Avoiding Comment Spam

Quick quiz: what’s this?

That’s a boilerplate used by comment spammers to create comments on blogs.

The idea is that one of the expressions in each group will be put into a comment, so that on one occasion it might offer “Many thanks for the beneficial writeup” and on another “Thanks for the decent site.” Combinatorics tells us that something like this can create an enormous number of different blocks of  approximately English text.

The signature is probably something about cheap boots or pharmaceuticals, and it links to the site that hired the spammers or set off the automatic spambot.

Blog commenting software makes claims like this (screenshot from a software sales site):

The software identifies blogs using your keywords or meeting particular criteria (for example, allowing comments without captcha or already containing comments from their competitors). It generates comments from the junk you saw above, fills out the forms, and posts the comment.

Some of the software doesn’t bother with generating comments, but simply lifts real comments or bits of actual content from elsewhere on the web and drops them into the comment box. And of course you can hire people for as little as $1.80 an hour (I just checked — top rate at the site where I looked was $3.33 an hour) to troll the web and write poorly spelled drivel anywhere they find dofollow links.

Tools like these aren’t for businesspeople with business websites, so I’m not going to discuss their value. If you believe that your customers will be drawn to you by meaningless comments at random blogs, then you’re in the wrong place.

For us, the question is: what can you do about all those spam comments on your business website’s blog? I’ve written before about how to recognize spam comments and how to  filter spammers from your analytics results, but how can you keep that junk out of your blog?

  • Have a spam filter. Akismet is what we use. Many blog platforms have the option of requiring commenters to do something to prove they’re human, such as doing simple math or reading messy looking words. These don’t prevent spam comments (spam software has ways around it) but they do reduce them.
  • Limit comments. You can — again depending on which blog platform you use — require that new commenters be approved, refuse comments from anyone who isn’t registered, close comments on old posts, etc. This kind of thing will reduce the number of real comments you get. For me, it’s worth it. If you want the maximum number of real comments, you should recognize that actual people are turned off by this sort of thing (and by captchas) and often won’t play.
  • Use nofollow links. Real commenters — human beings who have something to say to you — won’t check whether your links are nofollow or dofollow. Good linkbuilders who make the effort to add to the discussion may not be stopped by nofollow links. But it will definitely discourage spambots.
  • Require approval of comments. If you don’t post anything until it’s approved, you won’t have spam comments showing up. This can be time consuming, but if you also use a spam filter, you won’t have so many to check. This is what we do, and I can tell you from experience that it’s much less trouble than having to delete all the spam after it has already shown up.
  • Be strict. The presence of spam comments is one of the things that automatic software can easily use as a way of finding places to comment. If you allow a few of those “Your blog is the best!” comments because it’s flattering and seems harmless, you’ll soon find your blog comments clogged with spam. What’s more, if you approve one of those comments, the commenter may then be able to post anything they like automatically without being caught.

You can forbid comments at your blog if you want to. Otherwise, you’ll have to deal with comment spam. Understanding how it’s done and using some combination of the methods discussed here will keep it from showing up on your website when visitors arrive.

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