Rob Cairns sits down with Mark Westguard and talks about his product WS Forms.
- Why a form package.
- Uses for forms.
- Why WS Forms.
- Integrations that WS Forms have.
Hey everybody, Rob Cairns here.
In today’s podcast I’m here with my good friend Mark Westguard, founder of WS forms.
How are you today, Mark?
I’m good, how are you?
Doing good thanks for joining me today.
Yeah, one of the questions I always like to start off a podcast for people who don’t know others is how did you get into WordPress so much?
A WordPress origin story?
Well, so I had. I’ve had an agency for about 26 years building websites and software and things like that for fclients and got into the word press space. I guess we started using that as a platform about 6-7 years ago.
And we were using WordPress primarily as a content management platform for our clients.
So we would build themes from ground up.
And then later on I was working on licensed software and used to actually run a A uh wedding company.
We used to do wedding websites and wedding planning.
We we white labeled that to the bridal industry.
I work with people like Conde Nast and wedding bells out of Canada.
And several other bridal publicat.
Missions and wanted to get back into that licensing game more recently, so about four or five years ago, we decided to start building a WordPress plugin, so my interest in WordPress went from being a regular user and developer for it to actually developing a plugin as well.
So so really, it’s you know.
Come from being an agency owner and also a software licensed developer.
And it’s interesting and you jumped into the form space and.
That’s a pretty crowded space, wouldn’t you say?
It is yeah, in fact, uh Carl, from gravity forms yesterday did a poster.
We did a tweet saying that.
He said there.
Was about 50,000 form plugins out there so.
If if that’s a crowded space, you know.
Yeah, he he sure had a stat for.
Right, But yeah we we we got into that space as a as a developer.
We wanted to be able to develop forms quicker and we wanted to be more accessible.
There was a lot in the form space that we wanted to improve on.
So like falls, we started.
Developing WS4 here. We are 4 1/2 years later, but we’re pleased with the output. So yeah, that’s that’s basically why we jumped into it.
And you’re right, it’s a.
It is a very crowded space.
There’s a lot of established brands out there.
So it’s definitely been more of a challenge than we anticipated, but it’s it’s going well.
I’m pleased to say.
And we’ve got a lot of interest, particularly from the developer’s kind of developer community who want more complex forms.
People that are doing development for customers that have a specific.
Requirement that’s a kind of a niche area that we’ve fallen into quite well.
We work with a lot of the this, the page builders as well such as oxygen and bricks, and people like that.
Yeah, and and integrations I think is you know I was saying to you a couple weeks ago.
Integrations is like your strong point.
Having having running the the product, I would say you probably have more.
What I call ease of use integrations than any other product out there in my opinion.
So that goes.
A bio for me because then you’re not running around worrying about the C API and that API.
It’s all the big ones.
There, and that’s for me, right?
It’s a big deal, so.
Yeah, we’ve got.
About 65 integrations and we also have the ability for people to integrate with Zapier and a few other ways of integrating. You know, such as writing WordPress hooks or pushing to a custom HTTP endpoint.
Uh, but one of the things that we’ve done with our integrations has been to really go bidirectional with that integration and also make it very easy to build forms for an integration.
So for example MailChimp, you can just go to templates, click on one of your mail lists, sorry MailChimp lists, and it’ll actually create.
A form for you, so it’ll put in all your custom fields.
It’ll add your interest groups etc.
Sure, and the form is ready to go.
You just place it on a page and it’s ready to integrate with with MailChimp and then likewise being bidirectional.
You can also populate the form with data from MailChimp, so if it knows the email address of the user it’ll go off to MailChimp.
Pull their details down and you can effectively create an edit.
Profile form for MailChimp or any of the other integrations that we have.
That makes life a lot easier.
Now let’s jump into forms in general.
So yeah, most people say forms, and I’ll tell you what comes to mind right away.
A contact form right?
It’s like let’s throw down a.
Contact page Yep.
And then they’ll say, well, why should I bother spending the money on just a contact?
Form when I can go use something like contact form 7?
No thank you at my opinion, but you know there are people who do that.
Yeah, what would be besides the contact form?
In your opinion, the number one use for using a form.
