Blog Comments And Google

Summary

Given recent Google pronouncements with respect to the nofollow tag and PageRank sculpting, it is prudent to limit the number of comments that blog posts receive and methods are discussed to do that.

Introduction

Blog authors often agree to differ on the subject of comments.  Some feel it is essential to have a dialogue going with their readers through comments.  Others are turned off by all the spam comments that can often be added and so avoid comments.

An additional issue with respect to comments is whether comment authors should be allowed to have a link back to their own websites.  WordPress by default inserts a nofollow tag on such links, given the risks of spam entries.  Those who feel commenters should be allowed to have a link can use a WordPress Dofollow plug-in which removes that nofollow tag.

Google has then made this subject more complex by suggesting that paid links should be flagged with a nofollow tag since they should not influence search engine rankings..  Some SEOs have then decided they would use the nofollow tag to modify the PageRank flow within their website: this was labeled as PageRank Sculpting.  A Google comment at the SMX conference in Seattle ten days ago has now further thrown everything into confusion.

PageRank On Comments May Evaporate – Matt Cutts

The Matt Cutts comment that sparked this discussion, as reported by Lisa Barone, ran as follows in the You&A With Matt Cutts session:

It seems like you supported PageRank sculpting a year ago and now it seems like you don’t support it anymore. Why is that and will it become a negative indicator?

No, it won’t hurt your site. You can do your links however you want. You can use it to eliminate links to sign in forms and whatnot, but its a better use of your time to fix your site architecture and fix the problem from the core. Suppose you have 10 links and 5 of them are nofollowed. There’s this assumption that that the other 5 links get ALL that PageRank and that may not be as true anymore (your leftover PageRank will now “evaporate”, says Matt.). You can’t shunt your PageRank where you want it to go. It’s not a penalty. It’s not going to get you in trouble. However, it’s not as effective. It’s a better use of your time to go make new content and do all the other things.

Andy Beard has clearly stated what is needed.  In asking Can Comments Kill Your PageRank?

I do have some thoughts though:-

1. I think we need a strong statement that external links with nofollow would not cause PageRank to evaporate.
2. Nofollow is a simple solution for user generated content and comments, but if it has any effect of PageRank disappearing, we are going to lose the links on tons of blogs totally.  It would be a sad day that an action by Google reduced the interlinking of the web.

5. Links that lead to pages blocked with robots.txt and other hanging pages really need to be nofollowed. I think we need to know that in that situation PageRank wouldn’t normally evaporate, but I can understand why that might not be confirmed.

As yet, there has been no clarification on this issue from Google.

Webmasters Handle Comments Differently

It is interesting to note that Webmasters do handle Comments differently.  Michael Gray with his latest entry, The Big Fat RSS Lie, adopts what seems to be his normal policy in displaying, Comments on this entry are closed.

On the other hand, the Daily SEO Tip blog actively seeks comments from as many as possible, as with the latest post:Let’s Create the Ultimate List of Keyword Research Tools by Ann Smarty.  This seems to be the approach that most blog writers adopt.

PageRank Null Hypothesis Suggests Limit Comments

What is the best policy given what Matt Cutts had said.  One possible line of reasoning is set out in a post on a PageRank Null Hypothesis.  This would suggest that all links are included in a first phase PageRank population.  This means that the more links one has from a blog page (including comments), the lower PageRank contribution that each outlink carries.  This argument might suggest avoiding comments to limit the number of outlinks.

Conversely, comments often add useful content that is of interest to readers.  The resulting post and comments then has more content which may rank better in keyword queries.  This suggests that it may be better to have a balance allowing a number of comments but cutting these off after a certain time.

Avoiding PageRank Comments Problems

Given the above, the Comments Policy on the SMM blogs has been changed.  To capture worthwhile comment content while avoiding the more spammy comments, comments are now closed off after 21 days.

In order not to lose the possibility of useful comments after 21 days, the Google Friend Connect Social Bar has been added to the bottom of every SMM blog post so that visitors can comment there.  Such comments would not be part of the Web page content for search engine ranking terms but it does mean that other visitors can read the further comments.  Hopefully this gives the best of both worlds.

Here is a short video introduction to the Google Friend Connect Social Bar:

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7 thoughts on “Blog Comments And Google

  1. I think it’s possible to receive good comments after a long period of time. It seems like bloggers who attract hundreds of comments per article would be getting in trouble for something that most blogs welcome.

    Would paginated comments be helpful? That way each page would be limited to a certain number of outbound links. Of course, I have heard that creates duplicate content issues as well. Sticky subject!

    ~ Kristi

  2. This is one of those topics that is worth pondering, but being overly attentive to every nuance is not necessary for most bloggers/web masters. Sticking to the basics and working the longtail with basic on-page and off-page factors will get the job done. Only major sites of many thousands of uniques per day should worry about working the bleeding edge of SEO.

  3. I don’t know how far common sense will get someone in the pagerank game, but here goes.

    It seems to me that if using nofollow as a method of preventing all the valuable rank leaking out to the websites of people who comment no longer works

    – in other words, that every comment with a link to the commentor’s website constitutes a leak –

    then Google must be looking beyond nofollow, otherwise popular blogs with lots of comments would lose pagerank immediately.

    And I haven’t heard that that has happened.

    I wrote that here

    http://ragbag.comluv.com/2009/06/10/nofollow-dofollow-and-whyfollow/

  4. Hi Barry,

    You appear to use WordPress 2.8. It supports paged comments. Why not get your theme updated to use this feature, then only allow 10 comments per page (using one of the SEO plugins that adds the canonical tag to avoid duplicate content issues)?

    Wouldn’t that solve the problem?

  5. Good thought, Stephen. I much prefer long scrolling pages than having to click from page to page. For that reason, I don’t like the – more – approach to avoiding duplicate problems between the blog home page and single post pages. Those who don’t have my concern will find your suggestion useful.

    BTW I use the All-in-one-SEO Pack Plugin and noted recently that it is now inserting the canonical tag. Others may not have noted that.

  6. PageRank is a fun, yet stressful, subject. By the time we think we get things half way figured out Google changes the play book.

    I picture them all at a big conference table watching a meter that indicates how close everyone is. When too many are getting close they hit the button that changes the rules. Then they all have a big laugh. Perhaps I’m just not getting enough sleep lol

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