Do you really need comments on your blog?

Jen L. writes “Three weeks ago, I watched you fight with Mack Collier and Wilson Ellis on Twitter.  The guys were insistent that comments were very important and you said they were overrated and misleading.  You promised that you would write a blog post about it but I have checked your blog a few times a day ever since and I haven’t seen anything.  I am sure you are very busy but when are you going to get to this?  I don’t mean to be rude but I am desperate. I am the social media director at one of the  biggest engineering firms in the world and my review is in July.  I am pregnant and my husband is recently unemployed so I really can’t afford to lose my job but I am afraid that I am going to get fired because I have not reached the blog metrics that I set out for myself.  I got the Facebook likes and Twitter followers (that was easy) but the partners think ‘Twitter is stupid and that Facebook for B2B is a joke.’  They are obsessed with blog comments and say that they’ve spent a lot of money paying for posts (we use freelancers to help write our posts as the concepts are very technical and the engineers aren’t very good writers.)  Whatever you can do to help me would be most appreciated.  Thank you very much!”

Jen, you sound like a country song.  You just need a dying dog and a rusty pick-up truck!

First, Wilson Ellis is a woman named Debra (her company is called Wilson Ellis Consulting) and Mack and I go at it about just about everything.  He’s from Alabama and I’m from Vermont (thus a Yankee) and he’s still fighting the war.  (Just kidding.  Well.  Sort of.)  Hopefully they’ll both comment below (yes, I realize the irony of that statement.)

I think blog comments are VERY overrated.  “Social media experts” act like they are the be-all-end-all but personally I think they are insignificant for many (not all, but the majority of) companies.

If I ran an SEO blog, I’d expect comments from my peers and MAYBE a few clients.  However, if I was in charge of a blog for plumbers, I would NOT expect any comments. Plumbers are going to be out fixing sinks and such all day long, they are not going to be sitting in front of their computers waiting to weigh in on clogged toilets and whether or not industrial Drano is environmentally friendly. 

You need to know your audience.

Kevin Hillstrom of Mine That Data (@minethatdata on Twitter) is unequivocally one of the best bloggers (and most prolific) I know.  He writes every day and his stuff is ALWAYS solid – not throwaway “I believe the sky is blue, do you feel the sky is blue too?” garbage type posts that a lot of the A-listers kick out.  (I am partial to Kevin’s Glieber’s stories mostly because they’re fun and I can actually understand them!)  According to Kevin, 80% of his posts get ZERO comments and the ones that do get comments are “pedestrian or controversial!”  He sells three times as many books (this is my favorite) per post as he gets blog comments per post.  (SELLS as in directly makes money!)  Till recently, Kevin got 70% of his business from his social media efforts and I believe all but 1% of that was from his blog.  In other words, Kevin  makes the big bucks from his blog WITHOUT m/any comments.

Social media people like to talk about community and how important it is.  Many of them believe that if you build a community you may eventually get business out of it.  That’s often (although not always) true.  However, it’s BS that if you build it they will just come.  It takes time and effort and even if you do put in both, it may not be worth it to you.  In other words, you can’t take this whole “listening is the new black” social media people spew literally from a balance sheet perspective.

Take me for instance, I’m the world’s WORST blogger and I feel that if I REALLY worked at it, I could probably get 25 comments per post on average.  However, of those 25 comments, my potential for business would be $0.  Yes, ZERO. ZIP. ZILCH. NOTHING. NADA.  It’s possible that I’d get referrals that would lead to business but I have no confidence that I’d get any direct work from it.  Why?  Because the people who hire me don’t typically comment on marketing blogs.  (Think this is too broad of a statement?  Study the top 10 players in your market and figure out who is commenting – is it your clients?  Competitors?  Students?  Vendors?  Both?  None?)

Does that mean blogs shouldn’t have comments?  There are actually several good SEO reasons to NOT have them but if you position them properly, there’s often no harm in allowing them.  With that said, I don’t think people should set up getting blog comments as the sole measure of success.

For example, Jen, you said you’ve seen my blogs a couple times a day for the past three weeks – which means you’ve seen my blog at least 30 times and have never left a comment.  However, you did send me an email.  So if someone was measuring me based on blog comments, I’d get a whopping F.   However, if you were evaluating my success based on good leads, I’d get a better score.  I’m not listing your company name out of respect for you, but your company would be a good client for us, especially if I could convince you to develop a trigger email program.  If we put you in one of our aggressive follow-up programs, there’s a big chance we’d convert you, and your email would result in a sale.   That’d result in at least a passing grade.  Give me several of those and I’d have an A+!

