Three Tips for Attracting Blog Comments

Feb 212010
 

attracting good blog commentsI’ve been thinking about how to attract good comments since writing my previous two posts on commenting.

The first was on the value of comments like  “Looks delicious.” It garnered my all-time highest response. I guess that’s not surprising, since that’s the response that often comes to mind when reading food blogs (or it should, if the blogger’s doing it right!). The second was on whether commenting on posts is a worthwhile strategy to build traffic.

I asked a lot of questions in those two posts, because I’m counting on you all to help me figure out the answers. This caused regular commenter Nate to ask me: “How do you structure a post or a question on a food blog post to cultivate signal and reduce noise?” Okay, I’ll give it a shot.

But first, a qualifier. My blog is a place where people discuss topics I’ve brought up, sometimes with each other! Maybe yours is not. Nevertheless, here’s my best shot at three tips:

1. Emit emotion. Readers want a connection. It’s not just about a recipe for Scottish shortbread, it’s about the time you went to the Highland Games and drank too much beer. If you’ve forgotten what all the emotions are, here’s the basic list and their polar opposites:

Joy Sadness
Trust Disgust
Fear Anger
Surprise Anticipation

In the above fictional post idea about shortbread, which emotions apply? Let’s see: there’s joy in getting tipsy, trust that you would not make a fool of yourself, fear that you would, and surprise that you got home okay.

For more on emotion, see this list of the more complex emotions on Wikipedia.

You know who’s good at getting readers all emotional? Ree Drummond did a Valentine’s giveaway that resulted in more than 35,000 comments. She did it by asking questions that elicit immediate emotional responses. Take a look. They work even if you don’t know the answer, and even if the answer is only one word, which is all she asked for: 

  • What was your first love’s name?
  • Have you ever had your heart broken?
  • What’s your favorite love song of all time?
  • Do you have a Valentine this year?
  • Do you believe love rules or love stinks?
  • Have you ever walked into a plate glass door in the dining hall on your first day of college?

2. Get people thinking. Readers like to look at an issue, ingredient or a technique in a new way. Write a longer piece so you you have more chance to engage people. Look for opportunities to discuss “the relevelation of something profound and important in something you may have once seen as ordinary or routine, or seeing a causal connection between important things and seemingly remote causes,” according to a New York Times article on what causes people to email their articles. 

Now that sounds kind of cosmic, but it’s not. Food writing is such a perfect environment for making that connection between the routine and the important. I tried it myself: connecting chicken soup and cancer, in one of my most popular posts. 

3. Don’t know everything. Put forth a passionate opinion and ask readers what they think. Try not to think of everything so there’s room for people to make their points. Or ask for suggestions because you need advice. People love to give advice.

For more ideas, see

I’m also wondering: Do you think there’s anything particular to the content or writing in food blogs that causes people respond? Ex. a luscious photo?

  26 Responses to “Three Tips for Attracting Blog Comments”

  1. Hmm.. I honestly think that with food blogs that it isn’t the recipes or the photos, it’s the writing that brings you back. Yes, crappy photos will deter me, but crappy writing will send me scurrying in the other direction.

    I don’t have a lot of commenters, so maybe my writing isn’t that great. But the regular readers I do have are fellow writers. Not just bloggers, but people who make a living as writers. That works for me because it means that peers read and like me. They like me, they really like me!

    And, in the end, I am happy doing what I’m doing. Whether I get 10 comments or 10,000.

  2. Great information. Thank you!

    I personally love a great story, but nothing too long. I think keeping the copy to a minimum (for most posts) is really important. Drawing the reader in and staying on their level is always admirable to me and causes me to respond. A sense of humor goes a long way too.

    I’ve also noticed in the last year that any post I write involving simple comfort food gets a huge reponse (especially if it involves chocolate!).

  3. For me, both as a food blogger and an avid reader of other blogs, the photos are critical to grabbing new readers and comments. As my photography has improved, so has my traffic and number of comments. One of the greatest ways to drive traffic (and therefore get more comments) to a food blog is to submit photos to Tastespotting or Foodgawker, and they are picky, picky, picky. But on days that my photos are accepted to one or both sites, my traffic increases three fold, at least. On those sites, my photos must stand alone to grab attention, save a craftily written one-line description. It’s been said that people eat with their eyes first, so it would make sense that a great photo would be a key to getting reactions and speaking conversation.

    This is not to say that the writing and voice of a blog isn’t vital to its success, because it is. I am first and foremost a writer, always have been. But with nearly 50,000 food blogs online today that people can flip through like a magazine at the doctors office, the visuals need to be there to catch someone’s attention and encourage them to come back for more stories, assuming the writing is also on point.

    I also have to say that getting a few regular commenters is a really wonderful thing that I’m always grateful for. When these people comment moments after I post, whether it’s a “looks delicious” or something more in-depth, others are much more apt to comment after that. I mean, who wants to join a party that no one else is going to? No one. Comments beget comments, in my experience.

