Should Websites Delete Comments, Ignore, or Reply?
Seems like such a basic question if you’re running a Web site: do you allow comments, and if so, do you approve them all for publishing or filter them? There are lots of nuances in this area, however, and it’s worth spending some time considering all of your options and how they might affect both your success online and the impression visitors get when they come to your site.
I’ve been at this a while and can share with you some precise criteria for how you should go about handling comments on your site. Below, I’ll highlight when visitor comments make sense, and when they might now.
Allow or block comments?
First off is the fundamental question of why you’re publishing content in the first place. Is it just to gain traffic and earn revenue through advertising? If that’s the case then all visits are good visits and anything that appears on the page has a chance of bumping your content into the ‘active’ category on Google and thereby garnering more traffic. In that case, you’ll want to allow just about all comments other than the most crass spam or wildly off-topic entries.
However, there are certainly other ways to improve how your content ranks in search engines that are more effective.
If you’re trying to promote products, a product line, or perhaps some service offering, then it gets a bit more subtle because you don’t want competitors or solicitors leaving comments about their products or services.
Or do you?
Let’s say that you have a plumbing website. You have a writer write a story entitled Ten Ways to Unclog Your Kitchen Sink. It’s a great piece, gets lots of shares and engagement, and really drives traffic to your site. Including your darn solicitors, who leave comments like “This is dumb. Don’t try to unclog it yourself and damage your plumbing, just call a professional. Like John Doe Plumbing LLC, servicing the entire greater Milwaukee region at 800-123-4567”.
Now, if you’re Susie Plumber, do you leave this comment or delete it?
It depends. The fastest and easiest way to manage this is to delete anything that links to a solicitor, but you can also edit their comment or respond to it. Leaving it as-is without a response is certainly the worst case scenario because anyone who sees it will immediately get the message that you’re ignoring your site. Not good. I’d suggest you edit the comment to remove or redact the phone number or URL, then add a response similar to:
“While it’s good business for plumbers to have people call on even the most trivial problem, our mission at Susie Plumber LLC is to help people love their plumbing, so we’ll always suggest ways that they can try to fix a problem before they need to call a professional. We encourage readers to ask themselves what kind of plumber they want to work with!”
As you can see, it rather defangs the comment and leaves the commentator with egg on their face. Nicely done, Susie!
Using your judgment on website comments
In the same scenario, another person might comment “Here’s an 11th way: Pour lemon juice down the drain and wait a few hours. The acid eats through the clog, no effort needed!”. If that’s a legit solution (remember, you’re the expert on plumbing) then you can either leave it as-is or add a comment “that’s a neat idea, I’ll have to try that next time I’m facing a clog” or similar.
My rule is always that the site is my publishing empire, however small, and so I have the right to do whatever I want with comments and user feedback, including changing a phone number to “[redacted]” without permission. I’d never change the intention or emotion of a comment, but I’ve been known to secretly fix typos in user comments just because they bug me!
Now, what’s your policy with comments on your site? Do you allow them? What do you delete, allow, and answer? I mean, you are paying attention to your comment stream, right???