We all pretty much know that being a spammer is a bad thing. After all, anyone who has checked their spam folder in Gmail or had Akismet clean up a spam comment attack has said a round of thanks to the marvels of technology that keep our sites and inboxes clean.
However, we often times visualize spammers as lonely hackers utilizing either massive server farms or botnets of computers to send out countless garbage emails and comments. Indeed, some spammers are exactly like that and they make a living, albeit an ill-gotten one, peddling pharmaceuticals, gambling sites and whatever else is popular at the time.
But there is another class of spammer out there and it is made up of bloggers just like you and I. Bloggers who get lured by the temptation for easy traffic and go too far with our promotions.
Becoming a spammer is surprisingly easy, avoiding that fate not so much.
Everyone has seen the traffic spikes that they get when a post gets tweeted out or even when they just post a blog entry. Getting the word out about your site is not only a good way to generate some short-term traffic, but is also crucial to the long-term growth of your site.
However, if a little bit of something is good, logic often dictates that a lot of it is even better. For example, if leaving comments on related blogs is a good idea, then leaving dozens must be better.
This leads many bloggers to try and constantly expand their outreach operation, first in good ways such as leaving more comments or adding more internal links, then stretch out into gray areas such as informal link swaps, sending large numbers of trackbacks (often times using automated services).
Eventually, it stretches into things that are outright spam such as formal link exchanges, posting unrelated or repetitive comments and setting up multiple Twtter/Facebook accounts.
Many people understand that spamming is wrong but few understand that there is a gray area between being prolific and being a spammer and the lines are not always clearly drawn.
The danger really depends on the type of spamming you’re doing and how serious it is.
For example, if you’re actively using your blog for spamming, such as hiding links or pushing illegal content, your host’s TOS may forbid you from doing so and they can (and often do) disconnect people they feel are spamming.
If you are gaming the search engines, for example through link exchanges and cloaking, you will at least face a drop in your PageRank and may well face a reduction in your search engine ranking, if not an outright ban.
In short, the pitfall is that whatever you are trying to game, even unwittingly, is likely going to shut you out, closing you off to that particular tool as a legitimate means to promote your site, greatly hurting your efforts over the long haul.
How to Avoid It
The steps to avoid it depends on the type of spammer you may be in danger of becoming. Consider the following three types and how to avoid becoming a spammer on them:
- Search Engine Spammer: Don’t exchange links for the purpose of SEO, don’t attempt to hide text and don’t set up shadow sites for the purpose of linking to yours. Read what Google defines as spam and simply stay away from those activities, even if you don’t see anything wrong with them personally.
- Social Media Spammer: Stick to one or two accounts (a business and personal one are usually fine) and don’t follow/add people without reason. Also, use private messaging with great restraint, treat it the same as email, if not more restrictive than that. Also, don’t send out too many updates and don’t make your social networking efforts purely about self promotion, use them to enrich and add value to your followers/friends.
- Comment Spammer: Only leave comments to posts where you can add something to the conversation. Never repeat comments and never add links into the body of the comment unless completely relevant. The link with your name is enough promotion.
In short, not being a spammer is all about restraint and not doing to others what you don’t want them to do to you. If you go too far with anything, whether it is sending too many tweets or posting too many comments, you can get pegged a spammer and find yourself filtered out, kicked off or otherwise shut out.
The big problem with this particular pitfall is that the definition of “spammer” is a very fluid and very relative one. What I consider spam you may not and vice versa. This leads many people to engage in behavior they see as completely legitimate even though Google routinely slams sites for it or it causes others to reach for the “block” button.
If you don’t want to be called a spammer and treated as such, it is crucial to rely solely on what you view to be spam, but on what the social norms for the medium view as spam and avoid them.
But more than anything, not being a spammer requires is taking a moment before you send a tweet, add a link or submit a comment to ask if what you’re doing adds anything of value to your readers or if it is just for your own promotion.
Simply put, the best promotion efforts mix advertising with content that is useful on its face. This gives readers a reason to subscribe, continue to read and even enjoy what you send to them even as you are promoting your work.
After all, the fundamental definition of spam is that it is whatever people don’t like. Make your promotions something people enjoy and it will never be spam.