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How to Leave Meaningful Blog Comments

Categories: Blogging, Blogging for Writers, Build a Platform & Start Blogging, Building Readership, Freelance Writer, Article Writing, General, Marketing & Self-Promotion.

As readership on your site or blog grows, you’ll have to figure out a strategy for dealing with unproductive comments.

There are 3 categories of “unproductive”:

  • Straightforward spam. This is the stuff you automatically delete, or preferably filter out using a plug-in like Akismet.
  • Trolls. These are people who say inflammatory or off-topic things, usually meant to get an emotional rise out of you or your community. It would be akin to walking into a Billy Joel chat room, and saying Billy Joel is the worst musician on earth. How do you handle? It’s usually preferable to block those people from commenting again, or to delete such comments.
  • Self-promoters. These are commenters who don’t contribute to the conversation, but say something like “Great post!” while leaving links back to their own blog or site. Sometimes this practice can feel like spam if it happens often enough.

Aside from unproductive comments, you’ll also have to deal with critical comments. (I don’t advise deleting critical comments unless they cross the line into flame wars.)

Rather than take offense when some disagrees, or always argue why you’re right, view criticisms as an opportunity to learn something, or to have conversation on your site—which can attract more readers over time, if the conversations are meaningful and respectful.

Leaving meaningful comments
As I discussed last week, leaving meaningful comments on others’ blogs or sites is a good way to attract attention to your own site, so it’s helpful to be consistent in your approach and tone. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Don’t be a drive-by shooter. This is where you post a quick criticism like, “I don’t agree; this isn’t my experience.” This doesn’t really engage in a conversation or offer something meaningful to other readers or commenters. It IS helpful to offer an alternative viewpoint, so take the time to elaborate on it.
  2. Put your comments in context. Most people won’t know who you are when you’re commenting. So it’s helpful to relate something about your background, experience, or POV on issues.
  3. To really impress, offer a targeted resource. Some of the best comments I’ve ever received pointed me to a very specific blog post or resource that I hadn’t seen before.
  4. Ask questions. If you didn’t understand something that was discussed, there’s a good chance someone else didn’t understand either. So bring it up in the comments. Get clarification. Most people love the chance to elaborate, or they can address the question in a new blog post.
  5. When views differ, look for common ground. To maintain goodwill wherever you go, it’s helpful to look for areas where you agree with a person. While we can all say (in theory) that we’re open to disagreement and criticisms, it still helps immensely to figure out where thoughts and beliefs align.

So … I welcome your meaningful comments on comments!

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29 Responses to How to Leave Meaningful Blog Comments

  1. kayla563123 says:

    The Victoria Secret’s “Sexiest Lady Celebrity”was as soon as noticed sporting a Breitling for Bentley Motors when she posed to get a cover of a magazine.

  2. Situs Indonesia says:

    I think that blog commenting many not be a super sophisticated way of building traffic, but it does work and it’s very easy to get started with… and it costs nothing but time and a few brain cells. It can work better than social media traffic in some cases. (Example: I got a story on the top banner of the home page of Mixx where it got 46 votes but only sent 35 unique visitors… but I have gotten over 200 visitors from a TechCrunch comment before.

    Therefore I recommend blog commenting to beginners and people who have boring topics that may not be able to get more than a handful of visits from social media sites and viral efforts.

    Situs Distributor

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  5. Dana says:

    Whoah, this is cool technology:

    "The Cognition Blog has two very interesting calls to action at the end of each Blog post. The first one says, "Tweet Your Thoughts" (when you click on it, a box opens up that allows you to write a tweet and connect it to your Twitter profile), and the second one says, "Respond On Your Blog" (when you click on it, a box opens up that allows you to input the URL of your Blog post).

    No matter where you respond (in their own comments, on your Twitter feed or by adding in the URL from own, unique, Blog post), your comment still appears beneath the Blog post that you are discussing. Think about the intrinsic value of this as the evolution of Blogs and commenting happens before our very eyes."

    http://www.twistimage.com/blog/

  6. @Demetria – You know, that’s a great question. I’m not entirely sure WHERE it comes from, but certainly some of it is related to spambots (which is why so many comment systems use a "captcha" – to confirm a "real" person is leaving a comment).

  7. Jane, this topic is right on time for me. My blog is fairly young (almost 2 months old) and I’ve been getting all three categories of unproductive comments. It amazes me how many are coming in that I have to trash or spam. It would be great if you did a post on how these types of comments originate. Are people just roaming the Internet, dumping comments on any blog in their path (regarding the trolls and self-promoters). Regarding the Spam, I’m assuming my URL shows up in some mass spam search. I hate to sound naive, but us blog newbies are curious. Especially since I’m receiving a lot of trash/spam. How do they determine which blogs to target? I will definitely add a spam plugin to my site. Thanks for the tips.

