Invasion of the Blog Snatchers Part 2: The Mythology of SPAM

3_GreylingsWho are spammers? Why do they do what they do? Does it work? Ethical marketer Lynn Serafinn discusses SPAM mentality and why spamming is a waste of time.

In Part 1 of ‘Invasion of the Blog Snatchers’, we looked at 4 different ways to recognise SPAM comments on your blog. The last thing I left you with was the ‘cliff-hanger’ that you should never, ever allow such comments to appear on your blog.

That probably left you asking how you do that. I had originally intended to use Part 2 to show some simple strategies that can help keep spammers off your site, but I’ve decided to save that for Part 3. Before we go into the practical side of things, I’d like to take a deeper look at the rationale behind the actions of these persistent cyber-invaders. When we look at the facts instead of the mythology of SPAM, we’ll see that spamming is not only unethical, but illogical and ineffective.

Who Are Spammers?

For the most part, SPAM comments that pop up on your site are posted by professional spammers. They work either as freelancers preying upon naïve business owners, or they are hired by unscrupulous people who run dodgy businesses.

Take a moment to examine the SPAM comments on your blog. Typically, they come from websites selling porn, sex aids, designer knock-offs (fake designer label clothes, handbags, watches, etc.), loans, gambling, guns or cheap pharmaceuticals.

Apart from these obviously shady businesses, you might also find links to sites selling SEO or mailing list services. These companies are never legitimate, so please don’t ever be tempted to hire them. If they are marketing by SPAM, rest assured all they want to do is sell you SPAM services (if they can even be trusted to deliver that for you).

Why Do These Invaders Do What They Do?

It would be easy to answer this question by saying ‘because they have a criminal mentality’, but that would not give the full picture. Spammers do what they do because of their mistaken understanding about Google and other search engines.

Here’s how they see it. Let’s say they post a comment on your blog and you happen to approve it. In their comment is a link to the website of one of these dodgy businesses. That link now appears on YOUR blog. Google and other search engines pay attention to how many external sites link back to a website, as it is regarded as one way to measure the popularity of a website.

This is called a ‘back link’ or a ‘site linking in’. Having a large number of back links can increase a site’s chances of appearing near the top of Internet searches. In other words, if a site has 100,000 sites linking back to it, it is much more likely to be on the first page of Google than a similar site having only 100 sites linking back. And if a page gets on the first page of Google for any chosen keywords, it means it is more likely that people will visit that site. This is the theoretical rationale behind blog SPAM.

Does SPAM Actually Work?

No. The key words above are ‘more likely’. Having lots of back links does not guarantee your page will rank higher in searches. If there is no actual traffic to your site, back links will do little or nothing to help. To demonstrate this point, let’s look at some numbers.

Here are screen shots of statistics for three very popular and high-ranking sites: YouTube, Mashable and The Guardian Newspaper online (taken from analytics website Alexa.com on 9 May 2013):

2013-05-10_1309-youtube-alexa2013-05-10_1312-guardian-alexa-stats2013-05-10_1313-mashable-alexa-stats

You can see that YouTube is ranked #3 out of ALL websites in the world (surpassed only by Google.com and Facebook). Nearly 4 million sites link back to YouTube, owing greatly to people embedding YouTube videos on their own websites and social media.

As we go down the list, The Guardian has a global rank of 203, with Mashable at a quite respectable 356. The Guardian also has more than twice as many back links as Mashable. This kind of evidence leads many a spammer (and their unwitting victims) to believe that back links will ALWAYS increase the traffic rank for their websites.

Related Article:
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However, when we compare the sites of two recent spammers to the more humble statistics of this 7 Graces site, we see a different picture entirely (I’ve intentionally blacked out the link to the spammer’s site):

2013-05-10_1316-spammer-tanningbeds2013-05-10_1317-pizza-spammer2013-05-10_1314-7graces-alexa-statsThe first spammer’s site is to a tanning bed company in India. The second is to a pizzeria in the US. Notice how both spammer’s sites have WAY more sites linking back into their website than the 7 Graces site has. The pizza place has a whopping 2,489 more back links. We can safely assume all these these back links are the result of aggressive spamming activity.

Now notice that the global rank for 7 Graces is massively higher than either of these sites. In fact, it’s over 3,300,000 places higher than the pizza place (for some reason our UK rank for 7 Graces isn’t showing, but when I last checked it was in the top 100,000). I should also add that all our back links are legitimate, and we did very little to get them other than create good content.

Traffic rank is only one statistic. There’s also something called Page Rank, which ranks your page on a scale of 0-10. I’ve checked the page ranks for these spammers on http://www.prchecker.info and both of them returned a page rank (PR) of 0 out of 10.

In contrast, the 7 Graces site is a respectable PR3.

I’ve compared several spammer sites this way on Alexa.com, and invariably they return similar statistics.

This evidence would imply that the notion there is a guaranteed correlation between back links and traffic rank is simply a myth. And, aside from back links, it also puts a nail in the coffin of the idea of keywords in comments helping to drive traffic to the commenter’s site.

In short:
SPAM doesn’t work.
It’s not just invasive marketing;
it’s utterly pointless marketing.

So Why Do Spammers Bother?

God only knows. I suspect it has nothing really to do with web traffic, but with money.

Some spammers appear to be freelancers who make their living by snookering technologically naïve business owners into paying them to get back links to their website, leading them to believe this will help their business. That’s what’s happened with our pizza place and tanning bed company above. After all, the spammer can ‘show’ the evidence of their work to their clients by showing them the statistics on Alexa.

