OK so that’s not strictly true. I love to get feedback from my readers and it’s awesome to see so many encouraging words after I’ve published something. However, recently there’s been a massive shift in how people interact with and read blogs, and for the most part, these factors mean that across the board blog comments are going down. If you think of your comments as some kind of indicator to the success of an article, then this diminishing validation can be incredibly discouraging.
When I started writing online, leaving a comment on a blog was pretty much the only way to communicate with the blogger. Twitter hadn’t reached the mainstream, Facebook didn’t yet have business pages and Instagram was nothing but a twinkle in Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger’s eyes. A lot of bloggers didn’t even publish their email addresses for fear of spam or Internet weirdos.
However, these days blog readers have so many ways to contact or leave comments for their favourite bloggers. Conversely, many of these options are a lot easier than having to log in and leave a message on the website. If you’re on Facebook and you see something you like, it only takes a second to click ‘like’ or to leave a little note of approval. Clicking through to the post, logging in or registering, leaving a comment and maybe even having to pass an intelligence test on the actual site is a lot more effort.
Of course it’s nice to get that external validation when you’ve done a good job and I’m yet to meet someone who doesn’t get a little bit excited when they see someone writing something nice about them on the internet. But, forgive me because this may rub you up the wrong way, blog comments (and how many you get) are nothing but vanity. There are so many other ways to judge whether something you’ve published has been popular or resonated with your readers.
If someone comments on your site it stays right there, locked in the comments section under the post. In my opinion, any SEO ‘help’ from comments is marginal. Yes, they create more content, which search engines love, but they can’t be controlled. If the comments start to go off on an irrelevant tangent this can actually hinder that post’s searchability for the terms you actually want. However, if someone retweets, links via their own blog, leaves a Facebook comment, likes or shares it, the content is going to reach many more people than it might under it’s own merit. It’s free viral marketing.
The other thing about encouraging social media interaction over blog comments is that the messages you get back are less likely to be pointless, spammy or offensive because the user has to be accountable for what they say. The comment is linked to their own profile with a photo of their actual face next to it. You are much less likely to get deliberately offensive comments if they can’t hide behind a fake name or proxied Internet connection.
If you look at blogs which do still get a lot of comments, most of them aren’t actually adding to the conversation. They’re either just a little nod of approval (“Good job!”, “Love your skirt!”), unrelated and going off on a tangent, spammy or just plain abhorrent (if you want to see the real dregs of our society, check out the comments on any Daily Mail article!) In fact, so irrelevant are blog comments these day that many high profile bloggers have actually taken them off their sites completely and direct all their discussions to one of their various social media platforms.
Another point worth mentioning is that the number and quality of the comments being posted alongside an article can really affect how new readers perceive it, even before they’ve read it for themselves. If a post has hundreds of comments, the likelihood is they will think it’s something worth reading since other people are making the effort to comment. Studies have also shown that the quality of said comments can derail someone’s own personal opinion of what they’ve read, being swayed by the majority. This isn’t always a good thing.
By default, WordPress (and most other blogging platforms) display the current number of comments near the article’s title. We removed this, partly because it looked ugly, but primarily because it encourages the visitor to make a decision about whether or not the article is worth their reading-time based on how many comments it has rather than the content in the opening paragraph and images. This might be desirable if you’re running a headline-seeking tabloid or discussion-based website, but it’s not really appropriate for something like a wedding blog, where most visitors are simply after some great creative inspiration.
There are many other ways you can measure the success of a blog post, all of them arguably more accurate than simply looking at comment numbers. On average, less than 0.5% of visitors to this blog will leave a comment. That’s just one person out of every 200. A better place to start would be pageviews. The more a post resonates with somebody the more they will share it with their network of contacts, either via Facebook, Twitter or by linking to it from their own blog. The greater the reach, the higher the pageviews, therefore the better the article. However, this really only works as an indicator for semi-viral content. Your daily visitors are likely viewing every post you publish but they will obviously prefer some more than others. So how do you discover those little gems?
There are a few clever little indicators that you can easily access through your Google Analytics. One of our (read: Gareth’s!) favourite metrics right now is scroll depth. This shows you exactly how far down your site your visitors are scrolling. Obviously, the further they do the more they’re reading and the more successful an article has been. By adding scroll depth stats to our Google Analytics, we can now get an aggregate view of how engaging each article was to our readers, regardless of whether the post reaches a hundred people or a million. For example, one post might reveal that 70% of visitors bailed before reaching even a third of their way through it, while the article from the day before saw 70% of visitors reach all the way to the end. Regardless of how many people clicked into each post, it’s clear which content the readers enjoyed most.
Another useful indicator is Google Analytics’ ‘Average Time on Page’ statistic, which you can see under Behaviour > Site Content > All pages. This can give you a really nice quick impression of which articles your visitors are loitering on longest.
So, the moral of the story? Don’t be disheartened if you’re not getting oddles of blog comments. Look at other factors – the emails you get, the social media action, the views to your site, how many RSS subscribers you have. These are much more valid and worthwhile indicators to a blog’s success. If people are engaging with your content and making the effort to reach out, in whatever medium, then be proud of yourself! This level of engagement is much more valuable than some random spambot posting “This is cool” with a link to their fake designer handbag site beneath.
Commenting culture is changing and I for one couldn’t be happier about it.
- Photography: Shell De Mar Photography