It’s official: spam has lost and free speech has gained victory.
Have you started a blog only to feel bogged down at managing comments from people who are only interested in pushing their products? Do you feel like you need to babysit your blog just to keep spam comments off of it? Are you ready to give your blog an intelligence upgrade?
Lately, I’ve noticed that some of my fellow travel writers are throwing in the towel and outright disabling the ability to comment on their blogs, and this saddens me. Thankfully, this is still uncommon, but if the problem becomes more intense I can see more bloggers potentially giving up and shutting down comments altogether. And since that isn’t a world I want to live in, I’m going to share my solution here, a solution that works shockingly well.
You see, I love comments. They help me gauge how I’m affecting my audience, and they often provide feedback as to how I can improve. Most importantly, comments are the primary way I interact with my readers, and I know I’m not alone in this.
In the years of trail and error that I’ve had with Byteful Travel, I’ve come up with a solution which simultaneously free, not difficult to setup, and (most importantly) eliminates around 99.9% of comment spam. (That’s a rough estimate, but roughly 999 out of 1000 spams are identified and stopped before they ever have a chance to appear on Byteful Travel.) Take that, dastardly spammers!
The following powerful technique primary applies if you’re using WordPress. And since over 95% of the blogs I’ve ever come across run on WordPress, there’s a good chance that you’re using it, too. (And if you aren’t, you can safely skip this article. More travel content is up-spin.)
Why not use a 3rd-party commenting service?
While you could certainly integrate a third-party commenting service like Disqus or IntenseDebate, there are clear drawbacks to this approach. As someone who leaves a far share of comments, I can say from experience that if I have to take the trouble to actually log into another site to leave a comment, my chances of leaving a comment are greatly reduced.
Using a third-party commenting system also requires that many files from outside your site also load before someone can leave a comment, so it slows down the experience of browsing your site overall. My time is valuable and so is yours, so third party comment sites are out.
My Tried & True Method
The method I’m about to share with you is a completely free solution that anyone familiar with WordPress can setup. The reason my method works is because I use a combination of two powerful plugins: SI Captcha and Spam Karma 2. Many people only use Akismet, but if you’ve ever tried running Akismet on a popular blog, you know that isn’t enough.
Luckily, both of these plugins are super easy to install through your WordPress interface, and since I’m currently in the middle of setting up a WordPress blog for a friend, I’m going to follow these steps right along with you. And to make it easier, I’ve broken up this process into 3 main sections. (Note: The instructions below apply primary to WordPress 2.9 and up. And if you’re using something older than 2.9 at this point, you need to upgrade as soon as possible because there are security risks in using very old versions of WordPress.)
How to Install “SI Captcha”
- Log in to your WordPress control panel.
- Click on the “Plugins” section in the left hand column.
- Click the “Deactivate” button under the word Akismet. (In my experience it was NOT effective at stopping spam. We’re going to install something much better.)
- Click the “Add New” button. (It’s next to the word “Plugins”.)
- Search for “SI Captcha”.
- In the first few results you’ll see “SI CAPTCHA Anti-Spam”. Click “Install Now”.
- It will install the plugin. Then click “Activate Plugin”.
Congrats! You’ve just installed SI Captcha, your first line of defense from spammers. Now, as you can see, after you clicked “Activate Plugin” you were returned to the plugin page. Next comes a slightly tricky part. Since Spam Karma doesn’t show up in the WordPress plugin interface, we’re going to install it manually, but don’t worry. It’s not that bad, and it used to be the only way to install plugins into WordPress. 2011.11.29 Update: A newer, easier way to do this has been discovered, so I’ve updated the instructions below. 🙂
How to Grab & Install Spam Karma 2:
- Head on over to Spam Karma’s download page and grab the latest version in the list. (It will look something like “spam_karma_2_3.zip”.)
- Go back to the “Plugins” section
- Click “Add New”
- Click “Upload” (It’s a small link at the top.)
- From here, choose the zip file and click “Install Now”
- You will now see SK2 is in the list! Click “Activate”! (You may need to reload your plugins page.)
(If you’re unable to upload the zip file for some reason, unzip the archive after you download it. You’ll then get a folder called “sk2”. Upload the “sk2” folder to your /wp-content/plugins/ folder on your server. If you continue to have difficulties, please consult someone who is experienced in WordPress to help you install the plugin.)
Configure Spam Karma 2 & SI Captcha
- Now it’s time to get down to business. Click on “Tools” in the left menu.
- Under “Tools”, you will see “Spam Karma 2”. Click it.
- At this point, SK2 will run some first-time install checks. (I always get errors here, but they never seem to impact SK2 negatively. So don’t worry about the red boxes.) From here, you can get very specific on how you want SK2 to work, but the default settings are fine because we’re using SK2 in conjunction with SI Captcha. (And while here, you may also want to take time to familiarize yourself with the “Recent Spam Harvest” and “Approved Comments” tabs.)
- Now let’s configure the Captcha plugin. Head back over to the Plugins page, find SI Captcha, and click “Settings.”
- Just to be sure, confirm your server will support the captcha plugin and click the “Test if your PHP installation will support the CAPTCHA” link which is just under the “Update Options” button.
- If that worked, then you’re done! Congratulations! At this point you may want to try leaving a comment to be doubly sure that everything works. (And you may need to log out before the captcha will show up.)
This method works because it requires the commenter to fill out a very short captcha before they comment. I realize a lot of people dislike captchas, but with bots roaming the internet in unchecked droves, this is necessary. (After all, “byteful” means binary abundance, not an abundance of spam!) Most importantly, this captcha is very easy to read, and it’s short.
I haven’t seen any decline in my commenting activity since I’ve enabled this either, so you don’t have to worry about this discouraging people to comment. And honestly, typing in 4 letters to comment is just as much trouble as typing your email address, which you would type in anyway.
Captchas are spam-killing magic because they cut down on over 95% of spam by ensuring that only live human beings are leaving comments. That’s why SI captcha is a perfect first line of defense. There is a problem, however. Sometimes live human beings are paid to write spam comments for your blog, so that’s what the second plugin is for. It’s true! I’ve noticed that human spammers stop by Byteful Travel and try to leave comments that have nothing to do with a post; but since we’ve installed Spam Karma 2 as well, all comments are also analyzed by its tried and true spam-detecting algorithms. The result is, that none of the spam gets through, and the days of feeling like I had to babysit my site to stop spam are long gone.
By using both of these plugins, I am able to keep comments activated on my site, which helps keep me stay connected to all of you. And that’s a beautiful thing.