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Disable Comments for a Better Blog

This guest post is by Greg McFarlane of Control Your Cash.

Feedback is great, right?

Your honor, if it pleases the court, I’d like to contend that that’s a leading question. The answer to it might be “yes,” but not unequivocally. Steak is great too, but not in the middle of church. Providing a forum in which people are allowed to say nothing of consequence might be a good idea, but the positives outweigh the negatives.

Want to make your blog instantly better? Disable comments. If that sounds as blasphemous to you as rib-eye during the offertory does, keep reading.

My blog’s schedule is regular—a new 1000-word post every Wednesday, another one every Friday, a carnival every Monday, and a pithy one-liner every day of the week. Of course I link to fellow bloggers out of necessity, including dozens of times in every carnival.

In the past, whenever I did I’d usually receive a comment from the other blogger, thanking me for the link. That would be the comment in its entirety: some variation of “Thanks for linking to me.”

These comments and their brethren did nothing to propel the dialogue. Dialogue, as in people exchanging ideas and insights. As opposed to sentiments. I mean, I thank people every day—waiters, bank tellers, the woman who lets me in when I scan my membership card at the gym—and not once have I felt the need to broadcast that gratitude to the public at large. It’s a private thing between me and whoever’s extending me a courtesy. I don’t need to share my politeness credentials with the world.

The thank-yous were in addition to the comments that said “I agree with that one point you made,” and that perhaps included an anecdote that no one beyond the commenter’s family would ever be interested in. In toto, most of the comments on my blog came from fellow bloggers with an agenda, and that agenda was getting links. 98.2% of the comments were effectively meaningless. That number isn’t intended as hyperbole to prove a point, either: it’s the product (well, the quotient) of a real calculation. The remaining 1.8% were worthwhile contributions—offering data that challenged a point, or enhancing a position my blog had taken, etc.

Finally, the morass of comments became too much. I tired of seeing the same people saying the same things, which they did mostly out of obligation. (“He linked to my blog. If I make a show of gratitude, he’ll continue linking to my blog.”) So I took a deep breath, followed my head rather than my instinct, and shut comments down. And I’ve never looked back.

You call that “engagement”?!

This sounds counterintuitive. Why not engage as many people as possible?

You engage them by giving them something to read.

But why not engage them in as many ways as possible?

Because you’re the one offering the content. They’re just using it. In recent years it’s been trendy to synthesize those two fundamentally opposite roles, producer and consumer, but it doesn’t apply here. It’s tough enough to interest readers in what you have to say. Why attempt to interest themin what other readers have to say? Readers whom you have minimal control over, and who probably aren’t as erudite and certainly aren’t as committed as you are?

For a lay reader, a non-blogger who just wants to visit my site for tips and information, the familiarity with which the other bloggers referred to each other and me in the comments was intimidating. By turning off everyone’s ability to comment, I no longer have to worry about new readers feeling that they’ve stumbled into a private club by mistake.

For the commenters with blogs of their own, it’s not about the content. It’s about the form. They’re really interested in getting another link, the comment serving to improve their Alexa scores however incrementally. That’s their problem, not mine.

There are also considerable aesthetic reasons for killing comments, assuming you’re not a fan of cacophony. Do we really need more angry expressions of political opinions (The Huffington Post)? Or insults concerning each other’s sexual shortcomings (YouTube)? Or disjointed spelling and unconstrained grammar (just about everywhere)?

The comments on some popular blogs have degenerated to the point where the commenters make a game of openly mocking the author, who doesn’t even bother responding. From a third party’s perspective, it’s kind of amusing. But if it were my blog, I’d be incensed and embarrassed. Left untended, the blog I referenced has been overrun with verbal weeds that are now poking through the tile and have compromised the entire landscape. Better to just pour on a few gallons of herbicide and finish the job.

Continuing with the artless flora analogy, how many of the comments on your site count as hydrangea blossoms anyway? Is anyone really going to miss them?

On almost every blog, the comments and commenters add zero value. They might add value for the commenters, as the innate human desire to see the public presentation of one’s name and opinions is a strong one. But comments are typically an affront, an annoyance, or at least an inconvenience to the only people who should matter to you—your readers.

