As the saying goes “on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog.” However whether you’re a dog, cat, mouse or human surfing the web the following frustrations will apply – alongside not having opposable thumbs for some of you.

Recently I have had the pleasure of exploring the websites of a diverse range of the UK’s museums. From the weird to the wonderful there is a wealth of sites detailing museums large and small across the land. As part of my research project the plan was make contact with these institutions and encourage them to participate in the study. What came between me and my mission… contact forms.

Now I appreciate the benefits for web forms especially for avoiding the dreaded spam. As well as the limited resources many of these organisation’s have for building and maintaining their websites – resources that get ever tighter with the cuts. Yet here’s what I encountered and my thoughts, some of which might prove useful if you are looking to improve your website and enquiry handling.

1) I’d love to hear more from you but… – E-mail, many of us are overloaded by it but there is nothing I enjoy more than a well put together e-newsletter straight to my inbox. Yet what I don’t like is having no choice in whether to sign up to a newsletter when contacting an organisation. Worst still not being informed of exactly what I am signing up to makes me want to steer clear.

2) I have so much to tell you… – Yes those pesky spammers can cause trouble with your contact forms as well but try not to take that out on me. Blocking the submission of some content via web forms (URLs for example) might be necessary for you but at least inform me of the ‘rules of engagement’ – and better still signpost me to another route by which to make contact with you.

3) We’re not all the same… – E-mail addresses come in many different shapes. Little did I know to trouble I would encounter submitting my contact address with the suffix. Again some instructions on what is acceptable contact information would be helpful.

4) You know where I live… – Let me engage on my terms. Please don’t insist on taking my telephone number and/or postal address.

5) I am not a robot, promise… – Auto Captcha… yeah! Not being able to read them… less fun.

6) Computer says no… – Contact forms that simply don’t work and generate error pages – could you be losing potential visitors?

7) Hello..? – So I’ve submitted my question, comment, feedback… what next? Nothing… did you get the message? Don’t forget to ‘reward’ those that contact you via your web form by telling them you’ve received their message, rather leaving them to wait and wonder. And on that point…

8) Sorry you’ve lost me – … make your thank you page useful. Provide some links to other areas of your site that might be of interest / relevance or where you are looking to drive traffic. This gives you the chance to capitalise on someone that is already engaging in dialogue with you, so give them a little push in the right direction.

9) I’m sure you’re lovely… – Confirmation e-mails are helpful and like thank you pages help users by letting them know you have received their message. Yet don’t forget to ensure they are accurate and up-to-date else it could be a tad baffling to the recipient.

10) Thanks… – Within confirmation e-mails letting people know how and when their enquiry will be handled is important. As well as thanking them for getting in touch – you value their correspondence. Yet also as per point 8 make the most of thank you e-mails to direct people back to your site. Could it be an opportunity to highlight some of your latest events or encourage newsletter sign ups.

Image c/o andy_carter licensed under Creative Commons.