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    Spam Comments and how to stop themIt seems that no matter what new online communication tools we come up with, there are going to be those who want to abuse them. Let’s face it, email has revolutionised the way in which businesses and individuals communicate (and the genuine commercial opportunities it offers) but has also been notoriously blighted over recent years by the avalanche of spam messages we also receive.

    Likewise, blogs are open to abuse from individuals looking to exploit them at the expense of others, primarily through the use of Spam Blogs (Splogs) and Comment Spam. For now, let’s concentrate on Comment Spam and see why it exists and how we can go about stopping it on our blogs.

    What is Comment Spam?

    Comment Spam is where a spammer leaves comments on blog posts that have nothing to do with the post itself but merely contain multiple links back to the spammer’s commercial website. Most Comment Spam is now carried out automatically rather than by individuals and its goal is simply to create links back to a target site (and so improve its Search Engine ranking), though it may also attract a small amount of traffic as well.

    If the contents of my Comment Spam filter is at all representative, then the subject matter will be familiar to all of us using email, since the same types of subjects and messages tend to crop up in both.

    How do we stop Comment Spam on our own blog?

    So what are our options when it comes to avoiding having comment spam swamping our blogs, other than turning off comments all together of course – something that I’m certainly not advocating!

    • Comment Moderation
      The most time consuming way is simply to moderate out all of the spam comments – that is to say, you look at each comment which has been left and allow genuine ones to appear on your blog while deleting the spam comments. This can become very time consuming (not to mention frustrating!) because once you are “found” by the spam commenters, you are going to be receiving a lot of these. Rule of thumb – the more successful you are, the easier you are to find and the more you will receive – I imagine with such a high profile blog, Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger suffers more than most, as he comments here.

    • CAPTCHA methods
      CAPTCHA is actually an acronym (ok, since you asked – Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart – there, now wasn’t that interesting!) but you’ll know it as a distorted series of letters and numbers which appear on the page and that you have to type in. This is designed to prove that you are a human and not an automated visitor – or, in this case, spammer. Typed in correctly, it allows you to submit your comment, but will stop most forms of automated comment spam getting through.

    • Specialist Software Intervention
      Just like with email, there are also providers of specialist software which can help us and here, in my opinion, the leader in this respect is called Akismet. Here, the software identifies the comments that it believes are spam and impounds them – it’s also provided free of charge, except for commercial use, which is an additional bonus. Although it was developed by the company involved with WordPress, it has been modified to work with many other types of blog software so it’s worth checking out. Another plug-in for WordPress is Spam Karma which also comes highly recommended.

    • Getting commenters to log-in
      You can of course elect to only accept comments from people that have already logged in to a registration system which you run on your blog – this way you can be fairly sure that they will be leaving real comments because you have effectively “pre-vetted” them.

    Which method is the best?

    All of the methods above work well from a functional level and will help to avoid the vast majority of comment spam from arriving in your posts. Therefore, when deciding which method to use, I was personally swayed by the impact that it would have on readers wanting to leave genuine comments. Basically, I wanted to make sure that it was as easy as possible for them to do so.

    Therefore, I elected to go down the specialist software route which has no impact on readers leaving comments and nothing additional for them to do – I therefore use Akismet on my blogs and those that I set-up for the businesses and individuals I work with. The results? Well, so far so good. It stops 95% of spam and also learns from all the blogs using it, so keeps up with (if not stays ahead of) the comment spammers and their methods. Overall, a big thumbs up from me.

    BTW - to make sure that you have all the information at your finger tips to make your own decision, no matter which blog platform you use, I’ll be doing a second post on the subject of comment spam next week where I will try to lay out the different options available for each platform. In the meantime, any thoughts you’d like to share on what has worked for you, then please leave a comment – a real one preferably! :)

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    Spam Blogs or Splogs
    Following in the footsteps of other successful communication media such as email, Blogs have also suffered at the hands of spammers wanting to use them for their own ends without consideration of the detrimental impact this can have on others.

    As a result we have seen the rise of Spam Blogs (otherwise known as Splogs) which have partly clouded the real business benefits on offer from genuine Business Blogs. While not yet the menace that email spam has become, they are both annoying and potentially damaging as they clutter the blogosphere and search engines with valueless content. However, they do warrant further explanation as to what they are and why they exist at all.

    What are Spam Blogs and why do people use them?

    Spam Blogs or Splogs are generally created by automated software robots and are created solely to tap into a blogs appeal to Search Engines, rather than to provide new or even useful content for their readers. This is done for one of two main reasons:

    • to gain higher Search Engine rankings for the pages which then display numerous links to a target website in order to boost the target’s apparent popularity and Google PageRank;

    • to gain higher Search Engine rankings in order to then benefit from AdSense or other onsite ad based marketing and create revenue for the splog originator;

    NB This second sort should not be confused with the many thousands of real blogs which offer great information and insight which also contain AdSense to legitimately create potential revenue sources.

    The reason for using Blog technology is that, since companies such as Blogger offer free set up and hosting, they are both easy and cheap to establish. It should be said, however, that Blogger has cracked down strongly on Splogs (with unfortunately other genuine bloggers getting caught up in the fallout) particularly after a wave of splogging at the end of 2005.

    What form do Spam Blogs take?

    Spam Blogs, from what I have seen, take one of two main formats.

    • The first is simply a series of pages which are filled with keywords through a string of meaningless posts in order to achieve pages which are heavily focused on a small set of keywords.
    • The second is one which uses a series of randomly posted articles which have either been illegally taken from real blogs or websites (either via “scraping” or using RSS) or which use legitimately published articles from one of the many articles directories which exist.

    Why are they bad?

    From a Business Blogging point of view, they have a negative impact primarily because they add no real value and so muddy the waters by creating prejudice against real blogs. Over time, this has the possibility of devaluing the use of blogs as a marketing and communications tool, and alienating new potential users of the blogosphere.

    In addition, they can skew Search Engine results (which is in no-one’s interest), are likely to cause issues in the world of Search Advertising and may cause more general problems in blogosphere if the Blog Search Engines are not able to keep them out of their indexes. Clearly, there is also the issue of plagiarism and splogs which illegally using other peoples articles may well be contravening copyright law.

    Can we do anything to stop them?

    Well, as consumers, when we spot them we can avoid clicking on any of the Adverts which generally proliferate on the splogs if they are not generating income then they are worthless to the originator. If you want to take it a step further then you could click on the ‘Ads by Goooogle’ link and then ‘Send Google your thoughts on the Ads you just saw’ to make a spam report.

    A more active process is to report them to the Search Engine which has them in their index, but this is ultimately going to be a thankless task. It is really the Search Engines and the free Blog providers themselves which need to keep their own houses in order and close the loopholes which allow Splogs to be created automatically.

    Other types of spam on blogs

    There are two other ways of spamming on blogs, the most common of which is Comment Spam. This is where comments are left on the posts which merely contain links back to a target website or use the link embedded in the author’s name. The other is Trackback spam which has the same aim but using trackbacks rather than comments.

    Many Bloggers have negated this by making the comment links no-follow which means that the Search Engine linking benefit no longer exists. However, most comment spam is automated so this does not stop the comments some might also say that it penalises people leaving real comments by breaking some of the social linking which blogging is based on.

    Much more effective against this is to use comment spam software such as that which is provided by Akismet (free to non commercial bloggers) which is excellent. It will also save you having to moderate large amounts of spam comments if your blog is set up that way.

    At the end of the day, Spam Blogs offer no value to anyone except (possibly) the spammer – this is not the way we want things to go, so it is in all our interests to do what we can to help stop this from getting out of hand.

    If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

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