Friday, December 19, 2008

Comment Spam - how to recognise it and what to do with it

Techies are my way of highlighting matters which are about the more technical aspects of blogging. This post is about comment spam. It appears I'm currently not alone in being the target of a few flurries of comment spam by online greeting card firms and others who currently risk having their firms disappear altogether from the Internet due to their activity.

What is comment spam?

Comment spam is when people leave text or links in comment which are completely unrelated to the topic in question.

Invitations to visit a website, even if related ("it's all art"), would also be considered to be spam by many bloggers. I'm very judicious about leaving links in comments and keep them very strictly 'on topic'. If you want to issue an invite look for another way of contacting the site owner - remembering of course email should not be used to spam.

Bottom line, if you wouldn't do it in an email, then don't do it in a blog comment.

The latest name-oriented comment spam

The latest sort of spam found on blogs doesn't put the unrelated link in the comment - it puts it in the name of the person commenting.

Hence I had two comments in quick succession of the same post from somebody called "Gi$ft ca$rd prin$ting" (remove the dollar signs to see it as it was actually written - I've used the dollar signs to avoid any benefit to that name/site). There was no link in the email. Very innocuous comments but inserted with the obvious intention of getting my readers to notice and click on the name - generating traffic to their site. It is in effect an insidious form of free advertising - and hence spam.

It's often very simple comment spammers of this variety - ask yourself who would call themselves something like that! If none of your friends would then it's quite likely that it's comment name spam.

How to recognise name-oriented comment spam

Comment spam in an email sent for moderation frequently looks as if there is no hyperlink attached to their name. Wrong - what you see in the comment for moderation in your email is not how it appears when published as a comment. Another reason for identifying this as spam.

If I'm suspicious of a comment, then I usually check out the source at moderation stage in the email sent to me. That's not possible with this sort of spam.

If you publish the comment, you'll find that the name suddenly has a link. That link will go to a related commercial site linked to the content of the name.

This is what Google and Blogger do to prevent comment spam.

This is what Google does to prevent comment spam - Official Google Blog: Preventing comment spam

Blogger has two actions which are automatic to prevent comment spam. If you use Blogger you then have three more options to help limit spam. See Keeping Comments Clean for the code.
  1. Automatic Only five html tags are accepted - for making links; for making text bold and for making text italicised
  2. Automatic All links will automagically use the rel="nofollow" tag, so they will receive no PageRank boost.
  3. Option You can choose to receive notification by email when new comments have been posted on your blog. This way, you can monitor them for spam and delete them when necessary.
  4. Option You can enable word verification for your comments. This will require an extra step in the commenting process, which will deter automated comment spamming systems.
  5. Option You can enable comment moderation, which will let you view new comments and approve or reject them before they appear on your blog.
However, none of these actions appear to be effective at preventing the comment name spam. I don't know if the link created automatically acquires the rel="nofollow" tag which all other links automatically acquire, but I suspect this is very probably the case - otherwise there'd be an absolute blizzard of people acting like this.

In general, links in comments in Blogger carry absolutely no weight in terms of enhancing "page rank" because the "no follow" attribute is added to all links. The only links which can count towards page rank are those contained in the text of blog posts.

What to do if you get spammed in this way
  • ALWAYS delete the comments - to avoid encouraging the others!
  • If you're so minded, make a note of the website concerned and send a note to Google which likes to hear about websites which spam others. You'll need to detail what happened, when and what you did. You do this via the "Report Spam in our Index" action which is part of webmasters tools for all those with a Google Account
and you know how spam got its name?
Spam is the abuse of electronic messaging systems to indiscriminately send unsolicited bulk messages.
Wikipedia - spam (electronic)
According to Hormel Foods (makers of SPAM), use of the term "spam" for unsolicited messages was adopted as a result of the Monty Python skit in which their SPAM meat product was featured. In this skit, a group of Vikings sang a chorus of "spam, spam, spam . . . " in an increasing crescendo, drowning out other conversation.

