If You Want Better Comments, You Have to Care About Your Commenters

A little while back, I wrote a post over on my own blog about how it wasn’t social media that would “kill blog comments”, but uncaring bloggers.

It was in response to a lot of bloggers complaining about their reduced comment counts, and how they were primarily blaming social media for the lack of engagement on their own blogs.

My primary takeaway was this:

It’s not as clear-cut as “all the conversations are happening on social media”. They may well be happening a lot – but guess where that traffic will come to when users want to see the source of that discussion?

Once that traffic arrives, if they find a comments area that looks as fun and inviting as a McDonald’s restaurant does to a food snob, of course they’ll leave immediately.

If, on the other hand, they see a blog that opens up to others, and – imagine this! – actively converses with them, they’ll stay. Comment. Reply. Subscribe.

Social media won’t “kill” blog comments – bloggers will.

The post sparked a very thoughtful conversation around the topic of comments, and bloggers in general. The key consensus was bloggers who either close down comments or, worse, ignore their commenters are the ones that will lose out more in the long run.

So it’s a little disappointing to see, a full year after that post, so many bloggers who still don’t seem to value their commenters.

A Bunch of Unmoderated Spam Does Not a Community Make

I was doing some research for a future post on the state of commenting today, and a bunch of results popped up about comments and their place in today’s content ecosystem.

(For the record, my own take for the last year or so is that perhaps “blog comments” as a description for conversation is the issue, but more on that in a future post).

One of the results that popped up was this post by Jeff Goins, entitled Seven Types of Blog Comments and How to Respond to Them.

Exactly, Bridget – the amount of “comment graveyards” that I see, where the blogger asks a question and then doesn’t bother to join in on the answer?
Why even post in the first place, unless you just wanted it to be a one-way only broadcast.

Danny Brown
From the comments

It’s a guest post by blogger Jeremy Myers that shares the most common types of blog comments, and how to respond to them (or if you even should).

As of writing this, the post has received 337 comments and counting. Pretty impressive, huh? Until you start going through the comments themselves…

As you can see, this comments section is a spammers paradise.

While there are some genuine comments about implementing the advice in the post, most are back-links to the commenter’s own site.

Some are questionable – the Facebook video downloader app, for example, and the link to an escort site – while others could land Jeff in major trouble (the one about a realtor from RE/MAX being accused of being a pedophile).

Why would Jeff get in trouble? Blog comments are the ownership of the blogger, and it’s up to you (the blogger) to make sure there’s nothing illegal or libelous within them.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Did you know that you are legally liable for comments left on your blog? #content #comments” quote=”Did you know that you’re legally liable for comments left on your blog? “]

In fairness, this particular post was published back in 2011, so perhaps Jeff simply doesn’t monitor it anymore. That being said, a libel suit wouldn’t really care when the post was published, if false statements are left unchecked in the comment section.

Continue the Way You Started

One of the more common “problems”, for want of a better word, is that a lot of bloggers start out with good intentions when it comes to commenting, and then let that drop off as they focus on other things.

When they first started blogging, for example, they would respond to all relevant comments (ones that go beyond a standard “nice post!” variation).

Then, they either feel less need to reply, and leave the commenters to talk to each other, or they simply give up replying full-stop, and request commenters to find them on social to discuss the post.

While there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with either approach, for the most part, both lead to a sense of disappointment for the commenters.

With the first example, most commenters leave a comment because the post moved them to reply, and they’d love to share their thoughts with the blogger and get feedback directly from the blogger in question.

When that doesn’t happen, it makes it less compelling to leave a comment, even though some of the best exchanges can come from the community taking the topic in a new direction in the comments and running with it together.

The latter example, though, often invokes a strong reaction. In the comments of one of my recent posts, a long-time commenter on my blog shared her thoughts on “taking the conversation to social media”.

If you invite me to your house and I get all dressed up, fill the tank with gas and head out, only to get there and see a note on your door saying, “I’ve decided to go over to XYZ’s house, you know where she lives, follow me there”. I would politely scribble “screw you” on the note and leave.

It is so arrogant for bloggers to believe their subscribers will follow them where ever they go. If I’m subscribed to your blog why do I need to follow you somewhere else to hear you say the same thing? It’s ridiculous.

Not a lot more I can add to that! But she makes a great point – you’re forcing your commenters through extra hoops just to engage with you.

And what if they moved away from social media channels because of abuse they were getting there, or some other reason? Not everyone wants to put up with the noise and fast-paced nature of social media just to be able to converse with their favorite blogger.

Your blog is your property, where you can control the environment for your visitors – why force people away from that safety net?

You Have to Care. Really Care

Blogging has come a long way since the 1990’s, and as blogging has evolved so has commenting.

From non-threaded design that took a masters degree to identify who was replying to who, to the various commenting options we have today, there really is something for every kind of blogger (and commenter).

But to really make commenting work, you need to work on it yourself.

  • Don’t take the easy route and force comments to be where they don’t want to.
  • Own the conversation, and take ownership on making comments a welcoming place.
  • Clean your comment area, instead of leaving open to spam, crud, and potential legal issues.
  • Most of all, respond. Commenters have chosen your part of the web over millions of others – respect that accordingly.

And if you really feel taking care of comments is too much hard work, you should talk to us. We have resources and plugins to help and are always here to do so.

