Ryan Jones Blog – dotCULT.com Ryan Jones Blogs About Internet Culture, Marketing, SEO, & Social Media

October 19, 2009

Why Your Site Gets Link Spammed

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 10:53 am

Danny Sullivan recently posted a rant about link spam where he uses his wife’s site as a sympathy case to display his hatred for link spam.

Danny, I agree 100% with you that link spam is evil and that people who do it should DIAF, but I also think the responsibility lies on the webmaster to prevent the spam.

It’s not that hard to prevent automated link spam. Sad sympathy story aside, your wife’s site got spammed because she let it get spammed – the rest of the back story doesn’t matter.

As somebody who’s done his fair share of messing around with black hat SEO, I can tell you that link spam attacks are rarely (if ever) directed at any specific sites. Choosing targets takes too much time. When I wanted to spam I simply pulled out a copy of my spamming software, (see xrumer) pointed it at a Google search result for content unique to a standard wordpress, drupal, joomla, phpbb, or whatever install, and let it run.

There’s millions of sites out there all using the same backends – and that’s what makes spam so easy.

The trick to fighting spam lies in separating yourself from the crowd. Change the file name, add a required form field, put in a captcha or a mathcha, hell you can even implement kitten auth if you want.

It really doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you differentiate yourself from the host of other sites using the exact same form as you. Once you do that, the automated bots won’t be able to post and your spam will drastically decrease.

On this site, I simply added a box that says “type Ryan in the box”. When I did that, I went from averaging 250 spam posts per day to 3 – so I know it works.

Again, I agree with you that link spam is evil (recently it’s even becoming less effective thanks to Google,) but you can’t blame the spammers for walking through the open door you gave them. It’s irresponsible to blame the community for your wife’s own laziness and unwillingness to properly design her site.


  1. Ryan, I understand all about deterrents. I explained she had some. I explained she could have more. I agree, webmasters have a responsibility to protect themselves from the inevitable spam attack. I made that clear in the post.

    But no, the responsibility does not solely lay with the webmaster. I think the overall web community should be pushing harder to change attitudes far and wide that link spamming simply isn’t acceptable.

    This type of post is simply an apology for bad behavior. You’re providing excuses for link spamming — exactly as I wrote, that’s not going to wash with me. Sorry.

    Look, I oversee a completely separate site with far more deterrents in place than the things you suggest above. Like I said in the post, I’m not naive. And that site still has to deal with spam.

    So, a smart webmaster needs to be prepared to deal with spam, absolutely. And they aren’t going to get sympathy if they’re slammed and had no defenses, agreed. And I wasn’t posting looking for that sympathy. I was posting to highlight another story about the havoc link spammers can cause, in hopes that maybe a few of them (or their friends) will think twice in the future.

    Comment by Danny Sullivan — October 19, 2009 @ 11:22 am

  2. As a general rule of crime, marketing, spamming, whatever – anything that turns a profit isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

    I agree 100% that they can cause havok. I’ve recently had somebody manually spam one of my websites to the tune of 1000 posts per day. I actually logged their IP filling out captchas and jumping through any real-time code change hoops I implemented. They were just bored and stupid. So I agree that even the best defenses can’t prevent ALL spam. But you CAN prevent a LOT of it.

    I’ve link spammed in the past (never for any legit sites that I actively market) but merely just to test the results.

    It freaking works – it works nicely. It works so nicely that all I have to do is type in my affiliate link to a porn site, click a button, and collect my check. As long as it’s that easy, nothing will make spammers think twice. It’s too profitable.

    That’s part of the issue there. Recent Google devaluing and nofollow defaults by some of the common software have indeed gone a long way, but they’ll never truly defeat it.

    There’s still forum signature, twitter, youtube comments, myspace bulletins, and many other places to spam that people actually click on (which can be way more valuable than trying to game Google)

    As long as it’s profitable, people will keep doing it. There’s only 2 realistic solutions. 1.) do what you can to prevent it, and 2.) change the system so that the technique doesn’t work.

    #2 doesn’t seem to be practical.

    I guess all I’m saying is that in this day and age, it’s naive and careless to launch a site without spam prevention.

    Comment by Ryan — October 19, 2009 @ 11:31 am

  3. Captcha, and things like Askimet help, but I’m inclined to agree with Danny. Link Spamming is a time sink, an irritant and a potential danger to people who are just starting up. The fact that it can be stopped doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all try to prevent it.

    Comment by Steve Merrick - FirstFound — October 19, 2009 @ 11:46 am

  4. Steve, I disagree with your logic of “The fact that it can be stopped doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all try to prevent it.”

    Are you saying we shouldn’t bother getting polio vaccinations either because they take time and money?

    The fact that something can be prevented means we should all be able to prevent it. Maybe it’s a logistics problem in that not enough people have access to the information and technology (like condoms or drugs in Africa) but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

    Comment by Ryan — October 19, 2009 @ 11:50 am

  5. I am running over a hundred websites and have collected more ten of thousands of IPs of link spammers. I’ve blocked about 4,000 spammers from all of my sites. It works like a charm. Now, my servers have more resources for real visitors.

    Comment by Singapore SEO Consultant — October 19, 2009 @ 1:45 pm

  6. I would comment that Adding links that point to the spammer’s web site artificially increases the site’s search engine ranking. An increased ranking often results in the spammer’s commercial site being listed ahead of other sites for certain searches, increasing the number of potential visitors and paying customers.

    Comment by Bookmarking Submissions — October 20, 2009 @ 4:28 am

  7. I would lean on the side of Danny. Sorry, but Danny has a more valid point.

    Some of us do not mind when some small business sends us an offer. The issue is really the people who get paid to submit and send crap-tastic submissions over and over.

    I do not get upset, but rather feel sad for the people doing it and know it will make quite a few people upset.

    Not to mention what if some of those ads are seen by children. Laws are being broken with form spamming. Just not always in the way we think. Hence why people keep doing it, but we should not tolerate it.

    Sales is a numbers game, but not at the expense of others. Just not a completely ethical or legal thing to do. Even criminals have a breaking point when it comes to the public.

    If we do not try and prevent others from abusing these types of communication channels and set standards it will eventually get out of hand. Look at your phone. We all are starting to get TXT messages from scams. Look at the pirates taking ships hostage. It starts with preventing in order to put the heat or smack down on the offenders, before it gets out of hand.

    People will do what they want, but it is not the job or duty of the recipient to keep honest people honest. The world could use a bit more “self responsibility”. <– Note this is really what I am saying.

    Let's all be more responsible. More so for the people doing the unethical marketing techniques. One person causing grief to thousands of other people . . . just does not seem right. One thousand wrongs may make 5 sales, but does not make 5 rights.

    I placed a Captcha on all of my sites. However, the errors still go to my errors email address and it is not "cool" nor seems productive to get the "crap-tastic" offers. Some of it is just plain bad marketing.

    If as a whole we spent more time using our communication techniques affectively. We might spend less time on the "less productive" marketing and more time to affectively deliver the bottom line.

    Just saying I vote YES that "link spamming simply isn’t acceptable".

    Comment by Rob James — November 9, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

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