Bloggiesta Mini-Challenge: Google Forms

Over the past year, Google documents have made a huge impact in the book blogging community. Because they are web-based and shareable, they can be used for everything from organizing your review commitments (I use a Google spreadsheet with multiple pages for the different things I am tracking) to sharing documents with other bloggers for projects (Nicole and I have multiple documents to keep things organized for What’s Old is New, our podcast). Probably the most prevalent use of Google documents, though, is using Google forms for contests or contacts (if you want to follow the links, you will see that I’ve used it for both). Using the form keeps people’s contact information out of the comments section of your blog where it can be harvested for spam and gives you your results in a nice, clean spreadsheet. Plus, I have noticed that I get 5-10 times the number of contest entries using Google forms, with the biggest increase in entrants being among my readers who are not bloggers who, I assume, were intimidated to comment publicly to enter in the past. Google forms can be a little tricky if you aren’t used to using them, though, so I’m going to take you through it step-by-step.

TO COMPLETE THIS CHALLENGE:

Read the instructions, play with the form below, then go and create your own form. In the comments section (not the Google form, because I want you to play around with it before creating your own) please leave some thoughts on your experience, plus a link to your form either live on the internet or embedded into a post.

1. GETTING STARTED

Perhaps it is obvious, but I should mention that you will need a Google account to be able to do this, although you do not need a gmail address. If you don’t have an account, you can get one here. Once you have one of those, head to google.com/documents to get started. There you will want to click on ‘create new’ in the upper left-hand corner, and select ‘form.’

2.CREATING THE FORM

Now it is time to create your form! Probably the majority of what you will need will only be text, but I am creating this sample form (below) with all of the different types of questions, so you can see what they do (some are new to me as well, so we can all learn together!). One thing you will want to think about is which questions you want to have as required questions. For instance, if you are using your form for a contest, you definitely want to know the person’s name and a way to contact them (probably email), but do you want to require that they leave a blog URL? Perhaps, but if you do, you alienate non-bloggers. Your answer to this question will depend on your blogging philosophy and who your audience is/who you want it to be.  The icons on the right are, from left to right: edit, duplicate, and trash. Filling out the form is pretty self-explanatory, but be sure to give it a title. Each question gives you space to ask a question and enter any sample text. Just click ‘done’ when you are done with a question, then click on ‘add item’ in the upper left-hand corner to add another question.

Note: There are some more advanced options, such as adding section headers and page breaks, and going to separate pages based on answers to multiple choice questions, which I am not going to cover today. I encourage you to play around with them once you are comfortable with Google forms.

3. MAKE IT PRETTY

One of the nice things about Google forms is that you can customize them a bit. There are nearly 100 themes you can choose from, I like to try to match them to the look and feel of the book I’m giving away, but you could also choose a favorite that looks nice with your blog design and use that consistently. They are super easy to add. Once you’re done with your questions, just click the ‘theme: plain’ button at the top.

Then you’ll get a page where you can see a bunch of themes. Don’t forget that there are multiple pages of options you can navigate at the bottom!

Just click on a theme to choose it! You will see a mockup of what your form will look like with that theme. If you don’t like it, click ‘cancel’ and you’ll go back to the list of themes again. If you do like it, just click accept.

4. THE FINAL FORM

Now your form is pretty much ready to share with other people. The only other thing you might want to do is change the confirmation people get after submitting your form. You can also choose to let users see a summary of the responses, but please do not choose to do this if they are leaving personal information.

Default confirmation

My confirmation

5. SHARE IT WITH THE WORLD

Version 1: WordPress.com blogs

Okay, so here is the sad story. Google forms use javascript. WordPress.com does not play nicely with javascript and will not show anything you make with it. I have tried and tried to find ways around this, but I haven’t yet been able to figure anything out. If anyone else has, please let me know and I’ll update this. So, basically, you can’t embed a Google form in your posts. The good news is that you can actually still use them. Every Google form is published as a unique webpage, the link to which is at the bottom of the edit form page.

Then you can just include a link like this:

Please enter this contest by filling out this Google form.

Version 2: Blogger, self-hosted WordPress

Please note, I’m not sure how other blog systems work, but I would guess that TypePad, etc. would probably fall under this set of instructions.

The first thing you’ll need to do is get your embed code under the ‘more options’ button:

Copy the embed code, and take it to paste in your html editor

Wordpress html editor

Blogger html editor

You may want to look at the html code and edit the sizes. I try to keep my width between 500 and 600, otherwise it tends to be too wide for the center part of my blog. Changing the height it up to you. Anything over 600 or 700 will stretch out your blog, but if you change it you may require people to scroll:

<iframe src=”https://spreadsheets.google.com/embeddedform?formkey=dFR4d2RSdmFwQjZaZlFPVXFCTWpNMWc6MQ” width=”760″ height=”1273″ frameborder=”0″ marginheight=”0″ marginwidth=”0″>Loading…</iframe>

Important Note: Entering this code has to be the last thing you do in self-hosted WordPress before publishing or scheduling the post. If you go back to change ANYTHING, you will have to re-enter the code, complete with any height/width changes you have made because otherwise WordPress will strip out the javascript. From my test posting, this appears not to be an issue in Blogger. So if you look at your form published in a WordPress post and decide it is too wide, you will have to put the entire code back in. If you have any trouble, try taking the “Loading…” out of the code.

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It may all sound like a lot, but once you know what you are doing it is very quick and easy. Now, please play with the form I have created, go try your own, and leave a link and your experiences in the comments.

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