What do you mean? My commenters are my readers.

Yes, if someone’s commenting, then by definition they’re reading. But practically all of your readers just read and then move on to some other activity, rather than bothering to leave a memento of their visit. The commenters are a motivated and not always rational few.

This goes beyond blogs, too. Read the comments on the stories on your news site of choice. Have you even seen an astute one? And if you did, was it worth sifting through the hundreds of illiterate ones?

Put your readers—and your blogging—first

It bears repeating: your readers come first. They took the time to find you and do you the honor of absorbing what you have to say. Shouldn’t you make it as effortless as possible for them to continue to do so?

Personal development uber-blogger Steve Pavlina figured this out a while ago. He hasn’t allowed a comment in seven years, and explains why:

“A large volume of feedback gets overwhelming at times, and it has a tendency to exaggerate the importance of certain issues in my mind. Well below 1% of visitors ever post a comment.”

He adds that it also freed up lots of his time. Nothing to moderate means more time to concentrate on other, more critical aspects of your blog. Or even of the rest of your life.

It wasn’t the negative comments that convinced me to extirpate the entire species. It was all the comments. Although the negative ones were plentiful. A few years ago, no less an authority than IT publisher Tim O’Reilly outlined a prescription for reducing if not eliminating them, by creating the Bloggers’ Code of Conduct—seven commandments for being courteous online, which ought to be intuitive, but if they were then people wouldn’t choose to be uncivil in the first place. O’Reilly’s first four precepts are as follows:

  1. Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.
  2. Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.
  3. Consider eliminating anonymous comments.
  4. Ignore the trolls.

If you disable comments, you can handle all four of those in an instant. If something has the potential to cause so much trouble that esteemed authors are codifying ways to combat it, why tempt fate?

I still keep trackbacks, which I love. With them, people can express their opinions of my blog without me being the one to provide the forum for it. My life has gotten far less complicated and my blog far more streamlined since I decided to go commentless. Try it yourself, and you’ll be surprised how little you miss those pesky fragments of thoughts.

(Postscript: Yes, I’m aware of the irony that you can leave comments on this post. ProBlogger is different, obviously. Let’s just say that the recommendation to disable comments doesn’t hold for globally influential blogs whose very purpose is to engage bloggers and have them exchange ideas.)

Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected].

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Comments

  1. Trish says:

    I hope small blogs don’t read this and decide to disable comments. I take comments seriously (both the ones I get and the ones I give) and wouldn’t have made some of the meaningful relationship I have without them. Now, I do understand that changes dramatically as a blog grows. I might get to a point where comments don’t mean as much. But for a small blogger they mean a lot.

    • Robin says:

      I’m with you Trish. Commenting is great part of blogging for me and the community of people I interact with. We’re crafters and like to share our thoughts and ideas with the group.

    • Trish is right. Small blogs need to hear the ideas of their readers – both the positive and the negative. Newbies need it as well for the purpose of improving their style or their skills. There might be good old men/women who may leave a comment or two which will inspire you.

  2. Helen says:

    Yes, the comments on that blog you mention are ridiculous. I once left an honest, thoughtful comment responding to a post and I don’t think it ever left the moderation queue! And yet all these people were just picking on the author and each other. I firmly agree that anonymous commenters should not be allowed. They just hide behind their screen and don’t generally offer much to the discussion.

    There is also a healthy living blog I read and they moderate every comment and dissenting remarks don’t get through. Almost every content is fluff and praise, even when you try and spin it in a completely non-critical manner and hope to have an intelligent discussion, it just isn’t allowed. Makes you not want to read at all!

  3. Mike says:

    Maybe I’m just at a different point in my blogging (I’m small, with about 1,000 unique readers a month), but I respectfully disagree with this post for a few reasons:

    1) I like the engagement with my readers. Every day the comments add value to my posts. Comments also allows me to clarify points that I’ve made.

    2) I like to provide links to other blogs. I comment on other blogs in part to get people to know that I exist. This is good for all of us.

    3) Comments have already allowed me to discover people and blogs that I wouldn’t have on my own. That builds community, which I think is a good thing.

    4) Comments keep you company. There is nothing more lonely to a new blogger than the sense that they are a voice unheard in the wilderness. Encouraging comments keep bloggers in the game, which has to be good for all of us blog consumers.

