responsive and mobile friendly but you made the right choice.  Next year, Google will use the mobile index to determine how your website will rank in the search engine result pages and they are committed to mobile first web design. 
 
As the number of mobile users continues to rise, it’s important to ensure you website users have a good experience with your site and communication is quick and easy.  It’s not only important for the web user but user experience signals are also an important ranking factor in the search engines. 
Forms on your website should be created with the mobile user in mind. Lengthy forms will often turn off mobile users since it is cumbersome to type lengthy sums of text. Javascript and AJAX programming languages can be used to create mobile friendly forms and display a very short form that captures just the email address and then dynamically displays another form field after the email address is captured.  If the user doesn’t compete additional forms fields, the email and any other captured data can still be sent to the business owner.  
 
If you own or are responsible for a website it’s probably a good idea to view your site on a mobile device and complete the forms.  If you are annoyed at the experience, most likely your users will be annoyed too. You can also take this time to check mobile website speed to ensure a good user experience.   AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) were introduced last year by Google to help make mobile sites faster.  AMP definitely isn’t right for all businesses at this time but it’s important to have a web person that is aware of technology changes so you can stay ahead of competition and avoid mistakes.
 
So what can go wrong with contact forms?
Many things can go wrong with contact forms. In fact, most website owners have no idea of the possible things that can go wrong with forms. The form is part of the website design but to process the form, submit data, update databases, send email and display a thank you notice or redirect to a new page is done using a web application.  
 
CMS (Content Management Systems) have greatly aided small business websites since many free plugins are available to download and manage the forms on your website.  However, it’s still important to understand what is going on behind the scenes as unforeseen issues could be causing user frustration on your website.  
 
The web application should do many tasks. The most important task is to take the form input and sanitize the data so a user can’t pass manipulated code that can hack your website.  A good web application plugin will have good security protocols in place and also deal with issues such as repeat form submissions, automated submissions that don’t even take place on your website, spam issue, etc. 
 
Beyond security, you should also be aware of how field verification could be upsetting your users.  For example, many web applications will not allow certain characters to be submitted since that would be a security concern.  Let’s say a user has a dash in their name which is fairly common.  A poorly written plugin may not allow the user to submit the form until they remove the dash.  The plugin may or may not provide a good error message stating the dash is the issue. Another thing to keep in mind is the plugin may allow the user to submit the form but the dash is stripped from the data and putting incorrect data into the database and email notification.
 
What else can go wrong?
It’s very common for small business websites to be hosted on shared hosting accounts with many sites on the same server. PHP is a common scripting language and many times a web host will update to a new version of PHP and not inform customers.   I’ve seen this numerous times within my 20 years as a web developer and guess what, the web application will no longer work and in some cases no error message even appears to the user. The business owner has no idea the primary purpose of the website isn’t working and there is no communication between the user and owner.
 
How to identify problems?
Webmasters will spend a lot of time testing forms to limit the chances of usability issues. It’s also recommended to monitor analytics to determine where users are bouncing. Screen recording software is especially useful and allows you to identify usability issues but also provides insight for conversion rate optimization. 
In conclusion, mobile use is only rising and taking mobile into consideration will only help your business in the long run. Let’s face it; if you were looking for a tree removal service would you fill out 12 form fields on your phone or would you chose the website that had a click to call button on the website? Web users have short attention spans and will leave a site at the slightest annoyance. Yes, websites are a lot of work but the business that offers the best user experience over the competition will succeed and the others will struggle. 
 

Dan Astriden is a web developer and Chief Strategist at Astriden, a digital marketing, web design, and search engine optimization company located in Santa Cruz, CA. He specializes in pay per click advertising, CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization), SEO, competitive intelligence and web analytics.  Dan has over 20 years of experience in web development and has worked with many small businesses, Silicon Valley tech companies and a fortune 500 company.