Long before the popularity of blogging, websites were using custom submission forms to encourage the kind of two-way communication between readers that allowed websites to grow during the late 1990s and early 2000s. These forms were probably the earliest “comments” on the internet, and often came in the form of so-called guestbooks that allowed readers and other visitors to drop a line of commentary, advice, feedback, or ask a question. This approach has completely fallen out of favor as blogs have introduced things like comments, pingbacks, trackbacks, retweets, Facebook likes, and other forms of interaction.
Still, though, custom submission forms are an incredibly useful way to interact with users outside of blog comments. They’re a great way to get site feedback and commentary where that information might not be relevant to a blog post.
Best of all, custom-developed submission forms are easier than ever to create, deploy, manage, and monitor. That’s thanks in large part to the extensive number of WordPress plugins and other developments that allow for easy drag-and-drop creation of custom submission forms. These plugins are unlike anything that has preceded them, and they offer features and benefits that early guestbooks and contact submission forms simply could not offer. From statistics monitoring to full-on analytics services, and from drag-and-drop deployment to deep template integration.
Deployment of these custom submission forms is pretty easy, largely because WordPress plugins are designed to easily and instantly integrate into any template with minimal XHTML or PHP knowledge. They’ll even give themselves some CSS styling, saving the hassle of adding new, field-specific classes to stylesheet.
Here are the best options for deploying one of these convenient custom submission forms with a typical WordPress installation:
The Best Option for Power Users: Formidable Pro
Any plugin that goes so far as to name itself “Formidable Pro” understandably has a lot to prove. Luckily, in the case of this excellent custom submission forum plugin, the proof is in the extensive functionality provided to advanced WordPress users. The plugin excels not only in developing custom submission forms, but also in providing real-time statistical and usage information about those forms. The powerful backend control panel paired with the plugin is useful in a number of ways that will both monitor the success of the form itself and help to make it even more popular and well-utilized going forward. You should consider this the Google Analytics of custom submission form creation, and use it accordingly.
Aside from the statistical information that it provides, Formidable Pro has a number of unique and intuitive features that make it a top choice for those looking to deploy a custom submission form. Perhaps the best of these features is its support of drag-and-drop custom submission form creation using a control panel page in the WordPress Dashboard.
Most novice WordPress users are familiar with the ability to use website development tools that employ WYSIWYG technology. Those tools allow them to determine element widths, colors, and functions, without knowing extensive XHTML code. The same is true of the drag-and-drop form development tool included with every download of Formidable Pro. This tool actually has color palate selection for each form element, allowing for the customization not only of the forum’s function, but also its appearance.
Users can also customize the default content of that form element, as well as things like the border and any background images, using visual tools that will mesh well with your WYSIWYG expectations. More than that, you’ll be able to develop a form from the ground up by dragging each XHTML form element onto the page and saving the layout. Placement of form elements is entirely visual, and that visual approach is then converted to standards-valid XHTML code when the settings are saved. The produced form can then be included within a standard WordPress template or even in a dynamic WordPress page using a shortcode.
Management and display of submitted content is equally easy with the Formidable Pro plugin. After a form has been created, you can monitor and moderate submissions from the form, especially if those submissions are going to be seen publicly on the website. Form submissions are listed within the plugin’s custom control panel page, and each form field created during the drag-and-drop process becomes a sortable column of data within the WordPress Dashboard. This easy and common sense approach to form data management makes it easy to manage data and sort it in easy ways.
The form employs a number of unique variables, defined and described in its included documentation, for the instant display of submissions in one of the website’s template files. This actually allows you to use forms as a sort of “guestbook” or public comment board that exists separate from the comments section. XHTML and CSS code are used to create and style this display of custom form submission data, and you can moderate those submissions if you wish to have tighter control over what is displayed to the visiting public.
In addition to monitoring analytics data about form submissions, the Formidable Pro plugin can also use forms to act as a sort of statistics gathering tool. Much like a survey, the form can be given selection fields that allow users to enter things like their age, location, or any other demographic or personal information. That information can then be compiled automatically into graphs, pie charts, and diagrams, for easier analysis. It’s a great way to survey your site’s audience and target their interests and biases more accurately, and the plugin makes this as straightforward as any novice user would expect.
Perhaps best of all, the Formidable Pro plugin’s premium price tag comes with a guarantee of future compatibility and feature updates from the plugin’s developers. That’s a promise that won’t often be found with free plugins available from the Extend gallery. And, because of its easy interface and powerful features, the Formidable Pro plugin is a formidable and powerful choice for users of all experience levels and skill sets.
