If you’re a writer who hopes to make money blogging, you’ve probably heard the conventional wisdom: Comments are important. You need to attract lots of comments and respond to all of them.
That builds rapport — it shows you’re engaging with your audience and you’re accessible to them. Also, responding to them all doubles your comment count, and makes your blog seem popular and interesting!
That worked, for years. You could write a great, controversial or highly useful post and easily rack up 100 comments. But not so much anymore.
Over time, my feelings about comments have changed, because the comments you get have changed. Which is why this is the last post on my blog that will allow comments.
Here’s why I’m killing comments on the Make a Living Writing blog, and what I’m doing instead:
Spam, cleverer spam, and timewasting
Once, blog comments were a great place to engage in lively conversations with readers, and I eagerly looked forward to responding. For instance, this 300-comment thread became so fascinating that it spawned an e-book, and got mentioned in many roundups of useful posts for freelancers.
Now, comments fall into three categories:
- Thinly disguised spam — I’d say 60% or more of all comments received fall into this category. They’re from someone with an obviously fake name (ie ‘Google’ or ‘Writer Joe,’) whose email indicates their name is really something else entirely. And the URL is for an academic paper mill, or iPhone-review site stuffed with affiliate links, or the like. My Akismet WordPress plugin automatically spikes these off.
- Better-disguised spam — Of the remaining 40% that doesn’t go straight to the spambox, I’d say three-quarters of it is more sophisticated spam (or ‘great post!’ type comments that add nothing to the conversation). These almost invariably use CommentLuv to link to a post or site that sells something scammy, often something not even related to freelance writing. Cleverer ones just stuff their link into the URL field of the comment form and hope we won’t notice. Another ‘tell’ is a link that doesn’t go to their home page, but to a specific page that sells a thing.
- Actual comments — Occasionally, a freelance writer comes along and leaves a valid comment. But it’s increasingly rare. On several recent days, every single comment left was at least suspicious, and I removed them all. That was a real turning point for me.
The trick is, the disguised spam is getting harder and harder to spot. And that means moderating spam is taking longer and longer. There’s also been an increase in unintelligible, illiterate comments that tend to stymie discussion, like this one (quite often, these also come with a suspicious CommentLuv link):
Years back, leaving thoughtful comments was considered a great way to connect with top bloggers — Jon Morrow famously got his editor gig at Copyblogger that way. These days, I’m far more likely to be slogging my way through something like the above than finding a fascinating comment that makes me want to get to know that writer.
Recently, I had to admit that dealing with comments was eating up way too much precious time that I should spend creating new e-books, building useful courses that teach writers new skills, or otherwise serving the needs of my 1,000+ Freelance Writers Den members.
The window of actual, productive work time in my day was fast shrinking to zero.
Comments on the wane–even at top blogs
If I thought this were a problem specific to my blog, I’d look at how to fix it. Are my posts not interesting anymore? Should we look at different topics?
A look around some of the most popular blogs in writing, content marketing, and blogging reveals it’s not me — it’s a trend.
Some might recall that Copyblogger killed its comments in 2014, taking them to social media, before bringing them back to Copyblogger — where when I looked recently, there were under 10 comments on all recent posts. I went on WritetoDone, and the top post had 4 comments. The WriteLife? Recent posts have 1-5 comments.
It’s not my blog. Comments are simply undergoing the same cycle that email did. Once exciting, fun, and novel, email quickly became a place for junk rather than useful information or meaningful conversation. And now, our blog comment queues are stuffed with junk, to the point where it’s hard to have a meaningful conversation. And I believe that’s driven readers away from commenting.
Low value for the few
Here’s another sad truth about comments: Only a tiny percentage of readers participate in them, even when things go great. With around 80,000 monthly readers here, a tremendously popular post on my blog might get 100 comments.
That’s .00125 percent of my readers.
I’ve been known for delivering a ton of details and value in my comments, often writing so much that readers say the comments are as valuable as the post. But the problem is, it’s still not as valuable as trainings I’ve spent more time developing, that are more comprehensive in answering a common freelance writing question. And it doesn’t reach very many readers.
No matter how much time I put into that comment, it’s not nearly as valuable as delivering a new, free Webinar to my audience, or a day of free blog reviews. Which have reached and helped thousands of writers, aligning with my mission of helping the most writers earn more, fast as I can.
I’m hard-pressed to create those more useful products lately, because I’m busy responding to comments. Comments that may well just be a link-stuffing ploy.
It’s also the same questions over and over. I’d reached the point where I mostly commented to link people to the resources I’ve created. Which they could find themselves, on one of the top tabs of this blog. So that wasn’t making for very fascinating conversation.
The final nail: I had a few regular readers who’d comment on nearly every post. This started to bother me, because writers need to be writing their assignments or doing their marketing, not spending their days writing blog comments!
I worry that running comments creates another distraction, instead of sending writers off to go implement what they learned in the post.
Don’t get me wrong — if you’re just starting and ramping a blog, I think comments are essential for getting to know your readers. There’s a freshness to a brand-new blog that I also think attracts comments and good conversation. But nearly a decade in, this blog is ready to move into a new phase.
Other ways to bond and make money blogging
If comments no longer provide a great format for connecting with readers, what’s next? How can bloggers connect with their audience? It’s hard to make money blogging if you don’t talk to your readers, somewhere, and learn about what their top problems are, and how you can solve them. That’s how you develop the products and services you can successfully sell.
What can you do if you have no comments, but still want to hear from readers?
Here are a few of the other ways I’ve used, and will likely make more use of in future:
- Reader surveys
- Link parties
- Free Webinar trainings
- Exclusive email content that doesn’t appear on the blog
- Handing out my cellphone number
- Meeting readers in person at conferences
- Chatting on Facebook and Twitter
- Connecting on LinkedIn
The interesting thing I’ve observed is that I’m having better quality and more numerous conversations with readers on my Facebook page than I do on my blog comments. That just seems like where writers hang out and want to chat. Which brings me to the final question:
Where should my blog comments go?
Now that it’s clear blog comments need to be closed, to free up my time to better serve the majority of my readers, the question is where to set up a place to interact and chat.
I’m leaning towards Facebook. I know, not everyone likes or is on there. But that’s where the conversations seem to be happening!
Besides the chance to see readers’ profiles and learn a bit more about them, chatting on my blog’s Facebook page would also make Facebook ‘like’ me more, serve my posts to more people on organic reach, and help more new readers find me. So that could be a fringe benefit.
My other nominee is LinkedIn. While Facebook is a notorious timewaster for writers, LinkedIn is somewhere I encourage all writers to build a strong presence. Currently, I don’t have a lot of conversation going on over there, but maybe this could change things, and I could help more writers discover the benefits of LinkedIn.
I’m open to other ideas, too. And I look forward to continuing the conversation with you, wherever we land.
Where should my blog comments go? Leave a comment (while you still can!) and weigh in with ideas. I’ll report back on a post next week, and future posts will have a link to where we’ll chat.