Email Contact and Blogs

Filed as Guides on December 15, 2008 10:18 am

For most bloggers, email is one of their most important tools. Whether it is a means of receiving feedback beyond the regular comment form, a method of obtaining new clients/advertisers or just a way of getting tips for future posts, most bloggers enjoy being available via email.

The question though is how to do it? Anyone with an email address is acutely aware of the high levels of email spam still being spent out, well after Bill Gates promised the problem would be solved, and don’t seek to invite any more of it or have legitimate mail lost in existing spam filters.

Bloggers that want to invite email communication have a serious challenge trying to open the doors to their readers without inviting a deluge of pharmaceutical and scam emails as well. There are techniques that can reduce the problem, but no perfect solutions. Instead, one has to find the answer that works best for them

Mailto: The Classic Link

The first and, in many circles, most popular system is to simply include an “mailto” link to their email address. All it requires is some basic HTML knowledge, a simple link and users can click the link to pull up their favorite email client and send the email. Bloggers can even add a subject line to help with spam filtering.

However, the drawback to the system is that mailto links are routinely harvested by email spam bots. This puts the email address in “clear text” making it easy to read. Unless you obfuscate the email address with JavaScript, which makes it invisible to browsers that have scripting disabled, spammers are free to grab your address at well.

Furthermore, such links also have unpredictable results. Browsers are supposed to open up the default email client but what that entails depends on the user. Though it is possible to set up your Gmail or other Webmail as a default email client, it is possible that users will have other programs, such as Microsoft Outlook, open up instead. Meaning that the outcome is useless to them.

Despite the drawbacks, this method remains very popular with bloggers due to both its simplicity to implement and familiarity with most readers. Though far from the perfect solution, it is still one of the best.

Contact Forms

In a bid to make sending an email even easier, many sites have begun using contact forms that not only eliminate the need for a visitor to open up their mail client, but also reduce the amount of spam that gets received. These forms can also be used to help organize large volumes of email by getting users to select their reason for contacting and ensure that visitors include all needed information.

However, these forms themselves often become contact for spammers, especially those that are the same across many sites as spam bots can automatically fill out and submit these forms in many cases. Since it is impossible to tell the difference between a spammer that filled out a form and a visitor, this spam almost always gets through.

This has made it necessary for many sites to add CAPTCHAs and other anti-spam measures that can frustrate users as well as spammers.

Also, contact forms are difficult to set up and require using third-party services to put them on most hosted blog platforms. Though you you can install plugins to run the form in most self-hosted WordPress installations, finding one for a wordpress.com site is trickier.

Your use for this technique largely depends on your hosting situation and the types of contact you want to receive.

Image Obfuscation

Another common solution is to take the email address, place it into an image and then post the image to the site, often with a JavaScript-based mailto link. Since spammer bots can’t read the image, this prevents spammers from grabbing the address while allowing human visitors to proceed and email.

Unfortunately, this method comes with its own set of problems. First, it places an extra burden on the visitor, making them hand-type the address rather than merely copying it, and it also puts the email address out of the reach of those who are visually impaired and rely upon screen readers to use.

As a result, this method typically is used as a supplemental method. For example, it can be used to give out the email address in conjunction with a contact form, so that those who prefer to not use a form have another option.

Other Ideas

There are still other methods for including contact information in a blog. Consider the following:

  1. Forgoing Email: One increasingly common solution is to forgo email altogether and, instead, focus on other methods of interaction including Twitter, Facebook and Myspace. Many prefer these methods of contact as they have both a public and a private face.
  2. Address Munging: This involves creating a plain text version of the email address but adding text to it that a human would know to remove. An example would be [email protected] Though such methods do hinder spammers, they also result in users, who often forget to remove the added text, having their email bounced back.
  3. Disposable Addresses: Another technique involves keeping the email address in plain sight, but changing it regularly, such as having [email protected] and switching it to [email protected] after the year ends. This method makes it hard to build up a reputation and can confuse those you correspond with unless you make the transition very clear.

In short, there are as many ways of addressing this issue as there are sites on the Web, but no system appears to have the perfect answer to the problem.

Always Good Ideas

With that being said, there are several steps that are always good ideas, no matter what email contact system one chooses.

  1. Good Anti-Spam Filters: Having a good anti-spam filter on your email client or Webmail can go a long way to reducing the amount of spam that you get. Gmail, for example, has a solid reputation for good spam filtering.
  2. Use Multiple Accounts: Having separate accounts for email newsletters and site registrations, which are likely to attract more spam, also helps reduce the volume of junk received in the primary account.
  3. Don’t Respond to Spam: Finally, though almost everyone should be aware of this, one should never respond to email spam, even if it is to ask to be removed. Replying only confirms that a human reads the account, thus increasing the amount of spam targeted at it.

If you follow these steps, most likely the need for anti-spam measures on your site will be greatly reduced, if not removed completely.

Bottom Line

Webmasters, with their email accounts, have to play a delicate balancing act where they expose their information to those that might have legitimate need for it, while keeping it as far out of reach of the spammers as possible. Unfortunately, no method is perfect and there are no right answers on how to do this.

Still, it is just one additional headache, along with comment spammers, scrapers and domain squatters, that bloggers have to deal with.

Also like these other issues, though there are ways to lessen the problem, there are none to make it go away completely.

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  1. By Steve Wood posted on December 16, 2008 at 8:25 am
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    E-mail Spam as and always will be a problem but it’s easily dealt with.
    I personally have everything sent to my Spam boxes look for the ones I know move them to a new folder and empty the Spam folder. Like you say in your post the worst thing you can do is open a mail most are tracked for open rates so opening Spam is like sending out a invitation for more of the same.

    Reply

  2. By Rob O. posted on December 18, 2008 at 4:08 pm
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    This is right up there with an “About” page – so critical but also frequently overlooked!

    Nothing is more aggravating than stumbling across an otherwise awesome blog and not having any means to contact the author directly.

    Since email harvesting programs generally look for an “@” sign followed by something that looks like a domain name, [email protected] is just the kind of juicy string harvesters love. A simple solution is an encoding substitution. Browsers can readily handle “%40″ instead of an “@” and a “%2e” instead of a “.” character. So, robo%402dolphins%2ecom is interpreted the same as [email protected]. Although this isn’t foolproof, this has been pretty effective at preventing spammers from getting our email address from mailto links for several years.

    That said, we also have a handy contact form on our site that doesn’t rely upon the reader to even have email.

    Reply

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