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Should You Turn Off Comments?

keep-calm-never-read-the-commentsIn putting together the Day One Advice, Mike Piper of Oblivious Investor told me something I found shocking.

His advice? Don’t be afraid to turn off comments.

What!? Turn off comments!? Are you nuts!?

Comments have been a part blogs since the beginning of time itself. It’s such a popular idea that news outlets have integrated comments to their articles, in the hopes that it increases engagement. Comments are integral to blogging and few people have considered removing comments entirely.

Mike is a seasoned blogger who has been writing Oblivious Investor for many many years. He’s found tremendous success taking his knowledge and codifying it into eight digital books he sells on Amazon. So when he told me he shut off comments on his site, I perked up.

Here was his advice:

Mike Piper, Oblivious InvestorDon’t be afraid to turn off comments, once it feels like the right thing to do. I found that most comments on my sites were (1) “Great job”-type comments from other bloggers. Just personal preference, but those drive me crazy, and I deleted every one of them. (2) Questions. They’re great but I’d rather get them via email and answer the question as a future article instead of in the comments where very few readers would see the reply. (3) Political crap.

I eventually realized that I didn’t enjoy spending time dealing with comments, and I was doubtful that they served any significant business purpose. But I worried (for roughly two years) that turning off comments would make people angry.

Earlier this year, I turned them off. I wish I had done it sooner. The questions still come in via email. I don’t have to spend time moderating. And the handful of people (maybe 10-15ish) who used to write informative/insightful comments still share their thoughts via email, which is great.

He’s hardly alone. When I sought out other examples, I found many. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits doesn’t have comments.

Mainstream media outlets are also joining in the demise of comments. Popular Science did it in late 2013 and New Yorker dug a little deeper.

Shutting off comments is perfectly OK, it will not kill your blog.

Is it the right thing to do?

Why You Should Shut Off Comments

Mike shut it off because they did not add value to the articles he was writing. Knowing him personally, I know he’s an analytical person and I doubt he made this decision on a hunch or whim. When I asked him, his answers illustrated how analytical he was about it.

He told me that he broke down the types of comments on his site and realized he didn’t want any of them! They were a mix of political statements that distracted from the articles meaning or they were “great job” comments that commenters were leaving in order to get a link back to their site. Both of those were not adding value, so he didn’t want them.

There were, however, comments that he did want to see – reader questions. He just didn’t want reader questions in the comments where few people would see them. He wanted readers to email him the question so he could turn it into an article. An article would be far more helpful to the reader and it had the potential to help more than one person.

In a recent post, titled Automatic Investing with an Unpredictable Income, he answers a reader question in much greater detail than he could’ve in a comment.

For Mike and his business, it was a smart decision to shut off comments. It freed up time for him to focus on things that were important and it added value to his readers.

You should shut off comments on your site if it makes business sense.

How do you determine this? You need to look at your comments and decide:

  • Are the comments adding value? Subtracting value?
  • Are you spending an inordinate amount of time moderating comments? Spam?
  • Is your audience engaging with each other in comments?
  • Are comments the best way to package that information?
  • Does community engagement further your business?
  • Would anyone miss it if comments were gone?

Take a quick peek at the comments of any large general site, like on ESPN or Yahoo!, and they are mostly horrible. There’s a lot of racism, anti-Semitism, things about your mom, dad, your sister, … you get the idea. The ones that require a social media login, like Facebook, are a little better but they’re still mostly horrible.

Why You Should Keep Comments

Comments are still a measure of social proof. A blog post that has a hundred comments is often considered more popular than one with ten comments. The one with fewer comments might get more traffic but since readers can’t see traffic statistics, comments are the only visible proxy.

Comments make a blog a blog. A blog is about community and you can’t build or foster a community if the site is just a pulpit. Mike’s site is little more than a fancy brochure with a way to email him. For him and his business, that’s the way readers want to use the site and that’s why he shut off comments. As a blog owner, you have to realize what you’re building and adjust so that you can provide the most value. Mike’s value is in writing value-packed books, not moderating comments that add little value.

Would his readers rather him spend an hour a day moderating comments or an hour a day writing another book? The latter for sure.

Comments alone don’t create a community, it requires work on your part. If a community is something you want and it furthers your business goals, then fostering that community is important.

Is there a middle ground?

Yes. If you have a good mix of horrible and less horrible comments and you want to keep the less horrible ones, authentication is the best defense against trolling. As the New Yorker piece illustrated, anonymity is what makes people act like monsters.

It’s what leads people to write things on the Internet that they’d never say out loud, let alone to another human being.

You can authenticate with tools like Disqus or integrating a Facebook commenting platform. Using those tools will reduce the number of comments your blog gets but it should increase the quality. If your readers truly want to engage, an additional login will not deter them.

Have you considered shutting off comments?

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Jim

In 2005, I founded a personal finance blog (Bargaineering.com) that became successful enough that I quit my career as a software developer in the defense industry. It is my goal to share everything I learned so that you can do the same - build an online business that let's you pursue your passion.

6 responses to “Should You Turn Off Comments?”

  1. Adam says:

    Good job. 😉

    In all seriousness, I’ve removed comments on some blogs and I found the quality of conversations increases when it happens over email. People can be more themselves and more candid (especially when it comes to finances) because the discussion is not in public.

    • Jim says:

      That’s a great point, when you are emailing you lose anonymity and you don’t have to put your dirty laundry out in public, so you can be more honest.

  2. Actually, I have been considering disallowing blog comments as well. I also get the good job comments, the questions ( which could be turned into articles) and also I get internet trolls. I do not think that comments really add that much extra value to an article. If someone wants to contact the author with a question or comment, they are more than welcome to email.

    The real reason I actually am really leaning towards not allowing comments is because I have a few internet trolls which are trying to pick fights with me. These take time of my day to moderate their bs, which I would much rather spend analyzing companies or writing articles.

    I really enjoyed the comment about the ratio of comments to page views. I don’t think many other bloggers realize that the site with the most comments might not be the most popular by number of readers. In my site, I have found that I get very few comments, but I am pretty sure that my site is probably in the top 2 – 3 in the niche based on traffic. Yet, I know that many new bloggers in my niche do not link to me or mention me, because they probably consider my site low traffic, and probably not worth their time. What good is an article with 100 comments, if every reader leaves a comment versus an article with 1 – 2 comments but say 3000 – 4000 page views?

    • Jim says:

      I never understand the mentality of trolls, it seems like so much effort to just be a pain in the ass.

      Yeah, many years ago I thought more comments = more traffic. While that might be true, sometimes people just don’t have much to say on a particular topic and I only learned that when I had Friday “Your Take” posts where I specifically asked. Then the comments would come out.

      I suspect, based on your articles, people don’t really have much to say given how thorough you are in your analysis.

  3. Carrie Smith says:

    I recently followed Mike’s advice in January and turned off comments to my blog as well. I receive some great questions via email now, and I still have my private community forum where I can interact with my real audience. If readers want to chat in real time, I always encourage hopping on Twitter. I like the idea of using Facebook comments and may turn that on if I decide I want comments again. Right now it helps me focus on quality writing (instead of writing to receive comments) and I still get a good amount of shares and interaction. So far it’s been a win!

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