Bad Search Marketing Advice from Social Media Marketer

Last week Scott Stratten, better known to many on Twitter as @unmarketing, wrote a post called “The Five Words That Kill Your Blog”. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s likely the worst advice you could follow if you own, write, and care for a blog.

I’ve read Scott’s blog before, and more times often than not, he does drop good nuggets of information. However, this post was reckless. Anyone with Scott’s amplification and reach should have known better than to publish something like this without adding counter-arguments or notes of caution.

The Root of the Problem

I’m of the mindset that one can specialize in one or two disciplines in search marketing, but will have to relatively adept, that is having amateur understanding of all things related to the field. For example, I specialize heavily in SEO, Analytics, and Search Strategy. It’s where I live, it’s what I do day in and day out.

It’s not that I don’t know about social media, how to apply it, or where to use it; it simply comes down to the fact I don’t swim in it all day. So, when a self-confessed “Speaker/Jedi for Social Media” becomes so myopically focused on “open conversation” without consideration unscrupulous SEOs will take advantage of that, it’s short-sighted and dangerous.

Reason for Comment Moderation

Perhaps Mr. Stratten read this study from Pew Internet as well, which may have prompted such ludicrous advice to leave your blog comments wide open: Content Creation: Sharing, remixing, blogging, and more.

Key Highlights:

  • 4% increase in adults 30 or Older who blog (From 2007 to 2009)
  • 6% increase of adults 30 or older posted a blog comment

How I evaluate Scott’s reasoning through this data. With more adults creating blogs, there’s more noise in the blogosphere (as if there wasn’t enough already); therefore, getting more comments to your blog might be a more difficult task as there are more options to choose from, so why stifle it indeed? Then take into account that more adults are commenting on blogs than ever before, and there is a real opportunity to create that desired “conversation”. Makes sense.

His points about Askimet and Disqus are well taken, they do a decent job of filtering out obvious spam. But not all of it. And the moment you open up the door, even just a little, you’re playing with fire. Spammers, the good ones, do a fantastic job creating comments that get through defenses and sound like an actual comment.

How an SEO Sees Open Blog Comments

Lunch. No more, no less. Links matter in search Scott, and if you’re encouraging blogs with good content, hell even blogs with bad content, to open their doors you’re asking for a world of trouble. I don’t participate in spamming blogs, even if a link is a link. But many SEOs do.

And, Scott, they’re relentless in their “pursuit” of links. They spam-bomb the holy hell out of an open blog. So much so, that it will force the owner to turn moderation on. That’s how it works. I wish I could tell you that we live in the utopia you seem to think is achievable through conversation, but we don’t. Even one of our own commented on your blog attempting to give fair warning, Steve Plunkett.

Linking out to bad neighborhoods, yes even through blog comments, is not a sound practice and will definitely end up hurting your searchability in the future. So, even if 1 out of every 10 spam comments gets through, that adds up to spam-peddling blog. But wait, there’s more. Pretty soon, you’ll be a haven for all tasty pharmaceutical links, porn links, and probably some gambling links too.

And, yes, they’re nofollow links, so you’re not passing juice. But don’t think that The Big 3 don’t take notice of these things. The engines will have neutralized you and your blog before you can cause too much damage to the SERPs, and all the conversation in the world won’t save your blog’s findability. It’ll be a search engine pariah, never to be heard from again.

Spam Kills Conversations

A big metaphor:Spammers are usually not the first ones to arrive to the party. They like to be late to the party, just after the cool kids have gone home for the night. They are the kids that no one invited, but they knew about the party and slink in through side-entrance. They arrive with their own six-pack of shitty beer, plop down on the couch, and put their feet up on the table.

And, when they open their mouth, everyone gets up to leave. Spam kills your blog conversations. Nothing says that you don’t care about your blog more than spam comments tucked in between people who were invited to the party, or those that came in late, and collected at the bottom, after the conversation is done.

Moderation is a Must

I’m sorry, but this is an instance where social media marketers/gurus get it wrong. Not moderating the comments on your blog is search suicide, in my opinion. You can take your chances and not moderate, and maybe you’ll get lucky for a while, but they will find you. And when they do, you’re blog is going to feel like it got hit by a freight train. There are several successful blogs that moderate their comments:

It doesn’t stop the conversation on these blogs. There are plenty of conversations going on, and meaningful ones at that, without all the spam worries. Do yourself a favor, do your blog a favor, and moderate your comments.

