User Generated Content: Comments

, April 30, 2013

Last week, the search world was abuzz with the idea that Mozilla had been targeted by Google. They had been smacked with a manual penalty for UGC or User Generated Content. UGC is any content that is created or uploaded to a website by the general public. Some examples are YouTube, comments, article directories, etc.

What Google had its knickers in a twist about was the fact that one page on their site had an overwhelming number of spam comments. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Web Spam team said that there was 12M of spam from 21,169 different comments. So, Google penalized that one page on Mozilla’s more than 22 million pages of content. It was really no big deal for Mozilla, but it seems that everyone loves it when one of the big daddy sites is busted. I don’t get that, but there you are.

But here’s the thing: If you have a site without that many pages (and I know you do), it could be much more damaging to be hit with a UGC penalty, even for one page. And if you’re not monitoring the comments people leave on your site or blog, you could definitely run into this issue.

Though comments are great and were pretty much the beginning of what we now know as “social media,” because they’re considered to be interactive, they can also be abused by those nasty, creepy, bloody, spam suckers.

Not all comments are good comments, and there are plenty of folks out there blogging and whatnot that have no idea about what to look for. They figure, “Wow! A comment! Yippee!” But many times they’re looking at a spam comment, and just don’t know it.

What’s a Good Comment?

A good solid comment is one in which the author actually adds to the discussion. They may ask a question that’s relevant, too, but beware. Sometimes questions can be spam, too.

I will admit to using blog comments as part of an overall SEO/Traffic generation strategy. Sure, blog comments are usually “no follow” links, meaning that spiders don’t follow them to the end destination; they just stop at the link and go no farther. Though many SEOs think that “no follow” links have zero value, I beg to differ. There are reasons why you want “no follow” links, as well as those that are “do follow,” I’m just not convinced that they offer no SEO advantage at all. But, I digress.

Good comments are written by hand, and specifically tailored to the article or post where they’re placed. Good comments are not spewed out by automatic spam software. They’re well thought-out and add value to the discussion. Spammy comment bots generally use the same text for every site they post to, and produce ridiculous comments that are pretty easy to spot. They don’t make a lot of sense, in general.

But what about other types of comments? How do you tell if they’re spammy?

Here are some things to look for when you’re reviewing comments:

  • Does the comment add to the discussion in some relevant way? “Nice post,” or any other atta girl or boy is suspect. I delete them.
  • Does the domain people are posting comments from look spammy? Are they like buycanadiandrugsonline.com or ringtonesgalore.com? Do they have any mention of Viagra, Levitra, Cialis, or other products that are generally spammed in email and throughout the Internet? Is there any mention of “free” anything?
  • If they supplied a URL, and you’re not sure if it’s spam or not, follow it. See if the site is a spam site with more ads than content. Just make sure your virus protection software is up-to-date and powerful enough to protect you from sites that might harm your computer. Sometimes spammers can be hackers, too, who only want to cause trouble. If in doubt, delete, delete, delete.

Then, you have your grey area. Some comments are questionable. They look like they might be OK, but you’re just not sure. You don’t want to delete a good comment because they help your SEO, too. The more social interaction a post or page gets, the more Google respects it.

What to do to take the worry out of approving spam

My first bit of advice is to install Akismet, if you have a WordPress site or blog. It’s still the best spam filter, in my opinion, and free for non-commercial use. But even for pro users, $5 a month per site is a really good deal.

Akismet has caught more than 92% of spam comments on my SEO blog and those are comments I could look at, see why Akismet trapped them, and then, delete them at once. Akismet doesn’t make the decision for you; it allows you to make the final decision, which I think is smart. Sometimes, it traps good content, but well… No software is perfect, and it doesn’t happen very often at all.

There are other free spam-filter options, of course, like Site Brain’s Interactive Spam Blocker, Spam Destroyer, and more. What I have found with most of the free spam plugins is that you have to train them to find the spam before it will pick spam comments up automatically. But I have to be honest. I’m just an Akismet girl. YMMV (your mileage may vary).

If you have a really great free spam blocker for any platform, let us know in the comments below, eh? (But no spammy comments, please.)

Comment Communities & Captcha Codes

The other thing you can do is to add a comment system plugin, like Disqus, CommentLuv, Facebook, or one of the other communities. Not only does this encourage comments, but because everyone has a profile there, the link it produces is to that profile, rather than a URL to a website. This also discourages spammers. At Disqus, people get a commenting score, too, which helps you to see positive or negative comments scores, too.

You can also make folks prove they’re really human with a captcha plugin. I use Captcha from BWS plugins, which adds captcha codes to your comments page or to your login and registration page, if you like, too. Lots of options, but if the commenter is a spambot, they aren’t smart enough to put 2+2 together, so it works pretty well. However, there are lots of captcha plugins available.

It’s important to moderate comments, too. Otherwise, spammers can just post 100 of the same link to your pages and you can do nothing about it, except to go in and manually delete every one, which could take a long time. It would probably be quicker to just delete the page, start a new one, and add a 301 redirect to point the old page to the new. But who needs that?

In WordPress, go to Settings/Discussion and check the box that says, “An administrator must always approve the comment.” Then, nothing hits your site, unless you OK it first.

Comments are great to receive, but they should be well-thought comments that add to the discussion. If they’re not, and you approve too many of them, Google will consider your pages to be spammy, too. You definitely don’t want that. Make it harder for spammers to get what they want, and they tend to leave you alone.

Pat Marcello is the owner and SEO manager for MagnaSites.com, a full-service digital marketing company that helps small to medium webmasters to establish or enhance their online presence.

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    shamimhasan |

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