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posted by hubie on Thursday May 09, @02:26PM   Printer-friendly

https://adamjones.me/blog/dont-use-contact-forms/

Contact forms are almost always worse for users than just putting an email on your website. I explore why they're terrible, why you've done it anyway, and what to do about it.

Why your contact form sucks

Your contact form is completely broken

It's remarkable how many contact forms are just straight-up broken. A WordPress upgrade here, a change to your CRM there, and your contact form silently breaks.

At time of writing, B&Q's contact form just plainly doesn't work1. I am fairly amazed that a retailer with revenues in the billions doesn't notice written queries have stopped coming in.

[...] Contact forms are hard to get right, and often just a worse experience for everyone involved. Go forth and remove your contact form and list your email on your website now!

[Ed. comment: click through and read the lengthy, but hard to argue against, complaints about web-based contact forms]


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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by datapharmer on Thursday May 09, @02:54PM (5 children)

    by datapharmer (2702) on Thursday May 09, @02:54PM (#1356330)

    You’re worried you’ll get spam if you list an email online. Surprisingly, not really. I found we often ended up getting less spam compared to WordPress forms

    Yeah I don't buy that. You can take a contact form down, but once that email address is out there you are getting spammed for life. Dumping your email on a website will absolutely get you spammed to death. I have lots of anecdotal experience with this, and saying "the spam filtering will handle it" is just making it the poor mail system administrator's headache to manage the filtering instead of the website's.

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by zocalo on Thursday May 09, @04:20PM

      by zocalo (302) on Thursday May 09, @04:20PM (#1356340)
      If you put the email out there as straight ASCII in the HTML, then yeah, it'll get scraped and then spammed to death. A little bit of simple JavaScript or CSS obfuscation though and it'll be almost certainly be fine. That doesn't protect you from someone manually adding it into a list (or using it on a signup form for one), or if you use some generic "support@domain" type address that seems like it fits the target audience for the spam or phish and the spammer just prefixes the username onto every domain they have in their mailing list, but that's going to be just at a background noise level for a busy email server.

      We're not talking major web properties here, but I've had emails out there with only simple JavaScript (back in the day) and CSS (more recently) obfuscation almost since it was first possible to do so in some cases, and have never had a spam problem with any of them. The spamtrap emails in plain ASCII in the same HTML files, but not on the page the viewer sees, generate spam source IPs by the bucket load though...
      --
      UNIX? They're not even circumcised! Savages!
    • (Score: 3, Funny) by Mojibake Tengu on Thursday May 09, @05:01PM

      by Mojibake Tengu (8598) on Thursday May 09, @05:01PM (#1356347) Journal

      I like getting spam on public emails. It's effortless way to get plenty of interesting funny code in my hands to analyze.

      Spicy exploits, yummy exploits, love me!
      Spicy exploits, yummy exploits, come to me!

      (Some desperate people use this spell for just calling money, though.)

      --
      Rust programming language offends both my Intelligence and my Spirit.
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Snotnose on Thursday May 09, @07:02PM

      by Snotnose (1623) on Thursday May 09, @07:02PM (#1356363)

      once that email address is out there you are getting spammed for life.

      That's why I have a junk email address. 20 years ago I got tired of arguing and making up eff@u.com and just make a gmail account for nothing but this crap. I get maybe 20 messages a day on it, I read maybe 2 a week. My real email gets 4-5 messages a week and I read most of them.

      --
      In this month in 1958 Project Snot was started. This has upset many people and is widely considered a bad idea.
    • (Score: 3, Informative) by ls671 on Thursday May 09, @07:22PM

      by ls671 (891) on Thursday May 09, @07:22PM (#1356365) Homepage

      Yeah I don't buy that. You can take a contact form down, but once that email address is out there you are getting spammed for life. Dumping your email on a website will absolutely get you spammed to death. I have lots of anecdotal experience with this, and saying "the spam filtering will handle it" is just making it the poor mail system administrator's headache to manage the filtering instead of the website's.

