Confessions of a Trackback Spammer: Please… Stop Me!

Editor’s Note: The following is a public service announcement from the Dark Side. Please be aware that Black Hats have feelings, too. Well, actually… no they don’t. But they do have great senses of humor, so let’s hope you do, too.

Confession

ConfessionalYou know that asshat who keeps sending you trackback spam for Casino sites and Viagra offers? Yeah, well… umm… that was kinda… well it was ME.

Am I sorry about it? Yeah, sometimes I get really choked up about it–like the other day when I got some caviar caught in my throat and tripped over that suitcase full of cash on the way to get more champagne.

Revelation

It was at that moment that I had an epiphany “What if those bloggers don’t care about how cheap Acai berries are? Perhaps they don’t want a trackback link to my scraper sites? Maybe… just maybe… I should tell them how to stop me?”

So to cleanse my conscience (before I hop on my Jet-ski this afternoon), I’m here today to tell YOU how to stop trackback spammers like ME.

Enlightenment

Some of you might be wondering: “What the hell are you talking about? What is trackback spam?”

Here’s the deal: When you write a post and link to another blog, most blogging software (such as WordPress), have a way for you to ping the other blogger to let them know you wrote a post that links to their blog. Then the receiver often publishes a link back to the originator.

In general, the more links you have to your site, the higher you rank in Google. Plus, there’s always a chance that someone will see your link on that other site, click the link, and visit your site.

The more traffic you have, the more money you make.

That’s why you’ll often see a trackback notification where someone like me did nothing but copy your entire article and linked back to you. A site that just takes other people’s content and republishes it is called a scraper site. It costs us nothing to ping you and sometimes it results in a link. Spammers like me can set up sites like this with just a few clicks of the mouse–and so we do.

Google then adds insult to injury by ranking these sites above yours in their search results. So all those people that would have found your site via Google, now go to our scraper sites instead. By neglecting this problem, Google continues to make people like me rich (Thanks G!). Sometimes we spammers don’t even bother scraping your article or linking to your site: we just send a trackback ping to your site with a link to our spammy Viagra or Casino site.

That’s trackback spam.

Penance

Many of you combat this problem by deleting the links on your blog or not approving the trackback link in the moderation cue.

The thing is, we’ll just keep scraping and sending you trackbacks. Then every day you have to delete the trackback spam from (usually) the same 100 or so spammers. If you enjoy deleting 20 of these trackback notifications every day from the same people, then just keep doing what you’re doing.

If not, then here is a better way:

Check out the latest 4 trackback spam pings I received:

Trackback Spam

Here we have 4 trackback spams from 3 different scraper sites, but only two IP addresses.

Those IPs represent servers that both scrape your content AND send you a spam message. To stop every spam site on that server from scraping your content and sending you a trackback ping, all you have to do is deny the IP address.

To do this for the above two spam servers, you add the following to your .htaccess file:

<limit GET POST>
order allow,deny
allow from all
deny from 66.35.79.122
deny from 209.188.83.44
</limit>

Every time you get a trackback spam, you just get the IP address and add a “deny from” line to the .htaccess entry above. Collect all the IPs of trackback spammers and scraper sites as they come in, and after a few weeks you’ll see a 90%+ reduction in this kind of spam.

Redemption

Ahhhhh . . . I feel better already. Sweet, sweet salvation; thank you for evaporating my guilt away!

Temptation

TemptationLook kids: just because I run a site about Gaming Google and have a $100 per month Black Hat SEO forum about how to spam search engines doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for YOU to start spamming too. Odds are the stuff in that forum will be over your head, completely despicable, or both.

Keep your money and instead just focus on writing great copy. Spamming is bad, umm-kay?

Damnation

DamnationIt’s sure to come here in the comment section–let me grab my suit so you can flame away.

About the Author: Quadzilla is the proprietor of SEO Black Hat, and a surprisingly nice guy in real life.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Google+ or Twitter to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. I use WP-SpamFree for commenting it cut my spam comments from an almost overwhelming 3 or 4 a week, to 3 a month.