Screenshot from the Monty Python Spam skit
Source: Wikipedia

Hence, the analogy applied because unsolicited messages were drowning out normal discourse on the Internet. (A distinction is now maintained a between meat product and abuse through the use of upper and lower case letters respectively!)

PS. Message from the sick bed
I'm finally back home having been laid low with my 3rd dose of the "cold from hell". I do not jest. I went through a complete man-size box of tissues while resembling a running tap on Sunday. Then I spent Monday in bed all day because I was barely able to get out of it! Having slept most of Monday I was a teeny bit brighter on Tuesday but the hacking cough had now appeared; Wednesday I was just totally weary and Thursday I packed up and went home having succeeded in giving the cold to my mother! For all those who have yet to get it, could I just point out that the chemists are now running out of remedies............


  1. Some bloggers (like me) are using WordPress and comment spam has been our biggest nemesis. Without action I could get fifty to sixty scam comments a day. (in the ultimate insult and irony few others seem to comment)
    In the WordPress settings/discussions, you are able to control the number of links you allow any one comment to contain and list words that when they appear in content, name, URL, e-mail, or IP, will be held in the moderation queue or be blacklisted. This helps but it's still a chore to police. your blog

  2. Thanks Larry

    I get very, very few comment spams on this blog. Possibly having a comments policy which I stick to and have summarised above where people post their comments may have helped?

    I'm always worried that it scares off genuine comments. However, I've seen some of the less edifying aspects of blogging so using all the available Blogger tools plus a few prompts have largely made moderating comments a very pleasant task for me.

  3. Sorry you aren't feeling too well, Katherine, hope it passes quickly then stay away! Very interesting post about spam. I get some, more than I would prefer but not enough to get bothered by.

  4. Spammity spam, spammity spaaaam! I remember singing the song in the early days when folks posted something annoying. :)

    Hopefully your tips will help lots of newbies to blogging.

    And get well soon!!!

  5. Excellent post on spam comments, thank you Katherine. I had to bring in word verification on my blog a while ago as I was being drowned in spam in the comments. Now I rarely have a problem.

    One thing I would suggest is that people make sure that they do what you've done and have the name/URL option activated in the 'choose an identity' section. I find it annoying when I go to blogs and can't comment because they only have the google/blogger and the OpenID options activated.

  6. I love the spam skits and now am inspired to go back and find them. I hope you are better. UGH. you sound so sick. Your poor nose.

  7. I noticed that unless I have the word verification on, I get spam. The first ones were from phone companies in Brazil and Chile with odd wording about liking my art.
    I don't get them with WV enabled.
    Hope you are better.
    Also, I just want to throw in a little trivia 'tidbit', if you will, about Spam. The location of Spam's highest sales is..... HAWAII.

  8. I have received comment spam and was considering enabling the comment moderation option. Now is as good a time as any and thank you for the reminder.

  9. I ask you about spam and see it's the topic of the last post of yours I had yet read. Kinda late to the game here...

    I think one big pluses of wordpress over blogger are the numerous spam controls.

    I can avoid the word verification for readers because akismet (see catches 99.9% of all spam automatically. Kinda the same advantage you get by turning on word verification but doesn't require annoying my readers (I'm not a fan of word verification although admittedly it has it's place - I'll have it on my newsletter subscription soon w/ captcha - I tired of the spam sign ups - 100s' a month)

    I also have controls for # of links allowed in a post before it goes to moderation. I'm not big on moderation either - I'm lazy and it takes too much of my time - so I prefer automated tools. Although honestly this rarely kicks in and when it does it's usually for a legit comment because akismet stopped all the spam.

    Finally because spammers tend to target old posts and posts that have appear on splogs (my issue with trusting the stats for popular posts) I am using a wordpress plugin that closes the comments on my old blog posts - created precisely to combat this problem.

    With these 3 things in place I rarely have to do anything manually to get rid of spam - it never makes it past my automatic guards.

  10. Lisa - on the other post I forgot to mention the main thing I do which has reduced spam

    I always publish a truncated form of the post - never the full post. It turned out to be the most effective thing I could do to limit spam.


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