Stop Spam in its Tracks with CleanTalk

Anyone who owns a content based website, such as a blog or discussion forum, understands the problems that spam generates.

WordPress owners have to tackle spam on a daily basis. Over the last few months spam has increased significantly on this blog to the point where 90% of the comments that are published are spam comments that have slipped past the anti-spam solutions I had in place. It is even more alarming when you consider that these spam comments are in addition to the ten thousand spam comments that Akismet blocks every month.

The problem has reached a level that I am now seriously considering disabling comments on this blog as it is becoming a royal pain in the ass having to mark comments as spam every day. Admittedly, this is a drastic step as I love receiving comments from readers, but doing this would make my life much easier.

CleanTalk
CleanTalk aims to reduce spam without annoying commentators.

There are, of course, many anti-spam solutions available to WordPress users that help you reduce spam.

Unfortunately, the most effective anti-spam solutions involving placing hurdles in front of commentators. Methods such as user registration and CAPTCHA forms can drastically reduce spam, but they can also greatly reduce the volume of comments on your website.

This is understandable. No one wants to jump through a series of hoops before they can leave a comment on a website. They just want to enter their name, email address, and website URL, and then submit their comment.

One solution that does not discourage commentators with additional steps is CleanTalk. It is a premium service that aims to eliminate the vast majority of spam on discussion forums and blogs.

I activated CleanTalk on this blog on 11th May 2016 via their WordPress plugin and have been paying close attention to how it performs since it went live.

In this article I would like to show exactly what this useful service can do. I will be focusing on my experience of CleanTalk using the CleanTalk WordPress plugin as that is what I have tested, however CleanTalk can be used with a variety of website platforms.

The Spam Problem

Before I speak about CleanTalk, I want to quickly talk about why spam is such a pain for website owners.

The seriousness of spam should not be underestimated. It collectively costs website owners across the world billions of dollars every year. I myself have had to sell or close down websites in the past due to spammers.

For example, many years ago I owned a couple of directory websites. These websites were really easy to run as they relied on user submissions for new directory entries. All I had to do was review the websites that had been submitted every week.

These websites brought in a couple of hundreds dollars every month through banner sales and prominent directory listings at the top of pages.

Unfortunately, spammers started submitting entries to my directories. The volume of spam being submitted meant that it soon took hours to manage new directory submissions instead of minutes. I eventually sold the websites as they were too time-consuming to manage and draining a lot of my time.

I am also having to deal with a lot of registration spam and post spam in my discussion forums.

WordPress users experience spam in a different way.

If user registration is enabled, your WordPress website will undoubtedly receive a high level of fake user registrations unless you implement an anti-spam plugin.

Likewise, if comments are enabled on your website, your website will receive comment spam.

Other types of spam may be generated on your website if you have added additional functionality to your website via a WordPress theme or WordPress plugin (e.g. WordPress post types). For example, a contact form may allow spammers to send you promotional emails.

The problem with WordPress spam is that if the problem is not addressed, it can stop you from using the functionality that is being attacked. For example, a serious spam problem may force you to disable user registrations, stop directory submissions, or user comments. You may also have to disable additional functionality you have added to your website such as the ability for users to submit photos.

In short, spam is frustrating, time-consuming, and costly. Spam is unfortunately a never-ending problem that will never go away so it is something you need to tackle head on. That is why solutions such as CleanTalk are being developed.

CleanTalk – What Does it Do?

CleanTalk is an affordable anti-spam solution that costs less than a dollar per month.

One of the main selling points of CleanTalk is the fact that users do not have to perform any additional tasks. Users do not have to complete a CAPTCHA form, or answer questions, or complete complete puzzles, or match images.

In a manner of speaking, CleanTalk is invisible. Once activated, CleanTalk just simply works.

The developers of CleanTalk claim that they can offer up to 99.998% protection against spam bots.

CleanTalk can:

  • Stop spam comments
  • Stop spam registrations
  • Stop spam contact emails
  • Stop spam orders
  • Stop spam bookings
  • Stop spam subscriptions
  • Stop spam in widgets
  • Check existing comments for spam

The WordPress plugin can work with the native WordPress commenting system and with other WordPress commenting solutions such as JetPack comments.

User registration forms powered by WordPress and plugins such as BuddyPress, bbPress, S2Member, WooCommerce, and Profile builder, are also protected.

CleanTalk is fully compatible with most major WordPress contact form solutions such as Gravity Forms, Contact Form 7, and Ninja Forms. It also provides filters for WooCommerce and newsletter solutions such as MailPoet.

CleanTalk is compatible with all major WordPress caching solutions too.

