I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy!Tash

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Saving moderating time

Part of running a community-centric blog is moderating the comments. I mentioned that it is a time consuming task when I gave the reasons for moderating so today I’m sharing some ideas for saving time when moderating comments on your blog.

In no particular order, here are my tips:

  1. ensure you have a spam filter on your blog so the really obvious spam is off your list to moderate
  2. consider outsourcing the comment moderation. However, make sure you still look often so you can reply to any comments or have your support person tell you if there is a comment waiting for your reply
  3. set up some rules so certain people’s comments are automatically accepted – they see their comment instantly and you save a little time. You may do this for a select group or perhaps for everyone who has had a comment accepted in the past
  4. have a procedure that includes rules for your blog as this will save you time in deciding if a comment is acceptable. For example, they must have a real name not a tagline as their username, use a real URL not a shortened URL and can only include a link if genuinely adding to the conversation.
Do you have any other tips for saving time with your comments?

Judging spam comments

Having just deleted another batch of spam from my blog, I thought I’d share how obvious some of it is – and how you can avoid your comments being filtered out as spam.

  1. Flattery is common “this is the best blog”, “you write so well man” and “you must be an expert on this” are some recent examples in my spam folder. Genuine compliments are a good strategy, fake flattery is likely to get your comment deleted quickly
  2. Sounding impressed but never giving any specifics is also a common spam technique so they can use the same message in many blog posts. “I’ve been searching for this information” and “I was just discussing this topic the other day with my cousin” have been in my comments innumerable times; a genuine message would be specific and relevant, such as “I needed to know about clear communications” or “Some friends and I were just discussing keywords
  3. there is a discrepancy between the name, email address and URL usually means it is spam. If your name is Mary why wouldn’t your email address be mary@ or m.smith@? However, if the domain of email and URL disagree, I refuse to click on the link or accept the comment. So to get comments accepted, be honest and transparent.
  4. multiple links will be picked up by spam filters, but even the inclusion of one link in a comment makes me wary unless I know the person commenting. I look carefully at any comment with a link and decide if it looks safe enough to try the link myself – I certainly won’t accept a link without checking its content. Sometimes I will accept the comment but disable the link first, and I don’t think I’ve ever added a link in a comment I’ve left elsewhere unless they have the ‘latest blog post’ facility provided.
  5. really poor English is often a give away, too – and the ones that are obviously nonsense made up of part sentences should need no explanation. Poor writing of course is not 100% proof of spam so I do read these comments to assess if they are genuine or not. My tip is to make your comments read well to avoid being thought spam and to give your comment more credibility and weight.
Do you have any other tips for spotting spam comments for what they are?

Social media is not all good

Like it or not, social media is here and is a major part of our society.

I think it is important that we all have some understanding of social media so we can make informed choices about participating or not.

Unlike some, I don’t think every business MUST be on social media to survive or thrive. Although it is becoming more important as more people expect it.

Mark Schaefer recently posted about social media sewage… and hope. He lists a number of the negatives social media (including blogging) has brought with it – I totally agree that leaving heaps of spam comments in a blog, disreputable SEO approaches and practices, and stealing people’s content are unacceptable behaviours and I don’t understand how people can live with such actions.

I haven’t had Marks ‘hope’ experience but I still believe in sharing information and believe social media has a part to play in my business.

mix of marketing methods

Social media is just one form of marketing

It got me thinking that perhaps some business people need to hear that it’s ok to not be on social media, that it isn’t the cure to all business woes nor is it perfect.

So here are some reasons against using social media which you can weigh up against the advantages when making your decision.

