WordPress and Comment Spam

WordPress is a great platform with so many advantages.  One of its beneficial features is its ability to allow users to interact with the blogger through comments.  However, this feature is often exploited by spammers seeking to hijack your readers and drive them to their own websites for personal profit.  

image of a can of spam with red "x" drawn through it.Comment spam happens when these online marketers submit comments (laced with hyperlinks back to their websites) to your article posts for the purpose of selling their “wares” to your readers.  The comments they post are disingenuous and rarely relative to your topic.  In fact, most of these comments are generic in nature and posted by spambots – automated computer programs designed to assist in the sending of spam. 

Spambots create fake accounts and post spam comments using them.  It isn’t very hard identifying their work.  Their comments say things like, “I have searched the whole Internet and have found you.  You are the greatest writer… Your knowledge of this subject is amazing… Keep up the good work”.  Comment spam takes flattery to an all new level.  If allowed to go unchecked, comment spam can flood your website with irrelevant, meaningless content.  It can quickly become a full time job sorting through the spam comments and deleting them. So, how do you prevent spam comments from degrading the quality of your website and hijacking your time?

If you don’t want people commenting on your articles, the first thing to do is turn all comments off.  Log in to your dashboard, navigate to “Settings” and select “Discussion”.  At the top, under “Default Article Settings” make sure the box beside “Allow People to Post Comments on New Articles” is unchecked.  To be on the safe side, be sure both “A Comment is Held for Moderation” and “Comment Must Be Manually Approved” are checked (These two measures are critical to keeping things of an “ugly” nature from showing up on your website).  Save your settings below.  I try to remember to do these things with every website I build. 

If you do want certain sections of your website to allow comments, then you will have the option to check a box to allow comments that is located just under the page or post composition editor. 


Another means of slowing down comment spam is to install a captcha plugin which requires a person posting a comment to identify numbers in a graphic or do a simple math equation.  Typically, spambots are not sophisticated enough to successfully complete the captcha challenge.  Therefore, most comment spam is stopped dead in its tracks.  This is why I routinely install captcha programs with WordPress websites.


Another plugin that greatly reduces comment spam is Cookies for Comments.  This is a plugin used and recommended by Matt Cutts of Google.  This plugin adds a stylesheet or image to your blog’s html source code. When a browser loads that stylesheet or image a cookie is dropped. If that user then leaves a comment the cookie is checked. If it doesn’t exist the comment is marked as spam. The plugin can also check how long it took a user to enter a comment. If it’s too fast it’s probably a spam bot. After all, how fast can a legitimate user enter their name, email, web address and enter a well thought out comment?  You generally set this between 3-6 seconds. 


There is one more annoying element of spam comments:  fake “new user” registrations.  These new user notifications can flood your email inbox and before long you spend considerable time just deleting them.  I am currently experimenting with a plugin (Graphic Captcha) that is designed to require new users and anyone logging in to your website to complete a captcha.  On the website that I have installed it, it has completely shut down new user registrations.  If you would like me to install it on your website, let me know. 


There are other possible measures one can take to stop comment spam, but these seem to work pretty well.  There is always going to be an industrious spammer who finds a way to submit a comment, but if you have the option “Comment Must Be Manually Approved” selected, nothing inappropriate can be published to your website without your approval (short of malicious hacking).  If you find yourself experiencing any of these kind of problems, be sure to contact me and we will fix the issue ASAP.

All In One SEO Pack

A Great Plugin to Help with Search Engine Optimization

One of the best things about the WordPress platform is all of the available plugins to aid in making your website successful.  When I set up a WordPress site, I make it a point to install the “All In One SEO Pack” plugin by Michael Torbert.  It is a free plugin that enhances search engine optimization. 


Every time you publish a post or a new page, you should be in the habit of using this plugin to “optimize” your newly added content.  To use this plugin, just scroll down below your content editor and you will see it.  Although it is a simple procedure, you should take a few minutes to understand the plugin and how to use it.  Here is a video to help you get started.  If you ever have any questions, give me a call.  As always, I am happy to upload your content and optimize for you. 


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Off Page Strategies

Our efforts to drive traffic to our websites can be divided into two basic categories: 

  1. Online Strategies;
  2. Offline (or, off-page) Strategies.

image of thermometer measuring web trafficKeyword selection and placement, backlinks, the use of social media, and good website structure are obvious components of healthy search engine optimization.  These are what we call “online” strategies.  But, we shouldn’t depend on these things alone to promote our websites.  We should also implement “offline” (off-page) strategies.

