I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to a fairly recent philosophical issue that the Blogosphere has yet to adequately address. Namely, what is the root purpose of allowing author links from commenters – especially given the rising tide of Comment Spam?
Justification for Author Links
Every major Blogging system includes the ability for commenters to assign a URL to their comment which is almost universally used to turn their name into a hypertext link. I would argue that there are two primary reasons for Blogs to include an author’s URL:
- To encourage commenting. This reason is fair and valid because everyone wins. The Web site gains a little more content, the Blogger gets to engage in a stimulating conversation, and the Visitor receives some traffic back to their site so people can “research” them.
- To get to know the commenter. A community can develop around personal interactions in the form of comments. As people are able to get to know one another the experience becomes more personal and “humanized”. Mutual respect and even friendships can develop from this type of interaction.
Commenter Reasons For Providing Links
The philosophical problem comes into play when we consider that a Blogger’s reasons differ from the primary reasons that people want their URLs to be included in comments, which I would argue are:
- To get referral traffic.
- To lend credibility via their online persona / reputation.
Since the Blogger’s and Commenter’s reasons don’t match, there is bound to be a disconnect. And we therefore see issues arising:
- Commenters frequently use URLs for sites they would like to publicize, as opposed to sites that tell who they are.
- Bloggers often mark comments from legitimate visitors as Spam in social spam fighting services such as Askimet when non-personal URLs are used. This can have the effect of blacklisting legitimate users.
- Markets are springing up to take advantage of this gap with Commenters being paid to falsely list author URLs for clients in blog comments.
- Blog posts, especially popular ones, are filling with empty comments that add no value.
The solution to this problem involves bringing together three key parts:
- Consistent enforcement of standardized rules across top blogs. In the same way that most discussion forums share core rules, it’s important that the top bloggers send out a consistent message. Other blogs will follow the lead.
Rationale for Enforcement
- You are investing in yourself when you use a link that really describes who you are. All of these links build up over time and strengthen your online persona.
- Because of collaborative SPAM filtering, such as Akismet, commercial URLs will likely end up killing your ability to post comments on blogs all across the Web. If just a few people mark your comments as spam you will end up in a global blacklist.
- People wanting to learn more about you will actually spend time reading your site if they go there for that purpose, so you can link to and promote your other projects and they may actually get some quality traffic.
- If people follow a link to learn more about you and arrive at a commercial site they will be immediately turned off and leave, meaning the traffic served no purpose.
- If you use and link to your real persona bloggers will consider you equal in terms of valuing the opinion of another real person. If you fail to reveal your true identity then you do not deserve, nor will you receive equal treatment because you have no skin in the game.
- Allowing commercial links from commenters gives your site the appearance of a Spam farm. This will ultimately impact the perception of your site and damage your popularity.
- Comments are NOT necessary for a site to be popular! They are a luxury simply for you to receive feedback. Fewer, but high quality comments will be far more personally rewarding than tons of spammy one liners.
- Commercial links in your comments can, in some cases, damage your sites ranking in the search engines. You can develop a bad link neighborhood and lose valuable search engine traffic.
- Real, personal URLs of visitors are very valuable for getting to know the people your blog is attracting. You can make friends, do favors for one another, and really connect on a personal level.
For all of the aforementioned reasons (and more) I would encourage everyone – Bloggers and Commenters – to adhere to the following Rules:
- Read and follow Lorelle’s rules for commenting.
- Ask yourself, “does my comment add value to this article or give the author constructive feedback?”
- Ask yourself, “would I post this comment if I wasn’t getting a link back?” If the answer is no, then don’t do it.
- If at all possible, advance the conversation. Take the time to explain how or why the article impacted you, or give a counter-argument.
- Providing links to additional authoritative or relevant resources is always appreciated, but do so in the text not in the URL field.
- Maintain a Zero-tolerance policy on commercial links from commenters. Delete the comments or at least edit and remove commercial URLs from every comment on your site. You’ve already communicated your policy now enforce it with conviction.