Tackling comment spam (for free!)

My own website and a number of other websites I have built for clients are powered by the lovely WordPress. I find WordPress can give pretty much everything a small business needs from a website, especially if all you require is a simple set of information pages. I also love the fact that using WordPress makes it feel unnatural to have a static website. By putting blogging front and centre, it leads us away from the information dump website of the past, and towards a resource one that actually communicates what we’re doing right now and how our business is evolving.

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There’s one fly in my WordPress ointment though, and that’s spam comments on blog posts. A website I manage for a small local business is overrun with comments, ranging from the tedious to the offensive. Spam referring to prescription drugs, the sex trade and racially-aggravated abuse of anyone and everyone is frequent. Thankfully the site is already set up so that comments require manual approval before they appear, so this is an admin issue rather than a reputational one – but it’s an issue all the same as the number of comments runs into the hundreds each week. I hate that my client is having to pay me just to press ‘Mark as Spam’ and ‘Apply’ repeatedly for ten minutes before I actually do any work to promote their business.

Today I’ve been researching how to tackle this, but with an exciting element added to the mix – I have zero budget! This puts Akismet, the WordPress plugin commonly considered to be spam’s number one enemy, out of my sphere. So I thought I’d record my no-cost attempts so I can track their success and report that back – I’ll try a couple of things at a time so I can track their success.

Attempt number one comprises three basic tricks which I hope will dramatically reduce the volume of comments that I have to address each week. All of these settings are accessible via Settings / Discussion. 

  1. Automatically close comments on articles older than 30 days
    It’s not just new posts – many older articles are attracting hundreds of spam comments. Anyone with a genuine interest in an older article can still use the Contacts page.
  2. Blacklist some of the worst offenders
    I’ve listed the IP addresses of some of the worst repeat spammers in the Comment Blacklist box – this means comments from those IPs will go straight to the Bin. I’m sure they’ll just switch IPs, but it’s worth a try.
  3. Blacklist some words that commonly appear in spam comments
    No one with a genuine interest in my client’s work is going to be talking about viagra (it’s just not that kind of business!) Prescription drug ads make up a good proportion of the spam comments we receive. Blocking some of these words and brand names might kill some of the spam.

Over the last month I have had 200-300 spam comments per week. Implementing these simple measures has taken me about half an hour. Let’s see whether they make any difference to that total next week!

Thank you to WPBeginner for their very useful article 12 Vital Tips and Tools to Combat Comment Spam in WordPress which I used as the starting point for all my reading. More specific to my situation was Digging into WordPress’s article You Don’t Need Any Plugins to Stop Comment Spam.

Photo credit: Robert Hruzek at https://www.flickr.com/people/rhruzek