Your Contact Info: Who’s Getting It And What Can They Do With It?
It goes without saying that providing your site visitors with your contact information is a mandatory part of doing business online. However, the methods in which you provide that information along with the depth of details include pros and cons that need to be measured.
Your Email Address
It is a standard as old as the Internet itself to include your email address on your web site. You need to provide one click access to a method of communication and requests. It also provides your site visitors with a sense of trust and legitimacy. However, you may be aware that many sites will direct their users to a contact form rather than post their email address publicly.
The reason is simple. Unwanted emails. Spammers, scammers and aggressive marketers have been harvesting email addresses since email addresses become common. There are bots that crawl sites and create databases of email addresses for use in ways we can only imagine. Some may try to use them for login attempts on your site, bank account or social media properties. Others to send unsolicited emails, or phishing scams trying to spoof a web site and sucker you into logging in and revealing your password. The list is far too deep to dive into.
Your email address can easily become part of a set of keys that can allow hackers access to places you don’t want them to go, and your telephone number could be part of a set of keys for many other things.
Your Phone Number
Another clear message is to include a phone number as a contact option, with the same pros and cons that email presents. Again it gives a sense of trust and legitimacy to your site visitors, and you’d love to have your phone busy with business running at full throttle every day. It is also a booster to many of the listings you may have such as Google Local. However just like opening yourself up to unsolicited emails you may also receive calls from telemarketers or other contacts that aren’t calling as a lead or sale. The number could also be used for spoofing, or even harassment should some sort of controversial issue arise that brings out the online crazies.
As a rule of thumb, I recommend to my clients the use of a contact form rather than posting their email address publicly. For many businesses this method works fine. However I understand there are businesses that do require that simple, one-click access to contacting sales, customer service etc. In those cases I recommend using dedicated email addresses – for example firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com – and never using those addresses as logins or attaching them to anything that involves security. Spam filters are easy enough to control unsolicited contacts, but remain vigilant when it comes to what the email address is used for and try to keep it contained as a communication only asset.
Phone numbers are a little tricky as well. Larger businesses may have an 800 number or primary business line, which is all well and good. However I would advise that you avoid providing any mobile phone or personal numbers online. Consider how many things your phone number could be attached to, such as a bank account, credit agency or vendor accounts. Small businesses that may rely on a mobile phone out of necessity might consider the option of using an image for the number rather than clear text that can be crawled by bots. If you’re concerned about losing the click-to-call function missing from mobile users, you can easily make the image click-to-call.
While it may seem as if I am discouraging clients from providing critical information to the public, it is actually just my way of offering simple suggestions and pointing out some angles to explore due to concerns over security, and keeping those channels clear for doing business. Your email address can easily become part of a set of keys that can allow hackers access to places you don’t want them to go, and your telephone number could be part of a set of keys for many other things. Consider their function and their values before publicly blasting them into Cyberspace, and you can rest easier that an extra step of security and filters are in place that make life easier in the long run.