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The Cost of Comment Spam

Posted By Darren Rowse 27th of April 2006 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

It seems that bloggers everywhere are giving up the fight against comment spam – Or it least it seems that way to me.

I’m not going to start naming names but this week as I’ve read a number of fairly high profile and active blogs I’ve noticed that there is ALOT of comment spam in many of their archives. I’m suspecting that they are not alone and that it’s symptomatic of what is happening on a larger scale.

Whether the spam is slipping though some how under the radar or whether these bloggers have just given up because it’s all become too hard I’m a little concerned to find so many examples of comments sections of posts with literally hundreds of spam comments linking to all manner of dubious sites.

While I understand why some bloggers might give up under the weight of numbers of spam comments it’s worth considering the costs of comment spam on your blog:

  • Ignore it and it will Go away? – one blogger who I spoke with this week actually told me that he was hoping that if he did nothing that it would sort itself out. I don’t know what this blogger was on but it has to be one of the craziest things I’ve heard for a long time. You see in my opinion it’s the exact opposite. If we (and I mean WE collectively) ignore comment spam and allow it to clutter our blogs it will not only not go away, it has the potential to grow further. My anecdotal evidence this week is that if you allow comment spam to sit on your post that it’s more than likely to be added to a list of posts to spam again. Many of the examples of spam in comments threads this week revealed many many comments left on single posts while other posts seemingly were ignored by spammers. This says to me that it’s a systematic attack upon unmonitored blogs. Ignoring it will only encourage spammers.
  • Search Engine Impact – the comments that your readers leave on your blog have the potential to impact what people find your blog searching for in search engines. This can work for you or against you. Most bloggers have stories of people ending up on their blogs having searched for all kinds of bizarre terms/spelling mistakes used by commenters – but one impact that comment spam can have upon your blog is that it alters the keyword density of your posts. This particularly happens when comment spammers latch onto a particular post on your blog and leave ALOT of comments. I found one post on a well known blog this week that had 200+ comments on it, mostly on the topic of porn. I didn’t investigate it too much in Search Engines but I’d hazard a guess that his page had some keywords on it that were much more densely populated on that page than what he intended. This decreases the effectiveness of his content for the purposes that it was written for and increases the effectiveness of the spammers work.
  • Linking to Bad Neighborhoods – once again on the SE front – a common warning that SEO experts give is to be careful about the sites that you link to as they can have an impact upon how search engines rank your site. Link to so called ‘bad neighborhoods’ and you can get into trouble with your own SE presence. No one really knows just how much of an impact that this has upon SEO but it’s definitely not worth the risk.
  • Dead Links – one blogger that I approached this week to tell them about their comment spam argued that most of the links that people were leaving were dead links within weeks of them leaving them and that as a result they were not linking to to gutter sites after-all. My response to him was that dead links on a site can harm it’s Search Engine Presence. It’s commonly known that dead links are not looked upon favorably by Google and to have hundreds of them on a post cannot help it’s ranking.
  • Reputation – imagine with me a first time reader stumbling upon a post on your blog after doing a search for ((insert your blog’s topic here)). They find your post which has relevant content that they find helpful and scroll down to read the comments of others or to leave a comment of their own – only to be confronted with ads for pharmaceutical companies, porn sites, finance products, poker websites and all manner of other irrelevant and gutter crawling content. As I’ve said many times – EVERYTHING on your blog has the potential to add to or take away from your reputation. This not only includes your design and the content that you write but also the comments of your readers/spammers. Some first time readers won’t understand that that the comments are left by malicious spammers and will tie you and your blog to it – whilst others who understand that what they are reading is comment spam will make a judgement upon you and how willing you are to maintain your blog (just like the people walking by my house right now looking at my un-mowed lawn are making judgments about me (note to self… mow lawn)
  • Ethics – perhaps I’m something of a prude but looking at some of the comment spams left on blogs in the last few days I have to say that it would take a pretty tolerant blogger to find all comment spam acceptable in terms of it’s nature. I’m particularly thinking of some of the sexual graphic language that is used which refers and links to pages claiming to have some pretty foul and illegal material. I won’t impose my morals on anyone else but would encourage bloggers giving in to comment spam to take a serious look at the type of topics that they have showing on their sites. Ask yourself if you’re willing to live with a child… your child… stumbling upon some of it.

One last argument that I heard from a blogger this week was that they had no-follow tags in operation on their blog and that the links spammers were leaving were ineffective. While this might be true in terms of the benefits that the spammer might get from SEO – one interview I saw with a comment spammer last year (I can’t find the link) said that they get a surprisingly large number of click throughs on comment spam and that they benefit that way also. I’d also remind you that while no-follow tags might decrease the effectiveness of the links from the spammers perspective that they don’t have any impact on some of the points above. To this point no one has come up with a ‘fix-reputation’ tag or a ‘mend-ethics’ tag and bloggers will need to live with the consequences of their inaction.

