Some thoughts on comments and comment spam

by DaniGirl on January 18, 2011 · 25 comments

in Meta-blogging

I‘ve been thinking about comments lately. It was Delurking Day the other day, and I got an interesting e-mail from a reader. She asked me why bloggers think comments are so important. She noted that we as site owners can plainly see the traffic, so why do we want people to comment?

I thought it was a good question, and I’ve had more time to think about it since I answered her. So, here’s my expanded answer, in case you were wondering the same thing! When I blog, I open up my life and my perspective for your entertainment. When you comment, you return the favour. Sure, I can see that someone from Nepean clicked over to my site on January 18 from OttawaStart.com, and I can tell that they found the content fairly engaging if that person then clicked on my ‘about me’ page and my archives and spent 15 minutes reading. (I love it when I see that!) But most of the time, all I see is a click in and a click out and I wonder — did you find what you were looking for? Were you entertained? Were you disappointed? Will you be back? What did you think?

And I wonder about YOU. Who are you and why are you here? Are you a mom or a dad looking for things to do in Ottawa with your kids? Are you a photo junkie, a government hack like me, a student? Are you looking for information about kids’ birthday parties in Ottawa or retractable beer handles or the reliability of google maps or TtV photography? (All of those are search hits from the last four hours, by the way!) Comments let me know what you like and what you don’t like, which influences what I write and post to a certain extent. Comments are good!

So when are comments bad? This is something that has come up a few times in various forms in my blogging career, but I don’t see a lot of discussion about this. When does a comment become comment spam? Most comment spam is obvious, and askimet and other spam filters do a good job of filtering most of the obvious spam out of the comment box. But what about when a real person is commenting with a rather obvious agenda of attracting eyeballs to his or her own site? I actually called someone on this once, when it got to be too obvious and I was feeling particularly feisty. That conversation did not end well, let me tell you!

And what about when people use the comment box for advertising? This is a sticky one for me, especially on really popular posts of mine, like the “40 free or almost free activities” post or the mom’s guide to birthday parties. People have commented something like, “Great post! I also offer XYZ service that I think your readers would really like! Come visit my site at XYZ.com!” To me, that’s free advertising at my expense, and I bristle at that. I’ve also deleted quite a few pitches posted as comments on my “about me” or “contact me” page. Pitches should be private and e-mailed, IMHO, and give me the opportunity to share and endorse or not as I see fit.

But am I being too sensitive about this? Should I allow this space to become a bulletin board for services? I mean, there’s no real harm done to me, unless that person would have otherwise paid for ad space — which I know they would not have done. So am I overreacting to delete advertising or pitches masquerading as comments?

As always, I welcome your comments! What do you think about the grey area between commenting and using the comment box to promote yourself or your service? Would you differentiate between a PR or ad firm using the comments to advertise versus a small business? Do comments-as-spam bother you as a reader? How do you deal with it on your blog? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Annie @ PhD in Parenting January 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm

In my opinion, it depends: [insert link to my brilliant post on the topic]. Just kidding!

But seriously, it does depend.
– If the link is completely unrelated to my post, it is spam
– If I wrote about the “topic of the day” and this person is going around and leaving an identical comment with a link to his/her own post on everyone else’s post on that topic, it is spam
– If I was asking for advice about a particular parenting or life situation and this person already has a brilliant 1000 word post answering my question, it is not spam
– If the person is a regular commenter, leaves a thoughtful comment about my post and includes a link to a very closely related post on their own site, it is not spam

But that doesn’t necessarily cover every situation. So…back to Point A: It depends.

2 SleegsSkees January 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Hi Dani,

A find your site engaging and when an article strikes a cord with me I usually comment. I think you and any other bloggers out there who’s work I read/review deserves my feedback. If my feedback is going to be negative (hasn’t happened yet) or too personal for you or me I’ll e-mail you directly.