Offline Strategies are the efforts we make to drive people to our website outside of the web.  Here are a few examples:

  • Word of Mouth – Remind the membership to tell their friends and family about your website.
  • Printed Items – Be sure to include your web address on your business cards, bulletins, brochures, tracts, stationery, and all church correspondence.  It might be worth purchasing a rubber stamp with your web address on it.  It also might be a good idea to print business cards for the sole purpose of members passing them out, advertising your web address and inviting people to visit. If you door-knock, print your web address on door hangers.
  • Signs – Consider printing small signs advertising your web address and asking store owners to place so their customers can see them.  If you have a Marquee, be sure to post your web address on it. 
  • Advertising – Take out ads, or even simple, classified ads in the newspaper or other publications and invite people to visit your website.  If you had bumper stickers printed, would members of your congregation attach them to their vehicles?
  • Press Releases and Article Marketing – Submit an article to your local newspaper or publication announcing your new website.  You might see if your newspaper will print occasional article submissions – and along with your name and phone number to be printed, include your web address. 
  • Give-Aways – Consider placing your web address and contact info on ink pens or other gratuities and get them into circulation in your community.
  • Voicemail – Include your web address in your recorded voicemail or answering machine greeting.  

A little creative thinking can go a long way in promoting your website, without even logging on to the Internet!  These kind of methods are sure to drive traffic to your website and place the truth in the hands of those searching.


Using the Google Keyword Planner

photo of magnifying glass over word "keyword".  How to use the keyword plannerThe selection of the right keywords is an important, primary step when writing content to attract visitors to your website.  We all want people to find us on the web and read our content, but to do that we must use words that people are actually searching for. 

For example, you might be considering doing an article on Soteriology.  Being preachers, we know that this is the study of the religious doctrines and theories of salvation.  But, how many people will arrive at your webpage and read your article because they have typed the word “soteriology” into the Google search bar? 

The Google Keyword Planner would probably reveal that the word “soteriology” has a poor (nearly non-existent) search volume while the word “salvation” has a much greater search volume.  Conventional wisdom would then recommend using the word “salvation” as a keyword.  

The Google Keyword Planner was designed to help you research the average search volume of various words.  It is free to use provided you have a Google account (which is free to sign up for).  But, one obvious word of caution:  As much as we would like to use popular search terms in our content, we should never allow this objective to degrade the quality of our content.  We want to use the words that best help us teach those important Bible principles while keeping in mind that alternative words – words which command better search volume – can often be the better choice.

The Keyword Planner is easy to use, but if you are trying it for the first time it could be somewhat challenging.  Here is a video that gives an overview of the Planner (from the Internet Marketer’s perspective), and how to get started.

The Importance of BackLinks

Getting your website noticed on the web will increase your chances of putting the gospel into the hands of the lost.  To do that, we typically concentrate on content.  Not just any content, but content laced with keywords real people seeking the truth are searching for. It also involves the mechanics of website structure and getting your metadata right.

Even though we might get all of these things right, another crucial element in achieving search engine visibility is creating backlinks. A “backlink” (also called inbound links) is a link that is directed to your website from another website.  These are important for two main reasons:

  1. Visitors viewing other websites will see a link to your website and may follow it to your content.
  2. Search engines will interpret the quantity (and quality) of your inbound links as an indication of your website’s importance and authority. 

graphic illustrating importance of backlinksSo, let us think the process through for a moment.  Someone searches for “baptism” in Google. Your content is relevant to the topic of baptism, but, so is the content of another website.  Which site will Google place first in the search results?  Quite possibly, whichever website has the most quality, inbound links. 

Link-building is the process of asking others to place links from their website to yours.  There are many possibilities.  You can submit your website to directories.  You can submit articles to online publications which allow you to include a link to your website.  You can participate in forums and blogs which allow you to post a link.  You can participate in social media, linking to articles and features on your website.

Do any members of your congregation have personal websites or social media accounts (like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)?  Ask them to link to an article, announcement, or video on the church website.  All of these links will increase the potential of new visitors while bolstering your standing in the eyes of search engines thereby increasing your page rank.

In fact, integration with social media offers a HUGE potential in web traffic.  In the coming weeks I plan for us to explore together the possibilities of social media integration, link-building, and other off-page strategies.


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New To WordPress? Helpful Video Tutorial

Adding a “post” to your WordPress site and editing it is almost as easy as composing an email message.  The composition editor in WordPress is very similar to the editors found in most email programs.  Still, it can be a little challenging your first time because the process isn’t exactly as you might expect it to be.