On our website.
Uhm, I mean.
Yeah, so you’ve got your regular contact task form.
You’ve got forms for generating leads, such As for landing pages with, you know, maybe you’re running a Google ad campaign or any kind of online campaign.
Maybe some Facebook ads or whatever, so having a form that that that marketing leads to is a very popular use of forms.
Support forms, I mean it, it just it goes on and on and on. We have a template library of over 100 different templates of different forms that people use.
We have people using it to choose a position on a map and we have people using it as a calculator for example.
So we have maybe a Mortgage calculator, loan calculators, high purchase agreements.
Uhm, these are all things that you can do with a with a form plugin and we have templates out of the box that enable you to do that very easily.
Just again, single click and then you can modify it to do whatever you want it to do.
Yeah, and and those are kind of thinking out of the box a little bit.
I think you know those of us who design websites.
That’s not uncommon, but the average user looks at then said a form plugin for that, and I say.
I mean 11 use that comes to mind right away. Is building a quizone form and.
And and I recently had a guest on.
Then we we talked about quizzes, Ty and I and one of the things people don’t realize about the value quizzes is.
It’s a great way to segment your list real quickly in a hurry.
Yeah for sure.
If you know exactly what people are interested in and how you’re in, then you know exactly what types of emails to send them, so, Yep.
Yep Yep yeah.
User profiling is definitely a another good use case as well.
Yeah, uhm, what is your as far as you can tell, what’s your most popular integration at this point?
Uh, I would.
Say our post management and user management, which are actually integrations with WordPress.
So those enable you to build a form and then have the content of that form create a post or any kind of custom post type in WordPress we have a lot of developers using those.
Another one of the popular extensions we have is our Woo commerce extension, so that enables you to create a woo commerce product and put one of our forms on that product.
So an example of using that might be.
Customizing AT shirt, for example. So you could choose the color, choose the text or image on the T shirt, and that’s something that our WooCommerce extension can do. So that’s that’s actually a really popular extension that we sell, and then it kind of falls into all of the popular integrations with email marketing platforms CRM’s.
And other third party system such as that so.
But yeah, the whole the actual WordPress UM?
Side of things is probably the most popular extensions that we are popular add-ons that.
That we sell.
Yeah, as I know as you know I’m I’m, uh, convertkit user, I’m a HubSpot user with the what I would say is they run seamless with both of them right?
So it works really easy.
Yeah, and I’m actually working with the new the Woo integration on a project right now so and it seems to be going really, really well.
Oh, good good.
It’s amazing when I look at software products and having been in technology for 30 years.
Many of them, the more the add ONS, the more complex the product gets and one of the things I find with WS forms truly is.
It doesn’t seem to matter which add on you use to.
Simplicity is still there.
Yeah, and that that’s been So what?
You know, one of our goals with WS form was the whole no code movement.
You know we we do enable people to do coding around WS form for sure.
If you want to plug into hooks and other things that we have, that’s definitely possible.
But one of the key things we’ve tried to do.
Is to make.
Building forms, or in some case you know, some people actually call WS form an app builder.
Now ’cause it?
Just does so much, yeah.
But we’ve tried to make that process as as quick and easy as possible.
We’ve tried to.
Include as much of the functionality that people need into the product itself without them having to do the coding.
So for example, repeatable sections where you could perhaps have.
Ability for people to enter one or more people onto a form.
So first name, last name, age, whatever you need in some form plugins there can be quite a bit of code that you have to add to make that work, and with WS form it’s literally a check box, so that’s all done for you.
The conditional logic works, the calculations work.
It’s just ready to go out of the box, so we’ve really tried to go the full, full full way to to make these systems as easy as possible to implement, and a lot of the functionality in WS form is literally just a check box to to get it to work.
You know, such as adding select two to a select dropdown to introduce.
That functionality or setting up a Google Maps very, very simple.
Just put the key in and it does everything else for you.
Yeah, and I’m at a point in my career and I think you know this about me.
I’ve done my share of coding and.
Well, I don’t want a code anymore, I’d rather leave it up to developers like yourself.
To do it.
I’m at the point where.
It’s not that it can’t write CSS.
