Spam and fluff posting on forums are as old as forums. What is getting worse lately is profile spam, mainly because the SEO Kiddies think that forums links are worth it. This is done by those who join forums or social network sites just to create a profile so that they can add a profile link to their site or add signature links to their sites. Lately there is more of these who just link to other spam profiles on other sites to help get them indexed by the search engines.
On one of my forums, more than 50% of the new registrations are profile spammers!
The so called “ethical” link builders over at places like Warrior Forums are heavily promoting the use of profile spam to link build. These “ethical” people obviously have no idea how despicable their approach is!
The danger for the site is that the search engines do not give much respect to sites that link to bad neighbourhoods and there is no doubt that these spammers are linking to bad neighbourhoods, but many of the SEO kiddies see this as legitimate SEO and their sites as not being bad neighbourhoods. We are responsible for the links on OUR site (and it does not matter who put the links there). See this Google blog post on Fake User Accounts and Profile Spam.
Previously they were easy to detect as they had usernames that resembled certain pharmaceutical drugs etc. Now they using more realistic usernames and are harder to detect. Most of them will be stopped via a number of the automated spam detectors (see vBulletin Spam), but the human spammers (rather than bots) will usually need to be checked by hand.
We do several things to deal with the profile spam:
- The forum has to be made unattractive to profile spammers. All external links from the forums are nofollow’d, so there is no link juice benefit being passed and the search engine is not going to hit the site with any sort of link to a bad neighbourhood type of penalty
- The automated methods of dealing with spam registrations are used (see vBulletin spam)
- The admin email notifying of new registrations is scanned for a suspicious looking usernames and email address. If it raises a flag, the profile is checked. However, the profile may be clean and they may return at a later date to add the links. They are banned immediately if there is a spammy signature link
- As I admin a number of forums, we have set up a specific @gmail address that the admin email notifying of new users from all the forums also go to. We try to check the profile of each new registration about a week or so after the registration and having the email to check the profile in gmail is convenient. We do this is because so many join, then come back to add the links in an attempt to stay under the radar scope.
What I do not do, but could do, is just block the search engines from seeing the profiles. That will make the forum less attractive to the spammer and not do any harm with the external links. However, I use profiles as a source of traffic, so want them indexed.
Yes this is a lot of work and it is a shame that some way cannot be found to make the spammer pay or be accountable for what they do, perhaps in the same they get prosecuted for email spam.