It’s a Monday morning, and you’re sitting down with your first cup of coffee.
You open up your blog, and you’re excited to see that someone commented on your latest post.
“Fantastic!” you think. “I’m finally starting to get some traction with my site!”
Then you look closer, and you slam your coffee mug down in disgust.
The comment isn’t from an excited, engaged reader who enjoys your writing and wants to join the discussion on your site.
It’s from a spammer.
Comment spam is an annoying, disappointing part of life online.
As your blog grows, comment spam becomes a daily hassle. Dealing with it is a lot like playing an endless, wildly irritating game of Whack-a-Mole. The game never ends, you waste a ton of time, and no one ever wins.
Perhaps it’s time you got yourself a better hammer.
What is Comment Spam (and Who’s Behind It)?
If your blog posts are open for comments, sooner or later you’ll experience comment spam. It often looks something like this:
Comments like these don’t add anything useful to the conversation, so why do they appear at all?
Well, they’re a sleazy way for the commenter to get free links back to their site.
Instead of earning a link by creating valuable content and asking you to link to it, the spammer just leaves a comment containing a link to whatever they want to promote. (Or they just rely on your blog theme to automatically insert a link from the commenter’s name to a URL of their choice.)
Simply put, if a comment looks more like an unsolicited advertisement, it’s probably spam.
Why Untamed Comment Spam Makes You Look Like a Lazy Amateur
Comment spam is certainly annoying, but is it really such a big deal?
Actually, there are numerous reasons you’ll want to ensure comment spam doesn’t remain on your blog, including:
- Comment spam makes it look like you don’t give a damn about your blog. If your comment area is littered with advertisements, links to porn sites, and other detritus, it makes you look like you’re not taking care of your online home. Frequent comment spam discourages your readers from leaving legitimate comments and makes you look sloppy and careless. Your trust and authority take a big hit, too.
- Comment spam gives Google a reason to hate you. Including a single dubious link on your site can cause Google to punish your domain. Even if the links are only in your comment area, Google might assume you allow them on other places on your site, and may punish you by ranking you lower on search engine results pages.
- Comment spam puts your readers in danger. Your readers need to feel your site is a safe place to be. If a reader clicks on a link in one of your comments and is directed to a malware site that infects her computer with spyware, that reader will lose faith in you and may never return to your site.
So comment spam threatens your blog on multiple fronts, but how can you identify it and annihilate it?
3 Suspiciously Simple Ways to Spot Comments Hiding Evil Intent
How can you tell if a comment is spam or a legitimate attempt to participate in a discussion? After all, it’s in the spammers’ interest to make their comments look as genuine as possible.
In practice, comments tend to fall into three categories.
Some comments are obviously spam. These are the comments that blatantly include links to porn sites, malware, or other undesirable content.
Likewise, some comments are obviously not spam. These are carefully thought-out comments from actual readers, many of whom you may recognize as regulars.
But there’s a third type of comment that lurks in the “gray area” in between.
These comments might seem legitimate on the surface but add little to the conversation. They might say, “Nice post!” or some similar generic platitude.
Often these aren’t the work of professional spammers who use software “robots” to automatically submit their evil comments, but the desperate owners of low-quality sites looking for extra traffic.
You may not want to mark these low-quality comments as spam, but you might want to simply delete or ignore them.
Sometimes you have to rely on gut instinct when deciding how to categorize comments, but here are some questions that can help you evaluate a questionable comment:
- Is the comment specific, and is it relevant to the content of the post? Some spammers post ambiguous, benign-sounding praise. If the comment could have been posted under any blog post on any site on the Web, it’s likely spam.
- Do the email address and website of the comment look legitimate? If the commenter puts the phrase “cheap NFL jerseys from China” in the name field of the comment form, the comment is spam. If the email address looks like it’s been generated by a computer rather than a human, that’s also a strong indicator of spam.
- Is the comment stuffed with keywords? Spam comments are often filled with keywords and keyword phrases, which means the commenter is trying to pick up some SEO points with Google. If the comment reads more like a badly-written advertisement, it’s likely spam. You will often spot keywords like “buy mens shoes online” in the name and comment body fields.
Let’s it face it, though – however good you become at spotting spam comments, trying to knock them down individually, especially when they keep appearing, is time-consuming and frustrating.
As a blogger, you need to find the easiest, most efficient solution for dealing with comment spam. Luckily, you’ve got four great options to solve the problem and escape your comment spam woes.
4 Ways to Declare War on Comment Spam (Without Spending Hours Playing Moderator)
There are four main methods for wiping out comment spam on your blog:
- Configure WordPress to minimize comment spam.
- Use a third-party comment-hosting platform.
- Shift the conversation to social media.
- Remove comments from your blog completely.
Let’s look at each of these options in detail, and discuss the pros and cons of each approach.
Option #1: Configure WordPress to Minimize Comment Spam
As the most popular blogging platform in the world, WordPress is particularly attractive to comment spammers. While no platform is completely immune to spam, WordPress bloggers often catch the worst of the comment spam storm.