    I guess I should be depressed that I’m not getting splogged.

    (((sigh)))

  2. I just use the Akismet filter on WordPress and don’t get any of that silly trackback spam. There’s really no reason someone should deal with it these days.

  3. It’s official. I do not like you.

  4. Oh, right, this is very feasible. Just add IPs to your .htaccess and watch it grow bigger and bigger in no-time.

    THIS spammer might be doing it from only a handfull of IPs — which I’d find strange, I tend to see spam coming from hacked PCs. There’s shitloads of those, so you’ll be adding thousands of IPs, thereby also blocking those (somewhat) innocent people from your site, completely, even as regular visitors.

    Apart from that, let’s see what happens if more than a few people did this…

    – trackback spam attempt gets caught by the web server
    – therefore it never reaches WordPress
    – therefore it never reaches Akismet
    – therefore the chances of the same message automatically being marked as spam elsewhere decreases.

    Nice try, mr. Asshole Spammer.

    I have a better idea: what if you stop being a parasite (not to mention copyright infringer), and start actually working for your money. I don’t care what you do, as long as it involves you doing the actual work, instead of just ripping it off from someone else.

  5. Akismet works for me too, at least so far. Still, the IP tip above is a good one. If things ever get out of hand, I’ll have to try it.
    And give credit where it’s due, the post was pretty funny too. :)

    – Dave

  6. I just unsubscribed from my CopyBlogger subscription because I was so disappointed that it ran this article. It’s a poorly veiled advertisement for SEO Black Hat and its tactics, and certainly not something reputable copy writers should consider using.

    Drone on all you want about why we “shouldn’t” do it, but by providing the link, you’re tacitly endorsing black hat tactics. Shame on Copy Blogger!

  7. I hope you’re joking about tripping over a suitcase full of cash…
    or eating caviar…
    or the whole jetski shenannigans.

    If you’re serious, you may want to read the earlier post about hype located on this blog.

    Because while I trust Brian Clark, I don’t trust (or like) you.

    Is that harsh? Yes…but at least it’s the truth.

  8. As an aside:

    Quadzilla, if this was written as a satire (meaning you wrote it in the tone of a Black Hat SEO specialist, while not being one), then you’re not so bad.

    However, if this is how you make your living for real then you are scum & I stand by my original comments.

  9. “I tend to see spam coming from hacked PCs. ” – Max

    I strongly doubt that. If someone is going to go the straight illegal rout that includes a trojans and hacked machines, they’re gonna take your identity, banking info, credit card #s, etc. and make additional money by extorting companies with DDoS attacks via botnets. Those guys aren’t using hacked machines for trackback type stuff.

  10. Wow. Entertaining and very enlightening.

  11. I can just see the next advertisement for the Black Hat SEO site… “How to use free proxies to get around people who think they can keep up with IP block lists” ;)

  12. So is it Quadzilla or Quadszilla?

  13. I had no idea that they might also be scraping my content. I thought it was just a nuisance. How could anyone feel good about earning money this way?

  14. There are some plugins you can use to help decrease it as well, such as http://sw-guide.de/wordpress/plugins/simple-trackback-validation/ .

    Good headsup post, Barbara

  15. Akismet works to an extent to stop trackback, but does nothing to stop those servers from scraping and republishing your content. A deny IP stops those server from accessing your site entirely. There are ways around the deny IP too, but most spammers don’t bother. It’s a numbers game.

  16. Yep, the most valuable tip kinda got buried in the post… IP deny in .htaccess stops people from automatically scraping you. I hate being scraped.

    Yes, there are ways around it, but most spammers won’t bother. They’ll just scan for someone who doesn’t bother to protect themselves.

  17. It’s quadszilla with an “s”, but people get it wrong half the time. When I took the quadszilla with an S handle, no one was using it. It’s a term used in poker for 4 of a kind. It’s not an unbeatable hand – but it holds up most of the time.

  18. The problem with this approach is that innocent people who are trying to come from the same IP may not be able to see your data… I posted a solution for it some time back. Check my link above.

