Whatever Happened to Comments on Blogs?

“What do you think of the topic discussed? Drop us a comment below!”

It used to be the call to action of almost every blog post. Questions? Feedback? Suggestions? Leave a comment on the article. It allowed for reader-author (or sometimes, moderator) interaction that could elevate an article by clarifying points, continuing the discussion, and making it a more interactive experience. But if you visit a blog today, many have disabled the comment feature so you are unable to make a post. Still, there are some websites whose readers actively comment on articles and interact with one another. So, which is “best”?

Most recently, on January 11, 2019, Google announced that they were disabling the comments feature on their Webmaster Central Blog. While they note that some comments were insightful or humorous, many were “off topic” or just spam. Instead, they’re using other interactive channels (message boards/forums and social media [Twitter]) to receive and respond to reader comments.

But why is it such a big deal?

For Google, this was their solution to help them better manage this user-generated content.

What is User-Generated Content?

User-generated content is any content on a website that was generated by the end user and submitted to the website. On YouTube, the end user creates the majority of content. Anyone can answer questions on Quora, and you don’t need a newspaper or other site to publish your articles online—you can use Medium for that. And on blogs, comments count as user-generated comment.

But the inherent problem with letting users upload whatever they want is having the resources to moderate it. There are some select websites and message boards where anything—literally, anything—goes. But for most websites, there will be rules as to what type of content is and is not allowed. And even though there are rules, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people will follow them.

Even Google found that they just couldn’t manage all the comments that were being submitted to the Webmasters Central Blog.

So for much, much smaller blogs with even fewer resources at their disposal, is it even worth it for them to keep the comment feature alive? It depends on whom you ask.

To Keep or Not to Keep Comments?

For those who argue in favor of keeping comments on blogs, one of the biggest reasons includes fostering a two-way communication channel with a blog’s audience (which for a blog is one of the goals). With this open channel, you can learn about what topics interest readers and identify their pain points.

For those who believe that removing the comment section entirely is the best move, they argue that it can be a waste of time and detract from /actually/ making meaningful conversations. Instead of spending time parsing through comments to weed out spam and Internet trolls, they can spend that time creating connections with their readers through social media channels, which they feel is the most appropriate (and beneficial) means of doing so.

But what move is right for your blog? If you have one, should you remove it? If you don’t, should you add one? There are some items to consider that can help you make your decision.

Weighing Your Options

At this point, you may have already decided whether or not you’re going to nix (or add) a comment feature to your blog. But if you’re still on the fence, here are some thoughts for consideration:

You’ll want to disable the comments feature if…

1. Your resources can be better used elsewhere

If you already have to work lean because of your budget, time constraints, or small team, you already know how helpful just a bit more money, time, or one more set of hands can be. Instead of putting your resources toward moderating comments (many of which, as you’ll likely note, are spam), you can work on your search engine optimization strategy, content marketing, social media, and more. At the end of the day, you need to devote your resources to what’s going to help your business, whether that’s through gaining awareness, generating leads, or actually interacting with your readers in real (or near real) time (such as on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram).

2. You have other, more active channels

Google made a smart move by closing one channel of communication to encourage its readers to use other channels. There is less work on Google’s part because it’s one less channel to moderate. Consolidating channels lets them pool all their resources into a few channels (versus spreading themselves thin with several), meaning these channels are more easily monitored. If your website has a forum, you can encourage users to start discussions about articles there instead.

Another option is to rely on social media for the reader-author interaction. Many thought leaders, authors, or topic writers have personal or professional accounts that they use to interact with their readers. Many blogs have their social media listed so it is easy to find, and there are usually statements at the ends of articles encouraging the reader to reach out through these channels with questions or comments. Some articles, specifically those on websites that cover a multitude of topics and rely on a slew of writers, will include an author biography at the end. These often include social media handles and a call to action such as, “For daily humorous posts about everyday dad life or for questions on this specific article, shoot a tweet to Brent on Twitter at @brenttheredadthat.” This way, moderation falls to the social media site and the author, and it pulls spammy and/or off-topic comments from your website.

You’ll want to keep or add a comments section if…

1. Your readers actively engage and offer insight.

Some websites will have a readership that not only uses the comments feature but elevates the article through continued discussion and added points. In these cases, taking away the comments section will be detrimental to the user experience that your website offers, and for some frequent participants, may turn them away from your site entirely out of spite.

But if you find that it’s still a lot of work, consider other ways you can make it more manageable. Dedicate a period of 5 minutes in the morning, afternoon, and early evening to run through the new gamut of comments. You could also research for plugins or other tools that may be able to help filter the comments for you entirely, or at least to a point where it removes all spam from your comment queue.

2. Your comments section (could) boost your traffic.

Have you ever conducted a search, perhaps inputting a specifically worded question or searching for the answer to a narrow issue (i.e., Google Nexus 6P phone turns off at 20% battery), and found yourself on a website’s forum or scrolling through a comment section? You were directed to the website not because the website itself had a relevant result but because of a comment or post that was made by one of its readers.

In late 2014, online marketer Neil Patel conducted a search to determine if—and then, to what extent—comments help boost website traffic. You can read about his process, but the results were that yes, text in blog comments ranks in Google. For the website he used, Quick Sprout, the comments amounted to about 16% of search traffic driven by just the comments section—which, because it wasn’t something they were optimizing for—makes for some pretty decent foot traffic.

But the only way it will boost traffic is if there is a significant number of comments that add to the page’s overall word count and happen to use some keywords or phrases that may be in the search query. So, while some websites may experience a slight increase in traffic, others won’t have any additional movement.

You won’t know if a comment section will be of any benefit to you until you add one in and wait for readers to add comments and respond.

If you already have a comment section, you could run a similar type of test to see just how much traffic your comment section is bringing it, but it requires a lot of time. You could more easily ascertain its performance based on how many comments you get and how many of those are actually quality. If you only see a handful of comments every month, there is likely little, if any, traffic being driven to your website through them and it might be worth shutting them off.

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