Apart from these, I suspect the majority of spammers are contracted by dodgy, unethical and certainly less-than-legitimate businesses that represent a new kind of ‘organised crime’. Given the sad reality that the VAST majority of SPAM I receive is either from the Ukraine or China, I cannot help but feel that some spammers are (in some perverted way) themselves victims of the system. I remember when I visited Moscow in 2000, and there were literally thousands of ‘ordinary’ people selling pirated software and black-market electronics on the streets just to make a living in the economically repressed post-Soviet world.

Either way, there’s something tragic about it all—for us, for the spammers and for our world.

Shifting the Paradigm

SPAM is unethical marketing, pure and simple. It is one of the most blatant examples of the Deadly Sin of Invasion I can think of.

When we are invaded, our natural inclination is to protect and defend ourselves. To that end, in Part 3 of this series, I’ll (finally!) be sharing some simple strategies to do that. Then, in Part 4, I’ll show you some strategies for protecting and defending your blog from another breed of cyber-criminal: the hacker.

While protecting and defending our sites may be necessary at this time, pushing back is NOT the ‘antidote’ to the Deadly Sin of Invasion. Building bigger walls or making stiffer jail sentences does not eliminate home break-ins. Similarly, pushing back spammers will only, at most, buy us time before those of criminal mentality create new ways to trick the system.

To put an end to SPAM (or any kind of invasive marketing) once and for all, we need a paradigm shift—we need the Grace of Invitation. Invitation alone is the antidote to Invasion.

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Bearing that in mind, even though I will be showing you practical preventative measures against spammers and hackers in the upcoming articles, I’d also like to open up the dialogue for ways we can turn the rationale for SPAM on its head. Let us get curious about the possibilities:

  • How can we encourage more honest and relevant ways to support each other’s web traffic?
  • How can we create systems where everyone benefits—a website owner, their readers and those who link to/from a site?
  • How can we defuse the need for spammers to engage in their activities by inventing ways to invite each other into our collective space?

Let’s hold these questions in our intention as we move on to Part 3 of ‘Invasion of the Blog Snatchers’. Until next time…

As always, please do share your thoughts, reflections or questions below.

Lynn Serafinn
10 May 2013

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of Marketing

LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.

Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.

  Twitter: http://twitter.com/7GracesMarketng
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(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)

Comments

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8 Responses to Invasion of the Blog Snatchers Part 2: The Mythology of SPAM

  1. Tim says:

    Lynn
    Again you have giving me tools to make improvements to my site. While I have kept spammers off my comments for a while, your article today has shown me a few places I need to improve my site.
    As usual you inspire me to grow.

    Rock on
    Tim

  2. Akismet keeps quite a lot of spammers (300+ per month) off my dashboard- praise be the Lord, I’d go crazy dis-approving all of them. For the few that do get through, I verify first and then approve the comments. Unfortunately, after my website was hacked (I’m one of the Brute Force Attack statistics), I’ve become careful. Pity there are less Hams and more Spams!
    Wishing you a Hack-free, Spam-free Mothers’ Day weekend, Lynn

    • Thanks, Vatsala!
      Akismet is essential, and one of the things I’ll be talking about Akismet in part 3. But I have a few other tips that are less passive and more assertive. My SPAM has gone done from a similar 300-500 a month to 1 or 2 a day. AND in Part 4, I’ll show a plugin that can help you get rid of hackers. When I started using it, I was really shocked at how frequently people were trying to hack into the site, and how many of these invaders were blocked by the plugin. Looking forward to sharing all that with you next week.
      Have a great weekend too!
      Lynn

  3. I look forward to your next pieces. I’m hoping that most of what you have to say will also apply to Blogger. After complaints about the abysmal CaPTCHA system, I switched to moderation for a few days. I don’t know if it first happened then or had been going on for awhile, but I was adopted by a spambot spewing out 200 or more per day! Obviously moderation was a full-time job, so my poor readers had to deal with CaPTCHA. I soon switched to Disqus, and like most aspects of that, but relatively few people bother to join and they (along with readers) are not getting the advantage of link exposure.

    I know I don’t have to remind you of Blogger’s footprint, and the fact that those of us who have been there for years (I’m in my eighth) are there to stay for a variety of reasons. Plenty of Big Name bloggers use Blogspot, so please don’t write us off as uncommitted or unprofessional.

    BTW, I love everything about your site except that horrid floating social thing. It blocks a sizable amount of text on my iPad and in windows that are less than full screen. Unless I’m watching video, I never have my browser set to fullscreen! Please, please, lose at least the huge one on the left!

    • Hi Sharon,
      You’re the second iPad user this past month who complained about that widget. I’ve just installed a different floater that you can expand/collapse. I’ve fussed with it for the past hour trying to get the offset and icon size right. Not sure I’m in love with it yet, but could use your feedback. I’ll keep on the hunt for another one. Please let me know if this one is better on an iPad screen.

      Regarding CaPTCHA, geez do I had it…especially the older I get and the more my eyes have to strain to focus. I’ve signed up to blogs via Discus. Does it not give link exposure? That’s too bad.

      I hope I haven’t in any way implied that Blogger bloggers are “unprofessional”! I have several good friends who are committed to Blogger. Most of the tips I give are admittedly biased to WordPress, not because of a preference, but because of my own area of experience and expertise. If you have suggestions for Blogger bloggers, PLEASE share them. I’m sure many of my readers would appreciate them.

      Thanks for feedback, Sharon. It’s very helpful and relevant. I hope you’ll come back often and share your insights and opinions.

      Lynn

  4. Pingback: Protecting Your Site from Hackers: Invasion of the Blog Snatchers Pt 4 | The 7 Graces of Marketing - ethical marketing for social entrepreneurs

  5. Pingback: Invasion of the Blog Snatchers Part 3: Assertive Action Against Spammers | The 7 Graces of Marketing - ethical marketing for social entrepreneurs

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