One of the advantages of building a website with WordPress is its built-in support for visitor comments. After installing WordPress on your site, visitors can begin leaving comments on posts and pages. Search engines view these comments as fresh, new content, which can increase your site’s search ranking.
Whenever you allow visitors to comment on your site, however, you’ll inadvertently attract spam as well. Some spammers use automated software to mass-produce comments containing little more than links to other sites, while others create links manually to make them appear legitimate. So, how can you protect your WordPress site from comment spam?
How Comment Spam Affects Your Site
It’s important to note that comment spam can adversely affect your site in several ways.
• It sends visitors away from your site.
• It dilutes and lowers the quality of your content.
• Search engines will notice your site linking to other, less reputable sites, which can potentially hurt your search rankings.
• Legitimate visitors will begin to associate your site with spam, which may discourage them from returning.
• Some spam comments may contain links to malware.
Manually Approve All New Comments
The default, out-of-the-box settings for WordPress allow visitors to create live comments immediately, without seeking approval from the site’s admin. Unfortunately, this opens the doors to spammers who target these newly created sites because nothing is moderating the comments. Thankfully, this is an easy fix by merely adjusting your site’s WordPress settings.
To fix this issue, log into your site’s dashboard, and access Settings > Discussion > and tick the box next to “Comment must be manually approved.” Once enabled, all visitor comments will be placed in a queue as “pending.” You can then choose to approve the comment, trash it or mark it as spam. A comment will only appear on your site if you manually approve it.
You may notice some similarities in comment spam: they often contain words and links for pharmaceutical drugs and other nefarious products. So, try adding these words to your site’s comment blacklist by accessing Settings > Discussion > Comment Blacklist. Any comment containing a blacklisted word will be automatically be trashed.
Keep in mind, however, that legitimate comments containing blacklisted words will also be rejected. Therefore, you should only blacklist words that are used by spammers, and not real visitors, use. Look through some of your site’s comment spam to determine which keywords they typically contain.
Close Comments on Old Articles
Another helpful tip is to close comments on old articles. Spammers are more likely to leave comments on old rather than new pieces for one of two reasons:
1. The old material contains a keyword or keywords for which the spammer is trying to rank.
2. Webmasters often neglect to moderate comments on old articles.
You can prevent visitors from commenting on old articles by logging into your site and accessing Settings > Discussion > and ticking the box next to “Automatically close comments on articles older than X days.” The default time for this setting is 14 days, though you can increase or lower it.
Require Comment’s Name and Email Address
Under the Settings > Discussion area of your site, tick the option for “Comment author must fill out name and email.” This option requires visitors to enter their name and email address when leaving a comment. Because many spammers use automated software to create comments, fields such as these are often left blank.
Requiring visitors to enter their name and email address when commenting isn’t foolproof. Nonetheless, this is still an additional level of security that can help you weed out bad comments.
Limit Number of Links in Comments
The most common characteristic of spam is the presence of outbound links. You can change the number of links allowed in comments, however, by accessing Settings > Discussion > Comment Moderation. The default setting is two, meaning any comment containing at least two links will be placed in the moderation queue. Try lowering this number to one to keep spammers at bay.
Turn Off Trackbacks
Trackbacks are an entirely different type of comment spam. It creates a reciprocal link to websites linking to your site. With trackback enabled, your site will automatically create links in the visitor comments section when someone links to your site.
Some trackbacks are beneficial, but like standard visitor comments, they too are heavily abused by spammers. You can protect your site’s comments from filling with trackback spam by disabling this feature. To disable trackbacks, access Settings > Discussion > and uncheck the box next to “Allow link notifications from other blogs (pingbacks and trackbacks) on new articles.”
Of course, you can also use an anti-spam plugin to protect your site from comment spam. There are dozens of great anti-spam plugins, one of the most popular being Akismet.
According to the developer’s website, Akismet has stopped approximately 7.5 million spam comments per hour since 2005. This plugin works by running new comments submitted to your site through the Akismet data, cross-referencing them to see if they are spam. It’s a simple plugin that’s guaranteed to stop spam. The only downside is that you have to pay to use Akismet on commercial sites, either $5 per month for each (Plus) or $9 per month for each (Premium).
An alternative to Akismet is the Stop Spammers plugin, which is free to use on either personal or commercial sites. It’s arguably one of the most advanced anti-spam plugins available. Stop Spammers lives up to its namesake by running more than 20 checks for spam. The developer even admits that it “may be too aggressive for some websites.” Once installed, though, you can customize the plugin to better meet your needs.
When you allow visitors to comment on your site, it’s going to attract spam. However, that doesn’t mean you should disable this feature. Visitor comments offer real value, filling your site with new content. By following the tips listed here, you can protect your site from comment spam.
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