In helping a lot of people promote themselves on the Internet, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. What can I do to increase traffic? What should I blog about? Are keywords important? (Answers for all of these yet to come.)
But one question I’m asked by nearly every client, friend, or random acquaintance looking for some I-marketing advice is simply this: Should I allow people to comment on my site?
There’s no simple yes or no here. The answer to this question really depends on the type of site that you have. But I can tell you this – comments can do you a world of good!
Commenting promotes a feeling of community on your website and allows your guests to offer valuable information. When people come to your website, information is what they’re looking for. Leave the fancy, pretty, eye catching things for the real world. On the Internet, the human brain is working quite differently and such things are nothing more than irritating distractions from the “meat” that they’re looking for. And often, comments help offer a valuable balance of views for the visitor to be able to chew on. Differing opinions, thoughts, suggestions and advice add an interesting layer to your site that many visitors can spend hours reading. And long story short – the more pages people are reading and the longer they’re reading them, the more Google will look at you as a valid source to recommend to the next wandering web-surfer.
Comments can go both ways (as many of us here have seen). Many times, we’ll get comments that are less then helpful – ranging from simple negativity or insults to spam for Viagra or porn sites. Though there are ways to trap for spam, it’s the more valid user that causes our woes. Unfortunately, not much can be done for the human condition. Everyone has a view point, and thank god that it doesn’t always match our own. But it’s the opportunity to express that view point that makes the Internet (and our country) so great! Criticism, insults, or jaw-dropping displays of the less intelligent of our species is something we just have to learn to deal with in life. And displaying the bad with the good, believe it or not, just ads to the spice and validity of your site! So take the Bad with the Good – it still is helping your site to be a success!
Unfortunately, some people are just never happy unless they’re making everyone else miserable. This is the wheel that will continue to squeak no matter how much oil they get. They’re the ones who hide behind an anonymous face or ambiguous username. They threaten, scream, intimidate, and do anything within their power to bully all other viewpoints out of the discussion. In Internet slang, they’re called a “Troll”. Quite appropriate, I believe. They’ll say whatever is necessary to illicit the emotional response they need. Trolls pose a huge threat to your site. They take the relevancy of the topic for discussion and basically tear it up, put it in a blender, and set it on fire – causing users who could offer beneficial viewpoints and/or information for your site to take their high standards elsewhere or just remain silent to avoid the mess altogether. A troll is like a disease – infecting your site everywhere he’s allowed to spread to, killing your traffic, participation, and potential content. And perhaps someday, they’ll get their come-uppin’s… something like this, I hope.
The hard question for you is where you decide to draw the lines between the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. At what point are good comments considered bad. And what separates the bad commenters from the ugly Trolls?
There are some things that you can do to help enhance the quality of your site’s comments:
1. Get involved in your comments. Responding to commenters and thanking them for reading and commenting is a way of setting a stage of expectation. Encouraging people who express differing points of view is a respectful thing to do after they just spent their time reading what you had to say.
2. Moderate your comments. It’s your site. You have the right to decide what goes up and what doesn’t. However, this can hurt your participation level. Some people may feel like their comments are being ignored, judged, or completely squashed.
3. Block anonymous comments. Anonymity can be a great way to allow some people to express thoughts that they might feel should be repressed – especially if they’re well-known or in a “fishbowl” career such as a politician. But if things are taking a turn for the worse, forcing the creation of an account to be able to comment can keep emotions and behavior in check. Participation in a site’s discussions is a privilege, not a right. And as the site owner, you have the right to decide who gets to add their two-cents to your site.
4. Force a real-life login. This takes the “login to comment” rule to a whole new level and is becoming more and more popular among highly commented websites. Sites are forcing accounts to be formed from real-life accounts such as Facebook or other such social ID sites. It’s a way of telling trolls, “Sure – say what you want… but everyone might see you for the troglodyte you really are. Your call.”
5. Allow your visitors to handle the comments. Implementing a “voting” functionality on your site can allow all of your site’s guests the ability to show their support of a comment or user – or use the same ability to tell them to sit down and let the big people talk. Liked comments can get promoted to the top. Un-liked comments can get pushed to the bottom.
Obviously, there are more ways to skin the proverbial cat here. All I can do is assure you that comments, even those that differ from your view, can be add immeasurable value to your site – but to use this benefit to the maximum of its potential, the environment needs to be kept as a fair and fun field for everyone.