The Joy Of Watching Comment Spammers Scramble To Try To Delete Links After Google Demoted Them

from the it's-kind-of-fun dept

Starting a few months back, we started noticing a weird trend here at Techdirt. Every two or three days, we’d get an email from someone asking us, politely, to please remove a comment they had posted. Every single time, it was someone who had somehow gotten comment spam through our (pretty good) multi-layer comment spam filter (which catches more than 1,000 spam comments per day). Each one reads something like the following:


We noticed that your site is linking to our site [redacted] on the url [Techdirt article URL]

Unfortunately [our company] has been hit by an Unnatural Link Penalty and we are now trying to get all links taken down where possible, rather than disavowing them.

If you could spare 5 minutes to take this link down we would be extremely grateful. Do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.

There are a number of variations on this. My favorite is the following, which ridiculously implies that that we were working with them and they “appreciate the support.”

Hello Webmaster,

My name is Matthew Victor and I’m a SEO specialist with [redacted], first off I want to thank you for linking to our site from, we appreciate the support over the years.

Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that this link may be viewed by Google as a violation of the Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

It is important for us to bring our website into compliance, so we are requesting that you remove our link from this page and any other page on your website.

To assist you in the process of removing these links from your site I’m including a list of the pages we have been able to identify as linking to us.

[URLs redacted]

We would greatly appreciate your prompt response to this request and removal of these links along with any others on your site.


One time, we got one that insisted that if we didn’t remove the link, Google would punish us as well. Every time we get these (and it’s been happening with increasing frequency), there’s a bit of an internal dilemma. We don’t delete comments unless they’re spam. That’s our general comment policy around here. But, these are clearly spam, and it’s annoying they got through our spam filter. If we had discovered them on our own, we would have deleted them. But, just the fact that these jackass comment spammers are getting in trouble for them… makes us pause and think a bit. It feels somehow wrong to abide by the wishes of these comment spammers who littered our site.

It appears that we’re not the only ones dealing with this. Apparently, Google’s algorithmic changes over the past year or so have hit those who abused comment spamming quite hard, and plenty of blogs are getting these kinds of emails. The folks over at The Awl have a nice article about it, in which they quote Boing Boing’s Rob Beschizza going through the same debate we did, and ending up with the same conclusion:

This isn’t only happening in The Awl’s inboxes, either. “The funny thing is, we don’t actually want that spam lurking around in old comments,” Boing Boing’s Rob Beschizza wrote to me in an email. “But we obviously like seeing the spammers suffering as a result of their own misbehavior.”

“So we just leave it up,” he wrote, “even though we don’t want it, in the hope that Google may penalize them further.”

The Awl did some digging and found out that the changes to Google’s algorithm have really hit those comment spammers hard, which is something worth cheering.

“The average drop was from page one to page five in Google,” [the “SEO” guy trying to remove comments that The Awl contacted] said. In some cases they even dropped as low as page ten. How often do you find yourself on the fifth—much less the tenth—page of Google results? If you’ve gotten that far, you’re better off just refining or revising your search terms.

“We needed to delete all of the bad links,” he said. “It was a big list—a few thousand, even ten thousand links. We just moved one by one: this is a toxic link, we need to delete it; this is a good, natural link.”

“We had links from the Daily Mail, Huffington Post, and we had links from profiles in shitty forums or small websites that we didn’t want to get the link from,” he said. Apparently by that he meant… us. So the goal clearly isn’t to remove all spam links. Just the least-good ones.

The Awl notes that it, too, has received emails from those trying to remove comment spams saying that Google will punish them as well. However, the first time we got one of those, we reached out to people at Google who told us that we were fine. First of all, all of the links in our comments automatically have rel=nofollow appended to them, which means that Google already does not use them as authoritative (though, I do wonder if they use them to help demote certain links…), and knows that we’ve “disavowed” the links. Also, our general page rank and reputation likely protects us from having the algorithm think we’ve suddenly turned into link spammers.

As we mentioned just recently, whenever I’ve brought this up on Twitter, some people have suggested we should offer to charge for the removal of those spam comments — and at times that’s tempting. But, in the end, the companies that spewed that spam deserve whatever crap they get. If they didn’t realize it was evil to post comment spam, then they’re not the kinds of organizations worth doing business with in the first place.

Now, if only the message that comment spamming is dead could make its way to the folks who are still hitting us with 1,000 or so comment spams per day…

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Comments on “The Joy Of Watching Comment Spammers Scramble To Try To Delete Links After Google Demoted Them”

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out_of_the_blue says:

SO, Google policing that Mike approves of!

