WordPress Form Plugins: Best Practices and Recommendations
While contact forms aren’t exactly a new method for engaging with customers or generating leads, using forms effectively is still a great way to gather information from site users and make it easier for customers to contact you.
Contact forms come in a wide array of shapes and sizes, and while they can indeed help facilitate that prized connection with interested customers, there is some nuance in how to best utilize them.
For WordPress users, the extensive library of available plugins offers a ton of options for building great-looking contact forms and weaving them seamlessly across your site(s). But before you start picking out plugins to download and install, here are some tips for what you should look for.
In the following sections, we’ll walk through best practices and recommendations for using contact form plugins on your WordPress site so you can provide better customer service and grow your client relationships, and even add contact forms and other lead generation efforts to your portfolio of services. It’s a win-win!
In this article, we’ll cover:
- What are contact forms?
- Plugin best practices
- Form plugin setup
- Form plugin fields
- Contact form engagement
- Preventing form abandonment
- Selecting your contact form plugin(s)
What are Contact Forms?
Contact forms are essentially just what they sound like—short forms that offer an easy way for site users to reach you, beyond the contact information that may already be available on your website.
Forms can revolve around an open-ended “contact us” page, a link, or a button, or they might be tied to specific pages and content. What‘s important is that the contact forms you use make it easy to get in touch with you, and they don’t turn users off with a clunky experience that results in form abandonment or unresolved outreach.
While any website can include a contact form, WordPress specifically makes it easy to add forms to your site through the wide ecosystem of plugins that exist for just about any type of functionality, contact forms included!
In fact, there are hundreds of plugins dedicated solely to contact forms, and while each one will provide something different, creating a strategy for how you want to use contact forms and where they might appear on your site is a good first step.
Plugin Best Practices
Before we go any further, it’s important to run through a quick overview of plugins in general. As noted above, there are tons of plugins for WordPress—nearly 60,000 in the WordPress repository alone!
Plugins are one of the biggest benefits of using WordPress, as the wide catalog of plugin options makes it easy to add features and functionality to your sites. But that doesn’t mean all WordPress plugins are created equal.
While features and functionality are one thing (and we’ll provide more on this later), the first thing you want to keep in mind when evaluating any plugin is security. How recently was a plugin updated? How many active installations does it have? What version of WordPress is it compatible with?
By looking for a plugin that’s up-to-date, with wide community adoption and a dedicated developer team behind it, you can generally narrow your search to safer, more appropriate options, and trim away plugins that may have vulnerabilities or other security concerns lurking under the surface.
After you’ve downloaded and installed a plugin, keeping up-to-date with its latest version is also important to prevent the security issues that can arise when plugins are neglected for too long.
Using a staging environment to test your plugins before running them on a production site is another good way to prevent costly issues, from security vulnerabilities to backward compatibility. By and large, proceeding with a healthy dose of caution when evaluating, testing, and ultimately using your plugins is the best way to ensure their best use.
Form Plugin Setup
Once you’ve selected a form plugin (with the criteria above in mind), the first step in putting it to use is as simple as making sure it works.
While adhering to best practices should limit your exposure to substandard plugins, there could still be an issue with the plugin you’ve selected, or, there may be an issue with your site or your hosting provider that’s preventing the plugin from working correctly.
Testing your plugin to make sure it behaves the way you want is step one, and that can be as simple as running tests (on a staging site) to check for a few basic elements, including:
- Forms appear where you want them to, with the ability to tweak design and layout as needed/desired.
- Information is captured correctly, and you’re easily notified/given access once a form has been submitted.
- Forms are mobile-friendly and work across various devices without issue.
Once you’ve established that your form plugin works the way you envisioned, you can begin optimizing it for your own unique needs.
Form Plugin Fields
One of the first things you may want to adjust upon installing a contact form plugin is the number of available fields required (and what information they require) in order for a form to be submitted.
While you should be able to include (or exclude) as many fields in your contact forms as you want, a good rule of thumb when designing contact forms is to keep it short, as every additional field required is a potential point of abandonment for your site users.
While this is not an open-and-shut case—context matters, and there are certainly longer forms that successfully generate more qualified leads—it really boils down to what you’re trying to accomplish with each specific form.
Use your own preferences as a guide here—how much would you be willing to fill out in exchange for a newsletter subscription or an ebook download? At the same time, you’ll want to take into consideration what you need to best nurture your leads. You can also A/B test different forms to see which versions are more effective.
While there are some options available for partial lead capture (more on this below) making your contact forms easy and fast to fill out will go a long way towards better form engagement and higher conversion numbers.
Contact Form Engagement
While contact form plugins can take a lot of the initial design work out of creating effective forms, there are still considerations and opportunities for optimization once your form plugin is up and running.
Depending on how and where you use your forms, you may consider adding some of the following elements:
- Images: from icons that liven up simple contact fields to photos and other creative designs that reflect your brand, adding imagery to your contact forms can increase user engagement by making forms that are more inviting to fill out and submit.
- Clear CTAs: making sure users know exactly what to do and what to expect when they’re presented with a form is a good way to provide needed clarity that can lead to higher conversions. Use a short description and a call to action within your form that helps site visitors submit their information more quickly.
- Form confirmations: in a similar vein, set up a confirmation window or email that shows up after a user has submitted their information to provide that needed clarity on what they can look forward to and what to expect next.
- Social media links: add social icons to your form that connect users to your Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts. These additional channels of communication offer great opportunities for nurturing existing leads and generating new ones.
- Alternative contact info: while some users will prefer to contact you by submitting the form itself, others may be looking for alternative ways of making contact—make it available to them! In addition to your social channels, make room for a good email destination and if possible, a phone number.
All in all, you should keep two things in mind. You want people who are interested in your products or services (or your clients’ products and services) to be able to reach you as easily as possible. And you want to present them with opportunities to contact you or sign up for additional engagement (newsletters, other email subscriptions, etc.) in an easy and convenient way.
With those goals in mind, ask yourself if your forms are helping your cause or hurting it, and if your current form plugin doesn’t allow you the flexibility to adjust, it might be time to re-evaluate.
Preventing Form Abandonment
Form abandonment, which occurs when a user declines to fill out a form or decides to stop after filling some of it out, can definitely be frustrating.
Implementing some of the above suggestions should go a long way in creating forms that are inviting to the user and easy to fill out. Tracking the performance of your forms and testing them while making adjustments are also ongoing efforts you can undertake to prevent, or at least decrease, form abandonment.
If your forms are still experiencing lackluster engagement, use that personal test again—how much time would you want to spend filling out a contact form? The answer is probably “minimal,” and if your forms aren’t providing that experience, it may be time to rethink.
Outside of preventing form abandonment, a number of contact form plugins now offer features for partial lead capture, meaning you can still glean some data from forms, even if they aren’t fully submitted.
By enabling this feature within your contact form plugin, you can put the days of lost leads from incomplete forms behind you, although fair warning: some of those leads abandoned the form for a reason, and will be less interested than others.
Selecting Your Contact Form Plugin(s)
When it comes to choosing a contact form plugin for your site or the sites you build for others, you have a lot of options. Applying the tips and recommendations listed above can help you narrow your search and prevent you from selecting outdated or ineffective plugins.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll also be looking at a few of the most popular contact form plugins for WordPress, with detailed guides evaluating: Contact Form 7, Gravity Forms, Ninja Forms, and WP Forms. Stay tuned for each one of these guides and check back here to find them once they’re all published!