Why comments matter more than ever

Editors Note: This is the second in a series of posts by guest author Danny Brown.

Back when social media first really started taking off – let’s say around 2008-2010, for the sake of this post – bloggers were concerned how the rise in social network use might impact their sites.

Much like any time the “blog comments are dead” news makes the rounds, blog comments have a way of not only proving the naysayers wrong but actually thriving and innovating instead.

After all, at that time you couldn’t go anywhere online without some headline screaming, “Blogging is dead – conversations are on social media now!”

And, in fairness, for a while, they were. Facebook and Twitter were driving fast-paced, fun and topical conversations. Twitter chats were hugely popular, and Facebook Groups were essentially blog discussions but on the Big Blue.

To all but the most dedicated of blogger, you’d be forgiven for thinking that blog conversations were on their way out.

To counter that, third-party comment systems like Livefyre and Disqus tried to incorporate social media – Livefyre, by pulling in tweets and Facebook page conversations into the comments, and Disqus by allowing you to tag social media users.

But as quirky as these features were, they had their limitations, and could actually hinder conversation (just take a look at a Livefyre-powered conversation where inane tweets drown out the real, quality-driven comments).

So, back to square one – blog commenting was doomed.

Except, much like any time the “blog comments are dead” news makes the rounds, blog comments have a way of not only proving the naysayers wrong but actually thriving and innovating instead.

The argument for blog comments and why they matter

Of course, we’re biased. After all, our various plugins are built to help bloggers and content creators enjoy the kind of engagement their content deserves.

So, of course, we’re going to say comments matter. But it’s not just us, or “just bloggers” that are realizing the value of comments. Take The Washington Post:

In an unusual partnership, The Washington Post, the New York Times and software developer Mozilla will team up to create digital tools that will make it easier for readers to post comments and photos on news sites and to interact with journalists and each other.

This project is being funded by a $3.89 million grant, and the Post’s goal is to open up this new web comment system to publishers on other platforms.

To build it, they crowd-sourced their community and received hundreds of comments and ideas.

When The Washington Post spends millions on a comment system, you know there’s something those that decry comments are missing.

When The Washington Post spends millions on a comment system, you know there's value in blog comments.Click To Tweet

Then there’s news and culture giant Salon, and how they reclaimed their comments and made the feature a highly valuable piece of the core experience after the site had suffered from an increase in troll comments.

Ultimately, Salon’s goal was to arrive at a core, engaged group of commenters. Dooling says the most recent numbers are a step in that direction: In the fourth quarter of 2014, it logged nearly 260,000 comments from 73,236 registered users. A year earlier, when there were fewer comments (243,000) spread out across more users (81,574).

Instead of closing comments, Salon recognized the value they bring and looked at ways to improve the experience all round. This included rewarding regular and top commenters by making them moderators and leading discussions.

Or take respected content marketing publication The Content Strategist, who shows that chasing clicks and page views from social media isn’t indicative of a blog’s true value.

While pageviews are crucial for advertising-supported publications (to help gauge circulation), they are a small piece of the puzzle for content marketing initiatives and publications supported more heavily through subscriptions. Engagement and retention are more important figures, but conversion is the most significant.

And it’s true. Bots and click fraud can skew advertising numbers and page views. Savvy marketers know this – publishers and content creators need to start taking this approach too, especially if they’re relying on ads to monetize.

Click fraud

When it comes to retention and engagement opportunities, where do you think that has the most propensity to happen? Correct – the trusty comments section.

But it’s not just engagement and retention and community building that makes comments so valuable – it’s the fact they offer real, tangible ROI, too, as shown by Videofruit in their study about how much a blog comment is worth.

The average value of someone who is on the VF email list and actively comments is: $97.43

The value of someone who is on the VF email list and doesn’t actively comment is: $19.83

That means commenters are 5x more likely to buy than regular subscribers.

If you create content that’s based around your services or products, and you can yield 5x the amount of buyers just by having comments enabled, doesn’t that seem like a no-brainer to you? I’ve seen this work myself.

Last year I sold almost $2,000 worth of ebooks through the footer of just comment notification emails. People leave a comment and subscribe to the conversation. Someone else leaves a comment. I serve an ad in the footer of that notification via Postmatic.

The results were more than I expected, given it’s just passive advertising.

Blog commenters are 5x more likely to buy than regular subscribers - wow!!! Click To Tweet

Comment systems may change, their value doesn’t

Of course, there remains the argument that blog comments are still increasingly a second thought, behind the conversations that are happening on social media.

But is this really the case?

