At some point in your blogging super-career, you’ll probably run into a situation whose ideal solution requires you to go beyond the abilities built into WordPress. And it might come sooner than you’re expecting.
Say you want to add a contact form to your site. Basic stuff, like letting people submit awesome comments directly to your inbox – Hi, how ya doing, my name is Janey McReader-Face and I love your site. And so forth.
Or maybe something more complicated, like charging a couple bucks for full access to a really great 10,000 word article you wrote on the zen secrets of marketing optimization.
Well, you can’t do either of those things using just WordPress. But you can do them with a form plugin. Form plugins let you create…forms…and insert them into your posts.
Forms come in many different flavors. There are simple forms, meant to solve simple problems – letting readers contact you, letting registered users upload files, things like that – and there are complex forms that let you add a lot of pretty cool features to your site.
Complex forms let you build custom payment forms to sell memberships or access to specific content. With complex forms you can integrate submitted information into your website. You can also use complex forms to let your site handle reservations, create event bookings, or allow registrations.
With forms, you can build quizzes, teach lessons, distribute polls, and even auto-post form submissions as new content to your blog (for allowed posters, only. Obviously).
For some truly next level form magic, did you know that you can link form submissions to an SMS/MMS service and get – orsend – texts of submitted content? You can.
To accomplish these different goals, the WordPress ecosystem now offers more than 1,000 different form creation plugins. Some of these plugins are meant to be general purpose form creators/processors and others are built around accomplishing a more specific set of tasks.
Because having a thousand options for anything is pure craziness, let’s talk about five form creation plugins that stick their heads above the crowd and get the job done particularly well. We’ll go in alphabetical order.
Caldera forms is about as full featured as free plugins get. There’s a visual drag-and-drop editor, support for complex fields, and the engine can handle multi-page forms and scheduling. Not many plugins provide so many features for free.
The folks over at Caldera have added a pro version that allows integration with many other popular services that you’ll probably try out at some point – MailChimp, ConvertKit, and AWeber are popular supported options.
Positives: The Caldera crew has produced an inclusive package featuring a lot of free options that many other outfits charge for. The drag and drop interface is very intuitive and easy to use, there’s support for file uploading and multiple column customization. Caldera comes pre-loaded with a good selection of themes and dozens of unique fields. Being able to pick and choose from these pre-made elements can save a significant amount of time when you’re just getting started with form building.
For simple forms, Caldera is very responsive and easy to use. It’s great for blog sites, because it allows for (authorized) guest posters to submit new posts directly into a form. Supporting this feature is a spam-filtering tool so you can keep the trolls at bay.
Negatives: Yeah, remember that whole “pro” thing? Well, if you end up committing to Caldera, getting it to integrate with other services is going to require a pro license. That’s not unexpected, but I’d expect a larger suite of possible integrations given the premium price. Starter packages for Caldera Forms range around $15/month (or $75/year) for basic support, but premium packages will run $80/year and up. The supported payment integrations are more limited than other options, so if you’ll be processing membership payments or selling products, you may be better served with a different plugin.
An aptly named plugin. The free version is robust enough to handle any beginner or intermediate job. I’m pretty sure I remember there being a free version of this plugin at some point, but it appears that the Formidable team has gone all-in with fee-for-service options only.
The engine behind Formidable Forms is unique in the form plugin space, and Formidable is actually marketed as being a “WordPress application development engine”, as well as a form builder. Fitting with this somewhat broader role, the options for data parsing and display are pretty advanced compared to simpler form plugins.
Positives: Data visualization, advanced input parsing, and the ability to build complicated, calculation-based fields are unique to this plugin. Other plugins can do some of these things, but no other plugin has so many advanced data options.
In keeping with it’s positioning as both a form creator and a WordPress application development tool, the support system connects you directly with the people who actually build the software. Not their minions. That’s pretty neat. The conditional logic you can build into form displays lets you create some very sophisticated templates.
Negatives: This probably isn’t a great option for people who are just getting started. Yes, it can handle all of the basic needs a beginning user might have, but the hard core number crunching and data display options are probably overkill unless you know how to use them.
Alright. Confession time. This list is only organized alphabetically because otherwise Gravity Forms would have been listed first. And probably in all capital letters. Because it’s really, really good. Gravity Forms is the 800-pound gorilla in the form plugin space, and for 99% of all use cases, it’s probably the best option available.
Gravity Forms is the form plugin that we use, and it makes working with forms fast, easy, and understandable.
We actually have a pretty good Gravity Forms walkthrough video that shows the basics of how to install Gravity Forms and get started creating your first custom forms.
