One of the easiest ways to facilitate user-generated content on your business website is through Comments. Comments are when a visitor to your site reads a blog post or other content that you’ve written and uses a comment form that you provide to post a response or question. However, allowing comments on your site is easier said than done. There are many technical and administrative options to consider in order to make your website an active and vibrant community.
Perhaps before we get into the details of comment administration and setup, we should review some of the reasons why having comments on your site is a great idea so that we are all in agreement.
When visitors to your site are interested enough in your content to leave a comment, they are inviting you to engage them. Responding to comments is a perfect opportunity for you to interact with your visitors on an individual level and demonstrate your expertise by deftly answering whatever questions they pose.
Perhaps more importantly, even though you will be speaking directly to a specific visitor and a specific question, you will be doing so through your online comment system so your replies and the entire “conversation” will be public. That means that all future visitors to your site will be able to reads the posts. They, too, will benefit from the answers, but it will also give them insight into how you respond.
When visitors leave comments on your site, it demonstrates to other visitors that your site is active and getting other readers besides themselves. Have you ever been to a discussion forum where the most recent post was from several years ago? If you see that non-existent level of activity, it doesn’t exactly encourage you to start making posts and asking questions. Who knows if anyone is even listening?
Similarly, when someone visits your blog and sees that you are posting regularly and you are getting a variety of comments from visitors, it helps them determine whether or not they should value your opinions. It’s very much like when my wife and I decide to try a new restaurant. If it is 6 o’clock on a Friday evening and the restaurant is empty, we might think twice before trying it, under the assumption that it was good and people were enjoying the food and service, it should be busy.
For some businesses, perhaps the best reason for allowing and encouraging comments on your site is for the content value. Each time a visitor posts a comment, that comment contains text and content that you did not have to take the time to write yourself.
Over time, even brief comments can add up to a significant amount of content. And, typically, these comments will be using your important keywords! Assuming that you are posting blog entries that revolve around your targeted keyword phrases, most comments will be visitor thoughts and questions about that specific topic.
One critical benefit that is often is overlooked is the benefit that one gets when a reader takes the action of posting a comment. As Pat Flynn of The Smart Passive Income Blog explains, “something that many people don’t realize, is that the act itself of a reader filling in the required fields to leave a comment familiarizes the reader with taking action on the blog. This makes any other calls to action presented slightly more probable, including subscribing to an RSS feed, a newsletter, or even making a purchase down the road.”
Now that we have reviewed the benefits of blog comments, we need to talk about some best practices when implementing comments in order to successfully manage and encourage visitor feedback on your posts.
Ease of Commenting
First, it must be as easy as possible for visitors to blog. You may be tempted to require that visitors register on your site or sign up for your newsletter before they can post their thoughts, but that will only serve to stifle levels of interaction and dramatically reduce your commenters.
Keep the comment form itself simple and on the same page as your blog. It should only include fields for name, email, website and comment. Another option with most comment systems is a “Subject” field. Most of the time, I don’t think that’s necessary. Instead, get your visitor to the point of entering their actual comment as quickly as possible.
Comment Moderation and Management
Once you have comments coming, you must be able to manage them. Managing comments means a few different things.
If a visitor posts a comment that is offensive, inappropriate, or just a blatant commercial advertisement or link, you need to be able to react quickly. Your comment system should automatically email you every time a new comment is posted and provide you with a link directly to the comment or your moderation system so that you can take appropriate action.
Your comment system should also include some level of spam protection. Comment fields are a top target for spam systems and it is critical that your site include a measure of control over what gets posted. If you don’t, not only will you find yourself having to moderate immense levels of spam posts daily, you will also put your entire website at risk!
Every time a visitor interacts with your website and posts a comment, that action uses server resources. The more visitors and comment posts you receive, the more your server will be taxed and the slower your site will perform. Professional websites that grow naturally over time and attract more and more users will upgrade their servers to compensate, but unprofessional sites that have poor comment systems enabled could find themselves bombarded by spammers and see their server crash as a result.