  19. Great article Quadszilla ! Knowing both sides of SEO leads to a stronger understanding of the subject.

  20. It’s quadszilla with an “s”

    Fixed, but that’s what you get for being a spammer with a goofy handle. :)

  21. Excellent! You even started the article wondering if we had a sense of humor, and it seems that some of us don’t!
    Good post, and helpful tip about using IP deny.

  22. Haha.. I liked this post.

    And thanks for the tips!

  23. The number of false positives (where you’re denying a user rather than a spammy server) would almost certainly be less than 1 in 10,000 in today’s environment.

  24. “How could anyone feel good about earning money this way? – Tracy”

    I see it as a game – and it’s fun to win.

    We all have our own set of morals. Mine allow me to do things like scraping and trackback spamming, but not things like click fraud or affiliate shaving.

    At the end of the day, copywriters are salespeople. There is certainly a body of people that wonder “How could anyone feel good about earning money entirely by manipulating human emotions?”

  25. @Quadszilla:

    I strongly doubt that. If someone is going to go the straight illegal rout that includes a trojans and hacked machines, they’re gonna take your identity, banking info, credit card #s, etc. and make additional money by extorting companies with DDoS attacks via botnets. Those guys aren’t using hacked machines for trackback type stuff.

    Spam not coming from botnets? This article says otherwise. The decrease in spam shortly after the McColo shutdown agrees with it.

    Of course, you’re totally right when you say that only an IP block might save you from the scraping scum like yourself, but nothing is keeping you and your “colleagues” from using Google Reader or services like that; not something I’d like to block personally. In other words, there’s no way to stop parasites like you, apart from a bullet in the head.

    Besides, the scraping you do infringes upon copyrights, so it’s just as illegal as ID or CC theft. You may think that you’re less illegal than the carders and ID thiefs, but you’re still a crook, no matter how much you try to downplay it or make it sound OK.

  26. GREAT TIP!!!

    I’ve been reading recently about bloggers who spend a LOT of time fighting this kind of stuff “by hand”. This is SO much better – easier AND less time consuming.

    Oh, I’m convinced for every one person who modifies their htaccess file, there are at least a thousand who will approve the trackback.

  27. @ Quad –

    “How could anyone feel good about earning money this way? – Tracy”

    I see it as a game – and it’s fun to win.

    We all have our own set of morals. Mine allow me to do things like scraping and trackback spamming, but not things like click fraud or affiliate shaving.

    At the end of the day, copywriters are salespeople. There is certainly a body of people that wonder “How could anyone feel good about earning money entirely by manipulating human emotions?”

    You realize there’s a ton of psychology lessons in this little snippet right there… Well said.

    My blog just got ripped apart this weekend while people discussed sales tactics, and they just about torched each other. It was amusing to watch the ‘my way or the highway’ when people’s morals were hit dead on.

  28. apart from a bullet in the head.

    really? That’s the ONLY way? Interesting . . .

    “Besides, the scraping you do infringes upon copyrights”

    Yes. And so does downloading all those pirated mp3s, movies and books. And I do that too!

    I’m just glad the music companies don’t quite go as far as your death threats.

  29. For WP users there is a plug-in called WP-Ban that blocks IPs with out having to fiddle with the htaccess file.
    I installed it about 2 months ago and it has blocked 10,000 attempts to access my site from about a dozen IPs that were comment spamming me.

  30. @Quad: Death threat? Nah. And tell me: what other ways are there to stop you? Apart from the IP blocks, because that’s just a temporary stopgap.

    What would stop you?

  31. @Quadszilla – I agree that we all draw the line in different places. I don’t see it as a game when my posts get scraped or I have to waste time dealing with spam, it is an annoyance. I can’t imagine how furious and frustrated I’d feel if it were my source of income being compromised.

    I’m genuinely curious what makes it a game for you. Is it the challenge? Do you feel superior that you’ve duped people?

    I do take your point about manipulating human emotions; I have thought about it recently. I do a little affiliate marketing to keep my site running, and sometimes I wonder if I’m putting pressure on people to buy things they shouldn’t. It took some thought to decide how much I could do and still feel comfortable with myself.