    Like I said, maybe I feel this way because I’m a small blog, but I don’t think I’ll change, even after I take over the internet!

    Feel free to leave a comment on my blog ;)

    • Ben says:

      Mike, you make some really great points here. I always enjoy meeting new people that leave comments on my blogs. You can always ‘not’ approve a comment if it’s obviously just for seo, or somewhat spammy with no real engagement or added value at all. I enjoy having open comments on my blogs.

  4. I have wondered about this. First, I wanted to disable comments because I wasn’t getting any, and that looked lame. Then, I wanted to disable them because (for a while, during a poetry period) I was getting too many, and I felt obligated to visit all these other blogs and comment there.

    Except the thing is, I get some pretty good comments from people I really like, far more than 1%, more like 99%. So your numbers, Greg, just don’t agree with my experience. Granted, I’m just an itsy, hobbiest, type blogger, but I don’t feel comfortable spurning my connections.

    The comments stay on.

  5. Val Adam says:

    OMG, somebody finally had the guts to say this. . . oops!

  6. Jims Got Web says:

    I think that a lot of bloggers feel the same way that you do. I’ve been commenting on blogs, yes, I’ll admit, to increase links to my site. I can completely understand how frustrating it would be to receive endless comments from people just saying, “Great post!” But aren’t you “throwing out the baby with the bath water” when you end all comments? Since my blog is new, I don’t receive a lot of comments, and the ones that I get are mostly spam, so I can’t speak from experience. Maybe a year from now I’ll feel the same way and eliminate my comment section too, but for now it just seem that you are throwing up your hands and saying, “I give up!” just read what I have to say and leave me alone!

  7. Brad Dalton says:

    What you could do is remove the website url link which is something i’ve seen done on some big blogs. It reduces the amount of poor quality comments.

    I mean, we all know WordPress comments are ” no follow” by default but that doesn’t stop anyone commenting.

    What i’m starting to learn more about is doing research on the post i’m commenting on and trying to improve the value of my comments.

    If you think commenting on other peoples blogs helps bring more comments to your own, its not always the case.

    I think you need to work on adding the highest quality comments you can in order to get something back. It has to be win, win. Leaving praise all the time isn’t the best strategy in my opinion either.

  8. I admit- closing comments does save a lot of time (preventing spam). But it could turn a lot of loyal readers off.

  9. Samuel says:

    It all depends I guess.

    If your purpose is to just present ideas and get it registered into the minds or f your readers, than comments are not that really important.

    Disabling comments is a good idea when a post get out of hand with too many. Interesting Article.

  10. Spam is spam and I get tired of being used.

    If a comment adds nothing of value to a blog post I wrote it never makes it past the moderation que. I agree that posting just for the sake of a link is out of line especially when a blogger has taken the time to really put forth effort in a post that will either benefit the reader in some way or provide some sort of enjoyment.

    Commenting really doesn’t do much for a blogger because most blog comments are no follow links, however a comment that offers value does stand a chance to offer value to the person commenting because readers will see the value and get curious and visit the link which is usually the name field in the comment.

    I like your post but the sad fact is people will not learn from it. They will continue to do things the wrong way. I believe in promoting your blog by commenting on blogs that are of value but I do not believe in posting short and irrelevant comments that offer no insight on the actual blog post (posting just for the link).

    That is my rant for the day…

  11. Very interesting..!

    My site gets very few comments mostly (I think) because it’s mainly a ‘how to’ site – so people looking for an answer in search, find it on my site and immediately get back to what they were doing (and needed the answer to).

    Occasionally someone will ask for a clarification in the comments, which I respond to, but I’d say that well under 1% of people leave comments and only 1% of those are comments that are either valuable or asking for a clarification.

    I’m not going to immediately switch off comments but I am going to seriously think about it, because I am very tempted.

    Thanks for prompting me to think :)

    Cheers,

    Martin.

  12. Ken Muise says:

    Wait…don’t comments keep pages fresh too?

  13. Hi Greg,

    Bloggers forget at times that running a business is important too. Engagement? Awesome. Do it. Respond…when you can. Issues arise with bloggers who become attached to getting comments and forget about getting sales and team members. Smart tips here.

