Picture the most annoying, intrusive digital spam you’ve encountered. In all likelihood, you’re thinking of unwanted emails. These can be frustrating, but they are definitely not the only types of spam.

In reality, spam can strike every digital presence imaginable, ranging from blogs to social media. And yes, it remains a huge concern for email, where it gets in the way of legitimate interactions between individuals and businesses that can actually add value to their lives. No matter where this occurs or which types of spam are utilized, it’s important to understand the dangers it poses ⁠— and how it can be prevented.

How spam upends our digital lives

All types of spam are annoying to receive on a personal level, but that is far from the only issue it entails. From a marketing perspective, spam is problematic in that it interrupts productive relationships between consumers and the organizations in which they express legitimate interest.

With email, this manifests in excessively strong junk filters that prevent customers from receiving newsletters or other requested communications. Elsewhere, spam distracts users from websites, social media posts, or other content from which they could otherwise gain discernible value.

This can be both annoying and damaging from a security perspective. After all, the links contained within spam emails or posts may lead to viruses or other threats.

The good news? While many people take it for granted that spam will permanently be part of their digital lives, this doesn’t actually have to be the case. Once we identify spam and recognize all the situations in which it can appear, it’s possible to take targeted steps to get rid of it without also banning useful content such as desired marketing emails.

To help, we’ve highlighted a few of the most significant types of spam below.

Email spam

To begin, we will delve into the type of internet spam you are likely most familiar with: unsolicited emails. These are a familiar yet dreaded sight in most inboxes. While advanced filters block the majority of these emails, some still manage to make it through.

example of types of spam found in email inboxes

Email spam is not only annoying to receive but also potentially dangerous if it involves phishing. Image source: Mother Jones.

Surprisingly enough, recent reports suggest that email spam is currently experiencing a slow and steady decline. According to data from cybersecurity company Kaspersky, spam accounted for 55.76% of total email in January 2020 (compared to 48.16% by June of that year). Despite the steady decrease in spam, it remains a significant problem ⁠— even given Gmail’s claims of blocking 10 million malicious and spam emails per minute.

Email spam is surprisingly diverse. It runs the gamut from mildly annoying to actively threatening to those who receive it — and even to other people on their contact lists. Common examples of spam emails include the following:

  • Phishing: If you’ve ever been contacted by a spammer posing as a legitimate person or business, you’ve been targeted in a phishing attack. The goal is to convince you that the sender actually exists and that you will somehow benefit from sharing sensitive details such as your Social Security number or credit card information.
  • Baiting: Similar to phishing, this strategy may be more alluring to targeted victims in that it comes with the promise of a reward. This could take the form of free downloads or subscriptions. Many otherwise cautious users will happily give up sensitive information in exchange for such freebies.
  • Antispam spam: This name might seem confusing, but the concept behind it is simple — many spammers claim to provide solutions that protect their would-be target against other sources of spam. Instead, however, email recipients may be sent attachments containing viruses or links to dangerous pages.

Messenger spam

Similar in many respects to types of spam linked to email, messenger spam directly strikes messaging services on websites such as Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. These spam messages can often be categorized similarly to the most common spam emails. They may be more difficult to filter, however, and are more likely to reach users who spend more time on social media than checking their email inboxes.

Phishing and baiting are particularly common, with some messages also containing malicious software. If opened, these messages may infect computers or mobile devices. Some may even cause Facebook friends and followers to receive unwanted or downright dangerous messages.

Comment spam

If you’ve ever encountered an abundance of random, irrelevant comments on your website’s blog posts, the source could be a relentless comment spammer. This type of spam involves web-based forms, such as those found within blog-based comment sections or on community forums.

Sometimes referred to as “spomment,” comment spam typically involves some sort of reply that is obviously irrelevant to a given blog or forum thread’s main topic, as well as a link that leads to the spammer’s website.