  8. @Mary – Thanks so much for your first (and extra kind) comment here!

    @Lynda – And a big thanks to you as well. :)

  9. Lynda Shoup says:

    Just when I was thinking about the nature of feedback I found your post through a WD facebook link. I’d been thinking about how the feedback I give has changed as my use of social media has increased. I find that I’m reading a lot, but not commenting as much.

    After reading your article, I thought some more about it and decided to make a feedback challenge for myself. (I linked to your article on my blogpost) Thank you for inspiring me with this post and so many others.

  10. I have been a fan of all things Jane Friedman since I started reading you in Writers’ Digest. I save all your blogs. This is my first time to comment. This particular blog and all the comments have been especially helpful to me since I have just started a site and a blog. No visitors yet, except friends, but I appreciate all the advice in sharing comments and driving visitors to the site. I’m learning; I just survived a ton of span and trolls. Akismet saved me.

  11. Hi Jane!
    Good observations, but I’d say that it depends on the blog. Mine is a free-wheeling op-ed for the most part, so many times I just have to say that the comment maker and I will just have to agree to disagree. Some might say that I should avoid that by only accepting comments from people who more or less agree with me, but I like to hear what everyone thinks, even if I don’t agree (as long as they keep their language clean, of course).
    r/Steve

  12. Hi Jane,
    I have your blog on my blog roll and direct my readers to your posts fairly frequently…(cough* last weeks post was extolling your virtues…cough*)
    I don’t comment enough on blogs but I am trying to get better.

    One of the reasons for this is that my experience and interest is in children’s books so it often not relevant to your readers.

    Another reason is that I am based in New Zealand and my experiences and knowledge will not have much relevance for your readers who are largely based in the US.

    My blog is a weekly roundup of what leaders in the blogosphere are saying about publishing changes, writing and marketing that can be applied to children’s books. This is for the New Zealand writing community which is small and at the bottom of the world. (but we have amazing children’s writers here.)
    I am using my blog to alert writers here to what is happening in the northern hemisphere knowing that we are usually (in publishing anyway) a year behind the trends.
    Although I often don’t comment because I have nothing relevant to share, This doesn’t mean that I don’t think carefully about what the writer has said and refer my readers to that blog to read it for themselves.

    Thank you for being a great resource,
    Maureen
    New Zealand

  13. @Jennifer – Totally with you on point 1. On point 2, I agree some people have a hard time distinguishing between (harsh) criticism and trolls! But as you say, when it comes to trolls attacking other contributors, it’s like allowing people in your own living room to be insulted or assaulted. A hostile environment keeps people away.

    @Dana – I don’t know of any WD articles that discuss the power of community forums, but it’s a terrific idea.

    @Mike – Pre-moderation deters many people from commenting, so I don’t recommend it. It comes down to human behavior — anything that takes an extra step (especially online) will be abandoned quicker. But usually a spam filter is enough to kill unwanted comments before they appear.

  14. Mike says:

    Great article, and some good comments too. I agree that commenting on a comment helps both dialogue and traffic, as does visiting the commenter’s site, I’ve found several good sites that way.

    I’d add also "how to attract meaningful comments" – things like have a theme, and post often. Neither of which I do, hence most of the comments I get are spam, to be deleted. I’ve used pre-moderation at times to control spam, but wonder if it deters any valid contributors. Do we all "need" to see our comment up there right away on a site?

  15. Dana says:

    @Frankie

    Yes, there are some terrific blogs out there. I have a couple favorites, but I’m always looking for the PERFECT blog for me. Still haven’t found it :)

    @ Jane

    Thanks for the shout out! I think this is a fascinating topic, I hope you will post on it again some time in the future.

    In a related vein, I wonder if anyone in the WD community has written about the power of the discussion forum. I have had thousands of views on poems I’ve posted on a forum and others who have been at it longer have had hundreds of thousands of views. Imagine that!

  16. In some cases I think I’m a bit more lenient than you with comments, and in others I’m stricter. For example:

    1. I go beyond the "good post" comments with backlinks when looking at self-promotional spam. A major pet peeve of mine is when people try to go beyond the link given to them (with their handle or name) by adding comment "signatures" with another link, and sometimes with a marketing message. Hate that.

    You get a link with your handle. If you have a link relevant within the context of the post itself, put it in the comment body. But if you just tack on a link to your site at the end or say "I wrote about this too — link, link, link," my policy is to either reject the comment or delete the links.

