No website should exist in beautiful isolation.
As can be seen by the rise of Twitter over the last few years: people want to interact over the Internet. They want to engage in conversation, to be heard, and to feel like their opinion matters.
This desire to interact extends to the websites they spend their time reading — this is especially true for blogs. For WordPress users, the main source of interaction will be through the comments left underneath the articles you publish.
This has actually been quite an interesting area of debate recently, with CopyBlogger announcing in March that they would be closing their comment section permanently. In the aftermath, several other high-profile websites have followed suit and turned their comments off. This has led to many other bloggers sharing their opinion on the matter, whether as part of the pro-comment or anti-comment brigades.
In my opinion, if you want to build a successful — and most importantly, sustainable — website, you need a loyal audience who return regularly to your website. The best way to encourage repeat visits is to build more than just a website, and cultivate your own little community around it — similar to the idea of ‘1,000 true fans,’ which has been floating around Internet marketing circles for years.
Accepting comments on your website is one of the most important aspects of this. Without comments, you create an environment where bloggers talk and readers listen. When you accept comments, you can engage your readership, who can contribute and feel part of the discussion — a prerequisite for feeling part of a community.
Today I want to look at the benefits of allowing comments, how to encourage them, and also a great plugin to facilitate this.
Benefits of Blog Commenting
Let’s kick things off by looking at some of the more compelling reasons for accepting blog comments.
1. Furthers the Discussion
Just because you consider yourself to be an expert on the subject covered by your blog post, doesn’t mean you know everything.
There are other experts out there, and many of them are happy to chip in with extra information to further the discussion. In many cases, the comments section can be just as entertaining and informative as the body content of the article itself.
2. Social Proof
Humans are social by nature, and we care greatly about the opinions of others. If someone you know recommends something, you are more likely to buy it for yourself and to form the same opinion of the product.
Interestingly, despite the anonymity of the Internet, we are also prepared to listen to the opinions of strangers. To use an online example, when we see hundreds of social media shares displayed alongside the article, we are more likely to give that article a chance and, ultimately, to click share ourselves.
The same applies to comments: if you have an active comment section underneath each article, people will perceive the content to be good, making them more likely to read it, and to form a positive opinion of it.
3. Build a Community
We’ve already touched on this point in the introduction, but I’ll expand on it here.
By writing comments under the article of a website, a reader will feel they are a small part of that website. When the author responds to the comments, this is amplified — the commenter feels validated and like their opinion matters.
When your audience feels a part of your website — a part of your community — they are more likely to become repeat visitors, to comment again, to share your content, and to become paying customers. You can see this in action on many websites, with the same people leaving comments repeatedly.
If you’re struggling to build an audience, keeping your existing readers happy and involved is a great way to ensure you don’t lose the visitors you have.
4. SEO Performance
Despite regular warnings against becoming too dependent on Google, most websites will still find the search engines make up a significant portion of their traffic.
Blog commenting can help boost your SEO performance, and therefore search engine traffic, for two reasons.
First, it acts as a vote of confidence that your content is great, and your users are engaged.
Second, it forms what is known as user-generated content. Just because the words in the comment section weren’t part of the original article, doesn’t stop the Google bots from crawling and indexing it. This can result in you targeting new keywords as a by-product of accepting products — no effort required!
5. New Article Ideas
Finally, a quick scan of the comments section of your published articles can help you generate outlines for new articles when you’re running a bit short on ideas.
The comments left will often take the discussion in a different direction, and this could throw up a number of topics for follow-up articles. You might also get users asking you to further clarify parts of the article; you could then dedicate an entire post to explaining and educating your audience.
But It’s Not All Positive
Of course, there are also some less desirable aspects to accepting comments on your site — otherwise it would be a simple open-and-shut case.
Leaving comments switched on will throw up a lot of spam — even if your website doesn’t have much of an audience to speak of, the spam comments will still find their way to you. With this in mind, your comment section needs moderating, which can be time-consuming.
There’s also the argument that not all comments will further the discussion. Comments could turn the conversation away from the point you were trying to make, contain incorrect facts or explanations, or just be plain rude — I’m sure you’re all aware of what a scourge Internet trolls can be.
However, the benefits of commenting far outweigh the bad, and I’d definitely recommend you keep your comments section open, at least at first.
How to Get Comments
Once you’ve decided to accept comments, the next step is to try and encourage readers to actually leave them.
Getting comments isn’t an exact science, and when you’ve published more than a few articles, you’ll spot some interesting trends — sometimes the articles you expect to generate loads of comments generate none, and vice versa.
However, there are a few things you can do to get the discussion flowing at the bottom of your website.
The first is logistical: you need to make it as easy as possible for a reader to leave a comment. Multiple sign-in options, and an intuitive process is essential.
It also helps if you are producing great content. The more effort you put into your content, and the greater the benefit gained from reading it, the more likely someone will take the time to write something back — and more importantly, something thoughtful.
It’s well worth using a call to action at the end of your post, too. Ask a question at the end of the post that will encourage discussion, and people will be more likely to answer it with a comment. It also tells people that you are receptive to comments.
Finally, make sure you respond to all comments left. When readers leave a message it’s most likely because they want to engage with you, the author. When you are seen to respond to the comments left, others will be more likely to throw their opinion into the mix, too.
A Great Commenting System: Disqus
WordPress comes with a built-in commenting system as default; however, it is quite limited in regards to its features, and isn’t very aesthetically pleasing.
If you are serious about building a community around your website, I’d recommend upgrading to a different commenting system, which is as simple as downloading and installing a free plugin.
I personally recommend the Disqus commenting system — the one used here at Torque. Disqus is one of the most popular commenting systems available to WordPress users, with just shy of 1.5 million downloads at the time of writing. Without doubt, this is because of some of the great features supported by this free plugin.
First of all, there are a number of options for users to sign in, which makes it incredibly easy for someone to leave a comment. Visitors can use their social media accounts — Facebook, Google+, and Twitter — or sign up for a dedicated Disqus account. However, the plugin won’t force the comment to be posted to an individual’s wall, which can put some users off commenting.
The plugin supports threaded comments, meaning that when you respond to a comment it will appear directly underneath. This makes it easy for a comment to develop into a full-on discussion, as the conversation is super-easy to follow.
You are also much more likely to receive well-considered, thoughtful comments using Disqus. Disqus allows other users to vote comments up or down. We all love a bit of validation, so people are less likely to post a useless, trashy comment to avoid the dreaded down vote.
Finally, Disqus looks great, in my opinion at least. It uses a clean, bold design, complete with personalized thumbnail images for each user—great for adding a little color to the page, and to allow people to visualize who they are talking to.
A great plugin, and well worth checking out. To see it in action, scroll down to our comments section.
If you just talk at your readers, rather than with, you are less likely to keep readers sufficiently engaged to visit again, and without visitors your website will fail.
Comments are a crucial component of building a community around your website, and this is one of the best ways to help your site thrive. Give it a try, and leave them open—you can always turn them off.
And feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post! What are your views on blog commenting: good or bad? Let us know, below!
Shaun Quarton is a freelance blogger from the UK, with a passion for online entrepreneurship, content marketing, and all things WordPress.