Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blogging the Write Way: Controlling Spam

One of the biggest problems bloggers face is comment spam.

While there are a plethora of options for controlling this, most of them are merely helpful. Clever spammers are always developing new methods to fool the automated programs designed to keep spam out. Not to mention the truly clever spammers who work overtime to fool not only the programs but the bloggers, themselves.

The truth is that you can never really be sure if certain comments are from legitimate commenters simply looking to plug their own blog/site or a bonafide spammer, paid to drop links wherever they can.

The first thing you should do is hover over the link. If it is a straightforward link to a site, check out the site and see what it's about. If the link contains characters such as "aff-ID" or "?###" (where the pound sign is actual numerals), then it is an affiliate link. While some affiliate links are not truly spam - for instance, if someone left a link to a useful blogging program in the comments, but they get credit for referring new users, there's really nothing so wrong with that - most of them are spam. Extremely lengthy links are generally spam. Also watch for links containing domains like "tinyURL" - these are lengthy links that have been rerouted through "URL-shortening" domains and most likely lead to spammy, and/or commercial, sites.

Whenever in doubt, it's best to check the link yourself before publishing it. Of course, you run the risk of infecting your own computer, but that's better than leaving the link live and having it infect your readers' machines! Simply put: when in doubt, delete it!

Which brings me to the only surefire way to control comment spam: Moderating Comments.

When you enable Moderation for comments, all comments are put into a holding queue until you validate them. All good blogging platforms and software include a moderation process you simply enable, usually in your settings control panel; if yours does not, switch platforms.

While Comment Moderation is a bit of a turn-off, it is also the only surefire method of stopping comment spam completely. In fact, simply by enabling comment moderation, your spam will drop 90% right off the bat! What spam does come through is easily rejected or labeled spam. Some of the better packages will then "learn" from the comments you reject or label "spam."

While commenters prefer seeing their contribution appear immediately, simply explain to them that you get too much spam not to moderate comments and they will have to understand. Remember that only 10% of your visitors are ever going to contribute, anyway. While you may say, "Well, this could turn off that 10%, leaving no contributors," my only response is: then deal with the spam.

Like I said, there simply is no other way.

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

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