Do we need another WordPress contact form plugin?
The team behind Captain Form thinks so and they’re throwing their hat into the ring of contenders. There are plenty of form plugins in the WordPress space, so when another contact form plugin hits the market, you might think, “what’s the point?”
As someone who runs a WordPress agency, creates plugins, and talks to a lot of WordPress users, I hope the following review of Captain Form’s contact form plugin helps you decide. Can this plugin replace your existing form solution and will their features cause market leaders to stop and think? Or, is this just another form plugin to add to the pile?
TL;DR Video Review
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Captain Form WordPress contact form plugin review
The following post is a paid for product review. The company has paid me to provide an honest review of their plugin in order to give them exposure and some constructive feedback for both their team and potential customers. Reviews like this help me keep the lights on and if you’re interested in having me review your product, please contact me.
The Company: Captain Form
Captain Form is based in Romania, and that is the extent of what I know about the company.
The end. (Just kidding).
— CaptainForm (@CaptainFormWP) December 17, 2015
This Tweet shows their team celebrating Christmas. Now, before you start sending me hate mail and asking why this matters in a plugin review, let me give you a refresher. As I’ve discussed in the past, it’s important for you to know just who you are doing business with when it comes to installing plugins within your WordPress website. Will they be around to continue development of the product, support the end user and generally exist within the WordPress community? This tweet is their attempt at showing us the fun and engaging team behind their product. It looks like they are putting in an effort.
They are a new company, so that should be considered as well, but everyone has to start somewhere.
These are important areas to consider for the creators of the product and for the customer purchasing their goods or services. As I continue to do more paid reviews of WordPress products, I won’t weigh the identity of a company too heavily. I can only presume that since this company reached out to me to do a review, they are at least interested in learning more about working within the WordPress community.
Based on my communication with them and my review of a handful of social updates on Twitter and Facebook, they seem like a friendly and communicative company. I’m happy to see what their team can bring to the table.
Pros: I like their design approach and it looks like they are a young startup in the WordPress space ready and willing to make a mark. Thumbs up.
Cons: With no real record of their performance over time, they still have to prove themselves (and their product) as a contender in the super-competitive form plugin space.
This is the part of the review that’s intended for both the potential customer of the plugin and the Captain Form team. So, I’ll just come out and say it: I don’t think this is a viable pricing model for a forms plugin.
I have an idea as to why they are structuring it this way, and I’ll get into that in the video associated with this review, but the model seems too confusing and too limiting at the low end. Price aside, I think that nit-picking some of the limitations and attempting to evaluate the overall matrix of have and have-not features is far too cumbersome.
For example, the Free plan only includes three forms and 15 fields. Users could balk at that and find a free and unlimited alternative. I totally get drawing a line in the sand at an attempt to build a sustainable product business, but limiting core functionality of your product’s purpose is a tight noose for users. On the flip side, a minor $35 per year will get you unlimited usage of fields and forms, while delivering many other features. This is where things start to become even more confusing:
- Five Native app integrations
- Two HTML Blocks
- Three Form Branching Rules
Oh, I see, $95 a year gets me almost everything. I get nearly triple the Native Apps integrations, unlimited HTML Blocks (whatever that is!) and unlimited Form Branching (whatever that is! Seriously, it’s cool though.) As you will come to understand in this review, their pricing explanation needs to be more effective.
It’s only when I have to decide between the $95 a year plan and the $195 a year plan that things make “business sense” to me. For $100 more, I get (almost) everything, which is a lot, for the entire year. The biggest up-sell here is the ability to turn your forms into e-commerce transactional forms. In fact, this is where I see Captain Form providing the best value to its customers. More on that later.
The only limiting factor at the highest plan is the amount of storage + the amount of form submissions you can store. Wait. Storage? Submissions? Limited? This is where Captain Forms breaks away from the mold and doesn’t offer unlimited everything like most plugin stores. I think we’re seeing more of a SaaS model and we’ll discuss that later.
Price check on aisle nine!
If you’re interested in purchasing Captain Form, I’d recommend not even bothering with the Free or Apprentice plan. Compare Master & Hero plans to whatever other form plugin you might be evaluating. I’m sure the team behind this product wants it that way, and, honestly, it’s going to help them build a more sustainable business while offering you the most value.
Pros: You get a lot for your money. Tons of add-ons and features you might not even use.
Cons: Severely limited on the low end. Too many features to compare. Ultimately still limited even at the highest plan.
Using the plugin
Okay, we’re finally getting to what you came here for. What’s it like to use Captain Form?
Answer: Incredibly simple, even with all of the features that they offer.
