In the past month three different website administrators have asked us whether or not they should remove the ability to leave a comment on their blog posts.

The reason they all cited was that the time it takes to review and delete irrelevant comments had increased substantially. The reason for this was that they were being inundated with spam.

What is a spam comment?

A spam comment is generally posted by automated scripts or software although sometimes you may come across manually submitted spam. Your typical spam comment will:

Why do people leave comment spam?

People who leave spam comments are doing this to generate in-bound links that can be followed by search engines and people. In effect they are implementing a low-cost and low-value search engine optimisation strategy.

How to combat spam on your WordPress website?

If you are noticing a substantial increase in the amount of spam you are receiving please check and consider the following:

1. Ensure Akismet or the plug-in of your choice is activated and up-to-date

This plug-in uses Akismet’s web service to identify and block comment and trackback spam. Go to Admin>Plug-ins>Active. If Akismet is not activated, activate it now. If Akismet is not up-to-date, update it now.

If you are a Drupal user then we’d highly recommend using the Anti-Spam and/or Mollom contributed modules.

2. Block comments on older posts

You should consider preventing comments on older posts. You can automatically set how long to allow comments on posts by going to Settings>Discussion and checking the “Automatically close comments on articles older than” and entering the number of days in the text box. This blog, which is also powered by WordPress, is set to 30 days.

For Drupal you can use Comment Lockdown but be sure to test this on a development website as you may well run into unforeseen issues.

3. Install Recaptcha

In general this is not something we recommend but it certainly is effective! In our opinion this should only be considered in a worst-case scenario. This is because even though you will be preventing scripts and software submitting spam you will also be making it harder for people to leave genuine comments. Therefore, this may well have a negative impact on the amount and quality of comments submitted.

To find and install Recaptcha got to Settings>Plug-ins>Add New and enter “Recaptcha” in the search field and follow the usual steps you take to install plug-ins.

4. Using a third-party solution

You can always use third-party solutions such as Disqus. The benefits of this are that you will be able to leverage their expertise at fighting spam whilst reducing the size of your database. You may also see an increase in the number of comments submitted as users can easily submit comments using their Facebook, Twitter and OpenID profiles. We highly recommend Disqus for high traffic websites that receive a lot of spam. Using Disqus is highly likely to save you time and allow you to focus on more beneficial activities that moderating and deleting spam.

To learn more about Disqus by visiting their website or using the comment features on websites such as CNN, TechCrunch or ReadWriteWeb.

To find and install Disqus go to Settings>Plug-ins>Add New and enter “Disqus” in the search field and follow the usual steps you take to install plug-ins.

Closing thoughts

There is no doubt that spam is annoying and moderating it can be time consuming. That said, we’d always encourage people to trial solutions before removing the option for users to leave comments.

There are numerous other steps you can take to reduce the amount of time you have to spend moderating comments. We’ve detailed a few of the quicker one’s you can implement today to drastically reduce the amount of spam you receive. In our experience taking steps 1 & 2 should be enough to get things back under control but failing that you should trial options 3 & 4.

We’ve concentrated on WordPress because all three of our requests for help originated from WordPress users. If you’re struggling with spam on a different content management system (CMS) then you should still consider the steps highlighted above. When possible we’d also highly recommend the use of contributed software as opposed to developing custom plug-ins or modules.

For specific recommendations on contributed software relevant to your content management system feel free to contact us detailing the CMS you use.

François Roshdy

François is director of user experience at Border Crossing UX. He specialises in helping clients continuously improve the experiences they deliver.