A Critique of Comment Spam

Since the advent of blogging software like Drupal, Joomla, Movable Type, WordPress, and others, comment spam has invaded tens of thousands of blogs, polluting the Web. Sadly, even with filtering software, keeping my blog spam-free is a daily effort.

Most of the comment spam follows just a few set formulas. It’s rare to find anything that feels like it was in any way freshly written — and I’ve never seen anything that appeared to be both freshly written and on-topic for the post the comment is attached to.

The most common formula is like this:

{Some greeting, either friendly or flattering}, I {found/discovered} your web site {via some search engine or fictitious link from another blog}. {Some false flattery about the overall site or the page/post, but _not_ mentioning anything specificly from the blog or post.} I have {favorited/bookmarked/subscribed to your RSS}.

That formula repeats, sometimes with the exact same words, but with a different name, Web address, and e-mail for the commenter. It’s the Web address that they are hoping to get to show up in the comment. I’ve toyed with the notion of making Web addresses not hyperlinked. That way, any of my real visitors who want to follow them would have to copy-and-paste them, something they might think twice about doing.

The other notable feature of comment spam is just how wretchedly bad the writing is. Case, spelling, grammar, punctuation, and even any semblance of logic fall apart. They are clearly not written by native English speakers. Many of them come from domains or IP addresses in Russia, which is enough to make a blogger really wish the former Soviet Union was still a closed-off society behind an iron curtain with no Internet connection.

“How lengthy have you ever been blogging for? you made blogging glance easy. The full look of your web site is fantastic, as neatly as the content!”

“You know therefore considerably with regards to this matter, produced me for my part imagine it from a lot of varied angles. Its like men and women aren’t interested until it’s one thing to do with Woman gaga! Your personal stuffs great. At all times maintain it up!”

The above probably made more sense in the writer’s native language, but became muddled when they ran it through Google Translate. They just weren’t smart enough to get the translation of Lady Gaga and wound up with Woman gaga, instead. Though I must say, I like the provocative sounding “At all times maintain it up!” Another funny one encouraged me to “Keep up the great paintings!” I don’t paint and never see myself taking it up as a hobby.

As an example of the absolute worst writing, I challenge anyone to read this in a way that makes sense and sounds natural:

“I loved as much as you will obtain performed right here. The caricature is tasteful, your authored material stylish. however, you command get got an shakiness over that you would like be handing over the following. in poor health without a doubt come more formerly once more as exactly the same just about a lot often inside case you protect this hike.”

A few spam comments sound like they were scraped together from pieces of real comments from other sites. They often begin and end mid-sentence and make references to topics that have nothing at all to do with the topic of my post. The following was a “comment” on my review of Skyfall, but appears to be cribbed together from comments about children watching TV:

“before, the longer my kids go wiuhtot tv, the more creative they get together.*This is random, but one thing that made making the decrease easier is that I have a crazy one year old who has to be watched anyways and wouldn’t watch tv even if I showed it to her. I figure if the most time consuming child doesn’t get tv, then it doesn’t really help that much if the other kids are watching tv when I am trying to get stuff done.Rachel,I hear that you are having a baby soon!! You are totally fine wiuhtot Seamus in a bunch of activities. He is too busy counting with his mama at home In regards to book Rachel, I was and partially am totally with you. I love children’ books. I have a ridiculous”

Or are frazzled moms using their kids’ ADHD medicines a bit too much and actually writing like that in response to randomly chosen blog posts?

There is a whole other class of comments that get inquisitive about the blogging platform itself, again not mentioning anything to do with the content.

“Additionally your site rather a lot up fast! What web host are you the usage of? Can I get your associate hyperlink on your host? I desire my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol”

“Is that this a paid theme or did you modify it your self?”

“Thanks so much and I’m looking ahead to touch you. Will you kindly drop me a e-mail?”

Who my Web host is, what blogging software I use, and what the design of my site looks like are not the subject of my blog or any of its posts. And I have an e-mail contact form here so that I do not have to give my personal e-mail address and get even more spam than I already do. I believe these assholes are really just fishing for info they think might help them hack the site.

I was fascinated by all the ambiguity and doublespeak in the following comment:

“I do not even know the way I ended up right here, but I believed this post was once good. I do not understand who you might be but certainly you’re going to a well-known blogger if you happen to aren’t already.”

Your browser history will help remind you how you got here — if you have half a brain to use it. So, wait, the post was once good, but is not now? And you don’t know who I am, but you think I might become a famous blogger, unless of course I already am? Well, I don’t know if you are a human, animal, vegetable, or mineral, but I am sure you will be one, if you aren’t already. You will certainly be dead someday, unless, I hope, you already are.

Some comment spam just cuts right to the point. The person’s name is the name of whatever business or product needs promoting, the Web address field provides the address, and the comment text field is just one or two words, usually repeating the business or product name, sometimes with a hyperlink. In just the last week, I’ve seen attempts to promote acai berry weight loss, African mango, sex toys, lottery winning schemes, gambling sites, and muscle building formulas.