Of course, every time a great comment is posted, you need to post a response! Now, you should understand that many of the comments you receive will not be great. Posting comments on blogs and forums is a form of SEO for the poster – most sites will link the poster’s name to their website so their website gets a link on your site. That’s OK – that’s your enticement to visitors to post comments. It does mean though that you’ll get a lot of comments like “Great post.” You can delete them if you wish, but I have found it easier to leave them be and at least they help drive up your overall numbers of comments.
The great comments are those where the visitor actually reads your post and asks a thoughtful question or poses an excellent response or counter point. These are the comments where you want to respond as quickly as possible, and your system needs to facilitate that.
While we are on the topic, let’s talk about your responses. There are three kinds of comments that you may receive which you will want to respond to promptly:
- Questions – try to answer their question as best you can while remaining polite and professional. If you have other blog posts, pages or resources on your site that can help them, provide a link as part of your explanation.
- Positive Reviews – when a visitor leaves genuine positive comments on your site, take a moment to thank them for it. If possible, call out something they said as being particularly on point or interesting.
- Negative Reviews – not everyone who reads your blogs will like what you say or agree with you, and some may feel compelled to leave a comment to that effect. While our first reaction might be anger or embarrassment, it’s important as bloggers that we try to turn every negative comment into a positive experience. Did they point out something you got wrong in your post? If so, thank them for it and note the corrected information. If they just didn’t like your blog or your opinion, you can still state your appreciation for their time and comments and perhaps suggest one or two other posts they may like or agree with more. Remember that the goal of your blog and comments is NOT to please everyone. The actual goal for your blog may vary a bit, but you’ll note that the benefits of comments that I reviewed above did not include “agreeing with us” or “stroking our ego.” Any comment, even a negative one, can well serve serve our blog and interests.
Now that you understand the kind of comment system you need to have in place and how to manage your blog comments, how do you encourage comments? While some visitors will no doubt post their comments just because you allow it, what about everyone else?
First and foremost, your blog posts themselves must be interesting and compelling. You should regularly strive to provide useful and helpful information to your readers. Review our article on blogging for some more ideas on how to achieve this.
Of course, if you have followed some of my previous suggestions and made sure that your visitors can comment easily, that will help tremendously.
You should also promote the comments that you are getting. This might be in the form of a sidebar area that highlights recent comments or active discussions, or even regular blog posts that talk about recent or specific comments you’ve received (write that down as an idea for your next blog post!).
Finally, throughout your post and definitely in your closing paragraph, ask for comments! You should work on finding creative ways to pose questions to users, like, “have you had any of these experiences yourself?” or, “how do you plan to implement some of these ideas?” No matter how you do it, just be sure to make that ask. Consider it your Call To Action, particularly if you don’t have a real, specific CTA in your post already. If you ask the right question at the right time, the results can be very impressive.
Comment System Recommendation
I have owned and supported many websites. All of the sites that we provide customers today are based on Drupal, so I have used Drupal’s native comment system extensively. Unfortunately, in order to improve on aspects like spam control, it becomes necessary to implement systems like CAPTCHA which deter humans and robots alike. Using social widgets like Facebook comments limits you in other ways. Instead, as you can see below, I recommend the DISQUS comment system (http://www.disqus.com). With DISQUS installed on your system, you can achieve all of the above requirements and some additional benefits.
New visitors are prompted to create a DISQUS profile by easily connecting one of several social networks that they’re already using, like Facebook or Twitter. Then, not only can they comment on your site, but any other site that’s using DISQUS will recognize them. That means that when a DISQUS user visits your site, they can proceed right to the commenting without delay.
It is free for you and free for users, so there are no costs involved, and the system works with all the top blogging platforms including Drupal and WordPress.
The system itself is attractive and packed with features. Replies are automatically threaded and visitors can even rate and rank comments. Moderators receive automatic email notifications and can even perform basic moderation and responses via email replies. In a blog installation, several standard blocks are provided like “Top Comments” and “Recent Comments” and even a widget that displays commenters and their discussions.
I’m sure DISQUS isn’t the only great comment system out there. If you have had great experience with a different system, I would love to hear about it.
I hope that this post has armed you with sufficient knowledge to conquer your comment fears and enable your blog to become a vibrant discussion community.