Most website owners who have a contact form on their website have at some point dealt with a steady stream of spam emails that clog up the inbox and bury the legitimate leads and contact form submissions. It can be extremely irritating and at times downright frustrating. Fortunately, there are many tools and plugins available to help you combat spam.
A simple search for “spam” in the WordPress plugin directory yields hundreds of results, so how do you know which one can be trusted to accurately get the job done? We’ve tested many different types of anti-spam plugins and techniques throughout the years to keep those pesky unsolicited emails at bay, and after careful consideration, one tool has clearly come out on top.
But first, let’s define what anti-spam is and determine why it’s so important to install on your WordPress site.
What is Anti-Spam and Why Do I Need It?
Anti-spam can be defined as a tool or a set of techniques to identify illegitimate form submissions (whether generated by a bot or a real person) and prevent them from reaching your inbox. Aside from the obvious nuisance, spam also has security implications for your website.
Some spam bots – or nefarious hackers – can attempt to insert malicious code into your contact forms, which would then be injected into your database and compromise your website or server, resulting in a “hack.” Of course, there are website security measures that can be taken to prevent this from happening, but that’s a topic for another article. Today, we’re focusing on preventing those spam submissions from ever reaching you or your website’s database in the first place.
There are many different methods that can be used to prevent spam. Below are a few of the most popular ones used on the web.
The “Captcha” Method
We’ve all seen it: a prompt asking you to decipher barely legible characters, or a pop-up box asking you to select all images with a bicycle in it. Captchas are quite effective at preventing bots, and Google has its own Captcha method called reCAPTCHA that is fairly easy to implement. The downside to Captcha is the obvious friction it creates for users, adding an extra step to submit a contact form. Google’s reCAPTCHA has a version called “v3” that eliminates user interaction by working in the background, but we’ve found this method hasn’t been as effective at preventing spam as the traditional Captcha.
The “Honeypot” Method
The honeypot method works by luring spam bots to fill out an invisible input field in the contact form. Human users can’t see this input field, so form submissions that have this field filled out can be considered spam, since only bots can detect it. This invisible field will usually be labeled something like “country” or “company name” which tricks the bot into filling it out. The downside to using this method is that it’s only effective towards bots, and any human could manually submit your form and bypass the honeypot to send you unsolicited messages.
The “Challenge/Response” Method
What color is the sky? What is 2 x (4 + 8)? This method presents the user with a simple question or math problem you must solve before hitting the submit button, which is mostly used to prevent bots from filling out your form. The problem with this method is that spam bots are getting smarter every day, and math problems have gotten extremely easy for bots to solve. With recent advancements in AI technologies, this method will soon become obsolete.
These methods can all be very useful in their own way, but the best tools are the ones that integrate multiple anti-spam techniques to bring you the most robust spam prevention system possible.
After trying out and testing a variety of different WordPress plugins, we’ve found that the best anti-spam plugin is Anti-Spam by CleanTalk.
Anti-Spam by CleanTalk
CleanTalk is an anti-spam plugin that analyses form submissions to determine whether they are spam or legitimate. It uses advanced algorithms and techniques like blacklisting and whitelisting to identify and block spam, whether automated from a bot or entered manually by a human. It detects common spam techniques like the ones discussed above, as well as others such as keyword stuffing, link spamming, and comment spam.
CleanTalk also provides you with a dashboard interface where you can see detailed statistics and reports regarding the contact form submissions on your website. It keeps a record of all form submissions for up to 7 days, so in the case of rare false spam detection, users can still view the form submission through the CleanTalk dashboard and mark it as “not spam”. You can also block certain countries, IP addresses, and referrers from accessing your website.
Another advantage to using CleanTalk is its affordability. The service costs around $10 a year for the Basic plan, which offers protection for a single website for a whole year. They also offer other plans that come with security features and the ability to extend your form submission records to 45 days. But the basic plan is more than enough to keep your website protected from spam.
Installing the WordPress Plugin and Activating CleanTalk
Once you’ve created an account with CleanTalk by entering your email and website URL, a password will be emailed to you. Your free account comes with a 7-day free trial, during which time you can install the WordPress plugin and test it.
To install the plugin, simply search “CleanTalk” in the WordPress plugin repository and click install and activate. Alternatively, you can download the CleanTalk WordPress plugin and install it manually by uploading the .zip file.
Once the plugin has been activated, log in to your CleanTalk account and find your access key. This can be found on your account’s home page. Click the key icon, and copy the access key. Then, in your WordPress dashboard, go to Settings > Anti-Spam by CleanTalk. Paste your access key, then hit Save Changes. Your site is now protected with CleanTalk!
The plugin also provides additional settings and features which you can turn on and off, but the default settings should be enough to get you started. It’s also important to note that CleanTalk is not compatible with Captcha (especially Google’s reCAPTCHA), so make sure to disable any existing Captcha plugins you have installed on your website and your contact forms.
Once you’re satisfied with the anti-spam service, you can purchase a Basic license through the CleanTalk dashboard to protect your site for a year.
Protect Your Site from Spam with CleanTalk
In our opinion, CleanTalk is the best anti-spam plugin for WordPress. It is easy to set up and use, and its advanced spam-filtering capabilities provide you with peace of mind that your inbox is free from unsolicited emails and your website safe from malicious attacks. CleanTalk doesn’t just work for WordPress: it has simple integrations with other content management systems like Joomla and Drupal, and also has an API that allows you to integrate it with other custom platforms and software.
If you’re looking for a reliable anti-spam solution for your site, then CleanTalk is definitely worth a try.