Yeah, I think that’s the way the industry’s gone in general, right so?
20-30 years ago we were writing machine code, then we had basic. Then we had other programming languages. Then we introduced web interfaces and we’re now a point where.
People really just want to be able to drag and drop and and and build things very very easily with tools that all you’re doing.
All that coding for you in the background.
We’ve recognized that, and that’s that’s why we’ve built WS form the way it is.
So that’s really where our focus is.
It’s just on a very simple interface to develop seemingly complex forms.
Are you working on any new integrations for WS forms at this point in time?
Yeah, yeah we are all the time.
We’ve actually got quite a big following in Europe and hence we’re we’re going to be sponsoring workcamp Europe in Porto this year.
Uhm, but we’re finding that a lot of people in Europe have specific payment plugins that they want to work with, so we’ve got some new payment plug.
It’s coming and we’ve recently introduced some integrations for some email marketing packages that are quite popular in Europe. It’s quite interested in just seeing how different those markets are from EU.
S market you know you kind of assume that MailChimp is big in every country, but there are actually some some quite big email marketing companies.
In in Europe that people are using, so it’s been interesting learning about those markets and and making sure that we get integrations put in place for them.
So yeah, we’re we’re constantly looking at new integrations to to add to, and we really listen to our customers, so it’s really up to them to tell us what they need.
And we’ve got a list of integrations that we’re working on as a result of feedback that we’ve had.
Uh, that’s really good.
And of course, working in Europe is.
Especially for forms, product is a little more complex because of things like GDPR and the EU and that just adds complexity times 100. As far as I’m concerned.
Yeah yeah, and we we’ve been GDPR compliant since day one, and we’ve also we’re one of few plugins out there that actually integrates in with the GDPR functionality that’s within WordPress, that a lot of people don’t realize is there, such as.
Uhm, data deletion request data, erasure requests, and data export requests as well.
So those are things that you can actually do in WordPress and our forms link up with that functionality to initiate those requests.
Yeah, and I think I truly think GDPR.
Type laws are gonna end up everywhere I.
Yeah, before it so.
Yep, it’s happening.
I think the US is kinda gonna be one of the last holdovers in that game.
I think it would have.
Been in parts of it, but because the.
US is a little different. It’s more up to states than than the than the federal government. And you know, in Canada.
There’s there’s been heated discussion over it.
I know Australia is headed that way as well, so.
I think the.
Whole privacy movement is changing the way we do this type of.
You know GDPR is, you know it’s in Europe very, very important as important as things like form accessibility as well.
Yeah, I I so true uhm, let’s go into accessibility.
How does dumb WS forms?
Uh coping and accessible website from an accessibility standpoint.
So we were already, you know, using compliant guidelines such as AA tags all the way through.
We’ve actually worked with accessibility specialists as well to make sure that our forms read well.
You know with screen readers, for example, Yep.
So if you’ve got a screen reader installed, maybe in your.
Chrome browser or whatever browser you’re using. We’ve actually modified the code behind the forms to just try and make it sound as easy as possible when your keyboard navigating the form accessibility’s, it’s just a sensible and a caring thing to do for everybody, not only people that need.
These accessibility tools, but I think accessibility when followed properly will make a form convert better because it’s cleaner.
It’s easier to use and it’s just all round.
A much better thing to do.
So true and and in a lot of cases, accessibility isn’t just.
Better thing to do to make the web better in many companies, especially if their government or nonprofit, it’s actually legal requirement and we have to remember that too.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely yeah.
And we we’ve made sure that our default colors, for example, are high contrast colors.
You know, we’re not using kind of.
Pastel tones or anything.
We’re using colors that are actually recommended by these guidelines and dumb.
We we have some pages on our knowledge base about how to further improve accessibility on forms.
There’s there’s a lot more that can be done.
For example, you know one simple example is a lot of people will use a red asterisks to make a field required using the word required can actually make conformity even more accessible, so there’s a lot of tips out there.
That people can use.
We’ve actually got some tips on our blog as well on on how to improve accessibility on a form, and I think.
You know, it’s like I said, just all round just a good thing to do from from day one.
