I like to introduce you to a new word. It’s ‘anopisthography’ – the practice of writing on one side of the paper. I never knew there was a word for that. Not that it matters these days since the Internet only has one side. I wonder what the word is for something that only has one side? There must be one? Unidimensional? Nah – paper has height and width. Maybe it’s just ‘flat’! I could look it up in the dictionary but, hang on a second, dictionaries don’t work that way. You can’t look up a definition and get the word you want. And that sucks. I guess I’m suffering from lethologica . . . the inability to recall a precise word for something. Another great word I would have found some use for over the years if only I’d known about it, and don’t get me started on apodyopsis, bathykolpian and colposinquanonia which you can find defined on this wonderful webpage: Unusual Words.
So what has all of the above got to do with commenting? Bear with me.
With few exceptions people write blogs so that other people can read them. In some cases they will restrict those who can have access to family and friends and I have no doubt that there will be blogs out there that function purely as diaries that no one bar the author can read. But most of us want to be read. I’m writing this now imagining that I’m communicating with people, people like Dave King or Lis Hanscombe or Art Durkee to list the first three that came to my mind. The reason these three were the first I thought of are because they pretty much always comment on my blogs and I on theirs and if I don’t comment I feel guilty as if I’m letting the side down a bit. It’s not a competition. I didn’t sign a contract or cross my heart and hope to die. I just think it’s polite if someone takes the time to say something meaningful on your site that you a) respond to their comment on your own blog and b) make a reciprocal comment on theirs which I then expect them to respond to. And that ties everything up neatly.
Of course I don’t always comment on their blogs. Art quite often just posts a handful of photos and I frequently can’t think of anything better to say other than, “Great photos,” which for some reason I feel is . . . not beneath me, but inadequate. If I’m going to say something then I like it to be meaningful, not necessarily clever or witty, but genuine. Of the three I probably comment more of Lis’s blog than the other two. Does that mean I like Lis more than I like Art and Dave? I’m not going there. The simple fact is she posts less than the other two. But if one day I didn’t comment I wonder if I’d find her sitting over her yoghurt in the morning wondering if I’ve stopped caring because I’ve not left a comment wondering what other blogs I was away reading perhaps younger, prettier blogs with photos and fancy fonts.
Blogs are not just about the writing. They can be. You can turn off comments and not display your e-mail anywhere and you can write away and not be read because that’s pretty much what will happen. Okay you might get read a bit – Google’s web crawlers get everywhere – but you’ll be so far down the rankings that it will only be the most determined who’ll finally discover your site.
If you’re going to play the game you need to know the rules. You need to know what people expect and what they will accept.
If you want to be read you need to go and stand where people are looking and do something to attract their attention. There’s no point in sitting in your own blog and being nine kinds of clever because no one’s going to look there. They’re looking at their friends blogs and Google and Facebook and all that other stuff that cries out, “Look at me! Look at me now!” A friend of mine who shall remain anonymous put up a post that excited me and so I shared it on Facebook and a couple of days later she reported that she’d got 65 hits that day, a huge hike from the handful she was used to and much as I struggle with it that’s what Facebook is good for, especially if you get someone promoting your work for you. But if it’s just you, you can still find ways to attract new readers and one of those ways is commenting on other people’s blogs.
Commenting on other people’s blogs does two things: firstly, it gets you a backlink, and, secondly, the odds are the owner of that blog will click on the link to your site to see who you are and if they like what they see you might find yourself with a new follower. Additionally others might follow that link and discover your site.
Why are backlinks important?
The answer is simple. Backlinks are important because they are seen as a type of credit given to you from other webmasters. Search engines give you more status for quality backlinks, especially if they are from other sites within your niche. The more status a site has, the higher it will rank (this is especially true in competitive niches).
If for example your site is geared for travellers, a backlink from a cruise site will give you great “bonus” points in the eyes of Google – especially if that site has a strong PR.
Backlinks are the bread& butter of online marketing for die-hard webmasters, and the key to ranking high in the search engines. – The Importance of Backlinks, WordPress Howto Spotter
See that hyperlink to ‘The Importance of Backlinks’, that’s a backlink. I’m not just acknowledging where I’m quoting from but tipping them. Okay they won’t get much of a tip because I’m small fry but a link from their site to mine would do me no harm whatsoever because they have over 15,000 subscribers. It would be much better if that link came from a site like Ron Silliman’s blog where he has the kind of readers I want to attract and occasionally I do get a link from him which usually gets me 100+ hits. Thank you, Ron.
So every time you make a comment you’re doing a little bit to promote your blog. You could, of course, sit at your machine all day typing in, “Great post. Love the blog. Keep up the good work.” but that wouldn’t work for long and if you go back to those sites in a day or two you might well find your comment deleted. No one likes to be spammed. Besides it’s never that simple, is it? Let me explain. The two backlinks above are fine – they’re in the body of the article – but backlinks in the comments are not automatically read. Most of these links are hidden from search engines without you knowing. Most of the high-ranking blogs add a "no follow" tag to your website link. This tag tells the search engine not to count this link which means you don’t get credit for the backlink. The tag can be removed manually, or switched to “do follow” but most people don’t mess with the settings. You can search for “do follow” blogs and here’s a link to a search engine that will do just that.