    And all this debating the “looks delicious” comments really bothers me. I would never be anything but appreciative that a random stranger would take the time to send a little positive energy my way, even if they’re also trying to promote their own site by doing so. It’s the internet, after all, none of our sites is truly independent. I’ve gotten my fair share of random rude anonymous comments, so anyone who keeps the mood cheerful and positive in my comments section is all right by me.

    • Thanks Shauna, for a thoughtful reply. I guess these days you can’t have a food blog without photos, so it makes sense that the most gorgeous ones get attention. I’m not sure whether you think the photos drive people to comment, or just drive traffic to your blog. I also like your notion that comments beget comments. That’s been true on my blog as well.

  4. Gorgeous photos certainly attract comments about the photography, but it’s all about the writing. Humorous writing (which I sometimes attempt on my blog and hope i’m doing it decently) gets people commenting. Sharing a deeply personal story with perfect strangers gets comments as well.

    Last month on my blog, I posted a recipe for spiked chocolate mousse with a connecting story about my belief that Rosemary’s Baby is a food movie. That post received a lot of comments (well, a lot for MY blog!) Although most of the commenters had never seen the film, they knew what it was about and were surprised at my take on the story. I guess this fits in with point #2.

    Not that I would ever recommend this, but I have noticed that critical/mean spirited posts on other people’s blogs receive a lot of comments. I was reading through one food blog, and most of the posts had 4 to 7 comments. The “most popular post of all time” – as indicated by the blog author – had over 100 comments because it was titled something like “Why I hate Rachel Ray.” Whether you love RR or not, a post like that will likely get you to comment.

    • Yes, yes! Surprising people is a good way to get a response. Certainly not many writers have made a connection between Rosemary’s Baby and spiked chocolate mousse.

      And yes, a deep personal story resonates with people. It taps into their own memories and emotions.

      Regretfully, I agree with your comment about critical posts. I learned that the hard way when I criticized someone and people went a little crazy. I’m not going to go there again.

  5. One way to answer the question of how to get more comments is to ask what makes you write a comment on another blog. I write them when the post makes me think of something I think is relevant to say. The same reason I would say something in a conversation. Another reason I would leave a comment is if I try the recipe that is posted. What drives you to leave a comment?

    I find it disappointing that many food bloggers do not like comments that contain links to related recipes. For me that is one of the most authentic food conversations that mirrors the kind I have all the time at my CSA or over dinner with friends. Personally I would welcome those comments on my blog.

    -Robin

    • Yes, that is a good way to think of it — like a conversation. And certainly writing when you’ve tried the recipe is specific to food blogs.

      I didn’t know bloggers dislike links to other recipes in their comments. I guess it takes attention away from their post, and is perhaps seen as an advertisement for others’ blogs.

  6. Dianne,

    First of all, I think your blog is an excellent example of why gorgeous food photography is NOT necessary to elicit comments. Your photos tend not to be of food, and many of them are symbolic (like the one above), but still, your commenters are enthusiastic, loyal, and outspoken. And the discussions here are more substantial than those on most photo-heavy blogs, at least those I’ve seen.

    Second, I think it’s pretty obvious that Ree Drummond, whose blog I adore and who is an extremely savvy businesswoman, got 35,000 comments on that post because she was giving away 2 shiny red KitchenAids. Yes, she has a huge, well-deserved following, but people go bananas in the comments when they have a chance to win a prize. The bigger the prize, the more rabid the comments.

    Third, and finally, picking topics ripe for discussion will generally encourage comments. There’s simply not much to SAY about a post all about a super yummy, pretty chocolate cake. You made this point in your post, too. All this said, I’ve had trouble predicting which of my posts will “hit” and which will die a slow death…

    • Oh Cheryl, my artwork is too embarrassing for words. Sometimes at least it’s humorous. But you’re right, it does not drive my blog in any way.

      I do have awesome commenters (including you), don’t I? I am so grateful.

      Re Ree, yes, she was giving away excellent prizes. But 35,000 responses!?! You have to admit, that’s pretty amazing.

      Maybe I should write a post where I ask people to tell me what was their most successful post, and why they think it worked, and we’ll see what people come up with and what we can learn. Thanks for sparking the idea.

  7. Terrific post, Dianne.

    I completely agree with several of the commentators that provocative posts or comments are going to garner lots of feedback, because it goes without saying that more often than not people speak up when something’s wrong rather than when something’s right. Just look at customer service stats that suggest the customer who says nothing is the least likely to return and very likely to complain to their friends.

    Likewise, I never turn down comments – good or bad – because at least someone’s taking the time to respond. What I find challenging is starting a dialog with folks when they comment. Sometimes they say something I’d like to talk more about – and unless they come back to the site and look back at that post (unless they’re subscribing to the comment feed), often they will miss the responses to their thoughtful comments. This is the nature of the blog. Posts ‘stale’ over time and folks don’t always continue to comment when the post is older.

