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10 Reasons to Avoid mailto Links

Posted By Darren Rowse 6th of December 2008 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 64

This is a guest post by Ben Barden of Top Ten Blog Tips, where every post contains a list of ten blogging tips.

As a blogger it’s very important that people can contact you privately. Many blogs use a contact form for this, and I highly recommend it. However, some blogs use a “mailto” link instead. When clicked, a “mailto” link creates a new message in your email software, instead of sending through a form on the blog.

I’m not a fan of these links – here are 10 reasons why.

1. It reveals your real email address.

Whether you display your email address on your site, or you put the email address in a mailto link – or both – making it visible is a bad idea. You’re probably going to receive spam anyway, but you stand to receive a lot more spam if your email address can be picked up by bots that search the web for email addresses.

2. Unpredictable results when clicking the link.

If you use Firefox and Gmail, you can get Firefox to open Gmail when you click a mailto link. But you can’t rely on all of your readers setting up Firefox in this way. Also, not everyone uses Firefox, and not everyone uses Gmail.

I’m sure there are options for other email services, but the default scenario is pretty embarrassing. Someone who uses a web-based email service clicks a mailto link, but they haven’t tweaked Firefox to open the link in Gmail. So it opens the default mail client on their computer, which they don’t even use. Bad move!

3. Crazy formatting or unnecessary “extras”.

HTML emails, stationery, signatures and attachments have their uses, but I can’t stand receiving emails with unnecessary bits and pieces like these. It’s just not necessary.

A contact form forces people to get to the point, to say what they want to say without all of the “look what I can do” bits and pieces. If you’re trying to do business with people, this kind of stuff looks really unprofessional, too… unless of course, the person you’re emailing likes them too!

4. Viruses.

Unless you allow HTML in your contact form, it’s a lot harder to get a virus through your contact form than in a direct email. To anyone who forwards emails with “funny” videos and other attachments – beware. Some of them may contain viruses.

If someone can get hold of your email address without having to wait for a reply to you, they might just add you to their address book “for future use”. Then perhaps they forget about you, but they open an attachment and get a virus, and bam – an email goes to everyone in their address book.

5. Return receipts.

Another issue with accepting “normal” emails and not using a contact form is the use of return receipts. I have met people who insist on using receipts for every email they send. Is it really necessary? (A clue: no.)

6. Blog maintenance.

Some bloggers include a “contact” link in some of their posts. If you link to a contact form, this is fine so long as you don’t move the contact form – I’m not sure why you would.

However, if you link directly to your email address from several of your posts, then your email changes – that’s potentially a lot of links you’ll have to go back and correct. What a pain!

7. Some information may be forgotten.

Let’s say you want to publish a few blog reviews and you invite people to send their URLs to you. With a mailto link, people may just send a message saying “please review their blog” and forget to include the URL. With a contact form, because you can have a field for the URL, you may find that people remember to include it. Then again, some people might forget it anyway.

8. Choosing the wrong email address.

If you have multiple mailto links for Sales, Advertising and so on, but each one goes to a different person, the sender might think “but I want this person”. So they check the links and choose the person they want. They may not be the right person to answer that query. A contact form makes life so much easier.

9. Some things shouldn’t really be an email at all.

A long time ago I ran a music reviews site. People would email reviews to me, and I would put them online (see, this really was a long time ago). It would’ve been easier to cut email out of the equation altogether, and post the information directly to the site – with approval, of course.

10. It can reduce the volume of “pointless” queries.

Although it should be easy to get hold of you, if it’s too easy, you may find that you get a lot of emails “just because”. That’s fine if you don’t get too many emails, but it’s going to be a problem if you’re looking to grow your blog. Make it easy to get in touch, but not so easy that someone can fire off a 5 second “quick query” email – only to follow it up 5 minutes later with “never mind, figured it out now”.

Do you use mailto links on your blog? Can you think of any other pros or cons?

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  • I am agree with you darren……we must consider many factor with plus and minus….thanks for great tips

  • I’m using Gmail and their spam filter is top quality, never get any spam. I have my email address hidden in my contact form, so when people are contacting me they will not see my email address.

