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Design Tip:
Contact Pages Keep Visitors In Touch

by Larisa Thomason,
Senior Web Analyst,
NetMechanic, Inc.

  
May 2005
Vol. 8, No. 4
 • Promotion Tip
 • CSS Tip
 • Design Tip
  

You're sure the information on your site is well written and comprehensive. It answers all the questions anyone would ever ask. Or does it?

When visitors or customers have questions, they need a quick and easy way to contact you. Contact information should be easy to find and even easier to use.

Add Basic Information To Every Page

A certain amount of basic contact information should appear on every page - the usual location is a page footer. At a minimum, each page should contain this information:

  • Business name
  • Copyright information
  • Street address (or mailing address if you use a post office box)
  • Main phone number and/or toll-free number
  • Webmaster contact link
  • Home page URL

This isn't just a suggestion; your site will suffer if you don't include this information. It's important for three major reasons:

  1. Increased credibility: It's generally easy to tell if a traditional brick and mortar store is a reputable establishment. We judge it by its location, décor, products, and customer service level. It's harder to measure an online business because a great design makes a site look trustworthy. Online, even the tiniest business can look as established as a Fortune 500 company.

    Consumers are wary. They want some assurance that they can contact a real live person at the business, ask questions, and solve problems.

  2. Required by search directories: Search directories like Yahoo and the Open Directory Project operate under different rules than search engines like Google and Teoma. Directories use human editors to evaluate and add sites, so your site has to appeal to humans to be accepted.

    Human directory editors look for the same information as customers. They may reject sites that lack contact information. Since many now charge just to review your site, one simple oversight can cost you both money and traffic.

  3. Guide repeat visitors: Some visitors may print pages for later reference. They'll be glad to have the contact information easily at hand in case they want to phone you, find your URL, or pass the information along to a friend.

Make the information easier to update by including the information using a server-side include or Javascript page footer. That means you only have to change one file if any of your contact information changes. Easy updating means that you're more likely to keep the contact information current.

Make Contact Easy

The next most important way to connect with visitors is a contact page. Often, a link to this page is part of the main navigation menu and bottom text links. If it's not, a link to the page should be prominently displayed on every page in the site - and that link should go directly to the contact information.

If you've ever tried to find direct contact information on an airline Web site or other large commercial site, then you understand the pain of frustrated visitors who just want a simple phone number or email address. How many times have you clicked on a "Contact Us" link, only to be taken to the site's Frequently Asked Questions page (FAQ) or other page that's unrelated to contact information? Sometimes, a visit to the site map (if you can find it!) is the only way to find contact data.

Sites create this barrier in an attempt to reduce routine customer inquiries and quickly direct customers to the information they want. Many people ask questions instead of searching the site. And yes, it's probably quicker to read the information on the FAQ page than to wait for an answer from customer service. But irritated customers may not agree; many perceive the tactic as a way of reducing their options and turning them away.

Design A Contact-friendly Contact Page

Your contact page text should clearly list all the ways customers can contact you with questions or comments: via phone, mail, email, or even online chat. However, also remind visitors that you have taken the time to assemble a comprehensive FAQ page. Add a gentle prompt that a personal answer will take time, but they may get an immediate answer if they check the FAQ page first.

Customers will be happy and so will your tech support people!

Design a contact page that contains the following:

  1. Company mailing address.
  2. Phone number
  3. Main email contact information
  4. Phone and email contact information for individual departments like Sales, Service, Returns, etc.

Remember that every time you publish an email address on a Web site, that address is vulnerable to email spiders that crawl the Web collecting email addresses for their evil spam masters. This handy JavaScript code helps you hide email addresses from most email spiders.

You might also consider using a contact form instead of publishing email addresses. A CGI form mail script is more secure than the JavaScript method. Even very low-cost Web hosts usually offer access to CGI scripts now. If yours doesn't, ask them to and consider changing hosts if they won't oblige.



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