    Scraping content is stealing and it would weigh very heavily on me to do that. You don’t agree and I can’t imagine I can guilt you into changing your mind so I won’t try.

    I do thank you for explaining to me what all those mystery pingbacks on my blog are. I’ve been deleting them but had no idea why somebody would do that.

  32. Yeah, I used to get that crap too. And while IP deny seems like it’s a great tool (if you have cpanel, you can deploy it from there), for some reason it didn’t do a whole helluva lot against the spammers I was up against (mostly because they knew how to hide the IP torproject ftw).

    So I had to go a different route: Full court press moderation (everything must be approved now even signups) plus captcha. Now all’s quiet on this front.

  33. I must be defective or something, because even the notion of claiming someone else’s content as my own doesn’t even occur to me.

    I can’t even imagine it.

    If someone offered me a lot of money to tell people I wrote something I didn’t write, I could not even understand their motivation. I mean, I’m incapable of understanding why someone would want to do this. Yes yes I know… for the money… but it still doesn’t compute.

    When I write, I offer a piece of myself.

    If I took someone else’s writing, I would be offering them instead of myself?

    Just doesn’t compute.

    In any case, at some point I’ll have the legal team to hammer anyone taking my stuff without attribution. I’ve already had someone tossed off of squidoo.com, and another person tossed off of a torrent site. That last jackass scanned and OCR’ed my book? WTF? I mean, that had to take *hours* Get a life, man!

  34. Yeah, great article, great title, great content, great humor. Just one mistake:

    Traffic brings money>>>actually conversion brings money. I’d rather have 1000 relevant visitors to my site than 100.000 stumbleupon visitors daily.

  35. This is awesome! I have constantly getting trackback alerts for sites that have copied my articles and want me to approve a link on my blog. Hopefully this will combat my issues :)

  36. So is it Quadzilla or Quadszilla?

    In Brazil, Quads goes by the nickname of “Veado da bunda larga”. Now I won’t tell you much about that except that he is passive. Ohh…
    ;)

  37. I am very, very new to all this social media, blogs, scrapers and such, so here I am working on reading as much info as I can to understand this a bit more, but after reading some of these comments, now I don’t know if what you put out there is good info or not?

  38. Thank you for the tip! I was going crazy having to sift through the spam messages to make sure no “good” ones got caught up in my junk filter. But it’s super simple now that there’s fewer Viagra and prescription drug spam messages in there.

  39. Thanks for the tip Quads. I think I will try it for a few weeks and see how it goes.

  40. It’s amazing to see just how many commenters here are extremely judgmental.

    Sure you might find trackback spamming and content scrapping unethical and yes, it’s downright illegal in many countries.

    But can you HONESTLY say you haven’t done anything to hurt others? Geez. You might be further along the “moral evolution” but you came from the same path. So tolerate guys.

    I hate spammers just as much as you do but at least this guy is offering something of value. I.P. deny is something I didn’t know about.

    And Obviously Brian saw that value too because I’m sure he’s facing far more trackback spams than YOU yet he’s willing to publish this!

  41. woohoo Quadszilla posting on CopyBlogger! Nice. Though not a member of your Blackhat Forum I’ve been following your blog for years.

  42. Well, I loved this article – for its humour and its educational value. So thanks, Brian, for posting it.

    Also – as James pointed out, there are some very interesting lessons and thinking points about human psychology – which we should all be interested in if we’re in any form of sales.

    As it happens I installed Bad Behaviour a while ago and I can honestly say I’ve only received one or two track back spams since. Certainly no more.

    From my understanding of the way BB works it’s also blocking the scrapers. But I’ll go back and re-check.

    Thanks again, Brian,

    Cheers,

    Martin.

  43. Excellent post for going viral.

    Nice work.

    Black hat off to you.

    yikes.

    Two words – Kar-ma

    George

  44. Kudos to Brian for giving Black Hat dude the floor. I learned some stuff and yeah, got a laugh, too.

  45. I agree that why play by the rules when they are just that arbitrary boxes to hurt peoples ability to get the big traffic.