I’m a sucker for a good onboarding process and Captain Form doesn’t disappoint in that regard. I went from downloading the free plugin to creating a form within a few minutes. Their onboarding screen was clearly outlined and easy to understand. It was clear that I could continue using the free plugin or register and upgrade to the premium plans.
The interface isn’t the most “modern,” but it’s straightforward and really easy to use. I always knew where I was in the process of form building, which is more important than you might think. If you’re a WordPress consultant and you’re setting up forms for your client, nothing is worse than getting the millionth frustrated e-mail from them on a Friday night asking you how to set up a form.
Even as you drill down to Captain Form’s more advanced features, like rules, it’s a breeze. Sure, some of the elements could be a little cleaner or sleeker, but I had no problem setting up the features I was looking for.
Even in the more complex Payments panels, the mix of colors they incorporated in the UI helped keep everything organized. It will still be a challenge for the brand new user to WordPress (or new to technology for that matter), but I’ve seen a lot worse.
- Step 1: Edit form
- Step 2: Settings
- Step 3: Publish
And just like that, I was off to the races. I was presented with the normal collection of ways to display my form:
- PHP Function Call
- And even a lightbox! (loved this)
At the end of the day, I think the team did a great job with the usability portion of their contact form plugin. Everything is straightforward and balanced for beginners and advanced users alike. I have no problem recommending its ease of use.
Pros: Well-balanced and easy to use.
Cons: No way to avoid complex issues like rules and e-commerce, so some screens might be overbearing to newbies of the web.
Three Winning features of the Captain Form plugin
In this section, I’d like to highlight three unique areas where Captain Form impressed me.
Ready-made form templates
In web design, as in life, we live by the rule: Keep It Simple Stupid. This team has certainly done that with their ready-made form templates. They’re brilliant. From job application forms to a volunteer recruitment form, there’s plenty to choose from.
Oftentimes, when you’re presented with a blank canvas to fill out, you get paralysis by analysis. You don’t know where to start and this feature of Captain Form is perfect for onboarding users quickly and getting them out of that rut.
Play by the rules
I love the rule system that they have baked into the product. I can set conditional rules by field, autoresponder, and the entire form. Attach that to all of the third party apps they integrate with it and you can perform some seriously powerful business dynamics.
Lightbox form submission
A minor feature, but one that I think is supremely powerful in today’s content marketing heavy world. I can link a single word to pop up a form, which is killer for surveys or e-mail opt-ins. A useful feature for sure.
Deal-breaker: It’s all in the cloud
There’s one major deal-breaker for me and my recommendation of Captain Form and that’s the fact that it’s all cloud based.
Form displays are really iframes and my data is stored on their servers.
If I’m a WordPress consultant (and I am) then I’m looking for the least amount of support and integration overhead. As to say, I don’t want to worry about styling and integrating forms correctly with the themes we create. Also, I don’t want weak links of my customer’s data to be hosted somewhere else unless they explicitly sign-off on that. It’s just too much to worry about.
I’m not saying cloud-based solutions are bad, they definitely have their advantages, but I’d prefer to have my form submission data locally. Then there’s the whole worrying about performance issue. If there’s a bottleneck between the WordPress website and Captain Form’s servers, my client (your website) is going to be impacted.
A SaaS business trapped in a plugin’s body
I really like what the Captain Form team is trying to do, I just think they need to do it as a straight SaaS business.
Perhaps that’s where they are headed, many WordPress plugin businesses aspire to be there. Cloud-based solutions allow the product team more flexibility to push features, enhancements and patches faster. The drawback is the WordPress familiarity of having everything contained in the local site/database.
That being said, I think there’s a demographic of users that wouldn’t care about my deal-breakers and find using this plugin a treat. In fact, I like how Captain Form has a constant support icon that follows you across the plugin screens. There’s a huge set of customers out there that will easily trade “the WordPress way” for a well-supported solution to their needs.
That’s awesome, and I applaud the team behind the product for making the decision to have a heavy amount of customer support.
The bottom line
In the end, does this new captain of form plugins stand shoulder to shoulder amongst the titans of form plugins in the WordPress space?
For me, the advanced agency owner and more purist of WordPress users, it doesn’t.
I really, REALLY, love a lot of the features and the simplicity of it all, but I don’t want to use a hosted solution for forms. The consultant in me wants to mitigate any amount of weak links as much as possible in a project, and, as simple as most contact forms are, they can be a huge pain when they aren’t working right.
However, I can see a lot of marketing types, who don’t really care about the technical bottle-knacks latching onto a solution like this. For a small amount of money you can get a lot of features and (potentially — still to be proven) great support. It’s a definitely a win for that demographic.
I think the captain should fly in the clouds with the other SaaS superheroes.