      Contact forms used to be and do what you say back in the days when most people didn't use spam filters. Nowadays, you will get spammed for life with your contact forms; you will get way more spam reaching you through your contact form than from traditional emails. Just be creative in creating contact emails you need to use like say, contact2376@domain, etc. and simply forward that to your regular email you don't want disclosed on the web site.

      I kind of agree with TFA, nowadays it seems better to just refer users to an email address, much easier to filter out and identify spam that way.

      I host many websites with contact forms so I have up to date experience with it. Also, the websites might be blocked for sending too much spam through the contact forms since most users have gmail accounts or what not.

      --
      Everything I write is lies, including this sentence.
    • (Score: 2) by gnuman on Friday May 10, @06:11PM

      by gnuman (5013) on Friday May 10, @06:11PM (#1356464)

      Since I sometimes write to mailing lists, I'm getting "spammed for life", as you say, since 20+ years. At the moment, with spam filter, the signal is still stronger than the noise and holding steady.

      Anyway, you can just have throw-away email addresses for contact, like helpdesk86@example.com and change it once you start getting lots of spam. Done.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by looorg on Thursday May 09, @03:00PM

    by looorg (578) on Thursday May 09, @03:00PM (#1356331)

    I would fill out the contact form if the form actually made sense. But the forms are usually badly constructed and designed, which seems to be his main gripe about them, or they just plain don't work or you don't get the help you wanted by filling them out.

    I think my main beef with them is that they ask for to much information they don't actually need to answer my query. No you don't need my full name, address and date of birth to answer this query. But yet they are required to complete and submit the form. So if I fill them with obvious bogus information they could just get trashed due to it. I just don't know what they do with all that information, it's also very annoying to find out what they do with it, or to get them to delete it. In some cases they are legally required to keep them around due to archive laws. So your query or reason for contact is saved a few years before being auto purged.

    I’ve also seen some complaints forms asking for more sensitive data, like date of birth or copies of ID documents. Sometimes this is despite them not holding this information in the first place, so they’re not comparing it to what they have on record as a security measure.

    I guess we shared that concern.

    A lot of them also appear to be bad javascript implementation that basically take forever and consume a ridiculous amount of resources, to the point that some of them just crash the browser. I wonder when they just tested these forms last time.

    The only thing that is worse then contact forms are job application forms. Technically the same kind of forms, a form is a form is a form after all. But the amount of stupid questions, required information and such things just increases exponentially. The worse is usually those drop down menus that for some reason have to include every single country on earth in them -- be it country or just for filling in national phone number prefix or something. What the hell ... You don't even have on office in most of these countries. Much less are you going to accept applicants from them.

    Then there are the forms that are so clearly made for phones. Small tiny UI made for swiping and stuff. I guess it sucks in the reverse to when you have things made for a large screen crammed into a tiny, by comparison, phone screen.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by GloomMower on Thursday May 09, @03:36PM (1 child)

    by GloomMower (17961) on Thursday May 09, @03:36PM (#1356334)

    > You want people to contact you, and think your form will lower the barrier

    The original thought I had for them. So many people don't have a mail client set, so clicking a mailto: link does nothing for them.

    But maybe people are getting smarter, or phones make it easier now.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Freeman on Thursday May 09, @03:52PM

      by Freeman (732) on Thursday May 09, @03:52PM (#1356336) Journal

      Once upon a time I used Thunderbird as a mail-client. I get that it can be useful, I just don't need yet another app when the default "client" to access my e-mail has always been a website. I essentially have only ever had 3 e-mail accounts, one each at 3 different providers. Somewhat recently one of them complained, because it was getting full. I'll eventually have to deal with that. Considering it took close to 20 years for it to get this far, I can probably kick that can down the road for a while longer. Future me may be unhappy at current me, though.