So, what should you do?   Look at the metrics that matter.  For a blog, you should look at your visitors – you should study how many of them come back again and how many of them take some sort of action.  Those are two of the MOST important metrics – repeat visitors and adoption-to-action. (Sadly, very few people measure adoption-to-action and EVERYONE should.)  Look at how many of them sign up for your RSS feeds, email program or whatever else it is that you offer.  Every important action that the user could take – for example, filling out your lead form – should be tracked. 

Should you track your comments?  Sure.  If they’re important to you getting business or whatever it is that you’re blogging for.  I have a client who posts technical support information to reduce customer support calls.  They track visitors and they do in-depth tracking on what pages and products are most popular so they can improve their front-end service. 

What other things can you do to increase activity?  There are lots of things you can do.  For example, you could get people to sign up for your email list by offering some sort of incentive.  Social Media Examiner offers a FREE Facebook Marketing Video Tutorial.  Neil Patel from QuickSprout offers a free guide with 13 simple business strategies.  John Chow offers a free ebook. I have a section on my blog called Ask Amy where users can submit whatever pressing internet-related questions they have.   There’s no limit to the number of things that you can do, so do as many as you can to determine what works best for you.

Focus on the things that you can do that will make you money or get you to your end goals.

My recommendation to people who’ve promised lots of comments and can’t deliver is to readjust your metrics.  If you really MUST get comments in the short-term (before you change your metrics), you’ll read all sorts of bogus advice like “comment on other people’s blogs and they’ll be sure to reciprocate.”  That sounds great in theory but my (and many others) experience is that it doesn’t work in practice.  And even if it did, it’s not very predictable. 

So, I’d recommend being MUCH more aggressive about soliciting them, i.e., asking people via Twitter DM or through email, for example.  (I’ve just killed about 20 social media people with that blasphemy, er, recommendation.)  You can also offer prizes – sweepstakes and giveaways really do work. (Yes, even in B2B.  You just need to offer something REALLY fantastic so the visitor will be compelled to click.)  You can also proactively solicit tips from your users – this works in all sorts of unique situations – and then use them in a blog post.  Don’t forget to respond to all the comments – if nothing else, that will double your comments!

Have other suggestions for Jen?  Put them in the comments below.  Have questions about your own blog that you don’t want to put in the comments?  Send me an email: info@amyafrica.com.

P.S. I’m not going to lie, it can suck to have a blog that doesn’t get comments.  You spend a lot of time writing posts and then you get nothing but CRICKETS.  Sometimes it’s demoralizing.  However, I can name at least a half a dozen popular bloggers who get dozens (sometimes hundreds) of comments and are REALLY struggling for business. (Translation: they don’t have any.)  In fact, if it weren’t for their speaking efforts, I don’t think they’d have any incoming money at all.  (At this point, Verizon doesn’t accept Atta-Boys and Amens.)  Comments don’t necessarily correlate to money.  They may.  They may not.  Figure out what’s right for you.

P.P.S.  Why do I have comments on this blog? I test doing them on and off.  For me, they do not matter in terms of business and I do not measure them whatsoever.  I like them because once in a while I get to see a friendly face (hello James Fowlkes and Michael McCormick.)  When I reformat this blog, they’ll likely be gone.

Comments

    • says

      Thanks Deborah! This comment made me laugh out loud. #lurkersruletheworld

  1. says

    Hey Jen! Comments absolutely have value on blogs! The problem is that most blogging companies haven’t clearly defined what that value is for THEM.

    For example, in your case, if your next post gets 10 comments, what happens next? You need to be able to show that because of those 10 comments, they led to……what? Because getting comments on a blog post should NOT be the end goal for you. You should only be pushing for blog comments if you understand that the blog comments are helping you get to your end goal.

    For example, if you go to HomeGoods OpenHouse blog(http://openhouse.homegoods.com/), you see that almost every post has comments, some have a dozen or more. That is by design because EVERYTHING on that blog is built around the idea of getting as much interaction happening as possible. I talked to HomeGoods’ Marketing Manager and two of the metrics they look at to measure success on the blog is comments per post, and time spent on the blog. One metric leads to the other, and both lead toward their blogging strategy of increasing engagement with their customers.

    But again, comments per post is important to HomeGoods because it ties into their larger blogging goals. If your company’s primary goal is to drive traffic back to specific product pages on the company website, then comments per post won’t really help with that.