    2. When it comes to "trolls" I think I’m a bit more lenient than many bloggers. Here’s how I see it. If I’m going to give my opinion publicly, then I knowingly open myself up to scrutiny. And if someone can’t take passionate disagreement in public, then they have no business blogging.

    I’m not saying you would block a post for that necessarily, but I find that many bloggers are over-sensitive. They can’t tell the difference between passionate disagreement and an actual troll. So they block anything they consider harsh or things that make them look bad.

    That said, on some of my blogs I have regular contributors other than myself. While I’ll let people attack me because I can hold my own, I don’t tolerate commenters attacking other contributors in any unnecessary way. Nor do I tolerate them attacking other readers.

  17. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at how many meaningful comments are on the "meaningful comment" post! Thank you to everyone who’s taken a moment to share thoughts.

    – @Linda & everyone: about leaving brief/positive comments –
    I should clarify that I think it’s perfectly fine to leave "attaboy" comments. Even if such comments aren’t substantive, it shows the writer what’s working (or not), and also helps in general with blog & post rankings that site ranking/analytics companies tabulate.

    So I don’t think any comment is ever wasted, necessarily. Not every comment needs to be a time investment or a standout contribution. In fact, if commenting starts to feel like homework, maybe it’s time to dial it back! I don’t mean to paint the situation so seriously.

    But I’ll emphasize again that if you take the time to leave a *criticism*, it’s much more respectful to elaborate, and provide a viewpoint that helps everyone in the discussion, rather than just drop a stink bomb.

    – @Linda and everyone: responding to the comments people leave –
    I don’t believe it’s necessary to respond to every comment individually, unless the comment calls for a response. If a question is raised, or someone leaves some valuable tidbits, I do recommend answering or acknowledging the contribution. I think everyone understands there are limits on time, but best practice says you shouldn’t leave the conversation hanging.

    @Frankie: As far as saying something about yourself, I guess I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of asserting authority/expertise (at least not in aggressive, "See how I’m right" kind of way), but I know what you mean!

    Love the tips from Rafael and Dana! Thanks for sharing!

  18. There are times when the most appropriate thing I can do is leave an "attaboy" and genuine thanks for a post, without discussing it further. It’s been my thought that it makes the blogger realize that they connected with me. I certainly feel that way when someone comments like that on my blog. But now I may have to spend a bit more time thinking through what I say. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Frankie says:

    @Dana I think you’re right about the comment being underrated. But not blogs. There are people out there doing fantastic, fun, creative things in blogspace. I think it requires breaking out of the "diary" mindset. (I’m still toddling through it myself.)

  20. But hey, Billy Joel really blows!

    I’m kidding of course. I think that most of the bad posts come from that "bunching up" mentality from the community. The "like-my-blog-I’ll-like-yours" type of personality. Those people look for the quick follower and play the blogger stat more than the actual valid traffic. My blog has less than a hundred followers, but it scores higher than most in Alexa.

    A string of quality posts will also wear down the quick fire poster. No one will check a single line if there are five enormous posts on top of it. You have to cultivate your blog, to be patient and know what kind of image you want to convey. Like-minded people will eventually start following.

  21. Dana says:

    A couple other ideas for the list:

    -Look for the edit button. If there is no edit button, work hard at proofreading. Especially if you are a freak, like some of us are ;)

    -Familiarize yourself with the site. Sometimes you make yourself all exposed and vulnerable when writing a comment on a sensitive topic. If you are unfamiliar with a blog, read some related posts or the "about page" before opening yourself up to what might be a hurtful public flame when everybody else who reads the blog knows damn well that the author does not share your point of view and never will. Ouch.

    -Know some HTML. If the blog allows it, post links with HTML tags to make your post prettier. And HTML is good for bolding, italicizing, etc.

  22. Dana says:

    Great topic for a blog post, Jane!

    I very much enjoy commenting on blogs and also on certain discussion forums. I only wish there was a writing community that specifically recognized online commenting as an art form in its own right.

    Engaging with others online is a beautifully social writing technique when compared to solo writing. I sometimes have the sensation that the blog or forum is almost pulling the words out of me, the conversations can sometimes be so compelling. And I often use my posts as starting points/brainstorming for personal essays and poems.

    In general, it is disappointing that we rarely see anybody give the online comment its due as a WRITING exercise or as a lab for experimentation and feedback. Poems, stories, letters, even journal entries are all given their due as WRITING, but often blogs and comments are framed as marketing vehicles ONLY, which seems to be a waste of a vibrant venue.

    Especially for people who are struggling with building a regular writing practice, or just for anybody looking for a thrill, leaving comments can be a beautiful way to WRITE and EXPLORE.