We also have the ability for the user of WS form to modify the Ara ARA tags. The labels on fields per field. So there may be some times where.
The wording in a label through a screen reader doesn’t sound quite right, so being able to adjust that is a, uh, very useful tool as well.
Just so that those that are listening to a form as their keyboard navigating it are able to understand what that feels about.
Yeah, I wanna jump into the subject of security and I know you and I have talked to offline about security issues and plugins several times and we went through it.
At the end of last year early this year where it was.
It seemed like every other day there was a form plugin popping up on UM.
Some security watch.
I don’t know how.
It started with contact form 7.
They had a terrible time for about six months and I believe and correct me if I’m wrong.
It was gravity forms in ninja forms, and I know even my friend Adrian.
Toby Groundhog CRM is hit there at one time.
How do you answer that when people say why should I run a forms plugin with all these possible vulnerabilities out there?
Well, I think.
Uhm, these security firms that are are looking for issues.
I think they’re a great resource.
I think sometimes the the word press press can jump on it in in the wrong way in my opinion.
Uhm, I I think the the way that these companies such as gravity forms and and couldn’t.
Groundhog and anybody else in the WordPress plugin space the the rate at which they respond to those security issues and and fix those and and release patches is really a good representation of how seriously those plugging companies take it.
And on the whole, they all do.
You know they do a pretty good job of releasing patches quickly, and I think that’s that’s.
The way to.
To deal with these security.
Issues you know.
If if one comes up.
Uhm, jump on it, fix it.
Let your customers know and and get it corrected and on how you know we’ve had issues where we’ve had to correct something because of a security issue.
All software has bugs in it.
There’s no two ways about it, and all you can do is is jump on it, fix it, and learn from mistakes that you may have made.
Yeah, I mean it’s.
Sticking with the.
The reputable brands out there on the plugins typically is going to.
You know, give you a more secure WordPress site, but keeping those plugins up-to-date, keeping that core up-to-date is key.
I had a customer the other day.
He was running a 2 year old version of WordPress and wondered why the plugin wouldn’t work.
And I wasn’t sure what I.
Wasn’t so worried about the site network and I was worried about them getting hacked.
You know particularly?
Since Ukraine and Russia there’s been a terrible increase in hacking, going.
Yeah, so yeah, keep it on top of security is key for.
Sure, I I’m.
Kind of, as you know, I’m kind of a bit of a security junkie, and in that space and one of the things I would say to add to what you were saying is I think a lot of it’s a trust and a transparency factor too, so I always look at.
Companies and people say, oh, this form had this form company had a million installs and look at the vulnerability, yet my response to that is, but Microsoft Windows has.
A patch Tuesday every Tuesday at first Tuesday of every month that Windows sits down and updates their their security software and they do this every monthly and people aren’t talking about walking away from Windows.
So yeah, that that’s kind of my benchmark.
And then I say OK.
Did the company deal with the vulnerability in a reasonable time?
Did the company inform their users they patch the vulnerability when they do because we don’t want to tell our users we patched it before we do because that just opens up.
Goals and did we communicate properly and did we answer any feedback? Those are kind of the things I look at and I think one of the things that happens is that with WS forms you try and do that, and I think that’s really important. Actually, this was the let’s sweep it under the rug. Go go away.
No, it’s not going away and and then you end up in some security companies blog and you know you know where that goes from.
There yeah, yeah.
I mean we we had a a small issue with the cross site scripting thing within the admin itself and we fixed it within an hour and.
Released a patch for it, you know it.
It wasn’t a major security issue, but it was brought to our attention.
We jumped on it.
We made sure it was fixed straight, uh?
And I, you know, I think as long as you’re responsive and don’t let these things sit there in the background and and boil up, then you know you’ll be.
You’re in a good place, but.
It’s true and then do it.
There’s no there’s.
Always going to be security issues across the across the board.
I mean we we have a product.
You know were pressed that enables you to install plugins from any developer around the world.
I mean, there’s there are so many WordPress developers out there developing plugins.
You’re really you really are trusting a lot of people with your website security.
Yeah, you know, stick with the the reputable brands and.
Yeah, hopefully they jump on these security issues quickly and promptly.
