We all need data on the users that matter to us most.
In many cases, to get this precise data to make an impact on our marketing and business efforts, we need to have data forms to collect and capture information directly on our websites. This helps automate data collection, thus saving time and creating more accurate reports.
You can do this through several plugins that you can add to your business website depending on your needs and industry (more on this in just a bit).
Once you have a form set up and users begin to fill it out, you can export the data the form gathers—the answers to the questions you lay out—so that you can draw the conclusions that drive marketing and business efforts.
Step one: What information should be collected?
There are several things you can collect data on, from simple demographic information to answers to more qualitative type questions. Of course you never want to ask for too much information on web forms, but these are a great place to get the kind of information you really need to grow your business in a targeted way.
You want to make questions as easy to answer as possible, which means you will want a form that allows for multiple question types. Graham Charlton has laid out a comprehensive guide to how to make long web forms easier for users to help you if you do need a more complex form.
To really hone in on what is most important and why you are asking the question in the first place, consider the following:
- Why would this information benefit your business?
- How will you use the information you gather? Will you publish it, use it to move your business forward, both?
- What kind of users are you hoping to gain answers from?
- How many forms are you looking to have complete to make decisions?
- How will your company keep answers up to date and learn new information as it becomes available?
Once you have an idea of what kind of information you would like to get out of your forms, you can start to conceptualize how you might use that data.
Step two: The importance (aka the WHY)
There are so many different reasons why you might use web forms to collect data. Some of these include business forms, HR Forms, Order/Request forms, Service Tickets, Repots, Signature Capture, Donations/Fundraising, Online Orders, Expense Reports, Output Documents, and Attachment.
For a little more on these different form types, you can read HelpSystems blog here.
How you use forms on your site is going to be highly specific to your industry and overall needs; there is really no one size fits all. Luckily, there are so many plug-in forms out there that you do have an abundance to choose from, and typically you tailor the forms by asking the right questions to get you the information you want.
Your first goal is to figure out the WHAT (questions, reason for having a form, what information is needed), and then you can figure out how to collect it and use it to your advantage.
Below are five of my favorite data-capturing forms.
5 types of data-capturing form plugins
The five plugins below capture some of our favorites for forms, but they are by no means exhaustive. With so many options there are a lot of pros and cons to each, so the right decision will vary based on the business.
Gravity Forms is really an all-around good plugin for forms if you are using WordPress. It is fairly inexpensive (at $39/month) and it is used widely.
One of the best features of GravityForms is that it integrates well with existing tools and software you may be utilizing on your site, including PayPal, MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, Emma, HelpScout, and Stripe (among others). It is easy to use and has a lot of options, which makes it highly versatile.
I have used GravityForms personally and found the user experience so intuitive that I was able to teach myself.
MobileCause is an awesome plugin for nonprofit organizations or organizations that are looking to do any kind of fundraising or charity work. There are 0% transaction fees up to a certain amount (discussed with the organization), which means that not only can you get the job done effectively, you can do more good without additional fees.
MobileCause has worked with big organizations like GoodWill, City of Hope, Boys and Girls Club, and Habitat for Humanity, making it one of the most recognized (and functional) form plugins for nonprofit work. This is another form I have personally worked with before, and the customer service was really what sold me.
When you are considering software or plugin platforms for forms, you want to make sure that you are choosing one that can integrate easily with other programs, tools, and features you are using seamlessly. This is especially true when it comes to CRM or e-commerce tools.
FormAssembly is one of the best for this, integrating with programs like Salesforce and being used by highly recognized names such as Amazon, Harvard University, and Ace Hardware. On their site, Form Assembly makes a strong case for this form tool being ideal for many different industries, including health care, university, and non-profit organizations.
With a drag and drop form builder that is highly responsive, this platform is tough to beat across the board. Again, I’ve used this form option (however at a very elementary level) and found that it gets the job done.
Ninja Forms is another WordPress-based plugin that is ideal for constructing forms. You can watch a video on how it works here.
You have the option to make simple or complex forms (again, depending on what kind of data you are trying to collect), and they have a variety of pre-made layouts for you to choose from.
After a user fills out the form, you have the option to connect it with a CRM of your choice (such as Salesforce, Insightly, or Stripe) or sign someone up for your mailing list by integrating your email marketing platform (MailChimp, Emma, etc).
Last, but certainly not least, we have FormStack. FormStack claims to make designing, publishing, managing, and optimizing your forms easier than ever.
Again, you are able to connect your online forms to your current CRM software, email marketing platform, or payment processor. With 40+ integrations you are able to use major apps such as Salesforce, MailChimp, and PayPal with ease. Plus the 14-day trial to get the ball rolling doesn’t hurt!
I haven’t used this option personally, but it would be my choice for businesses looking to collect a lot of data simply because of the 14-day free trial.
Collecting the data you want or need from your users can be critical for marketing and growing your business, and forms are really the way to make that happen.
With so many options, we know it can be a little overwhelming, but the key really is to establish what kind of data you need to collect, what kind of software/plugins you are already using (and need to integrate), and what kind of form management plugin is really best in your industry.
Automating your data in this way can be overwhelming at first, but the benefits last as long as you want them to.
Do you have a favorite form management plugin? What do you hope to create forms on your site for? Let us know in the comments section below.
Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for HigherVisibility, a full service SEO agency, and a contributor to ClickZ. You can connect with Amanda on Twitter and LinkedIn.