Comment Cacophony

by Barry Welford July 27th, 2010 

Cacophony comes from two Greek words meaning bad sound.  That's what you might hear as you pass a group of ravens in a tree or are besieged by a murder of crows.  However it is often used more widely to mean any assembly that is creating unpleasant noises.  It is also used figuratively to describe situations or images that give you that displeasing sensation of just far too many inputs.

cacophony of ravens

Comments competition

I must admit when I first heard about The Biggest Internet Cash Contest in the History of Blogging the word cacophony came directly to mind.  This competition tries to measure the effectiveness of different blog posts by the number of comments they attract and the number of tweets they receive.  With the large cash prizes being offered, it seemed likely that there would be a huge clamor surrounding this event.

cacophony of crows

That is a scene I would normally avoid, however in this case I took a second look because one of my favorite bloggers was involved.  She is of course well known to the Search Engine People community, since she was the founder of the SEO Scoop blog, which is now owned by SEP.  Donna Fontenot wrote a thought provoking article entitled, 5 Steps To Impressing A Longtime Jaded Blogger With Your Comments.  At the time of writing, her post has attracted 263 Comments so she obviously is doing something very right.

Despite her involvement, I was still somewhat skeptical about the nature of this competition.  It all boils down to the nature of comments and what encourages others to add comments to a blog.

Comments Are Monologues

I should make it clear from the outset that I am not dealing with blogs where a handful of comments are added.  This is still a reasonable amount of reading for most visitors.

indoor crowd

The situation changes when a blog already has a hundred or more comments already.  Anyone adding a comment knows that few people will read that comment.  At this point it becomes almost a numbers game.

This is seen most clearly for political articles often on blogs associated with newspapers.  The sheer number of comments that are made can be an indicator of the popular interest in whatever was the subject of the blog post.  Adding a comment is really indulging in a monologue.  The audience for the content is unknown.  It could be that writing out the comment on a piece of paper and putting it in a bottle thrown in the sea might ensure wider readership.

tower of babel

In this light comments might be thought to be merely creating the equivalent of a Tower of Babel.  No one will dig in to the tower to find what may have been written.  All that matters is the height of the tower.

What has been written so far is true historically for comments either sent as letters to the editor or added as comments in a blog.  Most readers do not expect to engage in a dialogue about the subject of any particular comment.  Your role is merely to add another block to the pile.  The linear form of the series of comments is not an encouragement to anyone who might wish to discuss the issues.  This is particularly true if you feel that all the others merely want to get something off their chests.

As an aside, it may be mentioned that online forums encourage quite different expectations among their visitors.  The forums are intended for discussion and even though individual posts follow one after another, it is fully expected that people will engage in dialogue.

Google Has Issues With Comments

Google's effect on the online world through its dominant search position creates some interesting dilemmas and complications.  The following list illustrates this complexity with respect to blog comments:

  • As a general rule, Google seems to assume that comments are of little value and encourages the use of the nofollow tag in any associated links.
  • Google does index the content of comments and they, together with the main post, can create interesting long-tail search possibilities.
  • It would seem in the search algorithms that comments possibly rank lower than the content of the blog post to which they are attached.

The net result of these three factors probably mean that comments have only a secondary effect on Google keyword searches.

Comments With CommentLuv

Based on what they have read from Google, many commenters believe that links associated with their blog comments contribute to the PageRank of their own blog posts.  Some like Kristi believe there are many Reasons to Love CommentLuv Blogs.

With WordPress plugins such as CommentLuv, links do not carry the nofollow tag and so could have a PageRank contribution effect.  Google has not come out clearly on whether such links contribute anything of value in the ranking and visibility of individual blog post web pages.  In the absence of such clarification, I would suggest that little time should be spent in drumming up extra comments.

What Should The Blogger Do With Respect To Comments That Are Added

Given this situation, I believe the value of comments is much overrated.  If they come, they come: if they do not, do not spend time with beating your brow about this.

How To Make Comments More Useful To Your Readers

How can you help your visitors to find the best of the comments that have been made.  You could consider adding buttons to indicate that I like/I dislike This comment.  Although few people typically use these buttons, if your blog encourages visitors to use them frequently then this may provide useful input to other visitors.

As the blog owner, you should regard any comments that are added as a potential asset.  If you take the time to examine what comments have been made by visitors, there is a possibility that some comments may represent real value.  The odds of  searching for them and finding them may be similar to someone panning for gold or catching rare butterflies in a net while sweeping up a cloud of insects.

beach crowd

If you do find such a comment that is like a Golden Nugget, then what should you do with it.  Little seems to have been done on these.  Here is one idea.  Hopefully your blog is arranged with permalinks for each comment so that you can direct readers precisely to that comment.  You could for example add an addendum to the blog post giving an index of comments which stand out from the crowd.  This would thus provide a tour of the more important comments that have been made.

If a particular comment has outstanding merit then you may even choose to write a follow-up blog post citing this specific comment and developing other ideas around it.

The Future For Comments

Will comments become more frequent or less frequent on blogs?  Will such comments bring more value to the topic or bury the more important issues in yet more and more irrelevant texts.

The biggest actor on this stage is Google.  If they do not change their policies with respect to comments, or indeed to inlinks, then we are likely to see a continuing volume of spam in comments which devalues the whole concept.  In that scenario it is all a numbers game.  All that comment volume is of very little value, most of it is spam.  As we have said before, it is time for Google to stop the rot.

Barry Welford

Offering practical, effective ways of strengthening Internet marketing strategy and getting bottom-line success, particularly through local SEO.

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7 Responses to “Comment Cacophony”

  1. Sandeep says:

    That's a great article.

