Hiding Your Website Email Link from Spambots

Cloak Email

Fighting spam is a bit like avoiding the sneezer in the next office cubicle – it’s a whole lot easier when you focus on prevention, rather than cursing the cold you catch by not taking precautions.

The #1 Way Spammers Harvest Your Email

The large majority of email addresses spam bots harvest are given to them on a silver platter – by providing a “visible” email link inside your website. By “visible”, I mean using a mailto: reference inside the html code.  This likely doesn’t mean anything to non-techies, but whoever is doing your website work needs to know this, and have effective strategies for blocking the spam bots.

Cloaking Techniques to Avoid

Web designers use a variety of techniques to hide email links from spammers, but too often the user experience gets sacrificed in the process. Techniques that work, but shouldn’t be used, include:

  • not making the email address clickable. What this does is eliminate the mailto: in the html code, which will stop some bots. But the smarter ones are programmed to look for patterns using the @ symbol found in email addresses, so this is far short of foolproof.
  • making the email address into an image. This is even worse. Not only does it involve more work to create, but now the user can’t even copy and paste the address into their email program.
  • putting extra characters in the address, with instructions to strip them out. Works, but is a royal pain for the user to do.
  • using a contact form. Fine for short messages, but if someone wants to include an attachment, or has a lengthy message they want to send, it’s a real aggravation.

Using Javascript Cloaking

The most elegant solution is actually quite simple. There are a variety of free javascript snippets available on the web, that effectively hide your email address within the html code, but end up displaying it as a perfectly clickable link within a web page.

It’s a technique I use, to cloak our contact email in the footer of this website. If you right click the page, and choose “view source”, you won’t find a single email address in the page code, even though it appears normally to the user.

Any webmaster worth their salt can use this technique. However, it’s absolutely surprising how many large design companies don’t use this strategy for their clients’ websites.

If cloaking hasn’t been used within your current website, do yourself a favor, and help stem some of your future spam aggravation. Contact your webmaster and tell them to smarten up.:)


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