WP Wednesdays

WP Wednesdays: how to zero your spam with minimum effort

I’ve spent many years prodding and poking WordPress into behaving itself, and know how tricky it can be to find simple and reliable information for some of the most common problems. WP Wednesdays is a new series of irregular articles looking at some of these topics and looking at how best to tackle them. Today it’s everyone’s favourite blight, Spam…

Anyone running a self-hosted WordPress site for any length of time will have encountered spam at some point. It might be through your contact forms or, most commonly, through the comments on your blog. On the one hand, there’s something a bit rites-of-passage-y about it – the internet knows you exist! Yay, you’ve been spotted! On the other (significantly larger) hand its a royal pain in the proverbial and can sometimes seem like a relentless tide.

Pretty much all of the sites I’ve taken on have had an existing spam problem, with some of the larger ones groaning under the weight of hundreds of spam post comments on posts in a single day. It’s been possible to get things totally under control in every case, in most cases getting the spam count down to pretty much zero, and all using simple (and free) techniques already out there.

First let’s look at some of the basics.

The Settings > Discussion menu is where you’ll find the built-in WordPress settings for comments. Mostly these can be left on their default settings. Pingbacks and trackbacks however should be turned off for sure.

There’s few things more disappointing to a blogger than getting a comment on a hitherto unloved post, only to discover its a trackback. Lose them! Off!

Pingbacks, trackbacks and post notifications are a throwback to a previous era, where they were the only way to let other blogs know that they’d referenced your post and vice versa. Nowadays of course, we’re all good web citizens and give plentiful credits on Twitter, Facebook and the like, so this is increasingly less useful. Not only that, but it’s a perfect mechanism for spambots (automated spamming code) to send a few tentative probes out to your site. Once “approved”, you’ve opened the door for that spambot to comment elsewhere. So lose them. Your discussion settings should look like this:

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Next we need to look at a few plugins. The granddaddy of these is Akismet, which is made by the WordPress team, and bundled along with it when you set your blog up. It needs activating the first time, which means registering for an account over on their site, with a “name your price” monthly fee for individual blogs. And yes, “free” is technically a price. But its pretty straightforward to set up after that.

Akismet is a pretty good gatekeeper, and in many cases can be all you need. It isn’t without its problems though. Out of the box it will block anything that looks like trouble, but still sometimes lets things through. You can train it by highlighting missed comments as spam, and it will learn from that, but even then it isn’t perfect.

Akismet is a bit like a nightclub bouncer. Tell it “no trainers” and it will stop everyone wearing trainers, even the most on-trend pair of Phoebe Philo sneakers.

Perfectly legitimate comments or emails can wind up finding their way into the spam folder, just because they looked a bit like something you’d previously told Akismet was spam. Plus Akismet can be tricked into learning the wrong thing. We’ve all fallen foul of those ego-tweaking “Great blog post. You have some amazing content!” sweeteners at some point. Yet one look at the email address of the commenter shows these to be just as spammy as any number of Rolex links. The difference here is that it plays on our need for positive feedback, and once we’ve approved it Akismet will happily let anything else from that commenter through the door, opening the floodgates for a spam tsunami.

The other problem with Akismet is that it still needs the comment to be posted before it can review it. This takes up server resources – especially if you’ve found yourself on the receiving end of a particularly enthusiastic spam bot – and can really slow your site down as it tries to investigate each and every comment. This is particularly problematic on Shared Hosting packages from the likes of Bluehost and their many guises, which only allow a certain number of things to happen on their servers at a time.

What we need then is something to prevent the spam from even getting into the system. Step forward WordPress Zero Spam, still fairly unknown, put together by a developer who loves what they do and isn’t out for profit (the best sort!) and kind of mind-blowing in how well it works. You can find it by searching under Plugins > Add New in your WordPress dashboard.

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It’s hard to explain how WP Zero Spam works without getting too technical, but it’s kind of like a Javascript call-and-response thing. The comment form asks another part of the page for a response, and only lets the comment through if that response is forthcoming. The clever bit is that this all happens on the page using Javascript, which – crucially – spambots don’t know how to use. So the spam doesn’t even get beyond the front door. WordPress happily goes about its business unaware that this is even happening. It really can zero your spam in one swoop ūüĎŹ

Sure, there may still be the odd spam that sneaks through – the sort where some poor soul is sat there with a conveyor belt of browser tabs manually copy+pasting for a few cents a comment – but these are easily mopped up with a well trained Akismet running in the background.

So there you have it. Two tick-boxes, two plugins, next to no set-up time, and zero spam. Easy!

Plugins used

Akismet: Download from WordPress (although automatically added with all new WP installations)
WordPress Zero Spam: Download from WordPress

Was this post useful to you? Do you have any topics you’d like to see covered? Let me know in the comments!

Design Work

Mint + Gold hand-lettered logo design with custom wordpress theme

Bridal Makeup specialist Tara got in touch wanting a fresh new logo and website for her makeup design business. She was after something contemporary and fresh, that reflected both her personality and that of her clients.

Working with a makeup-inspired palette of mint green, ink-wash textures, glitter, hand-lettered typography and hot pink details, the final branding allowed plenty of variations for use on business cards and flyers,  plus visual elements that helped to give a clear structure to the website.