For those of you unfamiliar with WordPress and thinking about uploading your own content, here is a YouTube beginning tutorial that explains the basics of using the WordPress editor.  It is entitled “WordPress Tutorial: WordPress Editor” and was created by the Science Department at the University of Central Florida.  Remember though:  If you ever have any questions, contact me.

Avoid Keyword Stuffing

I like stuffing, but Google doesn’t.  My wife, Linda, is an absolute gourmet (southern style) when it comes to stuffing a turkey.  But obviously, we are talking about something else.  Keywords are crucial to web page visibility, but keyword stuffing can kill a website.

image of ninja turkey warning: no stuffing allowedThe purpose of keywords is to keep your content relevant to search queries and what people are looking for.  You should begin writing your content by selecting keywords you believe your target reader will be searching for, and then writing relevant to your selection.  “Keyword stuffing” is the practice of stuffing as many of your keywords as possible onto a web page, much like the cook who is stuffing a turkey.

When the holidays come around, Linda asks me to help her stuff the turkey.  I hold the bird while she crams as much stuffing in as physically possible.  The offending blogger, in the same way, repeats his keywords in his content over and over until his article reads in an awkward – even obnoxious – way.

Here is an example of keyword stuffing that Google has provided:

“We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at custom.cigar.humidors@example.com.”

Some authors have gone so far as to hide hundreds of keyword repetitions behind objects, or even color the text of keywords to match the web page background – visible to search engines, but invisible to the human eye.  These tactics only trick people to your web page who will likely be disappointed after they have read its content.  Google and other search engines, whose objective is to return content relative to search queries, picked up on these tricks and have since adjusted their algorithms to compensate.  Instead of rewarding black hat SEO tactics, they penalize the offenders.

Matt Cutts, team leader for Google’s anti-spam division, warned:

“We are trying to level the playing field a bit. All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or overly SEO – versus those making great content and a great site. We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, like too many keywords on a page, or exchange way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect. We have several engineers on my team working on this right now.”

So, how does Google and other search engines penalize websites?  By filtering out the results.  In other words, the offender’s website doesn’t show up in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).  So, keyword stuffing can kill a website!

So, what are white hat guidelines?  Use keywords, but don’t overdo it.  Mix in appropriate synonyms.  Target somewhere between 2 to 5% keyword density in your content.  Keyword density is the percentage of times a keyword or keyword phrase appears on a web page compared to the total number of words on a page.

There are many free tools available on the Internet to help you check your keyword density.  One such tool is the Keyword Density Analyzer provided by SEOBook.  While search engines do not rely so much on keyword density today in the placement of pages, these tools can be helpful in determining if you are “overdoing” it.  If our objective is not to trick visitors to our websites, but to write relevant, beneficial, and engaging content, we can avoid keyword stuffing and their consequential penalties.

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Google LOVES WordPress

Most people who surf the net use Google as their search engine.  If you compare the market shares of the major search engines, you will learn that Google is way ahead of the pack with 67%.  They are followed by Bing (16.5%), Yahoo! (12.1%), Ask (2.8%), and finally AOL (1.7%).  These statistics are the reason web developers optimize their sites to make Google happy.  Like it or not, they lead the pack and they make the rules.

So, when Mat Cutts endorses WordPress as solving a “ton of SEO issues”, that ought to get our attention.  Who is Matt Cutts?  Matthew Cutts is a software engineer who leads the webspam team at Google.  In other words, he leads the team that sets Google policy which determines how websites rank.  Like one blogger said, “When Matt Cutts (the face of Google) speaks, all internet marketers, bloggers, web designers, etc. listen.”  Watch and listen:

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What is a Keyword?

A keyword is a word that is descriptive of the meaning of a sentence or passage.  In web terminology, keywords are “single words, or more commonly strings of words, that represent the content of a web page and how people ask for web content (Chelsea Adams, Back to Basics: What are Keywords and Why Do they Matter?)”.  MS Adams goes on to say, “Keywords are strategically selected by optimizers and are intended to help your web content communicate in a way that resonates with humans and Google search spiders”.

graphic of 3d text - keywords - david bateman, web designerSo, what did Chelsea Adams just say?  Google crawls the Internet and analyzes web pages to determine the subject matter of that content.  It identifies and indexes keywords that are descriptive of that content so that, when someone does a search on Google for a particular topic, it can return the most relevant results for that search.  The most relevant content to that search will appear on page one, in the first position with the next most relevant appearing next, and so forth.  The purpose of carefully selected keywords is twofold:  1) To aid in providing relative content to humans who are searching; 2) To get the attention of the Google web crawlers.