    A couple other ideas for your list:

    -If the board allows you to put a title on your comment, spend a few moments to make it good. Brainstorm and revise the title if necessary. For example, if you comment on a hot story at Salon.com, there may be 300+ comments posted in matter of a couple of hours. Posting a great title is a must, because people WILL scan the titles when deciding which posts to read.

    -Use the @ function or the board’s quote function to respond to and build on previous comments. I have been lucky enough to participate in some wonderful collaborations in comments and forums. Sometimes if you respond to someone specifically or quote and extend, you can start a wave of collaborative idea building that takes the conversation to a whole new place.

    -Revise. A lot of times, especially when writing about something you feel strongly about, the words come fast and furious. Type them up quickly but then spend some time revising. Make sure you are understanding who you are responding to correctly. Make sure you are not repeating somebody else in a long-winded way. Try to emphasize the unique idea you are bringing to the table, but try to do it with as few words as possible.

  23. Frankiw says:

    Pretty good list. My personal guideline is just to respond in a genuine way to what interests me. I find comments with agendas, whether it’s self-promotion or ideology, tedious and obvious. I disagree with the "say something about yourself" bit, though. On the internet, where anybody can be anything and nobody knows different, it’s used so often as a tactic to shut down other opinions, that to me it reads like a grab at false authority.

    One thing that really irks me is when bloggers don’t respond to their comments. I usually give somebody a couple tries if I like their blog, but (and this is especially the case with small blogs, I cut people with hundreds of comments some slack) if they don’t respond to commenters, I’m out of there. Plenty of people are interested in interacting with their readers. I’ll spend my commenting energy in those places.

  24. Rafael says:

    I have a few rules I use when commenting:

    1. If you really like a post, leave a comment. It shows your appreciation and interest. It also encourages the blogger to keep posting quality post.

    2. If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all or at least make your comments as constructive as possible.

    3. Careful with links. Many blogs automatically ban comments with links in them, since this is a common spambot tactic.

    4. Follow up on your comments. One shot comments do not make for an interesting conversation.

    5. If you like the post, spread it around by using widgets such as the LIKE button on wordpress blogs, Tweet and Facebook buttons. Also Feeds, Follows (Blogger) and similar tools can be used to track the blogs you’re interested in.

    6. Remember that if you want to attract regular readers to your blog, you have to visit and participate in other blogs, so leave a viable blog link in your comments. Most comment windows have space for name/email/home page, don’t use the comment box to insert the link in the body of the comment, it will tend to trip the spam filter.

  25. Tara Tyler says:

    Thank you for this. I’m new to blogging do’s and don’t’s. I just put my foot in my mouth and hope it didn’t hurt me! But I couldn’t resist!

    The "fabulous sea creature not to be named here" posted a link to a well written article and it sounded very similar to one I wrote a few days ago, so I linked back to mine. Needless to say, it wasn’t posted and now I know why. I apologized for daring to shamelessly self promote! (which was not my intent, or was it subconsciously? no, I’m not that deep)

    I could go on and on…but I will spare you.
    Thanks, again!

  26. Dealing with trolls and spam is an on-going process in my experience. I’ve been blogging for 6 years and, for the most part, the comments have been fine but there is a small handful of people who spend their lives looking for parades to rain on. I put my blog on "moderate comments" status a long time ago and am glad I did.

    Responding to Comments is a different matter. I like doing it but it can take up a lot of time. Still, I feel it’s a courtesy to people who take the time to read and comment.

  27. Judy Croome says:

    This is a timeous post! I’ve just had a 10% growth spurt in my blog followers (5 in one day – squeeee!), but along with that came my first non-meaningful comment. Completely unrelated to my post, its purpose was clearly to direct me and my followers to the originator’s blog. I decided to leave it up, and answer it politely on my blog, but not – as I usually do – send a personal email or do a return visit as well.

    In general, leaving meaningful comments can be a challenge, purely from a time point of view. So many blogs so little time! Over time I’ve developed the habit of visiting more blogs less, but trying to make a decent contribution. It’s not ideal, but it works most of the time.

    One inviolable rule: whoever comments on my blog, gets a return visit (although after my drive-by commentator today, that’ll have to be amended to, whoever leaves a meaningful comment on my blog, gets a return visit)

  28. Linda says:

    You bring up some interesting points to consider. There are times when I simply want to let a friend know I visited their blog, so I’ll post that I agree, or that I enjoyed reading it. Then I feel silly, as if I’m blocking someone’s parking space, so I delete it. What to do, what to do…

    I’ve often wondered if, on my own blog, I should respond to every comment, even the "I agree" ones. It can get redundant, although I have a friend who manages to add some witty thank-you response to every single comment. It gives the impression she cares about her readers. Any thoughts on this?

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