Is it a good idea to put an HTML form in an email campaign?

Can I Include a Form in an Email?

Recently, we've begun to bundle some basic email help with our website offerings. A new site design often means a number of other publications need to be updated as well and we feel that, along with the social media avenues, email campaigns should also reflect the feel of the brand.

As many of you know, if you're in the email creation business, email campaigns are built old-school. Tables and inline CSS are a thing of the past, but that's just what is necessary to make emails render correctly across the most number of email clients.

Having said that, there are a few other obstacles involved with email campaigns. One of them that has come to our attention (as a few clients have asked) is HTML forms.

HTML Forms

Forms are a great way for users on the web to submit information in a secure manner. Furthermore, they help protect site administrators from getting spammed thanks to tools like captcha, specifically reCaptcha.

They are a great way to make sure that all relevant information is gathered and provide the ability to verify that submitted information follows the rules (emails must follow a pattern: @___.com, passwords must be 8 letters, etc.).

While these forms are the way to go when attempting to collect information from your website, it becomes a whole other ordeal when doing the same from an email.

There are certainly a large number of browsers that must display these forms online, but the most common include Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Chrome. These do a great job, but couple this with the number of web-based email clients (GMail, Yahoo, MSN Live, Hotmail, etc.) and the number of desktop clients (Outlook, Thunderbird, Mac Mail, etc) and you have thousands of ways emails, and their forms, can be displayed. And that doesn't even include the mobile mail applications!

How do these stack up when wanting to show forms?

Let's Do Some Research

In late 2007, CampaignMonitor asked the same question of email forms and came up with the conclusion that forms just should not be included in emails. (Read the article here.)

But that was almost 4 years ago at the time of writing this and, with a number of clients asking us the same, we decided to do a little research of our own. Besides, times change and things get better, right?

Wrong.

We tested a number of common (and uncommon) ways of checking emails with a very mixed bag of results. Including mobile devices (an iPhone and up-for-discussion-of-mobility iPad), we put together the following chart that, in short, proves again that forms belong in a browser.

What Does It All Mean?

If the chart isn't obvious, the message is this: Rarely do forms work in an email.

As a primarily Mac office, the tests were done mostly on an iMac. The couple of Windows tests we performed showed little hope and the mobile (again, Apple biased) tests proved somewhat inconclusive.

Having said that, of the the thirteen tests in a variety of browsers/clients and email services, only four proved to work as expected. That's only a little over 30% of the population that has the ability to submit an email form correctly. Couple that with the percentage of folks who actually want to submit the form and you get a shockingly small percentage of feedback from end users.

NOTE: This chart doesn't put weight on the amount of users for each scenario, but with Outlook leading the PC market, Mac Mail leading the Apple clients, and iPhone atop the mobile world, we're looking at some disappointing numbers.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately for email campaign creation, it seems as though including forms just won't yield the most helpful results. As is common best practice with primative, albeit effective, email campaigns, a link to a web version of the form will still win out over 70% of the time.

Forms are meant to be submitted in a browser.

Update:

Though we're confident in our results, a client of ours, E-proDirect (whose business is email marketing), has seen some success with form inclusion in emails. Here is what they had to say:

While it is true that there are challenges in using forms, we find that there are more benefits than not. In research that we have conducted, some of our recipients like the embedded forms, some like to go to the website to request information. Others still like the phone.

We always recommend to our clients that they should have multiple forms of call to action. We have had many recipients request information or submit an RFP and have never clicked through on any of the links within the email. With our forms we pre-populate the contact information (the recipient has the option to update/change) so that it is easy enough to just hit submit. Many of our clients that use the embedded forms receive a lot more leads than those that do not.

There are several technical issues that we have found with email programs - namely Outlook 2007 and 2010 - so we direct those individuals to go to the online version of the brochure. They key is to test and make sure that the form you are using appears correct in the majority of the email programs and have a backup ready for those that don't. And it is always advisable to have more than one type of call to action.

Great idea pre-filling in data! Anything that makes it easier to capture a lead is well worth the effort! And we totally agree that the key to any great product is repeated testing! Thanks E-proDirect!

Your Turn!

Seeing different results? Have anything to add? Let us know in the comments below!