Ask anyone how they promote their blog, and chances are pretty good that “commenting on other blogs” won’t top the list. Most of us turn to social media to promote our blogs because it works, and works quickly and measurably.
With all of the social media outlets available, and a recent startling movement by a few large blogs to close blog comment sections, it’s easy to dismiss the idea of using your precious time going to blogs and leaving comments. Often, the comments you see are either “great post, thanks!”, blatant link spam, or (horrors) like something you’d find in YouTube.
Why Are Blog Comments Losing Favor?
Bloggers have a love-hate relationship with their own blog comment section, too, for several reasons.
Blog comments are not great for measurement.
Judging your blog by the comments section can be disheartening.
Though the number of comments helps towards your social proof, it is often less an indicator of actual readership and more an indicator of how controversial your post is. The truth is, blog comment numbers aren’t an accurate indicator of actual readership. Most readers don’t participate on your blog, a phenomenon known as participation inequality.
This means that 90% of the people lurk and don’t participate, while 1% account for most of the participation. (Nielsen Norman Group)
This means, as Nielsen pointed out, that blog comment sections aren’t a good place to get feedback because 1% of the people doing the talking might not be the most ideal percentage to base changes on.
You might have nine readers that love what you’re writing, but if you only hear from the one that doesn’t (and more often than not, people are spurred on by a negative reaction to leave a comment), it is disheartening.
Blog comments are tempting for spammers.
Incessant spamming is one of the reasons Copyblogger decided to close the comment section on their blog. The amount of time it took to police spam comments, and the sheer volume, was a tipping point.
In a little over eight years, Copyblogger has published more than 130,000 approved comments. Which is pretty amazing, right?
But over that period, that’s only about 4% of the comments that were left on the site. The remaining 96% were pointless, time-wasting spam.
That’s over 3 million spam comments that Copyblogger has had thrown their direction! On my low-traffic personal WordPress blog, I am frequently blown away by the amount of spam I receive in the comments. In just a few months, the numbers climb high.
Granted, I have a plugin in place to catch nearly all of it (as does Copyblogger), but there are still a handful each day that gets by and end up in my email asking for moderation. I can only imagine how much Copyblogger had to deal with.
Numbers that big are terrifying to some degree when I realize how quickly, without a simple spam plugin, my blog’s comment section would a disaster.
Spammers are incredibly sneaky. Ever get one of those comments that you just can’t be sure if it’s spam or not, it’s that “real”? Spammers know that many bloggers require moderation only on the first comment made on a site. Once they’ve been approved, they have free rein. So they leave a comment that you decide is real, and open the door to them.
The threat of spammers, and the wasted time dealing with them, is exhausting.
Blog comments have to be moderated.
When it comes to comments on my personal blog, I have my WordPress settings as tight as they can be and a strict policy in place as to what kinds of comments I’ll allow (no insulting me or other readers, stay on topic, no excessively foul language, etc.). Spammers and the bad behavior of netizens have forced me to moderate my comments when in the early days of blogging I took pride in letting the discussion unfold in real time sans moderation.
I regret that I have to moderate, but without moderation, conversation can turn ugly.
Bloggers are responsible for what appears on their blog; it is their property. You do not want to allow questionable comments that insult, attack, threaten or suggest harm to another person. While logical fallacies, overused memes, and trolls are probably inevitable even in legitimate comments, most of the truly awful you can head off at the pass by simply keeping it from being published.
Moderation of blog comments means comments don’t appear right away. It means some commenters don’t understand why their comments don’t appear and they submit multiple similar comments. It means some folks get upset when they don’t see their legitimate comment right away and get after you for censoring them (yep, it’s happened to me). But without moderation of comments, your blog will be spam central.
Long and short of it? Because of spammers and people who can’t behave, your comment section is going to take some effort to maintain and protect. Moderation will be required.
Bloggers are afraid of Google.
The idea of your comments section somehow bringing a penalty to your site is terrifying to bloggers. Though Matt Cutts has reassured bloggers that taking part in blog comments in a legitimate way is perfectly fine, recent penalty action taken by Google has bloggers a bit on edge.