  46. /disables trackbacks
    /never worries about trackback spam

  47. And what about Askimet? I think that it cuts spam trackbacks too. Editing .htaccess file is fine solution but I think that it’s for more experienced users

  48. My best friend was a hacker once, now he become a cop working in cyber-crime. If someone steals my contents I will contact him and he’ll love to take care of the rest. That’s the use of copyright anyway, isn’t it?

  49. I don’t give a – about .htaccess or Akismet. However, I really love the way you PRESENTED it. Please give me your brain so that I too can write posts like this and get all the attention I wanted.

  50. Love the blog, not digging the post. I like my content just where it is. On my site. The workaround isn’t a workaround (see Max’s comments). Honestly, a bit disappointed.

  51. I’m genuinely curious what makes it a game for you. Is it the challenge? Do you feel superior that you’ve duped people? – Tracy

    The game is just like any other strategy game like chess or starcraft. The scoreboards are traffic, rankings in search engines, and money – so it’s easy to see if you’re winning or losing.

    For me, it’s not about duping or tricking people any more than a chess trap or zerg rush.

  52. FYI, for WordPress bloggers only, there is an alternative to editing your server files.

    Log into your admin panel, and click the settings link for “Discussion” and you will see a comment whitelist box. You can input those IP numbers there, too.

  53. Thanks for the info Ari Herzog.

  54. Interesting bit about IP Blocking. Looked up WP Ban and Bad Behavior. Both seem to have various problems working with other plugins.

    E.g. WP Ban is not compatible with WP Super Cache.

    Bad Behavior seems to have problems with social bookmarking sites like Digg and Delicious. It also seems to have trouble with Search Everything.

    But I also found WP Block You which directly modifies the htaccess file (for good or for ill). However, this may not suit you if you do article marketing to promote your blog.

    Moderate Trackbacks also looks interesting.

    I currently use Akismet, Simple Trackback Validation, Weasels No Http Authors and WP Spamfree. Not perfect, I still get trackback from people who republish my articles (from article directories) but so far so good *fingers crossed*

    Akismet has competitors, although they have their own strengths and weaknesses – Spam Karma 2 (free?), Defensio (paid).

  55. While the IP tip might be good, the association with black hat SEO guys leaves much to be desired.

    I have to admit, I haven’t been impressed with CopyBlogger lately.

  56. At first I thought this was a satire, written by some “good” guy. I’m thinking, man this writer is pulling it off, sure has me convinced. Even rationalizing that a “good” guy could only write such an article.

    Then when I saw the link in the bio I thought $@&%!

    A real black hat seo guy…but it made it even more hilarious! (And valuable too.) In my opinion this is a brilliant post, and it takes courage to publish it.

    @quadszillla –

    At the end of the day, copywriters are salespeople. There is certainly a body of people that wonder “How could anyone feel good about earning money entirely by manipulating human emotions?”

    Mmm, or how could anyone sell products to desperate buyers knowing that they are desperate and will take anything you pitch as long as you pry into their emotions at just the right angle?

    So many lines to draw…is it better to know where your lines are, or not even give them a thought?

  57. Eww, I felt dirty after reading this.

  58. Nice tip for curtailing TrackBack spam, but more than that I was attracted to the discussion on what is moral and what is immoral. It becomes easy to define immorality if you can view/experience the implications. In some countries honor-killing is legal and accepted but in most of the societies it is a heinous crime. To know whether your activity is harmful or not try to understand how much harm it is causing to the person at the receiving end of your activity, without being rhetorical.

  59. This is a great WordPress plugin too. – http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/httpbl/ From the folks at Project Honey Pot.

  60. This was fun, and a nice change on CopyBlogger. The caviar comment was worth a chuckle…

  61. Thanks for the tip. I needed this tip like 1000 spam trackbacks ago. Very funny read.

  62. Like who better to tell you how to protect your jewels than a jewel thief?
    Interesting responses.

  63. I learn a new thing..How to ban spammer…

  64. This is all fascinating.

  65. Thanks for this info!

    Very interesting and will definitely come useful.