The site itself was a bespoke Wordpress theme, fully editable with filterable galleries and custom-developed press/portfolio section. As with all modern sites the design is entirely mobile-responsive, with the layout and menus adapting to fit smaller mobile devices. The site also makes extensive use of web fonts for headlines and page copy to support the branding throughout. Full details of the fonts used are at the end of this blog post.

Have a look at some examples below, and you can check out the live site itself through the links at the end!

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Details

Client: Tara Sanger Makeup
Design: Swash & Fold
Site Details: Fully mobile-responsive custom WordPress theme
Fonts: Freeland (Trial By Cupcakes), JAF Domus Titling (Just Another Foundry), Rooney Sans (Jan Fromm)

Design Work

Website Redesign for Bridesmaid & Flower Girl Dress Designer Nicki Macfarlane

A custom-designed, mobile-responsive & feature-packed WordPress site for the Royally-approved children’s dress designer…

I’ve another website redesign for you today, which went live towards the tail-end of 2014. The brief was to take Nicki Macfarlane’s existing website and give it a visual and functional overhaul, with a bold modern-vintage aesthetic, fresh new features, increased usability and a fully ‘responsive’ layout to cater for visitors on a wide range of devices.

I’d worked with Nicki and her team to design their brochure earlier in the year, so it made sense to echo some of the design elements from that online, such as the illustrated frames and the typographic style.

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The darker background which worked so well in print however looked overly heavy on screen, so this was switched for a fresher duck-egg blue. I also sourced a selection of new, shabby-chic swept picture frames to further lift the palette and enhance the design, and opted to present all but the most decorative text in Joshua Darden‘s superb “Freight” super-family of fonts, which combine a classic and flexible design with high readability on-screen.

Take a look at some samples from the project below, or head to nickimacfarlane.com to see the full site!

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It was important to ensure the site worked well across a range of devices and platforms, and that content was presented in an appropriate way. Throughout the site the content automatically reconfigures to fit the viewing window, changing frame graphics, menu structure, location of key information, the size and spacing of grids, or changing the number of items in a row. Examples of this can be seen above on the product details pages, or below in areas such as the “Our Collections” section.

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In addition to a full catalogue of dresses, accessories and pageboy outfits the site also features a range of supporting tools like size charts, fabric swatches, video library and an interactive worldwide stockist map, all designed to be editable by Nicki and her team behind the scenes.

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Visit nickimacfarlane.com to see more, or leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

Details

Website: WordPress custom theme development, responsive layout and brand update.
Fonts: Freight Sans and Display (Joshua Darden, Garage Fonts), Breathe Pro (Li√°n Types), Perpetua (Adobe)

Design Work

Kim Hawkins Photography, Swashed and Folded

Custom WordPress theme development and a shiny new logo for Hertfordshire-based Wedding and portrait photographer Kim Hawkins

Kim’s old branding and website needed a fresh new look, so together we set to work on coming up with something that better captured her approach. Kim wanted something that would appeal to the contemporary bride, but still felt fairly “classic” and stylish in tone. As Kim’s work also features family and portrait photography (many of which may be returning customers) it was also important not to alienate or exclude previous clients, so some continuity in design between the old and new was essential.

The most striking aspect of Kim’s previous branding was the deep cerise colour, which dominated the old design. This was an immediately recognisable element, which was retained as a highlight for text, and combined with paper and watercolour texture for the footer and header strip. This was combined with light, natural tones, subtle HTML detailing, clean and light lines of the timless Futura typeface, and the more modern bold italics of Playfair for titling and other featured text. For the logo, the flowing hand-lettered style proved the perfect contrast to the clean lines elsewhere, with a bronze gradient toning the screen version into the colours and textures of the rest of the page.

Take a look at some samples from the project below, or head to www.kimhawkins.co.uk for a nose around the finished thing!

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Thanks to Kim for being a great client – if you’d like to see more of her work, take a look at the full site at www.kimhawkins.co.uk.

Details

Website: WordPress custom theme development and logo design.
Fonts: Futura (Bitstream), Playfair Display Italic (Claus Eggers S√łrensen)

Design Work

Vintage-Style Wedding Invitations and an RSVP Website

Ryan & Steph thought a Wedding website would be the ideal way to make it easy for their guests to RSVP and find out more about their day, so we set about creating a fun vintage design that would work equally well online and print.

There are plenty of ways you can share information about your wedding day with guests, like info sheets and wedding maps, Facebook groups or email updates. Increasingly people are setting up wedding websites, with lots of services out there letting you add content, maps and links to their pre-designed templates. Steph and Ryan however wanted to theirs to be designed to closely complement their printed invitations, so asked if I could produce both at the same time.

Steph had a clear idea on what she wanted, with vintage-style lettering and an old-fashioned poster layout detailing the back-story to their engagement and wedding. We agreed on some dusty, dusky shades for a splash of retro colour, and I used a combo of HVD’s Brandon Printed and Microbrew from the Albatross foundry – two newish type families packed with weathered detailing, inked imperfections and vintage ornaments, that worked perfectly together and gave Steph the look she was after.

For the website the ever-flexible WordPress was used, creating a simple but flexible site that can also be used to display maps, photo galleries and all sorts of helpful guest-friendly info. Ryan and Steph had their own login details too, so they can update all their information whenever they wish.

Take a look at the finished bits and pieces below…

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Details

Paper: 300gsm Tintoretto Gesso
Design: Swash and Fold
Fonts: Brandon Printed (HVD Fonts), Microbrew (Albatross)