    I’ve been doing a little experiment the last few months, and it’s been pretty insightful. I’ve been tracking weekly all of the sites on which I’ve left a comment (short or long, doesn’t matter), and then tracking the kind of return I’m getting back from those same bloggers. While I’m not expecting a response for every one of my comments, it’s good to see who’s really interacting in the community and who’s just publishing without regard to who’s watching. I think blogs offer a unique opportunity to exchange ideas with folks on all levels, and I’ve never been deterred from responding when I feel like I have something to say. Perhaps this experiment has changed my perception of others more than anything, and it makes me want to be a vital, active member of my community and not just a one-way publisher.

    Anyway, rambling thoughts after a sturdy beer. Thanks again for the excellent and thought-provoking discussion.

    • Thanks. I don’t know if I said anything about being provocative, but then, that usually does the trick. Some people aren’t comfortable with that.

      I wonder about the same thing because I always reply to comments. Sometimes I’ll ask a question if I want more details or clarification, and sometimes people come back.

      Re tracking who comes back to your blog — do they have to leave a comment or just look? I often go to the blogs of people who have commented here because I’m curious about them, but I may not have anything to say.

    • There is a WordPress plugin called Comment Email Responder that will email a commenter whenever you reply to their comment on your blog.

      http://www.u-g-h.com/wordpress-plugins/wordpress-plugin-comment-email-responder/

      That should help to bring back a few commenters, and build the discussion.

      Not sure if there’s anything similar for Drupal, however.

  8. Dianne, I love that you respond to comments (though I do not seem to be getting the notification that you have) and one of the main reasons I just moved my blog to WordPress is because it allows threaded comments with the “reply” function (like yours) but also the “subscribe to comments” feature which allows me to see which bloggers actually respond to my comments.

    I make an effort to respond to each and every comment even though I know not all my readers subscribe (another great feature of WP – you can see who has subscribed!) because new readers coming in can see that I actually care about what they think.

    I have to admit to being put off of blogs where the blogger does not respond to their readers. I love seeing my readers interact not just with me but with each other in the comments!

    • Yes, I really like that too, having commenters react to each other and not just with me. It’s time consuming to reply to everyone but so far I can handle it. It’s not for everyone. And it’s supposed to be a way to increase your comments, BTW.

  9. Just wondering…ahem..do you ever leave comments Dianne?

    • Yes I do. When I have something to say, and when I don’t see lots of comments that have already covered the territory.

      You certainly do very well with comments, Carol. And I just left one for you…

  10. It’s an interesting question because there are blogs I love for the pictures more than the written portion of the posts and blogs that have either no or not very good pictures but great long stories that I love to read because they’re well-written. I don’t know what the magic formula is.
    My blog has never been a place where I dwelled on things that were happening to me personally, it’s not a journal, but obviously I do notice a different kind of response when I engage my readers emotionally. That said, sometimes I’ve asked questions in my posts and readers haven’t responded anymore than they have on other posts where I didn’t ask any questions, so I don’t really know.
    I agree with Shauna that having a picture on one of the food picture sites does wonders for traffic, especially when it’s a popular picture or involves comfort food of some sort usually.

    One thing I have to say though is that I don’t like to leave comments of the “Looks delicious!” variety. I appreciate any comments that people leave me, even the unpleasant ones if they can have the courage to say who they are rather than remain anonymous and be rude, but with a baby I don’t have a lot of time to comment as is and I’d rather leave a substantive comment. Even if I do say that it looks delicious, I try to expound somehow by adding something more personal or making an observation about something that person wrote so I don’t find much value in having someone say looks delicious to me either because I can’t say much back to that person other than Thanks.
    I feel like I’m rambling, which is to be expected at 2:30 in the morning, but I love to comment on whatever your latest post is because you always bring up really good questions.

    • HIlda, wow, you’re reading this at 2:30 a.m.? You sound pretty coherent, considering.

      Re nice photos, I’ve been wondering about the pretty photo I used on the post on “Looks delicious” and whether it led to more comments. I guess there’s no way to know unless I can try that stunt repeatedly. Using gorgeous food photos is not that relevant for me, sadly.

      I think it’s great that you try for more than “looks delicious.” We food writers should hold ourselves to a higher standard.

  11. This is all very good information, but sometimes you just never know what people will respond to. My most viewed post (by A LOT) doesn’t have a single comment. I will agonize over photos and the perfect story and recipe and I will not get a single comment. Then I post something half-asleep and I get 10 comments. I really don’t get it sometimes!

    I will consider this post when I’m writing my next post! Thanks for writing!

    • That is so true. My most commented upon post is one I wrote quickly because I was mad. Sometimes you just don’t know.

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