Most websites exist for one main reason:
Whether you’re trying to attract and keep customers, build a platform, deepen connections with parishioners and members, teach or just make yourself open and available, it’s all about connection.
Increasingly, blogs are becoming one of the primary connection methods of choice these days and bloggers are constantly finding new ways to fill their sidebars with additional methods with which readers can connect with them. Connections such as:
- Blog Catalog
- … the list is endless
When push comes to shove though, what visitors to our sites often really need is simply a fast, one-to-one way to converse.
One of the top Christian literary agents asked on twitter at the weekend why writers who want agents to contact them don’t make it easy for the agents to do so.
Asking your visitors to follow you on twitter then try to ask/say what they want in 140 characters or less does not constitute easy!
There are two simple ways to make it easy for people to contact you:
- Create a ‘contact me’ form
- Put your email address somewhere easy to find
Of these two options, the contact form is much less desirable than an email address, and here’s why:
Contact forms are a kind of buffer between you and the person contacting you. It’s like a third-party go-between. When people use contact forms, they don’t know whether or not the form data actually goes to you, or even if the form is working. It’s so very impersonal – which is not what people expect in the ‘social’ networking world.
The much better option is to put your email address on your site either in a post, on your ‘about me’ or ‘contact’ page or even on your sidebar, like I have now done.
Here are two of the main objections I can think of to having your email address on your site:
- I don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry emailing me. Don’t be so arrogant. You’re really not so special that Tom and Dick would take the time to find your site, copy down your address and email you. Get over it. Maybe Harry will find your email address and drop you a note though. If that happens and you don’t want to read it, you can just delete it unread. It’s really not that hard.
- I don’t want the spammers to get hold of my email address. No problem, I’ll give you a couple of solutions to that, just keep reading.
The spam concern is a legitimate one. Spammers send little programs (called ‘bots’) out all over the internet to trawl every page on every site they can find looking for email addresses to ‘harvest’. I foolishly once put my email address unprotected on a website I developed and within a few weeks was getting upward of two hundred spam emails a day.
The good news is, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your email address from spammers. There are many ways you can do it but here are three of the easiest ones:
- Mask the address by writing it out in full instead of using special characters. For instance, instead of using the @ sign you would write the word ‘at’. My email address would then look like this: Peter at hafchurch dot org or, to make it a little more secure, Peter [at] hafchurch [dot] org. Not very pretty or professional looking, I’m sure you’ll agree, but it’s functional and most spam bots aren’t advanced enough to work out what it’s hiding.
- Use an image file, like this: . Most spam bots can’t read image files so they won’t know there’s an email address hidden in there. The problem with image files is that they can be hard to align (notice how I didn’t get it centered on the line) and legitimate users can’t copy and paste the text from them, which I find REALLY annoying.
- Encode your address. In my opinion, this simple and very effective (if not quite perfect) method is by far the best. It would take too long to explain the technical details of how this works, but all you need to do is go to an encoding site like this one. Once at the site, put in your email address and hit the ‘Encode’ button. This will encode your email address, making it look something like this:
It may look like gibberish to you, and it will to the bots too, but put it into the html of your webpage or post and any humans viewing your page will see a perfectly readable email address, like this: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want people to contact you, make it easy for them. People have choices -and they will choose what’s easiest. If you don’t make it REALLY easy for people to contact you, they’ll simply find someone else who will.