Sigh, Cancel The Jubilation

Oh well, might as cancel the jubilation over Google’s “nofollow” announcement. Ben Hammersley spells out the sobering reality in “Let no fellow nofollow, lest we all lie fallow”:

I’m deeply mystified by the hallelujahs bursting forth about Google’s rel=”nofollow” method of preventing comment spam. The idea being that comment spammers will leave your own site alone, or stop spamming altogether, if they find the rel=”nofollow” tag.

I think this is false assumption. It’s based on the idea that producing a link costs something, and therefore the spammer must choose either way. Think of it this way: if I’m a guy trying to pitch a TexasHold’em site, my aim is to get people to go there. Whether this is directly, through a click through, or indirectly via Google, the effect is the same. As a spammer, I don’t care at all *how* they get to my site. I just want the eyeballs. The same for any of the other comment spam subjects. PageRank isn’t an end in itself, it’s just the means by which they get more readers indirectly.

So as comment spam costs absolutely nothing to spread, there’s no loss to me if I spam sites with rel=”nofollow”.

Basically, spammers spam everything in sight, they will stick their URLs in any orifice, whether it triggers a Google nanopoint or not. Why, because they can do a shotgun approach with almost no effort. And nofollow can hurt legitimate links. And it is just about useless until it is proliferated on w web-wide scale. Small chance of that happening before my retirement party (in 2028… April…).

I recall long long ago, a friend’s father telling us about how it takes only a small, single digit percent response to those late night TV ads to make them profitable, more or less a variant of PT Barnum’s Law.

Just last week, in my traffic school class, I was one out of about 20 others who got photo radar tickets in the mail.. followed by one from an “entrepreneur” who used public records to send us all offers for “proven ways to beat the ticket for only $60”. One of the 20 in the room (not me) actually shelled out sixty smackers for a two page printout of useless innuendo.

That is the small margin spammers thrive in, the one of human condition.

So its back to the lab for a better spam strategy. There are no magic bullets.

Sigh, it felt good while it lasted.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. While there may be very little incremental monetary cost to spamming, there is both a cost in terms of bandwidth and time.

    Spammers don’t spam everything in sight. There are literally thousands of entries on my site alone which have never been spammed. Incredibly, there are still bloggers today writing “I must be really unpopular because I never get any spam”.

    There is clearly a resource limitation on their part. I’m guessing that that is because there are less than a hundred of them (more likely, believe it or not, less than twenty) and millions of weblogs out there but it may be something else completely. Whatever the cause, in light of this limitation, clearly efficiency is the key to success for the spammer.

    Efficiency in this case equals placing their links on enough targets to see the largest increase in PageRank.

    By placing nofollow on untrusted links (i.e. submitted by third parties), you very effectively sap the efficiency and results that spammer is looking for.

    No, they will probably not be looking for nofollow on your links before spamming — at least not until they find that a whole week of spamming did absolutely nothing for them. But even if they never scrape your page to find out, they WILL realize that their competitors have found greener pastures elsewhere (e.g. guestbooks, forum software, etc) and are beating them at the game.

    nofollow costs the weblog spammer MONEY in terms of declining client contracts and THAT is how you stick it to the spammer.

    And this business about nofollow hurting legitimate links? Legitimate links — links that deserve the PageRank Google created and continues to maintain — will be so excellent that you will blog them (and hence give them PageRank).

    No one deserves PageRank (as Google conceived of it) just because they posted a comment saying “I totally agree”.

    nofollow will not only be effective in greatly reducing comment spam, but it will also make the cream of the content crop (the really great stuff people write and come up with) rise to the top because that content WILL be blogged and hence will not only continue to receive PageRank but more PR than without nofollow because your comment author links aren’t sapping your virtual voting power.

    It’s unfortunate that some bloggers will be hurt, but bloggers who create great content will not be. And isn’t great and relevant content the stuff you want to see in your search results?

  2. By the way, I will agree with you: There is no magic bullet for spam. There will still always be people trying to spam weblogs, either programmatically or by hand.

    If we make it uneconomical for them, however, it will never again be the scourge that it is right now.

    With the flow drastically reduced, our other tools will do just fine in keeping the remaining bits down to a manageable level.

  3. Thanks Jay– I seem to waffle back and forth on nofollow as I read opinions of people I respect. It certainly is not much effort to add nofollow, and I really do not see it as that much of a legit link detriment.

    And even if it works, us small time operaters of independent sites end up with our pages blazened with “besti ality-pix.xxx” and ‘texas-p oker.xxx’ a MAJOR problem in education where people using the sites mayn not understand why their teacher’s blogs has such links.

    This we always need other tools like MT-Blacklist, for which I cannot thank you enough– it is the shinest of beacons out there on the front.

    Finally, I think we have a lot of unfounded speculation on how spammers really do their work. Have you ever communicated with one? Do we know how they go about their work? Do they really make money?

  4. Jay Allen writes, “While there may be very little incremental monetary cost to spamming, there is both a cost in terms of bandwidth and time.”

    I don’t know about the spammers that you see, Jay, but the ones that are hitting MY site are using hundreds of zombie computers. I add about a dozen new IP addresses to my ban-list every day. For these spammers, bandwidth and time are nearly infinite resources, and completely free.

    Trying to find out which sites use rel=”nofollow” and which don’t, now THAT is overhead for the spammers. Ain’t gonna happen.

  5. Doug, that was pretty much the soebring point of Ben Hammersley’s post that I started off with:


    Spammers hit everything wide and fast. It’s not like they will sit down and try and analyse why their Google Rank slipped 5%- and then research it down to say, “Hmmm, that Doug feller has nofollow, I think I will stop.”

    I once thought it was all about PageRank, but as Ben points out, its all about getting eyeballs to see a URL, as no matter how obvious it is that a drug enhancement link or a body part enlargement URL has no relevance to a small business that makes candles or a freshmen composition class,– by human nature some small percentage will actually follow those links. And I bet it does not take much.

    I have seen a web site that sells “company promotional” software that at the time claimed it included the URLs for more than 500 blogs. I believe spamming is a click and forget about it deal.

    And still my point is- nofollow still leaves unsightly, unwanted, uninvited URLs in OUR content, and that is more disturbing (to me).

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