Visitors to your website expect to be able to get in touch with you. This is nice for most sites, but absolutely crucial for a business. What is the best way to do this? Should you provide an e-mail address or a contact form (or both)? If you provide an e-mail address, what should it be and how should you display it?
Using a Contact Form
Adding a contact form to most websites is fairly easy. If your site is based on WordPress, adding a contact form is as simple as installing a plug-in, configuring the settings, and putting a code in the page where the form goes. Depending on the form, you may have the options to add custom fields and designate which fields are mandatory. These features allow you to craft a contact that is specific and informative.
A contact benefits your visitors in that they don’t have to open their e-mail program to get in touch with you. It benefits you because the e-mail address the form contents goes to is not revealed to the visitor. Of course, if you reply to the contact, the visitor will have your e-mail address, so that benefit may be limited. At least it is not displayed on the site.
Providing an E-Mail Address
Providing an e-mail address can give reassurance to visitors leary of forms, and it may add to your credibility. You can make the e-mail address a link, enabling visitors to open their e-mail program and begin writing you immediately. (To make the e-mail a link, use the command mailto, using this form: mailto:[email protected] )
The problem with putting your e-mail address on your website is that it exposes the e-mail to automatic scanning by robots known as spiders. They crawl the web (hence the name) and gather e-mail addresses that can then be sold. Putting an e-mail address on your website is almost an invitation to spam. There are, however, two things you can do. You can disguise your e-mail address, and you can use a special one.
Disguising Your E-Mail Address
One way to thwart spiders is to provide your e-mail address in a format the spider won’t recognise. For example, you can say, “E-mail us at emailaddress AT provider.dom,” using the word AT instead of the @ symbol. Don’t assume that your visitors will understand—explain to them that they should substitute the @ symbol and not use the spaces.
Adding spaces is another option. Again, tell your visitors to remove them before trying to e-mail you.
There are two problems with this method. The obvious one is that some visitors won’t understand, no matter how clearly you explain it. The other is that the spiders may eventually get smarter and this will no longer work. Still, it is a valid option, perhaps in conjunction with a contact form.
What E-Mail Address?
If you do choose to have an e-mail address on your website, disguised or obvious, the next question is what address to use. Certainly, it should not be your personal address. You should always keep that private, limited to those in your personal circle.
Most hosts provide an e-mail address with your website, or perhaps several. Some allow unlimited ones. You should take advantage of that an create at least one e-mail that will be @yourwebsite.com. If you have multiple ones available, you can designate ones for different purposes. Maybe you have one just for the website. You can monitor that box for legitimate contacts and remove the inevitable spam.
Some e-mail systems provide forwarding, so you can have multiple e-mail address and send them all to one box. While that may permit easier handling, it limits some of the benefits of having many addresses. And if you reply, you need to make sure you are replying with the correct address, or the advantage of multiple e-mails will be gone.
There is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer. You need to think carefully about how you use e-mail addresses on your website.