Too often our website is merely a one-way conversation with our audience. You probably have read that engaging our web visitors is not only important for generating web traffic and higher search engine rankings, but it is also an indicator of the overall success of website. So how can we create bi-directional conversations on our site? How can we increase interactivity with our audience?
Web forms have traditionally been a common vehicle to allow our audience to converse with us. Through forms a visitor might: leave a comment, ask a question, sign up for a newsletter, answer a survey, register for an event, submit a request, make a purchase, and much, much more. In return, we gain useful information, insight or revenue from them.
Creating forms can be a tedious and intimidating process, especially for non-programmers. Fortunately, there are some great free (or low cost) tools available that can make the process a lot less painful for both novice and experienced web developers alike. Let’s take a closer look at what three of these tools have to offer and how they might be integrated into your website.
Woo hoo Wufoo!
One the most elegant and easy to use options out there is the Wufoo Online Form Builder. Wufoo’s features include payment integration, built-in accessibility compliance and custom reporting. Wufoo’s drag and drop interface makes creating forms a snap for those creating their first or one-hundredth online form. There is a template gallery with oodles of common types of forms available for you to customize. If you can’t find what you are looking for in the templates area, it is super easy to create your own from scratch by adding standard fields to a blank form using the drag and drop interface. If you know CSS, you can easily further customize the visual design of your form. Completed forms can be embedded into any webpage using the provided HTML code snippet or you can add your own logo and run your form from the Wufoo site directly. Data can be accessed by logging into your Wufoo account and also emailed to an email address (or addresses) of your choosing.
Wufoo offers free form processing (form data collection and email forwarding) for up to three active forms including up to 10 fields each receiving up to 100 monthly submissions per Wufoo account. If your form needs surpass the free quota or if you require online payment options, their is a single monthly fee ranging from $15-200 depending on the number of expected monthly submissions. Additionally, advanced users and designers with knowledge of HTML and CSS who want a jump start on creating the markup for their HTML forms can download free of charge any form created in Wufoo using the template or the drag and drop form builder. The downloaded forms can be easily integrated with custom PHP form processing or other form processing scripts.
Google does it again
Google offers a smorgasbord of free tools for web developers including Google Analytics, Custom Search, Webmaster Tools, Calendar, Maps, YouTube, and more. It should come as no surprise that Google also offers free form creation and processing. Google forms are available as part of the Google Docs suite along with documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and a few other things. While the interface is a little less friendly than that offered by Wufoo, it is easy to title and add different types of questions to your form. Data is stored in a Google Docs spreadsheet (which can be shared easily) and can also be emailed to you directly. Google offers about 100 different themes for customizing the appearance of your form. As with Wufoo, you can link to your form on Google or you can add the embed code (under “more options”) to any web page on your site. Fine tuning the visual appearance of your Google form is a bit tricky, but it is possible if you have advanced CSS skills. Google Form’s primary advantage over Wufoo is that there are no limitations to the number of forms, fields or responses.
Lime Survey is a free, open source survey application packed with features. Forms are created with the aid of a web-embedded WYSIWYG HTML editor with results stored in a MySQL database. Lime Survey also allows open and closed group of participant surveys, conditions for questions depending on earlier answers (skip logic/branching), multilingual surveys, and an option for participants to buffer answers to continue survey at a later time. The dizzying array of options can be a bit overwhelming if you have not built online forms before, but if you are creating long or complicated surveys, Lime Survey may be a good choice. Although the interface is a bit clunky at first, Lime survey includes reusable editable answer sets and ready-made importable questions that help speed up the form creation process. Online surveys produced with Lime Survey must be hosted on the Lime Survey platform but the design is customizable via template and inline CSS.
Because Lime Survey can be hosted locally, it is a better choice for any forms required sensitive or confidential data. UVM hosts Lime Survey for members of the UVM community and offers an officially branded UVM design template. Additionally, Lime Service provides free external hosting of Lime Survey.