How Spam-Friendly is Your Niche?

Filed as Features on March 17, 2008 9:08 am

No one wants to attract spammers to their site. They scrape content, post junk comments and turn search engines off to your site.

Unfortunately, the bitter truth is that all blogs, regardless of age, topic and readership, will attract at least some attention from the purveyors of junk. That is a simple byproduct of having a blog and publishing an RSS feed.

However, to spammers, all blogs are not created equal and some sites are going to attract far more attention from spammers than others. But while many of the elements that will attract spammers may be unpredictable and outside of our control, others are not.

One of the biggest indicators of how much trouble a blog will have with spam is the niche that it is operating in. This is because, by in large, the niche a blog is in will determine the keywords most commonly associated with it and those keywords, in turn, determine which sites the spammers latch on to.

The question then becomes, which niches suffer the most at the hands of spammers.

The Usual Suspects

If you want to know whether your niche is a popular target for spammers, you need to look no farther than the spam folder in your email box.

Whether or not Web spammers and email spammers are often the same, it is clear that they share many of the same targets. Keywords and topics that are popular targets for email spammers will, often times, be targets for Web ones as well.

As such, blogs in known spam niches such as gambling, prescription drugs, contests, travel, adult content and financing, are going to be frequent targets for spam blogs.

Of course, the catch is that it is not necessarily a matter of your blog promoting the same products or services as spam blogs, it is a matter of it being within the same broad topic. Spam bots, much like search engines, can not inherently tell the difference between favorable and unfavorable posts. As such, a news report about a crackdown on online gambling is just as likely to be scraped as a blog offering tips for for winning at poker.

In short, if your site routinely has keywords that are familiar to email spam, odds are you’ve already seen more than your fair share of trouble from dark side of the Web. But even if you don’t meet those criteria, there is still a good chance you could, unwittingly, be attracting the attention of spammers.

Unexpected Surprises

Of course, not all Web spam deals with the same topics as email spam. Since Web spam is driven by many different factors, it is inevitable some categories will show up on the Web that don’t in our inboxes.

One such factor is the amount of money a spammer can hope to make off of a single click. When one takes a look at the most expensive Adsense keywords, they find that the list is top-heavy not with traditional spam topics, but legal searches.

Since many spam blogs only earn a few clicks before being shut down, having a keyword that generates a decent amount of revenue is critical. As such, spammers are drawn to topics such a Mesothelioma, dwi/dui, personal injury and insurance simply because they are terms they can hope to make approximately fifty dollars a click from. Though these terms are not as heavily targeted by spammers since they are less likely to be searched for than the traditional spam workhorses, cost definitely plays a factor.

On the flip side, search frequency also plays a role. Looking at the top search terms gives you an idea of what people are searching for and where the spammers are likely to follow. In that regard, celebrity news is a frequent topic of interest with technology and television shows also making an appearance.

Though these terms might not be as valuable per click, they can make up for that in sheer quantity. Simply put, spammers are guaranteed not just a constant stream of potential viewers, but a ready supply of sites to latch onto. This approach may be better for spam sites less focused on earning clicks on ads and more interested in using spam to pump the rankings of another site.

Still, of all the potential indicators, it appears that search volume is the least helpful. The amount of Britney Spears spam, for example, remains remarkably low for the term and seems likely to stay that way.

But like the other factors, it is worth being aware of as it can give you a clue as to the problems that may be coming down the road.

What It Is Bad

None of this is to say that you should change your niche simply because it is targeted by spammers, just that having a topic targeted by them can create additional problems for your site. All in all, there are at least three reasons you should take note if your site does happen to fall in a spam-friendly niche:

  1. 1. Increased Scraping: Perhaps the first repercussion of having a spam-friendly niche is that your content will be scraped much more heavily than it would otherwise. This can even be the result of just sending out one post on a targeted keyword and is only amplified the more often such posts are made.
  2. 2. Increased Comment Spam: Though comment spam is more random in nature than scraping, there is an element of it that is keyword based. Posts and sites with popular spam keywords are more frequent targets for comment spam and sites that routinely deal with such topics may want to take extra anti-spam measures. Also note, in conjunction with the increased scraping, there will also be a rise in the amount of trackback/pingback spam.
  3. 3. Increased Confusion: If your site is in a spammy niche and users are likely to have seen many spam blogs in that area, you are going to have to work harder to ensure that users realize your blog is genuine. Likewise, there is an increase in the likelihood that search engines will confuse your product with spam or that your site will be dealing with strong search engine competition from its spam counterparts. All in all, setting your site apart from the spammers will be a much greater challenge.

