A few years ago, one of my friends at the University of Utah purchased a domain name for $20,000. I thought he was a little crazy and didn’t expect him to be able to recoup his investment. Three years and 170 blog posts later, his blog has become a thought leader in his industry and he sold it for a healthy six-figure sum.
You know what helped drive his blog to such a popular and profitable status? Comments. The comments on his blog helped his site to steadily grow in value until he could sell it at such a profit.
In addition to explaining how my friend used comments to drive growth, in this article I’ll review several of the pros and cons of allowing your readers to leave comments on your blog posts.
Pros to keeping comments open on your blog
Encourage back and forth dialogue
I introduce this benefit first, as it is the method by which my friend made good money off a relatively simple blog. He was new to his industry and didn’t have much clout. However, he did a good job of writing opinionated blog posts. Readers would get excited and leave comments — many of which were negative, but it was OK, because other readers would jump into the discussion to defend my friend. The comment threads would often get 40 or 50 comments deep. The back and forth dialogue put his new blog on the map, and people kept visiting.
Learn what people want
There is perhaps no better example of this than this recent Creators Magazine blog post I wrote about ROI measurement methods. Soon after my article posted, a reader left a comment asking about call tracking and ROMI. Now I know there is interest around these two topics, and I will likely write a post about them in the future.
When I shop around for lodging for a trip, I generally go to Airbnb and do a search with the criteria I’m looking for. Most often, dozens of properties will come up in my search result, and I very quickly skip to the ones that have a lot of reviews. I find myself doing the same thing when using online forums. If a search on the forum brings up a big list of potentially interesting threads, I go for the ones that have the most conversation, as it is likely a higher quality thread. This same psychology of social proof exists in blog posts. When people leave comments, it shows other potential readers that there is some real engagement and interest in the topic — so it must be good.
Creates more loyal readers
Taking the time to leave a substantial comment means the reader is willing to log in to the site or commenting tool, think up something helpful to add to the discussion, and then type it into the comment box. This takes some effort. When readers take this effort to leave a blog post they are more likely to become repeat visitors, and it trains your readers to take action on the calls-to-action that you have throughout your site. By them taking action and leaving a comment, they’re more likely to take other actions, too.
Cons to having comments open on your blog
If you’ve been writing a blog for very long and you have open comments, you’ve likely seen a lot of spammy comments or comments where the individuals is obviously trying to get visits to their own site. These comments are annoying.
As your blog becomes more heavily visited, you’ll notice you’re spending more and more time moderating past blog posts and less time creating new ones. Time is valuable, and many writers say they have closed their comments in order to save themselves time. This way, they can focus the conversation on social.
Opens yourself (or your business) to criticism
I put this here, as a con, because many people or businesses are not in a position to take appropriate action on criticism and so they would rather not receive it at all. Many bloggers or small business owners are so busy running things that they don’t have time to make the improvements that their site visitors are demanding in the comments. Instead of looking like the suggestions are falling on deaf ears, they turn off their comments. If you’re a more open company, and one with the resources to be iterating and improving, the ability for readers to leave criticism will be welcomed by you, and this will be more of a pro than a con.
Less focus on newer communication channels
Because comments on blog posts can take a lot of time to respond to and moderate, you’ll have less time to focus on the newer communication methods, such as Twitter and Facebook.
An empty comments section looks bad
This is pretty self-explanatory. If people aren’t commenting on your posts, it just looks bad.
Do I leave comments open? Or do I close them?
There are good reasons behind each argument… and it comes down to what best fits your website and your writing/moderating preferences. I find the interaction stimulating and get a lot of satisfaction when I see someone add their thoughts to my own. However, there are many very smart people, such as best-selling author and blogger Seth Godin, who has his comments closed for good personal reasons.