That’s not got much spam in it!

Thankfully, in recent years, email spam filters have improved at almost the same rate as spammers. I’ve been getting relatively little junk, despite the fact that my mail system gets a very great deal. And I imagine most of us humans now have a pretty good built-in filter for the ones that slip past: messages which claim to be from ‘Kate Smith’ but have an email address of don’t stay in my inbox for very long, for example.

The big effort by spammers these days has gone up one level – they’re less concerned about getting humans to follow links than they are about getting search engines to do so. Email spam doesn’t help much with your Google juice, and I gather, young reader, that the youth of today doesn’t use email much anyway? So ‘comment spam’, where people try to get a more connected web presence by posting comments on all sorts of blogs and forums which include embedded links to their site, is today’s weapon of choice.

A common example arrived this morning – I wrote an article a while back about the Sony eBook reader and somebody tried to post a comment which seems banal enough: “Nice blog adding this to my twitter now”. The punctuation is somewhat sparse, but I can imagine many would be taken in by such a comment and allow it through – not noticing that the link associated with the name (which would appear on Status-Q), would take you to a commercial site. The rogues no longer try to put compelling advertising or even keywords in the message, they just try to make it inoffensive enough that site owners will allow it to be attached to pages with a relevant theme. It’s highly unlikely a user would click it, but search engines might well follow it and so form some conceptual link between eBooks and the originator’s accursed site.

Another example a couple of days ago said something like, ‘Great post – very useful. The page doesn’t finish loading correctly in Opera 9, though’. I might have been tempted to let this through or waste time investigating, if they hadn’t also tried to post a second comment on another page claiming, in the same format, that it didn’t load correctly in IE8…

This morning’s one, though, was yet one step further removed from the spam of old. It was spam linking to a site about SEO – search engine optimisation. (This is about helping search engines find your site when people do relevant searches, in the same way that advertising is of course about helping people to find your product even when they don’t know they want it yet.) What’s more, this post wasn’t even about SEO, but about books about SEO! A comment, on someone else’s page, pretending to be about twitter, and in fact linking search engines to a page about books about how you can get people who are searching for eBooks to find your site… How many levels of indirection can you get?

Of course, the fact that the author of the post was someone named ‘SEO eBook’ was a bit of a give away…

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Isn’t this why we have nofollow? Comment spam is annoying to the reader, but it shouldn’t affect the spammer’s search ranking if the blog uses nofollow.

Can the spammers tell that their link will be tagged nofollow?

Great post, by the way. The page does finish loading correctly in Lynx 😉

Hello Quintin, love the photos and odd comments (angry Anglicans DO exist, as I’m sure you’ve noticed).
Hands up non-techie (but decidedly non-Luddite) here. My WordPress blog has been invaded by bogus URLs who are presumably trying to access email addresses. Odd thing is, I stopped permitting comments on the blog a few weeks ago. In the meantime, my ‘referrer’ rubric is getting filled up with these mostly non-existent sites/blogs (I am now getting spates of ones purporting to be blogspot bloggers: not so!). Regular visitors’ URLs are mostly not appearing during all this invasion of the bots …
I was wondering if you could possibly shed any light on this. Don’t worry if not, as I appreciate I’m being horribly cheeky. In any case, have alerted WP via Forum + Support.
BTW have just ordered Rose Melikan’s first novel in the series, and am looking forward to reading it. So best wishes to you both, anyway!

Hi Minnie –

Mmm. I wasn’t quite sure about the exact nature of the problem; is it *just* the referrer log that’s showing these? i.e. they aren’t actually posting comments? Or are they posting Trackback links? Or are they trying to access random URLs on your site?

Your blog looks most interesting, by the way! And thanks for buying a copy of the Blackstone Key… I hope it lives up to expectations!

All the best,

Hello again, Quintin. Thanks for your response – and your kind comment about my blog (much appreciated). Yup, it is just the referrer log that is showing the phantom URLs. They can’t post comments; but I have no idea if they’re posting trackback links. They might be trying to access random URLs, of course – but, again, there’s no way I can check this. They seem to be mutating and growing all the time is all I can tell. WordPress have finally twigged that quite a few of us are bothered by this phenomenon, so they’re now looking into it. It’s v irritating, as I now have a referrer log FULL of phantoms – whereas I know for a fact that legit visitors outnumber these. In effect, bad visitors are chasing out the good; bit like a Gresham’s Law of blogging …
Expectations high for ‘The Blackstone Key’, but also expect they’re likely to be met!

PS Quentin – abject apologies for continually spelling your name wrong: the shame of it (I bristle hugely whenever anyone does this to me!). Thanks for your forbearance.

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