Blogs have a great way of getting feedback from readers in the form of comment forms and comment threads. However, these may not always be appropriate means of asking users for feedback. For one, they are published for the whole world to see. Secondly, comment threads are almost always associated with the blog post it is attached to (unless you create a blog post or static page that serves as your guest book or public feedback form).
For this purpose, email is generally the preferred means of getting private feedback from your readers. But the dilemma in this case is how to go about with asking people to email you if your blogging software doesn’t have this built in.
I can think of three ways to do this.
- By setting up an email link
- By displaying your email address
- By setting up an email form on your blog
The first two ones are fairly straightforward. For #1, you create a link somewhere on your site that points to your email address–usually
<a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">Anchor text (e.g., "email me")</a>.
When users click on this link, their default email client is launched with your email address in the To: field. You can even define a default subject by adding
?subject=subject line here
after the email address (along with other things you can add).
The disadvantage of using an email link is that not everyone runs a desktop-based email client, and the link might not work if they are using a Webmail client instead. Also, this assumes that a reader is using his personal computer, and not a shared one. If the reader is using someone else’s computer or a public terminal, then the email link might launch the default client with another person’s account or none at all.
Displaying your email address
The next best thing would be to simply publish your email address on your sidebar, profile/about page, or just about anywhere on your blog. Some browsers will automatically read your email address as a link (or some blogging software will automatically convert it for you), though, and the above concerns will still be there. However, since your email address is visible to readers, they can simply copy and paste this into their email clients. If your email address is simple enough, they can just type it in, even!
An inherent disadvantage of doing this is the possibility of spam bots harvesting your email address and adding it into their databases (if they haven’t already done so from elsewhere). Your email address is out in the open, after all, and machines can easily read it, too.
A solution would be to use email obfuscation. This means your blog renders the address as readable when output to a web browser. The address can also be easily selected for copy-and-paste operations. But when you look at the underlying source code, the actual email address has actually been converted into some gibberish, which machines will not identify and read as an email address.
Alternatively, you can spell out your email address without the usual @ and . (dot). For instance, email@example.com can be email (at) domain (dot) com. I’m pretty sure readers will understand this easily enough.
The WordPress codex gives a few suggestions on protecting your email address here. Lorelle on WordPress has a post here with links to resources (a bit dated, but still very relevant).
Lastly, you can use email forms on your site or blog. If you’re using WordPress, there are a handful of plugins you can use. I personally use a variant of WP-contactform (several modifications have been released to ensure spam protection, such as one with a simple mathematical challenge, and another that uses Akismet).
The use of email forms has advantages and disadvantages in terms of usability. A plus is that your users won’t have to leave their email browser (nor even your site) to send you email. When they click the submit button, they can be redirected back to where they came from, or to your blog’s home page.
One disadvantage, though, is that some users might not feel comfortable sharing their email addresses via web form. It might also be viewed as lacking in transparency on your part, because you get their email addresses, but they don’t have yours. Also, they would have to key in their email address, and if they mistype it, there is no way for you to respond to their inquiry.
Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. Because of this, I thought of using a combination of #1, #2 and #3. I have set up a contact form on my personal blog, and I also do this on community blogs that I run. The contact form contains the email address (revised to minimize spammer harvesting), so users who prefer to send from their email clients can just select/copy it over. I even included my IM and mobile number.
On my personal blog and on other blogs I write for, I don’t generally hyperlink using my raw email address. I simply link people to my contact page, so they get several options. They can simply fill in the form, or they can copy my email address into their own mail clients. If they have something urgent to say, my IM and mobile number are there.
There is no perfect way, but for me the good solutions are those with a good balance of accessibility, usability and security.