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How To Reduce Spam Emails

These days, we’re pretty good at filtering spam comments – Akismet does a pretty good job, so they aren’t generally a problem. But what about spam email enquiries, sent to you from the contact form on your website?

Ironically, businesses getting the most spam enquiries tend to be my clients who are also getting the most legitimate traffic and lead enquiries. (Spam enquiries isn’t generally a problem for people who don’t get any traffic to their website!)

The fact that a percentage of your enquiries will be bogus is really just a small downside of having a popular site that ranks high in it’s niche and gets a lot of traffic.

Before we go into the best way to deal with reducing or eliminating spam contact enquiries, let’s understand who’s making these enquiries.

The first thing to understand is that spam contacts are most often generated by robots. The current generation of spam bots just browses the web and posts into all forms they can find. They are generally looking for their comment to be posted (Published) somewhere, as spam comments as well as spam emails tend to have hyperlinked html, let’s say the name of a prescription drug (yes, including ‘those’ sorts) and a link to a website. These spambots don’t know or care whether their post actually makes it onto a web page or not, they are just programmed to ‘find form and fill it in’.

Use a stronger Junk mail filter

The easiest way to get rid of spam emails is to use a stronger junk filter on your mail.

Yes, I know: that’s not really solving the problem. But I have to ask you – is the problem that you have a percentage of email contacts that are spam (If so, this is a problem of principal! You just don’t want them to be able to contact you at all unless they are ‘genuine’, right? Gotcha – but this is a harder issue to solve) – or is the problem that you are seeing these emails and have to read them, which takes your valuable time?

If you no longer saw these emails, would this have solved the problem for you?

If the answer is yes for my client, then I simply advise them to use a stronger junk filter as their best bet. How you actually set up this junk filter depends on the mail server you are using to get the forwarded emails, as well as the method you are using to retrieve emails. These days we have all manner of webmail – gmail, yahoo, hotmail – and devices (iphone, iPad, tablet, laptop, desktop) that we get our emails on, not to mention a myriad of software – Entourage or Mail on a mac, Outlook or Outlook Express on a PC).

There are too many variables to do with how you actually get your email to be able to tell you which junk mail system is going to work for you best, but suffice it to say that using a mail filter is the quickest way to avoid seeing these emails.

You will have to ‘train’ your junk system to make sure it doesn’t block emails that you do want to see. In other words, look in your junk mail folder and/or trash from time to time.

This is my first choice as any other method of stopping contact form spam could reduce legit enquiries. As marketers, we want to provide a ‘low friction’ experience – make the process of contacting the business as easy as possible – less steps, less fields to fill in. Having to solve a CAPTCHA makes it worse, not better. Therefore ‘filter your emails!’ is the best solution – if you can make it work.

One way you could do it: Use a discrete email address for your form enquiries (i.e. not the same one you use for all other business.)
Filter any email message to that address that contains html. This may work because most robot spam is looking for a link, and most ordinary enquiries are not.

Bear in mind that it will filter out any genuine enquiry who puts html in their message. (But have you ever had a legit enquiry that did that?!)

If you want to deter email spam at the source (your website) – then you could install a CAPTCHA. This is software that makes users correctly solve a puzzle of some kind (add two numbers, decipher an image or audio file) before they can press submit. It works because it assumes that humans can solve the captcha, but robots can’t. This is actually not true, as there are human captcha solving services (believe it or not), and there may be captcha solving software.

What is Captcha?

CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) are designed to tell human visitors and Robots apart, presuming that humans can solve the captcha and robots can’t. Marketers (such as us) don’t like CAPTCHAS because in actual fact, CAPTCHAs act as a barrier between you and your customers. (barrier = bad!)

Casey Henry found that with CAPTCHA turned off, a company’s conversion rate would increase by up to 3.2%. Internally, we have found that removing CAPTCHA could increase conversion by more than that (up to 15%.)

As we are in the business of increasing clients’ conversions, traffic and leads – the last thing we want to do is install something just to save the client reading a few spam enquiry emails every now and then that will HARM the work we are doing for them (to increase their conversion rate, traffic, and lead enquiries.) It is up to the individual business owner to decide whether this is worth doing in the long run – as obviously the number of spam enquiries versus real enquiries needs to be taken into account, plus the value of 3% of traffic versus time/hassle saved, and so on.

Generally, the cost of potentially losing 3% of business to the friction caused by your CAPTCHA just to avoid the odd email is seen to be too expensive a risk to take. However, our client is always right and we are happy to install a CAPTCHA for you on your website. One thing: spam enquiries are generally not ‘costing’ you money. Robots are not clicking on ads and finding your site – they are merely trawling the web like a spider (as in, like a search engine crawls the web).

Pluses and Minuses of using a Captcha

Introducing a Captcha can reduce the numbers of legitimate enquiries by a percentage. Also, Spambots can now solve captchas. Therefore, introducing a Captcha may ‘hurt business’ slightly, and not even work.

I think my advice is not to use one (i.e. instead, just put up with or filter the odd spam contact that comes through) – but it is up to my clients to decide that.

Trick the Robot

This page describes a solution where an invisible ‘field’ is in the form, but humans can’t see it, but Robots can (as it is in the code.) The idea being that robots will fill in this field, and therefore you know it’s a spam enquiry. You then set rules in your email client to filter enquiries that have that field filled out.

Also known as the ‘honeypot technique’ is used to hide a field on a form from the user. Also label the field with something such as, “If you are human, don’t fill in this field”.

We still ultimately have the problem that whatever we do to ensure a user doesn’t fill in the form, a malicious script could perform its own interpretations by learning which labels mean that a field should be left alone.

However, the key benefit to this method is that the user isn’t getting punished by being asked to complete something that is irrelevant to their actions.

Cons: Might not work, according to this site – because of Javascript being what it is – and fairly complex to integrate (not so much the setup, as in subsequently filtering only those emails that had the invisible field filled in.)

Conclusion:

I think the best solution is to do nothing. Filtering emails could hide spam emails, but potentially cause you to miss the odd legitimate enquiry, unless you check your junk from time to time (and doesn’t that defeat the purpose?)
Using gmail or yahoo may work, as well.

Introducing a CAPTCHA will decrease conversions. How many is unknown until you try it – but I would guess 15% of people will not bother to fill in an enquiry if you make them fill out a CAPTCHA.

Javascript hidden fields are a little bit complex (on the filtering end) but may be worth a try, though boffins say that this isn’t foolproof.

Geo-excluding:

Most spam, if you look at their IP addresses, seems to be from other countries (who shall remain nameless.)

If by any chance you have a geo-specific business, i.e. you only serve customers from your own country, or even from a specific region, city or suburb, you may be able to safely filter out by IP address any enquiries that originate from countries other than your own.

This means that you would only get enquiries from your own country. If this sounds like it would solve your problem, do get in touch and we can implement.