  1. it takes time and patience. You’re unlikely to see more sales or leads in the short term, and it takes time to put up some content (especially if you put thought into it and try adding value to your community)
  2. you open yourself up to more spam, malware and virus exposure, scam invitations and other undesirable people
  3. if your audience isn’t interested in social media, your efforts will go to waste – be sure to only use media your audience uses
  4. if you just want to advertise, rather than share information and build relationships, your presence on social media is probably a waste of everyone’s time
  5. social media gives you the opportunity to speak your mind and get on your soapbox. Great for people wanting to exercise their freedom of speech, not always so good for a business spokesperson – if you can’t moderate your words to suit your business brand, social media may be a little risky
  6. social media is about communication – if you aren’t interested in having a two-way conversation, a static website may be more your style
  7. the message you write is critical to your social media success so if writing and communicating your thoughts is a challenge, consider your social media strategy carefully – short tweets may work better than long blog posts, a ghost writer could help with blogging and videos for You Tube may be your best option
If you are already using social media, have you thought about how it is benefiting you compared to what it is costing you? Is it doing the job you ‘hired’ it for, another job or is it just costing you?


* Image courtesy of 123rf

Missing out on comments

I just came across a great blog post and wrote a comment in response. Part of the process was answering a security question to avoid spam which is fine.

The questions was “what is one plus three?” It wasn’t a challenge to find the answer but I did wonder if I should write ‘four’ or ‘4’. Given the question used words, I did too.

Unfortunately, the comment form just disappeared with the message “You got the spam message wrong” in its place. Not only was my beautifully crafted response gone forever, I wasn’t given the opportunity to write a replacement comment – and that blog misses out on another comment.

If there is any ambiguity about a compulsory question, there must be a second chance at answering it. Better yet would be clarity about the expected answer – for instance, it could have asked “what is one plus three? (answer in digits)” or “Give the number (in digits) equal to one plus three”.

A simple error yes but the consequences are that they missed getting a comment – How many comments do they miss each week because of this spam question? – and they have lost credibility as a site that values clarity (sorry to say it was a content writing service site, too).

What sort of spam protection do you hate or love?

Negative spam comments – why?

I get a lot of spam comments coming into this blog – I take it as a compliment that they see my blog as worthy of their effort to get included in it. Generally, the spam gets filtered and deleted automatically, but occasionally I look through the comments.

Most of the spam is along the lines of “Thanks for great information” – presumably on the assumption that I will be flattered and approve it 🙂 Sometimes, it is a question like “who made your blog look so good?” Either way, the links and names not matching emails help give away the true nature of such comments.

Tonight, however, I just read a spam comment that was highly critical of my blog*. I just don’t understand their thought processes – who is going to be sucked in to approving spam that attacks them? Obviously someone who has a lot of spare time if they can send out comments with no chance of being approved to earn them links!

Am I missing something? Have you come across similar pointless comments in your blog?

At least the next comment I read was honest “I am desperate for back links so am putting comments in your blog.” I didn’t approve it either, but they had more chance of success!

*Apart from the obvious link and name clues, I know it was spam rather than a genuine complaint because it accused me of whining in that post, yet the post was a pair of definitions in my Monday Meanings section!

Newsletter spam and advertisers

If you send out a newsletter, or other email marketing materials, one of the biggest issues you face is getting the message through spam and related filters.

As well as choosing your words carefully to avoid being classed as spam, you also need to watch what advertising you add to your newsletter.

Setting rules on the type of advertising you accept is a different topic, but it is also important to check what words any advertisers use – you don’t want to put time into adjusting your words just to have many spam triggers in ads. Ensure your advertisers understand you have editorial control over their ads, although major changes need their approval.

Apparently you also need to be aware of how your advertisers are viewed online. That is, if you include an advertiser’s URL that has been blacklisted by ISPs for sending spam, your newsletter could also be filtered out.

Some sites that help identify blacklisted email senders are:

MX Toolbox (based on server IP addresses)
Abusive hosts blocking list(based on host name or IP address)
DNS Stuff (based on DNS servers – not free)
Black List Monitoring (based on IP address)

* I don’t know that these are the best, but if they help you avoid being blacklisted (or recover from being blacklisted) they may be worth a try!

Spam denial…

Following on from defining what spam is, I thought I should mention why adding ‘this is  not spam’ to your emails isn’t a good idea.