Maybe this will convince you that other reasonable purposes for the common good are, er, reasonable to impose on mega-corporation Google, which as a condition of its mere existence, must serve The Public, and has billions offshore not yet taxed with which to implement these minor expenses of writing a bit of code.

SO. Turns out that Mike WILL come round to my views, heh, heh! Because my views are aligned with common law. By the way, that’s why I don’t bother “making nice”: reality is on my side (that’s a joke, kids, as if “reality” is on my side, reversed, see?) … my view is that I’m aligned with reality to best of my belief, and it’s amusing how you kids struggle against it, but best way is for you to be dragged kicking and screaming, it’s the only way anyone ever learns.

Just as Mike criticizes and advises MPAA and RIAA only so they’ll actually get more money, so too my efforts here show that I’m Mike’s friend, trying to improve his product so attracts more readers.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: SO, Google policing that Mike approves of!

I’m all for no internet police, but I’m cool with spam being policed because I fucking hate it.

Glory to thee brother, I am Prince Wong Tang of the Nigerian Clan MacLeod. You have won our internet lotto prize of 42 million dollars. To collect there is a one time processing fee of 3700 dollar.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Please to edumicate me.

Ok it’s like this… Google’s goal in ranking search results for websites is to try to give the user what they are most likely looking for. Part of determining that is how popular a website is where the more popular it is the more likely it is to be relevant to what the user is looking for with those keywords. So naturally it would stand to reason if there is a lot of discussion on other sites that link back to a particular site it most likely a more popular choice that a site that has no one talking about it (and linking back to it) elsewhere. So knowing this, these spammers are trying to artificially game the algorithm that determines page rank by littering unwanted links on popular sites in comments everywhere, but now that Google is on to that and when they detect what is going on they purposely demote the page that the links go to (having exactly the opposite effect of what the spammers were trying to achieve) they are scrambling to remove the spam that they littered everywhere in hopes that it will improve their page rank back to something that isn’t worse than normal.

s0beit (user link) says:


I’ve gotten HUNDREDS of these same emails.

Here’s my dilemma, though. I know that these are spammers, but there is a possibility that they are not personally spammers and had hired a dubious SEO company (which black hatted their way through rankings).

I do feel bad for those people, and I will occasionally delete a profile or two in response if the content was useless.

For the rest of them: Haha! I laugh nearly every time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Heh

They certainly bare some responsibility which is why making them do the legwork of clearing up the links is a great move on Google’s part. I also think it’s perfectly fair for webmasters to charge them a $5-10 fee to remove the links.

Not many analogies fit to be honest since there are a wide range of people involved in this with differing levels of compliance and understanding.

I know a local small businesses that has lost ranking because of an “expert” who convinced them he was white-hat and then proceeded to do comment spam. The owner has lost sales, lost the money he spent on his “expert” and lost man-hours trying to fix the problem. A “fuck em all it’s their own fault” attitude is quite naive imo.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Heh

So, a little due diligence on who is hired should be encouraged. I know that some people really don’t have a clue about these things and so might inadvertently hire a conman, but if you’re hiring somebody to create the public face of your organisation you deserve what you get if you didn’t research properly.t

“The owner has lost sales, lost the money he spent on his “expert” and lost man-hours trying to fix the problem. A “fuck em all it’s their own fault” attitude is quite naive imo.”

Why did he hire the “expert”? Was he blindsided by a hugely promising professional whose credentials turned out to be false, or a highly recommended person from others knowledgeable in the field? Or did he just go for the cheapest option, or a guy he met in a bar who said he knew this stuff?

If the former, I have a lot of sympathy. If the latter, he got what he deserved.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Heh

“Why did he hire the “expert”? Was he blindsided by a hugely promising professional whose credentials turned out to be false, or a highly recommended person from others knowledgeable in the field? Or did he just go for the cheapest option, or a guy he met in a bar who said he knew this stuff?

If the former, I have a lot of sympathy. If the latter, he got what he deserved.”

This is exactly my point and why I objected to what John said above. There are victims of this both deserving and undeserving to say punishing them all is a good thing seems to miss the nuance of the situation.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Heh

I know the point you’re making, but it’s really a case of caveat emptor. We don’t know whether a person got into the situation via malice, ignorance or naivete, but without knowing the specifics of any particular case it’s hard to have sympathy. There will be innocent victims, but “I shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of the contractors I hired to represent my business” really isn’t a great rebuttal.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Heh

There are victims of this both deserving and undeserving to say punishing them all is a good thing seems to miss the nuance of the situation.

