A new kind of spam – Dear editor, can I write for your blog?

In the past few months, I have been getting emails from time to time which say,

  1. The person, a writer, was contributing an article to some website they are working for.
  2. They explain their website’s objective.
  3. They came across an article I wrote.
  4. A specific link to one my posts is provided (usually irrelevant to their topic).
  5. They indicate their site is well referenced.
  6. They want to write a guest post in my blog.
  7. The email is inoffensively written and nicely paragraphed.
  8. However, it is impersonal – i.e. it does not refer to me by name.
  9. A link within the text directs the reader to a webpage the writer is actually promoting.

A practised eye spots two things – a template with just one variable, the link to my blog post and the second is the key, a link to some client website who is employing these tactics ultimately to promote ad revenue.

I receive such emails addressed to The Biology Refugia, News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore and this personal blog.

This morning, I received yet another, a “Jacinda Frost” email:

Jacnda Frost, spam

“Hello Editor–

I noticed that some emails were being sent to my spam email folder so please bear with me if you’re receiving this same message again.

I came across your blog http://coastalcleanup.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/vjc-ip-students-learn-about-local-marine-life-threats-how-to-make-a-difference/ a few weeks ago as I was contributing the research/writing/editing process for a website that I work for. The site aims to provide at the role that information technology experts and engineers play in today’s society. The idea was originally to create a resource solely for engineers, but it has since grown into something much wider (the resources come together at http://www.%5Bdeleted%5D). Instead, the project attempts to illuminate the contributions that information technology has played in today’s global economy.

The entirety of the web resource has been referred to by well-known websites such as Stanford, TechAffect, and other reputable sources

I think a guest blog post that acutely attempts to dig into innovative solutions (for areas ranging from energy to health) for our generation would be of interest to your readers. What do you think?

Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

All my best,

Jacinda Frost”

My interest was piqued. If I was receiving this, surely millions of such emails were criss-crossing the planet. So I decided to blog this to allow mildly suspecting recipients to find this post if they conduct a verification search.

The Jacinda Frost identify is not new to the internet. The twitter account began last October and the facebook account has 22 friends. The spammer has managed to insert an article in Edudemic and had it referenced innocuously in a Stanford Forum WIki.

All this effort to drive content back to a client webpage.

Had anyone blogged about receiving this guest blog spam? Yes – Blogonomicon wrote a few days ago, “Today’s Internet Idiot: Jacinda Frost“. You can see from the screen capture that the email is uniform to the one I received.

Why is this happening? Well, the back links clicked by unsuspecting readers increase hits to a client webpage. and people are flattered by the idea of someone wanting to reach “their readers” that this sort of request does get results – the guest post by these spammers on your blog, would direct multiple links back to their client webpage!

Guest blog spam is but one weapon in the arsenal of spammers – the others being even more productive techniques like blog with fake posts (based on popular search engine queries, i.e. content farms), blogs with stolen worthy posts (especially in countries with no copyright protection) and endless promotion on spam blogs who make no attempt to even feature conten! This old racket adds up to millions of backlink clicks to client webpages. As a result, these webpages rise in ranking of search engines results, i.e. they get to the front page of our google search. This ultimately promotes visibility and advertisement revenue, and results in more cash for minimal effort.

There you have it folks, the motivating factor is cash as usual! Its why every system gets gamed – even scientists publish to game citation rankings for funding, fame and fortune.

The side effects to unsuspecting users beyond wasting time, energy and electricity? Pollution of search engine results. I suppose that too has an upside, as it keeps us nimble in our search strategies (which is why we need to teach digital search in schools).

The more interesting question to me is why the sudden influx of spam guest blogpost requests? Enough to reach a mild blogger like myself?

In 2007, this article in The Guardian pointed to Google’s Blogger as a haven for spam blogs or splogs. Well, no more apparently, for Xeni Jardin alerted Boing Boing readers in February that “Google tweaks algorithm; content farms and splogs wail and rend their spammy garments“. And the 11th April 2012 update on Google’s blog says, ” We’ve rolled out this algorithmic change globally to all English-language Google users…”

The downstream effect of shutting down these other channels is that all bloggers will begin to receive more spam guest blog requests. Indeed bloggers (who read the emails, many just delete) are complaining, e.g. Eclectic Mind (07 Apr 2012) and Ari Herzog (04 Apr 2012).

This is coming even to your humble blog now. You have been warned.

Legitimate webmasters who might have been spoofed, hijacked by embedded code etc should examine Google’s guidelines to ensure they don’t suffer.

Update – after posting this, several friends who blog told me they receive the same, up to three a week at present. They write at

  1. Nature Rambles (Jocelyne Sze),
  2. John Larkin,
  3. Lazy Lizard Tales (Ivan Kwan)
  4. even the spluttering Midnight Monkey Monitor (@leafmonkey).

Let me know if you are on the receiving end of this as well!

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7 thoughts on “A new kind of spam – Dear editor, can I write for your blog?

  1. I got it too! But recognised it as spam and deleted it; didn’t bother clicking the links. But yes, they’re getting really innovative, getting harder to distinguish legitimate comments from spam…

  2. Same here… Similar experiences, plus requests to review software.

    PS. Siva, the commenting tool makes commenting almost impossible as I have to log-in to WordPress.com, Twitter or Facebook. It slows down or can even prevent comments.

    • I checked my WordPress settings, it requires name and e-mail (for follow up) but I did not select the option for users to be registered and logged in to comment. On the other hand, I also did not receive email notification of the comments here so WP must be screwy!

      • Hi Siva

        Other WordPress blogs ask me to login after I have composed the post and I have no idea whether or not the comment is successfully sent, published or being moderated. It is weird.

        Cheers

        John

  3. Crazy. Just deleted that post and also many other guest posts that had spammy links on Edudemic. Sad that these things sneak by us. Thanks otterman!

  4. Crazy. Just deleted that post on Edudemic and a slew of other guest posts that got by us. All cleaned out now though. Also had to turn off comments as they were apparently quite spam-filled in older blog posts! Such a sad state of affairs on the Internet these days. Thanks though, otterman!

  5. I received two of them, one by Yvonne Fisher and one by Estelle Shuman. The spam format apparently gets more sophisticated, as they have different pseudo-fields of research (kindergarten education, public administration), different established reference sites, plus that the header is not hello editor but hello Marianne – indeed my name….

    bye
    Marianne

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