Third-party comments systems Livefyre and Disqus thought so, as they geared their comment plugins towards a social media-driven audience, especially Livefyre.

The problem is, with Livefyre’s solution (where they pulled tweets about a post into the comment section), inane retweets and disconnected tweets were also pulled in.

This soon led to an unholy, unreadable mess of a comment section where the valuable and relevant comments were being lost amongst the myriad of tweets that had nothing to do with the post.

Additionally, because of their social media features, both Livefyre and Disqus could suffer load issues (especially on mobile) if the likes of Twitter or Facebook were experiencing any kind of downtime.

And then you had the privacy issues….

But it’s not just developers of social media-friendly comment systems that argued the real valuable conversations were happening away from the blog.

Content behemoth Copyblogger famously announced they were removing comments in a post back in 2014. Part of the reasoning was that they had a great community on Twitter and Google+, and would converse there.

Except that never really took off, especially on Google+, where posts were often met with deafening silence.

Additionally, subscribers were asking if Copyblogger’s email newsletter numbers had dropped, as many weren’t even opening now given they couldn’t comment on posts.

And then something interesting happened.

At the start of last year, Copyblogger redesigned their website and, as part of the redesign, reintroduced blog comments.

Bringing back comments was important to me personally. As a Copyblogger guest writer, one of my favorite things about writing for this site was interacting in the comment section at the bottom of my posts. And now, as the editorial team lead, I’ve missed the immediate feedback comments provide.

Pamela Wilson, former Executive Vice President of Educational Content at Rainmaker Digital

The core part of that message? Comments provide immediate feedback – something not only content creators can benefit from, but so can businesses and industries of all shapes and sizes.

More than just comments

Okay, so, you get it – we love comments. We wouldn’t put so much passion and time into our work and products for you if we didn’t. And we’ve shown you the value other, more authoritative publications put into comments.

But that’s just one side of the comment equation. Email commenting using Replyable? Now that’s something else.

For example, did you know that email commenting is perfect for addressing web accessibility issues? We’ll be diving into that soon in an upcoming post.

Did you know that email commenting is perfect for addressing web accessibility issues?Click To Tweet

Or did you know email commenting is perfect for less techy people to keep in touch with loved ones? It’s how we got started ( a project we did for a client), and we’ll be looking at that opportunity in more depth soon, too.

The point is, comments are hugely valuable – but when they’re web-based, they can still be confusing and thereby dilute their value.

Email commenting, though? That’s where the real opportunities for you, as a content creator regardless of audience size, lie.

And we’re going to show you how.

 

The image at the top of this post is “Conversation” by Martin Hricko. It is licensed under CC BY 2.0 and discovered via their very cool new search interface.

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3 comments

  1. D says:

    That’s interesting about CopyBlogger coming full circle on comments. Having tried Postmatic and gotten some good conversations going with it, I abandoned when my readers’ comments became a target for spam replies to those comments.

    The other thing I concluded was that people no longer needed to come to the site at all. They could read new posts in their inboxes and reply and get replies. So the site became invisible – like an audio conversation between radio hams, to use an analogy.

    I wonder what your experience has been about this?

    • dannybrown says:

      Hi there,

      That’s a valid point (about the spam, or potential for it), especially given the format. Although the same could be said of any web comment system that also alerts via email.

      What I’ve found valuable in that area is to use the Comment Intelligence feature, that looks for spam comments, or comments that don’t add value to the conversation.

      While it may allow the latter onto the web version, it’ll filter the replies going out, so only validated replies will be sent to the subscriber. Add that in with Comments Digest, and it offers a far more controlled experience.

      RE. the web page visits, I guess it comes down to goals. For me, it’s about the conversation, intelligent thought sharing, and personalized experience. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing if my traffic drops, but engagement rises.

      That being said, you can use Excerpts to only offer a snippet of the post, and that then drives traffic back to the source.

      Although, as my surprising (in a nice way) results showed me, having a relevant CTA that ties into the content being discussed at the end of each email gave decent results, too. 🙂

    • Jason says:

      Hey D!

      Spam happens, no matter the comment system. It’s hard to tell from what you wrote if you were having trouble with web spam or email comment spam. My guess is it was web as date there are no known spam bots that exploit Postmatic or Replyable email commenting. Beating spam is actually pretty easy with the right tools. We keep an updated list of what we recommend at this support doc.

      What Danny says about letting the comment intelligence feature determine which comments are worth emailing also makes a huge difference.

      Also – can you share why, in your case, is it a negative to not have people visit the site so much? Is it an ad revenue thing? Something different. I’m always curious.

      Jason

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