Why am I getting so much spam all of a sudden?
If you’ve got a WordPress website, chances are you’ve asked yourself this very question. As fantastic as WordPress is, spam is often a dark cloud that looms over it. And it’s not just WordPress comment spam, we’re talking spam in your email, your forums, and your contact forms as well.
While WordPress comment spam is almost always instantly recognizable, e.g. direct links to an unrelated product or website, sometimes it’s a little less obvious, with a slightly more personalized message: “Great article! Now check out my website ‘blah blah’…”
Not only is it personally irritating, spam is also harmful to your website, leaving you with unforeseen consequences if left unchecked. Whether that’s driving users away from your comment section or damaging your SEO ranking, it’s time to make stopping spammers your newfound mission.
But how? That’s why we’re here, to take a closer look at the insidious world of spam, investigating how it can be managed and prevented through the use of built-in features and free add-ons that help control and combat spam, like Akismet.
The 3 Types of Spam
No, we’re not talking edible spam, we’re talking virtual spam. Although annoying, it’s relatively simple to identify which type it is:
Generally speaking, spambots are computer programs that carry out repetitive tasks with zero human involvement necessary. (They are easy for the human eye to spot, though.) When it comes to your WordPress website, spambots are responsible for posting those automatic comments that flood with abandon.
- Trackbacks & Pingbacks
Similar to email spam, blog spam has its own goal – to acquire backlinks. Although a high-quality backlink is deemed important by Google as a ranking signal, it’s more or less defined as a link from one website to another. Trackbacks and pingbacks, however, defeat the altruistic purpose of backlinks, so links get published on your website that point back to websites that are often irrelevant and not worth clicking on.
- Manual Commenting
As the name suggests, this is when actual people are hired to post comments on your website. While the content may be laughable, this can really do a number on your website. A manual comment almost always includes a link that goes, you guessed it! Nowhere great.
Nowadays, spam has gotten more sophisticated, hiding links in single letters or punctuation, hoping it’ll go unnoticed. Or it might take shape as a personalized compliment, only to link to a website you’ve never heard of. Whatever the type, each one is unwanted and unhelpful.
How Does It Affect Your Website?
Speaking of problems, if left unchecked, spam can create all sorts of negative consequences for your website. Not only does it provide a poor user experience for your visitors, WordPress comment spam in particular can:
- Make you rank lower on Google. Google targets not only bad links on your website but also ones located in your comment section.
- Put your visitors’ safety at risk. The links found in spam comments can often lead to malicious websites so if your website visitor clicks on one of those links, they might be in trouble.
- Slow your website and loading times. It probably comes as no surprise but too many comments can severely overload your WordPress database and majorly slow down your website. This can cause a drop-off in website traffic and make any potential visitor wary of trusting your website.
Can I Stop It?
We hate to break it to you but comment spam is unavoidable. But, you can do something called “moderate” your comments by using WordPress’ handy built-in tools.
How? First make sure you’ve turned on comment moderation. This means you’re essentially approving any and all comments before they get posted to your website. Don’t have the time to review every single comment? We don’t blame you. That’s why you can set some boundaries in your WordPress dashboard (Settings > Discussion) based on several factors, such as:
- Blacklist commenters if they’ve previously posted spam
- Disable trackbacks and pingbacks (see above)
- Flag a comment as spam based on the number of links it contains
- Only allow users that are registered to post a comment
Also consider using CAPTCHA on your WordPress forms, which stops spambots in their tracks. CAPTCHA refers to short visual puzzles that only humans can solve, so make sure to take advantage of that. We recommend the plugins reCaptcha and Advanced noCaptcha. Both let you add CAPTCHA anywhere you like on your website, whether that’s the comment section or contact forms.
Use an Anti-Spam Plugin Like Akismet
Don’t forget that the secret weapon in your anti-spam arsenal is an anti-spam plugin. Most are free and open-source, meaning you can add them to your WordPress website with ease.
Our favorite? Akismet, the default plugin that comes installed on WordPress blogs and is free to use if you’re a personal blogger. (Commercial monthly subscriptions start at just $5.00/month while enterprise subscriptions start at $50.00/month.)
Designed to filter out comment and trackback spam for you, Akismet lets you focus on more important things such as writing awesome content and growing your business. Since 2005, Akismet has blocked billions of spam comments, which is pretty impressive for a free plugin.
By catching spam comments before they land in your moderation queue, you’re able to better focus your energy on comments that are being posted by real users, not fake ones. Sure, Akismet has been criticized for having “false-positives,” meaning that some legitimate comments get flagged as spam, but this is a small price to pay given it keeps a huge amount of spam at bay.
What else does Akismet do? Let us count the ways:
- Blocks comment and trackback spam
- Checks all comments automatically
- Lets you view comment history, which shows which comments were blocked
- Includes a “Discard” setting that automatically blocks the worst spam
Getting spammed is, truth be told, part of having a WordPress website.
However, if you set some boundaries and take advantage of plugins like Akismet, spam becomes more of an occasional nuisance, rather than an everyday homewrecker.
Keep in mind that your comment section is a fantastic way to build engagement with your website’s readers so think carefully before you decide to remove it entirely. That’s why enabling comment moderation, updating your blacklist to block common spam keywords, requiring visitors to register before commenting, and turning on CAPTCHA will all help stop spam in its tracks.
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