    So yes, comments are important, but HOW important depends on what your blogging goals are and what you are trying to accomplish. For example, Amy’s strategy with this blog is to generate leads via her posts, and she has a very aggressive style that suits her personality. If I tried to mimic Amy’s approach on my blog, it would likely be a total disaster. Likewise, if Amy changed her approach to be more in line with mine, it would probably bomb as well.

    Comments per post is like any other metric, its importance is dictated by YOUR blogging strategy and what you are trying to accomplish. But I will repeat: Comments per post should NOT be the end goal of your blog, those comments are a ‘soft’ metric and need to lead to something bigger.

    • says

      Hi Mack -

      As always, thanks for your comment. I am glad I now have “comments are a soft metric” in writing! Heh.

      A couple things….

      If your goal is to get leads that convert to buyers, I still don’t see much value in comments as compared to many of the other things that you could do faster and with FAR LESS DRAMA. Do you really feel that a major engineering firm could get business from their blog comments? (As in would you bet everything you own on it?)

      Time spent is not a great metric unless you recalculate it. I know a lot of bloggers use it but if you have any sort of RSS or email feed activity, it really skews the numbers.

      P.S. I laughed when you said “Amy’s very aggressive style” — I am as laidback as I get on this blog.

      • says

        Amy I do think in general that comments have more value for B2C companies versus B2B. I also think that every company needs to look at their own unique blogging goals and shouldn’t blindly assume that any metric is right, all of them should be ‘put on trial’. If you are going to pick comments per post, then you have to justify why. If it’s visits sent to product pages on your website, that needs to be justified as well.

        I do know this: If a boss that’s already skeptical about the value of your blog calls you into her office to have you justify the value of the blog, and you respond that ‘we get 3 comments per post now!’, then your chance of getting fired on the spot goes up dramatically ;)

        You should only pick the metrics that make sense for your particular business and what you are trying to accomplish via the blog. You are correct that too many people blindly assume that certain metrics are better, when there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to blogging and social media.

        • says

          The problem with #yousocialmediapeoplewhokillme is that all y’all (do I get credit for that?) make it sound like comments are king. (That’s after “just be awesome and the money will fall from the sky.”) It’s complete crap and frankly a ploy as one of the reasons why you’d leave a comment is to get SEO juice and a lot of #youpeople block that.

          I know you personally don’t do this but hopefully you get my point.

  2. Mike McCormick says

    I would comment a lot more at Amy’s blog if I knew what the hell she was talking about.

      • says

        He’s definitely not being truthful. He’s just too kind to say 99% of the stuff I write bores him to tears.

        • Mike McCormick says

          I love the parts that read like WWF press releases but the parts about hooking my Apple 2e up to this Internet thing can be heavy sledding. (Note Vermont reference.)

  3. says

    I agree more with the Amy’s angle than Mack’s, but I do think you’re pretty much saying the same thing.

    Also, on a technical note, not sure if you have a plugin installed causing this, but when I came to leave a comment, Deboarah’s information was automatically filled in: http://screencast.com/t/l1zi2jNG0S

    • says

      Hi Tammy –

      Thanks for your comment.

      I’ve gotten a lot of emails saying that Mack and I agree — which we do on some level — except that he thinks comments are good for long-tail business and a bunch of other things & I don’t think they’re worth the weight people give them. I should have been better at clarifying that.

      Thanks also for the plug-in info. Hopefully it’s been fixed!

      • says

        I think that comments have value. How MUCH value they have for each blogging business varies greatly. A B2C company that has a strategy built around customer engagement directly on the blog, might very well place more of a premium on comments than a B2B engineering firm likely should.

        Just as you don’t think we should say that comments are the end-all, be-all, I don’t think we should say that the majority of blogging businesses have little use for them. In general, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

        • says

          Cool. You’re the blog guy. Give us some B2B examples of mid-range business that are using blogs for sales, not customer service. Jen works for an engineering company but I already have a couple dozen emails reiterating this question — some of the more interesting ones: a manufacturer of cosmetic dental items (sold to dentists), a guy who wholesales organic beans to places like Whole Foods, a company the sells wigs and a rent-a-car company.

  4. says

    Hi Jen,

    I second everything that Amy says. I’m not sure what I said in that Twitter conversation that emphasized that importance of comments, but I want to apologize for misleading you. Comments can add value, but they are not important. If you visit my blog, you will see that I rarely get them. My readers shy away from the public eye. Don’t confuse that with a lack of engagement. They email me on a regular basis. And, I prefer it that way. It allows me to have a one-on-one conversation.