Gravity Forms was one of the first form plugins for WordPress, and they’ve used their experience to good advantage. They’ve kept pace with trends and changes in the WordPress world, and have a strong dedication to security. The package is actively maintained and the codebase is always under review. That means any potential problems are addressed quickly.
Overall, Gravity Forms can handle almost any use case. If you’re a beginner, the templated forms and easy, drag-and-drop form builder will get you up and running quickly. If you’re an advanced user, Gravity Forms can keep up as your needs become more sophisticated. If you’re running an online storefront, or dealing with multiple products, Gravity Forms WooCommerce integration is solid.
Positives: Very scalable – you can start with Gravity Forms and stick with it as your website grows or your network expands into multiple sites. You can integrate Gravity Forms with just about any popular service out there – MailChimp, AWeber, Constant Contact, Stripe, Paypal, Dropbox, Slack, Google Analytics and on and on. A ton.
Gravity forms supports all of the standard advanced features you’d expect of a premium, paid plugin. Conditional logic, calculations, scheduling, etc. Beyond this, though, Gravity Forms exists within a larger ecosystem of plugins, add-ons, and apps, raising it’s applicability to many diverse situations.
Native Gravity Forms shortcode support makes it easy to insert forms wherever you want them. You just add snippets of shortcode and your forms magically appear. It’s like voodoo. Forms are simple to style with dedicated CSS classes and the Gravity Forms CSS engine is quick and easy to use.
Negatives: Nothing that I can think of. Gravity Forms is great.
The Ninja Forms plugin consistently rates among the best of all WordPress plugins. It works well for beginners and provides a good set of features for more advanced users.
Something that stuck out to me – The official Ninja Forms Recaptcha policy is…you don’t need Recaptcha. Ninja Forms advises that you skip Recaptcha in favor of its built in honeypot system. That’s some confidence.
The free version is comprehensive in features, and the premium versions have features you won’t find in many other plugins. But the premium versions are indeed premium in price.
Positives: Many extensions are available on an a la carte basis, so you can pick and choose what you need. The basic version includes some features that other plugins would include as an upcharge, such as importing & exporting forms and storage of information into your website database.
Premium packages exist for for use cases extending from 20 websites all the way to infinity (and beyond).
All forms are easy to use and install, and the integration of Ninja Forms with the WordPress dashboard is pretty good. As with most premium form plugins, Ninja Forms can integrate with Constant Contact, MailChimp, and other popular third party services.
Negatives: Ninja Forms is more expensive than other options on this list. Breaking integrations up into individual add-ons could save you money (if you only need one or two) or end up costing more than average if you need a bunch. If you do need a bunch of integrations, you might be better served by a plugin that offers integrations in packaged bundles.
QuForm’s claim to fame is its ability to easily handle multi-page and complex form types on mobile platforms. It’s probably one of the best options for building complex forms intended for AMP enabled or mobile-native applications.
Importantly, the form action processing behind QuForm is mobile-native, so you’re likely to avoid the problem of readers filling out forms that promptly glitch and explode when they’re submitted.
Check out the live preview for a demo of several available form types.
Positives: Its really good at building forms for mobile.
This isn’t a subtle point – more than half of all internet traffic now comes from mobile devices, and the numbers are much higher in certain regions (and even within certain niches).If your analytics package tells you that you have a lot of mobile readers, QuForm should be on your check-it-out list.
Compared to Ninja Forms, QuForm does a 180, and provides several CAPTCHA options as anti-spam filters.
QuForm has a solid form action engine, and can help avoid submission problems that might pop up on mobile devices.
Negatives: While QuForm is priced pretty affordably $29/year, it lacks some of the integration options present in other plugins. The styling abilities are somewhat limited, owing to it’s focus on mobile performance.
Which Plugin Is the Best?
There isn’t one best form plugin for WordPress.
If you’re in the market for a form plugin, you should spend a while thinking about what you actually need. But be sure to think a year down the road, too. If you envision a simple set of uses, you can probably get away with a simpler plugin. That means features like advanced conditional logic, app building abilities, or integrations with 20 services you’ll never use probably aren’t going to be strong selling points.
On the other hand, if your use case is simple now, but likely to evolve into something more sophisticated down the road, investing in a plugin with more advanced options hiding under the hood will ensure that your system is able to grow along with you.
As always, we’re big believers in the idea that you get what you pay for, so don’t sweat it if some of these plugins cost a little money. That money is going to buy you quality and (more importantly) support for when things go wrong.