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I'm aware that mailto: links only work for people who use a mail client. Assuming most novice users don't, is it safe to assume that contact forms are only appropriate when the target audience isn't a tech-savvy one?

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6 Answers

What if instead of a mailto: or a contact form we just provide the e-mail address, like we provide the facebook or twitter page?

It just don't open your client email (you have to go by yourself).

If you are on the internet your email may be already opened, so it would be fast. You avoid the problems cited by Phil.

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Native mailto: links have real strong advantages. They are obvious, and are summed up in the word native.

But the Web form has a strong advantage too. It is handy to use when I don't have a ready-to-use e-mail client at hand. Or when I don't want to launch it. I am on the Web, I stay on the Web. Quick. No hassle.

Have both.

The good approach is the one chosen by Bare Bones Software, for example. A native contact e-mail link, and a contact Web form. And they tell their snail mail address too, and phone number, and fax number. This is good. And send to the user a confirmation of his/her message. So that s/he have his/her message in his/her mailbox.

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+1 for providing both solutions and letting the user choose what he prefers. –  Songo Feb 10 '13 at 15:52
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Go for both. In the end I am sure you will not have just a form in the whole page, or just the mailto link. So give people the possibility to choose. The form shouldn't be scary for a person that wants to contact you. So filling in 3 fields shouldn't be a problem.

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Arguments against forms:

  • Users have to fill in more information (at least their email address)
  • There is more room for errors. What if the user mistypes the email address? No way of contacting him/her.
  • Losing your internet connection, pressing a wrong button etc. can cause the loss of the message (very frustrating)
  • The mail isn't in your sent mail folder. No way to look up what you sent and when you sent it.

I'm not saying contact forms are wrong. Just some points to consider.

Also: On smartphones your email client is usually an app so there is no problem of mailto: links not working.

Hope that helps, Phil

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Not sure if this has ever been done but what about upon clicking the submit/send button having it cc a copy to yourself? This could eliminate the part about not having a record of it. –  Matt Rockwell May 11 '11 at 11:36
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@Matt - Lots of sites cc copies (or at least give you the option to do so) when using the contact form. A prime example is eBay - whenever you contact the seller, you can get a copy of it. –  Charles Boyung May 11 '11 at 13:22
    
@Charles - Good point about eBay, I remember that now! –  Matt Rockwell May 11 '11 at 13:43
    
Good thoughts here. –  jessegavin May 11 '11 at 16:24
    
While the email client may be an app on a smartphone, it doesn't guarantee that it has been configured. I was pretty surprised to find out that a work colleague does not have Mail on his iPhone configured, because he uses Gmail. I think it's likely that a lot, if not most users don't use their phone's default email client. –  bernk Apr 24 '13 at 14:42
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This depends on the nature of your site and how you interact with your customers.

The email address should be with the full contact details - address and telephone numbers, maybe photos of the people on the customer service team.

The contact us form is definitely the way to go, not least because you can ask people questions to filter their enquiry to a given department.

The design of the contact us form is important too - you need to supply meaningful confirmation of their enquiry in email, e.g. 'thanks for your enquiry we will be writing you back soon' text. Also set the mouse focus to the first text box so they don't have to click on it. Also consider putting in some javascript over-ride for when they press return - some people do this to move to the next box and end up submitting the form.

For many small businesses 'contact us' is the second most important page on their website - that is where the leads come from. You can record anything and everything you can about their computer, IP address and anything else in $_SERVER. From this information you can then see where your customers come from. Depending on the business this may be helpful to know.

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Yes. Do actually publish an email address. This gives people the option of using their webmail should they wish. –  PhillipW May 11 '11 at 11:36
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I would say that contact forms are always better to use. The general population is now very comfortable filling out online forms, and the contact form is so common that it should produce no question and what it's use is.

Facebook, Twitter, eBay, etc, have created a standard for it.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that using the mailto: would be scary for users who didn't realize that you could open their default mail client.

...and even more alienating for people who didn't know they had a mail client, when they see it open it.

:)

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Clearly forms are the trend on most sites. However, at least having the email address as an option (with or without a mailto link) is probably also worthwhile. –  Rain May 11 '11 at 16:22
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