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Putting your e-mail contact out there

When you publish a website, you will want to put your contact information on every page - especially on a genealogy website since you probably want new cousins to contact you!

But, if you put your e-mail address on your website, the question is - How do you keep it from being harvested by spammers and get millions of junk messages?  First of all, don't use your main e-mail account on your website.  Use a secondary e-mail address (hotmail, yahoo, etc).  That way, if the spam gets too bad, it's easy to cancel and change without notifying all your friends and family that you have a new e-mail address.  Give them your "real" e-mail address and put a different one on your web pages.  NOTE:  The e-mail address you use on your pages does not have to match the e-mail address you gave to RootsWeb when you requested your account.

There's not really a great way to avoid ALL spammers, because every time someone comes up with one and shares it, the spammers start trying to figure out a way to get around it and eventually they do!  However, here are a few ideas that work pretty well for putting your contact information on your website:

  1. Encode your e-mail address
    There is a way to encode your e-mail address to make it harder for spammers to harvest, but works just like putting your e-mail there.  The internet has several encoders available.  All you do is input your e-mail address and it gives you the proper code to copy and paste onto your page where you want the e-mail link to go.  Here are several e-mail encoder sites:

Advantage: 
It makes it a little more difficult to harvest your address than putting it out there in regular format.

Problem:  
There is no guarantee that encoding your email address will prevent spam. Robots can be created that are smart enough to decode the encoded address.

  1. Use JavaScript to hide it
    You can place JavaScript on your webpage to hide your e-mail address.  I've seen several JavaScript samples across the internet, but I'll just show one here.
    [I suggest that you copy and paste so that you don't skip a space, use wrong slash, etc]  

    In the header portion of your page, somewhere between the Head and /Head tags, put the following code:
     
    <script type="text/javascript"> function mailto(domain,user) { document.location.href = "mailto:" + user + "@" + domain; } </script>

    Then wherever you want to put an e-mail tag put the following code:

    <a href="javascript:mailto('DOMAIN','USER')">NAME TO SHOW</a>

    Just replace the words in CAPITAL LETTERS with the appropriate information.
    DOMAIN = the portion of your e-mail after the @ sign.
    USER = the portion of your e-mail address before the @ sign
    NAME TO SHOW = what you want people to see for the e-mail link (like "Contact Me")   Just make sure that the "Name to show" that you put in isn't your real e-mail address!

    Your e-mail address is put together when needed by the javascript.  The e-mail harvesters won't "see" a normal e-mail address when they scan your site, so it's harder to harvest - but not impossible for a smart spammer robot.. 

    Advantage: 
    It makes it even more difficult to harvest your address than putting it out there in encoded format.

    Problem: 
    Some people can't run javascript on their computers or have it turned off, so they'd never see your address.
     

  2. Use an illegal format -
    Another way to "fool" spammers is to change the format of your email address to try to prevent spam harvesting. These methods replace part(s) of the address with something else and then the person using the email address must recognize that the address is invalid and manually correct it before sending their message  You should put a note on your page that they will have to do so.  Many options add spaces into the address or change non-word pieces into words.

    Put a space before and after the @ sign, which the person must delete before sending::
    username @ yourdomain.com

    Change the @ sign to AT, which the person must change before sending:
    username AT yourdomain.com

    Change the @ to AT and . to DOT, which the person must change before sending:
    username@yourdomain dot com

    Change the @  and .  which the person must change before sending:
    username @ yourdomain dot com 

    Add the words NOSPAM into the address, which the user must delete before sending:
    username@NOSPAMyourdomain.com

    Advantage: 
    Your e-mail address is very difficult to harvest easily - and spammers look for the easy way.

    Problems:  
    It puts the burden on the person trying to contact you to make a change in the address to be able to contact you. 

    In addition, it's much harder to catch all the possible combinations, but spammers are on to this way of disguising e-mail addresses, so many have started writing spam robots that can harvest it many of these ways.
     

  3. Put it on a single page -
    Even when using one of the options above, may I suggest you put your e-mail contact info on just one page?  Then put a link to that page on all your other pages. 

    Advantages: 
    Your e-mail is only out there once, so the odds of a spammer being able to find and de-code your e-mail address are lessened because it isn't out there in as many places. 

    The other benefit to only putting it on one page is that you don't have to change it on a bunch of different pages if you change e-mail addresses.

    Problem: 
    It's still out there and there is a smaller potential, but it could be harvested.
     

  4. Ask politely -
    There is a meta tag that you can use to mark a webpage to not be indexed by robots.  Insert the following into the header section of your page: 

    <meta name="ROBOTS" content="noindex,nofollow">

    This code tells robots not to index or follow the links on that page.

    Advantage: 
    It may cut down on the number of robots that will "find" your address and may work even better if combined with one of the previous options.

    Problems: 
    Not all robots are polite!  Just because you're asking them not to index it doesn't mean they won't.  Just the nature of spammers in flooding your e-mail with stuff you don't want should tell you that they're not very polite.

    The polite robots won't index your page either, so your page won't show on search engines. (The way around this is the single-page e-mail option above and putting the robots file on just that page.)
     

  5. Make it a picture -
    Probably the most effective way to hide your e-mail address from spammers is to create an image with the address and then put the image on the web page. You just display the address in the graphic. 
    My E-mail Address Graphic

    You can create a graphic yourself or try one of the e-mail graphics sites on the web - one of which is listed below.  However, to be effective, you can't create a link from the graphic or it defeats the purpose. 

    Advantage: 
    Doing it this way, the spam robots won't be able to de-code it. 

    Problems: 
    User will have to manually open their e-mail program and type in your address themselves - not the most friendly option. 

    Your e-mail address is still visible to the human eye, so someone could harvest it if they can see it.. 

    Your e-mail address won't be readable by visually-impaired users who use a voice reader program or users with text-only browsers.
     

  6. Make it a form -
    Creating a feedback form rather than an e-mail link seems to work well - at least until the spammers figure out how to get around that one too.  By making a contact form that sends you an email, you can keep your e-mail address hidden from both the viewer and the spambots.  Just make sure the form is set up correctly to keep your e-mail address hidden.  See my mailmerge page for directions and links for doing a mailmerge form on RootsWeb.
     

  7. Eliminate it -
    Of course the only really fool-proof way to keep spammers from harvesting your e-mail address from your webpages is to not put it out there at all.  But, if you're doing a genealogy website, you definitely want it available to your visitors so that they can contact you and hopefully help you find more family!

You'll have to decide the best way for you to put your contact information on your website, but hopefully these options will help.

 

Links to other sites and information on putting your e-mail address on your web page:

 

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This page was last updated on Saturday, May 29, 2010.

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