It’s a real rush when you run a blog and someone posts a comment on it! Someone found your blog post and felt it was worthy of conversation! How cool is that? It’s even a bit more of an adrenaline rush when the comment posted isn’t from a family member, friend or business associate because this means someone found your blog all by themselves without being prompted by you to “Please visit my site and say something!”
Unfortunately, the comments blog owners get aren’t always from personal contacts or well-meaning blog visitors who have something of value to say. One of the biggest drawbacks to running a blog is dealing with what’s called “comment spam.” It’s annoying and can even be very embarrassing if some spammer comes along and posts gibberish or worse. Including links to adult sites is a popular spamming technique. Being that WordPress is so popular, comment spam can spiral out of control quickly so you need to keep a handle on it.
How I Set Up Blog Comments
When I develop a WordPress site, I set it up in a moderated state. WordPress can be set up so that each and every comment that comes in must be approved by the site owner or administrator. The site administrator is notified by email that there’s a comment pending approval. This strict moderation can be very annoying, tedious work for the site administrator if you get a lot of spam comments and goes to making a website a bit on the user unfriendly side because people don’t like to wait to view what they’ve said on your website. They wrote it — they want to see it in print immediately.
Unless the site owner requests things be done differently, I choose another way to do this. What I do is to set it up so that just the very first comment from an email address must be approved by the site administrator. Once approved, all subsequent comments from the same email address will be automatically posted to the site when the user hits the submit button and be visible with the rest of the comments on that particular blog page. Your site visitor is a happy camper and you have less work to do.
Plugins to the Rescue
There are plugins designed to help out with comment spam. They catch the incoming spam and notify you that there’s a comment. It’s then the site administrator’s job to check the comment and approve it, mark it as spam or delete it altogether. In a perfect world there would be no spammers. At the very least, spam comments would automatically hit the spam bucket in your system or be deleted. I repeat … in a perfect world.
Akismet is one such plugin and it does a really good job of catching comment spam. One of the great things about Akismet is that it works hard to make that “in a perfect world” thing happen. When Akismet is on the job 99% of comment spam does automatically hit the spam bucket! There are other spam catchers but so far I haven’t found one that works as well as Akismet. Because it’s not a free plugin, some site owners don’t want to pay their nominal monthly fee and so I then use a different plugin which does a decent job but not quite as effective as Akismet.
How the Comments Admin Area Works
Until you take steps to approve, mark a comment as spam or delete it, it remains in your site administration for you to deal with — it’s not posted on website. The email notification shows you the actual comment, the name and email address of who it’s from and if entered by the submitter, there’s a URL to the person’s own website. In the case of a spammer — the URL will be to some other website which you may or may not wish to know or visit. That’s my polite way of saying it could be a link to an adult website. Lately I’ve seen spammers using links to Google and Bing. When you see that, you know darn well the URL is not their own and it’s a given that this is a spam comment. I’m only using @google.com and @bing.com as examples! You should not for one minute think that’s the only place that spam will come from.
After you receive the email notification that you have a comment awaiting moderation, your first step is to login to your WordPress administration area. On your left side site administration navigation, locate the link that says COMMENTS (currently located below the link to PAGES) and click it. You should see a page similar to the one below with the three areas you will need to pay attention to outlined in red.
On the left is of course, the link which gets you to the comments admin area. The top red circle contains links to the spam and trash containers and a few others. Click on each one if you want to see what they hold. The lower right-most circle is what you should be looking for when you’re going to manage your comments — and looks similar to the close-up image below. You will not see these links until you hover (mouseover) over this comment link area with your mouse. The background of an unapproved comment will be a different color than those that have been approved, which especially on a website that gets a large number of comments, can help you find unapproved comments more quickly.
Reviewing & Approving Comments — or NOT
- Click the “Unapprove” link if you wish to remove a previously approved comment from your site. The “Unapprove” link will say “Approve” if the comment had never been previously approved. The link automatically changes name as needed.
- Click the “Reply” link if you wish to post a reply to the poster’s comment.
- “Quick Edit” and “Edit” gives you two different ways to edit the comment and also allows you to view and edit the submitters name, email address and the URL I spoke about earlier. This is a very important area and should be reviewed closely because it’s an important key to determining if a comment is spam or not.
- “History” “Spam” and “Trash” should be self-explanatory.
