Ask popular bloggers for 10 ways to build traffic to a new blog and I’ll guarantee that almost all of them will mention the importance of commenting on other blogs as part of their answer.
Much has been written about commenting as a strategy to build traffic (because used correctly it is a powerful tool) – but very little has been written on the dangers of it. Over the past few months I’ve noticed some bloggers using comments in increasingly aggressive ways to build their own readership – to the point where I think they are probably doing more harm to their own brand than they are doing good.
I should say that this topic has been one I’ve been a little hesitant to write about – partly because I see some of these tactics used here at ProBlogger. This is not a post written with any particular person (or people) in mind – however I put it out there for your consideration and feedback.
Two notes before I start:
- I’m not going to include using automated comment spamming techniques – I’m assuming that people will have the brains to work out why this can hurt your brand
- Some of these techniques will annoy some but not others. Some of them I personally don’t like but some are observations about what I’ve seen annoy others. A lot of this is about the perception that you give off to others. Whether you see them as annoying or not is important – but more important to your brand is what others think of the techniques.
1. Excessive use of Signatures – I ran a poll back in 2005 about whether ProBlogger readers thought that I should allow the practice of leaving a signature in comments (ie a link to your blog at the comment itself in addition to the link that you get as your name). The result at that time was that 56% of readers said the practice should be allowed. As a result I decided to allow them here at ProBlogger. However at the time I also suggested that I didn’t like them as did a significant number of other readers. I still don’t like the practice personally and particularly get turned off when people leave 2-3 (or more) links under their comment (note, I’m not talking about relevant links inside your comment that add to the conversation). While this might not turn off everyone – it’s worth noting that it does get some angry – and even if this is the minority it can hurt your brand.
2. Excessive Self Linking – The practice of leaving links inside posts is not something that bothers me too much – unless it gets excessive. A well placed link back to something you’ve written (or that someone else has written) previously can really add to a conversation – particularly if what you’ve written else where is too long or detailed for the comment thread itself. What does risk annoying others is when you include lots of links to yourself in every comment you make and/or when the links are irrelevant to the topic and/or when you just leave a link without saying anything else. Keep links relevant and in moderation and you’ll find people respond to them well.
3. One or Two word Comments – Some comment leavers seem to be have a ‘quantity over quality’ mentality where they think that the more comments they leave on as many posts as possible the better they’ll be (whether for SEO or direct click visitors). Newsflash – it’s not. One insightful, intriguing and intelligent comment that is relevant and helpful to readers can achieve far more than many two word comments that ultimately mean nothing. All you’ll achieve by leaving loads of useless comments is to annoy bloggers, get yourself listed on comment spam blacklists and to potentially hurt your blog’s reputation as a spammer.
4. Not Reading Posts Before Commenting - I’m sure most of us have been guilty of this from time to time. You see a post title that you want to react to, you read the first line or two and feel strongly moved to comment. You leave the comment without reading the full post and then realize that you’ve made an idiot of yourself by saying something stupid, wrong or poorly thought through. While you might be able to repair the mistake by leaving another comment – it’s hard to get a comment removed on blogs – your words remain for years to come to highlight your opinion. Take a moment before leaving comments to make sure you understand what’s being written about – this means reading the full post first – it can also mean reading what others have written too.
5. Flaming and Personal Attack – While blogging has always been a medium where people don’t mind a little vigorous debate – it’s also got a history of flaring up into personal attack and flaming from time to time. It’s easy to do – you read something that you strongly disagree with and write a comment in the heat of the moment. Your comment is misinterpreted and read by another emotional person who responds – things escalate and suddenly things get personal. No one really wins in these exchanges – in fact more often than not both people come out of it with slightly tattered egos and reputations. Get a reputation for repeated flaming and you can really hurt your credibility.