    May be because of more spam content in the comments, Google is giving it less importance.
    .-= Sandeep recently posted: What If you accidentally click your Adsense ads =-.

  2. DazzlinDonna says:

    Barry, I agree that in its current state, hundreds of comments is noisy and the conversations get lost somewhat. That's a shame, because some of the conversations in the post you mention (my contest entry) are truly valuable and worthy of more attention. One of the things that my participation in this contest has taught me (and there are many things I've learned) is that the current comment system is lacking. Threaded comments help, but not enough. Being able to subscribe to the comments and get emails re: replies is also helpful, but not enough. I think though, that we may be able to improve upon the experience in the future. We just need to put our heads together to come up with good solutions.

    Now that's what I agree with, but I don't agree with you when you say that the value of comments is overrated. Honestly, I think it's exactly the opposite. The value of comments is underrated. But it all depends upon one's definition of value. As an SEO, you're looking at it from the perspective of the value you can gain from that angle. But the real value of comments goes far beyond search. It's a human connection thing; it's a community-building thing. That's where the value is, and that's another thing that really got reinforced for me after participating in the contest.

    Sure, I'm an old SEO, but there really is a world beyond search, and lots of stuff add a lot of value to that world. Comments is one of them. :)
    .-= DazzlinDonna recently posted: Challenge Yourself To Create An Exciting Piece of Content =-.

  3. Hesham says:

    Barry, that's a very interesting read!

    There are plenty several goals of the contest, one of the most important goal was to create a chance to our community to meet with each other and get to know each other more, and we think we have achieved this goal some how! I have met with great bloggers and already started to work with them on new projects which is amazing thing! but of course not everyone could take advantage of this because it depends on the way each one of us understand it, and if he/she can get the idea!

    And by the way, we will have judges to help on deciding the winner, so it's not about how many comments a blog post gets, it's mainly about the value of the content in the post, if passed then we will look and count only the valuable comments!

    For the SEO part, I can not claim experience, but have seen Google SERPs updates while a blog post still getting comments, so basically the keywords of the search was in the (title and the comment) which returns the title of the post plus the part of comment in the SERPs in the search results, and the real content (body) on the post just dispersed from the SERPs!

    This makes me believe that Google do NOT neglect comments in the active blogs, but probably a less importance!

    I remember once I published a post about "How we create contents from comments" it was based on my experience with working as an editor and moderator in a popular discussion forum for 3 years, I have learned how to create content by asking a question and write short debatable entries, mostly about politics where you can really heat the debate, and we could involve some big names at that time when it goes hot discussion to clear their situation!

    So, this is why I was concentrating in the last 9 months on how to engage readers with the blog content to approve that some times comment is the king!

    I really think I should end my comment at this post or then I better publish it in a new blog post :)

    Just want you to know that I really like your writing style, very nice and preferred!
    .-= Hesham recently posted: Popup Domination WordPress Plugin is an Exciting List Building Experiment =-.

  4. Thanks for visiting, Donna and Hesham. I would not disagree that this particular contest has clearly developed some community members. However I would guess that they do not feel the same sense of community as if this was all happening in a Forum context. The problem of course is that all those who do not feel the community vibes may just throw in their comment and move on. It then becomes hard to see the good stuff when it is buried under so much dross.
    .-= Barry Welford recently posted: Google Duplicate Content And WordPress – An Unresolved Problem =-.

  5. DazzlinDonna says:

    "The problem of course is that all those who do not feel the community vibes may just throw in their comment and move on."

    Happens on forums all the time.

    "It then becomes hard to see the good stuff when it is buried under so much dross."

    Just like with forums, moderation is key. Don't let the dross in. What's left is just the cream.

    Forums are great and have their place, sure, but I do think a similar sense of community (albeit a slightly different type) can be built via blogs/comments. Perhaps it ends up being an "extended community" since it may not always be focused in one place (the blog), but across several places (commenter blogs / social networks) as the bloggers and the commenters begin to create loose communities across all those mediums.
    .-= DazzlinDonna recently posted: Challenge Yourself To Create An Exciting Piece of Content =-.

  6. Nice post, Barry!

    Not to beat a dead horse here, but I do as well take exception to your assertion that "As a general rule, Google seems to assume that comments are of little value and encourages the use of the nofollow tag in any associated links." This conflates Google's perceived value of comments with their perceived value of outbound links in comment spam. It is for this latter purpose that Google recommends using nofollow – indeed, the official Google post introducing nofollow is titled "Preventing comment spam."

    I'm glad you brought up the subject of making comments more useful to readers, as this is often overlooked. I think a lot of insight on this is to be gleaned from review systems (which one might argue are really glorified comments with a rating attached). There one frequently sees reviews which are rated according to their usefulness (think IMDb, Amazon) – and some even incorporate sentiment analysis (most useful positive and negative reviews). That's where something like "Like" becomes useful – in not only indicating which comments got approval, but in promoting it/them to the top of the stack.

    And on the subject of comment usefulness, one comment I can't resist making. Does this long comment seem really hard to read, once published? The SEP blog might consider manipulating their back end so commenters' two line breaks in input result in two line breaks in output – i.e., so the paragraphs I can see in this input box are also what appear on the site, rather than a long block of text. While that may seem nit-picky, it is indeed the combination of a lot of small factors – comment permalinks, OpenID signins, formatting options, comment threading, paragraph breaks – that in aggregate add up to comments that are useful to readers.

  7. nicko says:

    Cool article. My blog doesn't get very many comments, though after I turned off nofollow I started to get some more, usually from people adding links to PR1 sites. Is that bad for my blog?
    .-= nicko recently posted: Youtube putting 20 videos in the museums =-.