That’s NOT What Email Is for: Don’t Send Form Data in an Email

Do your website form data submissions come to your email? Believe it or not, that’s not what email is for. What is email for, then? Well, technically, it’s for the asynchronous exchange of messages. Is it helpful to know that? Probably not so much.

In the beginning, there was only email. Okay, the beginning of the World Wide Web, or the internet as we know it today. The first thing on the internet was an email sent in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson. Since then, it’s all changed. Today, we’re looking at a major issue of email misuse. If you get an email to notify you that someone has filled out a form on your website, this is only a misuse of email.

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The Ups and Downs of Website Form Data

Your website forms are there so people can engage with you. But what happens if that email never arrives? What happens if you’re on vacation? What happens if that information is just stuck in an email somewhere and not in a place where the next thing can happen with that information? You got it: You’re looking at a bottleneck, which is a problem.

We were recently doing some work with a company that has intake forms for new clients. That’s fantastic—and a great way to gather what’s needed for clients to get started. However, the form information was put in an email and sent to a team member. The team member then needed to copy/paste the information into the customer database and various other systems. Ugh. How frustrating! 

Once information is digitized, there should rarely be a case where the best use of it is to copy and paste it from one location to another.

Forms, when done well, facilitate interactions by taking the friction out of giving and receiving information and making it asynchronous. That is to say, form data should be making it easier for people on both ends of the exchange to get what they want—be it an irresistible opt-in offer, a message for you, or information you need to provide a service.

A Better Choice

If you’re currently getting form data information sent to your email, what should you do instead? First, be sure to record the form submission. What do I mean by that? I mean that there is some place you could go and know how many submissions are coming, when they came, all the information that came with them, and when and how they were submitted.

Many form generators and services will do this for you. Some that come to mind include Gravity Forms, JotForm, and WuFoo. Some don’t, and some require upgrading for this functionality. If you are using one that doesn’t (I’m looking at you, Contact Form 7), I strongly recommend changing your form service or adding that functionality. 

Recording the submission is the first thing that needs to happen. Second, that information needs to go where it belongs, and clearly that depends on what kind of form it is. For contact forms, the information belongs in a customer database of inquiries. For change forms, that belongs in your project manager. Onboarding forms? Probably a mix of CRM and project manager.

Whatever it is, decide where that information needs to end up, where it belongs so that action can be taken on it. Then get it there. The information does not need to be in an email to be copy/pasted or forgotten about entirely.

What’s the Big Deal about How Form Data Is Routed?

Why bother with this? Why even care that you now have your information? I mean, you know you have a record of it, and you know where it belongs, so why can’t you use email for form data?

The #1 reason to have a system behind capturing data is that nothing gets lost. When the information goes directly to its correct location, you can rest assured it will end up in the right place. Plus, it is in a place where action can be taken on that information. Effort spent is now in using the information instead of searching for it.

Also, by having a system for routing data, you can track your success. You’ll clearly know how many form submissions happen each month. And from that, you can track how many clients you secured.

And finally, you can better spend your time creating, maintaining, and developing the actual relationship instead of managing a bunch of emails.

Stop Using Email for Data Capture!

Forms can be incredible tools—when used correctly. But I think we’ve all experienced them being used poorly. The IRS and schools spring to mind. And in the age of the internet, anything online can talk to anything else online, especially with tools like Zapier and IFTTT, the duct tape of the internet.

I challenge you to go take a look at your most-used form and ensure that submissions are recorded correctly. Is the form data going directly into a system where the information can be acted on? Go check it out!

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