Thursday, 2 February 2012

Buried By Spam: The Right WP Plugin

Today I got absolutely hammered by a persistent spammer (there may have been more than one) who appeared to be using automated software to hit me again and again. Although I had the Spam Free WordPress plugin activated and even blocked some IPs, my efforts had no effect. This is what I did about it.

I've had a few trackbacks on my affiliate marketing websites, Practical Digital and Easy SME, and thought nothing of it. I've also had a few comments pop up from time to time on my posts, and that's fine; those websites work by content marketing so getting conversations going is good, right? But not with dingbats selling viagra, or whatever.

Anti-spam plugin fail

I had Captcha on the comments via Spam Free WordPress and thought that was enough to keep them out. It was for the comment spammers, though I did get a few who were willing to brave the spike-filled pit of Captcha and leave a comment that I ended up deleting. Why do they do it? To give me RSI? Job done. Toerags! Yes, I have a wrist rest. I slouch, to be honest, particularly when I'm tired.

Well the comments spam dried up so one particularly annoying persistent spammer decided to add trackbacks to every single post, occasionally garnished with a comment such as, "Yep, I couldn't agree more." What with? "Buy office equipment?" If you think it's that brilliant, buy some, already! Sheesh! If I was so inclined, I'd add a "Wah wah wah waaaaaah!" sound file to complement that cartoon I made for this post. It's how I feel.


Trackbacks are a way to notify a website when you publish an entry that references it. When you send a trackback, a link with a short excerpt of your entry will appear on the website you're referring to. I was getting, "We honor those websites we think are the best by linking to them," and links to dodgy keyword farms or websites about treatment for "down there diseases," over and over again with no link or reference to Practical Digital.

Then another wave came in for silver stuff, then some for an exercise and, would you believe, a chicken coop set. There must have been sixty of them in all, and like a game of online whack-a-mole, no sooner had I deleted one than more popped up. They filled my inbox. When I went to have a look at the links, there was no link to Practical Digital or any mention of my website. I went to war.

IP blocking failed, as did sending the comments to spam. I thought it was weird that IP blocking failed, it works on other programs. It's as if IP blocking doesn't work for trackbacks.

The value of trackbacks, when used properly, is that it's basically a link exchange. If someone left a trackback to one of my tutorials and they happened to be web designers, developers or general internet bods, I'd be happy about it. I've had comments before from apps developers and other people worth linking to. That's fine. I just don't want to give a leg-up to some spambot with a shedload of viagra to shift, and that's final. Honestly, when I see adverts for link-building services I find myself wondering if that's how they do it.

Anti-spam plugin win

So there I was, acting out the scene from Fantasia where Mickey Mouse, as the Sorceror's Apprentice, was trying to empty out the water from the basment while an army of brooms dumped more water in — that, but blocking IP addresses in the plugin settings and sending the dodgy trackbacks to spam. I stopped to answer a call from Steve Gordon of Acore Development & Training (I'm helping him with his videos on top of the website management I already do), and found thirty six more in my inbox. I'm not kidding, it was horrible. An avalanche of spam. I really can't be spending my days deleting this unwanted crap, so I went to WordPress to see what plugins they have that provide an holistic anti-spam service. I do believe I've found it.

MP Spam Be Gone

1. Upload the mp-spam-be-gone plugin to the /wp-content/plugins/ directory or via Plugins/Add new/MP Spam Be Gone/Install Now
2. Activate the plugin through the ‘Plugins’ menu in WordPress
3. Get on with the stuff you prefer to do. What spam problem?

That's it, you're done. Although there's a settings menu, it's not necessary and you don't have to worry any more. The spam is gone, never to return. Seriously, I'm lovin' it. I've had nothing from the spambot since I added the plugin.

It's mildly concerning that there's an options menu but no options. I briefly switched to the Twenty Eleven theme to see if that made a difference. It did; my lovely green three column layout was replaced by a boring two column blog. You don't need them, as far as I can see. As long as the spam is gone, I don't really care.


I'm really pleased to announce that I've been linked and namechecked on Chattoon! Cartoon Daily. They very helpfully posted a tweet with my name on. The cartooning is an incidental thing, it's not my main pursuit, so I'm doubly pleased and a bit humbled by this.

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