In short, CleanTalk works nice with other WordPress plugins to help you stop a wide range of spam.

https://twitter.com/arleighdesign/status/684746110209015808

So how does CleanTalk stop spam?

The process is straight-forward.

Whenever a user performs an action, such as leaving a comment on your website or completing a registration form or contact form, the CleanTalk WordPress plugin checks the user’s data against their blacklist of spam bot IP addresses, email addresses, and domain names. If the user’s data is listed in CleanTalk’s blacklist, the action is not processed.

CleanTalk Blacklists
The CleanTalk blacklist page can be used to find a particular spam bot.

If automoderator services have determined that a particular user is a spam bot, their IP address, email address, and associated domain names, will be added to the CleanTalk database.

If a website owner manually removes a comment then that user’s comment will be recorded and assigned one point. Once that user reaches three points, they are automatically added to the blacklist.

Automatic removal from the blacklist can occur due to inactivity from a particular IP address.

The system is set up so that new spam bots are added to the blacklist every day.

Setting Up CleanTalk

The process of creating an account on CleanTalk is straight-forward.

Their account creation form is situated at the top of their home page.

All you have to do is enter your email address and website URL. A password will then be emailed to you together with an access key to allow you to access the CleanTalk cloud.

Creating a CleanTalk Account
It literally takes seconds to create a CleanTalk account.

The registration email also links to the CleanTalk dashboard and to the CleanTalk installation page.

As you know, this review is focusing on my experience of CleanTalk using their WordPress plugin, however the installation page shows many different plugins and libraries and other solutions that you can use.

A dedicated installation information page is available for each type. For example, the WordPress installation page links directly to the zip file and displays screenshots that shows you exactly how to install the CleanTalk plugin through your WordPress admin area.

Installing CleanTalk
The CleanTalk service works with many different platforms.

You can download the CleanTalk WordPress plugin directly through WordPress.org or via your WordPress admin area by searching for “Anti-Spam by CleanTalk”.

CleanTalk WordPress Plugin
CleanTalk can be downloaded directly from WordPress.org.

The CleanTalk WordPress plugin has a minimum presence on your website. Once the plugin has been installed and activated, you will see a note about CleanTalk in your “At a Glance” box in your WordPress dashboard (i.e. the page that you are redirected to when you login to your WordPress admin area). After some time you will see a note here about how much spam CleanTalk has blocked.

CleanTalk At a Glance Box
You can quickly see how CleanTalk is performing.

A note of allowed and blocked spam is displayed in your WordPress admin bar too. In the sub-menu are links to your CleanTalk account dashboard and the CleanTalk plugin settings page.

CleanTalk in Your Admin Bar
CleanTalk in Your Admin Bar

You will also see an option to “Check for spam” in the comment menu of your WordPress admin area.

CleanTalk Admin Comment Box
A new link is added to your comment menu.

The “Check for spam” option lets you…well, it lets you check for spam :)

Clicking this option will perform a spam check instantly over the comments in your WordPress database.

CleanTalk Spam Check
Performing a spam check.

You will find a settings page for CleanTalk under the settings menu of your WordPress admin menu.

At the top of the page is a button that takes you directly to your account dashboard on CleanTalk.org and an option to display your access key.

A message states that “Protection is Active”.

Underneath you will see two options.

The first option allows you to enable the CleanTalk spam firewall. This filters spam bots before they access your website and checks their IP address against around two million known spam bots (a new version of this firewall was released six months ago). The result of this is that you use less CPU on your server and subsequently increase page loading times (which will help with search engine optimisation).

The second option lets you add a credit link to CleanTalk under your comment form to help spread the word about the service. This option is disabled by default.

CleanTalk Basic Settings
The basic settings of CleanTalk’s WordPress plugin.

Many additional settings are displayed if you click on the “Advanced settings” link. You will find a number of useful options here. This includes automatically deleting spam comments, enabling CleanTalk for registration forms and contact forms, and showing statistics in your admin bar.

There is also a beta option that allows you to collect information about browsers.

CleanTalk Advanced Settings
The advanced settings of the CleanTalk WordPress plugin.

CleanTalk works right out of the box. The plugin is configured how most WordPress users need so whilst there is a plugin settings page, most people will be happy activating the plugin and letting CleanTalk work in the background as most relevant information can be found through your CleanTalk account area.

Your CleanTalk Account

When you access your account via the CleanTalk.org website you will be taken to the main dashboard.

This page shows you all of the websites you own that are using the CleanTalk anti-spam service.

Stats are displayed for approved entries, spam entries, and spam firewall entries. These stats are shown in a small weekly statistics graph too.