With good moderation and spam controls, and making sure that links in the comments section are “no follow” (which WordPress now does) you can protect yourself somewhat. It is important to take a serious rein on your comments section and be purposeful about it.
You don’t have to be afraid of SEO penalties as long as you protect your own comments section and don’t use other blog’s comments sections as a way to spam for your own site.
Conversation is on the social networks, not the blog.
Another reason Copyblogger provided for ending their comments was that the discussion was happening elsewhere, on social media. This is discouraging if you are trying to build social proof on your actual blog, and see social media comment streams as a form of “sharecropping” your content off of your blog property.
A blog comments section might seem antiquated in the face of this new conversation. If you’ve been blogging a while, you’ve probably noticed that social media has meant two things for your blog comments:
- They have dwindled considerably as people go to social media.
- The comments are shorter as social media shortens attention spans or gives people a place to write their own thoughts. (In the early days of blogging, some blog commenters had no blogs; they used blog commenting as the way they built their online reputation and authority.)
Comment systems, though, are evolving. Plugins that support social media integration, or a comment system like Disqus, help tie your blog’s comments into that social pulse. In that sense, you can bring that “outside” conversation back onto your own property.
People are doing it wrong.
Yes, some people (as in, you and me an others) aren’t doing the whole blog commenting thing the right way. It’s hard to have purely altruistic motives, sometimes.
What is it we’re doing? Well…
- We participate in blog comments for linking purposes. If you head into it at all thinking that you’ll get a link back to your site, you’re doing it wrong. You’ll be moderated, spammed, and possibly penalized.
- All we have to say is “nice post, good job.” A comment section is for conversation. While I’m familiar with the feeling of enjoying a post, having nothing to say, but wanting to let the blogger know, it would be better to share the post on social media and say “this was a good post” rather than create acres of comments that say “good job.” Anyone else roll their eyes when trying to sift through “good job!” and “I agree!” comments to get to something meatier?
- We’re trolls. We’re just there to argue and be jerks. Let’s admit it. We’ve all lost it in a blog comments section somewhere, and hang our heads in shame at who we became.
- We don’t understand our comment is in the wrong place. How many times have you read a blog post where the author helpfully suggested a tech fix of some sort, just to be kind, and the comment section quickly fills with people (of all temperaments) wanting help from the author troubleshooting why it didn’t work? Sometimes we mistake a blog post on a particular topic as the place to go for help on that topic, and it isn’t.
Blog comments are for the strong.
New to blogging?
You may or may not be ready for the emotional toll some blog comments can take on you, depending upon what kind of posts you write and how much of a flashpoint your topics are.
Blog comments can be hurtful and discouraging if you let them get to you. Even if you moderate them, you are still going to read them whether you publish them or not. It can be an open door to letting people shred or mock what was a very important thing to write about.
If you are prone to taking things personally or are unable to distance yourself from what random strangers say to you, blog comments can be a real drag on your motivation to keep blogging. On the other hand, if you stick with it, you learn a very valuable skill: how to ignore people who are insignificant in your life.
Why Blog Comments Are Important
After reading all of that–practically an entire blog post on why you should abandon blog comments ASAP!–you might be convinced to do just that. Surely they aren’t worth the hassle or the threat of your innocent blog commenting activity creating a penalty for your blog.
Hold on just a minute.
Most of us aren’t Copyblogger, and aren’t experiencing the level of spam they were. Most of us don’t have the volume of conversation happening elsewhere that they do; our social media conversations are smaller and need a “home base” on the blog. And, most importantly, participating in the comment sections of blogs does have a positive impact.
All of the negatives aside, I love blog comments on a carefully moderated blog. Why?
1. Discover new blogs.
I have probably found more useful sites, links, information, and downloads not through online searches but by people in blog comment sections sharing a relevant source. Plus, a well-written comment with a thoughtful take on the topic will often cause me to visit the website of the commenter. That comment is a preview of how their blog posts will be.
I have found a huge chunk of the blogs I load into my RSS reader through blog comments sections, and where do you suppose I turn when I want to find content to share? That RSS reader.
