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Five Steps to Spam Freedom

Despite all the protection in the world, Spam still appears in our email inboxes every day of the year.

It’s annoying, intrusive, and pointless. I cannot remember a single instance where I have seen an item of Spam and said “Wow! I really must buy something from this business.” In my mind, any business that resorts to “advertising” via Spam deserves no customers at all.

All lot of spam can be traced directly from your website to your email because these two items are often interlinked for obvious reasons. The Catch-22 is – we need our websites AND we need people to be able to contact us via our website. Luckily, with a few simple precautions, your website can be made (almost) spam-free.

Here is five tips that work for us at Tropical Coast Web Design:

1.       Keep all your frameworks and plug-ins “up to date”

If your website runs on the WordPress framework or something similar, there are regular updates that you must be installing. These updates fix known issues in the system and often address any identified security problems.

To install these updates, simply find the UPDATES button on the main Dashboard (in WordPress, at the very top of the screen – other systems have something similar) and update any components that are listed on the page. Note:  It is always wise to back up your site before applying any updates to your system.

2.       Disguise your email if you must display it on a page.

Spambots, the automated “robots” used by spammers to trawl the internet, have been designed to seek out email addresses from business websites to add to their databases. To avoid your email address being used, you can disguise your email address inside the code of the website (you may need your designer to do this).

Simply substitute the @ symbol for its code equivalent (@) in your code. Your email address will look the same on the site however the Spambots will see something totally different and ignore it completely!

3.       Use a high-quality Spam filter in your CMS

Most savvy computer users have a spam filter attached to their email program to snag any of the nasties trying to slip by. These filters can also be installed on your Content Management System to prevent Spam comments and emails being sent to/from your site.

Two of the best I have found for WordPress are Spam-Free WordPress and the generically installed Askimet. Be warned that Askimet is only free to personal bloggers – for a business site, you will need to subscribe with a monthly payment. Spam-Free WordPress is completely free and currently the install of my choice – it does an excellent job.

4.       Include a “honeypot” on your contact form

A honeypot is an invisible field inside your contact forms. Cleverly written, Spambots are designed to fill any fields that you have on your forms and submit them. With a honeypot, the Spambot will complete an invisible field by default (a human can’t see it on screen and therefore can’t fill it out) and your CMS will recognise this as an act of Spam. Bang! Stopped at the first gate! Simple but effective.

5.       Alter your .htaccess file to block continued spammers

This is a system file that is loaded from your server when anyone visits your site and controls some of the site configuration. Certain codes can be included in the .htaccess file to help prevent spam and malicious attacks but as it is a V.I.P. file, you would best leave the coding of it to your web developer.

In the worst-case scenario, rather than just receiving Spam, it can be coming OUT of your website, addressed to others from you! In this situation, people around the world will receive spam emails FROM your email address – not a good image for any business.

This nasty attack is called “Spamvertising” and is caused by an actual security breach (hack) into your web server.

The number one way to prevent this sort of hack is to keep whatever framework your site is built on up to date with the latest updates and patches. The programmers who create these frameworks are generally at the top of their game and will be acutely aware of anything (or anyone) attacking their systems.

Do you have a spam problem? A client approached me recently with a significant spam problem – over fifty emails a day from their website’s contact forms. Using the five simple tips above, I have reduced their spam back to a much more manageable level (less than one or two a day), for which they are very thankful.

Of course, no system will be foolproof but with a few simple precautions, a major Spam problem can be reduced to no problem at all.

Tropical Coast Web Design