Wednesday, July 6, 2011

More Tea Spam: Blog Comment Spam

Following the theme of tea-related spam, I would like to address another topic: blog comment spam. This post is not much about tea, but I am sharing it because this problem is widespread on tea blogs.

What is blog comment spam?

Blog comment spam is a form of unsolicited advertisement in which a spammer, looking to promote their own website, leaves a comment on a blog solely with the intention of promoting their website. This usually happens in the form of the spammer linking to their website in the website field of the blog comment, and it can also happen when the spammer includes live hyperlinks in the text of their comment.

The spammer benefits by receiving free links (and thus visibility and traffic) to their website, which produces direct benefits of driving traffic to their site (often resulting in cash from advertising or sales) and indirect benefits of more links to their site, which can be factored into search engine listings. The blogger and the blog's readers are harmed because their blog now contains irrelevant comments linking to a low-quality website.

Search engines, especially the better ones like google, are pretty good at detecting spam, so it is unlikely that comment spam helps websites much from a search engine optimization standpoint, but spammers persist in these activities because they often result in measurable traffic to their sites, especially when they comment on high-traffic blogs.

Tips for bloggers to detect spam comments:

Blogspot, wordpress, disqus, and most blog commenting systems incorporate some sort of automated spam detection and protection. However, spam comments still slip through the cracks frequently. Usually they are easy to identify, but I find the following guidelines useful:

  • Spammers frequently use anchor text as their name when commenting. For example, you will find a comment from someone with "green tea" or "best herbal tea" or "supplements" listed as their "name". Genuine commenters will almost never do this.

  • Spammers will leave a comment that is only tangentially related to your post, but that do not demonstrate that they've actually read the post. For example, if the title tag of your post says something about herbal tea, the spammer might leave a comment that is about herbal tea, but it is a generic or vaguely general topic which could have been left on any blog post about herbal tea.

  • Generic complements or thanks from new and unfamiliar users are often a sure sign of spam. Posts like "Thanks so much for this post!" or "Wow, this is such useful information, thank you for sharing!" are favorites of spammers...they attempt to lure a person in to approve the comment by stroking their ego...but in reality these messages can be left in bulk by automated programs. Accept compliments, but only genuine ones...if the compliment could have been generated by an automated program because it does not reference anything in your post, it's highly likely that it was an automatic spam post.

The fine line between spam and legitimate commenting:

The art of spam detection is complex and not straightforward. Sometimes I receive comments on my blogs that I am not sure whether or not to publish. For example, I have received comments that have spammy-looking anchor text as the name, but the comment is intelligent and makes clear that the person has actually read the post, and leads to a high-quality website. Other times, I have received comments from a person who identifies themselves by name and links to a personal blog, and it's not clear to me whether their intentions were to promote their blog or to genuinely engage in conversation.

On the other end of things, I have occasionally had my comments on other people's blogs not published (possibly because they were seen as spammy) myself. I hope that I do not come across as spammy, but to be honest, I have sometimes commented on blogs with the specific intention of letting a blogger know about a specific page or resource that I have recently created or published. While I usually follow my own rules of etiquette, I understand that not everyone has the same set of rules, and I do not fault other bloggers for not approving my comments.

Tips for blog commenters to avoid being perceived as spam:

  • Don't take it personally if you comment sincerely on a blog post and it does not get published. It might have gotten erroneously caught in the blogger's spam filter. Or that user may have an overzealous view towards spam prevention. Or they might just not like your comment--I've had a few comments that were clearly not spam, but that I did not publish because I did not want the perspective that they communicated to be passed on to others. Spam is not the only reason that bloggers delete comments.

  • Use your real name, or at least a publicly established pseudonym, when commenting. If you use anchor text as your name when you comment, you're highly likely to be perceived as spam.

  • Read the blog post before commenting. Comment only if you have something intelligent or valuable to contribute.

  • Be cautious when complimenting or thanking a blogger that you have never interacted with before. I do this frequently, and I think it's a good thing to do...but make sure to be highly specific in your praises and thanks so that the person can be sure that you actually read, understood, and appreciated the post.

