Link Spammers

OTB, apparently along with tons of other sites, got hit with a massive influx of TrackBack spam overnight and this morning, with several thousand pings left. Kathy Kinsley has done some tweaks and installed some plug-ins for me, so hopefully they’ll solve the problem.

Apropos of this, Zed sent me a link to this article in today’s Register:

Interview with a link spammer

So how and why do “link spammers” – as they generically call themselves – do it? Are they the same as the email spammers? What do they think of what they do, ethically? And what can stop them? If you’re affected by this spam, say because you run a blog, or a website, or like the other 99.9 per cent of Net users just come across the stuff, Sam explain the important thing to remember is it’s nothing personal. They’re not targeting you personally. They’re just exploiting a weakness in a system which blossomed just at the time that Google cracked down on the previous method that spammers used, where huge “link farms” of their own web sites pointed circularly to each other to boost each others’ ranking.

“It was around December 2003: Google did what was called the ‘Florida update’. It changed the algorithm that measured how high a site should be ranked to spot ‘nepotistic’ links and devalue them. So if you had a link farm of sites with different names which linked heavily to each other, they were pushed down,” explains Sam. So the link spammers – who prefer to call themselves “search engine optimisers”, but get upset when search engines do optimise themselves – turned to other free outlets which Google already regarded highly, because their content changes so often: blogs. And especially blogs’ comments, where trusting bloggers expected people to put nice agreeable remarks about what they’d written, rather than links to PPC sites. Ah well. Nothing personal.

The article explains the mechanics of the process and why, technically, it isn’t illegal.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, OTB History, Science & Technology, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I got pounded also. (I guess when spammers hit me along with the big players, it either means I’m getting bigger – or else it is a case of mistaken identity!)

    I noticed that the perpetrator used a different ip address every time. Sneaky.

  2. James Joyner says:

    As the interview notes, spammers want quantity of links, not necessarily quality. They’re not too picky!

    But you probably are getting bigger, too!

  3. Kathy K says:

    I got hit too… and I rarely get comment spam. Sigh.

  4. Brian J. says:

    Viva la Blogspot, where I am safe from all these things!

    Of course, I like the traffic from the bots as they try anyway.

  5. Kent says:

    My blog was completely ignored. *Sniff*

  6. cindy says:

    if your tweaks don’t block them try adding:

    RewriteCond %{HTTP:VIA} ^.+pinappleproxy
    RewriteRule .* – [L,F]

    to your htaccess.

  7. Kathy K says:

    Cindy, thanks!

  8. Rob says:

    I got hit with over 400 trackback spams as well. Fortunately for me my Spam Karma installation in Word Press picked up every one of them. I still got the notification emails for them, but they never made it to the site.

    Those of you looking for a solution to comment spam (and are using WordPress) need to look Spam Karma for a solution. Its top-notch.

  9. Mark J says:

    Spam Karma blocked every single trackback spam for me on WordPress. I was also able to block POSTS from the spammer’s User Agent, although this could block comments from any legit user who uses that User Agent.