6.’Anonymous’ Flaming – From time to time I get ‘anonymous’ comments left on this blog which get a little personal or which critique me or my actions. While I try to take these in good spirit (critique is actually an opportunity to improve) I sometimes wish that the person leaving the comment would reveal who they are – not so that I could attack back but so that we could have a good constructive interaction via email. What I do find interesting however is that many ‘anonymous’ comment leaves don’t seem to realize that when they leave a comment their IP address is also included with the comment in the back end of the blog. If you’ve written a non anonymous comment previously under your real name it is very simple to connect the two together. So your attack, jibe or personal swipe might not be so anonymous after all – and this can only hurt your reputation.
7. Always Being First To Comment - This is one of those tricky ones that doesn’t really annoy me personally and which can actually be a good tactic on some levels – but which can get a little excessive and become annoying for some. I’ve done heatmap tracking on comment sections of posts before and it is true that the earlier that you comment on a post the more chance that people will come to visit your blog. As a result – I’ve seen numerous people compete on popular blogs to be the first to leave a comment. While this can generate some traffic – the problem is that if you do it on every post and if in your rush to be first you write junky, quick and irrelevant comments you will begin to annoy both the bloggers who you are commenting on the posts of as well as their readers. Balance is the key if you want to be first – and quality comments count for a lot.
8. Dominating Comment Threads – A couple of years ago I had a blog which had a particular reader who commented multiple times on every post that I wrote. I’m not sure why they did this but while the comments were on topic, relevant and quite often helpful – they were also overwhelming in their quantity. In any given week this person would comment on my blog 50 to 100 times by responding to everything I wrote and most of the comments that other readers wrote. It got to a point where they were more active on my blog than I was and that other readers began to complain that they felt they were being drowned out. I ended up talking to the comment leaver about it and they scaled things down to a more reasonable level. Lots of comments are great – but when comment threads are dominated by any one person the feeling of community and dialogue can be lost and the person dominating the conversation can be seen in a negative light.
9. Keyword Stuffed Names - This is another one that people will have differing opinions on – but it is annoying for some and therefore could be considered as slightly risky. The reason that people leave comments under names that are not their own name but which are other ‘keywords’ are numerous. For some it is an SEO strategy (although it is worth noting that the majority of blogs these days use no-follow tags which stop Google Juice being passed on), for others it’s about communication what your blog is about, for others its about anonymity and for others it’s probably more of a branding decision. I get all of this and as a result it doesn’t worry me that much – however I do know some bloggers and blog readers who can’t stand it and who consider it to look spammy. While I don’t hold such strong views I would say that by not using your real name you could actually be hurting your own personal brand because there’s something about a real person’s name that is… well…. it’s personal. I would much rather chat to someone who has a name like James, Sara or Rahul than someone called ‘Million Dollar Get Rich Quick’ or ‘Free Debt Advice’.
10. Not adding value to the Comments – This is related to other points in this list but is worth saying. Every comment that you leave has the potential to either add value or take value from that other person’s blog. Add value to the conversations that are happening in the wider blogging community and you’ll build yourself a reputation as a wise, insightful and knowledgeable authority figure. Conversely – every comment that you leave that is obviously self serving, that illustrates that you’ve not read the post or that tears down others says something about who you are also and can give you a different kind of reputation.
OK – so there’s 10 ways that you can potentially hurt your brand by the way that you leave comments on others blogs. As I mentioned above – some of these are more black and white in my mind than others (some, like ‘being first’ or commenting a lot can start out as good but tip over into being bad if you get excessive – however all are worth considering.
You may decide to continue to do all or some of the above for good reason – but do so knowing that there is cost and potential for being misunderstood or perceived as doing something that perhaps you’re not intending to do.
Remember – everything you do or say in a public forum like another person’s blog comments have the ability to positively or negatively impact you and your blog’s brand. Not only that – the things you say and do in these spaces are permanent (at least until a person retires and deletes their blog). As a result commenting on blogs should not only be seen as an opportunity – but also as a practice that can be risky if you do it in the wrong way.
Have Your Say
Now it’s time for you to have your say. By no means am I an expert on any of this – so I’m keen to get your input:
- What practices would you add to the above list?
- Which would you remove from it (or modify)?
- What advice would you give bloggers when it comes to commenting on others blogs?
- As a blogger – do you police any of these types of things? Do you have a comment policy of any kind?