Blog comments – YES or NO?

Should I allow blog comments on my blog? I mean, at all?!

Only 5 years ago, this might have been a stupid question to ask. But, many things happened in those 5 years. Like comment spam and social media sites.

Trends affecting blog commenting

Comment spam

  • In 2007: Just started to be a issue. Only a handful of spammers used automation tools.
  • In 2013: Automated comment spam reached enormous proportions, becoming one of the biggest issues and—if not properly handled—a time waster for webmasters.

Social media

  • In 2007: Most social media sites were non-existent or in diapers. Only a small portion of the population used them frequently.
  • In 2013: Everybody and their cat are on social sites. Most conversations are happening there, but tools emerged that allow their integration into a blog.

Of the two trends above, the latter one—proliferation of social media—has probably the biggest impact on my decision making. Just consider that in 2012 almost twice as many people blogged via social networks than via blogging websites. I can only assume that this trend is still on the rise.

The impact of social media sites is so big that, in fact, some people apparently question the very reason for having a blog in the first place, and advocate using social media, instead. So, it is no wonder that some prominent bloggers feel the need to publicly step up and defend the idea of having one’s own blog.

Anyway, I already knew I want to have my own blog. So, right now, I am concerned only about blog comments.

Should my blog accept comments?

What do the Top 100 Technorati blogs do?

I figured that in addition to trying to make sense out of all the biased opinions for and against enabling blog comments (examples here and here), I should also look at what some of the most popular sites do in practice.

So, I pulled the latest list of Top 100 Technorati blogs, visited each site and studied how they approach blog comments. Below is a summary of my research.

1. 9 out of 10 sites allow comments

Top 100 Technorati blogs: Comments ON vs OFF
Top 100 Technorati blogs: Comments ON vs OFF

90% of studied blogs allowed comments. Of those that did not, most were either arts related or political. While it would be easy to simply conclude that blogs about politics and arts should not have comments open, there were enough of these blogs allowing comments in the remaining 90% of Top 100 Technorati. So, there really isn’t any clear correlation between a blog topic and (dis)allowing comments.

Looking closer into the issue of allowing vs disallowing blog comments, I was surprised to find that some very popular marketing personas do not allow comments on their blogs. Like Seth Godin.

Also, one concern I heard from Joost de Valk, is that blog comments mess up your on-page optimization, possibly causing the page to rank lower in the search engines.

At the same time, comments help build relationship with your audience and also increase the amount of time they spend and interact on your site. Which is, I believe, the main reason why most Top 100 Technorati blogs allow comments.

2. Most sites rely on their built-in commenting system, but 3rd party comment hosting services are on the rise

Top 100 Technorati blogs: Commenting System
Top 100 Technorati blogs: Commenting System

While most blogs use the commenting system that came in with their chosen CMS (e.g. WordPress), there is a strong tendency among top blogs to use 3rd party comment hosting services. The clear winner in the hosting category is Disqus with Livefyre running a distant second. It seems that most webmasters prefer Disqus because it’s free and offers a better integration into the site.

Personally, I’m a little baffled by the popularity of 3rd party comment hosting solutions. And, it seems I’m not not alone. WP Beginner has a good write-up of reasons why they swiched back to built-in commenting. I also liked this more general comparison between 3rd party comment hosting services and the native WordPress commenting system. For me, their reasons are rather convincing.

I would sum up my main concern about 3rd party commenting systems as follows: why should I worry about integrating a foreign application into my site—and then depend on it for my comments—when the built-in solution, plus a few plugins, can do the same (if not a better) job?

3. Most sites require users to log in, but enough sites allow commenting anonymously

Top 100 Technorati blogs: Anonymous vs Login Required
Top 100 Technorati blogs: Anonymous vs Login Required

I expected a stronger tendency towards required logins. Yet, almost half of the sites still allow users to comment just by submitting a name and an email address. Technically, this is not anonymous, but since users can submit any name and/or email they want (even a fake one), in practice this amounts to an almost complete anonymity. The only give-away is their IP address, but that can be cloaked, too.

Since, obviously, anonymous commenting is the “stuff spammers’ dreams are made of,” these sites must either have (1) very good spam filters, (2) strong comment moderation policy, (3) name/email verification process, (4) lots of free time on their hands, or (5) any combination of the above. Keep in mind that we’re talking about sites each of which receives many thousands of visitors per day!

Unfortunately, I didn’t try to post comments to the Top 100 Technorati blogs, so I don’t have any insight into how they handle anonymous comments (stay tuned, though; maybe I will do it later).

4. Social accounts are the most popular login option

Top 100 Technorati blogs: Login Options
Top 100 Technorati blogs: Login Options

For me, this was another surprising finding: more sites allow users to log in via their Facebook, Twitter and/or Google+ account than via a local account.

Yes, the vast majority of their audience is already on Facebook, Twitter or Google+. But, is the audience willing to use their social accounts to log in to 3rd party websites? More so than creating a local account?

Apparently so. According to not-so-unbiased report from Gigya…

Consumers have clearly demonstrated that they want to use their social identities across the web, they also demand the ability to choose from a variety of identity providers when they register and log into sites. Gigya.com

Then, there is the question of user engagement. Already in 2011, Gigya reported that users logged in with a social network spend more time on site and view more pages than not logged-in users or users logged in locally. If true, this is an extremely important piece of information!

Overall, my guess is that sites in the Top 100 Technorati know why they offer multiple login choices and why they sometimes don’t even give people the option to create a local account.

So, where does this leave me and my blog?

It seems that, based on the above, my conclusions boil down to this:

  1. Enable comments only when I want users to interact. Otherwise keep them closed.
  2. Use the built-in WordPress system in combination with a plugin that allows users to log in with as wide a variety of their social logins as possible.
  3. Allow anonymous comments, but implement a strict comment moderation policy and a solid anti-spam solution.

In the spirit of my conclusions, I am leaving the comments on this post open, because I want your opinion and perspective (hint hint).

I will continue researching this topic further and update this post as I discover new information and facts or come to new conclusions.

Till next time!