The Akismet Plugin and Why Every Nonprofit Should Use It

At OrgSpring, we’re big fans of WordPress – we use it on nearly all of our sites and client designed sites. It’s a fantastic CMS system, and the proof of that is in its use by millions of blogs and websites around the world – nearly 1 in 5 of every new site is a WordPress powered site. It’s handily the most popular platform available, and for good reasons: ease of use, open source, free to use, highly extensible and customizable, and more.

But in today’s noisy web world you can’t just exist, you need to engage. And engaging means starting a conversation and asking for comments. But with engagement comes spam – and alot of it.

Just asking for people to comment on your posts and pages can sometimes open you up to a mountain of spam that , at best, will be annoying to manage, and, at worst, be a threat to the security of your data and your website.

That’s why it is so important for nonprofits running WordPress powered websites to use spam protection plugins. The one we recommend is the one that ships with WordPress, called Akismet. It’s made by the creators of WordPress, Automattic, and we’ve found it to be the best spam protection available.

If you’re familiar with WordPress you’ve probably heard this claim before – many blogs espouse the merits of Akismet. But most of those blogs just tell you that it’s the best, without giving any proof. They just expect you to believe the hype and then leave it at that.

But we like to be more thorough, so we’re going to give you an example of just how well this plugin works. We’re not going to bore you with the technical details of how it combs through millions of spam comments the world over to protect your site and its comments. We’re just going to give you hard-data: the results of a test we ran on an independent site we created just for this purpose. We called it the Akismet Challenge.

 

The Akismet Challenge

Recently, we setup a test site that we put on a live server for one month (30 days to be exact). It was a fully functioning site, with sample content that was generic enough to look real, but in actuality it didn’t serve any particular purpose. We used a premium template that we purchased from Codecanyon, a WordPress template store, and launched the site with zero fan fare; no promotion, no sharing, no announcements, and zero new posts. In fact, over the month we didn’t update the site at all. We just launched it and let it sit.

The only customization we added to the site itself was to open up the commenting system so that anyone could comment and those comments would go live automatically. Basically, free reign on the commenting ability, a setting that most web masters would choose if they wanted maximum engagement on their blogs. We purposely left Akismet deactivated – not running.

 

The Results

Over the course of that month, we racked up 861 comments, and every single one of them was a spam comment – that is a comment posted on our site for the purpose of promoting some crappy product or getting a link back to another site. It had nothing to do with our site or our post. Pure junk spam comment.

Some of the comments were clearly made by bots – a robot that automatically leaves comments on blogs it finds based on skimming through domain names and IP addresses. However, a good portion of the comments were made by intelligent bots or humans because they read the context of the few posts we had and mentioned that context in the comment. These are harder to root out as spam, but when you look at the links included in the comment, in becomes clear that’s exactly what they are –  things like links to porn site, pharmaceuticals, and content farm article junk links. Classic spam.

That works out to nearly 30 spam comments a day on a site that was never updated or customized, never shared or promoted. Had this been a real site, the administrator would have dredged through 30 comments each day to figure out whether they were real or not. You can image how much time that would take someone, even an experienced administrator. Probably an hour or two every day. Even on a popular and engaging website, comment moderation of spam is an extreme waste of time.

 

Akismet Takes Over

We then activated the Akismet Plugin and ran the site for another 30 days. This time, most of the would-be spam comments were zapped. In all, during the second month, we received more than 1,300 comments, but only 26 of them got through. The rest were marked as spam and taken out of the live comment stream. We suspect the 26 that did get through were human spammers being paid to leave link backs on other site. These comment spammers are nearly impossible to prevent because they are real humans interpreting your site, entering correct CAPTCHA data, and leaving intelligent, but still spam-worthy, comments.

Using Akismet reduced the robot and other spam by 86%, from 861 comments to only 26  comments over the month. We did nothing other than activate the plugin and let it work its magic.

 

How Do I Enable Akismet?

Akismet is automatically installed when WordPress starts, all you need to do is activate it inside your plugins area of the admin section. But if by chance you deleted it or it’s not in your plugin list,  you can get it here: http://akismet.com/.  Personal plans are free. Business plans for developers will cost you anywhere from $5 a month, and up from there based on the number of comments you get.

On a relatively high traffic site, the plugin is a lifesaver. On a new, or smaller site, it’s an effective time-saving tool. Activate it, site back, drink some refreshing iced-tea, and just watch the spam roll off your site like it was teflon.

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Craig Grella

Founder and Executive Director at OrgSpring
Craig is the founder and executive director or OrgSpring, a nonprofit dedicated to helping other nonprofits achieve their missions online. Through tips and tutorials, Craig's goal is show nonprofits how to use technology to become more efficient, grow their list of supporters, and increase online donations.