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Does Allowing Comments on Your Site Help With SEO?
Some companies see the comments section of their website blog page as a waste of time, as a potential home for trolls and spam links, and unimportant nonsense that hurts their SEO. Other companies see it as an effective tool to use to boost their page rankings and edge out the competition for that all-important top spot on the search engine page. Most companies, though, are just confused about the section in general and how to best leverage it for their benefit.
If the comments section of a site is not managed properly it will, at best, have no effect on SEO and, at worst, actively hurt it. If the comments section is done right as part of a larger SEO strategy that revolves around high-quality content, there can be some major benefits. These benefits can help not only SEO but your overall brand and content strategy as well.
Here we will look at the pros and cons of comments sections on websites and blog posts. We will go through the SEO benefits, the UX and human benefits for your brand, and the pitfalls of an unmanaged comments section. In the end, we will answer the overarching question, does allowing comments on your site help with SEO?
The Algorithmic SEO Benefits of Comments Sections
Search engine optimization (SEO) helps your page show up higher on the search results page in Google (and other, less popular search engine) searches. The algorithm Google uses to determine where on the results page a site shows up isn’t fully known but we do have an idea of what helps boost SEO. Here are a few ways that a comments section can help your site do better with search engine algorithms.
Adds Word Count
One of the most important aspects of SEO is word count. There are other factors at play in determining what content boosts your SEO, but all things being equal, the search engine algorithms prefer longer, high-quality pieces. One of the biggest algorithmic SEO benefits of a comments section is that the algorithm will read these comments as part of the main text of your post, which will up the word count and boost the ranking of the piece.
The comments section differs in this way from other words on the page, such as content you will find in the header, footer, or sidebars of the page. These pieces of the page are relatively standard on every page, so they’re not counted as part of the content. The comments, however, are always changing and, ideally, adding to the content to become even more useful for the person visiting the page.
These comments, when they are pertinent to the overall usefulness of the page and ever-evolving, make the content better from the Google algorithm’s point of view. This is especially helpful for sites with shorter posts.
While Google rewards longer posts, not every post will lend itself to that. This means that if you can’t or don’t produce long content, but you can produce comment-provoking shorter content, you will be rewarded with an SEO boost in the same way you would with a longer post.
We will cover the benefits of responding to comments in a later section, but this is something that will help with the word count as well. It takes the pressure off your content creators to create longer posts and is something you can add to with replies later. And, the comments you get for free, with no additional time or capital investment from commenters, make comments sections the gift that keeps on giving.
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)
Getting a little deeper into the weeds of SEO and search algorithms, comments can also help develop your LSI. This is part of the search engine algorithm related to keywords. To boost SEO, your posts will feature certain keywords that help the search engine algorithms identify what your piece is about and match that with the keywords that a person is searching for. LSI takes those keywords and expands on them to give users even more helpful search results.
When commenters use words that are similar to your critical keywords but not identical, LSI can help Google recognize the value of these related terms. This helps build and more effectively send traffic to your page even if the searcher isn’t typing the exact keywords you feature. Commenters who write relevant comments using the terminology of the topic or industry you are writing about are helping to develop the important LSI for your page.
If you post an article about improving SEO in your site’s blog section, for example, you may not mention LSI in that specific post. If, however, commenters start discussing LSI in the comments section, the actual LSI will pick this up. When people search for LSI, even though it may not be specifically mentioned in the post, it will be connected to your post and, in turn, your post will be ranked higher on the search page.
There are varying levels of belief on how effective LSI is in boosting your SEO. While most, if not all, SEO experts will agree that it does boost your page rank, because Google and other search engines do not reveal the exact balance of their algorithms, some experts will tell you LSI is lower on the list of importance.
For this reason, allowing your LSI to be boosted through comments is a great idea. You do not have to spend a huge amount of time or any money on increasing LSI if you don’t believe it is highly important for SEO. A comments section will give you a free LSI boost that you can use without having to invest much in.