      --
      Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee"
  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Freeman on Thursday May 09, @03:57PM (2 children)

    by Freeman (732) on Thursday May 09, @03:57PM (#1356337) Journal

    A contact form allows someone to enter their complaint/etc at the point where they found how to contact you. Personally, I think it's better to have a Contact Form with a Support E-Mail available.

    Still, it's much easier to get customers to give you useful information by prompting them with a form. As opposed to relying on a user to give you helpful information at the start.

    While a contact form may not be "ideally the best thing to use". It's better to have one than not, especially for a larger organization. Anything to potentially get better information from your customer on the first communication and to streamline the process is likely better than just giving them an e-mail and hoping for the best.

    --
    Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee"
    • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Thursday May 09, @03:59PM

      by Freeman (732) on Thursday May 09, @03:59PM (#1356338) Journal

      Having skimmed the article. It feels very much like someone who just hates Contact forms for whatever reason. Sure, there are plenty of ways to suck at making a website, which includes creating horrible Contact forms. That doesn't mean they are inherently bad.

      --
      Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee"
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by zocalo on Thursday May 09, @04:29PM

      by zocalo (302) on Thursday May 09, @04:29PM (#1356342)
      This. Choice is always good, and there must be a customer services mail adrress or app of somekind behind that contact form anyway, so there's no real reason why you can't directly feed emails into it as well.

      If you're serious about customer support, you'll give your customers the ability to contact you in the manner that best suits them anyway; a webform, email, app (if you have one), social media, even by telephone or post if you want to get old school. If people want to reach out to you, then they usually have an issue they want resolving, so letting them do so in the manner they feel most appropriate not only ensures they can communicate what they need to (maybe they want to attach a photo of the problem?), but also means they are not even further irked by having to jump through what they may feel are additional arbitrary hoops designed to deter complaints.
      --
      UNIX? They're not even circumcised! Savages!
  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by VanessaE on Thursday May 09, @04:24PM

    by VanessaE (3396) <vanessa.e.dannenberg@gmail.com> on Thursday May 09, @04:24PM (#1356341) Journal

    If your "contact us" form needs anything more than my email address, a subject line, and the message body, your form sucks and whoever came up with it should be flogged, or at least fired. If you want more details than that, ask for them in your follow-up, and don't be shocked if I tell you to get bent.

    -----

    Speaking of forms, THIS one overflows the right margin on narrow screens at higher zoom levels, even though there's no reason for it to do so.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by pTamok on Thursday May 09, @05:53PM

    by pTamok (3042) on Thursday May 09, @05:53PM (#1356350)

    is that you keep copies of sent mail, you get copy of the complaint/issue you sent, at the time you sent it, in the client set up to suit you, that you can search, and if you so wish (if your client supports if) have a view into the threaded conversation.

    All extremely useful if you are pursuing a complaint.

    Which is probably why organisations want to stop you from doing that.

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by turgid on Thursday May 09, @06:09PM

    by turgid (4318) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 09, @06:09PM (#1356352) Journal

    Customers are a nuisance. Just give us your money, go away, and be quiet.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by daver!west!fmc on Thursday May 09, @06:38PM (3 children)

    by daver!west!fmc (1391) on Thursday May 09, @06:38PM (#1356359)

    Your contact form requires the person requesting contact to enter an e-mail address. It will send a confirmation e-mail, including the text collected by the form, to this e-mail address. Thus it can, and will, be used to send spam not just to you, but also from your host to someone else who the spammer really wants to get to somehow.

    Just use a throwaway e-mail address already, one that forwards to your actual contact e-mail address. Go ahead and put it on your web site in the clear. When it starts getting spam, make a new throwaway and put that on the web site, and get rid of the spammy one. It will take months, or years, it will be so much work that the hard part of the problem will be remembering how to do it when the time comes.

