On Nofollow, Spam and Plugins

When the search engine giant Google announced that it would implement the rel="nofollow" directive on its crawlers, most people had hopes it would be the end of comment spam, most especially when search competitors Yahoo! and MSN expressed support for the microformat as well.

But, as the years passed even with WordPress immediately supporting the rel="nofollow" attribute since its inception, comment spam attacks on AjaLapus.com increased so suddenly. The most probable cause of the increase is when my homepage’s PageRank increased to 6 last 29th of January rendering it more visible on SERPs. From 50 spams a day to up to 200, the weight of these spammers causes my server precious bandwidth and processing, and me of my time when checking for false positives. These spammers could just be turning a blind eye on rel="nofollow" as spamming costs almost—if not absolutely—nothing to spread.

From the words of Ben Hammersley:

If the playing field is levelled by rel="nofollow", then everyone involved will be forced to try all the harder to get their links out there. The blogosphere will be hit all the harder because of the need to maximise the gains.

Besides, them spammers are not only aiming to be displayed on SERPs, they are trying to be clicked on by human visitors as well. And, even when 99% of the blogs out there use rel="nofollow", the remaining 689,000[1] blogs that doesn’t could be easily found by mere crawling of these spambots on any link they could find. Why bother to scan for the use of rel="nofollow" when you could just post away spam as easily? These spammers affiliate with porn, pill and casino advertisers that earn thousands of dollars of revenue from clicks and visits from real people, consequently receiving commission from them—providing the motivation for more spamming.

But, has this initiative from Google done its job? Many people do not think so. Aside from Ben, other people thought of it as utter failure.

As Dylan Tweney may put it:

Worse, nofollow has another, more pernicious effect, which is that it reduces the value of legitimate comments.

It would also reduce the motivation to comment on blogs thinking that there’s no way we could benefit from reacting on someone else’s blog entry since our links would be regarded as nonexistent. So much for Web 2.0 and Web interaction. I know I have experienced this a lot of times before, though it has somehow dissipated with these realizations.

Jeremy Zawodny has a better angle about this matter:

I’ve seen that first hand. The “psychology of linking” did change in a fairly obvious way after nofollow started.

….

Look. Linking is part of what makes the web work. If you’re actually concerned about every link you make being counted in some global database of site endorsements, you’re probably over-thinking just a bit.

Straight to the point. So what do I do now since WordPress has no way of deactivating the addition of rel="nofollow" on comment URIs except for hacking into the source code? I’ve looked through Andy Beard‘s Ultimate List of DoFollow Plugins and found two different plugins that suits my taste:

I currently use Kimmo’s DoFollow as it was the first one that got me interested. But, I think I need input from you guys: Which of the two do you think would be better to motivate commenters on my blog? The one in which they know their links would eventually be followable [DoFollow], or the other in which they’d have to accomplish a somehow obtrusive number of comments[2] on the whole site before their links would be followable [Link Love]?

If you’re thinking that I may be then vulnerable to spam comments gaining ranking from my site: I wouldn’t worry, since Akismet has done a good[3] job of screening spam for me. I think Dougal Campbell made me realize this.

And, I am planning to add another plugin that automatically closes comments on older entries that most spammers tend to target. I know there exists such plugins, I just can’t find them right know. Do you know any? How long should I make entries commentable? I have been receiving legitimate comments on older entries occasionally—a reason why I still haven’t decided about this kind of plugin yet. Maybe you could help me.

Oh, by the way, there also exists 11 reasons against nofollow from a German site dedicated against the use of rel="nofollow". And, more reasons from Loren Baker, which could be what you really need to understand that nofollow is not the answer.

Notes:

  1. ^ as Technorati currently tracks 68.9 million blogs
  2. ^ 10 comments as default—a somehow large number for a non-frequently updated Web log like this
  3. ^ not great, though—as there has been about 0.1% of false positives that occured

20 thoughts on “On Nofollow, Spam and Plugins

  1. [quote post="81"]So much for Web 2.0 and Web interaction.[/quote]

    That about sums up what I think about the whole rel="nofollow" issue. Spammers and bots don’t only rely on listings, but on clicks. Nofollow = pointless, if the reason why it’s there is to prevent spams. The use of it causes more harm than good (what good?) because it breaks the link chain of genuine and legitimate commenters who deserve every link love, traffic, and pagerank they should get. Moreover, since the internet is all about information technology, using the nofollow attribute prevents the free flow of information between websites. Yeow! Although I’ve expressed relief that it exists sometimes bacause of the amount of nonsensical comments I receive that aren’t worth a thing, I’m still against the use of it. I can get a PR of 6 and get rich with Blog To Profit, you know. LOL.

