Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Blog Spam and How to Spot It

A few weeks ago I talked about how Google rankings can be gamed--which is why it would be inappropriate for an editor or agent or publishing professional to rely solely on such things to determine an author's worth. Today I'm going to show you one of the ways to up a Google ranking--and not in a good way.

If you're a regular blogger, then you've probably gotten your share of spam on your blog--maybe even emailed to you. These are emails disguised as interest in what you do. On my design blog (which is tied to my freelance business), I regularly get comments from spammers like this:

"Admiring the persistence you put into your site and in depth information you provide. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same outdated rehashed information. Wonderful read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account. My site is [redacted]."
This is total BS, of course. It's a fake comment intended only to build back links to their site in order to puff up their SEO reports. For the most part, it's easy to recognize spammers because of their consistently poor grasp of grammar and off-topic comments. But spammers are smart enough to know they're slightly stupid. And they've taken measures to address that. Now spammers try to be personal and friendly and trick you into thinking they're really reading when they are not.

When I uninstalled the Intense Debate comment system from my blog---I was really bummed to do this because it meant losing all of your wonderful comments for over a year, but Intense Debate took a dump  and prevented several of you from commenting, and then it prevented me from deleting spam. That was the last straw. So it had to go. The spam that did it was the one from some printing guy that said this on the post about author web sites:

"I am actually thinking of getting my business cards done. It´s essential for Pro bloggers, I should say. Would love to win this. I´m a follower of our blog."

Kay, it's not "our" blog, and there's nothing to win. And note the crazy apostrophes. Then the guy used a different name (but same email address--duh) to post a follow up comment thusly:

"Stopping by your blog helped me to get what I was looking for. I found your site in google. And I will be back next time, thank you."

Right. Delete. Delete.

This spam disguised as friendliness and compliments is fairly easy to spot. But it gets more insidious, I'm afraid. And here's where I really want to warn you.

I received an email from someone off the blog. This means an actual human stopped, looked around for my contact info, and wrote me this email (even if it's a template email):

[extra space that indicates she pasted from a template, redacted]
Just wanted to drop you a note expressing my appreciation for your blog. As a blogger and freelance writer myself, I’m always excited to come across a blog that’s both a pleasurable read and an informative resource. [so far so good, I'm thinking, and even rather flattered.]
[extra spaces redacted]
Although I blog mostly for [redacted], I absolutely love writing guest posts that interest me. I have been reviewing your site and what look like your most popular posts and think I have some twists to those that your readers would like. I’m happy to provide you with content that you can use as you see fit and only ask for link back to my site [redacted] so that the readers can find out more about me and hopefully will subscribe to my blog.

Below you can find some of my recent published Guest posts:
[8 links redacted]

Thank you for your time!

So this person was really nice. And it sounded totally above board, right? The kicker here is the lack of specifics, like the really vague "I have been reviewing your site and what look like your most popular posts and think I have some twists to those that your readers would like." And then, of course, the link back to her site which is not writing-related at all. Nor would it be of remote interest to you.

So I wrote her back. I asked what the "twists to those posts that my readers would like" would be. And she replied saying they would be "5 strange things writers should watch out for" except they weren't strange and were pretty basic items. Maybe freshmen in high school might find them useful. In short, not appropriate for my blog, and definitely not appropriate for my readers. I'm not going to heap ridicule on the lady and name them or her.

So what was this lady doing?

Mike Chen, my Atmosphere Websites partner, insists she is from something called a "content farm" that basically has people do "guest posts" and write real articles with links back to their site to up their SEO rankings. I couldn't believe anyone actually puts man power into that because it sounds so trivial, and does it really result in actual sales at all? Who knows.

The amount of both comment spam and email spam I'm getting these days has increased--and I can't believe it has anything to do with how popular my blog is. Turns out it isn't. It's because I'm a smaller blog and these guys think their links are more likely to make it in. Insidious!

Anyway, to sum up:
  • Watch for grammar and typos as a giveaway that the complimentary comment is spam
  • Watch for odd spaces or backward apostrophes--backward apostrophes are a sure sign of a user from another country
  • If anyone leaves a link to anything that is not writing related, delete it, even if it's benign like "Nice list, some inspiring and laterally thought up designs in there. I do agree that it was a bit long, especially with duplicate examples." No.
  • Watch out for vague praise and any request in which the giveback is a link to their site--unless it's writing related, obviously. And even then, what exactly are they giving you?
Keep it strong, people. Our blogs are not fodder for building links back to other people's crappy business web sites. 


Laura Pauling said...

