“Don’t read the comment section.”
It’s advice we hear more and more from celebrities, artists and journalists who understand the potential downside of providing online forums for anonymous armchair reviewers to opine about anything they wish.
As a law firm that knows the importance of blogging as part of an effective content marketing strategy, you may have also experienced the drawbacks of providing a comment board on your posts. But you recognize the value your blog presents in generating new leads for your firm.
Blogging positions you as an expert in your field, creates a relationship with potential and existing clients and offers an excellent avenue to promote your law firm. In addition, as the author and publisher of your blog, you own all the content, which enables you to steer the message and boost your website’s search engine optimization.
As a law firm SEO company, Custom Legal Marketing creates, manages and grows your blog. When it comes to dealing with comments, CLM recommends a slightly different tactic than the one above: Don’t allow comments at all.
A history of the blog comment
In the late 1990s, the online journal community Open Diary became the first blogging platform to permit members to comment on the writings of others. Open Diary’s intention in adding what was considered an innovative feature was to promote a sense of community among its users.
Other blogging platforms and media companies soon followed, citing the benefits of comment sections. In addition to the assertion that enabling commenting creates a community, typical pro-comment arguments point to the instant feedback you receive from your audience. Readers’ comments have long been hailed as a quick metric of what your audience likes and doesn’t like.
For traditional media companies that expanded their reach to an online presence, comments became the internet version of a letter to the editor, notes from readers newspapers print that remark on previous stories. But letters to the editor have always been carefully curated and, in some cases, edited before they are published.
In recent years, a number of news sites have disabled comments. Popular Science was one of the first major publications to do so. True to form, the science and technology media outlet partly attributed its reason to shut off comments to evidence-based research that revealed troublesome commenters can skew a reader’s perception of a story.
NPR also closed its commenting platform on its website after eight years.
“After much experimentation and discussion, we've concluded that the comment sections on NPR.org stories are not providing a useful experience for the vast majority of our users,” said Scott Montgomery, the then-managing editor for digital news, in an announcement.
And lest you think it’s just old media that’s pulling the plug, the millennial-focused news outlet Mic said no to comments just a handful of years after it launched.
Common nuisances of comments
All three sites pondered both the advantages and disadvantages of allowing comments before making their decisions.
One of the biggest nuisances that come with permitting public comments is the internet troll, someone who posts incendiary and often irrelevant messages aimed at riling up other commenters and disrupting productive discussion.
Trolls leave you and most of your readers with numerous headaches and frequently make you devote valuable time and resources to rectifying the damage done. Many sites that attract thousands of comments a day, like The New York Times, create and enforce standards its members must follow when they want to post a message. Moderating responses can be labor intensive.
Another problem comment sections invite is spam, junk messages that can be detrimental to your search engine optimization efforts. In its SEO guide, Google encourages website owners to add “nofollow” to links in comments, which will tell the search engine your page’s reputation should not be tied to the external links spammers post.
“Linking to sites that Google considers spammy can affect the reputation of your own site,” the guide warns.
What’s more, studies have shown blog comments don’t always lead to more traffic, which, in turn, doesn’t lead to more revenue.
Commenting on blogs can create a community, yes, and people have the chance to converse with each other about a topic you propose. What you really want, though, is a relationship with your readers; your goal should be for people to talk to your law firm – not to one another on a comment board.
Our comment on the debate? The hassle and risks outweigh the benefits. Don’t have a comment section.
Amanda Westrich is a content developer for law firms at Custom Legal Marketing.