So what do do?

It would be all very nice of me to attack bloggers who give up on comment spam and no propose solutions. My main piece of advice for bloggers is to use up to date blogging software and to use the built in spamming solutions that many of them have built in or available with plugins.

While spam killing plugins don’t stop everything they do help.

What does slip through the filters and plugins needs to be diligently monitored and checked manually either before or after they go live on your blog. There is no other way to ensure blogs are spam free than to have someone monitor it. If you’re not willing or able to do this then you might also like to consider the option of either switching off comments on your blog or disabling them after a certain period of time.

I hope I don’t come across as an unsympathetic blogger in this post – I do understand the strain that spam can put on a blog. I have quite a few blogs of my own and unfortunately need to put time aside each day to maintain their comments sections. It’s no fun but it is important.

I’d be keen to hear what other bloggers comment spam strategies are – feel free to share your practices in comments.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. I was struggling with comment spams. I’m talking about a robot that posted the same comment on each of my blog entry. So I could get more than a hundred spam comments per day.

    I had Bad behaviour, but even with it, it would let some spam slip through. I’d say a good 20-30%.

    I had to spend at least 5-10 minutes a day looking to delete the spam that slipped through

    I installed aKismet yesterday, and so far so good. 100% success rate.

    I’m keeping my finger crossed.

  2. Just to clarify, I have both Bad Behaviour and Akismet installed on a custom WP platform.

  3. My main strategy for dealing with comment spam is to turn off comments and pings on my posts after 30 days. There’s actually at least one WordPress plugin that automates this process, but so far I’ve liked the manual approach.

    30 days is more than the life of lively discussion on most posts, and in the event that there’s still discussion going on I’ve got the freedom to skip a post during the turning-off process.

    There’s no way to measure whether or not I’m missing out on any discussion using this method, but I know I miss out on some trackbacks. I notice links to posts (via Technorati) cropping up months later on occasion, but I think missing those trackbacks is a small tradeoff to have spam-free archives.

    I also have a comment preview plugin installed, and require that commenters preview at least once before posting. This makes for tidier comments (lord knows I make enough mistakes when I leave comments!), and also puts up a mild barrier to spammers (at least, I -think- it does).

    For the day-to-day spam, which has steadily increased as my blog has gotten more popular, WordPress throws 99% of it in the moderation cue and I catch the other 1% manually.

    If that gets too frustrating, I’ll install an anti-spam plugin, probably Akismet, and go from there.

  4. Using Akismet on my WP2 blogs, and Spam Karma on the ones I’ve not yet upgraded from WP1.5 – both seem to work very well. I do a manual check maybe once a week on all blogs to make sure no rubbish gets through. It takes maybe 5% of my blogging time to sort spam, which is a pain, but bearable, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned in this article.

  5. Another point I am not sure you mentioned explicitly about why inactivity can be harmful:

    Your web host may have a section in its Terms and Conditions about not linking or referencing illegal/adult material. Just because someone else comments on your site, you are still responsible for it, as it’s hosted on your personal web space. Therefore, you potentially could run into trouble with your host if you leave dubious comments and links on your site.

  6. Going along with Andy, you can also get banned by Google AdSense for having a google ad on a page with that comment spam.

    As for Akismet, it has caught all but maybe 3 or 4 spam posts since I upgraded to WP2, but it also has gotten quite a few false positives so I need to check it regularly to make sure it is actually catching spam.

  7. I had to go to Registered Users can comment only — which I have been trying to avoid. I also got rid of my ‘Most Popular Posts’ plugin which was a target for most of the comments.

    I wish they would stop!

  8. Spammers want people to collapse under the constant barrage of comment spam, so don’t give in. If you think they’ll stop because you’ve stopped fighting back, you must be too exhausted to think straight. There are a lot of tools out there that help and I wonder how many people implement them…

  9. I use SK2 & Bad Behaviour on all of my WP blogs, and then have my e-mail program set-up to filter my comments into folders (one folder for each blog.)

    This makes it really easy to look through my comments throughout the day, or at the end of the day, and I can be sure that no comment spam is staying on my site for more than a few hours at most.

    SK2 & Bad Behaviour catch about 99.9% of my spam, though, so I’m fairly satisfied.

  10. Comment Spam truly SUCKS. Askimet has done very well with a handful getting through now and then.

  11. I’ve tried everything including turning comments off. Now I just go directly to the database now, about once a week, and mass delete comments. If I find any repeating IP’s then I add them to the blacklist.

