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Email address validation

One thing anyone collecting email addresses anywhere has to think about is address validation. How do you prevent users from typing bad addresses into your forms?
I ran into this yesterday attempting to take an online quiz. Before I was allowed to take the quiz, I had to provide my name, phone number and email address. Initially I attempted to use a tagged email address. This is one that delivers to my wordtothewise.com mailbox, but lets me identify who I initially gave the address to. The form wouldn’t let me give a tagged address “contains invalid characters.” Well, no, it doesn’t, but there are a lot of websites that think + and – and other characters are invalid.
So what did I do? I ended up using a yahoo address associated with my yahoo IM account. An account that may actually not be accepting mail any longer as I rarely log into it.
What did address validation get them in this case? Well, it got them an address I don’t read and may not even be active rather than the address I wanted to give them which would have delivered directly to my primary mail box. Somehow I don’t think this solution is really ideal for them. (It’s great for me, I’ll never know if they ever attempt to contact me.)
Coincidentally, UserGlue posted about email address validation and alternatives to “make them type their address twice.” (Do people do this? I typically cut and paste my address instead of retyping.)
How are other people validating email addresses?

4 comments

  1. steve says

    I blogged a bit about email address capture earlier this year – http://blog.wordtothewise.com/2009/03/what-is-an-email-address-part-three/

  2. Alec Saiko says

    I think this is the best implementation of email address validation that’s ‘outsourced’ to the user I’ve seen. Combined with other automatic validations (domain MX records lookup) it might just be the solution.

  3. Chris Wheeler says

    I tried signing up for the same “quiz” you did and noticed this as well. But, with my attempted login, it kicked out my standard email address (no tags) b/c the length was longer than the actual text box. The cursor moved to the right, allowing me to finish typing my email address in, but then errored out saying it was invalid on submit. I typed a shorter email address and voila! Seems buggy.
    But, to get back on point, having any sort of mechanism available in a form signup to double check or communicate back to the recipient at POC what they’re submitting is a good idea. I actually was discussing with a prospect yesterday, though, that taking this to the next step of pinging an MX record and attempting to do a VRFY or EXPN is the wrong thing to do for confirmation of a valid email address. This will only result in the ISP noticing the IP making the connection and then associate that with a spammer trying to get legitimate email addresses without pushing bad content through at that time.
    Also, many ISP MTAs now have those types of commands disabled.
    One tactic that worked at my former etail employer (which doesn’t apply to all POC channels of course) was to populate the customer dashboard with some sort of notice alerting them to the fact that their email address had hard bounced back as invalid and urging them to actually revisit their profile -> change to a legitimate email address.
    @ChrisAWheeler

  4. email says

    I know that alot of the time I type in fake email addresses into forms. This is cause I dont wanted to be invaded with spam.

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