    Please excuse me for a moment while I step on my soapbox. I love social media because it offers so many opportunities for people to expand their horizons and connect with others. I HATE (and this is a four letter word that I rarely use) the deception in it. I’d bet dollars to donuts that you researched blogging extensively before you made the commitment of 20 comments per post.

    The “conventional wisdom”, which is neither conventional or wise, is that the comments will come naturally if you provide remarkably awesome content. If your content isn’t pulling in enough comments all you have to do is throw in a few questions now and again so people are compelled to answer. There’s nothing to it, right?

    Wrong! You’ve figured that out, but only after you bet your job on it. This is the stuff that makes me so angry (another word I don’t use much.) The “conventional wisdom” leaves out a few details.

    Most of the blogs that receive a ton of comments:

    - Write posts that are designed to generate comments by being controversial

    - Have a network of people who regularly comment on each other’s blogs. (Check it out for yourself. Read the comments on multiple posts and you’ll start seeing the same names over and over.)

    - Make their money from affiliate marketing which means they have to get comments and traffic because they need eyeballs to generate income.

    - Want everybody to think that only awesome blogs get comments. That way they get to be awesome while everybody else wonders what they are doing wrong.

    I’m sorry you fell into that trap. I’m sorry for anything I said that contributed to it.

    Now, how do we get you out of it?

    First of all, listen to Amy. She has a wealth of knowledge about what really works and what is a waste of time. And, is one of the most generous people I know with her information.

    Step back and think about what will make the partners happy. I know a bit about how engineers think because I am one. (We won’t go into how I ended up in marketing here!) Most engineers think numerically. We get numbers. They fit nicely in our brain. Your bosses are focused on the 20 comments per post because it is a lot easier for them to understand than the touchy feely Facebook and Twitter stuff. Give them different numbers that lead to bank deposits. They’ll forget about the comments.

    Numbers to consider –

    Email subscriptions

    Page views

    Clickthroughs

    Time on site

    Organic search

    Incoming emails AKA leads

    You get the idea. So now the question is, how do you do this without losing face? Tell them the truth. Social media is a young industry. It is evolving and the dynamics are changing. Engineers understand dynamics better than everybody else. Explain to them that you need to perform tests before you can establish realistic goals because you are creating a customized strategy for your firm. They’ll get it. Dynamics, testing, and customization are easy for us to understand. Huggy, touchy, feely conversations? Ummmm, not so much.

  5. says

    You can also hire my friend, Sappho, to write blog comments. She’s a professional blog commenter. Companies can hire her to make astute comments on their posts. @sapphocharney on Twitter.

    Please note I may or may not be kidding.

    • Sappho Charney says

      I would like to comment on Amy’s post, but we’re still in negotiations about my rate per character.

  6. says

    Whether you care about comments or not is similar to whether you care about what your clients think or not and how approachable you want your business to be.

    While some customers will accept being ignored, others realize that they don’t have to patronize businesses that could care less about their satisfaction and are “too busy” to answer their questions.

    THAT really is the bottom line. Some businesses will greatly benefit from being willing to interact with potential buyers and existing customers on Twitter and in their blog comments.

    I agree that many service providers like plumbers are not going to be very interested in answering questions online and I do not believe all businesses will actually have their own blogs because they will not want to invest in the overhead and upkeep in time or money.

    The solution to that is for bloggers to create group geo-targeted niche blogs where businesses can guest post OR have bloggers write about them and those bloggers will use their influence and followings on social networks including Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon and LinkedIn to increase their visibility and drive them new business.

    In some cases it makes sense for the business owner or employees to be active in social media – for example, when the business owner has a PhD from Harvard and his target market hangs out on LinkedIn and would be suitably impressed with his bio there.

    In others the business owner only needs to work with someone who has a clue and doesn’t have to actually be online at all. I explain that concept further in the post linked to this comment.

    • says

      Hi Gail,

      The point of this post is that the number of comments received is not a good measurement of a blog’s success. No one said that they “didn’t care about comments” or that comments should be ignored. In fact, every blogger represented here is extremely responsive to the people who reach out to them. The contact channel doesn’t matter – comments, Twitter, email, or phone, we all respond with the intent of providing service.

      Some communities are not interactive. The members don’t leave comments, but that doesn’t mean that the blog doesn’t have value. It simply means that comments aren’t part of the value system.

      Comments are an important part of some business models. For example, blogs (like yours) that participate in affiliate marketing, find that the interaction increases visitors which in turn increases the opportunities to generate income.