The good news is, your first line of defense against comment spammers is setting up strong WordPress fortifications.
Here are the steps you can take to strengthen your WordPress platform against comment spam:
Hold comments in moderation until you approve them.
Start by configuring WordPress to send all comments to moderation (which means every comment will be emailed to you for approval before it gets published on your site).
To do this, go to:
- Settings > Discussion in your WordPress dashboard.
- Check the boxes next to “Anyone posts a comment” and “A comment is held for moderation” under “E-mail me whenever….”.
- Then check “Comment must be manually approved” in the section called “Before a comment appears.”
The downside of moderating your comments via email is that your readers won’t see their comments immediately appear on the site after they submit them, which is potentially discouraging for them, and could slow down the conversation.
You’ll also need to spend time handling the emails as you watch over the discussion on your blog, so budget your time appropriately.
Turn off trackbacks.
A trackback is a notification that someone else has linked to one of your posts.
For instance, if another blogger links to your post in his own blog post and decides to send you a trackback, you’ll get a notification in your inbox about it. If you approve the trackback (which works similarly to approving a comment), you’ll then see that trackback in the comment area of your original post. Picture a trackback as a conversation that links two blog posts together.
Unfortunately, trackbacks are often abused and are a frequent cause of comment spam.
To turn them off, go to: Settings > Discussion > Default Article Settings, and uncheck “Allow link notifications from other blogs (pingbacks and trackbacks).”
The downside to turning them off is that you won’t get notified when other people link back to your site, but the trackback notifications are actually fairly uncommon these days. You probably aren’t losing much in terms of conversation on your blog.
Automatically close comments after 30 to 60 days on all your posts.
You will get most of your valid comments during the first few weeks after you publish a post. If you close comments after that, you’re not likely to lose engagement from real readers.
Comment spammers troll the Web looking for older, popular blog posts to hit, which means the posts in your archive could be targets.
To close comments on every post after a specified number of days, go to: Settings > Discussion > Other Comment Settings. Check the box next to “Automatically close comments on articles older than” and choose 30 or 60 days in the selection box.
Use a spam-blocking plugin.
Plugins that filter out spam comments are easy to set up, and often run without a lot of day-to-day management. You can try Akismet (which is available for individual blog installations for a small fee).
Filtering plugins like Akismet aren’t a spam management panacea, however. They aren’t foolproof, so you will still see the occasional spam comment in your inbox.
Plugins like these also occasionally catch legitimate comments in their filters, so you will need to monitor the “spam comment” section in your WordPress dashboard each week and make sure it hasn’t accidentally caught a remark from one of your favorite readers.
To do that, go to: Comments, then click on the “Spam” tab, and browse through the comments filtered out by Akismet.
Any legitimate comment can be marked “not spam” and returned to the good side of the virtual tracks.
Just mark each valid comment as “Not Spam” using the links under each comment:
Spam comments can also clog up your backup process, because your backup tool will try to back up your entire library of filtered spam comments, which takes up a ton of space. To avoid backup issues, either set Akismet to automatically delete filtered comments after a specified amount of time, or keep your eye on automated backups and make sure they run without errors.
Fortifying WordPress can make it easier to manage spam comments, but if you want to reduce the effort even further, you may want to move to a different approach – moving comments off your blog and onto a third-party comment platform.
Option #2: Use a Third-Party Comment-Hosting Platform
Third-party comment-hosting services (for example, Disqus or LiveFyre) externally host comments posted by users to blog posts or online articles. If you use a service like this, your comments will still appear on your blog posts, even though they’re technically hosted somewhere else.
Let’s look at an example of how this works on a blog.
When a reader wants to publish a comment on a blog that uses LiveFyre, she would see a login screen that looks like this:
To leave a comment on this blog, your reader would need to log in using either her LiveFyre account, OpenID, or one of her social networking profiles. Once logged in, she can comment on any blog that uses LiveFyre without needing to log in again.
In a nutshell: A blog comment-hosting service takes the comments completely off your blogging platform (like WordPress or Typepad), and moves those comments to its own servers. In doing so, it runs the comments through powerful filters that cut out the vast majority of spam comments.
Users of comment-hosting services report radically lower levels of comment spam. Very few spam robots make it past the strict sign-up forms required by third-party tools, and their ultra-picky spam filters catch the rest of the bad comments.
Third-party comment-hosting services also:
- Give you reports on things like user reputations, history, post approval rating, and likes from other users
- Prompt visitors to read more of your content by using their discovery features
- Let your users flag spammy or inappropriate comments for themselves
There are downsides to comment-hosting services, however.
Third-party comment forms need to load within your blog posts, which can increase your page load time. You may see a reduction in comments if your readers can’t figure out how to comment using the more complicated login form (or balk at the sign-in requirement).
