November 22, 2013

Beware of comment spam

Bloggers love comments and we need not tell the reasons. And all bloggers hate comment spam: comments sent by people for the sake of advertising or link building or with some other motive.

Unfortunately, many bloggers welcome all types of comments either without realizing that many of the genuine looking comments are not really genuine, or in the hope that a large number of comments is a mark of their blog's high popularity. On the other hand, may bloggers get so pissed off with unwanted comments that they make it difficult for a genuine commenter to give his feedback.

What do they get by making irrelevant, irritating comments?

Unscrupulous spammers comment on blogs with the misplaced hope that people will buy the product they shamelessly promote. At times, they are not the real sellers but an agency on their behalf; this agency convinces the seller about the usefulness of this type of commenting. 

In some cases, these commenters seem to get results too. For example, till Google got smarter than them, these commenters used to get improved Google PageRank by commenting on good sites. Sometimes the blogger takes the comments as genuine and starts engaging with the comment maker. In all cases, till the comment is there, everybody sees it and the commenter gets visibility to that extent; some visibility is better than no visibility.

Such commenters have also become smarter. Now in their comments they do not put rubbish or matter that would be automatically removed as spam by web filters. They write biggish comments and also place links as part of the comment. Smarter ones even put some text that makes it relevant to the content of the blog.

In the image here, we give examples of some real comments that we got on ITB. Look how sincere they look in the first glance!

What is the right way to handle comments?

You have many options:

  • Stop accepting comments.
  • Accept comments from people who register with you.
  • Accept comments only from people with proven identities such as Google / Wordpress ID.
  • Moderate comments. That is, comments are visible only when you approve them.
  • Put a tough captcha - e.g. text mixed up with images - which the commenter must put before he can publish the comment.
  • Use a mix of the above.

We have learnt with experience that moderating blogs is the best way to ward off spammers and not irritate commenters. 

You may like to complicate things for the commenter by making him to solve a captcha before he comments. Captchas are especially useful when you good great many comments and you find it cumbersome to manually authenticate them. But captchas are notorious for becoming too irritable at times. If you are keen on using a captcha, don't put other limitations on commenting. In any case, captcha does not stop a spammer from manually commenting on your blog.

Allowing comments only from those with proven identities is like telling others that you care a hoot for them. If you insist on allowing only the people with Google ID etc, make the identity-list wide: stop only anonymous comments AND allow a wide range of identities including Disqus, OpenID, FB or Twitter apps and so on. 

Asking the commenter to register with you is tolerable if yours is a highly reputed website [e.g. a magazine, a newspaper, a reputed company].