[clickToTweet tweet=”A Bunch of Unmoderated Spam Does Not a Community Make” quote=”A Bunch of Unmoderated Spam Does Not a Community Make”]



  1. Peter says:

    This really nails the issue: You have to care. Really care.

    I get a lot of questions from my clients about how to get people to comment more on their posts. The internet doesn’t exist in a vacuum, I tell, and you have to engage. I tell them never to let a comment go unanswered, and while that is not totally the best advice, they should weigh the times they don’t respond, instead of weighing the times they do respond.

    Blogging and commenting was supposed to be the great democratizer of the web where lay people could communicate with creators. It was so unlike publishing before blogging where every article was published (in print, whatever) and the masses were left to debate with themselves. Blogging changed that, not only did it create more creators, it also allowed for the masses to have a louder voice.

    Bloggers and website owners shouldn’t waste that.

    These days, business schools are telling corporations that they have to use Twitter and they shouldn’t be just tweeting out promotions, but they should engage and have two-way conversations with their customer publicly on Twitter, and it should even be used as a medium for customer support.

    The same goes for blogs and websites, if you want more community, then you as the stakeholder in that site must engage beyond just pushing your articles and posts out into the void.

    • dannybrown says:

      Exactly, Peter – and the irony is that, as communicators advise to engage on social, there’s often a lot more noise on these platforms to wade through and actually have a valuable interaction (unless you’re looking at private groups).

      On your blog? Different story. It’s more akin to having house guests round, opening a nice bottle of wine, and talking about the topics that matter to you, as opposed to trying to hear each other over the din of a bar.

      It’s also clear to see that the most “fulfilled” bloggers are the ones that take the time to interact, converse, and learn from their readers. You don’t often hear them complain, because they’re too busy conversing.

      Go figure. 🙂

      • Peter says:

        The difference is in lazy blogging and active blogging, there is also the long view and short view.

        Too many bloggers expect people to comment because they posted and that is lazy. You don’t get that privilege until you are famous and a vast majority of people value your opinion (think Matt Mullenweg’s blog).

        That is when it is okay to post and let your people chatter amongst themselves. When you aren’t famous, you’ve got to mingle and use that as an opportunity to lead, and position yourself as an expert on whatever it is you are writing about.

        As you said, serving the wine and chatting people up.

        • Danny Brown says:

          A perfect example of that is the Copyblogger blog. I recall when they switched off comments, and they put it down to moderation and spam issues.

          But then the traction didn’t come via social conversations (at least, not on the front end metric), and there were rumours that a lot of subscribers unsubbed because one of the key reasons they subscribed in the first place was to get posts that they could comment and interact on.

          Given Copyblogger has now switched comments back on (and have the author interact along with the commenters), it just goes to show that even the perceived big names shouldn’t rest on their laurels.

    • postmatic says:

      Hey Peter! It’s good to see you over here.

      I think it’s amazing that anyone would feel that social platforms are a better place to engage with their customers than the comment sections of their own blogs.

      If you are running a business which does not have a blog or some other content marketing, I get it. Turn to Twitter and Facebook. But if you have the resources to not only run a blog but also churn out quality content it’s a huge mistake to give those conversations away to other companies.

      You’ll miss out on those email addresses. You’ll miss out on data to build profiles and integrate with email marketing. You’ll miss out on control of the narrative, and you’ll miss out the flexibility to shape the platform for what works best for your customers.

      Keep spreading the good word for us, Peter!

  2. drmaxmuscle says:

    I really do think most of the conversation has shifted to social media.
    Like Facebook. Seen that in my business for sure.

    • Danny Brown says:

      There can be industries or businesses that prefer social conversations, and for those it works for, that’s great.

      The caveat with those is they aren’t your property, they’re Facebook’s. So, technically, any worthwhile data you collect belongs to the Big Blue, as opposed to you, which can become a hindrance further down the line when it comes to lead gen.

      And trust me, as someone who runs a lot of paid outreach on Facebook, as well as manages corporation pages, trying to find a comment on a Facebook thread from a notification (especially if there are a lot of comments) can be a major PITA. 🙂

      From that point of view, owning the conversation is a far more preferable approach.

    • postmatic says:

      Do you happen to know why that is for your particular customer base? Is it because that is where they are reading the content in the first place? Do you publish content on your own site, make a comments section available, but still see more comments on social? I’m curious to know.

  3. Also, respond to comments. I’ve left a lot of well-thoughtout comments that weren’t even acknowledged. After a while, I not only stop leaving comments, I stop reading. You have to think of your audience first, not last.

    • Danny Brown says:

      Exactly, Bridget – the amount of “comment graveyards” that I see, where the blogger asks a question and then doesn’t bother to join in on the answer?
      Why even post in the first place, unless you just wanted it to be a one-way only broadcast.

    • Jason says:

      For real. And you my friend are the reigning queen of keeping the conversation going by recognizing your audience. Keep up the fantastic work and thanks for stopping by over here! I hope our paths cross sometime soon in the real live world. Come to Vermont!

      • I hope they do, too, Jason. Vermont is very close to where my grandmother lives, so I’m sure it will happen soon.

        What bloggers forget is that without comments there is no conversation.
        Without a conversation, there is no relationship. Without a relationship there is no sale. Without sales, there is no business. It really is that simple.


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