How to get more blog comments and discussion

On this post I will show 15 tips you can use to encourage discussion on your blog. The first step is to setup your blog in a way that it encourages the right kind of comments and when the platform is in order, it is building a discussion culture to your blog and start building a community.

If you are looking to encourage interaction between the readers, a bit like in forums, you need to encourage comments and replies as well. The number of comments in itself doesn't do anything. The purpose of this post is not only to get more blog comments, but to get the right kind of blog comments.

Introduction

This article was born when Cheryl (from That Girl is Funny) approached me to write a guest post for the BlogCatalog community blog. I wrote a post there called “how to turn blog comments into discussion”. The post answered the question Cheryl had in mind: How do some bloggers manage to get a conversation going with comments - almost like it's a forum? I have trouble enough getting people to leave comments. Is there something magical to do to get people talking to each other instead of at me?

In that article I listed three things that blog needs to encourage discussion in the blog comments:

  1. Blog (comment) setup that supports effective discussion
  2. Blog posts that ask for reader input
  3. Community that encourages discussion and sharing opinions

If the blog setup is not in order, getting blog comments is a lot harder. Ironically, the BlogCatalog Community blog’s commenting system wasn’t exactly “discussion friendly”. I only realized this after the post was published. Their blog commenting system has two major obstacles for good discussion:

  1. Blog commenting requires a login
  2. They don’t have threaded comments.

Most blogs have open comments and don’t require login, but not too many blogs have threaded comments enabled, so it’s a common “problem”. I’ve been running Disqus comments in this blog for a while now, and even that Disqus has its own flaws, it’s a great system to support discussion (which its name cleverly states).

But anyway, I feel that much was left unsaid on the guest post and I got some additional ideas from the blog comments that were left on the post despite the forced login, so I wanted to make even better post about the same subject.

I took the three things I listed on the guest post (blog setup, asking for comments and building a community) and expanded it into more detail, ending up with 15 tips on how to get more blog comments and how to turn blog comments into discussion.

Turning blog comments into discussion

Getting more blog comments and turning comments into discussion is more likely to happen with couple of key settings in the blogging platform in place, and more importantly by leading by example, replying to comments, and use couple of "techniques" on your blog posts and comments to increase the chances of others leaving comments.

Getting more comments to your blog and driving the discussion is somewhat tied to the blog platform you run on. Some blogging platforms support key settings by default, some require addons or plugins.

If you are using blogging platforms, where you can't do much in this regard, check if external blog commenting systems like Disqus or IntenseDebate for example could help. If not, concentrate on the posts and comments themselves.

So first, we'll take a look at the 3 important settings you need to check and enable if needed. And then we move on to blog comment strategies and the best practices you can use on individual blog posts and comments.

1. Enable threaded comments

Using threaded comments means that it is possible to REPLY directly to another comment and see if a comment is a reply to a previous comment. Without threaded comments, you can never have true discussion on the blog comments, or at least it will be enormously more difficult. Without threaded comments, the only way to reply to someone is to leave a comment and start it with @name or something.

The possibility to reply directly to other comments, and not just add your reply to the end of the other comments is the most important setting to drive discussion. Without this, even starting a discussion is hard, let alone to keep it going.

In WordPress, you can turn the threaded comments on by going to the Settings >> Discussion and enable the option under “Other comment settings”.

How to enable threaded comments in WordPress

The theme you are using must support threads, but as the feature has been available for years, all new and up-to-date themes should have the support built-in. Turning on the threaded comments does not “convert” the old comments to threads, since the reply-option is only available when it’s on.

Enable threaded (nested) comments X levels deep, where the X means how deep the threads go, a bit like you would make a list with several sub lists. Because of this, it is immediately visible which comment the other comment is a reply to, or is it a new comment.

  • First level
    • Second level
      • Third level
        • Fourth level
          • Fifth level
        • Another comment on fourth level
    • Another comment on second level
      • 3rd level
      • Still 3rd level
  • Back in the first
  • Etc.

If your blogging platform does not support threaded comments directly (many don't), you can look into external blog commenting system, like Disqus or IntenseDebate. Disqus, which I use, supports all major blogging platforms like Blogger, Drupal, Tumblr and (self-hosted) WordPress.

2. Show the number of comments

Make sure the number of comments is clearly visible. The large number acts as social proof. Showing the number of comments is something your theme or template has to do.

In many blogging platforms it is a default, but in case your blog theme does not show the number of comments or you think it should show them more clearly, consider getting a new theme or tweaking your existing one. (update: to customize WP theme yourself, check the intructions on how to show number of comments on WordPress.)

Also, when there are no comments, instead of "0 comments", blogging template or theme should display call to action, like

  • "Start the discussion!" or
  • "Be the first to comment!"

As mentioned in the beginning, I think the number of comments is not as important as the quality of the comments, but seeing that others have left comments as well is one of the best ways to encourage comments and thus, discussion.