Yeah, and I think the I think the other issue is too is you know when I talk to people all the time they say Oh well square space has no security issues which has no security issues and I kind of roll my eyes at them and say none that they have disclosed and and and disclosures with part of it.
And then the other big part of.
It is and which you kind of alluded to with the person he looked at and his site was two years out of date.
I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at the site having problems and there’s 55 plugins and 10 are being used and they haven’t been updated in three years.
Yes, exactly, yeah.
And I I see it even on the agency side of my business.
You know we we do host him for people, but if they don’t have management on that they just expect it to keep running in and maintaining itself.
And it doesn’t work that.
Way you’ve got to keep those plugins up to.
No, I definitely.
Date and and they’ll install.
You know File Explorer and and this knows what other plugins on there and wonder why someone managed to get access and they haven’t updated it in a year and a half and and and leaving a WordPress site and then not updating it.
The core in the plugins.
The longer you leave that, the more of a headache you’ve got to actually upgrade it.
When you come to doing it because you’re making such a leap in in code that it can even affect the way a theme is working.
So yeah, I mean keeping things up to date is key.
Yeah, UM, currently your form package uses shortcodes, correct?
As I recall that.
Yeah, we have short code.
We’ve got an old-fashioned widget if you want to use that, but we also integrate in with a lot of different site builders so we we’re compatible with.
Obviously with Gutenberg with block editor.
Bricks, oxygen elementor.
Beaver builder divvy and more.
I believe so yeah, there’s various ways of embedding a a form on a page.
Yeah, so there’s no discrimination there folks.
We’re friends with their friends with everyone.
That’s probably a good thing.
And and also if somebody is looking to look at the your plug in.
There is a free version in the repository.
Correct, correct? Yeah, we have a light version on wordpress.org and it has pretty much everything you need to build a contact US form or a you know a basic information request form.
It also includes it logs all the submissions, so you’ve got a backup of all those missions.
Maybe if you have an email.
Issue then you’ve got, you know, got a good backup.
There, UM, plus it has the ability to export those submissions in CSV format, and you get quite a few different field types with that.
The pro version has all the field types.
Obviously in all the other functionality like conditional logic and calculations and the ability to integrate.
But if you’re just looking for a straightforward form.
Then yeah, we have a a light version at wordpress.org.
And then the agency version, of course, has all the integrations and what?
You know what I call?
Everything but the kitchen sink for this.
Yeah, yeah, yeah we couldn’t.
Get the kitchen sink included, but it does include every integration that we’ve got all the functionality and it’s unlimited sites as well.
When as you’ve gone down this journey, Mark and you’ve kind of.
Looked at this.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Uhm, you know building a.
A plugin in the WordPress space has been very different from other software licensing that I’ve done in the past.
I love the WordPress community.
I’ve met some of the most amazing people and continued to do so and the thing I’ve learned about WordPress is there are just so many people involved in WordPress.
There’s not just one kind of Ave that you can put your plugin on and then just expect to sell it.
Uhm to traditional marketing such as you know Google Adwords and stuff like that can be tricky with a plugin, particularly the plugin that we’ve developed.
You know it does so much.
It’s very difficult to get across some of its capabilities.
Videos being very useful for that, so I think you.
Know in terms of lessons learned, there’s been a lot I’ve learned about marketing the product and how you should market that.
In a word, press space.
And really it’s about gaining the trust.
Of a lot of people in the industry that that have a voice and and building genuine relationships with those people has been has been key to the growth of WS form.
The the WordPress plugin directory is definitely being a challenge for us just because of the way that the algorithm works on that.
You know you do a search for anything on the plugin directory and it’s going to show you the plugins that have the most installed, so that’s quite a hard space to to penetrate as well.
I’m interested to see where the kind of paid plugin directory that WordPress is working on goes, so I think that’ll be maybe a space that we can get into.
As well, it’s interesting.
It’s interesting and I agree with you.
I think the.
The fun of working in the WordPress space is our community.
I stress that I stress that on this podcast I stress this online.
I think, yeah, we’ve got a pretty vibrant and lucky community.
I mean, as a whole, it’s one of the few communities where everybody kind of talks to everybody.