Taking time and leaving a relevant, useful comment is a way to bring people over to your website. Plugging yourself shamelessly in every post is a turn-off.
2. Learn more about the topic.
A well-researched blog post isn’t all there is to say on a topic.
Word count or time restrictions can keep your “ultimate guide” blog post from not quite being the ultimate guide. The experience, knowledge, and resources commenters can bring to your post in the comment section add to the understanding of the topic.
I’m fairly certain, for example, that when you get to the end of this post, you’ll be thinking “she forgot to mention this important thing” and you’ll take it upon yourself to mention it (hint hint). That’s the beauty of blog comments: readers get to help build on the original post, helping the author and other readers learn more about the topic.
Whether opposing view or adding to the supporting view, there’s more to be said about most topics, and readers can help each other by commenting.
3. The enjoyment of being a regular.
A coffee shop near where I work knows what I’m going to order before I order it. I love that. I love going in and having them pick up the conversation where we left off. It’s the joy of being a “regular.”
The comment section of your blog is where the regulars (or the usual suspects, if it’s that kind of blog :-) gather. They know each other, they know your blog and can link back to old posts or other specific comments from the past. Regulars help turn your blog from being a sequential posting of articles into something organic that references itself.
Plus, there’s the ownership issue.
I have had a handful of people who have read and commented on my personal blog for more than ten years, some of whom I’ve met and we’ve become real-life friends. When you comment (and get response) regularly on a blog, you almost feel like you have ownership there, that it’s important you stay involved. That’s exactly the kind of reader and commenter you want. Heck, some regulars even police the comments section and help you, as if they were forum moderators. They feel like it’s partly their place, too, and they want to help keep it clean.
Blog comment sections are like the coffee house of the internet, where you introduce the discussion and let the regulars get busy discussing it.
4. Networking that works.
Taking part in your own blog comment section shows the world you’re not a hermit. It says that you are not just a one-way street, blasting your content out to them but unwilling to hear them back. (This is especially important if you are trying to build your blog traffic and get a bigger audience.)
Being a one-way content pusher is sort of the equivalent of handing out business cards en masse and not bothering to do much listening as you turn around and walk away. It doesn’t work.
The back and forth conversation in blog comments, and and honest willingness to listen, is good networking. Just like you find new blogs to read, you make connections with the other “regulars” and break free of the limited circles of your social media. Blog comment sections bring in people you might not have discovered, otherwise, and truly expand your networking circles.
One-sided networking never works. In order to make connections that matter, we have to be willing to give and take, and meet people outside of our usual social groups.
5. People link to where they’re being talked about.
I’ve found that if I have written a post that is getting some serious comment action, involving other bloggers and asking questions often leads to them writing a post about the conversation, and linking to my original post. When I’ve had a long run in a comment section and been actively participating, and I think I’ve left some pretty good comments, you know what I do? I link to the post and often blog about it.
It functions on the same principle as why small town newspapers run so many photos of the local sports team.
I learned early on as a small town newspaper reporter that mentioning the names of people in the community in stories, and featuring their kids in school activities, was how you sold papers. It’s the same reason people buy that expensive “Who’s Who” book: they’re listed in it.
We like to promote what’s promoting us.
6. Easier-to-follow conversations.
A lot of conversation happens on social media, sure, but it isn’t always easy to follow.
Some might be on Twitter (where following a discussion is like chasing the tail of a kite on a windy day), others on Google+. Different people saying interesting things, but because those multiple conversations are on different platforms? Never the two shall meet. And, conversation on social media fades away as the news feeds change. It’s always been a frustration of mine that this happens.
Admittedly, some of the social features of some comment systems that adjust the order of the comments according to votes by readers can be confusing, as they aren’t a threaded in-order conversation. While that technique helps commenters police out bad comments (in theory) it does add to confusion, too. But, at least all of the discussion is in one place.
Taking part in blog comment sections makes it easier for readers who find the post to follow along and make sense of how the discussion goes. Latecomers can see what has already been said.