My all time favorite comment spam was this one:

“Jesus Christ theres plenty of spammy comments on this web page. Have you ever thought about attempting to remove them or putting in a tool?”

Bear in mind that was a comment on a post that had no other comments, at all. Moreover, site-wide, on all the posts I’ve made, there are only a few more than 20 comments. And that is because I do, indeed, have several comment-spam stopping tools and I spend at least 10 minutes each day reviewing and cleaning out the comments that get flagged as spam.

There are times when I wonder whether the sites linked to even know that they are being promoted via comment spam. I suspect what is happening is that unwitting small businesses are paying supposed “SEO experts” to improve their search engine rankings, only to have the “SEO expert” just run an automated script that shoots comment spam out to thousands of blogs. The small businesses are getting ripped off. They may see a very brief uptick in traffic and search engine ranking, but all the major search engines have clued into this gimmick and they will downgrade or even blacklist a site that uses comment spam to promote itself.

Look, at the end of the day, I would love to see my blog get two things:

  1. Genuine comments, on-topic for the post they are attached to. I’m seeing traffic every month — and not all of it is search engine spiders and spambots. Sadly, though, I am not seeing enough real comments.
  2. Advertising, paid advertising. I do have Google AdSense space on the right-side of the site. If you really want to have advertising for your site show up there, I am sure you can look me up in Google’s advertising program and buy some advertising time on my site. I’d greatly appreciate it.
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  5. Christian Lee Says:

    Well, it took over a week (unusually long), but they finally posted spam comments on my post about spam comments. I’ve decided to let the four above through — stripped of their links, of course — so that I can point out just how well they conform to what I wrote.

    Acai? Check, that’s on the frequent spam list.. However, it is notable that they go after my spelling. I won’t be foolish enough to say there are no spelling errors here, but my posts do go through several editing and revision cycles. If anything has slipped through, please use my Contact form and I will promptly correct it.

    Comments 2, 3, and 4 are not native English speakers. Nor, for that matter, do they really say _anything_ meaningful. It’s mostly flattering words. It’s potatoes, without any meat.

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  9. Christian Lee Says:

    Alright, I let this one pass through after editing out the hyperlink because I noticed it picked up on my use of {curly braces} to show where spam messages might contain variables. And I think it is funny that they even went so far as to acknowledge that their link was to “some totally unrelated websites.” Nice try, but, no that’s still spam and you can go bugger off.

  10. Christian Lee Says:

    This “Google” one I don’t understand. I’ve seen it a few times. They use Google’s real domain name, but follow it with some gibberish that leads to Google’s 404 File Not Found page. I’ve often wondered if these are mere tests — to see if my blog allows them through before coming back to post some real spam.

  11. Christian Lee Says:

    Endless Backlinker, I am not, by even the remotest stretch of anyone’s imagination, your “good friend.” I would like to declare that I hold you extreme contempt. I would like to notice far fewer people like you.

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    The 2 redacted links were, supposedly, for plugins called SEO Jacking and something-er-other SEO Automation. Neither of them are listed among the plugins on WordPress.org. That means they are not being reviewed in a free and open forum. If a plugin is not listed at WordPress.org, I wouldn’t trust it for anything. Moreover, if you Google the phrase “I like your blog. One thing what I noticed, it was very hard to find it from google”, you will get a list of over 100,000 results. So, how much does this person really like my blog compared to those 100,000+ others? Moreover, note that they do not identify what search term they used to find my site. On top of that, they don’t identify even one their blogs. Finally, the message just trails off instead of completing the word “help.” SEO Jack off!

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  16. Christian Lee Says:

    Right, because people come to my blog looking for sex toys. Well, this is the last spam comment I am letting through. I’ve had my fun with this, but it’s time to move onto other blog postings. I will add just one last thing … One of my other posts recieved the comment: “You might consider googling symptoms of bipolar disorder.” I’ve considered that, but I am of two minds about it. I feel up and down about such a perceptive suggestion. :-P

  17. roger pelser Says:

    thank you, very good insight on anti-spammer algorithms but what about the relgious comments being marked? Are these people spamming repentence?
    Isn’t there a filter or a flag that can mark spambots for removal or censor? Keep on Blogging!

  18. Christian Lee Says:

    Roger, There are several anti-spam plugins for each of the various blogging platforms. Some work by tossing suspected spam into a queue, to await review. On my worst days, that queue has been so deep that I hit Delete All — without knowing whether any of them were genuine comments.

    Others work by blocking known spammer IP addresses, etc. But given that spammers can use a rotation of IP addresses or proxy through hacked computers, that’s not foolproof, either. Even legit companies can have their IP range land on the Spamhaus blocked list for various reasons.

    Sadly, it just seems to come with the territory. I just wish that someone would heed my request at the end of the post and _buy_ some Google advertising on my site.

    Having to purge spam actually cuts into my writing time — which contributes to why I have had a hard time keeping up my goal of posting every Sunday night. Oh well…