When people think of blog comments (or any comments) in the abstract, they tend to think of humanity’s worst offerings. They think of a despicable YouTube comment troll or someone stalking a blog and endlessly nitpicking.
But when it comes to our own blogs, we view the situation a bit differently. Our blog comments are a critical means of engaging our reader. Our commenters surely won’t be like the wider world of terrible people. And we want to make sure to give folks a way to engage with us.
So what is a blogger to do about comments? Do you enable them or skip them? And if you enable them, how do you moderate the comments and interact with your readers?
We’ll take a look at that today.
Understand Tech Blogger Commenters Against the Wider World of Commenters
First of all, I’d like to speak briefly to something in order to frame the conversation a bit. Commenters on tech blogs are demographically a bit different than commenters in general. And this mainly works in your favor.
Consider some of the following:
- We’re not (hopefully) talking about political blog posts or ones about the best foods to eat or what have you. Those posts have low barriers to entry and attract a lot of angry opinions. Technical posts, on other hand, have high barriers to entry as far as the general internet is concerned. This filters out some of the worst comments you might see.
- Techies create a paradoxical culture that is both extremely helpful and extremely nitpicky. So expect both a lot of positive, constructive comments…and a lot of nitpicks.
- Openly toxic comments tend to be rare.
- Commenters in the tech world seem to be more genuinely inquisitive than most, but they’re also much more averse to sales-y types of practices.
I say this so that you understand that your comments section won’t be quite the same thing as the comments section on a pop music video on YouTube. You’ll have subtle differences.
Blog Comments? Yes or No?
The first question, then, is should you have comments at all? To that I say yes, you should. To understand why, let’s look at the main pros and cons.
First, the cons:
- Moderation of comments can be time-consuming, frustrating, and even embarrassing, particularly when spam, NSFW links, or truly toxic comments slip through.
- Having a bunch of comments calling you an idiot or pointing out mistakes and typos can be a bad look. (Though this is really just a different manifestation of time-consuming moderation.)
And the pros:
- More text on your page means more keywords, more things for search engines to like, and generally more content surface area. And you don’t have to create it.
- Your readers feel more engaged with you, and you feel more open and welcoming of them.
- You might argue that comments and interaction are what truly make something a blog and not just a collection of landing pages.
The only con really amounts to time spent on the comments, and that’s totally within your control. So the way I see it, you can have the best of both worlds. You can enable comments, reaping the benefits, while enlisting strategies to minimize the time and effort you spend on moderation and response.
For the rest of the post, I’ll advise on how to handle the comments you get.
Automate Spam and Garbage Comment Detection and Elimination
First things first. You do not want to waste your time logging into your site and deleting a bunch of comments linking to pages selling knock-off watches. Even if you didn’t mind this waste of time, they’d get you in the middle of the night while you sleep. Spam never rests.
So automate prevention. The plugins you can use, assuming you’re using WordPress, do an impressive job of eliminating spam:
- Akismet has a widely used plugin.
- For both Hit Subscribe and DaedTech, I actually use WP-SpamShield and have found it to be quite good.
- You can also use Disqus, which is an entire comment management system. But beware of them, particularly if you’re selling a product or service already. They’ll charge you and/or randomly enable gross advertisements in your comments.
Those are just three options off the top of my head. There are plenty more than you can experiment with, if you’d like. But whatever you do, automate this part of comment moderation or you’ll find yourself hating life.
Delete Any Toxic Comments
So you’ve automated prevention of spammy comments and links. That’s a great start, but it won’t necessarily catch everything. If the commenter just, say, posts some kind of racist tirade without links, the spam detection won’t have anything to say about it.
But you will need to handle it.
I know that some folks have an admirable tendency to stand by principles regarding free speech or expression here. The thinking goes, “I don’t want to restrict anyone’s opinions or comments, no matter how vigorously I disagree.” I get that, but remember that you have a business interest here. And you can’t have potential customers or clients land on your site and see that kind of thing. They won’t distinguish that someone else said it and not you—it’s on your site, so you own it. Thus, you need to be careful about what you own.
I recommend deleting the following:
- Anything NSWF.
- Comments that are overly profane, vitriolic, or abusive.
- Anything inflammatory, discriminatory, or that would offend readers on its face.
- When in doubt, follow the “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it” model of offensive comments, and delete these.
Honestly, though, these comments are quite rare. I get a lot of comments on my blog that are critical, sarcastic, and sometimes even insulting. But for the most part, I leave those alone (more on this shortly), because rarely do comments ever get to the level of toxic in our space.
Ignore Argumentative Comments
Now we’re working our way out of the cellar and toward comments that don’t warrant deletion. These range from the “you’re incompetent and don’t know what you’re talking about” style of comment to folks looking to nitpick and argue. Don’t delete these comments, lest you seem overly sensitive and heavy-handed.
But that doesn’t mean you need to respond to them, either.
I understand the impulse to respond. In fact, I used to respond to all of it, passionately pleading my case and attempting to win critics over to become fans. And I even succeeded in doing so at times—it can be done. But it takes an awful lot of time.
Remember what I said about how you’re running a business? It’s not a great use of your time to argue with someone who will probably never convert to buy or try anything from you. Sure, it’s possible that they could. But smart business means playing the odds and focusing on likely conversions.
Batch Your Responses and Be Gracious With Engaging Commenters
Now that we’ve ascended the ladder from the worst comments, let’s look at the top rung: the good ones. When you start out and your blog comments section is dirt and tumbleweeds, those first few comments are really exciting. People are reading! And they’re interested enough to engage!
Hold onto that feeling and retain that gratitude. As your readership grows, more and more people will engage, and responding to all of the constructive comments becomes more and more time-consuming. So here’s what I’d recommend.
First, batch the activity. And secondly, timebox it. Once per day or two, log in and respond to as many commenters are you can, rewarding their insights and feedback with intelligent responses and acknowledgments. When people say something kind, make sure you thank them for their feedback and for reading.
Sometimes you won’t be able to reply to anyone. For instance, maybe you’ll have a viral post with hundreds of comments. When this happens, add a comment thanking everyone who responded. Even if you don’t have time to address everyone, you want them to know you appreciate them reading and engaging.
Understand Blog Comments By Volume and What They Mean
I’ll close with some thoughts on what comments say about your traffic. We’ve covered a good bit of tactical ground here. You know you should
- Enable comments.
- Automate spam prevention.
- Delete toxic comments.
- Ignore the haters.
- Appreciate and engage with all of the rest of your readers.
But what do the comments mean for your blog? What do they indicate?
Well, in a nutshell, they reflect your traffic. Based on my experience with DaedTech, which has substantial traffic, comments work something like this.
- Maybe 10% of the people that read your blog will ever comment.
- Of those people, probably less than 10% of them will comment regularly.
Now, hopefully you’ve installed Google Analytics, so you’re not relying on comments as a crude traffic estimator. But you should look at them as indicative of progress. When you start to get comments, it typically means you have hundreds of readers. When you start getting regular commenters, it typically means you have thousands.
So celebrate and appreciate those commenters and their comments. It means you’re on your way to creating a blog that people value and to creating an asset that will ultimately help your business.