Harder Facts About Comment Spam

Last last night I found out from my friend Shaun who runs a UK SEO Company that Google are now advising about comment spam and reinclusion requests.

Here is the official proclamation of best practice in the eyes of Google

I should note that Google classifies their post as “Webmaster Level: Beginner”

I am classifying this post as “Webmaster Level: Here We Go Again”

1. It is effectively a case of “Do As We Say, Not As We Do”

You see, every time I leave a comment on the Google Webmaster blog (something I avoid doing too often), I get pummelled with email spam.

The Impact of User Feedback, Part 1
(edit: added a smaller image without thumbnail that doesn’t use WordPress gallery)

If you are using any kind of subscribe to comments feature it can absolutely kill your email delivery rates if you let through spam like this, especially if you don’t have effective blacklist control and a feedback loop.
Somehow Gmail always lets through spam like this, but blocks legitimate comment threads I have subscribed to. True I have subscribed to the comments on the Google Webmaster blog because I want to read legitimate comments, but I don’t want the comment spam in my email box.

Maile Ohye did eventually close the comments on the original blog post, but they almost certainly need better controls.

2. What can I do to avoid spam on my site?

Whilst Google warn about cleaning up bad comments you might have left elsewhere, they don’t give a hint that linking to dodgy places, maybe even using nofollow links could have a negative impact on search results.

Maybe they should have taken this opportunity to warn webmasters about Page Level Penalties for Comment Spam

At least they didn’t pimp Recaptcha which they bought not too long ago

Don’t misunderstand this, I think it is a terrible user experience to have to wade through poor quality comments trying to pick out the gems – one of the reasons I take a harsh line on comment spam is because I respect my readers. I want my comments area to be worth reading.

3. What Happened to Google’s Old Legal Slant?

At the height of the paid links crackdown 2 years ago, there were lots of warnings about the potential problems with disclosure and paid links – in August 2007 I even suggested that the FTC should take a look at Matt’s blog shilling for Google
Matt now has a disclosure policy, but he doesn’t practice what he preached for so long, very clear in post disclosure which is probably what the FTC would hope for.
Here is an example, his most recent post on Google OS does not state he is an employee of Google within the content.

Shill comments from a legal perspective are probably just as bad as shill blog posts

But I am not a lawyer, and Google employs 100s

In many ways I support the actions Lord Matt has taken on recent comment spam, contacting the supposed company who left comment spam, Rapunzel Rapunzel to see if they were actually aware of the dangerous SEO strategy employed by their contracted SEO company, or maybe a marketing employee.

BTW – Jim Edwards interviewed Mr. Rich Cleland, Assistant Deputy covering topics such as FTC, Disclosure, Blogging, Testimonials etc
Whilst there are tons of kits on sale prepared by laywers, I would strongly recommend this as a first base of call on anything to do with the new FTC advisory on disclosure.

4. Similarities Between Paid Links & Comment Spam

Almost none other than their effect on Google rankings and the vehemence with which service providers defend them, such as when I changed my comments policy, or wrote about Wide Circles and Wide Circles Comment Spam.

  • Comment spam generally leads to poor quality sites – paid links generally lead to a site with commercial focus, but it would be rare for someone to invest lots of money in paid links trying to rank a malware site.
  • Paid links are generally vetted – comment spam generally isn’t
  • Paid links from a human perspective historically were often more disclosed than comment spam

What will possibly become the biggest similarity going forward is the way Google punish site owners who host comment spam, just like they punish people who host paid links. They can’t easily punish sites that are gaining links in this way if they have an otherwise normal link profile, because ultimately the comments could just be a competitor trying their hand at “Google Whacking”.

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Comments

  1. says

    This finally prompted me to write a post I’d had planned for some time on using backtype to spot comment spam.

    Backtype lets you see comments on blogs that link to a specific URL. So if you’re not sure about a comment, throw the URL it links to into backtype and you can see other comments that link to that URL.

    If the comments are all the same, or they’re always left by people with the same surname (that happens to be a keyword on closer inspection) or, in one case I looked at, if they have left one comment a while back discussing their blog spamming policy – you can happily delete them.

