Recently, a visitor to thesitewizard.com asked me whether she should display her email address on her site instead of using a feedback form. She had read my Dreamweaver tutorial and noticed that I provided the steps for adding a contact form to a website instead of simply asking new website owners to display their email addresses. This article discusses the various issues involved both in displaying your email address as well as using a feedback form on your website.
One of the misconceptions I want to dispel is that either displaying your email address or providing a contact form automatically makes your site look more professional.
A quick survey of websites on the Internet today will show you that email addresses can be found on both business and hobby/personal sites. Likewise, contact forms are now so prevalent that it is not only the hobby sites that have them, many businesses also provide such forms in addition to, or instead of, listing their email addresses.
I have some visitors who tell me that they won't do business with companies that don't display their email addresses on their site, since it makes them wonder whether the company is a shady one. That is, to these visitors, publishing an email address lends a site legitimacy. Other visitors tell me that they like my feedback form wizard because it allows them to easily add a contact form to their site, making it "look more professional". That is, to these other visitors, a feedback form grants a site professionalism.
Seen from a certain perspective, both these sets of comments probably cancel each other out. In other words, neither the listing of an email address or the placement of a contact form per se automatically confers a site an aura of respectability and professionalism. Since both options are so prevalent on the internet, and everyone has had different experiences with sites with either an email address or a contact form, having one or the other is no guarantee that it will make your site look more professional to everybody.
I know some people who prefer to contact website owners through an email address, because it allows them to send the email from their own email software. The reason is not that they love their email client so much, but that they want to have a copy of the message they sent. If they send it from their email program, they automatically have that without any further work on their part. This may be important if they are, for example, conducting business transactions with you.
Having said that, however, other visitors value a contact form. Forms have a certain amount of convenience and anonymity. This in turns encourages feedback. There are many good people around who, when spotting a problem on your site, such as a spelling error or a broken link, willingly take the trouble to drop you a note. Without a feedback form, the hassle involved in logging into their web mail account or starting up their email software may discourage them from even bothering.
Those who have read my article on My Biggest Website Regrets will know that I started using feedback forms on my hobby websites in response to the volume of spam I received when I displayed my email address on thefreecountry.com and thesitewizard.com. When I wrote that article, my move to contact forms on my sites cut down the amount of spam tremendously. Back then, the spammers' use of "bots" (automated computer programs) were restricted to grabbing email addresses on websites for their spam software, so email addresses published on sites became like spam magnets while feedback forms were refreshingly free of automatically submitted spam.
Nowadays, however, spammers have updated their bots. No longer do we only have bots that grab email addresses. There are now bots that drop their garbage into any contact form or a blog comment form that they find. As a result, a form is no longer a foolproof insulation against spam.
My personal view is that businesses should place both email addresses and contact forms on their sites. As noted above, email addresses and contact forms serve different purposes and target audiences. Businesses or customers that want to contact you may want the record that sending via an email client provides. Other types of visitors making a casual inquiry may prefer the convenience and anonymity provided by a contact form.
If you run a hobby or personal site, what you do is totally up to you since you have no business obligation that you need to worry about. I personally think that having a contact form is preferable in such a case, since your target audience is no longer the customer who may want a record of messages sent but the casual visitor who may want to drop you a note in as convenient a way as possible.
In either case, you may need to take the measures I mentioned in my article on managing your email to reduce the amount of spam you get.
With the prevalence of both email addresses and feedback forms on the web, some of the traditionally held views about the advantages of one over the other is no longer true today. Instead, whether you publish an email address or use a feedback form depends more on the factors mentioned above.
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