How To Avoid Spambots By Using Pinging Services

Filed as Features, General on September 17, 2007 4:14 pm

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Most blogging applications, including WordPress, are set up by default to let the entire world know when you update your blog. They either use a lengthy list of ping URLs or a pinging service such as Pingomatic to help you ensure that every service that wants to know about your new post does so.

These lists, by default, do not include just search engines and RSS readers, but also “central” pinging services that provide updates to other tools and applications.

However, as we discussed previously, this use of central servers is also very convenient for spammers. Many spam bots watch some of these services and scout them for content they might find useful to scrape, making them a potentially risky move.

Fortunately, most of the major services we, as humans, rely on offer a direct means of communication with them and that enables us to bypass these central pinging services altogether and avoid at least some of the spammers completely.

All it requires is a new pinging strategy, one that goes straight to the source.


Services to Consider

When looking at services to send out pings to, it is important to look at risk versus reward. Most services that want your feed, both legitimate and illegitimate, will simply check your feed automatically at regular intervals regardless of if you send out an update or not. The advantage of sending a ping is the immediacy of it and the possibility of getting your content indexed right after you update.

That makes search engines, especially blog search engines, an important target for pinging. Also, to ensure that your audience has your latest posts, it also makes sense to ping any popular RSS readers they use as well as any services that you intentionally push your content onto, such as FeedBurner.

A sample list of services, with their Ping URLs, might include the following:

Technorati: http://rpc.technorati.com/rpc/ping
Google Blogsearch: http://blogsearch.google.com/ping/RPC2
Icerocket: http://rpc.icerocket.com:10080
My Yahoo: http://api.my.yahoo.com/RPC
Bloglines: http://www.bloglines.com/ping
Newsgator: http://services.newsgator.com/ngws/xmlrpcping.asp
FeedBurner: http://ping.feedburner.com

Of course, that list will be different for every blog. Podcasts, for example, will want to ping iTunes and blogs in foreign languages will likely have local search engines they want to announce themselves to as well. Also, new blogs may want to go ahead and ping the central servers, at least until their site gets picked up by everyone so it can be indexed later.

The important thing, however, is that most of the services we rely on have direct paths to update them and do not rely on third party sites to get their information.

Sites to Consider Avoiding

Many of the most popular pinging destinations are not actually Web services used by humans, but are lists designed to help with the updating of other services. Examples of these sites include Weblogs, Blo.gs and, to a lesser extent, Blogrolling.

These services, and others like them, provide an easily-digested list of recently updated blogs. This is great for search engines as they can quickly pick up posts that are new and include them quickly, but these lists are also easy for spammers as their bots can scan the latest submissions for anything of interest.

Since most of the services we want our site to be on can be reached faster by going to them directly, there is little reason to ping these central servers and wait for other sites to pick them up.

It seems that, in many ways, these sites have become circles of spam, with some spammers using these services to ping their splogs out in order to get noticed and others using them to locate and scrape content.

Even though it is a sad testament to the status quo in blogging, when one looks at the updated items on the pinging services, it is amazing that spammers find any original content at all.

Updating Your List

If you want to update your ping list to better focus who you are sending your updates to, the process is very simple.

If you’re a WordPress user, all you have to do is log in to your administration panel, click on “Options” and go to the “Writing” subtab. At the bottom, you’ll see a header entitled “Update Services” that will have a list of URLs in it, one on each line. Just copy and paste the URLs (without the name) you want into the box, one per line, and then click save. If you wish to avoid sending your pings to Weblogs and other central services, be sure to remove the line with pingomatic in it.

In Movable Type 4, simply go to “Preferences” and then to “Blog Settings”. From there, just go to “Web Services” and enter the URLs you want the same as with WordPress in the text box under “Others”. However, you may wish to uncheck Weblogs as the service is turned on by default.

For other blogging applications, look in your help files for more information.

Conclusions

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of such a pinging strategy in slowing content theft remains to be seen. Though some spammers do seem to be targeting these services, it is an operation that definitely skews to the higher end of what spammers are capable of.

Only spammers capable of scanning parsing thousands of posts per hour would gain much benefit from this. However, given the CPU power available to some spammers in terms of servers, botnets and personal computers, there is a good chance that many are taking advantage of it today and have been for some time.

Though this is certainly out of reach of your small-time scraper, any spam blogger with a decent independent network could easily pull it off.

Of course, even discounting content theft, there are other reasons to consider altering your pinging strategy. Not only does pinging the services directly result in faster updating, but it reduces overlap.

Since most pinging strategies simply involve sending out the updates to as many sites as possible, many services receive the same update multiple times. Though not necessarily harmful, it is still clutter that can be easily avoided.

All in all, refocusing our ping lists doesn’t require any real sacrifice, save a few moments of extra work.

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  1. By The Internet Cash Flow Guy posted on September 18, 2007 at 2:59 am
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    We all are constantly struggling to get more traffic to our sites and will simply just start pinging to try to achieve this. I appreciate your approach here in assessing what services are better to ping to or not. It is not a given that you ping everyone – I never really thought of that before.

    Thanks.

    Reply

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  4. By Jonathan Bailey posted on September 18, 2007 at 12:42 pm
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    Cash Flow Guy: You’re welcome for the thoughts. Though I understand well the struggle for more traffic, I think I speak for most bloggers when I say that most of my new traffic comes from Google. There’s not much point in pinging out to Weblogs if only a few sites bring you almost all of your traffic.

    However, that is just my opinion, different sites will have different needs.

    Reply

  5. By Rose posted on September 19, 2007 at 9:26 pm
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    Jonathon what services would you recommend avoiding?

    Reply

  6. By Jonathan Bailey posted on September 20, 2007 at 5:30 am
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    Rose: I think the main ones are the ones in the article, Weblogs, Blogrolling and Blo.gs are probably the worst. I’d avoid automatically pinging pingomatic too since it shoots out the pings to all of those services as well (at least I think it’s all three).

    As long as you avoid those three and relying on any automated pinging service, you should be ok!

    Reply

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