I mean, there’s always a few clicks, but you’re never gonna get away with that.
I mean, not sure.
Yeah, and and isn’t it great that the word press community as well is is not only about the technical side of things, but it’s also it’s a good support network as well.
You know we we recognize mental health and things like that and there’s.
There’s a lot of just general support that’s available in our community through people that just dedicate their time to that.
Yeah, a lot.
A lot of people care about a lot of other people and that makes it a pretty special place as far as I’m concerned, so.
Sure yeah, totally agree yeah.
Uhm, do you have any interests down the road of developing another plugin?
Yeah, I mean I do.
I have some ideas I’ve I’ve really tried to focus on this plugin for the past few years to to get it right, you know.
Uhm customer support for us has been absolutely key in establishing that and and gaining that trust with users and and getting the positive feedback that we get.
So I didn’t want to.
Dive off and and start one of those other projects.
If it was going to mean I had to take my foot off WS form.
But yeah, I’ve got a few things up my sleeve, so watch this space.
That that’s great, but it you’re you’re so true about support.
I mean, if you don’t support, you become known as irius, not responsive.
And if you’re not responsive.
In this space it is.
And I don’t. I don’t think you have to do 2524 by 7 support like I really don’t believe that. But I do believe you gotta offer reasonable responses within a given time.
And I think.
Yeah, I agree.
Yeah, good good responses within a certain amount of time and and make we we tend to.
Yeah, if somebody comes with us with a bug, we will jump on that bug very very quickly and and get that fixed because for some people that can mean a project delay or it can mean.
You know something something is not working on their website.
So if we do come across a bug we we tend to fix those very very quickly.
When we receive feedback from users, if it’s something that we feel we can implement quite quickly, then we’ll do that.
We we’ve been known to turn around a new integration in 24 hours. I’m not saying we do that for everyone, but if it’s a fairly simple integration.
Then we will we have been known to do that, you know.
And I I’ve it particularly being the new kid on the block.
I mean, we are four years old, but we’re still effectively one of the newer plugins out there.
We we’ve really had to go above and beyond because, you know, we and we’ve wanted to.
We listen to people.
We have a feature request section on our site where we get a lot of ideas from people and and a lot of.
Where WS form is today compared to when we launched it two years ago toward 2 1/2 years ago.
It is as a result of user feedback that we get, so I think it’s really important to listen to people and let them.
Mold the product and determine where the future of it’s going.
And not treat user feedback as a negative.
If more companies would treat user feedback as a positive, they would actually learn something and be able to drive their companies better.
I think too many comments treated as a negative person.
Well, we we’ve certainly had feedback in a, you know, just a very very simple example in our user interface.
We had a save bum and people were annoyed about having to click on the save button, so we made it so you didn’t have to click the save button again, but.
Uhm, you know when you do that, you then eradicate the people that are annoyed with that save button and your support gets easier.
So another thing that we do is when we get a question from somebody, if we can write a knowledge base about it, we’ll write a knowledge base and then people can then refer to that in future we also analyze.
Or people are typing in when they’re requesting a support ticket, and will fire back.
Suggested knowledge based articles to them to try and get the information to them quicker.
So anything that we can do to improve customer support, that’s that’s our number.
One focus is really on the customer support side of things.
Particularly with the type of customers that we have that are building quite complex forms, they’ll often write to us and say, look, here’s what I’m trying to achieve.
Can I do that with WS form?
And we are honest, if there’s something that it can’t do, then we’ll let them know nine times outta 10 it can and will give them some advice on on how to do that.
That’s really, that’s really great, because that just means you’re being attentive to your customers, and that’s really important.
So yeah, that’s social.
If somebody wants to check out WS forms, get ahold of you ask some questions. How’s the best way?
They could go to wsform.. Obviously, we have a form on there that you can fill out.
If you’ve got any questions, if you want to get hold of me, I’m on Twitter.
I’m just @westguard.
WS form is on Twitter as well. @ws_Form
Or to be, or if you’ve got any pre sales questions, we’ll be happy to help out.
Thanks, Mark, for your time and have a great day and make sure you check out W Farms.
Thanks Robert, appreciate it.