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Contact Form or Email Address?

Posted by Claire Lempke on 04/03/2017
Contact Form or Email Address?

Every website needs a Contact page. When you’re planning yours, is it best to use a contact form to gather leads and track inquiries, or should you list an email address?

The debate rages on.

Contact form compared to an email envelope

We scoured the latest research the Internet has to offer to bring you our conclusion.

THE RESEARCH

UX research on the topic is split.

“Most users are afraid that if they sign up for a website, they’ll get spammed. This is mainly a problem for sign up forms that ask for the user’s email.”
- Anthony, UX Movement 

“Data doesn’t lie, and the data shows that asking for a phone number will kill your conversions.”
- Marvin Russell, My Site Auditor 

"Having a form on your website with a few input boxes...is the easiest way for visitors to your website to send you a message.”
- Martin, Tempertemper

“I have some visitors who tell me that they won’t do business with companies that don’t display their email address on their site.”
- Christopher Heng, The Site Wizard

In some cases, a form is unavoidable. For example, when gathering payment information, you need to make sure all the fields are completed, and with the right formatting. Expecting users to voluntarily send you an email with all of their payment and contact information would be insecure and error-prone.

Users and in-field professionals have strong opinions and personal preferences, but there isn’t a consensus! Not enough UX research has been done to confirm which is “better.”

OUR APPROACH 

Back40 got into the web design and development game in the year 2000, and one thing hasn’t changed: contact information needs to be easy to find on company websites. This general rule isn’t going away. Best practices for usability, however, are always changing based on emerging research, new devices, and new technology. Whatever you do, make sure your customers can reach you. If they can’t, you’ll lose their trust. Ultimately, you could lose their business.

According to the Hubspot blog, the best contact pages:

  • "Explain why someone should contact them [...]
  • Include an email and phone number so visitors can quickly find the right information
  • Include a short form using fields that'll help the business understand who's contacting them."

Just like every page on your site, your Contact page should balance what you need as a business, with what your site visitors need from your site.

At Back40, our approach includes the following steps:

  1. Talking with you about how your website feeds into your business operations, and whether the Contact page is involved.
  2. Talking with you (or ideally with your users) about what your customers need on your site.
  3. Weighing the pros and cons of email addresses and forms with you to determine which is best for your specific case.

When it comes to user experience, a general rule of thumb is “the shorter the better.” Although this seems like a logical approach, when we look at a process we can’t just look at making the first step shorter. We need to make sure the entire process is clear and as lean as possible. For your users’ benefit, and for your own sanity.

This means:

  1. It should be easy for your users to contact you.
  2. It should be easy for you to get back to your customers.
  3. You should know why the user contacted you.
  4. You should be able to help them with as few follow-up interactions as possible.
  5. You should require all of (and only) the information you absolutely need.

How easy it is for the user to send their initial correspondence is important, but how quickly and easily you are able to solve their problem is King.

Here are some of the pros & cons of listing an email address vs. including a form. 

Email Addresses

PROS CONS
User can contact you with their preferred email client. Bots can scrape your website and gather your listed email address(es), flooding your inbox with junk. The spam messages you get from bots can range from humorous to highly uncomfortable. All are a waste of time.
User has a record of the correspondence, as well as the time/date sent. Unqualified users or salespeople can contact you, taking up valuable time.
User might know the first name if the person they’re emailing, which would make them more comfortable. Users might see a personal email address as less professional than a form.
User has the email address for follow-up communication, and can save that address to their contacts to make sure your reply doesn’t end up in a Spam folder. Users might see a personal or general company email (info@...) and think “I might never get a response.”
User can see a “human element” behind the email address. They get the sense that a real person will get their note. The user only sends you what they want - their email address and their message. If they don’t include important information, it will be difficult for you to reply to them with anything useful. You may need to engage in several more exchanges before the user is satisfied.
The user understands that the only information you’ll see is what they provide - their email address, and their message. This gives a sense of privacy. The user decides who to email, which cuts team members out of the loop.

 

Contact Forms 

PROS CONS
Keep team members in the loop by selecting who receives specific form responses. Users might see a contact form and think, “This is going to take forever” - both to fill out, and to hear back.
Ask for all information that would help you answer the user’s need in one response. Ask for too much information, and you’ll see form completions decline.
Keep your inbox organized with pre-determined subject lines. Unless you specifically add it, users won’t be able to save a copy of the email (we suggest adding an optional “Send me a copy” checkbox to your form).
Build an email list from form submissions (when name and email address are captured). As long as you follow anti-SPAM regulations, there really aren't any cons to building an email list of your customers. 

  

FOLLOW THE RULES

There are pros and cons to both approaches. There are also rules and best practices for each.

Form Best Practices:

  1. Only ask for information you actually need (think carefully before making a field required).
  2. Make it clear how you’ll use their information.
  3. Give users the option to send a copy of their correspondence to themselves.
  4. Use the right type of form field for what you’re asking (for example, droplists are best when you need only response from a fixed list of options).
  5. Optimize your form for mobile.
  6. If you’re planning to follow up with people aside from answering their original question, you MUST give them the option to opt-in or opt-out.
  7. If your site can securely handle payment processing, include your site’s SSL or other certificate information to prove it.
  8. Use a CAPTCHA to protect your form from spammers.
  9. Put your form labels in the best location.

Email Address Best Practices:

  1. If it’s not clear from the email itself, say who they’re contacting.
    For Example:
    "Email Claire for questions about AdWords and social media strategy."
    Or, “Email us at careers@back40design.com. Include a cover letter and up-to-date resume.”

  1. Say when they should hear back.
    For Example:
    "We try our best to respond to all applicants within 1 business day."

  1. If you’re getting lots of spam emails, you might want to consider using JavaScript or CSS techniques to hide your email addresses from bots.

  2. Make sure the email addresses you list are professional, using your company domain (not GMail or Yahoo, for example).

IN CONCLUSION

The usability research on this topic is divided: some users prefer forms, while others prefer an email address. Some users say a form is more professional. Some say an email address is more human.

Our recommendation?

INCLUDE BOTH!

That’s right. We recommend you have a contact form that follows UX best practices for lead generation, AND provide an email address. If your business can handle it, also include a phone number, social media links and your address.

Let the user decide the best way to reach you based on their need.

At the end of the day, which method is right for you depends on your company size, and how your website fits into your business model.

If your website’s purpose is to capture leads and track responses, use a form.

If you run a small business and it’s up to you to manage all leads and requests, how you take care of contacts is completely up to you. Do you want it to be fast and easy for people to reach you? Or, are you overwhelmed and only want emails from qualified customers? You may want a contact form that asks for specific information (such as budget) to help you prioritize emails as they come in.

We recommend you include all the ways to contact you that you can successfully manage. That might mean phone, email, a form, and a physical address. It might mean only a form if your time and staff are limited.



Whether an physical address, a complex form, or a combination is right for you, we can help you design the best user experience around what you and your users need.

 

References for this article:

Anthony. "8 Reasons Users Aren't Filling Out Your Sign-Up Form." UX Movement. N.p., 5 Apr. 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

Russell, Marvin. "5 Reasons Your Visitors Don't Fill Out Your Contact Form.My Site Auditor. N.p., 31 May 2013. Web. 24 Mar. 2017. 

Martin. "Displaying an email address on your website.Tempertemper. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

Heng, Christopher. "Should I Display an Email Address on My Site or Use a Contact Form?"