  1. As I posted recently, certain words can trigger spam filterswhen an email arrives. The word spam itself rates highly in these filters so referring to spam in any way can actually prevent your email reaching your recipient(s)
  2. Most of us are sick of spam and therefore are suspicious of emails we don’t expect or that include questionable content. As soon as you mention you aren’t spam, we are going to wonder why you feel the need to tell us that – a genuine message should speak for itself.
  3. If the person reading your email disagrees and believes your message is spam, they will perceive you as having lied to them and any trust you may have had is gone or at least badly dented.

“This is not spam”

Yet again, reading some spam gave me a topic to blog about!

This time “Sid” added a footnote to his spam message that read “This email is not spam, it was manually sent by us, our sole purpose being to introduce ourselves to you with no obligation on your part.”

Hmmm, the definition of spam is unsolicited commercial email. I most certainly did not ask for him to contact me, not even indirectly, so his email was unsolicited. It was commercial as it was about his linking business. It came into my inbox. So Sid, it was in fact spam regardless of your claim!

The definition of spam does not mention details such as how many emails you send or if you do it manually or via software. A number of people seem to think that sending an email to one person isn’t spam although the same message to sent 1,000 people is spam. They are wrong – if I did not give you permission to send me commercial emails then it is spam even if you only email me.

Keep your emails out of junk folders…

note: we're sick of spamLast week, I wrote about reducing the amount of spam you receive in your inbox. The other side of the issue is having your legitimate emails being caught by a spam filter and not reaching the recipient.

isp providers and email programs both use rules to sort out real emails from spam – that’s how some emails never reach you and others go into your junk folder instead of your inbox. That’s great for keeping your inbox clear, but not so good when your emails aren’t arriving…

I spoke this morning at a seminar for the Yarra Ranges council and mentioned how certain words can get your email classed as spam even if you use those words in an innocent way. Many mass email tools can review your emails and tell you which words may cause a problem, which is handy. Alternatively, you can find lists of such words online (some examples are here  and here.)

For words that are in the spam rules, you have a few choices:

  • use the word where necessary  as some words are just too hard to avoid – for example if you sell fishing rods it is very hard to avoid writing ‘fishing’ (yes, fishing is a word to avoid!) If you only use one or two words and otherwise pass the spam tests, your email has a fair chance of getting through
  • find an alternative word to use. For example, use ‘go to’ instead of ‘visit’ or ‘click here’
  • write the sentence differently – to stay with our fishing example, we could write ‘we went to catch some fish’ to replace ‘we went fishing’
  • break the word with symbol (this is why you see ‘V.isit us for a f.ree valu.ation’ and the like.) This divides trigger words into two part words which spam filters don’t worry about, although some are also being added to rules. I hate the look of doing this but am coming to accept the necessity of it unfortunately.

Avoiding the use of such trigger words can help you get past spam filters, but these are not the only rules to be aware of. Spam assassin provides some tips for keeping your emails out of spam folders, as does Bob Thomson.

Reducing spam

I just came across a blog post that very clearly outlines some anti-spam techniques for your business email. While it is hard (impossible even) to stop spam completely, we can reduce it for our own sanity.

I will add that contact forms are not a guarantee against getting spam. I have found that the contact form is immune from spam for months  and then they hack it and I just reset the form with a new email address to solve the problem. Using captcha or recpatcha reduces the spam entries into the form itself, too.

Stephen made the suggestion of not adding an email address to business cards and printed stationery so there is no need to reprint things if you change your email address. I understand his point – reprinting is expensive!However, I do a lot of my business via email and actually prefer it to the phone so I want my email address on my cards.

My compromises to Stephen’s suggestion are:

  • have a soft copy letterhead you print as required so it is easy to adjust the email address
  • use a different email address on printed items and never use it online so it is less likely to be found by spammers
  • don’t put an email address on expensive printed items
  • only give out your business card personally – use a different card or a flyer/postcard for use in mass handouts (eg in a showbag, at an expo, in a mail out) and don’t add your email address to that

Again, as someone who likes emails, I would find it annoying to get a business card which didn’t include an email address – then I would have to search their website for one. So I think you need to decide if your clients & prospective clients would expect an email address or not before deciding whether or not to print it.

Do you include an email address on your business card? What about on your letterhead and invoices?