Why blog comments are overrated

Bloggers love comments. They read every, single one even if they have hundreds. Some, like me, reply to every, single one. We like to use comments as a measure of engagement, to see how much of our audience is responding to our content.

I’m going to propose, though, that comments are overrated.

The problem is that instead of continuing to focus on reader engagement offline, which is difficult to measure, bloggers focus on getting more comments.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I used to care a lot more about comments. I’d go out of my way to get more, even if I got them without actually increasing reader engagement.

Here’s an example.

For my Christian blog, I used to visit dozens of different blogs, comment on their content, and try to engage with those bloggers. Because bloggers are the most likely to comment. I still think this is a good practice – making friends with other bloggers is definitely good.

But the target audience for that blog isn’t other bloggers. It’s Christians who aren’t already reading dozens of other blogs. Most bloggers don’t fit that description. Most bloggers either already read way too much online or have actively decided not to in order to create more time. Either way, they’re overloaded as it is.

Still, we try to capture the attention of other bloggers because they seemmore engaged than the rest of the audience. Bloggers share content. Bloggers comment. Both of those are easy to measure, so we generally assume this part of our audience is the most engaged.

But that’s not accurate. Bloggers are more comfortable with the tools to respond and share online, but they actually have less attention to give because they’re already so engaged elsewhere.

So my most engaged readers aren’t the ones who comment the most. They’re the ones who do something with whatever the blog’s talking about.

Sometimes I get email responses sharing personal stories or asking further questions. Those are the best. I hear from a few of my readers offline, which is also super encouraging. But for the most part, my most active readers don’t engage me directly. Instead, they go out and do something with my content.

As a blog reader, I’m the same way. I still do leave comments all over the place. I know it encourages bloggers and even coaxes them to produce better posts. But the blogs I’m most fond of? I rarely leave comments there. Maybe it’s because they already get dozens of comments or maybe because I’d rather share it instead, but I don’t think so. I think it’s because I’m more inspired to go do something with their content.

As I’ve switched my strategy over the past few months, I’ve seen the results. The overall number of comments I receive has dropped. But the traffic and subscribers numbers have continued to increase, and the rate of increase has increased as well, more than I would have expected. On top of that, the quality and number of email responses I’ve been getting has also gone up.

I’m more than willing to make this trade, at least as I see it now.

So don’t get me wrong. I still love comments. I still think they can work as a way to measure reader engagement. But I think we as bloggers should be more careful how much importance we place on comments.

Because the real engagement happens off screen.