E-mail spiders have become a full-blown epidemic (er… infestation?) on the web, crawling sites and collecting email addresses for evil spammers. Fortunately there are a number of ways you can protect yourself.
The number one thing you can do to prevent your address from being harvested is to not provide it to your visitors at all. Unfortunately, this isn’t practical for most people. Visitors generally feel a site is more reputable if contact information has been provided.
If you feel you must provide your email address to visitors, here are a few methods to secure your address, as well as a few methods to avoid.
Protect Your Email with These Methods: Use a contact form:
Arguably, the most secure option is to use a contact form to allow visitors to get in touch with you. There are a number of plugins for WordPress, Blogger, and virtually every other blogging platform that allow you to use a contact form in place of your email address.
- One of the best, most robust, and most configurable contact forms available is cFormsII by deliciousdays. It’s highly configurable, and therefore not the most simple to install, but it’s still pretty easy (and it works on WordPress 2.5.1 – I’m using it for this site). TIP: Just make sure that after you install the plugin you perform a hard-refresh to clear your browser’s cache (Ctrl+F5). Otherwise the cfII Icon won’t show up in the TinyMCE editor window inside WordPress.
Use an Image:
Create an image of your email address. If you want the text format and size to match exactly, type your email address out like normal, take a Print Screen of the address, and then paste the screen shot into any image editing software (even Paint will do). Crop out the address, save the cropped address as an image (gif, jpg, whatever), and insert the image in place of the original text version of the email address. (Note, don’t make the image link to your email using the mailto: functionality, doing so would defeat your intent.)
One downside to this method is that your readers might find it annoying that your address isn’t clickable (they will have to hand-type the address into their email client – Oh, the horror!). All kidding aside, this method is also problematic for visually impaired readers who rely on text-to-speech software to read webpages (your image won’t be read aloud to the visitor since it’s an image – but you could type “you at gmail dot com” as the alternate text for the image).
Another variation of this method is to use a tiny image of the @ sign in place of the text @ sign. This is a faster method if you list several email address on your site (since making images of each email address would be very time consuming).
Again, this is a quick way to employ the image method for multiple addresses
Use a plugin:
If you’re a WordPress user a handy plugins have been written to prevent email spiders from harvesting your address. A quick Google search will reveal several appropriate plugins for your blogging platform.
There are several sites that allow you to input your address and click a button to generate HTML or Java code that you can post directly into your website or blog. Google “email munging”, or “email obfuscating” to find these useful sites.
Avoid these traditional / old methods:
Don’t use the traditional (aka old) “a href=”mailto:” method of pointing to your email address. Using this method enables email spiders to quickly and easily locate and exploit your email address.
“& # 6 4 ;”
Using special HTML characters in place of the @ sign is no longer an effective way to prevent an address from being harvested. You used to be able to prevent spiders from “seeing” your address by using “& # 6 4 ;” in place of the @ sign. Spiders are now sophisticated enough that you& # 6 4 ;gmail.com is no different to the spider than email@example.com (note, I’ve inserted spaces between the &, #, 6, 4, and ; because WordPress is sophisticated enough to replace the un-spaced version with the @ sign as soon as I save the post – if you were to employ this method you wouldn’t use spaces between the & # 6 4 ; characters).
One last thing, if you’ve got an email box that fills with spam already, have you tried to Google your email address? You may find your address cropping up on numerous webpages. If you have control over the content of those pages, remove the address immediately. If you aren’t the admin for the webpage(s), try to contact the webmaster to see if he/she can remove the email address for you.
I had posted my email address in a book review I did for Amazon back in the early 90’s before spam was an issue. I’d completely forgotten that I’d listed my email in that review. Several years later email spiders became prominent and the inbox associated with that address started getting clogged with spam emails. Unfortunately for me I can’t remove the email address from the review, so that address will forever be inundated with spam. But if you find your address popping up in Google, perhaps you can take steps to remove your email from whatever page(s) it shows up on. Just a tip!