E-Mail Addresses & Web Pages

December 13, 2004

It used to be a common sight to find e-mail addresses on small business web pages. Unfortunately, putting an unprotected e-mail address on a web page anymore is tantamount to erecting a giant billboard reading “Please Spam Me!”. Address harvesting robots trawl the ‘net relentlessly, looking for anything that resembles an e-mail address. When they find an address, it is added to spam mailing lists and sold to all of those people who like to send you e-mail about your mortgage and your sex life.

But you still need to have a way to have visitors to your site contact you.

Fortunately, there are a couple of good alternatives.

The best thing to do is to have an actual contact form on your site, that uses some server-side magic to mail you the results. This keeps your address away from not only spam robots, but human address harvesters and other parasites as well. Real customers and prospects will get your address when you reply to their message, and anyone you ignore will never see where the message went.

(Please note: You should never use what’s called a “Mail-To” form — these look like real web forms, but use the user’s e-mail program to send you the actual message. Not only are these vulnerable to address harvesters, they tend to cause users to receive a “security warning” when submitting the form, making them wonder about the safety of using your site. A real mail form uses server-side scripting that not only hides your address, but protects itself from exploitation by spammers. If you’re not up to installing a service like this yourself, a web developer or your web host should be able to install one for you relatively inexpensively (figure $100 – $300, but you can use it for a number of different form-based purposes on your site))

A simpler, if slightly less secure alternative is to use JavaScript to “obfuscate” the address. This results in an address that looks normal to people browsing your site, but is invisible to robots that don’t read JavaScript (most of them, at the moment). Most of these are placed on your page by cutting and pasting a little text into your page source. My favorite is AutomaticLabs’ “Enkoder”. Simply go to the web form and type in the e-mail address you want to use, and it will give you back a little piece of JavaScript to paste into your page. I like Enkoder better than most JavaScript solutions, as it makes the address difficult to read even in JavaScript. Since it’s a safe bet that sooner or later e-mail harvesters will start reading JavaScript, this gives you a little more protection. Unfortunately, your address can still be seen by real people who come to your site, some of whom may also not have your best interests at heart.

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