On Broken Windows and Blog Comments

Got spam?  As bloggers, we all do.  Its just one of those things we have to deal with on a daily or semi-regular basis.  Akismet can help, and there are some other good techniques for dealing with comment spam, but the problem seems to always be with us, despite what we do.

And even sorting through the spam pile to find valuable gems can be a frustrating and sometimes unrewarding experience.  There’s not much worse than going over a hundred spammy comments and not finding one worth the publish button.

There’s another little trick to cut down on the spam, though.  It doesn’t always work but its a good start to slow down the flood of noise.

In social science, there’s a modern theory about broken windows.  No, this isn’t the economic fallacy that derives from a technical definition of GDP.  I’m not going to tell you to break your windows because it increases aggregate demand.  That one’s pretty debunked.

The social science version of broken windows is a good bit different.  It says that peoples’ behavior is influence by the state of the environment they’re in.  In an alley of boarded doors and shattered windows, people are less likely to put trash in its proper location.  Missing windows also more directly lead to unauthorized entry, but the psychological effect of seeing chaos is just as important as the physical barrier a window provides.

How does this relate to blog comments?  Well, if a comment spammer sees their comments and links go through, they’re going to be more likely to try and try again.  If they see other spammy comments published, they’ll want to repeat that success for themselves.  If you go to a page with 100 comments, keyword anchor texts, and apparently no moderation, you might think “free links!”

There’s some valid criticism of this theory, and I’m certainly not advocating any kind of zero tolerance policy.  But stricter standards of what gets published – even if only temporarily – can help cut down on the amount of people trying to take advantage.

So, instead of allowing comments to post immediately and then going back to moderate them later, consider setting your comment section so that all posts with links from new visitors requires manual approval.  This can slow down the discussion a bit, but you can also tell WordPress to send you an email notification of when it happens.  Delete spam with prejudice, and put valuable comments in a place that shows they’re important and appreciated.

Just don’t let the bad comments sit around… because then people start to think they’re allowed to copy those behaviors!


  1. Hi there, this is more of a social comment. I was reading your response about morons on Extreme John’s blog and was wondering if you would mind reading an article of mine – calling out a moron who has defamed me. I am interested in your opinion about what you would do if you were in my situation.

    I’d really appreciate your thoughts.



  2. Hey Somone, thanks for stopping by.

    Well well, this looks like a pretty crappy situation all around. It sounds like this other affiliate guy is using his personal and social relationships to corner the niche. Obviously this is someone who thinks the market is saturated and the best way to grow is to muscle out the competition – so this is no team player that the affiliate managers are backing up. The fact that they’re playing along and don’t seem to understand the technical crimes they’ve accused you of then leads me to question the affiliate program itself.

    In a situation like this, I’m not sure if public attention can help one get re-instated. I’d do whatever was possible to get into private contact with the affiliate managers to explain your side of the situation and to demonstrate examples from similar sites.

    If that doesn’t work, well, then maybe the best thing would be to warn others to stay clear of the program and use your site to promote similar alternatives. It sucks that the search engines reward ultra-focus so we have incentives to build domains for each product, but its terribly risky to put everything into a single brand. I got burned myself that way once when one company I was promoting heavily ended up slashing their payout by like 75% across the board. So as much as SEO favors a focus, business in general still favors a diversified approach.

  3. Your advice is pretty much spot on. The lessons in the scars I guess. I’ll be back to read more of your articles. Thanks for the virtual shoulder.

  4. You’re right, it could be very frustrating if you find some useful comments on your spam file than seeing so many nonsense comments published on your post. Maybe you could just check it from time to time to give others the opportunity they are looking for from your website.

  5. Hi, nice article. I read something about creating “fake” comment forms, which will greatly reduce spam on WordPress. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think it is something everyone should look into it. Apparently, spammers don’t know about it yet or can’t program it to work when there’s a “fake” form.

  6. That is what blogs are forcommenting” and it is advisable to check your spam messages because there could be somthing in it that is worth posting for…

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