Of course after a while you develop relationships with people. I don’t see a post by Art Durkee and think: Ka-ching! Backlink time! but I nevertheless make a point every day of ensuring that I comment on a few blogs and every week I go out of my way to see what new blogs there are out there to ensure that my promotion doesn’t stagnate and if anything I probably put more effort into comments on new blogs because I want to give a good impression. This is not cold-hearted marketing. This is a very personal approach. Google is cold-hearted though. It’s a machine. It doesn’t care if I’m a nice guy or what. All it cares about are the backlinks but as I’ve said most of the times it ignores them anyway.
In all honesty I doubt most people comment on blogs purely for ulterior motives. I certainly don’t but I’m acutely aware of the many benefits that come from regular commenting both in the short term and the long term.
Why do people comment on blogs?
Someone said that reading a good blog post and not leaving a comment is like enjoying a good meal and not leaving a tip. I get the point but I don’t think that it’s that simple. It’s more often like eating your wife’s cooking and not at least offering to do the dishes. Comments enhance posts. Anyone who wants proof of that then pick one of Lis Hanscombe’s posts – pretty much any one will do – and start to read through the many, many comments some of which (yes, okay, mine but not just mine) can be quite involved.
There are loads of lists online suggesting why people comment. Ignoring self-promotion for the moment here’s my list:
- To state an opinion
- To start a debate
- To contribute to the post
- To ask a question
- To encourage the blogger
- To be polite
- To hear the sound of your own voice
- To satisfy convention / reciprocity
- To stop yourself feeling guilty for not commenting
- To network
- To develop a friendship
- To show off
- To correct a mistake
- To pick a fight
What’s probably more interesting is why people don’t comment:
- What you write is so complete, that I don’t know what to say except good job.
- You’ve taught me something I didn’t know, and I need to think about it before I even have a question.
- I get ready to type a comment, but I notice you only respond to a few friends who mostly share inside jokes.
- The folks who comment on your posts like to argue and I don’t.
- You rarely respond to comments.
- Your blog has geeky attitude and I’m not geeky enough to keep up.
- I really like your blog and your post, but I’m too tired, busy, or any one of a number things that you can’t control.
- You end your posts with a giant general question like “What do you think of the Big Bang Theory?”
- You put up a fence by making me login to comment.
- Your content wasn’t fresh and exciting, and I couldn’t find anything YOU inside it.
- Your post was negative. Negative is scary. Most folks don’t like negative stuff, because they know they could be next to be the recipient. I don’t comment, because I don’t want to be part of it.
I copied that list from and old post by Liz Strauss. At the time I did it had only received 573 comments.
Looking at the list I’d say the one I’m probably most guilty of it the first (though please feel free to disagree (and if you could voice your disagreement in the comments box I would be grateful)) but I think there’s a simple enough solution to that one: talk about you. As I’m writing this I’ve just posted my review of The Story of Mr Sommer which I describe as a children’s book for grownups. Who reading this blog has no experience of children’s books? It wouldn’t bother me a jot if someone was to tell me about their favourite children’s books growing up – mine were Enid Blyton’s retelling of the Brer Rabbit stories, the three 1963 editions illustrated by Grace Lodge – and I think a lot of people shy away from comments like that because they feel they should be complimenting me on my jolly good post. Sod that for a game of soldiers. If you say, “Great blog, Jim,” what’s left me to say bar, “Well thank you … you,” and where’s the fun in that?
Online marketing is an odd beast. I’ve struggled with it for over three years now and I’m no closer to taming it. But that’s the thing with beasts, there are ways of taming them but bullying them into submission is not always the best approach. Animals know when they’re being conned, when you’re not genuine and people do too even if they’re on the other side of the globe and all they’ve got to go on are a page full of squiggles. You can’t be businesslike and professional when it comes to blogging. Blogging is personal and you need to be personable. And genuine. The people whose sites I leave my comments on aren’t daft, they know that part of my reason is to promote ME but that’s okay. We don’t mind when some bloke knocks on our door to repossess the car as long as they’re nice about it and treat us with a bit of respect; anyone call fall on hard times.
Blogging is certainly not as simple as I first envisioned it. None of us started out blogging for the comments but once we start getting them we start expecting them. A while ago I posted a review of a pretty awful book and I got no comments – not a one, bugger all – and it stung although I would have no idea what to say if I’d come across the post written by someone else. The number of comments people leave says something about your blog as does the number of hits you get but no one would ever try to measure their personal worth with a tape measure and so we need to keep stats like these in perspective. And probably the worst thing any of us can do is compare the number of comments we get to what our friends get.
Now you know what you ought to do before you leave, don’t you?