    I’d keep comments on and respond to what I can. I penned a guest post which attracted 50 comments in hours 2 days ago…but I had tons of content to create, prospects to call back and more BUSINESS-related things to do, so I haven’t responded. I do what I can to grow my cash gifting team, first things first.

    Thanks Greg!

    Ryan

  14. Thanks to everyone for your comments. Opinion seems to be split down the middle.

    @Helen:

    I will never understand why some bloggers allow only praise and not criticism. Back when I allowed comments, the critical ones often exposed me to different ways of thinking. (Of course, I’m talking about insightful criticism, not just random insults, although even some of those were entertaining and I certainly never disallowed them just for being critical.)

    There’s one blog that’s ostensibly in my field – I’m tempted to give its name, but instead you can just search my blog for the tag “critical comment” – on which I left a critical comment. It didn’t besmirch the author in any way. Still, after reading it she banned me from commenting further on her blog, and denied my IP from accessing her server. Yes, because shutting down dissenting opinions is always a great idea.

    I never cared about whether commenters were anonymous or named. The anonymous ones were anonymous mostly because they didn’t have blogs of their own, which I can’t fault them for.

    @Richard:

    You say “I felt obligated to visit all these other blogs and comment there.” To me, that’s the best reason imaginable for disabling comments. When you’re visiting other blogs out of obligation, and commenting even though you have nothing to add, it’s just more busywork for everyone: the bloggers have to spend more time leaving inconsequential comments, and the non-bloggers who read your blog and the others have more pleasantries to sift through.

    What it comes down to is, sometimes you reach a step in the flow chart where you have to either accommodate your blogging readers or your non-blogging readers. I always go with the latter.

    @Jims Got Web:

    “Just read what I have to say and leave me alone”? Kind of, but not quite. It’s more “…and leave everyone else alone.” I encourage readers to engage us on Twitter and Facebook. It keeps the conversations separate from the primary focus of the blog itself. If readers want to say something noteworthy, they can do so without making thousands of other readers party to a conversation that they never asked to be a part of.

    @Brad:

    Removing the URL is a great idea, but I wonder if it isn’t ultimately just an intermediate step on the way to omitting comments altogether. The commenters who only want their comments to show up because of the URL will of course stop commenting in short order – I reason that disabling comments achieves the same goal faster.

    Again, I’m not saying that good comments aren’t worthwhile. They are. But for every gold nugget, there are tons and tons of gangue.

  15. I find that bloggers who don’t allow comments tend to be the kinds of people that can’t take criticism, or are too chicken to handle a counter-response. I like to keep a dialogue open for that reason.

  16. Well … I believe comments should be moderated. If only to weed out racism, abuse etc. But seriously, commentary extends the conversation that makes blogging so interesting.

    I *want* to interact with my readers. The debate is what it’s all about. Sure, one can choose not to post all the “great blog well done” messages if you like, but I know some of the thread conversations on my blog have value, and also keep people coming back.

    So, respectfully, whilst your blog works for you, I think your general point is nonsense for most bloggers.

  17. It seems kind of strange that you don’t allow comments on your blog, yet you ask people to leave a comment on Facebook or Twitter.

    It kinda doesn’t make sense from a business point of view. I’d rather have everything on my own online property than a third party’s.

    I don’t really have much else to say about the article. I like my comments so I’ll keep them, but you should do what’s best for you.

  18. Kathy says:

    Well, speaking as a blog reader, I love reading the comments. I often learn much more that way. I don’t often return to blogs that don’t allow comments. Because I generally find them less interesting.

  19. Andy says:

    If you run a get rich quick blog or anything about making money online then yes, disable your comments because every one is link bait. If you run anything else though, a sports blog, cooking blog etc let your comments be. People have fascinating things to say in these niches and I get really annoyed when sites don’t allow comments. I see where your coming from though, some blogs comments are ridiculously annoying.

  20. Stanley Rao says:

    It depends on the blog. But having comments on for the post would seem better, as through it you will know what people think about your blog and your post. But the blogs should be made free out of the moderation process

  21. Interesting post. I am not ready to disable comments on my blog though. I think it depends on the type of blog you are using. And if you use a commenting system involving Facebook, shouldn’t that increase the chances of real interaction? Any thoughts about that?