  12. Mark Pilgrim’s sobering look at weblog spam and anti-spam efforts in 2003. Running a weblog open to community feedback these days necessarily means being constantly vigilant against spammers. If you can’t manage the constant flow of info, I advise turning off feedback altogether. I believe a weblog with reasonably compelling content can thrive even without comments and trackback, perhaps more so than one riddled with dubious unsolicited sex and drug pitches.

  13. I’ve been spnding up to 1.5 hours a day cleaning up around 22 blogs from comment spam. It’s a bit of a game: when you block a particular word — current one, phentermine — it morphs into “phent”. My list of blocked words is now many inches long.

    I’ve decided to turn off comments on most of my blogs now. Life’s too short to play around with the bog creatures who do this.

  14. BTW does anyone know how to get a WP plugin similar to the Weblogs Inc email comment-confirm system?

  15. Because I am not using traditional blogging software, I was able to easily modify the code to not allow users with fewer than 15 posts to put links in their posts.

    I believe a similar strategy for blogging software would help reduce a lot of the problem. People are not going to take the time to make enough posts to pass the threshold simply to spam a link. Furthermore, it’s possible, with a bit of coding, to monitor content posted by new users.

    I think plugins for the major blog software that include these two features would be much more effective than automated spam blocking plugins.

  16. Just installed Akismet last week on the (wordpress) blog I was getting most spam on. One or two out of around 200 spams have got through but on the whole it seems to be an excellent tool.

  17. Spam makes me so angry, I’m glad to zap it any way I can. My blog is still WordPress 1.5, and I’m using Spam Karma.

    One thing I noticed is that the spammers are getting very clever. The last spam message that got through looked very legitimate. It asked about RSS, in a post about RSS. So, I decided to copy the first sentence, with quotes, into Google. There were 323 results!

    Here’s what I wrote about it on my blog

    Obscene stuff is not making it through on my blog, thank goodness, but these sneaky comments are just as much of a problem. To me it’s all part of the “broken windows” effect. The more spam is there, the more spammers will think you’re an easy target.

  18. Yikes,

    Being a new blogger, I didn’t realize that this was such a prevalent problem. I have had the odd comment on my posts, so I find it manageable to filter them manually. However, if I get hit with a few bots that are mentioned here, I may have to take a more aggressive approach.

  19. spam is killing the internet, if not by strangulation then by frustration. Lucky for me my blog software is not a general purpose platfrom, but runs on IBM’s Domino using DominoBlog software. The developer has made a very strong anti-comment spam tool, built into the software.

    It looks at the entry speed of the comment, ie, if it’s entered faster than a human, it gets put in a spam folder. So far, with about 200 comment spams a day, none have gotten through. So far, I guess I’m lucky….

    But just trying to remove comment spam is not enough. They will continue as long as the spammers get paid. I don’t think there are spammers out there who spam for fun. It’s for profit. So they will not stop jsut because the comments spam is removed. They’ll keep coming back.

    What we should do, is go after the companies/sites that pay the spammers. Flood their sites with junk/spam, fill their database with junk. Hopefully they will stop paying spammers.

  20. A business idea :)

    You can buy forum posts
    You can buy links
    You can buy Pay Per Click ads
    You can buy email spam protection

    It’s about time someone offered a service where you buy blog comment spam lcleaning.

    Just imagine:
    $9.95 / month and Spamcleaners.com will rid your blog of spam comments.

    Just give them comment editor rights.
    Use Captcha
    Open posts to anonymous posters

  21. btw, spamcleaners.com was used as an example – it’s not my domain

  22. Bad Behaviour and Akismet do indeed comprise the double whammy on spammers. I’m currently working on Bad Behaviour 2.0, a major ground-up rewrite of the platform, which should further stem the tide of spam, as well as make the option available for more platforms.

    During its development I’ve learned that many spammers are both persistent and in it for the long haul. I have identified one spammer who has spammed the same blog post continuously for nearly a year after having scraped it just once.

    Unfortunately, simply installing anything else isn’t enough — the spam is still there and you have to look through it occasionally to determine if anything got marked as spam that should not have been. Bad Behaviour alleviates this problem by blocking most spammers before they can either post their spam or even scrape your comment form.

    Bad Behaviour 2.0 will need testers within the next week or so. If you’re getting more than 100 spams a week, and want to see them all magically disappear, I want to hear from you.

  23. What a mess comment spam is! I spend a few minutes every day cleaining up the Know More Media network by getting rid of junk comments and trackbacks. The spam filters we have catch most of the junk, but I think daily vigilance and spam-blasting will always be a part of good blogging.

