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September 23, 2011

Nipping Spam Accounts in the Bud: Tips for Recognizing and Reducing Spam on Your Site – A SPN Exclusive Article

In many ways, spam is just a fact of life on the Internet. Many of us get the occasional spam email and have a filter to take care of it. Far and away, the most common example of spam is email spam. While email spam is easy to avoid and relatively harmless, if you’re running a website, you have to try and be more mindful. Spam accounts on forums or even in comment sections can be a real problem. Too many spam accounts can make your site look bad and make new readers wary. Here are a few simple tips to help you nip those spammers in the bud.

The Captcha

One of the oldest responses to spam bots is the captcha. A captcha is a basic response test used to ensure a human answers the question. Normally it’s represented by either an image including letters or a math problem. While a captcha won’t cut out users who are actively trying to create spam, it will keep out bots and that alone will cut down on your spam by a wide margin. Most websites require a captcha when creating a user account, but that’s not enough. I recommend requiring users answer a captcha every time they comment. It’s a little less convenient for the users, but it will do a lot to keep your site clean.

Zero Tolerance

This tip is especially true for forums. Make sure you have a clearly stated zero tolerance policy on spam. If ever you catch users spamming, new or old, ban them. It’s important that the community knows you take the issue seriously and may ward off a few potential spammers. Sometimes this works best if you can make an example out of someone, so at the first chance you get, ban the spammer immediately. Nothing is worse than having an interesting conversation thread ruined by a spammer. Forums, perhaps more than any other type of website, have a lot to lose from huge numbers of spammers. It’s also important to ban the IP, not just the account. While it’s not impossible for them to return when banned by IP, it’s more difficult.

Keep an Adequate Moderating Staff

The larger your community becomes, the higher the chance of being targeted by spammers. It will eventually get to the point where it just isn’t reasonable to keep up with it all yourself. This is where the importance of having a moderator staff comes into play. If you take a handful of dedicated users you feel you can trust and give them basic moderation power, your site may clean up itself. Often these moderators will agree to help out of pure love for the site. Make it clear that you’re looking for volunteers and are unable to pay them. You may be surprised by the community response.

Require an Email Address to Post Comments

Requiring an email address to post comments serves two purposes. The first is warding off spam bots and the second is forcing some responsibility. Often, when any portion of the anonymity of the Internet is taken away, spammers avoid it. It’s still possible to create an account for the sole reason of spamming your site, but it’s likely not worth the effort. If this does happen, make sure to take the email address and add it to a database before deleting the comment. You can then keep a record of this database and use its emails to cut down on spam of other websites you run.


Partner sites and affiliates are the lifeblood of the blogosphere. You can make use of this to avoid spammers using the database mentioned earlier. If you encourage your fellow webmasters to keep up a similar list, you can compare the two and end up warding off more spammers. With a large enough collective, you can create a joint safety net. This net works by protecting the other sites in the collective from any single spammer. While it won’t cut spam out completely, it will do a great job of cutting it back and requires minimal effort to maintain.

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and recent graduate of Elon University. She is currently a resident blogger at Online Degrees, where recently she’s been researching different Online Business Administration Programs and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.