What Distinguishes Valid Self-Promotion from Spam?

Active bloggers get used to seeing comments along the following lines:

I wanted to thank you for this excellent read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked your site to check out the new stuff you post.


This post is beyond awesome. I am always wondering what to do and what not to do so I will follow some of these tips.


Well said. I never thought I would agree with this opinion, but I’m starting to view things differently. I have to research more on this as it appears quite interesting. One thing I don’t get though is how everything is related together.

This is known as comment spam, and the examples above are not hypothetical — they are all actual comments intended for this blog, but trapped in a spam queue by the indispensable Akismet plug-in for WordPress. (And no, I have not been and will not be compensated for saying something nice about Akismet, or about any other product or service.)

The formula the spammers use is pretty transparent:  Say something flattering and brief, and vague enough that it could apply to any blog post.  Then format the comment so that the user name links back to whatever Adsense-gaming, drivel-infested website the spammer is flogging, fire up a comment bot, and post the comment to a few thousand or a few million blogs — some of which will not have any protection against comment spam.

I have no objection to Adsense itself — I use Adsense to serve up ads on this blog.  What I object to is the phenomenon of setting up multiple blogs with extremely low signal-to-noise ratios for the sole purpose of generating clicks and page views.

It’s hard to believe the spam-bloggers are making much money.  Under Adsense’s terms and conditions, I’m not supposed to say very much about my relationship with them, but I’m permitted to disclose truthfully how much money I’ve made.  Since I began hosting ads about 10 months ago, my total earnings have been $45.82, or about 15 cents per day.  If and when the total earnings reach $100, they’ll send me a check.  Ca-CHING! (Update: Woo hoo!  Got that check!)

In contrast to the spam comments, here is the text of an unsolicited email I received yesterday, referring to my previous blog post:

Hi Kirk,

I read your commentary on Left v Right echo chambers and I gotta say that win seems solidly in the ‘Right’ column. As you point out in your post the right leaning Fox is destroying CNN. I think you will like this video on the same topic. It analyzes news coverage from different sources to examine why audiences are migrating away from CNN. It also explores various theories about the future of new media and journalism. I hope you will consider embedding the video in your post.


Rosa Sow
Community Manager

Now to some degree, Rosa’s intention is the same as the spam commenters’: to drive traffic.  But what a difference in execution.  Her email is specific enough to prove that she actually read my blog post.  It has a flattering tone, without being over the top about it — and without giving away any hint of her own political views.  It forthrightly acknowledges that she has her own agenda — she wants me to embed her video on my site.  And it offers me something in return – a promise of news and information about a topic in which I have a demonstrated interest.

And since she asked so nicely, here’s the video:

I had not heard of Newsy.com until I got her email, but I’m glad to have learned of it.  I watched the video above a couple of times, and then sampled a few other videos on the site.  Their boilerplate self-description is on target:

A news analyzer, not a news aggregator, Newsy.com is the only multi-source video news service producing daily videos that analyze the key differences in how a story is being reported by various news organizations. Newsy.com offers context with convenience — in 2 to 3 minutes, users understand the nuances in coverage.

They’re based in Columbus, Missouri, which explains the frequent appearance of Kansas City Star columnists among their sources.  If I look at enough of their work, I may be able to diagnose a tendency to lean toward the right or the left, but they don’t seem to have any obvious partisan ax to grind.   Whatever their politics, they treat differing points of view with respect, which is exactly what I aspire to on this blog, although I don’t pretend to be neutral.

So Rosa, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve quoted your email message.  I sent you an email asking if it would be OK to publish it, but then I went ahead without waiting for an answer.  I figured that because it was an unsolicited email for commercial purposes to a recipient who does not know you, you had no reasonable expectation of privacy.  I’ll take your name off the post if you wish.

Anyway, thanks for the email, and congratulations on scoring a link.  I hope my vast traffic doesn’t overwhelm your servers, and I promise you that I’ve actually bookmarked your site.

3 thoughts on “What Distinguishes Valid Self-Promotion from Spam?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention What Distinguishes Valid Self-Promotion from Spam? | All That Is Necessary... -- Topsy.com

  2. As a fellow blogger I feel your pain and also use Akismet to filter SPAM but the problem I have are the comments that aren't SPAM but that are malicious and offensive. I try not to squelch the opinions of others but when the commenter is calling my mother obscene names I see no value in their remarks. I request in my about page that people be respectful in their comments because my kids like to read my blog. I don't know a lot about akismet but I wish I could tell it to SPAM comments with cursing in them.

  3. C.C., thanks for the comment… At the risk of annoying you, I have to say that I think the way to avoid malicious and offensive comments is to strike a more respectful tone in your own posting. You have a very aggressive and scornful tone on your blog, and some people eat that up — it may be part of why you seem to consistently get more comments than I do. But my dashboard tells me I'm closing in on 1,000 total comments, and I can't remember a single one that was offensive or malicious — even when the commenter was disagreeing with me strongly.

    Just my $.02 …

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