Keeps Content Fresh
One more thing to know about the Google algorithm is that it gives some preference to newer content, depending on the topic. Google does this because what was relevant 6 years, 6 months, or even 6 weeks ago will, in some instances, not be as relevant to the reader as content updated just recently. How do you keep content fresh that was written a while ago? Through the comments section.
If you posted an article a week, some months, or even years ago, one new comment may not change much in terms of your site’s SEO. But, if there is a recent, high-quality discussion in your comments that breaks out after the article is published, this can trigger Google to see your page as fresher and therefore deserving of better SEO.
This illustrates why it is so important to feature relevant, engaging, and evergreen content on your site. It also shows why a well-managed comments section is so vital. If you manage spam and moderate out any inappropriate comments, so that good, discussion-provoking ones can stand out, you have a better chance of new comments and new discussions coming in well after the publishing date--which is great for SEO.
A Note About Quality and SEO Benefits
One thing to keep in mind that is shared by all three of the benefits listed above is that the type of comments matters. In order to reap the benefits of added word count, LSI, and constantly updating content, the comments need to be generally high-quality non-spam comments. If you have a comments section that is not tended to and maintained properly, the spam comments can build up, take over, and ruin any of the benefits that a comments section brings.
The Google algorithm can recognize the difference between real, quality posts from real, engaged users and spam from bots and other non-helpful posts. When the algorithm finds too many of these, the comments section can actually hurt your page and drive its SEO down. This is why quality in everything you do on a page, including the comments section, is of the utmost importance.
The Human and UX Benefits of a Comments Section
Increasing your site’s SEO has a lot to do with the algorithm but not everything to do with it. You may be able to pull out every trick in the book to game a search engine algorithm, but if your page is not useful and engaging to real people, you are wasting your time. Here are a few ways that a comments section can go beyond the technical SEO benefits and benefit human users and upgrade the user experience (UX).
Building a sense of community
The difference between having and not having comments on your website is like the difference between a lecture and a discussion. A lecture can be good. People learn a lot and appreciate the sharing of knowledge. Generally, people appreciate a discussion more where they can learn from you, ask questions, and share their point of view as well.
This is why comments can help build a sense of community. People will feel like they are involved in the site and want to come back and comment on what is posted next. They also will come back to check in on the answer to their question or others' reactions to their comment in the discussion. This not only builds that community feeling but also helps drive repeat engagement, which is good for the SEO and the user experience.
In an active comments section, you will also be able to gauge who your post is speaking to and what they think about what you post. When commenters come back to the section repeatedly and offer thoughts and other observations, you will be able to develop a picture of who is in this community that builds around your posts and brand. This type of demographic and sociographic info is helpful in building a great brand as well as a great site.
Build brand loyalty
In today’s day and age, consumers are looking for more from a brand in order to show brand loyalty. It is not just about the look or the feel of the brand; it is about the overall experience that the brand offers, and some of that is about interacting with the brand.
In 2020, with blogs and social media and all the other forms of marketing communication out there, consumers expect their favorite brands to be dynamic and responsive to their wants and needs. An active and moderated comments section where people can get responses to their questions or statements is a huge step in building brand loyalty.
When you have a moderated comment section where a real person responds to the comments, you will attract loyal readers. In addition to the fact that it builds community (as discussed above), it also helps attract loyal readers by making users feel like they are actually seen and heard by a brand.
The other, simple reason that a comments section helps build brand loyalty is that it is nice to have the author or site engage with you. The internet can be a cold and faceless place. Many commenters are absolutely fine with screaming their comments into the void but when the author or moderator actually talks back, it is a very cool thing.
Helps with content creation
Just like latent semantic indexing finds keywords in the comments that might not be directly in your post and uses that to increase SEO, content creators and site managers can use discussion topics and questions in the comments section to discover hidden, niche topics that may interest your readers. This can be a tremendous help with your content creation going forward.
Finding new, interesting, and engaging topics to create topics around can be difficult. When you are just starting out, you may find that coming up with exciting topics is easy. As you post regularly and the ideas start flowing a little slower, you may still be able to easily do a little research or look at similar sites to get topic ideas. Once you have created a long-running, consistent blog though, it is normal that coming up with new topics gets harder and harder over time.
