There is a new trend out there, one that hasn’t received much coverage, but it’s a big deal, and it’s getting bigger. As user generated content becomes more and more prevalent, we have a new type of spam out there: trackback spam. On my blog, beneath all of the entries (above the comments), there is a section that shows you the user agents that loaded that page as well as the refering pages. I recently discovered something: people gaming the system. Read on…
The thing is, I sometimes follow those links to see who is linking to my site. There are several reasons I do this, but part of it is the effect on search engines. Anyone who links a blog entry to my particle immediately is linked back on subsequent page load. It’s good search engine karma. That said, I started seeing some sites that didn’t have a link back, but somehow referred someone to my site. And then I realized they were unrelated – car insurance, casino, etc. Typical spam crap.
All were coming from different IPs. All had different user agents. All had different referer links. This is spam, pure and simple. It’s someone trying to piggyback off of my pagerank.
These are the jerks who spammed me:
And that’s just a small slice of the pie.
I’ve removed all of the spam links I could find, added some tighter controls to try to avoid recording these faked headers, and also added ‘rel=”nofollow”‘ to the links, which means I still reward referrers with a link, but bots won’t follow them, so they get no pagerank bonus until I manually change it.
Trackback spam is going to be a big problem, particularly as people continue to use commenting engines that allow you to link your name to a URL. It makes sense to start posting fake comments just to get that link on a worthwhile website with a high pagerank. So combating this early will be important.
I’ve thought about some ways we might combat this, and was thinking that on OSNews, I might only light up your blog/homepage link if you have a positive “trust” level. Otherwise, it will be just plain text. Or maybe add the “nofollow” to links of untrusted users. Not sure yet.
Either way, trust me, though the subject may catch on with a different name, you haven’t heard the last of trackback spam.