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Test your online forms (Revisited). Don’t let this happen to you!

This is inexcusable so I won’t make (m)any excuses, but I offer this unfortunate account in hopes it will save you suffering and money. Names were changed to protect the acutely embarrassed.

The client’s site had been launched, tested and was working fine. It was a simple lead generation site for a modest sized law firm site. All site statistics showed high page views, low bounce rates, plenty of time on page and good paths thru site. All who saw the site admired it.

An advertising campaign was launched. A strong print campaign was built with the focus of driving traffic to the web site or the phones. Ads were placed in both retail and industry publications and feedback on the ads was excellent. A 6 figure campaign was funded. At this point I joined the project.

There were problems though. Like many lead generation sites the only true conversion metrics were the number of calls and emails that “came thru the real or virtual front door”. I could have set up dedicated pages to record conversions but since we had contact information on all pages (as I recommended) it would be unreliable to count on page views of just the contact page as a reliable metric. Furthermore, the phone number appeared throughout the site and 18 possible people answered the phone. The lawyers were more interested in gathering cases then recording how prospects found the firm. My suggestion to use a dedicated phone number to record leads was rejected by the firm.

I tested the site once more and then implemented site tracking analytics, limited as they were. Whenever we met to discuss the campaign, I asked the firm for basic lead generation reports and every time I was put on hold. I made several usability recommendations which had fallen into the same communications black hole.

Traffic analytics continued strong, traffic spikes accompanied every print ad’s appearance and pay per click was generating impressions and click-throughs. Finally at the end of the third meeting I interrupted the executives and put my foot down. I said: “if you are unwilling or unable to give me any conversion metrics, at least tell me how your general business is doing.”

His reply flabbergasted us all. He said: “coincidence or not, since the campaign started we have seen a significant drop in leads coming in!

The meeting ended shortly afterwards and we were shocked. The problem would soon become obvious. There are several lessons to learn.

In the course of deconstructing the problem, I tested the web form and discovered that at some point, the network admins had changed email spam settings which excluded all emails sent by our web forms. The normal “info@” email address worked, but when the form sent “info@” email it was blocked. We assumed, based upon what we heard from the “info@” recipient, that email coming in to them included form email. It was a costly assumption.

Having since spoken to several fellow consultants in other companies, all had a similar tale to tell. I want to pass along one strong message. Set reminders every week (or more) to test your email forms, your shopping carts and any of your site functionality which is subject to systems beyond your control. In my case, even with an internal IT staff the customer potentially lost in the millions of dollars because there was no regular testing regimen.

Responsibility for the regular testing was never clearly assigned. Tests should be regular and to insure accountability include another party to review the testing. IT departments often work in their own world and none of the IT folks considered that their changes might create problems. Please set your calendar to remind you to test your web sites. The client’s blocked emails were lost and we will never know how much business it cost.

I am quick to add the excellent recommendation from George Aspland whose work I highly recommend:

– I always try to have form submissions sent to two email address and/or also entered into a file on the web site. Having them put in a file on the site has saved the day more than once as the very same thing you talked about, form submissions going into spam, has happened before. It was worse in a past case as they were getting deleted as spam by the clients ISP and never reached their email system where they might be recovered. But a record of form submissions on the site was kept and all I had to do was send it to them

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