I don’t think it does at all. In a sense, it’s no different than if you hire an incompetent person to configure your email relay. If they botch the job, your relay will be blacklisted. You get off the blacklist by fixing the problem. It ensures that people will actually fix the issue in a timely way. This is no different.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Heh

i don’t get it…

i get that comment sections of blogs get the ‘my sister made $15235 from home…’ crap (and -really- easy to ignore at its low level), but email spam ?

who gets that crap ?
i don’t think i have a LOT of email accounts, prob average (5-6?), but i hardly EVER, get ANY ‘spam’…
what am i doing wrong ?

i get LOTS of ‘junk email’ that i technically signed up for when i created any of a million fucking ‘accounts’ you are forced to register for at practically every fucking website in the world, but i get close to ZERO unsolicited emails…

i seriously doubt my ISP is doing anything special in filtering it out, and i don’t have anything particular set up in thunderbird, but i don’t get much/any spam…

at work, we have the idiotic barracuda ‘spam filter’ crap, and it is total shit: THE ONLY THING it has blocked have been legitimate emails, NOT SPAM !
AND it CONTINUES to block them, even after i’ve said “these emails are okay”…

oh well…
guess i have to watch monty python for my spam…

Dan J. says:

Re: Heh

If they’re not spammers and hired a dubious company, perhaps this will teach them to be more careful in who they hire in the future. If no one hired them, the sleazy companies wouldn’t stay in business. And if I were running a popular website like this, I’d add functionality so that the spam comments don’t show up for a normal user but DO show up when being read by a Google bot.

Boojum (profile) says:

Google isn't punishing anyone

Google really isn’t punishing anyone, they are just improving their product. Their product is to link people with the content they are most interested in. In general, the spam sites are NOT the spots people are most interested in. So the changes to their algorithm moves them downwards in the responses.

It’s no more punishment than it is to not return Automobile web pages when the searcher was looking for the history of the NSA.

Now they don’t like it, certainly! But it’s not being done to punish them, it’s being done to make Google a better search engine for the people doing the searches.


mickmel (profile) says:

Here's my response, especially if they "thank" me for the link

Here is the e-mail that you should have sent:

“I know you are busy but I would really appreciate a favor. We really screwed up when we hired a company to do search marketing for us because they went out and placed many spam comments on sites including yours. We’re sorry that we were responsible for that.

We’re getting our comeuppance now because Google is punishing our search rankings because we have so many spammy links to our site. I know that this is all completely our fault, but it would mean a lot to us if you could delete this offending content from your site.”

Please don’t pin the blame for this on us. Show a bit of remorse and we’ll be happy to help.

Anonymous Coward says:

Speaking from complete ignorance on how these things actually work –

Is it possible to put the spam comments on a dedicated link spam article? Not just the ones people are asking to be removed, but all the ones the filters catch as well.

Real articles remain spam free while the links get counted and demoted.

‘Course I could just be speaking nonsense here, but the idea amuses me.

Jeremy says:


I was thinking the same thing. But the 3rd to last paragraph mentions that this site probably isn’t considered a “link spammer”. So I’m guessing that it could be very bad to start having pages that have nothing but spam links on them. So I’m thinking that if this site did decide to start “punishing” spammers then it could take spam comments that got through and repost one into the comments of every 5th article that’s at least 5 months old. That way readers probably won’t see it, but Google will and count it towards that site’s spammage without considering Techdirt a spam link site. Or Techdirt can take the high road remove the links. Personally I think the best route would be the middle road, “hey, good job getting spam through our filters, time for you to face the consequences…”

alanbleiweiss (profile) says:

SEO, Spam and Googles Logic

Okay as an actual SEO professional (one who only advocates real, sustainable SEO, and not crappy spam tactics), I will add this:

1. It IS punishment. Spam has gotten so far out of hand over the years that previous efforts to discourage and otherwise eliminate otherwise undeserving results from the organic listings were not getting the message across. Spam just became a massive business.

So to really send the message across, Google is now much more SEVERELY penalizing sites that use spam tactics, one of which is crappy link techniques. The notion here being that when a site gets a manual penalty for crap links, it becomes a very daunting task to clean up now.

Couple that with most of those sites then needing to re-earn (or in actually earn for the first time in legitimate ways) rankings, and more sites are doing all they can to become good netizens.

2. Leaving spam comments up just to spite foolish site owners is NOT helpful to TechDirt. And it doesn’t contribute to punishing those site owners because they’ll just disavow the links if you leave them up.