The total number of spam bots that have been blocked is also displayed and there is an option at the top of the page to add additional websites.

CleanTalk Main Dashboard
The main dashboard of CleanTalk.

Details of spam bots who have attempted to attack your website can be seen in the log page. You can filter listings by date, approved or declined status, website, country, and IP address and email address.

CleanTalk Log
I love how everything is stored in your main account.

You can import blacklists and whitelists for each website. This is useful for blocking and allowing particular users.

CleanTalk also allows you to block users from countries and block comments by using specific “Stop Words”

CleanTalk Black and White Lists
Blacklists and whitelists can be imported easily.

The main analytics page shows anti-spam statistics and spam firewall statistics. Data can be shown for a particular website or for all of your websites. Data can also be filtered by date.

CleanTalk Analytics
The analytics page helps you quickly see if spam has been going up or down.

The CleanTalk service account area is very simple to use. You will find useful data about spammers through your account, but I suspect most website owners are happy for CleanTalk to work in the background.

The CleanTalk Mobile Apps

CleanTalk provides a mobile application on iOS and Android. The app allows you to check comments, registrations, and other entries, that have been submitted on your websites.

It’s a nice addition to the service.

CleanTalk Android App
The CleanTalk android app.

CleanTalk Pricing

CleanTalk is free to use for fourteen days. After this time you need to opt for one of CleanTalk’s yearly pricing plans.

Their pricing plans are very competitive. Pricing starts at only $8 a year for an unlimited number of checks for one website. That means that you can protect your website from spam for only $0.67 per month.

The cost of CleanTalk on a website by website basis drops considerably if you choose to pay for multiple websites. It costs $16 per year for three websites, $24 per year for five websites, $46 per year for ten websites, $88 for twenty websites, $126 per year for thirty websites, and $160 per year for forty websites.

Their most expensive plan works out at only $0.33 per month per website.

CleanTalk Pricing
CleanTalk’s service is very cheap to use.

Another plan is available for $15 per month that supports an unlimited number of websites, but approved comments, contacts, and registrations, are restricted to 3,000. If you run many websites but do not receive a lot of spam, this may be a better plan to choose.

All CleanTalk pricing plans come with a sixty day money back guarantee. Plans can also be downgraded, upgraded, or cancelled, at any time.

Customers gain access to a large documentation area and a support forum.

Alternatively, you can seek help by opening a support ticket. Support is provided twenty-four hours a day so you should receive a response to your query quickly.

CleanTalk Bonuses
You can claim additional months of service.

Bonus months can be added to your account. You can add an additional three months of service to your chosen plan by opting to pay before your fourteen day expires.

A year’s worth of service can be added to your account if you help spread the word about CleanTalk by publishing a review of the service on your website. It’s a nice offer that I encourage you to consider.

You can also promote CleanTalk using their affiliate program. A rate of 30% is paid from the first yearly payment. Commissions can be paid via PayPal or be transferred to your CleanTalk account balance.

CleanTalk Video Review

Please check out my video review below to see CleanTalk in action. :)

Prevent Spam on Your Website with CleanTalk

Final Thoughts

The real test for an anti-spam solution is how it performs over a long period of time. I have had CleanTalk activated on my website for five days so I cannot comment on the long-term effectiveness of using their service.

I can however say with conviction that CleanTalk has performed really well for me since it was activated on my blog. It has stopped the spam comments that were slipping past Akismet and making my life misery. I will be incredibly happy if this continues as it will practically eliminate the spam problem I had.

The key selling point of CleanTalk for me is not simply its effectiveness. It’s the fact that CleanTalk works in the background. It does not make users jump through hoops in order to submit a comment or complete a form.

When an anti-spam solution does make users complete a task, legitimate submissions inevitably drop. This is a big problem as it could stop a user from publishing a long informative comment or an advertiser from contacting you about purchasing banner space on your website.

The goal is for an anti-spam solution to be invisible and stop spam without annoying real users. In the five days that I have been using CleanTalk, it appears to be doing that perfectly.

Throughout this review I have spoke about how CleanTalk can be used on a WordPress website, however the service can be activated on a wide range of content management systems, discussion forums, and website platforms. This includes Invision Power Board, IPS Community Suite, Joomla, Magento, MediaWiki, phpBB, Simple Machines Forum, vBulletin. and XenForo.

CleanTalk also works with WordPress Multiuser and can be manually set up using a programming languages such as PHP, Perl, Python.NET, YII Framework, and Ruby.

Please visit the official CleanTalk website for more information on how you can protect your website from spam for less than one dollar per day.

Thanks for reading.

Kevin