I have noticed comments like this but there's always something about it that makes me wonder and I usually delete to be safe. It's usually the lack of specifics.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Well, crap. Ya mean the influx of spam doesn't mean I'm a blogging star???

Linda G. said...

Hey, I got that same email! You mean I'm not special?

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I usually just roll my eyes and delete the email. Once I responded with a bitchy comment (for the fun of it) and told her I'll be sure not to buy her product (scrap booking supplies. I don't scrap book). The person emailed back and said my replied made her cry. I burst out laughing at that. As if!

Sierra Gardner said...

Thanks for the heads up. So far I seem to have avoided the spamming (unless I've been unobservant lately) but will keep an eye out.

Cathryn Leigh said...

Your comment about the "content farm" brought me back to my Gaming days and how city inside the 'capitol' city of the game you'd get spam tells from Gold farmers... people who played the game to make game money to then sell to people playing the game for real money... It must work somehow because I suspect ti's still happening.

I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for the spam you've defined here. especially good for me to remember as I tend to be a bit soft, I suppose you could say.

:} Cathryn

Sierra Godfrey said...

Laura, the lack of specifics is a dead giveaway that the spammer isn't really reading!

Susan, Afraid not. Sorry. I know I was certainly dancing because I was all popular. Sadly, no.

Linda, did you really? Insidious!

Stina, these spammers are good at trickery!

Sierra (not me), you are obviously more popular than THIS Sierra :)

Cathryn, there's a buck in everything I guess...I just can't believe the effort it takes for spammers to go through on some of this stuff. For a measly link!

Charlie Rice said...

Hi Sierra. I wandered in from Simon Carter's tweet.
None of the comments from my followers ever include links. Then again, my blog is so small, it's pathetic. :)

Sierra Godfrey said...

Thanks Charlie and welcome-- I see my nemesis is doing good works today...wonder what is wrong with him. :)

Roni Loren said...

Yeah, if someone emails me wanting to guest post and I've never seen their name before, it almost always turns out to be one of these spammy gimmicks. So annoying.

Though, this week I got my first pervy, inappropriate email to my site. I think this may mean I've arrived as an erotic author, lol. Ick. DELETE.

Sierra Godfrey said...

NO WAY, Roni! Gross! Tell us more ;)

Kim said...

Wonderful timing. Last night I deleted one that gave concrete praise to a specific picture my blogging partner wrote... but *eyeroll* they actually signed the email "cheap [item] [service]". I don't want to actually type the item and service because you don't want to be indexed for it. It ticks me off to remove the praise, because the image deserved it.

I use Squarespace, which unfortunately has a rather lousy spam detection algorithm--Akismet is the only aspect of Wordpress that tempts me. One thing that made a huge difference for me and cut down on my spam is going into the CSS of the site and removing the automatic headlines for "post a comment" and "click to save comment"... all that verbiage around the comment area. My stats told me that I was getting lots of page views from searches on those terms! Comment boxes are obvious, and people know what to do with them, so once I hid those terms, the spam took a huge nosedive. I still get it from time to time, but it's nowhere near as bad as it used to be.

Kim said...

whoops! I meant they "signed the comment", not the email. That makes a little more sense.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Kim, I totally agree...and I'm migrating this blog over to Wordpress soon, partly because of Akismet! How interesting that spammers look for those comment terms. Interesting! Insidious!
Thanks for the comment :)

Roni Loren said...

Sierra, It was so convoluted, I could barely understand what he was trying to convey. But it did mention something about my husband couldn't do it better. o.0

Kim, regarding Squarespace, you can install Disqus as your commenting system instead and get rid of Squarespace's native system. It's super easy and Disqus has great at spam detection plus allows threaded comments.

Kim said...

Sierra, totally insidious. I get such a thrill out of deleting them, though. I like to picture a little sweatshop where their supervisors thrash them for not having as many comments posted as they should.

Roni, I have considered Disqus and use it on a couple of other sites, but the Squarespace one has been around for a long time and I hate to lose all the ones that are on those old posts. It's a downer, for sure, but at least with that CSS hack, it happens maybe once or twice a month instead of every other night, like it used to.

Meghan Ward said...

I've been getting a TON of spam comments lately. Never did before. An annoying waste of time!

Indigo said...

Great post! It's almost condescending how someone approaches a blog and claims their content isn't enough, as if they're the holy grail you've been looking for. I had the same woman Stina did approach me about scrap booking ads. I ignored her, anyone who actually visits my blog can see I'm an ad free blog. (Hugs)Indigo

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