  22. Dany says:

    Well, Feedback is great!! and it is absolutely right!!

    While reading this blog, I thought the comment for the same must be disabled but fortunately it wasnt :) That’s Superb!!

  23. Johanna says:

    I think you have to think hard about turning comments off. Blogging began as a two way medium to interact with other people of like mindedness. If your blog has become so big that you just ‘broadcast’ then you are a mainstream publisher and probably don’t need, and have no time for comments – blogging is already big business. But, it you’re growing a blog I’d say it’s vital to engage with people who are brave enough to post a sensible reply to something you’ve written – and let’s face it, many commenters are not bloggers in their own right. If you are trying to attract advertisers, then I’d say they’ll be snooping around to look at who’s commenting on your blog to get an idea of your readership before they commit to sponsoring you in any way.

  24. Mallen Baker says:

    I thought it was interesting that Gawker recently tried the mechanism of having featured comments, which are visible with the original article, with the ability then to click through to read all comments should you wish.

    For sites that get lots of comments, the advantages of this are two-fold.

    One – the interesting, thoughtful, genuinely interesting posts plus the conversations they provoke get promoted into full view. This makes the comments section once again what it was surely intended to be – something that adds to the richness of the original comment.

    Two – whilst not censoring the dross, by relegating it to a section where people have to actively choose to see it you can over time discourage at least some of this type of comment, since it doesn’t get the profile.

    Gawker have a system that promotes posts that create discussion, but you could equally simply have blogger editorial selection – although you would have to exercise discipline to make sure you didn’t only ever promote those that expressed a viewpoint that agreed with you.

    • Absolutely. One of Gawker’s blogs, Deadspin, routinely features the funniest and most cerebral comments I’ve ever seen. (Or at least it did until they changed the commenting system yet again, a few weeks ago. Now the inane comments are side-by-side with the good ones.)

      Again – and this is a general comment, not a response to Mallen’s – I’m not saying that comments are worthless. I’m saying that for many bloggers, if not most, comments aren’t worth the effort required to maintain them.

  25. I actually agree with the points made in this post. I maintain a niche blog for health insurance for Baby Boomers. A couple of months ago, I disabled the Comments section and placed a widget in the sidebar to allow people to ask insurance related questions. Now if people want to engage with me, they have a forum in which they can do it in private. I no longer have to deal with trolls wanting to create public havoc. People who take the time to engage me actually have concerns. My ego does not require the number of “Thank Yous” that I was getting when I did entertain comments. I do understand that Comments are necessary for many blogs. I have found out, however, that they are not necessary for every blog.

  26. Anshu says:

    Interesting point! I haven’t reached at a place where I have to worry about too many comments ( or too many useless comments) and from where I stand right now, it will be a good problem to have. But it was interesting to read a contrary view on the comments, which are one of the yardsticks a successful blog is measured with.

  27. While a lot of what you’re saying is true and don’t disagree with everything, I disagree with the fact that one should have to disable comment to feel better “so to speak”.

    It’s interesting that you mentioned this very blog at the end of your article giving the reasons such blog accept comments “to engage other bloggers”. Well, Don’t we all want that? Do we have to be ProBlogger to deliver excellent content that induce engagement? My guess is NO!

    As a matter of fact, in my case, I have been blogging for the past 5 years and for 4 of them I didn’t care about comments because my blogs were more like selling platforms to me, and buyers either bought or not, but were not even interested in leaving comments. However, it’s when I started to get interested in the pure idea of blogging for value that I started receiving comments. I never did before.

    So, again, like I said while I’m with you on some of the things you said, I would never, ever want to disable my comments, because I love them and for me that’s the door of my online/business relationship building.

  28. Anna says:

    I never turned on comments on my blog. Since I work full time and do blogging on the side, my time is really limited. That time limitation means I have to carefully pick and choose what parts of blogging I participate in. Dealing with comments (moderation, spam, responses, etc.) didn’t make the cut. Also, my blog topic is such that reader response is not as crucial as it is for some blogs.