    • (Score: 2) by Opportunist on Thursday May 09, @07:22PM (1 child)

      by Opportunist (5545) on Thursday May 09, @07:22PM (#1356366)

      It's even easier than that. Make the mail address a guid-style address, usable exactly once. Set up your mail server to forward anything going to a guid-style mail address to your actual contact mail address, and immediately blacklist any guid-address already used.

      Unless you get like a few billion mails a day, this should be good for a year or two. Then you can purge the blacklist and start over.

      • (Score: 2) by daver!west!fmc on Friday May 10, @06:16PM

        by daver!west!fmc (1391) on Friday May 10, @06:16PM (#1356466)

        Like the hosting provider you (or your organization) have engaged for a Wordpress site (whose developer insisted you had to have use contact forms so you couldn't get spam) offer that kind of feature in their mail server.

        The thing I really find offensive is how the things are used to spam other addresses.

    • (Score: 2) by vux984 on Friday May 10, @06:45PM

      by vux984 (5045) on Friday May 10, @06:45PM (#1356471)

      I've seen lots of contact forms that don't include the text of the message you sent, just a vanilla acknowledgement of receipt precisely to avoid this means to spam.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by choose another one on Thursday May 09, @06:59PM (3 children)

    by choose another one (515) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 09, @06:59PM (#1356362)

    TFA implies that failure to accept "example.com" email addy is a bug... without realising it may well be an entirely deliberate feature.

    Some site admins may actually know about example.com and reject it as not really your email address.

    Now if you put in motherinlaws@myrealdomain.com and already black holed motherinlaw and it still don't accept it, then maybe you got a point.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Whoever on Thursday May 09, @07:06PM (1 child)

      by Whoever (4524) on Thursday May 09, @07:06PM (#1356364) Journal

      Yes, "<anything>@example.com" is not valid, per RFC 2606

      • (Score: 1) by pTamok on Thursday May 09, @10:25PM

        by pTamok (3042) on Thursday May 09, @10:25PM (#1356388)

        So is "<anything>@<something>.invalid", per RFC 2606

    • (Score: 2) by ese002 on Monday May 13, @06:18AM

      by ese002 (5306) on Monday May 13, @06:18AM (#1356771)

      Apart from a dns check on the host (maybe), contact forms should not be validating email addresses. They will almost always do it wrong. Don't use a validator from a trusted library either because THEY will get it wrong too! I can't count the number of contact forms I have encountered that insist that domain names with more than two parts (ex: user@dom1.dom2.com ) are invalid.

  • (Score: 3, Disagree) by YeaWhatevs on Thursday May 09, @08:26PM

    by YeaWhatevs (5623) on Thursday May 09, @08:26PM (#1356376)

    Because messaging apps are better.

  • (Score: 2) by crafoo on Thursday May 09, @11:06PM

    by crafoo (6639) on Thursday May 09, @11:06PM (#1356390)

    I enjoy the opportunity to enter puns and lame jokes into their database. the more entry fields the better, I say.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by YttriumOxide on Friday May 10, @04:53AM (1 child)

    by YttriumOxide (1165) on Friday May 10, @04:53AM (#1356411) Homepage

    My business website (self employed, just me, tech specific consultancy) has both a contact form and an email address.

    I find about 20% of my client inquiries come through the form, and 80% through email; while I get a lot of spam via the contact form and nearly none via email.

    Nevertheless, I leave the form there because clearly some people are choosing to use it, and I'm not in a position to risk temporarily losing 20% of my business on testing whether they would use the email link if the form were removed. Overall, I'm happy with having both options for my clients and other than the annoying spam which is easy enough to ignore, don't really see a downside.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Friday May 10, @01:27PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 10, @01:27PM (#1356443) Journal
      This is an important point. Multiple contact methods means you're more likely to get people to talk to you. I think the broken communication problem of the story would be greatly reduced, if websites routinely monitored their forms for basic functionality. But that would require some degree of interest in the communication provided by contact forms.
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