Guide to WordPress Comment Spam

Beginner’s Guide to Comment Spam

The comments feature of WordPress, where readers can leave a comment at the end of a blog post, is a great way for you to connect with your readers, engage in discussion, and answer any questions they might have. However, this valuable feature is open to abuse and can be a constant source of frustration for WordPress site owners.

Comment spam can be a problem almost from the moment your site goes live.

Almost from the moment your WordPress website goes live, it will start to receive comments from visitors who aren’t quite what they seem. 

This is known as comment spam, and it’s a common problem all WordPress users need to be aware of. These fake comments are left in order to try and promote other websites and increase their visibility and exposure.

Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to minimize the impact of comment spam and we will cover them in this article. Even if this hasn’t happened to your site yet, it’s only a matter of time before those first dubious comments start appearing.

So if you want to put a stop to WordPress comment spam, or prevent it from affecting you in the future, read on to find out how to combat this ongoing issue.

What is Comment Spam?

Before finding out how to stop comment spam or at least ensure it doesn’t interrupt your workflow and compromise your website, it’s important to understand what comment spam is and why it is carried out.

So if your blog has yet to become a target or you aren’t sure whether the comments left on your blog are genuine or not, here is a quick overview of comment spam.

Spam comments typically contain a link to another website and a suspicious looking message.

A typical feature of a spam blog comment is that it contains a link to another website, and often a message that doesn’t make sense, which is badly written, or has no relevance to the article or website it has been left on.

Comment Spam 1.0

How to Spot Fake Comments

Early attempts at comment spam were easy to spot.

In its earliest incarnations, comment spam was very crude and the comments would simply consist of a number of links to suspicious websites, such as those offering illegal software downloads, counterfeit goods, pharmaceuticals, or adult material. These characteristics all combined to make spam comments very easy to detect.

However, as this practice has gotten more sophisticated, it has become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a genuine comment, and one that has been left for reasons other than to leave feedback and engage in discussion on your latest blog post.

Spammers are putting more effort into making their messages appear genuine.

Modern comment spam is likely to include a seemingly genuine comment, with either just a link in the URL field in the comment form, or also a single link in the comment message.

Now that it’s not just those managing questionable websites engaging in this practice, those links are can often be to what appears to be credible websites.

Vague or generic comments are often spam.

Comment spammers are now also putting more effort into making the message seem genuine.

On first appearances the message might seem like a legitimate comment, but on closer inspection the message will be very generic and often won’t mention anything specific relating to the content of your post. In most cases these comments will be spam.

Comment Spam 2.0

Why Do They Do It?

Comment spam is mainly carried out for one simple reason: backlinks. Search engines like Google use the number of backlinks, or links pointing back to an individual site, to help them determine where to list that site in their search engine results pages.

More links to a website means a better chance of ranking well in Google.

In very simple terms, these links are seen as a vote of popularity from other websites and the more links that point to a website, the better chance it stands of ranking highly in Google.

But what does this have to do with comments on a WordPress site?

On a standard WordPress website, when a visitor leaves a comment, they get the opportunity to enter the address of their website, along with their name, email address, and the comment itself. When the comment is published, a link to the website of the commenter is also published.

The WordPress commenting feature has become a target of those looking to game the search engines.

This makes it an easy way to get a backlink, or link pointing back to a website, in order to convince the search engines that website is more popular than it really is.

This in turn makes the WordPress commenting feature a target for those looking to game the search engines.

This isn’t the fault of WordPress, but more that it has become a victim of its own success. With around 20% of the web now running on WordPress, it makes sense for the spammers and hackers to invest their time in finding ways to take advantage of the software.

The result of this is that your website is likely to get caught up in these attempts to publish a link back to a particular website, via the comment form on your own site.

How to Fight Comment Spam

Thankfully WordPress users aren’t on their own when it comes to dealing with comment spam. 

All new installations of WordPress include a plugin for the Akismet service, which is able to filter out the majority of these comments and send them to the spam list on your site.

Akismet Plugin

Activating Akismet is the most effective way to fight comment spam.

Activating this plugin is the most effective way to start fighting comment spam. Once up and running, Akismet will mark any obvious spam comment as such, preventing them from reaching your list of pending comments.

Genuine comments in your pending list will still need to be manually approved.

Making use of this comment spam prevention service on your website does involve signing up with Akismet, but there is a free plan for non-commercial sites.

You will still need to manually approve all the comments that haven’t been marked as spam, including genuine comments, and those which have slipped through Akismet’s net.

Advice on Manually Approving Comments

Vague or generic comments with bad grammar are often spam.

After activating Akismet, a large majority of the fake comments will be diverted straight to the spam list, where they will sit until permanently deleted.

This just leaves the legitimate and more sophisticated spam comments in your pending list.

Comments Pending

It will then be up to you to manually moderate these comments by closely inspecting them to ensure they are genuine, before clicking the Approve button or marking them as Spam.

Telling real from fake

Here are some tips to help you determine whether a comment is genuine or not:

  • Totally irrelevant comment that has nothing to do with the post it has been left on
  • Vague or generic comment that could apply to any post
  • Bad grammar can be a warning sign the message was computer generated
  • Links in the comment message are to unrelated or dubious websites
  • Strange names used by the commenters, such as brand names
  • Link in the commenter profile to a suspicious website

A comment doesn’t have to include all of the above to be spam, so it’s down to you to decide when to click the Spam button and when to approve the comment.

Manually Approve Comments

Conclusion

Akismet and a regular review of your pending queue can allow you to manage comments effectively.

Comments are a great feature of WordPress, but one that does require a bit of extra work on your part to ensure it doesn’t get abused.

By activating the free Akismet plugin, and setting some time aside to manually inspect the remaining comments in your pending queue, you can ensure that your readers are able to interact with your content, while preventing comment spam from becoming a problem on your site.

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