Most anyone who’s had an email address or a website for any length of time has dealt with the unfortunate problem of spam. Barraged with unsolicited emails on cheaper prescriptions from Canada, unbelievable mortgage rates, finding an easy date, even, um, shall we say, increasing one’s masculinity, we perfectly innocent bystanders feel helpless or confused. It seems our once sacred email addresses are lost forever.
We know that the basic problem about spam is that it is an annoyance. It’s a time waster for those of us in business because we may receive emails from unknown sources frequently, and that means that we first have to read and decide if messages are legitimate or not before we delete. How aggravating!
The simple truth is that once an email address has been targeted by spam, it’s difficult to reclaim. Usually, if you’re receiving many spam messages a day, you have three choices:
- You create a new email address and get rid of the old one. This can work beautifully except that you need to get that new address out there as quickly as possible. You could lose valuable emails from people who may not have your new address. And you also run the risk of losing the anonymity of this new address from spam if you’re not careful.
- You use spam control measures. The purpose of this article isn’t to go into any great detail about these measures, but simply by doing an online search for “spam blocker” or “spam control,” you’ll find plenty of solutions to read about and evaluate. Sometimes, though, these solutions take a while to get working correctly, and you still may need to go through your spam folder just to make sure that legitimate messages haven’t gotten through.
- You could live with it. Let’s face it…it’s not fun but sometimes a necessary evil.
Meet the spambots
Having a website with an email address adds an interesting layer in spambots. Spambots are nasty little computer programs whose jobs are simply to surf the internet, looking for email addresses. When they find one, they collect it and add it to a list for receiving spam solicitations. What this means is that anywhere online your email address may be posted—on a website, a chat room, a blog post or comment, anywhere—can lead to you receiving lots of spam.
What does this mean for us? Well, we should think twice before we post our email addresses directly on our websites, or anywhere on the web. (Actually, we should make sure our addresses do not get posted anywhere else on the web where they would be out of our control.) Of course, if we have a website for our businesses and organizations, we may want potential customers, donors, volunteers, etc., to email us, but is it worth the potential for spam? Conventional wisdom would say yes because it’s just an assumed convenience with this technological age. However, this is a personal question that each of us must answer individually.
Fight the good fight
If you’ve decided that it’s just too important to have the functionality to allow people to email you from your website, there are options to reduce the probability of receiving spam. Be cautioned, however, that not one of these techniques is 100 percent foolproof. Talk to your web designer about which solution might be the right one for you.
One way to go is to post your email address on your site and try to disguise it from spambots. One of the earlier techniques was to write it like “info[at]example.com,” hoping that the “[at]” would disguise the “@” symbol that spambots look for. Of course, if a spambot can be programmed to look for “@,” it can be programmed to look for “[at],” “(at),” “AT,” or any other similar concoction.
Another way to disguise your email address is to scramble the code behind it. Your email address appears correct on the screen to a user, but the code that a spambot wades through is completely different. There may be some accessibility issues with some screen readers, however.
A completely different approach is to use an email form, programmed in a language called PHP. Most of us have seen these forms on various websites, and it’s the one I use on
www.dreamseedmultimedia.com. An advantage to the form is that your email address is completely hidden from spambots. However, some users may not prefer to use a form, and new spambots have been programmed to fill out forms. Fortunately, these spambots still do not find your email address, so you can use anti-spam measures on your forms, such as empty fields or simple questions, to verify that a message is actually written by a live person, and your email is still protected from spam.
Again, those pesky spambots seem to be here to stay…at least for a little while. If you own a website, you should weigh the factors in having the capability for people to contact you via email, and since you probably will want to offer that, you should speak with your web designer about how to minimize the likelihood of being harvested for spam. While no solution is 100 percent foolproof, you do have choices and alternatives. Use them, and protect (or reclaim) your email!