In the few years that CopyPress has been alive, we’ve made several changes to the comments section of our blog. We’ve added captchas, started flagging posts by new commenters for approval, and have even closed the comments on pages like the one you’re reading now. We’re not the only ones who have struggled to keep our pages havens of quality discussion. Last year Popular Science closed its comments section and Copyblogger shut its section down just last month.
Quality comments have become a rare sight on blogs and websites, especially young ones trying to establish a fan base. Is it only a matter of time before the quality blog comment is extinct?
Finding a Needle in an Endless Haystack
Before we dive into the devolution of the comments section, let’s talk about online dating. In many ways, the messages you receive on OkCupid or Plenty of Fish mirror the comments you find when running a blog in almost any industry.
OkCupid reports that only 27% of emails sent receive a response rate. This is because the emails are either:
- One word hellos
- From a foreign country, possibly in broken English (while the user is trying to meet local people)
- Copy and paste jobs from people or bots just trying to get a reply
- Something offensive or inappropriate
Similarly, these are also the labels that editors and publishers use to different comments as they routinely click the spam button each day. Whether the comment is incoherent and obviously a spammer trying to throw in a link, or there is a troll picking a fight and offending the readers, it’s an eyesore on the page and annoying for the blog manager. There just don’t seem to be any quality commenters out there anymore.
What Makes a Comment High Quality?
Before you hit post, enter, or publish on a comment, ask yourself whether or not it achieves the following:
- Does the comment bring up an additional solution, idea, or example that the writer might not have thought of?
- Does the comment politely disagree with the writer and provide cohesive supporting evidence about why?
- Does the comment answer a question posed in the article?
- Does the comment offer any additional value that might be interesting or helpful to other readers?
Treat blog articles like houses. If your comment is valuable, then it’s like visiting a home and bringing a wreath or doormat for decoration. If your comment isn’t helpful, it’s like leaving a bag of dog crap or hideous painting in the home. Be a good house guest, and bring something people would want on their real estate.
Poor Comments Create a Hostile Home for Your Contributors
Oftentimes, the comments section creates a hostile or annoying environment for your contributors. Whenever they check back on their post to respond, they have to filter through spammers trying get links and client names stuffed in.
While failing to receive any traction or comments whatsoever is detrimental to the perceived value of your blog, making contributors search to find the few gems in a pile of crap is annoying, a waste of time, and rude to your guest.
Blocking the Crap: Creating Barriers to Entry
Of course, the easiest way to prevent squatters from leaving turds in your home is to prevent them from entering in the first place. Many industry blogs have increased their barriers to entry to filter out the bad apples and keep the quality commenters inside.
There are two main methods to do this: one requires more work for your guest, and one requires less.
Lengthy Site Registration
Some websites have started requiring lengthy site registration before users can comment. They need to fill out addresses, phone numbers, industries, and interests, and then click on the account activation email sent to them. Users can then flesh out their profiles with social media icons and bios so other site users can learn more about them connect. It’s difficult to complete the registration process, but it’s worth it to become part of the community and keep out the riff-raff.
Social media log-ins are also meant to keep unwanted spammers from anonymously sprinkling their waste all over the Internet, but are also meant to make onboarding easier. YouTube has been trying to reduce the comment hate by forcing all users to comment with Google+ accounts. This way, trolls can easily be tracked by their account names and stopped when they spread too much.
Unlike site registration, social logins are meant to make the comment process easier for visitors. All they have to do is click “log in with Facebook” or “log in with Twitter” and they’re ready to comment. This also brings the conversation to Facebook and Twitter when the user shares their comments socially after they post. The onboarding is easier, the spam is less, and the shares are up.
Have We Evolved to Other Platforms?
One reason that CopyBlogger gave for closing its comments section was that there was so much other discussion happening elsewhere. The bottom of a post might be silent and empty, but people are sharing the content on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. It’s on these social sites that great conversations are happening, in theory, as the networks and communities that people have built add ideas and continue the discussion.
However, social networks might not be the academic havens that we think they are. In the same way that every comment isn’t deep, insightful gold, not every social share is an expert sharing your thoughts and adding theirs.
In many ways, sharing is the lazy-man’s comment. It means that the reader is still taking action – and keeping his or social profiles updated – with the least amount of effort possible. Unless someone adds their own thoughts or hashtags to a Tweet or post, any discussion or thoughts formed as the result of a social share is purely coincidental.
High Quality Comments Are More Valuable Than Gold
With every click of the “report spam” button, and with every YouTube algorithm change to hide offensive trolls, high-quality comments are valued more and more. Someone is offering his or her clear opinion in an unoffensive way and without an agenda. It’s unique, it’s beautiful, and it’s becoming as rare as a unicorn.