For hard-core blogging enthusiasts in the small-business world, seeing a big, fat, glaring zero in their blog’s reader comments section can be as painful as a goose egg in their checking account balance. That’s because the most in-demand blogs today are those that maintain a robust, engaged readership that drives traffic — and offers repeat marketing opportunities. Reader comments are essential, experts assert.
“Reader comments are extremely important in the growth of a company’s online presence,” Kristin Longacre, an online marketing consultant, tells the Intuit Small Business Blog. “When other people find a company’s website, they are more likely to trust and interact with the company if others have first. If they are the first, there is always hesitation as to why no one else is interacting with them. [Comments] help show potential clients that others trust the company.”
Of course, just because no one is commenting doesn’t mean your website lacks great content or that nobody is reading it. But having an engaged, highly chatty readership is the healthiest thing for your blog and for your small-business marketing efforts, even when critics and controversy steal the spotlight.
“Comments are a great thing,” Longacre asserts. “Even when a debate breaks out in them, it shows user interaction and that others care about the topics at hand. Even negative comments can help on occasion. It shows that the company is human and isn’t just writing their own comments on their blog to make themselves look good.”
The Comment Conundrum
Understanding the benefits of reader comments is one thing. Getting readers to comment is another — and far more challenging — matter altogether. So, how do you kick-start chatter on your blog?
“It may sound a little cheesy, but the first thing to do is ask,” Longacre advises. “When writing blog posts, I always try and end it with a question to encourage users to comment. Asking the users what they think on a topic will spark the idea for them to respond. I’ve even seen blogs call out their readers. They’ve seen a large number of visitors according to their analytics, but very few users commenting. They dared them to leave a comment as to why they don’t comment and saw an explosion of comments.”
Another tried-and-true means of sparking discussion is to invite guest bloggers (those who will come with an established following) to share insight or commentary on your page. What’s more, because getting the first comment is always the hardest for new or nonestablished blogs, many upstarts have formal or informal “comment spotters” — employees, family members, or friends who jump in with the first few observations to get the discussion rolling.
“There are a number of different ways to drive user comments,” Longacre says. “Not everyone is going to get calls immediately from their website or blog, but they may start to get comments and questions on social-networking sites related to topics they are posting about. From time to time, that can spark a new client. Results won’t show overnight, but over a period of time you will notice more and more people asking you about the topics you write about. Ultimately, they will end up as clients!”
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