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—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:
- Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.
- Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.
- Consider eliminating anonymous comments.
- 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 (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected]ash.com.(physical) or