Blogs are handy. They allow us to easily make information available to a wide variety of audiences. They also allow readers to post comments, providing a way for authors and readers to interact that isn’t possible on traditional websites. But with this useful feature comes an annoyance: spam comments.
Our blogging software, WordPress, uses a comment monitoring system called Akismet to help monitor comments made on our blogs. While this software filters out a vast percentage of spam, it isn’t perfect. As a result, we also have a system set up on most blogs to further manually moderate comments from unknown commenters.
All comments made by someone who does not have a previously approved comment are held for further moderation. If you are the blog post author or the blog editor or administrator you should receive an email whenever a comment is put into moderation, or what Akismet calls “pending.” It is the blog editor’s responsibility to routinely monitor their blog’s pending comments. Editors can view these comments by logging into their blog’s dashboard and clicking on the message “# in moderation” in the At a Glance panel.
Comment spammers are getting better at what they do, and their job is twofold: to trick comment filtering software such as Akismet into believing the comment is legitimate, and then tricking you, the blog editor, into thinking the comment is legitimate. There are several things to look for when deciding if a blog post is spam:
1) What is actually said in the comment?
Comment spammers are good at creating natural sounding text, but they aren’t quite as good at creating natural sounding text that is specific to your blog (yet). As a result, look out for comments that appear to complement or otherwise says something about your blog, but are just generic enough so that it could apply to just about any blog that exists out on the internet.
An example would be text such as “I’ve been searching for information about this topic for a long time!” – it sounds like something a person might say, but is generic enough that it could be posted anywhere. This doesn’t automatically make it spam, but generic-sounding comments should raise some red flags.
Of course, some spammers aren’t quite as good at creating natural sounding comments, and others still try to sneak links to the comments themselves, and sometimes these posts get through Akismet’s net. If it looks like spam, get rid of it (more on that below).
2) Review the comment author’s information
If a comment survives your initial review of it’s content, one needs to review the information under the Author column. This is where most spam commenters will try to sneak in links to their websites. The two most important pieces of information to review here are the comment author’s name and the comment author’s website (if entered) – which should be the first two pieces of information listed. Many spam comments don’t even try entering legitimate information into these fields and will be easy to identify. However, some may still be ambiguous as to whether they are legitimate or not.
WordPress allows a way to review websites without clicking on them. Clicking on unknown links can be dangerous – they can lead to phishing sites or to websites that can automatically install malicious software onto your computer. You should not click on a link in a comment unless you know where it is going. Instead, WordPress allows you to hover over the link and will pop up a preview of the page for you, without you needing to visit it. You can use this feature to help you evaluate whether the page being linked is legitimate or not.
If this sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. Once you get used to knowing what to look for, spam will become a lot easier to spot immediately. You will see common traits and repeated patterns between comments that will tip you off right away that something is amiss.
If you believe a comment is a spam comment, hover over the comment and click “Spam.” Akismet is a learning software, and the best way for it to learn whether a comment is a spam comment is to mark it as such.
If you believe the comment is a legitimate comment, go ahead and click “Approve.” This will unlock the comment and it will show up on your website. It will also allow the comment author to continue to post comments on your blog without further moderation (usually).
What about those hundreds or thousands of comments that are in the spam queue according to the dashboard? Those are comments Akismet has already determined to be spam or that have been manually marked as spam, so you shouldn’t have to worry about them. Akismet will clear out comments marked as spam after 30 days automatically.
How often should you check up on your comments? Ideally you should moderate comments as soon as you get an email notification for them, especially if they look legitimate. The email should include links to allow you to approve a comment or mark a comment as spam directly from the email. However, this isn’t always practical. So you should set aside some time preferably on a weekly basis to review any pending comments on your blog. This both helps keep the number of pending comments down, but also allows you to approve legitimate comments as soon as possible so that they appear on your blog.