7. Social proof for your blog.
If you see a listing of four blog posts, three with “6 comments” listed, and one with “145 comments” listed, which post are you going to dive into?
Probably the 145-comment post. Clearly there is something going on there and lots of people are actively talking.
We like to see what others are talking about, and we are more likely to join in because there are enough others in the conversation that it won’t be too terrifying (this is especially true for lurkers who don’t participate much). This is social proof in action, the idea that where we see a crowd, there must be something good. Asking questions in your own comments is a good way to keep the ball rolling.
Comments help encourage other comments; it’s a very good reason to respond to comments in your blog posts.
8. Get new ideas for fresh content.
Has this ever happened to you?
You write a post about topic. The discussion is active, and you find yourself leaving long comments. Pretty soon you think it’s probably best to write a whole new blog post because the topic has expanded and given you a lot to talk about, all thanks to the blog comments section.
At the very least, you’ve probably found yourself realizing that there were questions or directions your readers have suggested that would make a great new blog post (or two or three). That’s happened here on this blog, even. It was in our blog comments where a reader brought up the need for social proof. It was a comment that piqued my curiosity and got me doing some research. I eventually wrote a blog post.
I’ve also written blog posts based on comments found on other blogs, too. Inevitably, I link back to the other blog (win for them), and I get a great post idea (win for me). Plus, I have a legitimate reason to leave a comment and say “I wrote a post about this here” and perhaps get some new readers.
The comment section is a great place for idea generation. It’s a group of people, batting ideas around.
9. Direct interaction with the writer.
A blog comments section is the best place possible to interact with the author, and get feedback directly from the source. Anyone can read an article and then relay it to you with their interpretation, but having direct access to the writer means you don’t have to assume or take someone else’s word for what they meant. You can ask the writer herself.
And, the writer has the opportunity to do a little PR in that they appear as reachable and human. When we don’t have access to a human aspect, we find it easier to dismiss a blog as just a “brand” or faceless entity that doesn’t care.
Now, as a writer, sometimes it’s tempting to play god and simply put my Big Idea out there and ignore the reactions and ideas to it. In some ways, social media makes that behavior a bit easier. Those conversations are almost temporal and aren’t on your own property. On a blog, that method makes for a miserable comment section, one where the writer has chosen to “set it and forget it.”
Blog comments dispel misunderstandings by letting readers and author connect directly. The author can clarify or expound on something that may be confusing readers.
10. Blogs are different than articles.
Online news articles often have comments (and they aren’t always worth reading, believe me). They are not blogs; they are more like dead forums. Blogs are (at least they used to be) a two-way conversation between writer and readers.
Content marketing has certainly blurred the line (and the need for such a line if there ever was one) between distinct categorizations of content, but a blog post has a different feel to it than an article, even if only in theory.
An article is matter-of-fact. A blog seems more personal. An article relays information. A blog tells a story, even unintentionally over time as the posts accumulate.
Sometimes having blog comments helps you, the writer, stay away from a dry article. Knowing there is a possibility people will comment keeps you on your toes.
Still Thinking About Removing Comments?
I’ve often considered turning off the comments on my personal blog. The main reason I haven’t? No joke: my mom enjoys leaving encouraging comments, so I leave them on. But maybe you’ve decided to turn your blog comments off? You have every right to do so.
There are blogs that do not have comments, and there is a place for that. Even readers are revolting against blog comments with a “don’t read the comments” trend due to blogs whose unmoderated comment sections are an ugly, vile disaster.
If you already have a huge audience, if you are active on social media and only want to use your blog as home for original content but not conversation, if you feel you want to reduce the “noise” of all the opinions on your blog, or if you are writing for personal reasons and have no desire for feedback from outside readers, feel free to turn off your comments. There is nothing wrong with that. Not every blog is building an audience or trying to achieve monetary or marketing success.
As always, ask yourself: what is the reason you are blogging? What will help you, and what will hinder you?
Comments might be detrimental to you for the reasons I pointed out at the start. But if you want to build an audience, and you enjoy conversation and feedback, moderate and keep your blog comments.