  29. Majid Ali says:

    I am new to blogging and commenting helps me and others to introduce each other.

  30. JD says:

    I enjoy reading some blogs, and find those to be a ready source of insight and information. Others are (respectfully) fairly worthless, and ought to be discontinued. I must admit I often learn as much or more from some of the more astute or intelligent comments. However, it is too often very time consuming to read through all of the worthless babbling to find them. Some of the BEST blogs I read regularly are on HBR Blog Network (Harvard Business Review), and they ALL link comments directly to HBR@Facebook.

  31. Hey Greg,

    Interesting take, indeed.

    I agree with you, but I don’t agree to the extent I will close my comments. I do understand your point: everyone has their own agenda with leaving comments.

    Yes, of course!

    The world is like that. Only a few percentage of people sacrifice their time, money and lives for the good of the society.

    Rest of us?

    We just take care of ourselves.

    And we need incentives and motivation to do the things we need to do (well, we don’t need to comment, but if our goal is to build a blog, and then we need to spend some time with networking and building relationships).

    I realize that some commentators are commenting just for the links, but most of my active commentators aren’t (I realized that a few days back when I accidentally disabled comment luv for 3 weeks and still my commentators didn’t leave, they left a comment as usual).

    It’s the relationship that matters. Many of my commentators – I am also an active visitor of their blog, I read their posts and share it. So, we have a good relationship (not just for sharing content or commenting, but also for helping each other out).

    Sure, I don’t get any benefit from all the comments I get (then again, am I supposed to? Am I not being selfish here to think about my benefits alone?)

    Okay, you mentioned that our commentators are looking for benefits (Are we not too? We can’t blame them for that when we ourselves are looking forward to benefits).

    But, there are comments that get me thinking – sometimes, it is just one or two sentences that the commentator said. Sometimes, it’s the whole comment.

    Generally, I like to get more criticisms than praises (so, I always try to write posts out of no where – I like to go against the general public and write on more controversial topics).

    Yes, when I say something, I do experiment with it. I observe and learn, before I recommend it to my readers.

    I have a strict policy with commenting – Unless, it is someone I really know and have a relationship with, I don’t accept one line comments (or unless the comment is really good).

    Most of the one liner comments are useless.

    As far as praises go, I don’t get that much of it either (Especially, because I don’t write posts recommending others or featuring other bloggers).

    Anyways, thank you for the thought provoking post ;)

    Jeevan Jacob John

  32. A. Kayastha says:

    Disabling comments on establised and reputed blog may be the great task and may also help to reduce spamming but in my opinion with the comment option enabled, its truns out to be the greatest tool for newly established blog which help to connect with readers, get ideas from them, converting fIrst time visitor into daily visitor by sharing some good words with them.

  33. Wolf Halton says:

    I use a lot of wordpress blogs and I trust Akismet to pull the largest number of spammy comments. There are rarely “too many” real posts to handle, and my niches are small. So, I moderate all comments and allow a few in, if they are useful. I have a job that takes most of my time, and I write a blog post if I have gotten something done that could be useful to colleagues or people in my very specific open-source audience.

  34. parvin Akter says:

    The ideas is so good. I am impressed.

  35. hayden oris says:

    hilarious opening! i consider comments very useful as it helps in improving oneself.criticism makes us better

  36. Angela says:

    Although I understand why some folks would disable comments, I need to say that I started blogging for the sense of community. I am a special needs parenting blogger.

    Through comments I connect with folks who see the world the same was I do. I am passionate about blogging & the support in the community. It’s an amazing opportunity to see the world from another’s perspective & I SO appreciate finding the folks who think my ideas are interesting. Comments are my life blood – they make me think, help me grow & keep me company :-)

  37. Excellently amazing and exciting too. Can you please mention me the source of your reference… I am happy that at least somebody gave this subject an attention.

  38. It depends on the blog. But having comments on for the post would seem better, as through it you will know what people think about your blog and your post. But the blogs should be made free out of the moderation process.

  39. There’s more than one purpose for a blog. Most people want broadcast with validation if they’re being truthful. Blogs can also be about discussion, and before other social media in the mid 2000s that was their most valuable role. One line comments can be great. One line posts can be even better. It all depends on the purpose.