It’s hard enough for website owners to encourage visitors to get in touch with them at the best of times, let alone during periods of great economic disruption.
So, if you make it difficult for your site visitors to contact you, you risk missing valuable leads and discouraging eCommerce purchasers. It might even mean negative publicity. Bear in mind how easy it is for disgruntled visitors to take to social media to complain.
We recently visited a lot of websites as part of a marketing exercise looking at contacting website owners in a niche area. What struck us was the very high level of issues we had in contacting the site owners. Various issues included:
- Broken contact forms that didn’t submit – typically, we filled out the form fields, clicked ‘submit’, and then either nothing happened or we got a ‘form couldn’t be sent’ message;
- Captchas that were almost impossible to complete – you know, the ones where you need to tick all the images containing traffic lights. There’s always the one you miss, which then generates another set of images;
- Raw email addresses that just didn’t work – some website owners display email addresses on their websites, for example in header areas. We found a few that didn’t work, and some that had been mistyped;
How good are your contact forms?
One contact form we came across was on a property rental site. This contact form asked for (mandatory) the start and end date of our rental, the number of adults, the number of children, the number of cots required, our address, telephone number, and email address, as well as other fields.
We might just want to know if they are a pet-friendly rental before filling all of that out.
We might have a range of possible holiday dates.
We might not be sure how big our party will be.
The point here is that they made it difficult for us to start a conversation, and so may have lost us as a potential customer. Isn’t it better to capture the minimum information, making it easy for them to engage, and then capture more information later?
Tip 1: Make sure your contact forms only ask for the minimum amount of information that you need from a visitor in order to give them what they want. This is good advice for GDPR compliance, but also for usability. The more fields you have on your form, the less chance there is that a visitor will submit it. If a visitor is signing up for your newsletter, why do you need their telephone number too?
Tip 2: Don’t make visitors jump through too many hoops to prove they are not spammers. Contact form spam can be a big problem for website owners, but make it your problem, not your visitor’s problem! If you put a complex captcha on your contact form, your visitor might just get fed up trying to complete it and leave your site.
Tip 3: Regularly try submitting your contact form(s) yourself. All sorts of website updates can cause hiccups with your contact form. Make sure it works, and that you receive the form submission in your inbox rather than your spam folder. If it doesn’t work for you, it’s unlikely to work for your visitor. Repeat this check regularly.
Need an alternative to captcha?
Even the ‘I am human’ checkbox can be a field too far for some website visitors. So a move to an invisible captcha (Google reCaptcha v3) could be a good idea. This does everything in the background to avoid your website visitor being inconvenienced. It needs a little more setup, as you’ll need a couple of keys (site key and secret key) from Google to place on your site. It also places a slightly annoying ‘Google’ badge in the bottom corner of your site and can cause a slight page load speed issue due to external scripts being run.
Note: We had a situation recently where a client contact form was failing with the message “There was an error trying to send your message. Please try again later.” The issue was that one of their Google reCaptcha keys had expired or needed to be reissued. They fixed the situation by generating a new key and pasting the key into their form settings.
Another option, and something we use on a lot of our client WordPress sites, is an anti-spam solution called Cleantalk. This not only invisibly protects your contact forms from spammers, but it also protects other form fields (such as search boxes and comment forms). It isn’t free, but it only costs around £8 per year.
We like it so much, we have purchased a bulk licence and now make it available (free, on request) for our Silver – and Gold – care plan customers.
Our industry leading care plans ensure your site is professionally managed.
Putting your email address on your website
Many website owners display an email address on their website. Often, this sits in the header bar area alongside a contact telephone number.
This is perfectly ok, but there are several things to be aware of :
- Try to make the email address clickable. Everyone knows how to copy & paste. However, it will be easier if they can just click a link to open up their email program with your email address already in the ‘to’ field.
- You will need to rely on your email provider to filter out any spam.
- It’s a good idea to obfuscate your displayed email addresses. This effectively encodes them so that bots and other screen scrapers can’t read them. If you are using WordPress, there are plenty of plugins that can do this for you, such as Obfuscate Email. Do test your site to make sure that it does actually obfuscate your email address (as not all plugins work with every theme).
- Make sure the email address actually works!!! Yes, the 3 exclamation marks are intentional. We came across several sites where the email address was either mistyped (e.g. ggmail), or where the email address was no longer active.
A legal requirement?
One other thing to mention, if you choose not to display your email address. In many jurisdictions, displaying a company email address on your website is a legal requirement [your postal address is also likely to be needed]. So you most likely will need to display it somewhere (even if it is tucked away in your footer area or in your terms of service page).
Putting your telephone number on your website
Displaying your telephone number on your website is a great idea. Many website owners forget that they need to be providing contact methods to suit their customers’ preferences, rather than their own. Picking up the phone and calling direct is still a preferred contact method for many people.
Displaying your telephone number is perfectly ok, but be aware of these things :
- Try to make the telephone number clickable. This will help not only smartphone visitors but also desktop visitors who use a VOIP system to call directly;
- Make sure the telephone number is manned (or at least make it easy to leave a message, and make sure you respond quickly);
- Make sure the telephone number is valid – it’s so easy to mistype a number, but even easier to test the number out once it is on your website;
Using Live Chat on your website
Live customer support is a really good way to allow visitors to engage in conversation with you whilst they are browsing your website. They sit quietly in the bottom corner of your visitor’s web browser, display your default ‘welcome’ message after a set period, and can be clicked by your visitor to start a conversation. Some people don’t like using them, but I do. Getting a chat response is usually far quicker than waiting for a contact form submission to be replied to and is great for asking quick questions. You also get a sense of how good the business is, and how strong their support will be. So, if you are confident that you can respond quickly to chat requests, live customer support could be good for your business.
Live chat widgets can be free, if you don’t need too many agents and if you are happy with basic styling and functionality. Even when you have to pay, it’s rarely more than £10-£15 per month. Solutions such as tawk.to are good for small sites. You might also find that there are chat solutions bundled into your CRM (such as Hubspot and AgileCRM).
Whilst chat widgets offer a low-cost (often free) live customer support solution for your website, you really do need to make sure you monitor the chat at all times during your business day. If you miss chats or don’t respond to them quickly enough, you may well find it does more damage than if it wasn’t there in the first place (consider the prospect of unwanted negative PR on social media too).
To summarise – turn your website into a contact engine for your business
Getting website visitors to engage is a fundamental objective of most websites. It doesn’t matter how attractive your proposition is or how great your products are, if your contact methods don’t work, are difficult to use, or difficult to find, you are going to fail.
So, go take a look at your website now, put yourself in the shoes of a visitor, and see how easy it is to:
- ask a question
- send a message
- order your service or product
As always, your thoughts and comments are greatly appreciated in the comments below, please.
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