In fact, where it CAN be a problem for TechDirt is if Google’s system detects too many spam comments, this site WILL be penalized.

I doubt there are that many on TD, so it’s highly unlikely that this scenario would happen (as compared to sites like Mashable or others that have free-for-all comment spam where those are more likely to see some sort of hit).

3. Charging site owners to remove their links is a possible revenue stream, however the overwhelming majority of site owners or link-clean-up providers who encounter a fee situation ignore it and just disavow those links.

And for those site owners who come to me for an audit after they’ve been penalized, that’s exactly what I recommend to them. Along with noting in their tracking of their clean-up those sites that attempted to charge for the service. Because that’s potentially subject to being viewed as an extortion scheme under some circumstances (not a TD scenario though either).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: SEO, Spam and Googles Logic

2. Leaving spam comments up just to spite foolish site owners is NOT helpful to TechDirt. And it doesn’t contribute to punishing those site owners because they’ll just disavow the links if you leave them up.

In fact, where it CAN be a problem for TechDirt is if Google’s system detects too many spam comments, this site WILL be penalized.

The links are already disavowed because of nofollow HTML tagging. Techdirt can’t be punished for them, [and as you acknowledge, nether can the spam contrary to what they believe].

Anonymous Coward says:

The requests are also spam, by the way

Remember that the proper definition of spam (in the context of email) is “unsolicited bulk email”. We chose that deliberately: it says nothing about the purpose of the email, or its contents, or its subject, or its sender, or anything else. (For example, blank spam is still unquestionably spam.)

So the same spammers who have abused web forums with their filth are now abusing the mailboxes of the operators of web forums with unsolicited bulk email requesting that their earlier spam be cleaned up.

Since, unfortunately, spam is not yet a capital crime (a change I would STRONGLY support) the only real recourse is to blacklist them — and that’s exactly what I’d do. Have done. 😉 There is no reason to give any spammer any service or response whatsoever: there is every reason to blacklist them for life.

Chilly8 (user link) says:

The proglem with Forum spam is that a lot of it comes through proxies and VPNs. The only way to do it is to block all traffic coming via proxies, VPNs, and the like. I had to do that a few years ago, because of one problem user who just would not get the message that he was not welcome. When I started blocking proxies and VPNs, the amount of forum spam on my site went down as well, though some still gets through at times.

alanbleiweiss (profile) says:

"We Want To Break Their Spirits"

Just saw this:

Matt Cutts, head of Googles Search Spam unit stated on the record over on TWIT.TV their intent with the way they are going after spammers:

“If you want to stop spam, the most straight forward way to do it is to deny people money because they care about the money and that should be their end goal. But if you really want to stop spam, it is a little bit mean, but what you want to do, is sort of break their spirits. There are lots of Google algorithms specifically designed to frustrate spammers. Some of the things we do is give people a hint their site will drop and then a week or two later, their site actually does drop. So they get a little bit more frustrated. So hopefully, and we?ve seen this happen, people step away from the dark side and say, you know what, that was so much pain and anguish and frustration, let?s just stay on the high road from now on.”

So my position that it IS punishment, in my opinion based on this statement,is correct. Punishment is designed to break people of a bad habit.

Here’s the link to the full audio

Jack Yan (user link) says:

Spam to remove spam

We get these regularly, too?although I admit I got duped by the first one. Usually, the ones we get are those that say they are doing us a favour. The craziest one was a web developer asking us to remove a link from our directory?obviously this SEO ?expert? decided that the best way to rid themselves of these links was to spam anyone with one, including legitimate sites. So to remove spam, they engaged in spam. Nice one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So, take them down.

I think you should bill them up front for 5 minutes of your time (Valued at $10,000 per hour). After receiving the money and it has cleared the bank, add the link removal to your “To do” list with an approximate ETA of 3-4 months. If they would like expedited service, let them know for an additional service charge of $5,000 that they could have it reduced to about 2 months wait.


Crazy Canuck says:



I’m from the NSA and we instigated a program to secretly add links to our website via secret backdoors we designed into all Internet infrastructure. We thought that this may help improve our Google rating and thus improve how the general public perceives us. It has come to our attention that this program has in fact caused the opposite reaction. We would kindly ask that you remove the links to us immediately, otherwise we may be forced to invest in a new program to create a new secret backdoor to remove the link ourselves.

Your Big Brother

PS: It’d be a shame if your friends found out what websites you were surfing last night…

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