As for the spam in comments/advertising. I don’t think you are being overly sensitive and appreciate that we don’t see that type of advertising here. It’s the same as when people monetize their blogs and I find it gets far to busy so I’d rather go read another blog that doesn’t have the distractions like yours.

Lee-Ann

3 DaniGirl January 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm

See, this is why I adore the comments. First two comments, totally different perspectives and experiences.

So Annie, your site is way busier than mine. If someone posted on one of your pro-breastfeeding posts pointing toward their commercial site making slings, would you permit? Just curious!

And thanks Leanne for recognizing that I do try hard to keep the ad clutter to a minimum. I know some people welcome the giveaways and other more commercial content and some are turned off by it. It’s a personal balancing act for each blogger, I guess, but I do tend to the less-is-more side of things!

4 CampingGirl January 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Blog comments are like getting mail (not bills), I get excited to see who took the time to read and respond to my thoughts. I also delete the “ad’s”, I often wonder if those people actually read what I write or if they just go from blog to blog and write a little blurb about their own products in hopes that it gets posted.
I live not far from you, I enjoy your pics of places that I know and love.

5 Annie @ PhD in Parenting January 18, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Dani:

It depends where the link was. If that person left a comment on my post and put their link in the “website” field, I would permit it. If they left a comment and included their link within the text of the comment without there being a really clear and obvious reason for doing so, then I wouldn’t permit it.

6 Elise January 18, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Hi Dani

Your post resonated a lot in me, as I am a moderator on Facebook pages for my job. And it’s hard to find the right balance between leaving the “conversation” happening and… well keeping it all on-topic and well-spirited.
In the case of a company, you need a policy.

I believe that in your own case, on your own personal blog, moderating comes down to what your guts are telling you.

Then as a reader, I can be annoyed and/or put off. Most times, I will ignore the obvious spam, and look through to see more interesting comments.

7 Windex January 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Interesting point – though I agree with the “it depends” As a reader a lot of advertisement in the comments would keep me away from reading them….I think I would appreciate a link more if someone personally sent it to you and you edited your post or posted again what people had to contribute.

8 2Hirondelles January 18, 2011 at 2:53 pm

As a reader, I pop in and out. Like many, if the post strikes a chord with me, I take the time to comment, and before I do, I read the other comments. If someone has posted a relevant link as described by Annie, I’m all for that type of additional content.

But, the sort of self-promotion/advertising links that Dani discusses in the post, I personally find very irritating and really prefer not to see. I appreciate that you purge them out, Dani.

9 Amy @ Muddy Boots January 18, 2011 at 2:55 pm

So I can’t use your comments section to try to steer your readers to my own blog?? Dang it!

Actually, I tend to be almost too cautious when it come to linking back to my own blog in others’ comments. Say, someone asks for easy, fun, supper recipes… I’d almost rather send them the links of twitter than feel like I was spamming their comments section. Not that I haven’t done it a time or two (when the blogger is asking for ideas), but I feel weird about it. Maybe I’m too sensitive, too.

As for deleting ads in your comments, please keep it up. I do often read through your comments and appreciate not having to wade through all that.

P.S. I don’t comment all the time, but do read each post. Sometimes I’m just too lazy to click through from my reader…

10 Paula January 18, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I love it when I receive comments and I rarely have readers using the comment box to post a link but when they have, it is a link to what they have done on their own site, related to my post. I choose to leave their link in. They were kind enough to visit and take the time to comment, the least I could do is click on their link and return the favour. If I were to get unrelated links posted for the sake of advertising, I would delete it.

11 Coco January 18, 2011 at 5:13 pm

I am a faithful reader of your blog but do not always comment as I am not in your demographic. I love reading your blog because we have met and I enjoy reading how much and how little has changed re: parenting since I was young working Mother.
I enjoy the comments almost as much as the blog.Keep up the good work, Dani.

12 bea January 18, 2011 at 5:41 pm

It has never occurred to me to see those comments as anything but spam. If an anonymous comment contains a link to a site selling anything, then it’s pretty much spam.

