Web forms can be a great asset on your business site. They let you collect pertinent data and contact information from your visitors without exposing your direct e-mail address to the world. They also set specific boundaries on the type of data you receive from customers so that the information fits nicely into a spreadsheet or database as needed.
Building a web form used to require a bit of coding and “wiring” on the back end of your site. These days, there are some great free and low-cost resources on the web that make building and integrating forms into your business website a breeze.
Wufoo is a great web-based form generator with a very intuitive interface. Forms are extremely customizable with simple drag-and-drop commands and many style options.
The forms you create “live” on Wufoo, but they are fully embeddable into your own website or blog by pasting a bit of code. But what makes Wufoo especially useful is that your account on the site serves as a hub for all the data that flows into your forms.
While you can download and configure your form to function with your own database, you may not want to when you see all the great looking reports and widgets you can generate just by logging into your Wufoo account. By hosting your data with them, everything is DIY, and easily accessible, with no need to hand your files over to a database expert to get your form up and running. In addition to viewing entries on the site, you can configure Wufoo to e-mail or text you when a user completes your form.
A free Wufoo account allows one user to generate three forms with three corresponding reports. Additional forms, users and reports come at a few price points, starting at $9.95 per month.
Icebrrg has nearly identical features as Wufoo, and similar price points for paid accounts. You can host your own files or integrate the forms easily onto your business website and receive notifications when they are filled. A nice feature is that embedded forms are rendered in HTML, and will comply with the CSS styles of your website to match the look and feel automatically.
Icebrrg no longer has a free account, but at $9 per month, you get 10 forms, 500 entries, and 100MB of storage for customers to upload files.
Formsite has a focus on a few more complex features that not every business may need in a form, but some will find extremely valuable, such as payment integration for credit cards, PayPal, and Google Checkout. They also offer multi-page and “skip/branch” surveys, which allow you to control the flow of questions based on certain rules and user responses.
Formsite has all of the customization, embedding, hosting, and notification options as the sites mentioned above, and their free account lets you create five forms, with 50 items per form.
4. Google Docs
If you're already using Gmail, Calendar, and other Google Apps for your business, you may want to take advantage of the forms function within Google Docs.
This form generator is pretty bare bones, but the dead-simple interface and integration with your existing Google account make it useful for internal employee surveys or even the daily lunch order.
Once you create your form document, it's tied to a spreadsheet and data summary that also live in your Google Docs. The data feedback, in the form of a response counter and various charts and graphs, is extremely detailed and easy to read (similar to Google Analytics), and the timestamped spreadsheet is exportable for whatever your database has in store.
A Google form is embeddable in an external website, but its cumbersome formatting and limited customization means that it probably won't agree aesthetically with your sites. For now, linking to these forms is a quick and dirty way to gather data on a simple, clean interface.Image courtesy of iStockphoto, alexsl