Unwelcome attention: poisoned links and spam comments

At first sight, third-party websites which have links to your site should be good news. However, a couple of years ago I was contacted by a MacUser reader who asked the following question:

Q When I activated statistics provided by the hosting service on which I keep my own website, I was surprised to see them reporting that my site has been linked to by some unsavoury external sites, including certain porn sites and others that look suspicious and have .ru domains. What can I do to prevent those?

To that, I responded:

A Although you control the content of your website, you cannot normally prevent any other web pages from containing links to your site.

You are right to be suspicious, making sure that your site has not been subverted to host, say, a hidden folder of porn placed there by someone else. But provided that your site remains as you intend, there is nothing else to do.

If you could demonstrate that such links were being used illegally, perhaps to defame you or others, or as an innocent intermediary in a scam or crime, then further action would be important. However paying a lawyer to send a Russian porn site a ‘cease and desist’ letter might be unwise, and not a good investment!

Keep a careful watch on your site and its usage statistics; if you see sudden unexplained activity your hosting service should be able to assist.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 29 issue 9, 2013.

Shortly after that was published, David Bennett kindly emailed me additional information, which I paraphrased as follows:

[Your reader] should consider using Google’s Disavow tool (see here) to address the problem of dodgy inbound links to her website. This can reduce any damage that they may make to her search engine ranking. Google’s Matt Cutts provides advice on common mistakes using Disavow here on YouTube, and Moz warns of the dangers of using it here.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 29 issue 12, 2013.

Since then, Marie Haynes has published a complete guide to using Google’s Disavow tool here, and some experts have expressed their opinions about its myths here.

I am still not convinced that there is a crisp or simple answer. Sadly my request for others with experience of using Disavow went unanswered, perhaps because others with their own websites were not even aware of potentially poisonous links into their site. Once again, I invite anyone with experience or an opinion to comment here, please.

The other form of unwelcome attention that troubles blogs in particular is the endless stream of comment spam. Any page which is left open for readers to comment on becomes prey to this, which is detailed in the WordPress Codex.

Examples which I have received here recently include:
So many good articles i read here, i think you can make eclecticlight.co go viral easily using one tricky method. Just type in google: Ildis’s Method To Go Viral
Very shorfly this site will bbe fajous amid ɑll blogging visitors, ԁue tto іt’s pleasant content
If you’d prefer to get pre-approved for the automobile that is next, please submit one of our credit experts and the credit software can get back.

The great majority of these appear to be generated automatically, presumably by some anonymous Linux box perpetually plodding through a script. They aim to get their advertisement onto your blog, and/or install links which might influence search engines and rank their pages more highly as a result.

Thankfully WordPress comes with a very effective anti-spam plugin, Akismet, which can be coupled with moderation of all comments to block comment spam completely. But you do not have to look far before you come across other blogs which have been mutilated and defaced by copious amounts of comment spam which have been allowed through.

It is sad how some people feel that the only way that they can succeed is at the cost of others.