Comment spam can also involve social media platforms, where it strikes the comment sections for photo and video uploads, as well as simple status updates. With social media, spam can find its way onto private individual pages and groups, along with business-oriented pages and even advertising initiatives.

Trackback spam

As a specific type of comment spam, this problem occurs when trackbacks are used to excess. Before you can truly understand this form of spam, however, it’s important to master the concept of the trackback: a notification that alerts other websites that you have linked to them. Used appropriately, this strategy can result in backlinks.

Unfortunately, when trackbacks are enabled, other sites are capable of linking to your page. This in turn means that they are linked within the comment section. This can be favorable when high-quality websites are involved in trackbacks but problematic if spammers send links to dangerous websites by way of comments.

Browser spam

Although less common than email or messenger-oriented types of spam, browser spam strikes far too many unsuspecting users. These scams draw on the increasing popularity of browser notifications, which, when used properly, can streamline digital interactions to limit the need for open tabs. Unfortunately, these can also be manipulated to create significant security threats.

Unfamiliar to many targets, this type of spam involves browser notifications, which trick recipients into subscribing to problematic websites. These bombard users with notifications related to unsavory schemes. Many of today’s top computer and mobile security solutions are incapable of detecting and eradicating these notifications, so they are often able to continue unchecked.

Negative SEO

The black-hat strategies highlighted above are not just annoying from a user experience perspective, but they’re problematic from the standpoint of search engine optimization (SEO). You’ve worked hard to implement a content strategy that incorporates careful keyword selection and link building, but the results will be limited if you’re consistently undermined by spammers that litter your site or social media pages with low-quality content and links.

Unfortunately, some parties take this concept to the next level by actively trying to interfere with your SEO efforts. Known as negative SEO, this black-hat strategy involves unethical tactics that aim to sabotage your placement in search engine rankings. This takes a variety of forms, with common examples including:

  • Removing high-quality backlinks by sending webmasters fake removal requests
  • Forming spammy links that lead to the targeted company’s website
  • Creating fake reviews or social media profiles with the end goal of causing reputational damage
  • Developing duplicate versions of website content

Negative SEO attacks can be difficult to spot as the ensuing damage may build over a significant period of time. Sometimes, however, performance issues initially attributed to negative SEO actually derive from mistakes on the struggling website’s end.

How to protect your website and marketing campaigns from spam

As you can see, spam can come from a wide array of sources and can often be difficult to detect. As such, efforts to prevent spam must be comprehensive. There is no single tool or technique that can completely eradicate spam, but a well-rounded strategy can block the most common instances of it from your assorted websites, email campaigns, and social media platforms.

example of how to deter a type of spam that attacks websites a recaptcha image asking user to "select all squares with street signs"

ReCAPTCHA can be a valuable option for improving user experience while limiting spam.

The top solutions for preventing and mitigating spam include:

  • Analyzing and protecting backlinks: If you’re targeted by a negative SEO attack, you can use advanced tools to determine who is building links to your site — or whether you’ve recently lost important backlinks. Protect the most valuable backlinks by using domain email addresses and, of course, monitoring these links carefully.
  • Opting for CAPTCHA forms: While these cannot detect all types of comment spam (such as manual versions, in which humans replace spambots to submit forms containing harmful links), they remain an effective solution for preventing spam overload. If convenience is a concern, try Google’s reCAPTCHA instead.
  • Using honeypots: A top tool for limiting spam, honeypots are ideal in that they don’t inconvenience users to the same extent as CAPTCHA. These typically contain data that appears to be valuable to would-be spammers but is actually intended to catch them and hopefully analyze their attacks.

Ditch spam and bad actor strategies for good

Equipped with your newfound understanding of the many forms spam can take, you can use proactive solutions such as CAPTCHA, honeypots, and backlink protection to limit its impact on your digital marketing campaign. As spam disappears, the result will be a stronger connection with, and more trust from, real leads.

To learn more about legitimate marketing tactics that build genuine relationships with prospects, check out The Download — your guide to all aspects of online marketing.