Comment spam arms race

While a lot of people are quick to institute draconian rule over their weblogs and email clients, installing any widget that zaps spam before the spammer has even conceived of it, I tend to take a much more latent approach. My Bayesian email filter and MTBlacklist give me the control I need to make sure my world isn’t taken over by garbage, but at the same time I can pay attention to the tactics and technologies that these infidels are employing. It makes me feel empowered.

While cleaning up a few spam comments today, I noticed the next effort in the spamming arms race: encampment. The purpose of comment spam, as we all know, is to harvest PageRank from weblogs that have it and aren’t paying attention. The problem with this strategy is that there is more than one contending force attempting to take over this blog ghetto. The more links that appear on a given post, the less each individual link is worth in Google’s currency.

Instead of spreading links across thousands of pages, the new technique I’ve become aware of is to take a single weblog post, obviously deserted, and use comment spam on other sites to give support. Here’s the link I received today:

Hello, I just wanted to say you have a very informative site which really made me think, thanks very much! Have a nice Day!!

best online casinos

Except for the text (online casinos), this link looks pretty innocuous. And clicking through to the site appears to be no big as well, since it’s just some other weblog. But looking at the comments on this post shows the true purpose, pushing PageRank to any number of other sites. This is a serious ghetto, kind of like the Robert Taylor homes of blog posts, with hundreds of links to other sites.

It seems to me that the most effective strategy would be finding a little corner of the web where no other spammer has found, and placing a few links to your sites there, and using this strategy to elevate the given PageRank. But that’s just from my understanding of the algorithm, and maybe these spammers have something up their sleeve that I don’t know about.

16 thoughts on “Comment spam arms race

  1. What about giving ’em the benefit of the doubt? Perhaps it’s hundreds of people without the gift of eloquent writing or linking skills who also happen to be fans of online casinos and Texas Hold ‘Em Poker? It could happen!

    Okay, it couldn’t.

    But I just wanted to say you have a very informative post which really made me think, thanks very much! 😉

    Still, isn’t the strategy sort of the online equivalent of “going around one’s ass to get to their elbow?”

  2. I *just* got hit with about five dozen of these today on my typepad site, using the exact same post text in many of the comments.

    It’s obvious the guy is using a bot, since the URL fields are populated, and my comment forms don’t have them enabled. Also, since I don’t allow any HTML on my site, they don’t offer him any benefits whatsoever and it’s just graffiti

  3. It also appears he has “camped out” on several blogs where the author let the comment spam stand (I guess the blog world equivalent of letting a vacant lot get overtaken by weeds). I see a handful of URLs pointing to blogs where he’s seeded them heavily with posts about online casinos.

  4. this is what happens when you go on vacation to thailand…

    comments before – around 190
    comments after said two week vacation – 5000+

    i’m either incredibly popular, or just one of those “vacant lot” people. probably the latter.

  5. They’re on the right track but should be even more complimentary:

    “Good evening! I just wanted to say you have a very informative site, which really made me think, thanks very much! You’re good at what you do, one of the best out there in your genre! I read your work religiously and always find it to be at the top of it’s game. Very smart!”

    OR: Spam should tell fortunes!

    “You will find great success at a future gathering.”

    If spam was more engaging, I think we could all agree that it would be a lot more tolerable.

    XOX, CP

  6. It’s a shame s/he lacked the basic cunning and awareness required to realize that spamming feeder blogs with keywords was useless: you don’t want the target blog post you spammed to gain relevance for your keywords, only PR that it can pass on with the relevance from your spamming there. Otherwise, it’s a pretty impressive idea, and had the comments on feeder blogs come from “Duncan” or “Elisabeth Rader” rather than “Finest Wired HouseOfGaming” I’d guess a much higher percentage would have survived.

  7. Given time comment spam will get a whole lot more sneaky.

    Using that particular anchor text may perhaps help him rank well in search engines such as Teoma by establishing that blog post as a topical hub pointing at a large # of authority websites.

    With Google and Yahoo! I do not think that will help all that much though.

    Eventually people are going to start running what appears to be honest blogs for months and then later 301 redirect those sites.

    By the time they get redirected the comments will be well into your archives and few people will notice how / what happened. Search engines such as Google follow 301 redirects and will credit the links to the end destination site.

    I am trying to rank well for “seo” and for example I could create a blog for a guy named “seo hamigashi” or something like that and then latter take that site down and redirect it to a site about “seo.”

    Links from unique IP ranges with even a low PageRank still are worth a good sum of money especially if you are promoting a casino or other high margin idea that would not naturally spread. They are worth a bunch more if you can get your keyword phrases in the links too.

    Blatently throwing off topic comments in hundreds or thousands of blogs is obviously bad peer to peer marketing but if you do not give a crap about brand or are making greed driven throw away sites comment spam has to be one of the cheapest forms of advertising ever created.

  8. You know… I have been kicking around the idea of just turning off the URL option on the display end of my comments if it’s the Google Spider that is hitting it.

    I would think that would solve the problem right there.
    IF browser=”googlespider” then CommentsURL=OFF

    granted, legit users won’t get any advantage from Page Rank when sites are spidered, but… boo-hoo.

    maybe MT/TypePad/Bloger/etc. could introduce this feature? (maybe it exists already?)

  9. you know, that one sentence wasn’t very clear (stupid workplace interuptions)

    what i meant to say was: “granted, legit users who leave comments with an URL to their site won’t get any advantage from Page Rank when the comments page is spidered, but… boo-hoo.”

    whew. ok.
    um, and nice site and I enjoy the information on it.

  10. I think either this blog it is linking to will be 301 redirected to a casino site soon (as outlined above) or the spammer has discovered a blog where he can get away with blog spamming and is now trying to build up it’s pagerank and/or authority status for comments he has spammed there.

  11. “But I just wanted to say you have a very informative post which really made me think, thanks very much! ;)”

    If the spammer is using a bot, check your user logs and find out what IP the bot is coming from. Then go into the administrator section of your blog and block this user. The other simple method is to make people register for your blog / forum and use a ‘CAPTA’ to stops bots from being able to register while letting human users subscribe and post. This will stop any automated spam, and any persistent human spammers can be moderated or blocked.

  12. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added”
    checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four
    e-mails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove
    people from that service? Appreciate it!

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