Should You Disable Comments on Your WordPress Blog?

Should You Disable Comments on Your WordPress Blog?

It’s exciting when readers of your blog take the time to leave comments on your posts. It’s often what makes the arduous process of creating content feel totally worth it at the end of the day.

Of course, you could always see how many people visited your posts in Google Analytics, but there is something especially rewarding about seeing them engage with it right on the page by leaving a comment.

Then again, there are times when those comments just aren’t welcome.

  • There is an entire plugin (Akismet) created specifically for the purpose of blocking spam comments.
  • Controversial blogs—even those simply trying to report on the news—may find their comment feeds filled with negative and hateful commentary. Disqus, the creators of a popular commenting plugin, is currently debating what to do about this matter.
  • There’s also the fact that comments take time to sift through and respond to—time you might want to spend on other business-related matters that generate a greater ROI.
  • Or maybe you only receive one or two comments on your posts and don’t believe it’s an accurate reflection of the kind of search traffic or quality of traffic your blog gets.
  • Then there are those who will argue that social media is a more effective commenting platform and that on-site comments are no longer necessary.

Clearly, there are a number of reasons why you might want to disable comments on your WordPress blog. But since you aren’t the first person to make that decision, let’s see what the research says about disabling comments and check out some examples of bloggers and news sites who have blazed the trail before you.

Disabling Comments: What the Research Says

For some of you, comment threads will be a welcome addition to your website. Look at the WPMU DEV blog as an example. The comment sections are a great place to engage with the writers, the developers at WPMU DEV, as well as your peers in the web development community. Comments tend to be helpful and insightful and really add value to the experience of reading content found here.

WPMU DEV comments

For some websites, leaving active comment boards like this open will make sense. For others, it won’t and that’s fine. If you need help turning off WordPress comments or need to delete/archive old ones, check out how to do this here.

Before you do that, however, I’d urge you to take a look at the following research and real-life cases that demonstrate the pros and cons of disabling blog comments.

Neil Patel’s Findings

In research conducted by Neil Patel, he found little proof that comments make a significant contribution to SEO. He did say, however, that 16% of his own site’s search traffic comes from keywords found in his blog comment threads. Of course, Patel typically receives hundreds of comments on each post, so his observation likely isn’t applicable to the average business blog.

ShoutMeLoud’s Findings

Harsh Agrawal argued the opposite. He believed that relevant and high-quality comments play a significant role in your post’s search ranking. He inadvertently demonstrated this point when he set out to improve his site’s commenting system.

What he did was remove the standard commenting feed on his site—effectively deleting all of the comments that had been there before—and replaced it with the Google+ comment system. As a result, there was a 40% drop in search traffic over the course of two days. He concluded then that comments (plus the keywords and page length they add to a post) do actually contribute to SEO.

Fizzle’s Comment Debate

Fizzle interviewed two popular bloggers to find out why one chose to disable comments and one opted to keep them put.

Everett Bogue’s blog, Far Beyond the Stars, has about 70,000 visitors every month. He turned off commenting as a sort of “test”. After observing the results of his test, he decided to leave comments off for good. Here is why:

  • Comment moderation was eating up too much of his time.
  • The more he heard from his readers, the more inclined he felt to write on topics that helped clarify their questions or confusion, which he believed compromised his creativity.
  • He discovered that only 5% of visitors to his blog were responsible for all comments. When he drilled deeper into who these people were, he found that only about a quarter of them were followers who appreciated the blog and wanted to have an honest discourse.

Pat Flynn’s blog, The Smart Passive Income Blog, has roughly 80,000 visitors each month. Each post of his receives at least 50 comments. He argued to keep comments because:

  • Comments create a more well-rounded argument.
  • He believes that readers have the right to be heard.
  • He also thinks that responding to readers lends credence to the idea that there’s a real, caring person on the other end of the blog.
  • He learns a lot about what interests his readers and in turn uses their feedback and insights to write better content in the future.
  • Comments are a great way to collect social proof on your site.

NPR’s Findings

Piggybacking on top of what Everett Bogue noted about his readership, NPR found a similar breakdown of readers-versus-commenters on their blog.

  • In a single month, NPR had roughly 33 million people visit their blog.
  • During that same time frame, 491,000 comments were left.
  • Only 19,400 people were responsible for leaving those comments, which meant that .06% of readers left comments.