3. Offer a way to subscribe to comments

To keep the discussion going you need to offer a way for people to subscribe to comments. This means giving the commenter an opportunity to get notified about new comments left on the post she commented on, the direct replies to her comment(s) or both.

This email notification will make people return to your blog, read the new comments and possibly leave additional comments themselves. Threaded comments, combined with the possibility to subscribe to comments not only increase the number of blog comments, but also increase blog traffic.

4. Have a clear comment policy

To keep the discussion going and moderate the blog comments, you need to have a blog comment policy. On this policy you can state the rules and tell that those who don't follow the rules will get their blog comments deleted and marked as spam.

Your comment policy should state at least if it is OK to

  • use keywords on the "name" (e.g. do you allow "keywords", "websitename", "[email protected]", "[email protected]" or just "name" or something in between)
  • add links on the comment text (e.g. OK when the link is useful)
  • be rude and/or spam (e.g. don't be rude and do not spam)

As an example, let me share you how I created my comment policy and why it is like it is...

My comment policy

Blog comment policy doesn't have to be complicated. As an example, I have two comment rules here on my blog:

  • Be excellent to each other
  • Use your real name

I general, I don’t like link dropping, where people insert their own URL to the blog comments, so that’s included in there as well, but that’s about it. I like to see commenters to use a real name and I've been very strict about it (unless someone connects with Twitter, as many have some kind of nicknames as usernames there).

(update / clarification after discussion about my comment policy: using "[email protected]" is fine, I just like to see the name there, and if you want to add your website, that's cool)

In general, I like to see less anonymity and more transparency and honesty online, or like I said on Twitter the other day: “If you do not want / "can't" use your real name when you do something online, why you do it at all?”

For me, it is all about genuine discussions and real people. I much prefer talking to Bob, Mary and Jane than to "insert your ad-filled niche blog name here" saying "nice post!" - I prefer answering the questions from people who actually read my blog post and seeing what they have to say.

Your blog comment policy might be something totally different from mine, and that is OK, it's your blog after all. I just wanted to share my views; how I formed my comment policy, based on what kind of blog comments I like to see and what kind of "web behaviour" I want to encourage.

5. Fight the spam

If your blog comments are filled with spam, the real comments and discussion will disappear into the mass, that is, if someone even wants to leave a blog comment in the first place with all the spam around.

Whatever blogging platform you use, enable anti-spam features, addons and plugins. For WordPress, Akismet is must and WP-SpamFree Anti-Spam is great addition. It doesn’t matter what system you use, but do use the means you got.

Even with the best anti-spam systems, some blog comments will always get through that are spam. And then you have to moderate. You must check all the comments, delete and mark as spam the ones that are against your blog comment policy and move on.

This is the reason why you need to have a clear comment policy, so you can delete blog comments without too much thinking. For example, if you say “use your real name” and someone doesn’t, you can remove the comment.

One additional way to moderate blog comments is to approve first time comments manually.

Moderate first time comments on WordPress

This means that when someone leaves their first comment, you must approve it before it appears. When the same person leaves a second comment, it appears automatically. In WordPress, you can find the option in the Settings >> Discussions (the same place where you can enable threaded comments).

6. Tell your readers how to comment

For most bloggers, blog commenting is like second nature. But for many blog readers, it’s not. Not everyone knows how to leave blog comments; some don’t even know what blog comments are and why you are asking for them.

Do one of these on your blog if you think your readers might need instructions on how to comment:

  • Write a post about how to comment on your blog (and link to it when needed)
  • Add simple instructions to the posts you want comments in
  • Link to another blog with good instructions on how to leave blog comments

7. Add call to action at the bottom of each of your posts

The single best way to get more meaningful blog comments is to ask for comments. If you end your blog post with a question or ask for your readers’ opinion, they are much more likely to leave a blog comment. Thus, keep your posts open ended and ask questions.

At the end of your blog posts, always encourage comments, or even ask a question. Like these that Darren Rowse presented on Problogger.net post, 7 Questions to Ask on Your Blog to Get More Reader Engagement:

  • What do you think?
  • How do you feel?
  • What will you do?
  • What is your opinion?
  • What is your story?
  • What is your experience or example?
  • What have you been working on?

8. Reply to as many comments as you can

Make people feel it's worth their time to comment. Reply to comments people leave on your blog, especially if you spot that someone left their first comment on the blog.

People like that attention, and since they have already taken the time to comment already shows that they are somewhat interested in what you say, replying to their comment increases the chances of making them a regular reader (and commenter!).

Others reading your blog and the comments see that you are replying to comments as well. Replying to comments is the key to discussion and you have to lead by example and reply to the comments to encourage others to reply as well.

As an additional bonus, most blog platforms and themes count your own comments to the total number and since you show the number of comments (as of tip#2); your own comments will increase the number.

Like with blog commenting in general, replying to comments works better if you add something to the discussions and not just thank for the comment. If nothing else, ask a question from the commenter, which leads us to the next tip...