Obviously, our goal is to place as close to the first position as possible.  This is why the selection of keywords and keyword phrases is important.  As web publishers, we want to upload content that is relevant to the keywords people are searching for.  Here is an example:

Let us say that you maintain the website for the church of Christ located in Macon, GA (Macon church of Christ).  Your first objective is to make it possible for people to find you who are searching for a church of Christ in Macon, GA.  Your keywords, then, should be “church of Christ”, “Macon”, “Georgia” and “GA”.  You will want to upload content which contains these keywords.  You will also want to place as many of these keywords in your domain name and metadata (page title, page description, and listed keywords) as is practical.  So, you might want to select “maconchurchofchrist.org” as your domain.  You would also want to include these keywords in your page description and page title.

Let us consider another example.  Suppose you want to publish an article on baptism.  The title of your post is, “Is Baptism Essential to Salvation?”  Obvious keywords would be “baptism”, “salvation”, and “essential”.  You will want to be sure these words are found throughout the content (without overdoing it).  You want to be sure that Google will be able to find these keywords in your metadata.

However, we have to use caution in applying keywords.  We don’t want to “over-do” it.  By placing keywords in content with a frequency that comes across as unnatural, we leave ourselves open to getting penalized.  Google considers keyword “stuffing” to be “black-hat” SEO tactics.  Keyword stuffing occurs when someone repeatedly uses a keyword over and over in a way that is not natural.  If Google suspects this is what is occurring, they will send your website to the bottom of the heap.  Your webpage could be demoted in rankings or even removed from search returns altogether!

One important element of keyword strategy is keyword research.  Before writing an article on a given topic, research some of the words you plan to use and determine how many people are searching for those words and phrases (a future article about how to do keyword research is in the works).  Your research might lead you to replace certain words and phrases with words and phrases that more people are actually searching for on a monthly basis.  The obvious benefit is the potential of driving greater traffic to your article and website.  However, this approach to writing must be tempered with the goal to provide quality content.

Keywords can be more than just single words.  They are often strings of words, or phrases.  Going back to a previous example, your keywords might be “church” and “Christ”.  But, you should also add the string “church of Christ” as a keyword as well.  The use of the keyword phrase “church of Christ” will make your web page more relevant and more likely to show up in a Google search for someone looking for a church of Christ in Macon, GA.

In future issues of our newsletter, we will look at these topics – Keyword research, keyword strategy, optimal keywords for Internet evangelism, and the dangers of Keyword stuffing – in more detail.

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Selecting a Domain Name

Deciding on your domain name is important for at least two reasons:

  1. Your website will be known by the domain name you choose.
  2. Your domain name will be a factor in search engine visibility.

So, what criteria should you consider when making this decision?

graphic of top level domains - david-bateman-web-designerYour domain name needs to be something that is descriptive of what you do.  Choose something that people will see and know immediately what you do and what your objectives are.  It needs to be something people can easily remember so they can tell others about your website and their friends can find you the next time they sit in front of their computer or handheld device.

Now, “www.NCOC.org” (for example, Nashville Church of Christ) might be easy to remember, but it isn’t very descriptive of your website, nor does it enhance search engine visibility.  It is a good practice to include keywords which people will use to find your website in your domain name.  So, a better domain would be “www.NashvilleChurchofChrist.org”.  It is better for both SEO purposes as well as website identity purposes.

But, should I purchase a .com or .org? Before we can answer this question, we need to know a little about what these designations mean.  The rightmost part of the domain name, beginning with the final period, is known as the TLD (Top Level Domain).  Each TLD has different meanings:

  • .biz – businesses
  • .com – commercial entities
  • .edu – accredited degree-granting institutions of higher learning
  • .mobi – corresponding to a dedicated mobile site
  • .name – individuals
  • .net – entities associated with the network support of the Internet (usually Internet service providers or telecommunications companies)
  • .org – non-profit entities

Then, there are TLD’s that are country codes and identify a particular country such as .au (Australia), .in (India), .uk (United Kingdom), or .us (United States) to name a few.  Obviously, the most appropriate TLD for churches would be “.org” even though many choose “.com’s” because of the tendency of most Internet users to inadvertently type in .com when navigating to a website – even if it is a .org address.

The cost factor is usually a negligible consideration when selecting your domain.  You will end up paying about the same for either.  Typically, a domain will cost you anywhere from $10-15 annually.  For more information on this topic, see the article “12 Rules for Choosing the Right Domain Name”.