In the end, NPR decided to ditch the commenting system which often ran far over budget (they had to pay more as the number of comments grew). Since it was clear only a small portion of readers were leaving comments, they decided to close down commenting and direct readers to the much cheaper-to-manage social media platforms.

What Happened to Websites that Disabled Comments?

There have been a number of notable blogs that disabled comments in the past. Some ultimately backtracked on that decision and turned them back on. There are others who remain comment-less and seem perfectly content with that decision. And then there are a few who are somewhere in between, with a commenting system in place but more stricter moderation to keep tabs on what readers are allowed to place on the site.

Here are some examples:

Copyblogger

Back in 2014, Copyblogger announced that they were going to remove comments from their blog. They did it for a number of reasons, though it seems that the primary issue was how much time it took them to manage and respond to them.

Copyblogger comments

In 2016, they changed course and decided to bring comments back. They believed that receiving direct feedback on the site and having those conversations with readers was important. However, in order to get around the issue of time spent managing comments, they put a seven-day limit on how long each board would remain open.

Michael Hyatt

Virtual mentor Michael Hyatt yanked comments from his site years ago. The primary motivation behind this move was to do away with the Disqus commenting tool which had suddenly started to monetize the platform. He believed this made for an intrusive experience with readers and he wanted to be done with it. He also believed that social media was a better battleground for comments to take place on.

Michael Hyatt comments

After discovering a drop in traffic in 2015, Michael Hyatt decided that commenting had played a role in the performance drop. As a result, he brought comments back. He noted a number of reasons for this move, including a desire to encourage dialogue, to create a sense of community, and to centralize all his readers’ comments in one place.

Gawker Media

A few years back, Gawker Media’s stable of web properties was facing an onslaught of graphic content uploads within their comment feeds. The temporary solution to fix the issue was not to remove the commenting system. Instead, they decided to disable all image and video content uploads within comments.

Gawker Media comments
Gawker Media comments.

Once they had the problem under control, they put a long-term fix in place: a pending commenting system. They believed that by doing this, they could safely continue to have media-rich conversations with readers and ensure that the experience would not be tainted by trolls who wanted to upload harmful content.

Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Tribune is another online publication that decided not to do away with commenting when faced with trolls who tried to use their website as a place to spew hate speech and try to stir [email protected]#$ up. Here is the official reason they gave:

“They say a hostile atmosphere not only keeps them from commenting, but it can keep them from spending time reading our stories. We believe a commenting platform for our subscribers—our most loyal and presumably most frequent readers—will create a well-lit environment for robust discussions on the news and issues of the day.”

Chicago Tribune comments

Many people were unhappy with the Tribune’s choice to only allow comments from paying subscribers; however, the decision allowed the newspaper to keep community discussion flowing without having to subject them to irrelevant and harmful discourse.

Blog Marketing Academy

David Risley, the man behind Blog Marketing Academy, disabled comments in 2016 and has yet to reverse that decision. In his experience, blog comments:

  • Had no effect on SEO unless there were targeted keywords used within them.
  • Did not affect the perceived quality of his website or his business’s revenue.
  • Were mostly spam and he didn’t want to spend time weeding through them.
  • Took up valuable real estate at the bottom of each post.

So, instead, he chose to carry out discussions with his audience as they related to his blog content on social media. He’s built a private community on Facebook which is especially active in engaging with him in fruitful discussions.

News Websites

In general, online news blogs are the ones who have really had to grapple with this idea of whether comments are worth keeping around. All of the issues mentioned above entered heavily into this debate and are what ultimately drove publications like Reuters, The Week, and Popular Science to shut down their commenting systems entirely.

Wrapping Up

Perhaps you have the time to monitor and respond to every comment that comes through. Maybe you already have things under control by using a pending commenting system that keeps trolls at bay. And maybe you find that there is a lot of value—for your readers as well as for your site’s SEO—to keep comments around.

As always, the decision to disable comments on your WordPress blog is something you’ll need to make on your own. No two websites are alike, so what worked for Neil Patel or for Popular Science might not work for your blog. This is about assessing the real value of including or excluding comments on your blog and then developing a solution that’s right for you.

Brenda Barron
Over to you: Are there any blogs that you actively participate in leaving comments for? Do you find that the comments section adds value to your experience in reading them?