By Eric Lester
Website owners face a unique challenge. Making an email address public to communicate with your visitors also makes that address a magnet for spam. Learn how to minimize your risk and still provide that important email contact.
Having a host that provides exceptional Spam blocking services is a must these days. Webmasters and business owners can find their domain email particularly at risk to Spam as their email addresses may be freely available on their websites for both humans, and so-called “spambots” to find. By following a few simple guidelines, you can reduce the stress on your Spam filters by making your email a far harder target to hit. Note that most of these tips are “preventative” in nature. If you read one and know you’ve already exposed your email to that very threat, then you will either need to lose that address or make sure you have a really good filter.
Fooling the Sensors
As a webmaster or the owner of an online store, you want visitors to have a simple avenue of contact. Placing your email address on your site provides this simple avenue, but that avenue is wide, and more than just your customers will journey down it. Having an email address properly formatted and linked from your website makes it the perfect target for spambots. Much like search engine bots that spider the web cataloging information, these bots harvest email addresses for use in mass market email lists. Keeping your email visible to humans but invisible to bots can be accomplished a variety of ways.
- Don’t link your email with a “mailto:” hyperlink
- Spell out your address, for example “sales at yourdomain.com”
- Display your email graphically, but don’t link the graphic
- Advanced users may consider displaying email using Macromedia Flash, as most bots can’t understand links embedded within Flash. This preserves the ability for humans to quickly click your email address and send. This is not to suggest your entire site be in Flash, simply a single email “button.”
Keeping the Secret
This may seem like common sense, but simply minimizing the exposure of your email off your website, as well as on, will aide in stemming the tide of Spam. Your professional email should be used as sparingly as possible. Don’t use it to sign up for personal newsletters or enter into contest forms on other sites. No matter what assurances of privacy a site may provide, the likelihood an address will be Spammed increases each time it’s used. Keep your professional and personal matters highly separated. If you want to get a newsletter, even a professional one, use a home address or consider the use of a free email account. There are a variety of services from large Internet portals like Yahoo and Google. Not only are they free, but they also provide built-in Spam filters, making their use far more preferable for “high risk” situations.
Finally, though it should be completely obvious, don’t respond to unsolicited mass email in any way. Don’t click on their links, reply to the mail, or buy their products. It should be obvious, but the fact is, the reason we all continue to be deluged with unsolicited emails is actually quite simple. They are still profitable to the people sending them. Even if their response rate is in the tenths of a percent, they still make money and thus still send out more. The people who respond are the ones that ensure a Spam filled future for us all.
The Removal Scam
Spam arrives, but, not to fear, there’s a helpful removal link at the bottom. Click, submit, reply, whatever – they come in many flavors, and all of them are potentially deadly. Though a natural response it to use these removal tools, it’s that natural response upon which Spammers prey. Following “removal” instructions may do one of two things. It may remove you from the list, or it may simply be the confirmation a mass emailer needs that the address asking to be removed is, in fact, a real live email account. Instead of stopping unwanted emails, the email account will only receive more, since it has become more valuable than before. It’s more valuable because there’s a confirmation someone is actively using it. Are all removal links scams? No, they aren’t. Some removal links are legitimate. Determining whether a removal link is completely valid is difficult. Never click removal links from unsolicited mass emails, they are most suspect.
Last Lines of Defense
The final lines of defense are filters. Keeping your professional email as quiet as possible and safe from roaming spambots are the primary preventative measures you can reasonably be expected to take. All that remains are filters, on both a server and local level. For site owners, having a host with strong anti-Spam and virus filters installed on your server is your best line of defense. A wide variety of server side filters are available, such as SpamAssassin and SpamAway (from Postini). This kind of service stops Spam and viruses from ever reaching your inbox. Ideally, like SpamAway, the service will provide a web based interface to verify it’s quarantined emails and make sure nothing was “over filtered”.
Less effective and generally redundant in face of server side filters, are filters built into email programs. These filters will generally be simple blacklists or filters built on regular expressions. Some may have may have more advanced Bayesian filers built in that can “learn” from being fed a selection of Spam email. It’s preferable such a filter reside on the server and process a large amount of emails in order to be most effective. Postini’s SpamAway functions beyond the server level, intercepting Spam and virus filters before they reach their intended destination’s network.
Keeping your business email as confidential as possible is the best preventative measure against Spam. If you need to have contact email on your site, ensure that it is not directly linked or formatted in such a way as to make it an easy target for spambots. The ideal solution is a simple button in Flash that humans may use like any other button but that is unreadable from a bot’s perspective. Beyond confidentiality, ensure you have strong, robust filters for your site’s email addresses. This is the only option for an address that’s already been picked up by the mass emailers. It’s difficult to completely staunch the flow of Spam, but good filters can put a stop to most of it.
About the Author:
Mr. Lester has served for 4 years as the webmaster for ApolloHosting.com and previously worked in the IT industry an additional 5 years, acquiring knowledge of hosting, design, and search engine optimization. Apollo Hosting provides website hosting, ecommerce hosting, vps hosting, and web design services to a wide range of customers.
Established in 1999, Apollo prides itself on the highest levels of customer support.