Recently, I’ve found myself giving the same advice to several of my clients, many of whom are still getting into the swing of blogging. All too often, they’re uncertain about whether or not to mark a comment as spam. Caught between the desire to avoid spam but foster legitimate conversation, they come to me, and these are the seven signals I tell them to look out for:
- Links to Spammy Sites. The biggest red flag should always be links provided by the commenter. Visit them and you can usually figure out pretty quickly if the commenter is working an angle. I’ve marked well-thought-out, on-topic comments as spam before because they linked to sites I didn’t care to be associated with.
- Lots of Links. There are very few situations I’ve ever seen in which a comment with more than two or three links isn’t spam. If the comment is chock full of them, or, worse, is nothing but a list of links, you should hear alarm bells ringing.
- Overuse of Keywords. Perhaps one of the most obvious cues is when a comment seems like little more than a list of keywords. This may be blatant, or the keywords may be hidden within the comment, at the end of the comment, or in the commenter’s name. This sort of spam is easy to catch, but you have to be willing to give your comments more than a cursory glance.
- Off-topic. While not a clear signal in and of itself, the topic of a comment can nevertheless be an important clue. Ask yourself what the commenter is talking about. Does it flow from the article in a natural way, or is it marginally related at best? Does it unambiguously mention anything from the article? The more it strays from the topic at hand, the more likely it’s copied-and-pasted junk.
- Complimentary. Make no mistake; spammers will play to your ego if they think it will get their comments posted. Beware comments that pay too much respect to your work. They may just be buttering you up to compromise your better judgment.
- Irregular Size. Comments vary in length, but extremely short or long comments beg greater scrutiny.
- Poor Grammar. This isn’t to say that ordinary commenters don’t have atrocious grammar some of the time. However, it’s been my experience that most spammers have terrible grammar, even to the point of being nonsensical. Whether this is because English isn’t their native language, the comment is computer-generated, or some other reason, I couldn’t say. Whatever the case, it’s something to keep an eye out for.
Remember; a comment may have one or more of these features and still be perfectly legitimate. When in doubt, ask yourself this: What value does this comment provide to my readers? If you find yourself on the low or negative end of the spectrum, toss the comment without a second thought.