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I have a weird question and I hope I am asking in the right place. Recently I checked some statistics on my website after a while and noticed that the number of email subscribers had jumped from about 100 to over 1200 which seems a bit odd to me.

The website in question is an e-commerce site selling vegetable and fruit seeds I coded from scratch, and since it's not really the season to buy seeds at the moment I thought it's quite unusual that I'm getting all these subscribers. At first I thought there might have been some error and the website maybe recorded someone's email a thousand times, but I checked and everything seems ok, no duplicate email addresses at all.

Furthermore, google analytics tell me that at the moment I'm getting 10-20 users on the website per day, but subscriber count goes up by 20-30 a day which is really odd to me.

My question is how am I getting all these emails? Is there some kind of bot that would insert email addresses as subscribers on websites, and if there is, why would it do that?

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    Are you verifying the emails on signup? If not, could just be a whole pile of junk email addresses. Some bulk mail providers charge per email, so someone could be trying to very slowly bankrupt you (they don't usually charge much...) – Matthew Jun 22 '16 at 12:59
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    Could very well be malware robots trying to subscribe and then subsequently post spam. 'They' don't know if your website allows commenting, it's just trial-and-error until they hit. This is assuming that your signup is built around something generic (like a Wordpress site) or that your subscription form contains input fields with names that give their purpose away (e.g. containing 'subscription'). – Jan Doggen Jun 22 '16 at 13:02
  • @Matthew I do a regex check to verify that user actually wrote an email address in the field, after that I check if the address already exists in the database and don't insert it if it's a duplicate. I don't use any bulk mail provider so it's not that. – Mario Plantosar Jun 22 '16 at 13:10
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    Add a good captcha, and have the subscribers confirm the email. Those are the two ways this is done nowadays. Your software can regularly clean up email addresses that have not been confimed in xx days. – Jan Doggen Jun 22 '16 at 13:16
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    That's not verifying the email address - that's verifying that something looks like an email address! Best practice would be to send an email confirmation to the address, ensuring that you don't send to any given address too frequently, requiring people to confirm that they signed up and control that email address. Adding a captcha should happen before this though - don't want to make it possible to automatically send 1000s of verification emails easily. – Matthew Jun 22 '16 at 13:18
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This doesn't sound like a natural influx of customer. Something fishy is probably going on.

I would guess that this is a bot. So why would a bot sign up for your newsletter? It is probably looking for bulletin boards or comment fields or anything where it can post spam. Since bots can be quite dumb, it doesn't understand that it is just a newsletter it is signing up for, and that there will be nowhere to post spam after signup. I would not be surprised if this kind of bots operate on the principle "try everything, and hope that something works".

Another less likely explanation is that someone (perhaps your competitions) is trying to get your newsletter blocked as spam. If they sign up random people who do not want it, some of them will flag it as spam which could lead some spam filters to block your email adress. But for a newsletter about seeds with 100 subscribers this sounds a bit far fetched, and just a tiny bit paranoid and conspiratorial.

If you want to stop this behavior, I see two possibilities:

  • Add a CAPTCHA (will stop bots).
  • Have users verify that they do want to sign up by sending them a link to click in an email (will stop peopble from signing up others).

Both of these will make it a tiny bit more complicating to sign up for your newsletter, so you will have to weigh the pros and the cons yourself to determine if it is worth it.

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