Sunday, October 09, 2005

Comment spam ramps up

Comment spam is rampant on Blogger right now: in the last week, I’ve received—and deleted—nearly seventy spam comments on posts here.

They all have a strong whiff of machine generation about them: firstly, they’re poorly targeted. Since when did I have a “blog about best online casino directory”? Or “a great site for lemonade recipe”? They also tend to cluster on my previous posts about spam blogs, probably because the text there is rich in spammy keywords. And secondly, they’re obviously templated: one or two sentences of generic complements; one or two sentences of insert-keyword-here shilling; the same phrases over and over again. (I mean really: “reading your blog gave me goose pimples all over my body”? Please.)

But what really gives the game away is the cases where the hapless spammer misconfigures the software. Sometimes there are bizarre keywords (note here I’ve replaced the spammy link with a harmless underline):

You have an interesting blog. I just put up a site about buy compensation gkjgsdsgs html mesothelioma wbr. I know it’s a strange subject […]
No kidding. (How did mesothelioma get to be the only cancer spammers latch onto, anyway?) Occasionally, keywords are missing altogether:

I have a ##affiliate## site/blog. It pretty much covers ##Affiliate Program## related stuff.
Oh dear.

One comment let the cat fully out of the bag—and here I’m letting the link stand, but applying a nice safe nofollow to it:

You have a very good site on does adsense work This is something I also have a large interest in and have set up a blog about does adsense work please visit and let me know what you think.
Yep: Blog Link Generator, favorite tool of asshat comment spammers everywhere.

Blog Link Generator: Get Thousands of Links Back To Your Site From Other People’s Blog Today!

As the marketing fluff puts it, Blog Link Generator helps you:

Use keywords to find relevant blogs on blogger.com; automatically post your comments to those blogs, including that all-important link back to your site.
For “all-important”, of course, read “all-but-useless”. The come-on touts higher search-engine rankings (“The spiders find you, and you know what happens next. It’s all good!”) but that’s all bogus. Links in Blogger comments are nofollow, which means they’re worthless in terms of search engine rankings; the spiders of all the major search engines simply ignore them.

Not that that’ll stop ’em trying, of course.

A hollow laugh, too, to the claims of Blog Submitter Pro, a similar auto-comment-spam tool:

Believe it or not, the people who run the vast majority of blogs that you post on will actually very much welcome your post.
The use of the harmless word “post” to replace “spam comment” is slippery. But that aside; as the person running this blog, I don’t welcome your spam. Not in the least.

The rise of commodity automation tools means that Blogger comment spam is only going to get worse. If you run a blog on Blogger, here’s some advice:

  1. At the very least, make sure you have a comment notification address set in your Comments settings page, so that you get email notification of new comments and can react to spam as it arrives.
  2. Consider turning on the word verification option for comments, if you can accept the accessibility problems it causes for anyone who can’t read the verification images.
  3. Consider closing comments on older posts.
I also suspect we might see some quiet action from Blogger on detecting automated spam; this is going to be a big problem for them.

Categories: Spam

Comments:

Even I'm receiving spam now, and I hardly ever update my blog these days.

And you know what...if I hadn't read your previous posts about spamming, I might not have realised what was going on.

Here's what I got:

"i thought your blog was cool and i think you may like this cool Website. now just Click Here"

I'm ashamed to say that he almost had me too. Luckily for me, that final "sentence" was enough to make me realise what was going on.

"now just Click Here" sounds very much like "now if you'll just sign your name here sir..."

The buggers.
Do you think that blog spam is a problem?

Then you should read today's blog article.
Is there such a thing as spamming a blog?
It's pretty obvious from the content of my post, Bruce, that I do think blog spam is a problem.

Your argument is that spam is actually "valuable, keyword rich, relevant content". That hasn't been my experience. Most spam is poorly written and terribly targetted; it doesn't add any value to readers.
Well James you must admit that my comment (spam) found it's way to your article about spam just fine so your non-targeted charge is false.

I don't know about other spam you get but my intro of "Do you hate spam"... lead to a long, well written article.

...and do you mean by "adding no value to your readers", that agreement with your point of view is required to be considered a relevant post?...

James, are you sure about that nofollow stuff you said? I didn't see any nofollow tags in your source code.
Bruce's reply is a copy of one he made in reply to comments I made on his blog, where I stated that most comment spam is poorly-targeted, poorly-written, and links to very poor content, typically to AdSense farms full of scraped or generated content. I said that such comments added no value to either me or my readers.

I also noted that comment spam provides no value to the spammer, either, given that Blogger applies the nofollow attribute to all links in comments.

I replied over at Bruce's blog, but he since seems to have removed the post Is there such a thing as spamming a blog. Which is a shame: it was actually pretty interesting to hear a spammers viewpoint, and there was some interesting discussion in his comments.

The deleted post is reproduced, and rebutted, in this post at Cogito Ergo Geek.

So, as my earlier reply vanished into the ether along with the post it responded to, I'll reply again here.

I'll admit that Bruce's comment actually was useful here. It was well-targeted and relevant to my post; short and well-written, if a little generic; and linked to a post which was itself relevant and well-written. Congratulations, Bruce: you're a shining star amongst comment spammers.

However, the exception does not prove the rule. The fact remains that every other comment spam I've received has been a badly-targetted, vapid, shilling waste of space.

I don't require comments here to agree with my viewpoint, but I do require them to contribute usefully to the conversation. "I have a great site for lemonade recipe" doesn't add anything, particularly when I'm not even talking about lemonade, and particularly when the great linked site is a mishmash of adverts and randome web scrapings with no relevance to the conversation.

If spammers tried harder to target accurately, write well, and produce their own high-quality content to link to--as Bruce appeared to do here--they'd enjoy a much better reputation than they do. But the truth is they don't try hard; they're interested only in doing just enough to turn a quick AdSense buck.

It's a little ironic, too, that faced with disagreement with his point of view, Bruce chose to delete not just a disagreeing comment, but the entire post.

As for nofollow: look again. Here's the content of Bruce's first comment:

Do you think that blog spam is a problem? <BR/><BR/>Then you should read today's blog article.<BR/><A HREF="http://caribbean-marketing.net/blog/2005/10/is-there-such-thing-as-spamming-blog.html" REL="nofollow">Is there such a thing as spamming a blog?</A>

But don't just trust me; here's the relevant page from Blogger Help, Keeping Comments Clean: "All links will automagically use the rel="nofollow" tag, so they'll receive no PageRank boost."

So--to reiterate a question I asked over on Bruce's blog--doesn't this make Blog Link Generator essentially useless at boosting search engine rankings?

(I note with some interest that since posting this question at Bruce's blog, he's taken down not only the post he refers to here but also the earlier post in which he markets Blog Link Generator; I also find no mention of it any more at his main website.)
Still posting this stuff?
Let me have one last say about this whole unfortunate episode. This stupid smear of my good name happened because I wrote an article in my own blog that turned out to be an unpopular opinion and then invited spam blogs to read it.

It appears that a small but vocal group of people have adopted the point of view that “the end justifies the means”.... so watch out, YOU could be the next one to be sacrificed on their unholy alter of political correctness.