13 Mary @ Parenthood January 18, 2011 at 8:04 pm

I always leave my website and occasionally post a link in the body of my comments. I figure if someone actually cares about who I am then my own blog is where I hang my hat so to speak. I frequently meet new people through the website links on comments and frankly I find opinions by people who are quasi anonymous are less interesting somehow. Sorry to those of you who don’t blog!

In terms of links in the body of the message I only do that if I think that it adds to the conversation. I usually link to my own blog if I’ve already pontificated at length there. While I use my limited time to make a few more substantial comments here and there if I have something that was time-consuming to write chances are I’m not going to post it on someone else’s blog “for free”, especially if that blog seems like it isn’t 100% personal.

Which brings me to my main beef with posts like this. I have a 100% personal blog with an audience of a dozen people that I care about. Mostly it’s for my parents who don’t live in Ottawa. Other people are welcome to read and comment and I love getting to know other bloggers etc but when I write I focus on “my” audience.

Bloggers who write because of the “stuff” and attention they can get are much more dependent on their comments because they are trying to build a community which they can then leverage for their own personal gain, be it influence or profit or both. That’s why I personally feel this post is a bit … off-putting.

It’s a bit odd to complain about people who are your life blood in a way. If they aren’t leaving acceptable comments, why not just delete them? And/or tell them so?

I’m probably overreacting, but I hate that you’ve just made it so that I’ll be second guessing every link I post in case it’s erroneously interpreted by the recipient as “spam”

๐Ÿ™

14 Sasha January 18, 2011 at 11:28 pm

I worry about this as a commenter all the time – that anything that refers back to my blog might be interpreted as shameless self-promotion. I’ve even skipped leaving comments before, for fear that’s what ppl will think I’m doing! Ditto when there’s already a long list of comments – adding my “me too” seems kinda pointless if it’s already all been said. So, ummm, I guess I’m starting to get over that ๐Ÿ˜‰

15 JustAnOttawaDad January 19, 2011 at 12:22 am

Okay. So I missed delurking day.

Truth be told, I follow along regularily, but generally from a feed reader, and rarely visit the actual site. Before you get offended, I don’t go to ANY site that offers a feed, I just don’t have time. And when I do leave a comment, it’s usually because someone has posted something that I am extremely passionate about, and I don’t see how I could live without commenting.

(For example, the Lego guy is doing a birthday party down the street next month and I got invited to watch.)

16 Amber January 19, 2011 at 12:26 am

I think that blogging, at its best, is about community. And I also understand that when people leave comments, at least in part they may be hoping that someone will follow their link. When they leave a thoughtful and on-point comment, I don’t really see anything wrong with that. They want to participate in the community and have people visit them and that’s cool.

When people who are regular commenters leave a link to a post where they discussed the same thing, that’s not spam, either. That’s someone trying to contribute to the conversation.

I have had some comments, though, that didn’t contribute to the conversation, and were clearly deliberately selling something. I generally flag them as spam. I’ve had some that I can’t really evaluate, and I generally let those slide. I’m not overly fastidious, but I do try to keep the comments section for comments, not sales pitches.

17 DaniGirl January 19, 2011 at 6:20 am

Oh Mary, I feel so bad — never in a million years would it have occurred to me that this post would discourage someone from commenting, or that it would be perceived as complaining about comments. I was just curious about people’s opinions on that grey area between commenting for conversation and commenting for personal gain.

A few of you have said you leave links to relevant conversations on your blog, and that’s great. I love following the links back to commenters’ blogs, and I try to visit the blog of everyone who comments. I’m also grateful for links to other blogs or websites that are relevant to the conversation – that’s what we’re here for.

The one case of someone who I felt was abusing the comment box was really trying to control the conversation right here on my blog, in a way that was so obvious that other people starting asking me what was going on. That’s one case in almost 25,0000 comments! That’s not so much spam as bad manners, like trying to have a conversation with someone who only wants to talk about themselves.

