I know I’ve written a lot about comment pods, ‘like-for-like,’ and other attempts to manipulate your engagement on your blog or Instagram, but today I wanted to write a bit about comment pods specifically, and why I think they have the potential to do more harm than good.
For the benefit of those of you who are mercifully unaware of what I think of as The Dark Side of the blogosphere/social media, comment pods are when a group of bloggers get together and agreed to all comment on each other’s blog posts/Instagram photos, purely in order to boost the comment count on each post/photo. The people who do this kind of thing genuinely think it will help their blogs: here are three ways I think it could hurt it, instead…
01. High bounce rate
Bounce rate is one of the metrics many people ignore when looking at their site’s analytics, but “bounce rate” refers to how quickly someone leaves your site after landing on it, so it’s actually pretty important. Ideally, unless you have a specific action you want your visitors to perform (i.e. all you want is for them to buy a product, or sign up for your newsletter, say, after which you don’t really care how long they stick around), you want readers to arrive on a specific post, read it, and then maybe click around the site a bit, before leaving. That’s why most blog templates these days come with “related posts” widgets, and why blog homepages are designed to show readers the maximum amount of content: the goal is to keep you on the site for as long as possible, the helpless prisoner of a blog that just won’t let you quit. Or something like that, anyway.
If your visitors are arriving at your site via a comment pod, however, they’re probably not going to stick around for longer than it takes to skim-read your post, type out a generic response, and then bounce. Which doesn’t look good for your analytics, and is a bit of a red flag in terms of how engaging your content is, don’t you think?
(And, I mean, yes, sure, you might get a few visitors who land on your blog purely to fulfil their obligation to the comment pod, but who take a look, and think, “Wow, I love this blog so much, I’m going to sped the rest of the night reading the archive, as if it was a book!,” but those visitors will be the exception, rather than the rule. And even if a pod member does like the look of your blog, when they know they have another 30 sites to visit, and comments to leave, they’re probably not going to to stick around, even if they wanted to…)
02. Unrealistic expectations
Most people who use comment pods justify it by saying it’s the only way to get brands to notice them. Well, no one’s going to say, “Actually, I just really want to look much more popular than I am!” are they? Honestly, I have my doubts about how much importance brands place on comments these days, but let’s just say for the sake of argument that some of them are taken in by your cunning ruse, and they decide to book you for a campaign, on the strength of your loyal fan base, who comment on every single post to say how much they “Love this!” That’s not going to work out all that well for you, is it? Because brands don’t collaborate with bloggers in order to make themselves LOOK popular: they do it because they actually want to BE popular – and popularity, in brand terms, means selling products. They probably won’t sell many products to the members of a comment pod, who aren’t actually interested in the blog they’re pretending to love, so … that’s going to be a bit embarrassing, isn’t it? (Quite apart from the embarrassment you should already feel at knowing you’ve essentially tricked someone into paying you for something you can’t actually deliver, that is…)
Bottom line: it’s better to BE popular than to just LOOK like you’re popular. Probably more satisfying, too, I would imagine.
(Also, if you’re working with an agency, they will often require access to your analytics, in order to verify that you really are doing as well as you say you are. And that’s when things like that dodgy bounce rate will start to come into play…)
03. Opportunity cost
I’ve read a few Facebook threads now in which people have discussed their experiences with comment pods honestly, and one of the things that came up time and time again was the sheer time-suck it is, and how people felt that they were missing out on the rest of their feed (in the case of Instagram), because all of their time was spent fulfilling the obligations of the “pod”. I’ve never used comment pods, but a few years ago, I did make a resolution to start leaving comments on X number of blogs per day (I think it was 10), because I’d read that it would boost traffic to my own site. First of all, it didn’t actually make a difference to my blog’s traffic, but second of all, wow, was it time-consuming. I should say here that I was only commenting on the blogs I read anyway, and I was taking the time to read them first, so I wasn’t leaving generic, “Love this!” comments, but it still made me feel a bit fake, in a way, and I gave it up after about two days, because I honestly didn’t have time for anything else while I was trying to stick to this dumb rule.
What I learned from that experience was that there were other, better things I could be spending my time on than forcing myself to leave comments on people’s blogs, purely for the sake of it. Now, I’ll be the first to admit here that I suck at commenting: I feel bad when people don’t comment on my blog, but I don’t make the effort to do it on other blogs, either, so I really have no moral ground to stand on there. While it’s a great thing to support other bloggers, though, and to comment on the posts you genuinely enjoyed, it’s kind of an awful thing to feel like you HAVE to do it – and it must be even worse when, rather than it being a self-imposed “rule”, as mine was, it’s actually a rule that will get you called out by name on a Facebook group with thousands of members (Yes, I’ve seen this happen) because you “owe” someone a comment which you haven’t delivered yet.
TL: DR There are tons and tons of things you could be doing to grow your blog, which don’t revolve around either vanity, or attempting to dupe people into thinking you’re more popular than you are – I wrote about five of those things here, but here are plenty of others, too: and most of them will provide more than just a short-term ego boost, into the bargain.