Dec 08, 2014 • Jessica Jones
If you’ve got a blog on your site, or have considered starting one, you’ve probably given thought to the issue of comments - and if you haven’t, now’s the time! Many high traffic websites have the option to comment on their content; you’ve probably seen comment threads on everything from silly cat videos to politically-charged news posts. People on the internet love to talk - is that inclination something that you can use to your benefit on your website? Let’s break down some of the pros and cons.
First off, you’ll want to consider the purpose and tone of your posts. Are they meant to be informational or conversational? If you’re trying to provoke discussion with the topics you post about, then you probably want to encourage that discussion to take place on your blog. If you’re posting recipes, you may want people to comment about how the recipes turned out for them, or ways that they modified the recipes to meet their needs. If you’re posting about community events, you may want people in the community to comment with their own information and updates about what’s going on, or to talk about how the event went once it’s over.
If your posts are meant to be mainly informational, however, utilizing a comments function may not be necessary or desirable. If you’re a plumber and you’re posting tips about caring for your home’s plumbing, those topics may not provoke a lot of discussion - you’re simply disseminating valuable information to your audience. Does this mean that an informational blog absolutely shouldn’t have comments? Not necessarily, but the issue should be given a little more thought.
One reason that an informational blog might use comments is to encourage your users to ask questions. Consider first whether you would want someone with a question to post that on your blog or whether you would prefer that they contact you directly. In some cases this is a clear choice - in the medical and legal professions, for example, there are tricky issues surrounding answering questions in a public forum. With a less sensitive topic it’s more of a personal preference. If you do open your blog up to questions, however, be aware that if questions are posted you need to be prepared to answer them - and know that the quality of your answer will be subject to the same standards your audience will use to judge the quality of your posts. And if you get busy and don’t take the time to answer the question? Don’t expect that person (or anyone who sees the long-unanswered question) to post to your blog again.
Another factor to consider - and one you may wish you didn’t have to consider - is human behavior. If your blog’s comments section does become a hub of activity, are people going to be polite in their interactions, both with you and with each other? If you’ve ever spent any time reading comment threads, you know that they often aren’t the height of civility.
Fortunately most blogging platforms will offer you an option to screen comments so that anything offensive or rude (or just plain crazy) won’t ever be approved to actually display on your site, but if the comments are frequent and active, moderating every single one could end up being a time consuming responsibility. Many large, heavy traffic sites with robust comment sections employ moderators to keep things from going too Lord of the Flies - and sites that don’t tend to become known for either the harshness or the overall low IQ of the commenters.
Having a comments section that sees enough activity to warrant a moderator, however, is not a bad problem to have - that means that your blog has gained a lot of traction, a following with enough engagement to want to interact regularly, and enough content to keep people coming back. Is this likely to happen if you’re not actively promoting and marketing your blog? Probably not. In fact, it’s more likely that you’ll have the opposite problem - a comments section without any comments.
How do you handle it if you open your blog up for discussion and no one takes the bait? If comments are something that you consider to be an important part of your blog’s progress - if you are, in fact, trying to host a discussion-based site, and the lack of comments means that it’s not yet succeeding at its purpose - then you’ll want to look into doing more promotion, marketing, and possibly SEO work to help give it a jump start.
If, however, you’re comfortable with letting the blog be more informational, and comment discussion isn’t something that you feel is worth pushing for your purposes, then it might make more sense to either close off comments or keep them low-key: one potential happy medium would be to allow comments but not display a prominent comment count anywhere in the title/header area of your posts. A blog that does not accept comments, or that downplays the comment feature, definitely gives a better impression than a blog with a very visible comment count of zero.
Are comments really just more trouble than they’re worth? Obviously some sorts of blogs require open comments, but if you’re not planning on becoming a hub of robust discussion, is it even worth the effort of maintaining a comments section? There can be benefits to having comments - if you do get a few users leaving feedback, that engagement can be a sign to new readers that your content is interesting and worth a look. As we discussed, however, a very prominent lack of comments can give the opposite impression.
Unfortunately, like so many decisions when it comes to your online presence, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. If you’re not sure whether opening comments will work for you, give it a try - leave comments open for a while and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work out the way you’d like you can always disable or modify that function later on. There may be no simple solutions, but an online presence is always a work in progress - if something isn’t working for you, it can always be reevaluated and tweaked to meet your needs.