Five Ways To Turn Blog Comments Into Conversations

by Barry Welford July 1st, 2009 

Blog Comments Are In A Sorry State

Many bloggers feel that a blog is not a blog unless it has worth while comments.  Unfortunately most blogs do not receive many comments or comments of any particular quality.

No comment

Just consider for example a good blog post by Aaron Wall on How To Make Easy Money On Google. This is a somewhat controversial topic as the following extract shows:

AdAge has a good post about how Google's promotion of fraudulent advertising is undermining their brand… In a world of double-digit unemployment and old-line industries in mid-collapse, here's a sales pitch tailor-made for the times: "Get Paid by Google."  It's a pitch that's compelling millions of people to visit sites such as Kevinlifeblog.com, Scottsmoneyblog.com, Maryslifeblog.com and Googlemoneytree.com, all promising some variation on one theme: Just buy our guide and we'll teach you how to make thousands from Google, right in the privacy of your own home!

Despite the topic, at the time of writing some days later, this post has had only seven comments.

This post will explore blog comments and discuss what can be done to turn them into real conversations.

The Internet Can Support Communications

Via the Internet, you clearly have access to a huge inventory of information and knowledge.  However that is not the most amazing aspect of the Internet.  More importantly the Internet supports communications between different human beings.  Having two people thinking about or discussing a topic is of much greater value than just one person's opinion.  That is why a number of people speak forcefully on how conversations can be supported on the web.

Sera Perez argues that blog comments still matterMatthew Wingram points out that this view on conversations is supported by the New York Times. Louis Gray also suggests that blog comments are really conversations rather than just replies.

Along the same lines, you now have Disqus. This  is a powerful comment system that strives to enhance the discussion on websites.

Conversation

It is not just blogs that are involved here.  Any online property where people may share with others or comment on what others have contributed can be enhanced in a similar way.  Thus we see that the news feed aggregator, Google Reader, aims to start a conversation.

I'm a big fan of sharing (might be all those lessons I learned in kindergarten). And when I share something, it's always nice to get a response like "Thanks!" or "That was the funniest thing I've ever read!" Whether you're 5 or 50, you're more likely to share other awesome things if you know people are excited to hear what you have to say.

That is certainly true. However other parts of Google may not feel exactly the same about these conversations.

Google Stifles Conversations

Clearly no one is coming out and saying they want to suppress conversations on the Internet.  However the result of certain policies may be that conversations are hindered rather than encouraged.  This is a problem that is almost a Google creation.  Google's emphasis on links in its keyword search algorithms has changed the way some people on the Internet behave.

The tone was set by a Google Official Blog post written early in 2005, entitled 'Preventing comment spam'. It started as follows:

If you're a blogger (or a blog reader), you're painfully familiar with people who try to raise their own websites' search engine rankings by submitting linked blog comments like "Visit my discount pharmaceuticals site." This is called comment spam, we don't like it either, and we've been testing a new tag that blocks it. From now on, when Google sees the attribute (rel="nofollow") on hyperlinks, those links won't get any credit when we rank websites in our search results. This isn't a negative vote for the site where the comment was posted; it's just a way to make sure that spammers get no benefit from abusing public areas like blog comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists.

They went on to put forward the view that all links from Comments should be nofollow-ed to avoid any problems:

We encourage you to use the rel="nofollow" attribute anywhere that users can add links by themselves, including within comments, trackbacks, and referrer lists. Comment areas receive the most attention, but securing every location where someone can add a link is the way to keep spammers at bay.

That as far as is known is still the official Google position.  Handling the spammers correctly in Google's view means that the same rules get applied to everyone.  There is almost an implicit assumption that commenters will have lower standards than blog authors.  If that sets the culture, in other words the way things get done, then there should be little surprise that conversations are difficult to maintain.

Five Ways To Encourage Conversations

If conversations are to be encouraged, a different mindset is required from that which assumes 'All comments are likely to be spam'.  Here are some ways to show that different mindset.

Age of Conversation

Delete Some Comments
Active moderation should be applied to all blog comments. The knowledge that this is in place may deter spammers and may also serve to improve the quality of other contributions.
Treat Comments Like Content
A conversation tends to be most valuable when the participants have mutual respect. This should also happen between the blog author and potential commenters. Good comments may be almost as valuable as the content of the blog post. Links in comments should be encouraged and should not receive nofollow tags. A direct link for the commenter is also a small bonus for taking the time and trouble to make the comment.
Allow Readers To Rate Comments
Particularly if there are large number of comments, it can be somewhat daunting to read through all of them. If readers can vote on each comment, this does allow the more popular comments to be viewed. An example of this approach can be seen in the comments on recent UK articles in the Daily Mail Online,  and  the Guardian Online. Again as with moderation, this rating by readers process is likely to encourage a higher standard of commenting and is clearly a help to readers. It may also encourage a better interaction between commenters, although whether enough to get conversations going is questionable.
Have A Chat Space On Your Blog
One problem with comments on a blog is that they often are displayed in a single narrow column and it is difficult to think of them other than in a one-dimensional flow of single comments. Conversations are not easily promoted in such a format. A better arrangement may be to have a separate 'space' for comments to better accommodate the to-and-fro of comments. A system like Google Friend Connect can be set up so as to create a type of Chat space for each blog post. Another advantage of having comments (and any links) in a separate Chat space is that this then does not reduce the PageRank contributions for the basic links from the blog post itself. When all comments are added on to the original blog post, this causes a continuing decrease in the PageRank assigned to each link.
Discuss The Blog Post In A Forum
If conversations are the objective and moderation of comments is the rule, there are a number of advantages in arranging that the conversation is housed in an online property that is designed for that purpose. In other words, a forum is ideal for this purpose. Typically the space for comments occupies the full width of the screen and several comments can appear in one screen display. One example of this can be seen in the way topics may be mentioned on the http://blog.cre8asite.net/ Cre8ative Flow blog and give a link to a conversation thread in the http://www.cre8asiteforums.com/ Cre8asite Forums.

Conclusion

The Internet is a perfect medium for conversations among people around the world. The Blog comment system unfortunately is not ideal to encourage and display such conversations.  On the other hand, a complementary discussion/forum space is the ideal way to maximize the probability that worthwhile conversations do take place.

Barry Welford

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

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