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WordPress Smiley Spam Technique

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I’m not sure if this technique has been around a while or what, but I’ve just noticed it. Someone just tried to leave a comment on older post here at Theme Lab with the usual “nice post thanks” and a :) smiley as the anchor text (or image in this case).

How It’s Done

These comment spammers prey on unsuspecting WordPress users by linking to their site with a smiley image like this.

Wow! Really awesome post! <a href="">:)</a>

The smiley is then parsed into an image, which is then displayed in your WordPress comment moderation panel.

How To Spot It

In the comment moderation panel, under the smiley image you’ll notice a small, barely noticeable, underline.

WordPress Smiley Spam

This indicates the smiley is linking to something, most likely a site you wouldn’t approve of.


I guess spammers will never stop of thinking of new ways to spam, but it’s best to be aware of the new techniques as they come out. Have any of you seen this type of comment spam before?


Leland Fiegel was the original founder of ThemeLab. He is a web developer who loves WordPress and blogging.

  • Anto

    Ive never seen it, but thats f^&*ing clever, hmmm, im going to try it lol =D Not for spamming with bum sites, just for like decent sites, that could benefit both people lol. :D

  • Pangeran

    I never thought of this thing…
    Wow, if I’m doing that on a do follow blog, what a decent transparent link back I have… :-)

  • Timothy West

    hey this is pretty sneaky of the spammers… i geus you have to take them with a pinch of salt… i cant quite say yet as i have not had any major spammers on my site or blog but its growing in interest so maybe soon..

    say what do people feel about people promoting their work or blogs that are relevent to posts on comments…?? is it un fair as it seems to be the only way that i can truly get people to view my blogs

    heres mine now…

    let me knows… by commenting on my blog or here??

    • Zhu

      Just my own opinion, but I don’t think your blog is relevant to the post… therefor as a blog author, I’d have left your comment but remove the link. This is usually how I deal with “mild” spam, i.e non-professional spammers who just tend to have bad blog etiquette and keep on dropping off their link for no reason (not saying it’s your case ;-))

      Pro spammers are sneaky… recently, I got a lot of messages in Russian, seems that Akismet still has to learn the language :lol:

  • Bcarter

    Thanks for the tip. Most of the comments that I receive stating “nice post” or something like that go straight to the trash anyways. In fact, lately most of my comments have been spam, to the tune of 30-40 per day on my oldest blog.

    • Wen

      But when you – like I do – get “nice post” on a blog that is only in norwegian, it is rather obviously that it is spam.. :-)

  • Leland

    Keep in mind I wrote this post with the intention of making people aware of this “smiley spam” technique to defend yourself, not to use it on other blogs.

    @Bcarter: I’d have to agree with you. Comments like “nice post” don’t really contribute to the conversation at all so I tend not to approve them.

  • Pangeran

    Yeah, Leland…
    I was just joking…
    Don’t mind that…

  • Leland

    @Pangeran: No worries. :)

  • Susan

    Wow…I don’t know if I would have caught that small line. I guess they will always find a new way to spam, huh?

  • Static

    That is definitely some sneaky stuff there. Good eye. :):):):):)

    Oh yeah. None of those smilies at the top have any links for your information. ;) <- Now how about this one! =)

  • Ganesh

    Very clever. One wouldn’t realize that the smiley was a link. ;)

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  • HollywoodDream

    Wow, now that is tricky!


    Since I started my blog about a year ago I’ve had something to the tune of 6,000 spam comments caught by the Akismet plugin. Thank Jesus I installed that plugin. When I started my blog I knew nothing about wordpress so I just as likely could of not installed it.
    I don’t understand the ones that just add random letters..what’s that all about?
    Lately I’ve also been getting a ton of spam in my instant message program mostly my Yahoo. I just block them but again with the random letters..
    Do they contain scripts? Just curious if anyone knows that answer to that one.

    Thanx for the smiley tip I’ll make sure to spread the word on my blog and keep an eye open for the little buggers. *wink*