9. Ask questions in your comment replies

When you have threaded comments enabled and you can reply directly to a comment, and that person gets notification for that reply, she is very likely to read that reply (because it is in her inbox). With that reply, you show personal attention to her, which in itself is great...

But what if your reply has a question for the commenter? You show interest to her ideas, and it's next to impossible for her not to respond (taken that she opted-in to the notification). Thus, similarly to adding questions and calls to action to the end of the blog posts, you can ask questions in your replies as well.

Don't force a question in every reply, but when you genuinely have a question in mind for the commenter, put it in your comment (for example, if you are not sure what the commenter meant, tell what you think and ask "did I understand you correctly?".

10. Have a discussion day on your blog

Write posts that specifically call for discussion. Start having a regular discussion day on your blog, e.g. Friday rant, Saturday discussion or similar. On these days, you would post a blog post with only short introduction from you to be the topic of the discussion, with specific questions and call to action to start the discussion.

  • Since the post is specifically asking for comments, and does only that, people are more likely to comment.
  • Add to the discussion by replying to people's comments with additional questions and ideas.
  • Keeping the discussion going and making it a regular event on the blog is a great way to begin building a community around your blog.

11. Use surveys and polls to drive the discussion

As Rich Hill pointed out in his comment on the BlogCatalog post, using a poll seems to inspire many additional comments. People tend to click on a poll more easily than leave a comment, and when they do, seeing the results might encourage them to say something in the comments as well.

You can use this tip together with the discussion day, adding a poll about the topic of the day, or taking the previous days poll as the topic of today. If the poll system you use allows customization, you could even test adding a question like “do you have a comment about the results?” when the guest sees the poll results.

12. Write posts that are controversial

This works on your normal blog posts and the discussion days. Write about something that divides people, and possibly have strong opinion on. The key in this is your opinion and then asking for your readers’ opinions.

For example, you can introduce two alternatives and tell what you think of them (or even leave your own opinion out of it). Then just ask what your readers think, or which of the two alternatives they prefer.

Each niche has something like this. "PC vs. Mac", "Cat persons vs. Dog persons", “DoFollow vs. nofollow” (for example, check the discussion here, when HotBlogTips removed DoFollow from their site) and similar "duels" where people are often passionately on one side. However, don't let this kind of discussion to fall into trash talk and bashing.

One way of controversy is being completely honest, speak your mind and show who you are - your guests want to know who you are, no matter what you think. Give them what they want. Or write an angry blog post or rant if you feel like it, don’t be scared.

13. Form a group of blogging buddies and comment on each other’s blogs

If you don't have much blog traffic yet or the people who are reading your blog are not commenting much, find fellow bloggers in the same situation and become discussion starters on each other’s blogs.

You can start this yourself by becoming a regular commenter on the blogs you read and connecting with fellow bloggers through forums and Twitter for example.

When you find a group of like-minded bloggers

  • start leaving blog comments on each other’s blogs,
  • reply to each other’s comments, and
  • reply to comments left by the readers (who are not in your "group").

You don't have to do this for every post, but it works particularly well for the discussion days. Add questions to those replies to carry the discussion on. When others see the discussion, with replies to comments, they are more likely to join. If you have just 2-3 other bloggers adding to the discussion, your other readers see that and it might encourage them to add to the discussion.

14. Break news

This is not for all bloggers, but if you end up writing a news-breaking blog post about a big event in your niche, you are very likely to have active discussion on that post.

Of course you need to have some traffic already and your post needs to get attention, but if that is in order, make sure it’s easy for the people to comment on that post and share their views.

You can utilize the tips above to make the most out of an event, and include polls and ask questions about what people think, etc.

15. Pay attention to what works and do more of that

This last tip works for various things and turning blog comments into discussions is no different. What works on my blog might not work on your blog. Perhaps your guests love polls and debate, but you don’t get many comments on the discussion days. So drop discussion days, and add more polls.

Just like analyzing and tracking your blog traffic, you can learn a lot by looking at what happens in your blog. If you are adding questions to your posts, what questions seem to get the most answers? Was there something special about the post? Do you receive more comments on the short posts or the long ones?

Further reading

In case you are interested in reading even more on the subject, you might want to look into these great posts:

Discussion

Getting discussion going on your blog is not easy, and it requires other people. But these tips will encourage blog comments and help you to start building the discussion culture on your blog.

But now I’d to hear about your thoughts on blog commenting and how you get discussions going on your blog? Do you use any tips I listed here, or do you have some other tactics others could try too?

On a post like this it goes without saying, but I say it anyway: comments are more than welcome and encouraged, so tell me what do you think?

p.s. If you have any questions you would like to get answered, contact me and ask anything. I will answer your questions via email and write a post like this sharing the tips with others as well (if that is OK with you). Or you can ask me to answer your question(s) as a guest post, like Cheryl did.

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