    I agree with your philosphy, Darren – the only good spam is non-existent spam.

  24. I had to close the trackbacks at one of my sites because I received more than 20 every day, all of them being spam. And this even when the trackbacks where not published because I activated a plugin that held them in moderation.

  25. Jason Calacanis had his take on it over at WeblogsInc a month or so ago:


    Short summary: If you take the time to put some plugins in and ACTUALLY configure the filters, you shouldn’t have much trouble. Comment spam has zero financial impact on their biz. The only ones that can beat those are handrolled ones and they get most of those.


  26. By the way … I notice there is some comment spam in your COMMENTS POLICY page.


  27. […] Darren over at [ProBlogger][] has also noticed a recent increase in comment spam and written an article covering the topic and the importance of continuing to fight it. He has a lot of good reasoning on why you need to prevent comment spam, but doesn’t really offer any solutions beyond being attentive and having up to date blogging software. […]

  28. Bill Ross says: 04/27/2006 at 6:47 am

    I use Movable Type. I don’t have any problems with comment spam.

  29. We have seen a huge increase in our comment spam on one of our sites http://www.scaredmonkeys.com. It is hitting over 1,000 per day , and some of our other sites are getting 200-300 comment spams.

    Thank god for aKismet and comment moderation in WordPress, otherwise we would have turned off all comments.

  30. Must Love Goblins says: 04/27/2006 at 8:59 am

    I’ve turned comments off altogether on some of my more popular blogs, just because it’s an utter waste of my time to delete the spam, which makes up 95% of the comments. It’s a shame, but it’s just not worth the time to deal with it.

  31. People must not be actually READING the comments…

    You don’t have to delete spam. You don’t even have to SEE it. You can spend your days blogging and remain blissfully unaware that there’s even a spam problem.

  32. I’ve taken a simpler approach to comment spam. I just don’t have comments. I know it is kinda’ “anti-blogging” but if people want to comment or contact me, they can send e-mail. The e-mails I have received and replied to will make it as a post in the near future. Great back-up material when you have writer’s block.

  33. I use wordpress 2.0. There is Askimet (spelling? sort of lazy at the moment). I’ve caught at least one spam comment – or at least I hope it was. So I visited the link and things looked fine – until the page was automatically redirected to some sleezy website!

    I have my comments set to ‘Allow All.’ But, I like having others comment from a variety of services. Although, my blog is narrow in its field – so as it is new, comments aren’t too much of a big deal. I think I have a handful of regulars. Anyways, I’m anti-comment spam. I’ve even sent numerous feedback to WordPress to find more ways at improving their current spam safe-guard. I recieved a timely response stating that the WordPress team area constantly looking at ways to prevent comment spamming.

    Hopefully, the fight continues!

  34. I was using just akisment on my WP2 blogs, as well as sending comments with URLs from new posters into the moderation queue.

    Then after the day a spambot deluged me with spam (all caught by akismet, thankfully), I decided to escalate matters and adjust my .htaccess files to restrict access to wp-comments.php when not referred from my sites.

  35. Excellent read darren…. I love akismet, the baby is just too hot and 98% of my spam are kicked away… The service rox..

    As for your first point of ignore, you can’t say that to bots, they just keep on comin.

    ~ CC

  36. […] ProBlogger talks about The Cost of Comment Spam in a recent post. Since this is something that’s been plaguing me lately, it made sense to me. It would be all very nice of me to attack bloggers who give up on comment spam and no propose solutions. My main piece of advice for bloggers is to use up to date blogging software and to use the built in spamming solutions that many of them have built in or available with plugins. […]

  37. Webmasters should not comment with the intentions of SEO. Only to provide vital info. Besides Article Marketing is a better SEO stradegy. If your looking for traffic, try the only exchange that gets me adsense clicks, TrafficSwarm.

  38. We totally agree with you, Darren. We go through at least once a day, sometimes more often to delete all of the comment and trackback spam we get, and to ban the spammers’ IP addresses.

    It’s a complete hassle and waste of our time, but the more you allow it to happen, the more it will happen. If everyone was vigilant about deleting comment/trackback spam there would be a lot less spamming to begin with.

  39. Darren,

    One other point to add your excellent post is that good comments add value to a site, especially technical sites. Very often I read an interesting post and find related links or points of view that make make it even better. If that extra conent is filled with texasholdem and smut, then I’m less likely to bother. I’ve even dropped bookmarks of sites that have spam filled comments.