I’m sorry if this post made anyone uncomfortable. Please be assured that any comment that tries to add to the conversation is not spam, and I am genuinely grateful for every single comment — that isn’t spam! ๐Ÿ˜‰

And OttawaDad, I am so not offended by people who only read from a feed reader. I’m very guilty of that one myself — I’m just honoured that you guys are reading!!

18 moosilaneous January 19, 2011 at 10:35 am

I generally don’t comment because I’m surreptitiously reading from work, and often using a reader.
And I missed De- Lurking day, altogether.

BUT, Dani, keep filtering the obvious spam for us, it is annoying to read. I love being able to click through to see the blog of someone who commented, or a great site they recommend – but there are clearly comment from people to trying to advertise unrelated websites – even my tiny blog got one of these!

Keep up the good work. I appreciate the Ottawa parent resources – whether its is an adventure you guys had or a listing of events. I love your photblogging and would love to hear more about your “real” work – anything hints or discussions about using social media in government/business. (Because evaluating this approach and creating some policy is becoming part of my job, it appears!) I love your stories of how you manage to keep all of this going, vacation blogging, the whole thing.
Gosh, I just love your blog. There ain’t much I can give back, there doesn’t seem much point to say “me too” too often, but I hope you know I’m with you.

19 Rebecca January 19, 2011 at 8:46 pm

I think that there is one thing to relay to your reader who originally asked about blog comments – I don’t think all bloggers look for or expect comments. Receiving them is wonderful, yes. But doesn’t necessarily drive everything.

I think the greatest benefit to blog comments is having a 2 way conversation. It’s always better right? Developing that relationship with a reader gives you a connection that is more meaningful. But not every post will connect. Some will be more information oriented, and depending on the blog that’s ok too.

But with Twitter and other ways to instantly communicate, readers may no longer comment. Instead, choose to engage in a different way to talk about a post or topic.

Sometimes I think we as bloggers get too worried about the numbers. Produce good content (for you or your audience, whoever you want to target as you’ve been doing ๐Ÿ˜‰ and find variety of ways to communicate.

๐Ÿ˜‰

20 Laura January 19, 2011 at 11:48 pm

I tend to be a lurker because I cannot think of anything “clever” to write, or other silly reasons. Once in a while I get brave and write something because I want the blogger to know I’m reading and enjoying the posts. Obvious self promoting links amuse me in small doses, but I’m glad you delete those. Wading through lots of them would be off-putting.

21 Hilary January 20, 2011 at 5:03 am

As a web editor/social media professional myself, I love comments and online participation and I know how frustrating it can be to try to build that. But realistically, the vast majority of online activity is passive and that’s OK. I was I was reading a piece the other day that more or less said, thank goodness not everyone comments all the time because the amount of discussion on blogs, forums and the like would be completely unmanageable! Like others have said, the comments I appreciate are the ones that have a point or move the conversation along – I hate commenting for the sake of it. [Hmm, not sure this comment is moving the conversation along ๐Ÿ˜‰ ]

22 andrea from the fishbowl January 20, 2011 at 9:18 am

I don’t have much time to read many blogs nowadays or leave pithy comments! ๐Ÿ™‚ I know many people are in the same boat, that’s why I deeply appreciate every comment that comes my way… even the short ones that say “great post!” Sometimes that’s all my poor brain can muster too!

For the most part I just write for myself. Comments, for me, are like icing on the cake.

I usually delete comments that are disguised as ads for products, but I’d never delete or think poorly of a comment left by an individual. They mean too much to me!

23 FireMom January 24, 2011 at 9:21 pm

I want comments because I like interaction with readers, especially on topics that I may need extra input on. It would be the same as going out for coffee with your friends, saying something, and having them walk away. That’s not how it happens. (Or, I hope not!) I hope we have a lovely exchange each week, even if we don’t agree on all topics over our coffee. And I view it the same way with blogs. It’s a social outlet. Be social. ๐Ÿ™‚

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