Every blog needs a way for readers to get in touch with the owner. Though there are countless ways used, including IM, Twitter, Facebook and comments, email is still one of the most popular and one of the most important ways to do so.

However, putting your email address on a Web site unprotected is practically an invitation to get spammed. Also, many users don’t have their browsers configured to handle such addresses clearly and, as a result, struggle to send mail that way. This is one of the reasons why contact forms have become so popular.

To that end, there are already a lot of great ways to get contact forms into your site. The most popular, for WordPress users, is CFormsII, or a similar WordPress plugin that makes adding forms to a post or page easy.

But while these plugins are great fro basic contact forms and even some simple registration forms, what if your needs are more complex? For example, what if you need to calculate a price, hide or show elements based upon selections or integrate a payment system? It might be time for something more advanced and, in those cases, FormStack may be a great alternative.

Formstack provides a slew of powerful features with a simplicity that makes it approachable even by novices. It’s a great tool for building forms and the only thing that might scare you away is the price.

What Formstack Does

Overall, the idea of Formstack is pretty simple, you design the form using their service and, when you’re done, you embed it into your site using either their embed code, which works via JavaScript, the raw HTML code or by simply linking them to the form page on Formstack’s site.

To that end, the features of Formstack are pretty straightforward but are definitely impessive when put together:

  1. Form Builder: A visual form builder lets you add elements via drag and drop while making manipulating them intuitive. There is no need to look at HTML code while creating a Formstack form.
  2. Conditional Logic: Forms can have elements appear or disappear as your user selects different variables. For example, if a user ticks they are a current customer, you can have the the contact information disappear while adding in a slot for their username or customer number.
  3. Calculating Fields: Allows you to tally up elements from within the form itself. For example, if you have a registration form for a conference, you can add or subtract to the price if they choose they want a printed ticket or a t-shirt. You can also use it to tabulate answers on a quiz.
  4. Payment & Other Integrations: Formstack can integrate with various payment services, including Paypal, and other third-party providers such as Salesforce, Freshbooks and Mailchimp.
  5. Templates: Formstack provides a slew of templates and themes for your form and gives you the chance, with a paid account, to add your own custom style.

All in all, what Formstack does it does well. The interface is intuitive and easy to use. The more advance features do take a moment to learn but can be picked up quickly with the aid of their video tutorials. In short, even a very complicated form should not take longer than an hour or two to set up, even if you are a relative novice at form building.

You’ll be hard pressed to find an easier way to set up and maintain a complex form, especially one that goes beyond what you need for a basic contact form.

Limitations and Drawbacks

The biggest drawback to Formstack is the price. Though Formstack offers a free account, it is limited to just ten fields per form, which is eaten up very quickly on even the most basic forms, and doesn’t have any of the integrations, including payment processing, or any of the features that make Formstack worthwhile.

In short, anything you can do with a free account you can like do with CFormsII or another form plugin.

However, to step up to the more useful accounts you need to pay at least $14 per month. While not a huge amount to anyone who is going to be making money from their form, it is more than many small bloggers pay in hosting.

This is especially worrisome since most forms are a “set and forget” deal meaning that this $14 per month pays solely for hosting the form (if you embed it rather than using the HTML) and processing it. There seems to be little reason why this should cost $14 per month, especially over the long haul.

Beyond that, there are strange quirks that I’ve noticed as I’ve used Formstack. For example, when you create a new section and have some text to describe it, there is always a large gap between the text and the form elements, even if there is only a line or two of text. Likewise, if you change field names or options, the conditional logic or the field calcuations don’t keep up, forcing you to reset them every time you make a change.

These are minor hiccups that could almost be better described as quirks, but they do make the process less than smooth and, considering the price, I would say a smooth process is critical.

Bottom Line

Most bloggers aren’t going to have much need for Formstack. A simple contact form can be easily handled by CFormsII or a similar system. Those with only slightly more comlex needs can use Gravity Forms, a $39 WordPress plugin with many advanced form creation features and a visual interface.

Formstack is only for extreme cases where conditional logic, payment processing or some other element is required. Even then though, you may be able to save money by looking at FormSpring competitors such as Icebrrg or Formsmarts, both of which have plans that are less per month and might meet your needs.

Still, there is no doubt that what Formstack does, it does well. It is all in all a great product and one that may be well worth using if your needs rise to what it provides.