Running a successful personal development website means that I regularly get shed-loads of rubbish emails. It’s a problem that I have been thinking about lately. Obviously, I want to make myself available to my subscribers and customers, but you would be amazed at the kind of emails I get just by having a contact form on the site. Of course I get lots of great emails as well. People mail me to say how much they enjoy the site and how much they have been helped by our books or newsletters. These mails are always a pleasure to receive.
It’s not only spam mails that are the problem. We also get emails that are just inane, asking completely nonsensical questions or sometimes, messages that are plain insulting. These junk mails, I think, are designed to provoke a response and I can only think it is an attempt to get a responding email address in return. You would be amazed to what lengths people will go just to get an email address they can subsequently spam. Then I get people who actually use the contact form to spam me directly. They quite regularly offer to get my site to the top of the search engines. The offer always seems somewhat ironical to me when you consider that the reason they actually managed to find my site and leave their message in the first place is exactly because they found it at the top of the search engines.
To protect the site from spam, we use an outward-only email address to respond. It is a real email address of course, but it is not read by a human. The spammers who enter this address into their systems are spamming a robot which simply issues an automatic response on the first occasion and then deletes subsequent emails. If a genuine human being sends a mail to our outward address, they get the automatic response which explains how to contact us using the contact form and this works reasonably well, though it is not perfect. The account itself, gets spammed to death.
Similarly, my normal email address is redirected through another email account so that should anyone contact me using the wrong address, I know it is spam. These are the ways we protect ourselves from excessive rubbish. However, we still receive quite a bit of spam from the more creative spammers who either reverse engineer my real email address or simply use the contact form as I described above. For the time being, we are leaving the contact form in place, but, there may come a time when we will simply have to remove it from the main site.
Obviously, if we were to remove our contact form, we would need to provide a separate way for our customers to contact us. It is not something we want to do, but, being realistic about the situation, it is something we may be forced to do in the future. This is the price of doing business on the web and it is not something that is likely to change. Of course, even if you are not running a web business, spam is a problem we all face. As the web matures, hopefully a good answer will eventually be found to protect us all. For now, one of the best answers is probably Gmail. The Google email service has an excellent spam filter built-in. It is very good at filtering out rubbish; it is only occasionally that I find real mail in my spam folder. The service is free too and I would definitely recommend it to anyone. The only problem is finding a good email address that isn’t already taken.
The solution to our spam problem may be to move to a support desk. This would require people to register with the desk in order to contact us and receive help and advice, but the advantage would be that accounts could be terminated if they were abused. This makes the contact slightly more difficult in the first place in that you have to register the first time, but it would, I feel, go a long way to sorting out the problem for good. It is something we will look into and it may turn out to be the solution we will ultimately adopt. To be honest, it would not take much more junk mail to make that decision a very easy one to make.
So our policy is to simply ignore rubbish and insulting mail because we have discovered that it serves absolutely no good purpose by replying. Meanwhile, if you contact us with a genuine message or request, we will continue do our level best to respond to you quickly; generally, within 24 hours – something we have always prided ourselves on doing. We don’t manage to always do this, but we do try very hard to get back to people within that time.