Do comments make a blog?

August 28, 2006

For blogs, a vibrant comments community is just as, if not, more important than the posts themselves. Comments are where readers talk about the subject matter, share their opinions and get involved.

Typically, the more passionate and lively your reader comments are, the more popular your blog is.

For those who work in the web design and programming industry, TechCrunch is currently the leading source for technology announcements, rumours and reviews of products and companies.

TechCrunch has over 2 million page views per month, 1 million unique visitors per month and 80,000 RSS and email subscribers. The founder of TechCrunch, 36-year-old Michael Arrington, apparently pulls in $60,000 of ad revenue during these 30-day periods. Those are some really serious numbers. And it's all happened within 1 year.

But wait. TechCrunch has been gradually increasing the reach of its publishing network, CrunchNetwork, as of late. They've expanded into:

  • TechCrunch
  • TechCrunch French
  • TechCrunch Japanese
  • MobileCrunch
  • TalkCrunch
  • CrunchGear

Take a few minutes and click through all six of those links above. Then go back to TechCrunch.

Notice anything? Only TechCrunch has a consistently high volume of reader comments. Most of the other blogs have comparably little to no comments at all. Does this make them less successful? Unfortunately, in an important way, yes.

Why? Well, I bet most, if not all, of Arrington's advertising revenue comes from TechCrunch. That's where advertisers want to be - the place where they get the most eyeballs + click-throughs for their investment.

I predict that in less than 12 months at least one of these new CrunchNetwork blogs will disappear.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled Starbucks: Lies, more lies and fine print. If I'm counting the number of comments (12 minus 3 of my own), it's been the most popular post yet. At first I couldn't figure out where the traffic was coming from, but then checked my stats and saw a link to Starbucks Gossip.

My post had been found by Jim Romenesko via Joe Clark. He had shared the post with Jim Romenesko at his blog and 90 people (including myself) commented. 90 comments? That's more than TechCrunch gets on its best days.

It was a rush getting so many new people reading Yukonbiz and although some of the comments were less than, uh, favourable, it was still a really fun ride and a learning experience for me.

When you start publishing a news or business-oriented blog, you quietly anticipate that it will quickly achieve critical mass and your comment community will be a thriving, passionate organism unto itself.

Three months, six months, maybe even a year passes, and your blog's comment numbers haven't grown all that much. While you may have a bunch of RSS subscribers (Yukonbiz has 27, by the way) there's no substantial community of people vocalizing their opinions or arguing with one another.

Does that make your blog a failure? Do comments really matter that much?

As above, Yes. Comments make or break a blog in the long term. If nobody is motivated enough about what you write to post a comment, then your blog is just a personal diary. An online notebook that you maintain for a little while and eventually pack away into the back of a dusty closet.

Should you keep going? Should you sustain a blog that gets no comments? Actually, yes. One day you may hit the big time. Thing is, you'll never know when that day will arrive.

So keep on writing. Keep on posting about topics that are important to you. Just don't expect to make $60,000 per month from your blog without a lot of patience, really hard work, a tremendous amount of personal networking and a strong commitment to unique, valuable content.