      Every organization has to determine the value social media, blogging, and comments add. In some cases the cost far exceeds the return. When this happens, investing in a social strategy is counterproductive.

    • says

      Hi Gail -

      Thanks for commenting.

      My question is not whether or not you should care about comments in an emotional (wrong word, right sentiment) sense — it’s whether or not they are the be-all-end-all of a blog?

      If I look at my blog purely from a comments perspective, it would get an F and I should never blog again.

      If I look at my blog from a revenue perspective, it’s worth blogging.

      I will look forward to see what you write on Mack’s post too. My intent has definitely been miscontrued there.

      Thanks again.

      • says

        Hi Debra, Amy,

        I definitely wouldn’t give Amy’s blog an F on comments because you do encourage comments – or I never would have commented :-)

        I really meant that the traditional business model of broadcasting and not listening has been carried over by some businesses to their blogs and I believe that may backfire on them eventually.

        If a business is not willing to manage comments it is probably best that they not look much like a blog – and I do have a small business I work with whose site is built on the Thesis Theme on WordPress but does not have posts or comments because we knew they would not be likely to keep them up.

        Bloggers who answer their comments and approve real comments instead of instantly assuming they’re spam (and that happens far more than most realize) usually have more devoted readers – even among those who never comment – simply because they feel you’re listening. And you are. :-)

        • says

          Hi Gail –

          Great comment! (And thanks for coming back.)

          I am amazed by how many people don’t respond to their comments. Of course, when I first started I didn’t either — but that’s because I was oblivious — I read them, I just didn’t answer them.

          I think it’s cool that the small business you work with knew enough about what they would (and would not) do to turn their comments/posts off. I wish more businesses had the initiative to do just that — especially small shops (like one of the yoga studios I go to) because I think it makes their site look a lot more legit.

          Thanks again,
          Amy

          • says

            In their case, they wouldn’t have known but I did. They are a Mennonite family business and they spend very little time online. My WordPress guru and I discussed it and agreed that in their case comments would not be practical.

            That is the greatest benefit we each can offer our clients: common sense and experience. I’ll share your post again tomorrow during prime Twitter hours.

        • says

          Hi Gail,

          Thank you for clarifying! I love that you look at the individual company’s needs before you make your recommendations. That seems to be a rarity these days.

          • says

            “That is the greatest benefit we each can offer our clients: common sense and experience.”

            So true.

            Thanks for sharing my post on Twitter. I appreciate it!

  7. says

    I lend more weight to comments when a blog uses a system like disqus – whereas people can “follow” each other across blogs because they may share a common interest.

    I actually get traffic based on comments others posted via disqus. So, in my case, comments = traffic. And traffic = branding. Branding = potential work.

    So it also matters HOW you allow and utilize comments.

    In short, if one my esteemed colleagues posted a comment on this blog, I probably wouldn’t see the post at all (unless they also shared it via social media). However, had they commented via disqus, there’s greater chance I’d come to your site based on the headline of the post.

    Something else to consider when analyzing the value of comments.

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Pamela. I definitely need to look into Disqus — your points are VERY useful. I am not a big commenter myself but now that i think about it, I’ve followed the trails of a Disqus commenter on more than one blog. Thank you!

      • says

        To me, commenting on a blog post you like is one of the best ways to say thanks short of doing business with the person. Even if it doesn’t translate into sales and traffic, it makes the writer feel like what he/she is doing is reaching people.

  8. says

    You have a solid point — sadly, it appears that a lot of people don’t seem to share it (they may share it but they don’t act on it.) Meaning that I see a lot of amazing blogs that don’t get any comments at all. (This is especially true in marketing.)

  9. says

    12 of the last 35 blog posts I’ve written have received at least one comment. That means that 23 of the last 35 blog posts have zero comments … zero comments on 23 of the last 35 blog posts among 2,500 subscribers and nearly 3,000 followers on Twitter.

    The median number of comments is 2. Since I respond to comments, that means that 1 person truly left a comment.

    Social Media experts would say that I am failing at creating engagement. Business, however, has never been better.

    • says

      Thanks Kevin! I love that you consistently provide your readers with this kind of data. It’s hard to argue with the cold, hard facts — especially when, as you say, “business has never been better!

  10. Mike McCormick says

    Mike,
    For a thorough understanding of engineers and marketing please see Dilbert.
    I blog occasionally for fun and enjoy the most common form of comment which is threatening phone calls.

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