Last year, Charles Arthur interviewed a link spammer for The Register, detailing why and how, link spammers target weblogs. The entire story is interesting in that the spammer describes how most sophisticated comment spam is actually done through proxy machines so that the spammer is not penalized by his own isp. However, the story of link spammers is no different than most other stories on the Internet. It all eventually leads to the idea that the ethics of committing such actions are very debatable, but that due to lack of consequences, the strategy continues to be very popular. This reminds me of something I read a long time ago about how locks on doors are not really for thieves, but for everyone else; meaning that a thief will break your window to get inside and rob you, while a normal person will only be tempted if you leave your doors unlocked. This is the same reasoning for spammers. If they can make money by spamming you, without being penalized, they will. In the business world marketing is everything and the temptation to view link spamming (or any type of spamming) as legitimate marketing is so great that many spammers do in fact view themselves as any number of labels, such as: affiliate, search engine optimiser, advertising consultant, or simply marketing.
The Webmaster’s Spam Problem
Regardless of what the ethics are, Comment Spam, is in the end the webmaster’s problem and no one else’s. This means that just as the link spammer invests lots of time in tweaking his arsenal of spam tools, the webmaster must invest in some counter initiatives to protect his site and content. For WordPress users, the WordPress Codex has lots of helpful information on combating comment spam, but while browsing a blog myself, I noticed a completely different strategy. The webmaster for a blog had added a warning to the bottom of her blog that warned spammers that any comment spam would result in their domain being reported to Google as a spammer.
Google actually maintains a Report Spam page, in which you are encouraged to report domains that are using deceptive practices to achieve higher search engine rankings. I am not sure if Google would accept link spammers and the domains they market as actual spam domains, but ultimately it is up to Google to decide this. I will note that Google is known to check the sites of the person who submitted the complaint as well, so Google does not take these complaints at face value.
A while back Google worked with MSNSearch and Yahoo!, to implement the nofollow attribute for links, which was suppose to prevent blog comment spam by giving no emphasis or weight to comment links, but obviously this has not totally deterred link spammers. The rel=”nofollow” attribute is implemented in WordPress 1.5 and other major blog scripts, yet I still receive many comment spam entries weekly.
It is evident that dealing with spam is going to be an ongoing task for webmasters, and that this is just one of many problems we have to deal with as the price of having a space on the Internet.