  66. Quadszillla,
    I know I may not exactly be following the comment thread here, but I thought I would chime in with a couple of items.

    1. Your first two paragraphs on the post are a riot!
    2. I am glad you shared some of the methods to top the content scraping with the .htaccess file. I really hadn’t thought of using that method and it’s really straight forward. Those trackbacks with the content scrape sure do get annoying. Thanks for sharing some tips from the dark side.

  67. The game is just like any other strategy game like chess or starcraft. The scoreboards are traffic, rankings in search engines, and money – so it’s easy to see if you’re winning or losing.

    The difference, I think, is that in this game you’re actually hurting other people. When you win in chess, nobody loses their money. When you win in Starcraft you’re not actually killing. Nothing is lost on the other end of the game except perhaps a little pride.

    The difference between people like you and copywriters is that selling requires the consent of the buyer. Can salesman be seedy and lie? Yes, but that’s illegal – and a lot of people get into serious legal trouble as a result and are forced to pay damages.

    I’m certainly not trying to take the moral high road here – we all do things that may be frowned upon by others – but it’s hard to call what you do anything other than stealing.

    The law is the only moral compass we all must agree to abide by – it’s fundamental to society. If what you’re doing is legal, I’m not interested in debating whether you should/shouldn’t.

    Copyright infringement of this kind, though, is hardly legal, and my guess is that scrapers such as yourself will have a bill to pay when all is said and done.

  68. Quadszilla,

    Thanks for the heads-up. If it isn’t you doing this, then it’d be somebody else. As long as the business is viable, it’ll stick around and you can’t blame those who take advantage. Gentlemen’s agreements can only be expected to take care of so much, though making the information to dilute the strength of this is a big first step. I appreciate you weakening your position to help fellow bloggers, etc.

  69. I can’t really be judgmental on the whole ‘black hat SEO’ as I work for an essay writing company, ensuring our websites get ranked above sites like wikipedia for certain key-terms.

    While I don’t scrape content, spam legitimate blogs, or employ any black hat methods, the moral aspect of my job often comes into question. I often find myself jumping on the defensive, but it pays the bills at the end of the day.

    Thank you for the tips – one of my work sites get scraped all the time, I will certainly employ this method in the future.

  70. I actually like hearing about the new online gaming sites and Viagra deals.

    Seriously though, there are several scraper blogs that take my content and attempt the trackback every day. Eventhough they don’t rank higher than I do, I’ve been told conflicting things about how to deal with them or whether or not I should make them stop.

    I use Akismet, but I’ll try the IP deny as well. Good stuff in the rest of these comments too. Thanks.

  71. I’ve been developing websites for quite some time, but only recently have I started learning and using WordPress. It’s nice to know there’s a way to stop spammers through the .htaccess file. Thanks for the heads up and hope others take this in too.

  72. Nice you are not…charming, yes.

  73. I have to agree with some of the other commenters. With the tools at our disposal nowadays there really is no need to have to deal with this kind of spam. Akismet is an invaluable tool in my opinion. But it never hurts to have more than one tool up your sleeve.

  74. I’ll bow to your (much, much) greater knowledge, but I understood that WordPress and most other blog engines automatically assigned “nofollow” codes to links in comments and trackbacks.
    http://codex.wordpress.org/Nofollow

  75. Digital Shock :

    I laugh at the judgemental ones here. Yep getting scraped and click frauded and all that other bad stuff is really bad. But what if there were no blogs like this? Then you would have no idea about all of the tactics out there would you, you silly billys? Just ask yourself who you learnt all the nasty tactics off so that you could protect yourself? Yep, you got it, you learnt it from a Black Hatter.

    Learn the tactics and prepare yourself. Don’t take offense. This is the wild west guys and gals, and to survive you have to learn to adapt (and quickly).

  76. Great write up on track backs and IP addresses. I also agree, don’t get caught up in the mysticism of blackhat seo. Google is smarter than ever and all things easy prove fatal in seo.