Encouraging User-Submitted Post Content with the Gravity Forms Plugin
While guestbooks and demographic survey information might currently be the leading reasons for creating a custom submission form, they aren’t the only reason that such forms and plugins are in increasingly higher demand. One of the newest and most innovative uses of custom submission forms on WordPress blogs is to actually enable user-submitted content without granting access to the WordPress Dashboard control panel area. The reasons for this should be pretty obvious to you. Giving control panel access requires a significant amount of trust, and the potential for real website damage, data loss, and downtime, is quite real. With the use of custom submission forms, especially those promoted by Gravity Forms, you can actually create custom entry and comment submission forms that lie outside the WordPress official ecosystem and allow for interactions that can be Dashboard-managed, but are not Dashboard-dependent.
Of course, that’s not the only function of this popular custom submission form plugin. It’s also quite adept at creating traditional contact forms or guestbook-style feedback boards. And all of the data that is submitted through those forms can be managed and viewed within the Dashboard. Just like its other premium plugin competitor, Formidable Pro, submitted information can be sorted per field, and it can be moderated by you when desired.
Unlike Formidable Pro, there is no way to turn submitted data into a statistical analysis using charts, graphs, and organizers. There is also no analytics component paired with this premium plugin, so any monitoring will have to be done using Google Analytics’ “custom routines” or another service entirely.
Creation of forums using the Gravity Forms plugin is just as easy as it is with Formidable Pro. You are able to drag and drop different types of form elements into place; forms can be saved and assigned to custom shortcodes for insertion in posts or pages, and they can be assigned a short “name” that can be used in PHP variables so that the form can be placed into traditional template files.
The Gravity Forms plugin supports one-line textboxes, multi-line textarea elements, drop-down boxes, submission and reset buttons, and permits basic textual formatting for bold, italicized, or blockquoted text. The plugin will cost users a premium fee of just $ 39 for a one-time purchase. That purchase is good for lifetime updates and feature enhancements, and comes with a guarantee of those updates.
Enable Reader-Administrator Contact with the Contact Form 7 Plugin
No implementation of custom submission forms would be complete without the traditional administrator contact form. This contact form is as old as websites themselves, though it has received a number of usability and design enhancements over the past several years. With the Contact Form 7 plugin, you are treated to a free plugin that allows for the drag-and-drop creation of standard contact forms; you can also use the plugin to direct contact emails and customize the body of the email messages you receive when the form is filled out and submitted.
The form receives its own custom Dashboard control panel page upon activation. There, you will first be instructed to create a custom submission form for one-way contact. Most standard XHTML field elements can be dragged and dropped to create this form, but most of you will prefer to keep it simple with boxes requiring a visitor’s name, email address, location, and the body of the message. Drop-down boxes are available, as are multi-selection boxes, checkboxes, and radio buttons.
When the form has been generated, it can be placed onto any template page by using a shortcode. For inclusion in standard posts or pages, shortcodes are available for each contact form generated. In order to get the contact form fully working, the Contact Form 7 plugin will require an email address where all submissions will be sent. It will then allow the user to customize the content of those emails by repositioning form-specific variables. That means you can determine where the name field will be displayed, as well as the actual message itself and other field information requested by the contact form.
Because the plugin is free, and setup is almost too easy, this plugin should be a no-brainer. It’s a great way to easily encourage feedback, and it could provide some major PR disasters among the site’s readers if they’re able to alert the site to its failings before they become a major issue. And, for users who drop a nice line or a compliment, this form plugin could easily make your day.
Great Reasons to Use Plugins to Develop Custom Submission Forms
The days of slaving away at XHTML code to produce an effective custom submission form are, quite refreshingly, over. In many cases, you can now employ a plugin to do the same job and spend less time generating the form when using such a plugin. In the case of the Formidable Pro plugin, statistical information can be easily monitored and visualized, and visitor usage of the form can be monitored using built-in analytics tools. Gravity form gives a whole new way to submit content and interact with it, while the Contact Form 7 plugin allows you to lodge a complaint or issue a compliment directly without exposing email addresses to spam. Plugins are easy, effective, and provide features just as advanced — if not more so — than manual coding.
You might also like…
Using jQuery to Validate the Standard WordPress Comment Form →
Using the Power of the .htaccess File to Improve WordPress SEO →
For the Novice Developer: The Anatomy of a WordPress Theme →
Focusing on Usability with an Enhanced Pagination Design in WordPress Entries →