Unless you’re incredibly lucky, you’ve had to deal with spam—those unwanted email messages. Those of us who own or run websites often deal with a lot of spam because we put ourselves “out there” for people to contact us. Sometimes, it can feel like we’re drowning in spam, and it can be a real productivity killer to clean it all up. So how can you recover (or keep) your productivity from being eaten by spam?
What is spam?
Before we go any further, just know that spam is unsolicited bulk messages, which can be in email form but also through websites or other electronic means. It’s like a form letter. If the same message is sent to lots of different people without their permission, it’s spam. (As a side note, make sure you’re not a spammer. If you’re sending a mass emailing, make sure you have express permission from each one of your recipients—or you are a spammer, too!)
Protect your email.
Spammers love email addresses. They pick them up wherever they can find them. So your first line of defense is to protect your email address. Here’s how spammers can get your email address:
- Your email address is listed on your website.
- Your email address is found anywhere online (directories, forums, social media profiles, etc.).
- An email list you belong to is sold to a spammer.
- Someone you gave your email address to is really a spammer.
To protect your email, avoid putting your email address on your website, and avoid using it anywhere online that will display it. Customers can contact you through a website contact form instead of a direct email address. Sometimes, you can’t control what someone will do with your email address, but you may want to think carefully about who you give it to in the future. You can also use a service like 10 Minute Mail that gives you a temporary email address when you have to use one but don’t really want to give it away.
Protect your website.
Spammers also don’t need an email address to spam you. They can find holes in your website such as the following:
- contact form
- blog comment form
- website search engine
Your second line of defense is to make sure that these are well protected against spammers. For example, many web forms use captchas, which are those squiggly letters or math problems you have to solve to send a message. Some other checks are actually done behind the scenes that fool automated spammers, but real people never see. For blogs, you can manually approve all comments (which takes a lot of time) or set up a spam comment blocker like Akismet if you’re on WordPress.
Dealing with spam.
Even if you’re proactive and you protect your email address from falling into the wrong hands and you use extra precautions on your website to keep spam away, sometimes, spam still gets through, but hopefully, it’s a rare occurrence. Your email server may have spam guards, such as SpamAssassin (used on many web hosts), or Google’s built-in spam protections. Many of these can set your spam aside that you can quickly check on occasion to make sure that you don’t miss any legitimate messages. You should also avoid responding to any spam messages, even if it’s to unsubscribe, because that confirms to the spammer that your email address is real. (Often, they send so many messages that they don’t know what’s real and what’s not.)
Remember that you can keep your sanity (and your productivity up) through these steps:
- Don’t publish your email address anywhere online, even on your own website.
- Don’t give your email address to anyone or any company you don’t trust.
- Set up an email contact form on your website that has anti-spam protections.
- Set up blog comment forms that have anti-spam protections.
- Use blog comment spam filtering services.
- Use an email service that filters spam.
- Don’t respond to any spam messages.
Good luck…and keep the spam away!