How to tell if it’s spam

Image of WordPress backend with spam commentWhen I recently searched for a spam plugin to replace Akismet, I found a rather amusing assortment of spam on a lot of the plugin authors’ websites. At first, I took this as an indication their spam plugins totally sucked. Then I realized it was that they don’t recognize certain types of spam when they see them. (Which probably means their plugin doesn’t recognize it either, but whatever.)

Flattery spam

A very popular type of spam in the past year heaps compliments on the article writer. I call it “flattery spam.” When real people come to your site and dig it deeply, here’s the sort of gushy thing they might say:

You rock! I just found your site last night, and I’ve been reading backwards through it ever since. I am just amazed that anyone is writing about this topic, because it’s affected me all my life. [Insert relevant story here]. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you.

A couple of things to note in the above (imaginary, but representative) comment. The comment does actually relate to the article. There’s about a 99% chance the commenter did not leave their URL along with their email and name.

Now here’s how spammers do it:

Nice discussion here. I want to join with you by giving my comments in your web page. First of all, your page and design of your website is so elegant, it is attractive. Also, in explaining your opinion and other news, frankly you are the best one. I’ve never met other person with special skills in my working environment. By using this comment page, you are great to give me opportunities for announcing some events. Secondly, I’ve checked your website in search engine result page; some of your website pages have ranked very well. Additionally, your topic is relevant with my desired one.

With a URL most certainly included. Note: none of that was relevant to the article. The flattery is way over the top. There are indications English is not the commenter’s first language, and while most non-native English speaking commenters are genuine people, it is also true that most spammers seem to struggle with English. Any one of those factors alone would not indicate spam, but when you see them all together, you can bank on it.

Personalized spam

Once in a while, spammers take the trouble to post something borderline relevant. It’ll look something like this, and let’s just imagine it’s to a post about pizza ovens that tend to explode:

Name: Betty



Comment: I, too, have run into many pizza ovens that explode. I have found that you can fix them if you use enough duct tape.

It’s almost too relevant, isn’t it? And Betty just happens to have a website on your very topic. This is actually a borderline comment – if you think your readers would appreciate it, you might want to approve it. But it is most definitely a spammy attempt to get her website noticed. Be aware and proceed at your own risk.

Politician spam

Another popular kind of spam sounds thoughtful and intelligent, but says nothing, which is why I call it “politician spam”. Example:

You may have not intended to do so, but I think you have managed to express the state of mind that a lot of people are in. The sense of wanting to help, but not knowing how or where, is something a lot of us are going through.

Hmm, did I really? Gosh, my article was about bad hosts, and I did express frustration, but it wasn’t exactly about “wanting to help” anything or anyone. And wow – I wrote an article on pizza ovens that explode, but she’s produced a whole website on this tiny niche? And is linking to it? Again: any one of these things might not be a problem, but combined – definitely spam.

The checklist

Basically, if you see two or more of the following indicators that a comment is spam, you can be sure it is:

  • URL is filled in. Most real commenters do not link. Those who do almost invariably have a very relevant article site to yours.
  • The URL is to a site that sells stuff, has crappy content and runs a lot of ads, redirects, or is in such a tight niche that it screams “Made for Adsense.”
  • ESL. Again, I want to emphasize that lots of “English as a second language” commenters are wonderful people, but this is still a good indicator when combined with other factors, because so many spammers write ESL style.
  • Implausible flattery.
  • Lack of relevance to your article (no indication they actually read it, as indeed a spambot will not have done).

1 thought on “How to tell if it’s spam”

  1. I used to be annoyed whenever I read the comments on one of my sites, but I am getting used to just deleting. However, just today i just got this one: “very nice submit, I certainly love this website, carry on it”….yikes, it still annoys me.. I agree with you and also have recognized that the spammers do not have a good use of the language or do not show any indication that they have actually read your blog or article.


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