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Gravity Forms: A Complete Forms Solution for WordPress

Gravity Forms: A Complete Forms Solution for WordPress

Gravity Forms is a premium plugin that lets you manage, distribute and connect your forms on your WordPress site. I’ve been using it for a few years now across multiple sites, and in that time, the plugin has continued to add new features and expand what you can do with it. For simple forms, it tends to be a bit overkill. But for anything beyond that it’s a great choice. In this article will go over how to use Gravity Forms, and what it is best used for.

Inside Gravity Forms

Gravity Forms takes cares of forms from completion to submissions to notifications. It has a drag and drop interface for creating forms with a lot of fields to chose from. Fields like address, email, name, file upload, drop-downs, CAPTCHA, and a lot more. Just take the field you want, slide it over to the form editor, and customize its value. Gravity Forms also allows you to set up conditional logic so that certain fields are only shown to users if, for instance, a certain option from a drop-down menu is selected. This is useful for more complex form trees.

Basic field form properties

Customize your field values

You can add the form to your site using a shortcode or function call, meaning you can include it on individual posts and pages, or built within your template. There is also an included widget if you want to attach your form to a sidebar.

Gravity Forms takes care of all the back-end validation that is required when a form is submitted. It will check that an email address is valid, make sure a CAPTCHA is filled out, ensure that all required fields are finished, and that every entry is sanitized. This is, by far, the most difficult part of setting up a form on your own. There are a lot of malicious attacks that can happen through a form, either intentionally or incidentally. And there are plenty of spambots out there ready to take advantage. Gravity Forms keeps things secure and prevents this kind of spam, even without extra measures like a CAPTCHA.

And finally, Gravity forms has a fairly complex notification set-up you can take advantage of. By default, form submissions are logged by Gravity Forms and stored on your database so that they can be viewed in the WordPress admin. But you can also set up email notifications to let various people know when a new form is submitted, and build an email template for each form. You even have the ability to send notifications to different email addresses based conditionally on answers from the form.


Email Template settings

Setting up the email template

So basically, Gravity Forms takes care of everything for you, behind the scenes. It is meant to address a large variety of use cases, and so a lot of its features are a bit more hidden from view. We’ll talk a bit more about that later. But getting things set up is actually fairly simple, and you can have your first form up and running quickly.

Setting it Up

Gravity Forms actually has a pretty good on-boarding process for new users, and quite thorough documentation, so it is most likely worth diving into those resources for details, but I’d like to share a quick overview on how to get started.

You can get started creating your first form after you install and activate Gravity Forms and register your license. To do so, you just go to Forms -> New Form in the WordPress admin. You will be brought to the form editor, with your blank form on the left, and list of possible fields on the right. You can start adding form fields right away by dragging them into the form editor. Each field comes with a set of options specific to the field type. Sometimes this will just require a single value and a checkbox to indicate that it is a required field. Other types will have more complex options available, with conditional logic or a set of values. Forms can have as many fields as you like. Of course, you should keep these as short as possible for the benefit of your users.

Form layout settings

Customize the layout of your form

The next step is to visit the “Form Settings” page where you can set up some global options for the entire form. This includes basics like the form title and description, as well as settings for its look and feel. You also have the option to add a CSS class to your form if you’d like to style it yourself. At the bottom of Form Settings you have the ability to activate the “anti-spam honeypot” which uses a hidden field on your form to prevent spambots, and is a bit more user-friendly than a CAPTCHA. It is pretty effective at stopping spambots, and invisible to your users, so I’d recommend switching this on in most cases. There is also a “Confirmations” tab, where you customize the message shown after a form is submitted successfully. Or, you can chose to redirect to a new page entirely.

The last tab is “Notifications” where you can set up who will receive a form’s message when it is submitted. I find that this section really sets Gravity Forms apart. Rather than defaulting to a simple message to the admin’s email address, you can set up a series of notifications to any email address you want, and auto-responders so that users will receive an email that their message has been received. These notifications can be as complex or as simple as you want, and have built in conditional logic. That means that, depending on a user’s answers to a form, emails can be directed to a variety of different addressess and with a set of different auto-responders. You can also customize the contents of the email message, using a few shortcodes to add the form message and answers to the template.

Form parameters

Change the default parameters for each form

The last step is to actually add the form to your site. You can do this by clicking the new “Form” button right next to the Add Media button in the post editor, and selecting your form. Or, you can use the [gravityform id=”X”] shortcode to embed it manually. For even more control, or for inclusion in templates, you can also use the gravity_forms() PHP function in your template files. There is also a Gravity Forms widget that can be used with your sidebars. Each one of these methods contains a list of parameters, such as the ability to turn AJAX on or off, or editing the tile and description. Gravity Forms will walk you through this process in the WordPress admin as you go along, so it won’t take long for you to have your first form up.

Advanced Features

Gravity Forms has been around for a little while now, so it has had time to add features when users request them. Through that roadmap, a lot of more advanced functionality has come out.

Gravity Forms now supports multi-page forms, which can be set up by adding a page break field to your form. This comes bundled with a progress indicator, either as a percentage progress bar, or as steps. For longer forms, this can provide feedback to users so they know where they are in the form process.

An example Multi-page form

What multi-page forms look like

The plugin also allows you to set up payments, so that forms can be used to sell products on your site. It is far from a complete e-commerce solution for WordPress, but it allows you to have different prices based on user selections in the form, and has add-ons which allow you to integrate with Stripe or Paypal.

Speaking of add-ons, Gravity Forms features a three-tiered pricing structure, each with a yearly license. The most basic package comes with a few simple add-ons allowing for integration with Aweber, Campaign Monitor, or Mailchimp newsletters. But the most expensive license comes bundled with a suite of add-ons for getting more out of forms. You can use Gravity Forms to create quizzes, polls or surveys. Another add-on lets you collect online signatures in your forms. On the e-commerce front, apart from payment gateways like Stripe, Paypal and Authorize.net, you can also offer coupons that can be used in your forms, or integrate directly with Freshbooks whenever a payment is made. Gravity Forms also integrates with third-party API’s like Twilio and Zapier, so that you can hook up form submissions to just about any service you can imagine. For the most advanced users out there, these add-ons may be essential, and the developer license might just be worth it.

And for developers, there are plenty of ways to hook into various stages of the form process, and customize exactly what will be shown to the user and where. Truthfully, I haven’t had to use these hooks and filters too often, and I’ve come to rely on Gravity Forms defaults for most steps. But there are dozens of hooks and filters available on the back-end, and plenty of room to expand. For front-end developers, there are also quite a few JavaScript events that are fired through the form process, so that changes can be made to the DOM on the fly.

So if you’re wondering whether or not Gravity Forms is advanced, the answer is yes. Its team continues to add new features all the time, and it is a premium plugin for a reason.

The Final Word

In the past, I’ve described Gravity Forms more as a platform than as a single functionality plugin. It can be used to power everything from data collection to online stores. It simply offers a host of tools to help you do so. For some solutions, like a full e-commerce site, it is not necessarily the best solution out there. But it can certainly be tailored to just about any use.

On top of that, Gravity Forms is established in the market. That means they know how to provide great support, and add to the plugin without making it too complex. They’ve also managed to dig up some great partners, and you can go to the Gravity Forms website to see optimized form themes from leading theme developers and shops.

At the end of the day, the plugin has to be worth the money for you. If you’re looking for a simple contact form, there may be better, and cheaper, alternatives. But if you really need to make sure that your form submission process is easy to set-up and optimized for users, I’d recommend Gravity Forms.

Article thumbnail by Jane Kelly / shutterstock.com

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