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16 Comments

  1. Great points. I generally set comments to be moderated for the first comment then once one is approved the same person can leave more without moderation. It works reasonably well

    I see that CNN has allowed comments through a Facebook integration. Check out http://bit.ly/hX5Kwv for an example of unmoderated comments killing a conversation. In an article about someone committing suicide the comment stream is full of self promotional bullsh!t. Hardly a well managed or appropriate form of conversation.

  2. Also. To be accurate. I think Michael Gray actually “moderates” his comments by turning them off completely rather than actively moderating. Outspoken Media does a great job on comment moderation and creating a meaningful conversation.

  3. 😆

    fyi.. Scott (@unmarketing) is one of the truly smart people in this universe.

    I understand his perspective.
    His perspective is from someone’s whose job it is to BLOG…..

    We as SEOs are managing those blogs.. not using those blogs as our work product but a product for our clients..

    he has a point.. spam.. however has killed our blogs in the past.. and we have done 100s of blogs for clients..

    we just dont have ONE.. we watch every single comment on.

    He’s not wrong…. he’s just not a SEO.

    =)

  4. It’s almost as if I wrote a post that said blog SEO was a bad idea….

    Oh wait, that was an earlier one of mine 🙂

    Great points all around.

    My biggest issue here with what you’ve said:

    “Spammers, the good ones, do a fantastic job creating comments that get through defenses and sound like an actual comment.”

    If they look like an actual comment, and are topical to the post, even moderation may not stop those.

    It really was more of a post that should have addressed slow moderation, in hindsight. And the lack of notifications of when someone’s comment has been approved.

    I still don’t buy the fact that the sky is falling because someone doesn’t moderate, but does use Askimet and Disqus. Many, many great blogs do that and haven’t had the Armageddon you mention. Sure, you could start getting bombed by terminator spam bots, but that’s when you can call in Sarah O’Conner style moderation.

    Most of that style spam hits on older posts that are less monitored, where a good compromise is turning on moderation after a post is X number of days old. Most dialogue and real conversation happens within a few days of the post.

    I’m glad to see your passion in this post.

    Just so you’re clear, you know I call myself a “Jedi” as a joke right? Social media, just like SEO is a field full of weasels and people so unscrupulous, it’s a joke, so I like to make myself a joke as well.

    Even for this comment, you’ve got a captcha below that I couldn’t read, and had to refresh three times before I can make something out. Most wouldn’t try after two.

  5. Wait… my comment wasn’t moderated…. wtf

  6. Great post, Tony, and I agree completely… not moderating comments is like playing Russian Roulette, and adding one more bullet to the cylinder after every turn! (or perhaps using a semi-automatic?)

    Like Rob, I moderate the first comment. Still, I’ve had a couple get through, as some spammers will deliberately leave one or two decent comments, to get their foot in the door. I’ve been considering going totally moderated.

    You mention Michael Gray’s blog as being moderated. I’m sure he did away with comments entirely, at least since last year. Sort of takes moderation to a new level. 😉

  7. Scott,

    (Of course I know it was a joke. 🙂 It served the post better if I had a little bite to it.) But you’re no joke, and I do respect your opinion on Social. There’s a reason you are who you are. As Steve said, you are “one of the truly smart people in the universe”.

    Just want you to know that I’m glad you have the same passion for social as we do for SEO. It’s a better world b/c of it! (I’ll talk to Dave about the captcha. Heh.)

    That said, the sky may not fall if you don’t MOD your comments, but it’s definitely a “gateway” drug to harsher things down line. As you said:

    [i]It really was more of a post that should have addressed slow moderation, in hindsight. And the lack of notifications of when someone’s comment has been approved.[/i]

    I think that message would have been more palatable to an SEOs tongue, and that’s definitely something I can get on board with. Have slow commenting reactions [b]DOES[/b] kill conversation. But wide-open commenting, does leave your entire blog vulnerable, and that last thing I want to do is go Terminator on comments from posts that are months old. Especially, when the damage is done and there are no take-backs.

    However, I think through your post and this post, we’ve found a middle ground for bloggers to consider: Moderate comments, but moderate quickly as to not kill conversation.

    Can you get on board with that?

  8. but this post and blog is EXACTLY the problem I was talking about.

    1. The captcha is hard to read, which will get people to walk away from commenting.

    2. It isn’t moderated, which throws your entire argument out the window.

    3. I subscribed to follow-up comments, yet was not notified of yours or the one prior, and only saw this because of your direct tweet to me.