  • Thank you for introducing the site Top 10 Blog Tips thru this article.

  • I tried commenting here the day this post went live, but it was just not working for me and now everything I wanted to say has been said.

    I type out my email address including full words for the symbol and period… I haven’t considered an image because its not like it will save me from typing.

    Anyway, great job Ben!

  • I agree with Rarst. If you want to prioritise your own convenience over your users then feel free not to use it.

    If you want an easy life, don’t bother having a website. Then nobody will bother you.

  • David – as a lot of people have said above, when a mailto link opens an email client that you don’t use, that is a negative experience for the user.

    This is not a black and white case – I’m happy to agree it goes both ways – but I can’t possibly agree that mailto links work for 100% of users, 100% of the time.

    It would be beneficial to hear some reasons why, in your view, the concerns I listed above do not stack up.

  • Nothing is more aggravating than stumbling across an otherwise awesome blog and not having any means to contact the author directly. I prefer a Contact page with a fillable form, but while our site does have that, we also included a mailto link.

    However, to reduce the likelihood of mailto link being harvested by spammers, there are a couple of easy tricks. Since email harvesting programs generally look for an [email protected] sign followed by something that looks like a domain name, [email protected] is just the kind of juicy string harvesters love. A simple solution is an encoding substitution. Browsers can readily handle “%40″ instead of an [email protected] and a “%2e” instead of a “.” character. So, robo%402dolphins%2ecom is interpreted the same as [email protected]. Although this isn’t foolproof, this has been pretty effective at preventing spammers from getting our email address from mailto links for several years.

  • @Ben Barden – Blog Tips It works even better than how it sounds. Right now, this method works like a charm but in the future things will change as bots will be very good at reading images.

    @Sangesh I’ve also heard that there are talented bots out there that are smart enough to read most of the cloaking methods that are practiced. No bot is smart enough to read an email address that is broken up into 2 or 3 separate images.

  • Thanks for the info! I’ve always heard you shouldn’t use mailto but never new why. Now I do!

    But, even knowing this, as someone filling out forms on a website, I know i don’t like it. I like to have a reminder of exactly what I said, when when I sent it. That’s lost with a contact form.

  • I agree that the use of contact forms is better, and even so I do get some spam through those forms on occasion. I just need to add a captcha to help prevent that.

    @rachel_levy – Sometime you will find a contact form which will let you send a copy to yourself so you know what you said on the contact form. Do you think this would eliminate some of the concerns you have without knowing what was said on the contact form as a record?

  • Scott Kaufman

    As someone who will point out site errors to webmasters, I often find the lack of an email address irritating and don’t bother if the contact form is required. Same with ecommerce and other contacts. Don’t make me go through hoops to contact you. Just the other day swapbooks.com had a sql error effectively breaking all functionality on their site that also affected the contact form. There was NO other way to contact them and let them know.

    If you want to be contacted, I strongly recommend both options, with an email most important. (If you want to reduce contacts as part of your strategy, then go ahead an use a contact form only. This seems to be your plan and is ok for some sites.)

    @rachel_levy: Copy your message and save a copy before submitting – yes, it’s a hassle but I have found it worthwhile for nontrivial contact form submissions. You’ve always heard you shouldn’t use a mailto link? Not from me, you’ll notice. Dubious advice.

    Remember you can append ?subject=’custom subject’ to the email address in your mailto links to customize the subject. (People can change it of course.)

    Use your own domain and set up custom email address for specific campaigns and uses. Close (or route to a catch-all address) when the it’s over.

    Gmail users – remember to check your spam folder occasionally. There will probably be some email there that is not spam.

    mailto link usability is a problem but not a good reason to not have an email address on your site. Indicate to the user it’s not a standard link or just include the address w/o the mailto (using some of the obscufication techniques noted above).

  • @Neil Corman – adding anti-spam (that is, something that tries to detect spam, rather than submissions from things without “normal” human visual perception) will be better than adding a CAPTCHA.

  • Just came across your blog on Google. Interesting post, you bring up a few good things to think about. Good luck with the blog.

  • Thank you we were just talking about this in the car two days ago and I was really wondering about the whole mail-to link scenario. This is very good data.