  40. […] I note that in the recent past this has been a big topic of conversation.  Problogger has an exceptional analysis of why you shouldn’t go over to the dark side – and many of the issues he brings up are incredibly important to branding (reputation and ethics, particularly.)  Rather than spend a couple hours writing my own version of what he said, I’ll just send you over there with the expectation that you’ll eventually come back…  Over at ZDNET they’ve discovered that more than half of all spam is related to our beloved pharma folks (probably not just Igor, but I wouldn’t put it past him as he is quite persistant.)  There’s a guy over at Typepad that’s seeing the same thing – like something weird has happened in the last week or so (and whomever Anil is, I’m not him.  And I’m not trackback spamming either.  It’s about relevancy, people!) […]

  41. I spent the day pulling out what remains of my hair trying to block a pharma company from posting. I think that Akismet might solve my problem, but I’m not sure.
    I blogged about the same issue today(though less in-depth than you did) today. My focus is branding, and I still haven’t been able to get my mind around why any company would want their information cross-posted around the globe unless they were an illegitimate business. Did I just answer my own question? I think I might have. Way to go, me.

  42. […] Comment Spam Got You Down? Problogger has an excellent article up titled “The Cost of Comment Spam” that is a must read for anyone who’s blog is deluged with the scourge of comment spammers. We all know what a pain in the arse it is to deal with but giving up and giving in is not the answer, even if you’re feeling overwhelmed and tired of dealing with it. Taking an aggressive stance to delete, remove and prevent spamming on your blog is highly advisable to keep spammers from destroying your hard work, reputation and your search engine positioning.   Did you know that it’s possible for spammers to fill your database up with spam on future posts? WordPress seems to be particularly vulnerable to this type of attack and the first sign is that spam comments show up immediately everytime you put up a new post. The reason why this is possible is because of the way posts are numbered and they can load your database up with comments on posts that you have yet to write, invisible until you login to your MySql database on your server and delete them. There’s some great stuff at WordPress on “Combating Comment Spam” that you should read up on to help you get a handle on this nasty problem.   Technorati Tags : spam, blogs, blogging, comments, seo, search, engines, wordpress TAG IT    |  DIG IT  |  SEARCH IT    |  ADD IT   |  BLINK IT […]

  43. […] Problogger has an excellent article up titled “The Cost of Comment Spam” that is a must read for anyone who’s blog is deluged with the scourge of comment spammers. We all know what a pain in the arse it is to deal with but giving up and giving in is not the answer, even if you’re feeling overwhelmed and tired of dealing with it. Taking an aggressive stance to delete, remove and prevent spamming on your blog is highly advisable to keep spammers from destroying your hard work, reputation and your search engine positioning. […]

  44. Doh! Sorry about the double trackbacks on this post, it wasn’t intentional!

    Great article! Thanks!

  45. EXCELLENT post. And do you find that Spam Karma (I think I was referred by you) lets some slip through? It’s mostly on my new posts (they have this age setting), and I catch it quickly. Most things either get tossed, a few get posted, and I rarely get moderate e-mails. Hmm. Well, it works, mostly. But I also find it odd that I NEVER get moderate e-mails. I mean all sorts of new commenters’ comments go live immediately, and I’m happy for my new visitors, but it’s a worry. I do have the setting in Word Press itself for that to be moderated. I just let that go with the whole benefit of the plugin. It’s pretty good, and it does a better job, with less moderation (and less me reading about *drug product* and *type of gambling game* [don’t want to get caught by spam 0:-)]). Of course, I still read everything in order to reply!

  46. I have a related question: Why do we call them, “comment sections”? They don’t have their own section at all!

    (I’m really commenting again, because I forgot to check off to receive replies in my e-mail. :-))

  47. […] There’s a ton of advice out there for dealing with comment spam, but when it comes right down to it, the best advice is pretty simple. Darren has an outstanding post on spam this morning that talks about the cost of ignoring trash on your blogs. In it, he says this: My main piece of advice for bloggers is to use up to date blogging software and to use the built in spamming solutions that many of them have built in or available with plugins. […]

  48. I installed Akismet just recently because I simply do not have the man-power at my disposal to manually delete the amount of spam I am getting.

    In the short time I have had Akismet, it has caught over 1700 spam comments.

  49. All of you are trying to protect your blogs from spam mesages. And what about protecting the emails that people may publish in the internet?

    SPAM is considered to be the virtual curse of the XXI century. Statistically, 70% of all email traffic is spam. Spammers get more and more sophisticated to get the email addresses of their victims: they create special spam bots, whose sole task is email harvesting, i.e. visiting sites and automatically collecting email address, which they find there.

    There is one option how to protect your email from spam. We have developed a free new product which is a professional anti-spam solution that prevents spam bots from email address harvesting on the website.

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