    4. It’s not set up in a threaded manner, so I wouldn’t even get notified that you’re replying to me, so unless I check back on my own effort, the reply dies.

    The post really has no weight because of #2, don’t ya think?

  9. Tony loved the post great points!
    @Scott – Some things we (guest writers) have no control over, being guests. I didn’t want to go to Tony’s defense in regards to your retort about #2; I appreciate his argument and this post is spot on, however. 😐

    I’m very involved in every aspect of our content, and would never consider allowing a free for all on our blog. I always allow comments that aren’t obviously spam to go through – that’s not the issue -, but I want to make sure Askimet or any other widget we use is working properly. This also allows us to respond in a timely fashion; especially when you consider we have more than one writer on any given blog.

    While I agree in some regards that people don’t want to jump through hoops to join the conversation, whether it’s SEO, marketing or branding, etc, complete control of all aspects of your campaign should be yours. That includes whether you allow spammy comments to hit your site or not. 😉

  10. 1. The captcha is hard to read, which will get people to walk away from commenting.

    No problem here, and I’m damn near blind. 😉

    2. It isn’t moderated, which throws your entire argument out the window.

    As Gabriella says, guest writers have no administrative control over site structure.

    3. I subscribed to follow-up comments, yet was not notified of yours or the one prior, and only saw this because of your direct tweet to me.

    I got mine, Scott. Maybe your filters?

    4. It’s not set up in a threaded manner, so I wouldn’t even get notified that you’re replying to me, so unless I check back on my own effort, the reply dies.

    Again, see my reply to #2 above.

  11. Not to derail a thread or anything, but if captchas are a problem. I recently changed out all of my anti spam blockers for the GrowMap spam bot plug in. It has worked great for me on my blogs. No captchas or anything confusing. I highly recommend trying that one if you don’t like askimet or the others. For the lack of moderating a blog, I always moderate my blog posts. It isn’t just the spam links going out to bad neighborhoods that I worry about, its my readers that click on them and end up on porn sites or others. I think controlled moderation is probably the best idea.

  12. Good Post. Good Comments. Thanks for the link 😉
    -Wonder if this will get moderated?

  13. Good to see some civil discussion between Scott and Anthony here in the comments. Seems like the best answer would be “It Depends” for how you choose to handle comments. There are successful blogs on both sides, but I think you need to look at your overall purpose when making the decision. Is discussion the top priority or search engine ranking? How high is the bar for an acceptable comment?

    PS I hate all captchas, even the legible ones because I dislike being punished because of another persons actions.

  14. I understand what Scott is saying about moderating comments. The goal is to avoid spam while keeping the conversation going.

    I would prefer to keep the conversation going than to obsessively worry about passing link juice. If you’ve got a good conversation going on every post then you’re probably getting a lot of links anyway, so it all evens out in the end.

    Michael Gray completely stopped comments on his blog.

    http://www.wolf-howl.com/blogging/turned-blog-comments/

    He’s in a very different position in that his posts would garner a lot of comments so he stopped it just because of the work to manage it.

    The conversation will take place elsewhere though, like Twitter, Digg, Stumbleupon (I just “discovered” Michael Gray’s post actually), etc. I’d rather that a good chunk of the discussion happened on my blog. Twitter is nice too! 🙂

  15. @Gabriella and @Doc,

    Thanks for the kudos on the post! I appreciate it.

    @Joe,

    I’ve not heard about the invisible JavaScript captchas, but I must say that after reading about them I’m impressed. I can see this producing the same success rate as Askimet.

    Thanks for the great option, and I’m thinking I might implement one of these soon. 😉

    @BPS,

    I’d like to think professionals can disagree without resorting to violent, petty name calling ;-). But, I have to disagree that there is a “depends” here.

    Discussions happen. Sure moderation limits them, sure conversations might not happen as fast as users want them to. But the depends, for me at least, goes only as far as how tightly I want to moderate.

    Discussions are going to happen wherever people want them to happen. I’d love for them to discuss on my blog, but even if I don’t moderate, discussions are going on in other spaces whether I like it or not. So, as Gabriella pointed out, I want the discussion to be as controlled as possible where it’s in arms length.

    Search Rankings don’t just happen, unless of course you happen to be superstar or news organization. The goal for me, is to always be as sharped dressed as possible when dear, old Uncle Google comes calling. But that’s just me.

    @Page One SEO,

    Thanks for the link to Graywolf’s blog. And, that post only further proves the point that not moderating is Blog suicide.

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