Essential WordPress plugins for preventing spam comments
Here’s what we at First Arkansas News have learned since opening this little ole site back in April 2010 — getting a lot of traffic is great, but a bunch of spam comments come with it. Here’s another lesson — there are a lot of methods used to control spam, but most of them range from inconvenient to simply awful.
First Arkansas News, of course, is built on the fantastic (and free) standalone WordPress platform. We went with WordPress because it is easy to navigate, is easy to install on a Web host (a lot of hosts offer the platform as a one-click install, in fact) and there are thousands of great (and free) plugins that allow users with even minimal skills to add all sorts of functionality to their sites.
Lately, First Arkansas News has been getting a lot of spam comments. How many? We’re talking about hundreds of the nasty things that all seem to have at least a couple of things in common. First of all, the grammar and spelling are generally atrocious (and if an Arkansan is correcting your grammar, you know you’ve got problems). Also, the main point to those garbage comments is to post a link in them. The game there is simple enough to figure out — people might or might not click the links in trash comments, but the real point is to leave as many links as possible that point to a site so that site will rise higher in search engine rankings.
While we don’t at all mind links that point to legitimate sites that offer something of value to our readers, we’ve got no patience for garbage comments that point to sites selling cheap Viagra, promote gambling sites, tout porn, etc. Clearly, First Arkansas News needed a good spam comment filter.
The requirements were simple enough. For one thing, the filter had to remove spam comments as soon as they were posted so they never went “live” on the site. For another, the filter could not inconvenience our visitors who post legitimate comments. We’ve got a couple of great, spam-blocking WordPress installed that meet both of those requirements.
Before getting into all of that, however, it seems appropriate to mention some approaches we’ve tried that didn’t work out so well.
Plugins that didn’t work for us
For a very brief period of time, First Arkansas News had the Disqus plugin installed. There’s only one problem with Disqus — it sucks. Why was the decision made to deactivate Disqus, delete the plugin completely from our site and vow to never again install it? There are a number of reasons. For one thing, Disqus requires people wanting to comment on a site to either register with Disqus or log in with a social account such as Facebook. Who the heck wants to register in order to leave a comment?
Also, Disqus promises to drive traffic to a site in exchange for activating a box at the end of posts that directs users to other “relevant” posts around the Internet. First Arkansas News got very little traffic directed to it and a lot of the articles that Disqus posted in the aforementioned article directed our readers to absolute garbage. There’s nothing like reading an article by a Baptist preacher and then finding links at the end of it pointing our readers to posts touting favorite homosexual vacation spots, what kind of trashy behavior Miley Cyrus is involved in, a bunch of overweight actresses in bathing suits, etc. So much for relevancy.
Another plugin that we installed and deleted in a hurry is CAPTCHA as that annoyance may actually suck more than Disqus. Anyone who has spent any time on the Internet has run across CAPTCHA. You typically get an image of some hard to read words and are asked to type them in before allowed to post or comment. It sometimes takes a couple of tries to type in the code correctly as the letters are so distorted they are often hard to read. The goal should be to encourage readers to leave comments — not punish them with a dimwit test for wanting to say a thing or two about an article.
Plugins that work very well for us
One plugin that is absolutely essential for any WordPress site is Akismet. It is very good at identifying spam comments and keeping them from going live unless and until the site moderator approves those comments. It doesn’t require readers to register, go through any CAPTCHA nonsense or anything else. Akismet is, simply put, awesome. The fact that it’s available for free makes it even better.
The second Spam-controlling comment is Conditional CAPTCHA. That one works well with Akismet and requires users who have comments identified by Akismet as spam to solve a very simple and readable CAPTCHA-like puzzle before their comments are posted.
That might seem redundant with CAPTCHA installed, but it’s not. Here’s why. Let’s say you’ve got 1,000 spam comments that have been shoved in a folder by Akismet. The site moderator has two choices — either comb through them one by one and try to find the legitimate ones or delete the lot of them. The chances are good the moderator will click a button and simply delete everything. Conditional CAPTCHA allows people who have legitimate comments that have been marked as spam authenticate those comments, thus separating the wheat from the chaff.
Here’s another thing — what if the Conditional CAPTCHA puzzle is not solved? The plugin can be set up to delete the comment, leaving the moderator in the enviable position of never having to clear out spam comments once in a blue moon. That, folks, is convenient.
So, there you have it. Two plugins that, together, protect a WordPress site from spam and do so without inconveniencing readers. The fact that both plugins are free makes them triple awesome.
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.