Never use a href mailto or html mailto on a website

Why do web developers still use the mailto hyperlink?

I’ve been having a little rant about mailto html links on website over in youtube so I thought you might like to see why I’m so grumpy.

It’s a real bug bear with me that a significant number of  web developers still use a href mailto tag on a website instead of using a safe and better information collections tool. It may be a simple solution but it just doesn’t make good sense to use them.

Here’s why:

michon href mailtoWhen a visitor clicks the mailto link it causes the default email client to open. A good start and fine if they are using their own device.  It’s setup to talk to their mail server and therefore send an email from their email account. But what if they share a device or use a computer in an internet cafe or airport lounge. Opening the default email client on these device will only frustrate them as it will send the email from an account they don’t own or worse request they setup an email account on this device, something only an experienced computer user would consider doing to if they absolutely needed to contact the recipient at the end of the mailto link.

Strike one using a href mailto as a email contact method just doesn’t work all the time so its not a good business communication tool.

The html mailto exposes the email address on a website it make it very easy for robots, spiders and even spammers to scrape your precious email address and use it to send you loads and loads of junk mails or even spam others in your name.

Most people are very coy about giving away their email address because of the potential spammy mail they might receive so why would you place your business email addresses in the same situation.  Do you want to sift though thousands of junk emails to find legitimate customer emails.

Strike two exposing your precious email addresses for abuse is bad for business.

We have been trained to click links and a href mailto link is no different.  But given the choice between a big red button that says “CONTACT US” and a little blue email address which do you think your website visitor is most likely to click.

Strike three they are not the most obvious communication tool on a website and when you add the time it takes to open the default email client they are not the most time efficient either.

There are many things you can do to a href mailto link to make it safer and more obvious on a website. But it will still open the default email client and it will take a visitor off a website to some place where you don’t have a lot of control over information they share, the next action they take or even how that next action relates to the website href mailto link.

Once a website visitor starts using their email client they have control:

  • they can construct a subject line that may be:
    • mistaken as spam by your mail server
    • missed by or considered unimportant.
  • their mail server may be rejected and the email lost
  • they may wait days to hit the send button
  • their message has no context i.e. it doesn’t relate to the products or service offer on the website.
  • the message doesn’t contain enough information for it to be directed to the correct person or division.

Strike four lost of context and traceability to the origin of the message. Random email message received from random persons with no context or origin require more work on a businesses behalf to handle and add another step in the communication chain. Nor do they measure the effectiveness of the website as a communication tool because the email isn’t traceable back to the origin.

A recap why you shouldn’t use a href mailto html link

I don’t believe there is every a good reason to use a mailto link on a website. For the following reason:

  • not every one is using their computer while viewing the website. If the computer isn’t setup to send emails on their behalf then the mailto link is useless.
  • the mailto link exposed the email address to abuse. Spam, Junk etc
  • mailto link aren’t’ obvious enough (they are a very poor call to action)
  • mailto links don’t provide context (no link between website and user action) ie they cannot be traced back to a user action on the website.
  • mail clients load slowly and take the visitor off your website

Forms the simple easy solution to a href mailto html link

Forms are still the simplest and easiest solution to the mailto problems. As forms are so readily available on CMS platforms their is really no reason to use a href mailto link on a website.

Well constructed forms which require the minimum input from the website user are easily the best method to:

  • receive the initial communication from a visitor
  • collect their email address for future communication
  • collect other other needed information
  • protect again email address harvesting
  • protect against spam
  • track origin of message
  • track effectiveness of a website to communicate with visitors

Forms also have their disadvantages

  • user has to provide correct contact info (via keyboard)
  • user may have to jump through a captcha hoop

But they have several big advantages.

  • forms can direct users to provide important information needed to help the visitor (information that may be overlooked by someone simply writing an email)
  • emails originate form the website server. So they are easily white listed and a record retained within the server. Email delivery is 100% guaranteed. Which isn’t the case for email originating form an unknown device.
  • form emails can be sent to land in the inbox of the people best suited to deal with that particular issue.
  • similarly email subject lines can be tailored to bring it to the attention of the correct person and even routed via filters through the internal email system to land in the inbox of the people best suited to deal with that particular issue.
  • there is no limit to the number and variation of forms that can be used on a website to create the best user to business communication experience.
  • forms protect both the user and business from email abuse (not 100% but much better than email alone).

I think all email addresses in website content should be flagged for removal and replaced with appropriate links to a form or have an ajax forms embedded in their place. There should be no email addresses visible on a website to avoid possible abuse whether they are mailto links or just text.

Finally if any email addresses for off domain accounts, especially client/customers/suppliers exist a link to the appropriate contact form on the relevant domains website should be opened in a blank tab, as you don’t need to be complicit in email abuse of other peoples accounts.

So why do developers still use a href mailto??





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