More than six months ago, we removed the ability for readers to comment on articles that are published on both Marketing Land and Search Engine Land. There was no announcement about the change, and also no great reader revolt. Since the change, in fact, we’ve only received about a dozen questions or comments about it.
But whether you noticed the change or not, whether you said something about it or not, we think it’s important for all of our readers to understand why we do things that affect you. In this first installment of a new column called From the Editor’s Desk (more on that below), I’d like to open the proverbial kimono and share some of the reasons behind the change.
TL;DR — Removing comments was a decision that we made as a group after a lot of number-crunching, research and internal discussion. There are pros and cons to almost every decision of this kind, and we ultimately decided that the pros — in favor of removing comments — outweighed the cons.
Why we dropped comments
1.) Almost none of our readers ever left comments on our articles.
We looked at a full year’s worth of data, comparing the number of comments posted on both sites with the number of unique users. What we found was shocking: If you assume that every comment came from a unique person — i.e., no one ever commented more than once, which obviously isn’t the case — then only 0.05 percent of all Marketing Land (ML) readers ever commented, and only 0.11 percent of all Search Engine Land (SEL) readers ever commented. And since many readers did comment more than once, the actual percent of readers who ever commented on an article is even smaller than that.
2.) We see much more commentary about our articles on social media.
We get a report every month showing all of the social activity surrounding both websites, and it’s not uncommon for each article and column we publish to get hundreds of engagements across social channels; our more popular articles often go over a thousand engagements. In most cases, this may just be a tweet or Facebook share of the headline and link, but very often there are comments and questions included in those social posts — certainly far more often than the few times our articles ever received on-page comments.
When I write an article for one of our sites, I regularly get engaged in conversation with readers on Twitter. And I see many of our staff writers and contributors doing the same. That’s anecdotal, but the overall evidence is unmistakable: Social media is where the commentary is taking place.
3.) On mobile, heatmaps show no one looked at comments.
Mobile traffic to both of our sites is rising. When we launched our mobile apps last year, we decided against including comments on our article pages in the apps. This was before we removed comments on our desktop website, and no readers asked or complained about the lack of comments in our apps.
Interestingly, after the apps launched, we left comments active on our responsive mobile websites. But when we looked at heatmaps of reader activity, we saw that people were skipping right past the comments section. So we removed comments from our mobile sites, too, and now we have a consistent experience for all readers on both desktop and mobile.
4.) Comment spam was a time sink.
Early in my time as a Third Door Media employee, comment moderation was one of my responsibilities. It was a huge time sink because of the amount of spam and low-quality comments (i.e., “Thanks for the share!” and “Great article!”) that we got every day. We tried different approaches to deal with it. We wrote community guidelines, linked to them from every article page and updated them several times to reflect moderation issues that cropped up as people got more clever in trying to spam our article comments.
As I said above, we got very few comments on our articles overall — but of the ones that did come in, we estimate that about one-third to one-half were spam. The comment moderating torch eventually passed from me to our Community Manager, Lauren Donovan, and the comment spam continued. We were spending about an hour every day moderating comments last summer. It was easy to decide that our team’s time was better spent on things other than policing comment spam.
When we added it all together — almost no readers commenting, lots of spam, people ignoring the comments section on our mobile site and conversation happening more on social media — the decision to drop comments was an obvious one.
What we did and what we’ll do
You can scroll down a bit and see what we did: In place of a comments section, we have a message inviting readers to talk to us about our articles on social media (and many of you are — thanks!). Not long ago, we did a test where we ended an article with a link to our Facebook post about the article and invited readers to comment there. We’ll continue to test that and may do it more often on articles that we think will attract reader feedback. In fact, if you’d like to comment on this column, here’s a link to our Facebook post where you can do that.
Although we have no plans right now to bring comments back on our article pages, we’ll keep an eye out for new tools and options to encourage conversation about the things we publish. And we’ll also continue to welcome your comments on social media and join you in those conversations.
As I mentioned above, this is the first installment of a new, regular column that we’re calling From the Editor’s Desk. Think of it like those letters from the editor that you often see at the front of many major magazines. The idea is to talk directly with our readers about what happens behind the scenes as we publish two growing marketing websites.
We’ll talk about some of the decisions we make in running the websites — the how and why of things like removing comments from our articles, as you’ve just read above. We may talk about the news process and how/why we make certain editorial coverage decisions. We’ll talk about our mistakes and successes and whatever else we think makes sense.
Our goal is to publish future columns every month. As Editor-In-Chief, I’ll likely be the most frequent writer. But we have several other editors and executives on our team, and I’ll ask them to share some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of what they do in future columns, too.
I’d love to hear from you if you have specific questions/topics that might be appropriate for us to write about in future columns. Send me an email by using our Contact page and choosing my name, Matt McGee, from the “Contact” drop-down menu.
Thanks for reading this first edition of From the Editor’s Desk.