Blog post commenting is a contentious issue. Some extremely high profile blogs have disabled comments or have never allowed them in the first place. Their traffic hasn’t seemed to diminish. On the other hand, plenty of incredibly successful blogs allow comments and foster detailed discussions. Of course, we’ve all seen times when the comments section has gone sour, with off-topic threads, petty slapfights and worse. Which is better? Should you disable comments or keep them active?
On one level, the entire point of a blog is to gather an audience to which you can market. Building that audience is easier if they have a sense of community. That’s why social media is so powerful, after all. Comments are the best you can get on your blog to create that sort of social community. For that matter, you can integrate Facebook comments to further tie the social media and blog comment spheres together.
Comments do a number of things to help you refine your content. First, they allow you to see other viewpoints. It may be as simple and diametrically opposed to your viewpoint as two political parties, or it may be a new way of looking at a problem that gives you insight that you wouldn’t have had before. It’s not uncommon for a blog comment to be promoted into the main post due to its insight or added value. This is, of course, value you don’t need to work for yourself. Commenters provide additional value that can only be found on your post, and so it improves the quality of your post.
Comments provide plenty of value for you when you’re running your blog as well. An insightful question that would take quite a bit to answer in the comments can form the basis for an entirely new post. Comments are also a bit of social validation; without them, how do you really know your audience? Sure, you can monitor their behavior with an analytics tool, but that’s cold and impersonal. It’s the difference between watching a group of people eat dinner from behind a one-way mirror, or sitting with them at the table.
Socially, comments also help attract new readers. Imagine two posts with the same title. One of them has no comments and the other has 25. Which seems like it has more value from the outside? Users don’t know the first piece has no comments because they’re disabled; it might just be because the content isn’t very good. As the number of comments increases, so does this social influence.
Don’t forget about the possible inspiration coming from comments. Just as they can inspire a new blog post, they might also reveal to you a need that your customers have for a tool or product that you could provide. This sort of insight is invisible if all you see are analytics numbers.
There’s also the psychological impact of commenting. It takes a bit of an investment to fill out the form required to comment, which is why comment plugins try to make the process as painless as possible. Psychologically, filling out a form on a website, whether it’s for a purchase or for a comment, feels about the same. Commenting users are more likely to convert, because they’re already invested in your blog.
Commenting is clearly valuable, so where’s the value in turning them off? The first source of that value is, quite obviously, time. When your posts only receive one or two comments, it’s easy to give them a quick word of thanks or a look to make sure they aren’t spam. As your blog grows, however, comments expand. How much time does it take to read 20, 30, 50, 100 or more comments on a post? How much more time does it take to do that for multiple posts each week or, in the case of some massive blogs, each day? The answer is an astoundingly high number. That’s why some of the most popular blogs leave their comments largely unmoderated or close them down entirely.
Depending on the comments, moderating them is an incredible drain. You’re stuck fighting an endless war against the trolls that have nothing better to do than pick apart the tiny, unimportant details in your post while ignoring the main point. You’re battling against the people who come to your posts, not to participate, but to pick fights with other people posting comments of their own. After running a blog for a while, you’re going to end up seeing any number of completely unrelated debates about sports, politics, gun control, racism and anything else you can think of.
Some bloggers also started their blogs specifically to cut back on the amount of time they need to work in a day. When you’re forced to spend more and more time moderating comments, you’re stuck with the very desk job you left to start your blog.
Moderating comments is also a thankless, valueless task. Users never know all of the terrible things you delete, they just know what they see when they read. You, on the other hand, have to expose yourself to all of the negativity of your blog on a daily basis, making decisions on what to remove and what to say on the posts you don’t remove. You may be providing an aura of value, but you’re also effectively doing it behind the scenes. Your readers won’t consciously acknowledge your effort.
Your commenters also represent a small fraction of your blog readership in total. Compare the comment numbers to the view numbers for a basic, if inaccurate, illustration. Some blogs only see a mere five percent of their readers commenting. Some see even less. Yet comments shape your content. You’ll start to avoid bringing up subjects that cause fights in your comments. You’ll write about topics that the vocal five percent wants to see, but maybe less than half of the rest of your readers care about. If you’re not careful, and you pay more attention to your comments than to your analytics, you risk losing readers.
Yes, there is some value from some commenters. Those are the people who are truly invested in your content, truly willing to network and communicate with you and who provide the valuable insight you like from your comments. But you know what? Most of those people have blogs of their own. If they can’t comment on your blog, maybe they’ll post about your content on their blog and link back. A good backlink is more valuable than a comment any day.
So with all of the reasons to disable comments stemming from the time and mental draining related to moderation, how can you keep comments enabled while maintaining value?
Well, one option is to ignore moderation entirely. It’s not a great option, because it lets comments run out of control and lets spam in. So you can disregard that idea.
Another option is to establish firm commenting rules and remove any comment that violates them. It’s a bit draconian, a bit dictatorial, but it’s also effective. Some of the best communities on the web have incredibly strict rules on behavior, and thrive for it. Still, that can take a lot of time and earn you some ill will.
A third option is to outsource your comments moderation. Hire a social manager to handle your comments. They can remove the worst of the fighting and spam. They can handle the basic thanks for commenting. They can note down ideas for you for later, and refer you to the comments that really matter. The one downside to this is that, with another mind on the case, what they say might not always be what you want to say, and some users will notice. They also require payment, of course, which you might not want to afford.
In the end, the choice is a personal decision for your blog. Are the comments you receive valuable enough to spend your time moderating them?