    (Sorry if this is method is widely known – I couldn’t see it discussed anywhere when I searched …)

    • says

      That sounds like a useful method, I will have to have a delve in, though there are privacy issues with that, similar to Disqus which I still haven’t discussed in public.

  2. says

    The Edwards/Cleland Q&Q was quiet interesting. What I do not understand is this….. according to the new FTC and current similar regulations in UK are the blog owners responsible for “shill comments”? If so how will FTC treat websites like Alexa? I am pointing our Alexa because on a few occasions they have removed legitimate negative review while leaving shill reviews untouched.

    FTC had put together six videos responses to what I think where the most frequent comments and concerns:
    http://ftc.gov/multimedia/video/business/endorsement-guides.shtm

    Notice that number 5 is an attempt to answer the question: “Is the FTC planing to sue bloggers?”- of course they say it is not their “intention”, yet they do not say no. ;)

    If FTC wants to go after small blogger like myself they will do great injustice is they do not look into and make at least some attempts to enforce these new rules with bigger players like Alexa or even Google.

    In retrospective I understand better now why you were such a strong advocate for bloggers/publishers disclosure.

    • says

      Certainly a product or service owner seems to have some obligations to train anyone who might be in some way affiliated, and to monitor the blogosphere.

      I am not sure where this fits in with site owners – if a site is intended to be a consumer reviews site I owuld expect some kind of unbiased moderation, but I am not sure how that should be handled in extreme cases.

  3. says

    I’m slightly confused here.

    Are you saying that Google will punish me if people do not leave decent comments on my blog?

    I like to think I’m pretty good at digging out spam comments, even ones designed to try and fool me with comments like “great site”, “great information, thanks!”

    • says

      Google used to use similar language about trust with paid links

      If your comments are full of very obvious spam, Google can certain see that, maybe also switch your site to safe search only if they feel things are not under control, even if you have nofollowed links.
      They can tell if you are linking to sites hosting malware, even with nofollow.

      Here is a fun topic…

      Are you Dean Saliba still posting comments pointing to a blog network you supposedly sold to “Steven Richardson?”
      or
      Are you “Steven Richardson” pretending to still be Dean?

      Using the Backtype trick it is clear that Dean Saliba was the owner of the linked domain, sold at the beginning of November.

  4. says

    I too have often post on Google Webmaster and receive spam. But as well as the previous comment might be a little clearer? I do not understand how google can penalize the owner of a blog.
    Thanks

  5. Christina says

    Thanks for sharing the links…actually I got a bit confused but when I read the links you provided..well I guess, it’s good news. Most of the time I read blogs to learn some, earn some and to share some, and if they are going to penalize those that allow spammy comments posted on their site, the better. It’s more of respecting your readers just like you said.

  6. Darrin says

    What really bothers me the most is how Google dictates so much of the online world. I really have come to dislike them and having to work around them. Although I may agree with some of the things you referenced from Google I still feel like they have way too much control.

    • says

      This is the blog you linked to
      http://www.hearing-aid-comparisons.com

      You are running an Amazon thin affiliate blog with slightly reworded descriptions and scraped comments for a product range that is clearly B2C without any form of clear disclosure about your material connection/affiliate status.

      There isn’t really much added value or transparency is there?

  7. says

    This is definitely alarming to think that an innocent blogger could get penalized by Google for housing comment spam. Good thing is that I’ve noticed something like paid commentators using several keywords (back in the days when I was still using KeywordLuv) while pointing to the same site. I immediately deleted and unlink some of them, created and strictly implemented a comment policy up to know.

    One thing I’ve noticed though, there was one keyword (actually a website URL but not hyperlinked) left in the comments in one of my posts that appears on Google Webmasters tools happened to appear on the searches and this only means that comments are now being indexed by Google too.

    Having said that, it tries to imply that bloggers/webmasters must be vigilant in safeguarding their sites otherwise ignorance is not an excuse.

  8. says

    Very interesting! I would have to agree that there shouldn’t be a penalty made to the site/blog owner because of the comments on their blog. It’s all part of SEO and many search marketing experts use the SEO tactic of blog comments to drive traffic. However, if the comment is relevant to the blog/article, then what will really be considered in this change?

    • says

      There should be a penalty, not sure who you are agreeing with – if you have comments you should respect your users enough to moderate them if there are links.

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