Dealing With Spam Bots And Referrers

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I struggled with lots of things while bringing up this blog throughout 2014. My biggest issue was spam, which appeared as useless referrals and user registrations. I’d like to share my experience in this post to hopefully help new bloggers who are also dealing with the same issues.

User Registrations By Spam Bots

Being new to blogging in early 2014, I wasn’t familiar with the issue of spam and how it messes up websites. I was too naïve at the time and got excited when I saw my site’s first user registration. However, I got suspicious of the username (abcde29) and e-mail address (greco2015@yandex.com) and ran a search of the e-mail on google. My suspicion was right–the user wasn’t legit. In fact, it was flagged as a spam bot in several databases, including one maintained by CleanTalk.org.

From that point onwards, I started seeing a few more spam bots registering as users, which I ignored because they were so few and I didn’t have the time to do anything about them. I also wasn’t updating the website that much, as I had to put in some serious extra time doing the day job, which became a day-and-night-and-weekend job. And when my illness was added to the mix, the entire website development came to a standstill.

Spammed


CleanTalk spam search

How to run a manual spam search on CleanTalk.org

Things at work cleared up a little towards the end of March 2014 and I started posting my Toon Boom Studio Demo series on the website. That’s when the spam bot activities really picked up. By the middle of 2014, I saw dozens of spam bot registrations per week. I manually verified the registrations by looking up the e-mail addresses online. Services like CleanTalk, EmailLog, BotScout, AddressSearch, and Spam-IP flagged them as spam and I would remove them manually. It became a major time sink (it’s crazy, but I track my time in great detail).

Chart - My Spam Removal Effort

I finally signed up with the CleanTalk spam protection service in October and have been seeing great results. It costs USD8 per year per site (I am NOT an affiliate of CleanTalk). To date, the service has blocked 133 spam attacks (registrations/comments/etc.), and so far hasn’t blocked legitimate user comments or registrations. But I really have to wait and see before I know for sure that it is not blocking valid users. The website is relatively very new and traffic is very low, so there are very few activities besides legitimate but quiet visitors viewing my contents, and lots of spam attacks happening! At least the attacks are being successfully blocked now.

CleanTalk Results

CleanTalk Anti-Spam Report

Here’s how CleanTalk works:

  1. Install and activate the CleanTalk plugin.
  2. Each time a visitor writes a comment or tries to register, the plugin sends action parameters to the CleanTalk cloud. This involves no capchas.
    • If it’s a real visitor, everything is cool and CleanTalk lets the comment/registration through.
    • If it’s a spam bot, CleanTalk blocks the comment/registration.

I am NOT an affiliate of CleanTalk.org and won't receive commissions on subscriptions. CleanTalk does offer a bonus of extra free months of service if a subscriber writes a review of its service at WordPress.com, which I plan to participate in.

Spam Referrals

The other spam related issue that really bothered me was referrals, mostly by SEMALT. I call it the evil SEMALT crawler. It’s a crawler that appears as referrals, which messes up your web traffic statistics. I could be wrong, but I believe Google penalizes your site ranking if you’re getting lots of such referrals. SEMALT has evil siblings and cousins including MakeMoneyOnline and Buttons-For-Website. These are not real life visitors, but bots created by unscrupulous people trying to take advantage others. Not nice!

Fortunately, there is a very simple and free solution to stop the menace. It involves adding several lines of code to your .htaccess file to block these referrers. There are many experts who have posted on the solution, so you can simply run a search to find the code. I particularly liked the approach taken by Kenneth Yau at Logorrhea.net in his blog post, How To Block Semalt.com Referrer Traffic Using htaccess. He provides a very short description of what you need to do (just copy and paste), and follows with a clear and detailed discussion on SEMALT.

Lastly, I’m not familiar with alternative anti-spam solutions like Akismet, which seems to be highly recommended by many blogging experts. As of this writing, Akismet offers a ‘name your price’ plan for non-commercial blogs. If you’re blogging for commercial gains, then you need at least the Business Plan, which is $5 per month per site. Maybe you can share information on your favorite anti-spam solution.

Hope this helps you get back to creating contents again without the unnecessary distractions from spam attacks.

Until next time, cheers!

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