    [quote post="81"]It would also reduce the motivation to comment on blogs thinking that there’s no way we could benefit from reacting on someone else’s blog entry since our links would be regarded as nonexistent.[/quote]

    Well, not really true on some cases. If you’re aware of this issue, yes, it might affect your motivation to comment, so to speak, but a lot of people actually don’t know (and/or care?) about this.

    I admit, I used to tamper with the source code to remove the nofollow attribute, hehe. Link Love, in my case, would be better. ^_^ Maybe that’s why I’ve been receiving a couple of spam comments lately – about 3 spams (posted in only one day) every 3 days. Pagerank. I don’t even remember when I got my PR.

    I used to use Auto Shutoff Comments plugin to close the comments after 21 days (default), but as I’ve been closely monitoring my hits, I removed it because it scares off potential commenters in my older entries.

  2. [quote post="81"]I used to use Auto Shutoff Comments plugin to close the comments after 21 days (default), but as I’ve been closely monitoring my hits, I removed it because it scares off potential commenters in my older entries.[/quote]

    I had also considered using an auto-shutoff plugin in the past, but I have several older posts which still attract more relevant comments than spam. And again, the anti-spam measures currently in place do a good enough job that I’m able to manually police the few bogus comments that make it through very quickly.

  3. @fionski: Your comments were regarded as spam as most spammers post generic i love your site / your site looks great comments like what you just did whenever they feel like not posting porn, pills and casino messages—they still link to those kinds of Web sites, though.

    Maybe we could stick to the topic and remind ourselves next time we comment on other people’s pages to stay relevant to the posted entry. I guess all bloggers would surely appreciate that. I just accepted/recovered your comments from the spam filter to have an actual example since the entry itself is about spam.

    My spam filters are working, thank you for testing. :)

  4. I use LinkLove but I’m not sure if it works or if it’s good. I haven’t investigated it ;)
    And as a closing comments plugin I use Comment Timeout that I find very usefull! You can configure how many days and etc when you want it to close comments/trackbacks/pingbacks.

  5. Ahem. Aja, hindi ka rin ligtas, LOL!

    Fionski – He’s irked because you’re not saying anything new. His site has looked nice for years. :p

    Arvin – Please do. Then link me!!! =D

    Yay, I’m a spam!

  6. Pingback: Tech Rant
  7. Funny how you still No Follow a trackback! If you want you can delete the trackback, which didn’t work to well (Using a Postnuke module here, not a proper blog, so it probably doesn’t like your Blog’s software!)

    I agree that if all webmasters were to use plug-ins such as Askimet, BadBehavior, and Spam Karma — heck why won’t WordPress and Blogger just pre-install their own variants??? — there would be no need for such a tag. Some blogs are really benefiting by proclaiming themselves to allow comment links to be followed, simply because commenting on rival blogs — in many cases without the owners realising — is almost worthless.

  8. Only your trackback has a nofollow because it is new. You trackback to my site without even linking to my article from yours. And, you don’t even read my article that tells readers I disable placing nofollows only after 5 days because of spam—much like what you’ve posted.

  9. I don’t see any mention of it taking 5 days, all I can see that would relate is:

    The one in which they know their links would eventually be followable.

  10. Ok. I guess I’m sorry—this is a long and old post so I really can’t remember all the details. But, I still said I am using the plugin that implies eventually. Anyway, now everyone would know it’s five days.

  11. I do-follow links now on my Aussie housewife blog. After a long time procrastinating I have seen the importance of dofollow and using the “do follow” principal to help keep the Internet better connected. http://www.reallyreally.net – Take a look at my dofollow blog and feel free to comment. Thank you, Regards Bree.

  12. I never quite understood the point of the dofollow after X days. If I needed no nofollow to bring myself to post, would waiting 5 days make a difference? If I was spamming, why would I worry about the 5 day wait?

  13. Some questions I have on the issue:
    - why should people still use google if it doesn’t see the whole web?
    - I think the problem with spam is not a technical one, but social. (if people want to advertise for money, they will find ways). so the problem with spam is the computer-generated spam, which can be filtered out quite well with captchas. why did the big search engines form an unlikely alliance for a new tag?
    - from a search engine’s point of view, there is not much difference between a link with nofollow and a link without the href (only text). so what’s the additional utility of nofollow?

    I think maybe the whole nofollow issue was just one of the first attempts by search engines to use their power to introduce standards.

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