When user generated content goes wrong

User generated content (UGC) is always a good thing, right? Sadly, no. There’s link-filled blog comment spam for a start, once just annoying but now a pretty risky business with Google deciding to penalise site owners who let substandard links sneak through… including the BBC!

How to make the most of user generated content

What is comment spam?

Comment spam is meaningless generic rubbish, posted on a blog in the hope the owner will approve it and inadvertently give the originator a backlink they don’t deserve.

Here’s an example: “I really like your style, please post more subjects like this”. It seems harmless enough at first glance but that’s the whole point – the text makes sense whatever the subject of your post, something that should always ring alarm bells.

A few clever comment spammers make the effort to craft unique comments that’re directly relevant the post’s content, which is comparatively cool and verging on marketing. But they’re still only doing it on the off chance you’ll approve their comment and activate the link it contains.

Nofollowing dubious comment spam links

Bad links can mean penalties – we know that. If in doubt, you can always make links in dubious blog comments ‘nofollow’, which means they can’t confer any link equity onto  the originating site, making it pointless and powerless. But the thing is, just mentioning a bad neighbourhood might eventually have a negative effect.

Again, it makes sense. Simply mentioning trusted sites is thought to help credibility. If you mention crappy places without linking, does it adversely affect your search positions? Potentially yes, because Google and Co are having to pull out every stop, no matter how small, to sort the wheat from the chaff and deliver perfect search results to users. While it might not matter now, it might matter a great deal at some point in the future.

Managing user generated content

1. add a comment spam filter to your blog, for example the Akismet plug-in for WordPress
2. screen all user-generated content and delete the rubbish
3. never make a blog comment live without checking it carefully first
4. if a comment is relevant, intelligent and worth keeping, nofollow the links it contains unless you are 100% happy to personally vouch for the website it points at
5. if an individual regularly makes interesting, useful, well thought through comments into your blog, you can consider rewarding good behaviour by allowing a follow link from one of their comments… but proceed with caution and visit the site first before making your decision. If it’s a reputable, good quality site fair enough. If it’s a load of old crap, step away

How to nofollow links

Nofollow is a simple way to tell search engines not to follow links on a page. You can often configure blog settings to make all comment links nofollow, which’ll save you time and effort and cut the risk of nasties slipping through your net. Otherwise, here’s the code: just add the rel=”nofollow” code to the link and that’s that:
<a href=”http://thelinkinthecommentspam.co.uk” rel=”nofollow”>Blah link anchor text.</a>

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