A robust comments section is a great way to combat this phenomenon of diminishing fresh content ideas. When you take the time to read the responses to an article and answer the questions that come from them, you may find that you can mine many fresh content ideas from that area of your site.
Not only will this practice benefit your site and your content creation people, but it will also help in the other two areas mentioned above. When readers feel like their input is helping to drive future content, they will get an even greater sense of community, which will ultimately lead to a stronger sense of brand loyalty.
Ways a Comments Section can Hurt Your SEO
The comments section on your website or page should not be a “set it and forget it” situation. In order to take advantage of the SEO, UX, and human benefits that come with a well-functioning comments section, the section must be properly maintained and moderated. If not, you may not only lose out on the benefits but actually have a comments section that downgrades your SEO and hurts the user experience. Here are a few ways that a comments section can hurt your SEO.
Too Many Links
If you are not carefully curating your comments section, it can turn into a land of outgoing links where spam comments reign and there is no useful information or discussion that users enjoy. This will ultimately lead to fewer comments from real people and all the advantages, from an algorithmic and a human and UX perspective will disappear. It will leave you with a comments section wasteland that can seriously damage your site and even your overall brand.
These outbound links that spam commenters, often in the form of bots, put on your page are designed to pull people off your page and into the dark (or at least fairly gray) recesses of the internet. It is not a good look either, as most savvy internet users will see these outbound links as spam and will end up giving your page less credibility in their minds.
In addition to discouraging the people that a comments section is designed to capture and engage, Google’s algorithm will also punish your site if it is a hotbed for unrelated outbound links and other forms of spam. The algorithm will see this and deem your post or entire site less helpful to searchers. This will hurt your SEO and push your site further down the page or even worse… to the dreaded second page!
Lower Keyword Density
Keyword density is how often the important keywords you need in a post appear on your page. It is given as a percentage of the total words on the page. There is no set percentage of keyword density that is given by search engine algorithms but most SEO experts will tell you that the right number is in the neighborhood of 1% - 2%. This means that the keywords will appear once or twice in every 100 words that are written.
As we established above, one of the algorithmic benefits of a comments section is that it adds to the total number of words of your post from the Google algorithm’s perspective. This is good for all the reasons mentioned above but can also be bad if the comments aren’t the right kind of words.
What we mean is that short, simple comments such as “nice article,” “agreed,” or “thanks” will not do much for your SEO. In fact, too many of these comments can have the opposite effect and hurt your SEO if there are enough of them to lower your keyword density.
Engaged, thoughtful responses where people give their opinions, ask questions, expand on the topic at hand, or even disagree with your articles will usually not only be longer but also will be littered with the keywords you want. Useless platitudes that don’t add keywords can kill your keyword density ratio, especially on shorter articles, if there are too many.
This doesn’t mean you should erase or explicitly discourage these types of comments, especially if they are positive overall. What you can do is have a moderator respond to these types of comments to draw out more detailed comments from the user.
These types of comments can also give you valuable insights into the type of content you are producing. If the content is not delivering passionate, interesting, detailed responses, maybe you need to shift the type of content you are making to be more engaging. No matter what the reason or the remedy, keep an eye on keyword density as it relates to the comments on your site.
Does allowing comments on your site help with SEO? The short answer, as you may have gleaned from above, is yes. Comments on your site help in a number of ways with SEO that you can take advantage of to give your site a helpful boost up the Google search results page.
However, there is a caveat with that “yes.” A comments section will only help you if you have the time and skill to manage it properly. When the comments section is left unattended and spam or problematic comments reign, this section can do more harm than good. If you can do day to day maintenance so that the section does not harm your site, by all means, do it. If you already know this is not something you have the time or wherewithal to do, it is probably better that you turn the comments section off or leave it out entirely.
If you do not currently have comments enabled on your site, it may be worthwhile to give it a test run. Yes, this section does take a little more effort than not having one, but the whole endeavor is not incredibly difficult or time-consuming, especially if you already have a healthy content program in place. And the advantages to your SEO and your brand can make comments well worth it.
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