mailto: considered stupid, especially with ?subject

25 April 2009   5 comments   Web development

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I don't have any stats to back this up but if I look around the office almost a lot of people use Gmail or Hotmail or something web based. My family uses Gmail, Yahoo mail and Hotmail (and me on Gmail) for example. So it bugs me when websites use the mailto: thing. Especially if they rely on the Subject line.

Here for example, on the EDF Energy Contact us page, they have a long list of "Email us" links. They're almost all going to but all with a different subject line: Fuel enquiry Fuel sales enquiry efficiency enquiry Services enquiry prepayment enquiry prepayment enquiry movers enquiry Tariff enquiry Reading enquiry payment enquiry query

Does that mean that I have to somehow copy the Subject line from each so that my email gets routed to the right department? I just don't know. Why can't they have different email address for each thing or a web form where I can email them there and then?

Using mailto: should be done very sparingly. Considering that most people (like my mom) don't know to right-click and select "Copy email address" I prefer this way to show an email address:

<a href=""></a>


Observing my parents' behavior, I've come to the conclusion that even the href is bad practice. Most often the default mailer is not setup (outlook lite or whatever it is on windows) so clicking on a mailto link results in a mysterious pause, followed by an unfamiliar window popping up, causing general confusion. I'm leaning towards just listing the email address without the href.
Peter Bengtsson
Interesting. I wish there was like a microformat so that IF you have an email client installed and in use, email addresses are turned into clickable links.
I get your point - however blatantly exposing an email address on your site invites bots that troll your site to pick up the text and start sending you viagra and holistic medical treatment messaging. What people should be doing is learning how to use an email client, event with their webmail. Try Thunderbird. It's freee.
you can make gmail your target for mailto links in FF :)

life changin! ;)
Joe Z
Ironically, this blog uses the decried mailto: hrefs.... it includes them as a link in the name of the commenter! But, it "encode[s] to prevent extraction" (simply removing the @ and changing to _AT_.) This is actually not likely to fool a spider: they know this trick. What it does do is make the href link all the more useless. Why bother with it? As the article says.

@James- Readers using an email client instead of webmail doesn't help the harvesting issue. Because keeping email addresses inside hrefs doesn't fool spiders. Spiders read the HTML, not the text, and pick up email addresses "hidden" in mailto: just fine.

@JP- That's cool, but it doesn't address the problem that most people don't, and so using a mailto: href is just likely to confuse readers.

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