There’s a bit of debate in web dev and SEO-circles about whether or not having of comments on a blog post helps with search engine optimisation (SEO), which, if you don’t know, is how people alter their site to make it appear higher in Google’s search results for certain words.
It’s undoubtable that comments benefit the comment poster, if they know what they’re doing when they comment, and is why blogs attract so much spam – and why comment moderation, and services like Akismet exist. Link spammers post garbage comments on a post – comments that don’t contribute to the conversation, making their ‘name’ a keyword they’re trying to rank for in Google’s results, and their website as the site they’re promoting, in the hopes that the tired or unknowing webmaster will approve their spam, and they’ll get the benefit of the specially-formed link on another domain.
But do comments benefit the webmaster, and the site the blog post originated on?
I believe that they do, when you consider what SEO exists for in the first place; to make it easier for real human beings to find the information that they want online.
A comment adds content
Content is key in SEO; the more time you spend writing and refining your blog post for your readers, and making it easier for readers to locate the information they want, the more likely Google will send them to your site. The same can be said for comments – they add valuable content, and discussion, on a searchable topic.
A comment gives authority
If a person has commented on your post, the chances are that they have either a) solid knowledge on the topic and want to contribute more, or b) asked a question relating to the topic. This adds authority to your post because it means that real-world users found your post interesting enough to speak up about – and means that a new user searching for that information in the future may find their answer in both post and comment – or ask a question themselves.
A comment results in a re-crawl
Whenever new content is added to your website, Google (eventually) ‘crawls’ the page – that is, visits your website and scans it, which determines how relevant it is to however many keywords its algorithm says you should be findable under. Nobody knows exactly how quickly this happens, or how often, but it does happen each time you add new content, within a couple of days, and more frequently if you are more frequent with your content additions. Adding a quality comment to a post is adding content to a site – which will result in a re-crawl of the page, which means Google not only knows that your site is alive and fresh and kicking, but also gives you the opportunity to be considered for additional keywords that exist in those comments.
It needs to be legit, though
Google is getting better and better at spotting the SEO-optimising technique called “keyword stuffing” – where a content writer will spam the word they are trying to rank for in Google results, all the way through their post, making it silly, useless and unreadable to the human user.
The same would be true for spammy, keyword-stuffed comments; even if they give your blog post a fleeting moment of glory in search results, eventually, as the Google algorithm evolves, your site will likely be penalised for it.
Utilities such as Google Analytics will be able to tell you that your site is engaging readers, from which locale they’re coming from, how long they’re spending on your site, and so on. When you know your site is getting readers, how can you prompt them to speak up? The majority of readers are hesitant to comment on a post, particularly to be the first to comment on a post, and if someone really doesn’t want to say anything, they won’t.
But you can give your readers a little nudge occasionally, and once conversation is flowing, it will be easier to keep it that way.
Give them a gift for commenting
This is the easiest way of attracting comments; have a competition that requires users to comment to be in the running. It doesn’t have to be monetary, or even a physical item – if you are a writer, you could give away the name of a character in an upcoming piece, or a Q&A for the best commenter. There are plenty of things you can give away that won’t cost you a cent, but will mean the world to your readers, and prompt them to speak up.
Ask your readers questions
The easiest way to carry on a conversation is to ask people questions about themselves; the same applies to blog comments. People love sharing their way of doing things. So, ask your readers, in your blog post content, how they do whatever it is you’re talking about. Ask opinions, ask for help, ask yes or no questions. Someone will answer.
Have a group of first commenters
The most difficult hurdle to overcome with comments is getting that first comment on the page; many people will read a post, want to reply, but then notice that nobody else has commented and will leave. They don’t want to be first; maybe everyone else understood the post entirely and didn’t feel the need to ask that question; maybe the blog author isn’t approving comments or wanting to talk about it; maybe what they have to say on the subject isn’t all that important after all.
Talk to your friends, colleagues and family – the ones who you know do read your blog. Ask them to be your first commenters. Each time you post a new blog post, they can kick off the conversation for you, meaning you’re immediately over the first comment hurdle. Ideally, their comment will contribute to the conversation – but who doesn’t have anything to say or add to a well-written post, if they think about it?
As your blog gains popularity, and users become more confident, you’ll find you don’t need to prompt your first comment group all that much any more.
Comment on other people’s posts
There’s almost an unspoken guideline amongst blog writers to visit, read and reciprocate comments for their frequent, valued commenters. So, do some digging. Visit blogs in your niche and post your thoughts (ensuring you have your website linked to within it). Post polite, well-thought-out and interesting comments, and pretty soon you’ll have people interested in who you are, following you back to your own site, and commenting in return.
Make it interesting for humans and Google will follow
The weight a comment carries in SEO is a mystery, as is much of the Google algorithm, but one thing is certain; comments are good for users, which means you can make a fair bet that it is good for Google.
Your actual human readers enjoy comments that contribute to the conversation, and seeing conversation on your blog post will make them more confident to join in themselves, creating a snowball effect. And when you base your SEO strategy on what is good for real people, more than what is good for an algorithm, Google will reward you.
Have you seen your own site benefit from the power of comments? Interested in trying it out for yourself? Leave a link to your blog below – I’ll be happy to head over and be your first commenter, if you like, to test the theory out.