When you click one of the Edit buttons you’ll be taken to an edit screen which will include the comment. In order to help determine if the comment is spam you need to check the information above the comment which is known as the “Author area“. This area will look something like the this image. Unfortunately, determining if a comment is spam or not is not based on any rocket science. It’s something you have to review and make a judgment call on based on the whole package. You’ll note that in my image, the “names have been changed (blacked out) to protect the innocent.” You’ll just have to use your imagination a bit.
- The name field may or may not contain something that sets off your spam alarm.
- The email field may or may not either. Here is where I’ve been seeing alot of @google.com or @yahoo.com or @bing.com email addresses. Valid Google email addresses are @gmail.com, @yahoo.com may or may not be a spammer’s email address and I’ve never seen an @bing.com email address so I can’t comment on that but far as I know Bing is a search engine only and doesn’t offer email addresses. Because email addresses can be pretty much any combination of letters and numbers, this can be a tough field to judge and you should not make your “spam or not spam” determination on this field alone. If the submitter is familiar to you or you’ve judged this comment to not be spam you can click the “send email” link if you wish to send this person an email. It’s always nice (and proper etiquette) to thank people for their post and that personal touch can help bring them back to your site.
- he URL field may or may not have an entry. This is another one of those grey areas that you have to use your best good judgment on. In this example it’s a dead giveaway because Yahoo is a world-known website and would not belong to anyone you know and certainly would not be the domain of a spammer. Unless you are familiar with a website entered in this field, or if after reviewing the entire comment section you feel it’s a safe site — never ever click the “visit site” link because you could wind up somewhere which might make you blush, hit a phishing site, a site that will give your computer a virus or malware etc … need I say more? Oh, you may see a link that goes something like this: http://www.enteryourwebsite.com in the URL field. What this means is that the person did not enter a website URL. When I see that I delete it from the field because there is no website to click over to therefore, it’s not needed and just confuses your site visitors when they try to click on it in a live post.
- The submitters comment(s) will be in the box below the Author area. I see a lot of spam where the words are misspelled – but that should not be your sole determining factor — remember some very nice upstanding people have trouble spelling. Spammers tend to leave very short comments and most often they have nothing whatsoever to do with the post you wrote even though they may make sense. Quite often their comments will praise your website to the hilt – very fakey sounding. Not that your website isn’t great, but spammers tend to overdo. They many times will include links – which is fairly close to a dead giveaway but sometimes good people leave a link or two as well. As a safeguard, the moderation feature in WordPress will hold a comment in moderation if the comment contains more than two links in a blog comment.
It probably goes without saying but just in case — when you decide if you want to post (approve) the comment or toss it in the spam bucket, just click the associated link. You can also click the trash link, however if you use the spam link this helps the plugin makers make their plugins better by improving their spam filtering.
Delete the SPAM Comments
Another important function you should perform when dealing with spam comments is to delete them. Look to the top section of your Comments screen and you’ll see links entitled All, Pending, Approved, Spam and Trash. Click the Spam link and when that screen displays you’ll see a button underneath these links entitled Empty Spam. Clicking this button will delete all spam comments from your system that have been tossed in there by your anti-spam plugin or manually by you.This action does not delete spam that you may have (mistakenly) approved as a valid comment and is now visible on your website. Those you will have to manually delete — one by one by one.
I suggest not letting the number of spam comments grow to large before you delete them. I can’t be absolutely positive, but a large collection of spam comments in here may very well slow down your website. Spam comments that have made their way to display on your site probably contain links to other websites that you may be very embarrassed to have your site visitors click & visit. These links may also contain nasty malware which could infect both your site visitor’s and your own computers. For these and other reasons, It’s my opinion that one needs to be vigilant in dealing with spam. Make it a point to log in to your website on a regular basis and clean things up on a weekly basis.
Use Your Best Judgment When Approving Blog Comments
That’s really about all I can tell you about approving comments vs. approving spam. Do not base your decision on just one of the fields you review. It should be a combination of the whole picture. If you wind up approving a spam comment what will happen (at least on the sites I develop because of the way I set the moderation) is that the now fully approved spammer then has free reign over your site and could hit it hard lambasting you with hundreds of comments, injecting nasty things in your website and making for a lot of clean-up work. Moderating your comments should not be done when you’re tired or for any other reason just not up to it. You need to be on your toes and able to concentrate. Take your time, review and re-review before you click “Approve”. If you aren’t sure — leave it for awhile and come back to it later.