For more information, Wikipedia has some good info on their page spam in blogs.

Have you encountered comment spam, on your tea blog, or elsewhere? Do you have any further advice? Any thoughts? Anyone have a somewhat different view of blog comment spam?


  1. Awesome post. Love it. Couldn't have said it better myself.
    PS I also have a little online shop where I sell used auto parts at: xxxx
    Ha - Joking aside, this is useful info. I do see quite a few people replying back to spam comments, and I want to cry out; don't waste your time. It's just rubbish. Most of the spam stuff I see falls into the "great article, thanks" category.
    I haven't given "anchor text" much thought until now - the spammers I come across use something really silly, or a made up first/last name.
    Personally, I don't mind blog links, if their comment is relevant, and not just one line. Most people try to promote their own blog, that's natural. Sometimes if a comment was really interesting, I probably want to take a look at their website to see what they're about. I like it when bloggers interact by commenting on each other's sites, it adds value to the conversation. To my mind, that's the whole point of blogging, to share thoughts with other people.
    The only thing I really don't like is if the comment itself is useless, and nothing but self promotion.
    Now I wonder, will this post here pass "the test?"

  2. To make a point, Jackie, the blogger spam filter just detected your comment as "spam". Glad I was watching!

    I also don't mind links...and in fact, I prefer it when people actually include live links (a href etc) in the text of their comment, whenever they are linking to a relevant page. If the page is really relevant to me or my readers, it's going to take extra time if we have to paste it manually or do our own search to find the when the link is relevant, actually including live links is doing a service.

    And I do also like the way the names link back to the bloggers sites...there is a reason blogs are designed that way, it really fuels the conversation and it also helps to clarify where a person's comments is coming from: you can see their whole blog to see what they're all about.

  3. Ha ha, I knew that would happen to my post - it contained all those keywords, that spam filters look for. That's why I tweeted you that I had replied. We'll see how this comment fares.
    By the way, I don't use moderation myself, partly because it can deter serious responders.
    It's a bit of a let down when someone eagerly comments, and is then left hanging. And hanging until their comment finally passes. It takes the whole spontaneity/excitement out of posting. I don't mean you, you were quick. But I've certainly seen it happen elsewhere.

    Instead I just go in and check the comments frequently. Of course I use spam filtering, but someone always gets through either way. When that's the case I just delete. Have you had bad experiences with un-modearated replies?

    Now I wonder, will or won't this reply pass? Does the system recognize me now? Or did I move swiftly into that dreaded exile? Again, it contains a lot of those keywords, since this is what this whole topic is about :)

  4. I don't have much to add, but everyone check out my website!

  5. Haha...I know Sylvia! =) And I love her comic, so it's all good...and I'd recommend for others to check it out if they're interested in amusing webcomics.

    Also...that's not a typical spam comment because I think a spammer would rarely admit that they "don't have much to add"! =)

    About the unmoderated replies, I reply quick enough on the moderation that I can't imagine it would deter many serious responders. And I do get a lot of spam comments, on all my blogs. I think it looks really unprofessional to have a spam comment, and for those cases where I don't check for a few days or a week, I really would rather the legit comments sit in limbo first, than have a single spam comment be displayed on my blog.

  6. Really informative post. I do moderate the comments on my blog and have been really seeing an increase in the spam comments coming thru.

  7. I have a feeling that wordpress deals with spam better than blogspot. Is it true or more of an issue of filter settings?

  8. Gingko, I have noticed that too. seems to be the leader in cutting down on spam. Wordpress uses Akismet to curb comment spam, and I'm not sure what they do to detect or shut down spam blogs but I think they have a staff that responds quickly and manually checks them.

    Google seems outright negligent on Blogger, compared to wordpress...they do shut down spam blogs but it often takes days rather than hours. And I'd expect their comment spam filter to be better than it is. I wonder if this is because spam is something that really requires some human input...and google is all about not having their staff get involved. But it could be that google has just not focused on blogger as a product. Google did not invent blogger, it bought it, in 2003, which may have something to do with it.