There is also a degree of risk in hosting your comments on a platform controlled by someone else. If the host’s servers go down, you could temporarily lose comments from your blog – permanently if their whole business winds down. In the future the host might also decide to limit your access to your comments, start charging for certain services, or introduce ads on your blog.
The risks may be small, but whenever you host content (and your comments are valuable content) on a third-party platform, these issues arise.
If you’re interested in using a comment-hosting service, both Disqus or LiveFyre have the following benefits:
- They are free and easy to install
- They have highly effective built-in spam filters
- They allow users to upvote comments they find valuable
Disqus has been around longer, has more users (currently 3.5 million), and has better options for customizing the way comments look on your posts.
LiveFyre has a SocialSync function that pulls in conversations happening on Facebook and Twitter and allows readers to reply to those remarks just like any other comment.
Option #3: Shift the Conversation to Social Media
In March of 2014, Copyblogger shut down comments on its WordPress-powered site, and moved the discussion about its blog posts to Google+ – primarily because the Copyblogger team was wasting so much time dealing with comment spam on their site.
Now, at the end of each Copyblogger post, they link to a Linkedin discussion post about that topic. They invite their readers to go to LinkedIn and participate in that discussion.
The folks at Copyblogger took a lot of heat for moving their comments to social media, but the Copyblogger leadership team says it was the right move for them.
Sonia Simone, Copyblogger’s CMO, says that since the move she spends more time actually participating in conversations with real people, and far less time examining individual comments, trying to figure out if she should approve them or not.
Moving your online discussion to LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+ could eliminate comment spam. By doing so, you’ll attract fewer spam robots, trolls, link-seekers and anonymous rabble-rousers.
If you’re considering moving your blog comments to a social media platform, here are some quick tips:
- LinkedIn: Create a LinkedIn group, then start a new discussion within your group for each post you publish. Your readers will need to be a member of your group in order to comment on the discussion. Here’s what one of Copyblogger’s recent discussions looks like on LinkedIn:
- Facebook: Create a new update on your blog’s Facebook page to announce your latest blog post, then edit your post in WordPress to add a link at the end to the Facebook update, asking people to comment there.
- Google+: Create a new public update on your blog’s Google+ page, and link to it at the end of your blog post, directing people to join the discussion on Google+.
There are some disadvantages to moving your comments to a social platform, though.
Visiting a third-party platform like Facebook is an extra step for your readers – they need to click on the link to the social site and log in before they can comment (assuming they’re not already logged in).
Because of this, you may experience a decrease in the overall number of comments you receive. However, you may also pick up some additional traffic and comments from people who discover the conversation via social media, so that could be an advantage.
You also stand the risk of alienating your audience. A year after its decision, Copyblogger is still fielding complaints about its decision.
You also encounter the sharecropping problem once again – directing conversations to a platform you don’t own.
The Copyblogger team came up against this too. They originally moved the discussion to Google+ posts after closing down native comments on their site. But then they switched to LinkedIn, presumably because of the predicted decline of the Google+ social platform.
So make sure you’ve got a backup plan in place to which you can pivot quickly if something happens to your favorite social site.
Option #4: Remove Comments from Your Blog Completely
The final method of battling comment spam is drastic but highly effective – shutting down comments altogether.
If you disable comments on your blog, you will never have to moderate another spam comment, and your comment management time will go down to zero.
This is obviously not an action to be taken lightly, but under certain circumstances it could be worth considering – for instance, if you’re blogging in a niche where even the big sites don’t typically inspire many comments.
Also, switching off comments can temporarily hide a lack of traffic and engagement in the early days of your blog. After all, nothing screams newbie louder than a giant “0 Comments” indicator in the header of every post. Disabling comments buys you time to build your traffic and your email list – you can open your posts to comments when you’ve got a slightly bigger audience.
But if you keep comments turned off, you miss out on the opportunity to build relationships with your readers by listening to their opinions and fielding their questions. Some of the best feedback you’ll ever get from your community happens in your post comments, so you could be missing out if you shut down that conversation completely.
And as with earlier options, you also risk alienating your audience – if you have had open comments on your blog posts for some time, and make the sudden decision to shut them down, you could have some very unhappy constituents.
Finally Escape the Tyranny of Comment Spam
Comments matter. There’s no doubt about it.
But to avoid wasted time and energy, you’ve got to be able to manage them effectively.
Now that you understand the various options, pick one and implement it on your blog.
It’s time to break free of the comment spam blues. Picture this:
You sit down at your computer on a Monday morning with a fresh cup of coffee. You open your inbox and see five new comments waiting for approval.
But instead of feeling annoyed and disappointed, you feel energized and invigorated because this time all of them are legitimate remarks from real people – engaged readers adding thoughtful and insightful discussion to your content.
Your content is enhanced, not diminished, by the comments beneath it.
And this stream of insightful commentary happens week after week, month after month, as your readership continually submits astute, valuable comments on your posts, undiluted by insidious spam.
You get to publish content in a spam-free world.
And isn’t that a world worth fighting for?