The good news is that, with work and awareness, most of the problems that come from being in a spam-friendly zone can be overcome. by using known anti-scraping tools, taking anti-comment spam measures and clearly distinguishing yourself from the spammers, it is possible to thrive in these niches, as many blogs do.

Conclusions

It is far more important to write what you know and what you love than it is to avoid being in a spam-friendly niche. Spam attacks can be overcome, but there is no overcoming a lack of ambition or love for one’s topic.

But it is still important to be aware if your selected niche is a likely target for spammers. Doing so gives you the chance to take counter-measures and prevent the spammers from latching in too deep. It also gives you the chance to proactively search for and protect your content, block comment spam and work to separate yourself from the junk.

In short, being aware of the spamminess of your niche is the first, and most important, step in overcoming the drawbacks it brings. Fortunately, that is easy information to obtain.

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  1. By Jeremy Steele posted on March 17, 2008 at 1:46 pm
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    The only thing I disagree with is “Increased Comment Spam”.

    I think that has much more to do with how many incoming links your blog has than what your niche is.

    Reply

  2. By Jonathan Bailey posted on March 18, 2008 at 7:28 am
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    Jeremy: I’ve actually had a bit of personal experience with that. A while back I wrote a story on “Porn and Piracy” and the item was not only scraped heavily due to the topic, but also subjected to a major linkblog attack. Other posts with similar link counts have not seen a similar spam comment wave.

    It could just be my site, but I do think it plays at least a small roll. Not as big as it does with scraping, but a small one. It is still worth noting at least…

    Reply

  3. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on March 18, 2008 at 12:35 pm
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    There is no doubt that auto-splogging and spamming bots are using keywords to target blog posts. Let me tell you the story some day of an article I wrote with “horse sex” in the title and content…it’s a never ending source for comment spam and traffic, though I’m sure the traffic never sticks around very long. There are no pictures on the blog post. :D

    This has been going on for years. Yes, while the more incoming links your blog has the greater the number of comment spam, targeted comment spam follows keywords.

    I wrote about the struggle of posts that attract the “wrong” kind of attention and what to do about them recently. Part of the classification of “wrong” is the high maintenance of such keyword-attractive blog posts. Until I closed comments on that post, I had to clean out 2-25 comment spams a day on it. Too much work for no return.

    Reply

  4. By Lee posted on March 18, 2008 at 11:38 pm
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    My blog is about video games and I get about 1 spam a week. However, at one time, I got 12 spam comments and they’re all the same message.

    Reply

  5. By Jonathan Bailey posted on March 19, 2008 at 10:39 am
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    Lorelle: I’m not going to ask what you were doing posting something with “horse sex” in the title and pretend I didn’t just read that. I’m sure it was a very good reason but it is too early in the morning for me on that front.

    However, I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one that’s seen that. Also, I think that your point about attracting the wrong kind of attention is very valid here.

    That’s a great article and I wish I had thought of it in this light, I can see how it would impact this. Of course, this means that the experts get still more scraping so it isn’t all great for them :)

    Anyway, thanks for the comment and I look forward to seeing you in Dallas!

    Lee: That’s a pretty low number truth be told. Is that just spam getting through or spam total? I’m just curious.

    Thank you for replying!

    Reply

  6. By Matthew posted on March 19, 2008 at 8:52 pm
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    I agree on my blog it actually got so bad I had to stop allowing comments.

    Reply

  7. By Jonathan Bailey posted on March 20, 2008 at 7:37 am
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    Matthew: I’m sorry to hear that. I hope that you’re able to find a way to re-enable comments.

    Reply

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