Best Practices to Raise the Level of Discussion on Your Blog

One of the things I'm most grateful for here at Casual Kitchen is the thought-provoking conversations I get to have with my readers.

Unfortunately, thought-provoking conversations are a rarity these days--in blogging and everywhere else. I follow some 500 blogs in my feedreader, 325 of which are food-related, and I'm regularly mortified by how little value there is in most blog comments.

When reading food blogs, how often do you see eye-scaldingly meaningless things like "Mmmmmmm!" "YUM!" or "I can't wait to try this!" scrawled everywhere? (My personal favorite: "Great post!" ... followed by nothing else.) Take a sample of any of the more widely read blogs (food or otherwise) and as many as half of the comments will be puerile.

Look, I'm all for positive vibes and everything, but "Mmmmmmm!" isn't exactly a conversation starter. What it does do, however, is bring a tiny bit of residual traffic to that puerile comment-writer's most likely puerile blog. And therein lies the problem, obviously.

Okay. You've got your own blog, and you don't want it filled up with pointless comments. You want to raise the level of conversation. How do you do it?

Screw the First Amendment
You can start by deleting. A blog is not a democracy--it's your personal dictatorship. And there's no First Amendment in blogging. If you see a pointless comment, a comment that's obvious linkbait, or worst of all a hurtful or inappropriate comment, delete it. Nuke it.

There's already much too much to read out there. Don't permit the idiotic comments to crowd out the intelligent ones, wasting your readers' precious time in the process. Set an example that encourages your most thoughtful readers to contribute more.

A Precarious Slice
It's one of the more discouraging statistics of blogdom, but I'll share it anyway: only about 1-2% of the readers of any given post will comment. In other words, 98-99% of readers simply don't leave comments. As a blogger, this puts you in the precarious position of relying on a rather arbitrary slice of your readership for all of the follow-up conversation on your posts.

Therefore, do whatever you can to help make sure the right readers leave comments. Respond to every thought-provoking comment, and reward your thoughtful readers by picking up on the conversations they start.

Encouraging Disagreement and Leaving Gaps
A side note: Never argue with readers who disagree (respectfully) with you, and never censor or delete their comments. If anything, you should encourage disagreement from your readers, because there's no better way to start a provocative conversation. Often I'll specifically ask my readers to disagree with me, because I want to hear other perspectives and find the holes in my thinking. Hey, that's how we all learn more.

Here's another, counterintuitive way to get a good discussion started: leave deliberate gaps in your argument. Your astute readers will catch and fill in those gaps, and this often takes the conversation into surprising directions.

When you write a post that is exhaustive, utterly convincing and proves your point so flawlessly that it leaves no room for debate... well, there won't be any debate. Instead, try asking questions and raising issues, and then solicit your readers for their thoughts and input. Bring them into the discussion rather than overwhelming them with facts and opinions.

And let's face it, if you've said everything that can be said about a subject, you'll exceed the attention span of 95% of your readers... and the remaining 5% will have nothing left to say but "Mmmmmm, great post!"

Final Thoughts
A final point: decide what you want your blog to be, and stay consistent. Is your site a place where your readers get to think? Or a place where they aren't expected to think? Readers want to know who and what you are. And once they do, they'll come, armed and ready with amazing and inspiring thoughts and ideas.

Readers! What would you add?

Related Posts:
Ask Casual Kitchen: Advice for a New Blogger
How to Write A Killer Links Post
How to Give Away Your Power By Being a Biased Consumer
How to Get the Benefits of Organic Foods Without Paying Through the Nose
Who Really Holds the Power in Our Food Industry?

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by purchasing items from via links on this site, or by linking to me or subscribing to my RSS feed. Finally, you can consider submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like, digg or stumbleupon. Thank you for your support!


Emmy said...

Ummm, great post?

(you knew it was coming, Daniel!)

I gave up on blogging for the masses a few months ago. Too exhaustive. It made blogging, well, too much like a job. And it also helped me appreciate more those who were regularly cranking out the posts and interacting with the readers (like you).

But, to agree with your point, once I made an insensitive comment on a post, someone came back and called me to the mat on it. I turned that comment and my apologies into another post, and it really got a lot of people talking (in a good way). So yes, when someone disagrees with you, it can make for some positive, thought-provoking discussions. I completely concur with you.

But don't some blog owners just delete the disagreeable comment to save face? After all, their blog is a dictatorship, right?

MCM Voices said...

Dan, I so agree about the importance of interacting with readers - it's very off-putting to take the time to leave a comment and get nothing back. I subscribe to a blog that deals with a subject in which I'm very interested. Occasionally I'll comment when I just can't help myself, but the blogger never acknowledges comments. Ever. Needless to say she doesn't get many.

Commenting on a blog says, in effect, what you've said is important to me. Not acknowledging comments says, in effect, what you've written does not matter to me.

James said...

There seemed to be a fashion for competitions on blogposts last year - leave a comment and one will be selected at random to win a prize. How artificial - I ignored them all. Nothing to do with raising discussion, just to do with promotion of blog and the company giving away prizes. It's a part of marketing I really don't like. It's almost as bad as begging for more followers on twitter.

I only realised the importance of answering comments a couple of years ago - oops maybe it was too late by then. Finishing on a question seems too artificial for me too - like you're just following a pattern - but maybe that's where I go wrong.

Seem to be getting lots of comments from companies who leave links to their website as their name - I delete these as I'm not a free marketing machine. Is that wrong?

edj3 said...

You wrote Never argue with readers who disagree (respectfully) with you, and never censor or delete their comments.

I agree completely--in fact I unsubscribed from a blog about sewing precisely because the blog owner wrote a post asking for others' opinions about something she'd done and then wigged out when not everyone agreed with her. In the end I realized she wasn't someone I'd grab a beer with and while her sewing was exquisite, the rest was just noise.

I will say I always delete spam though.

Kira said...

Like Emmy, I was also tempted to write, "Great post!" and leave it at that. :-)

This is something I'd like to improve in my own blogging. I've noticed a lot more food bloggers ending their blog entries with a question, I suppose in an attempt to stoke conversation. Perhaps I'll try something along those lines.

The Diva on a Diet said...

Very provocative post, Dan. For a long time I did as the above commenter mentioned - and ended my posts with a question ... in hopes of spurring both dialogue and more thoughtful answers. It doesn't always work. Or at least not for my demographic ... whomever they are! LOL

I'll be honest, I was a lot more faithful about responding to comments when I first started out. Perhaps because I was so grateful to that 1% who took the time to let me know they were reading. I've slipped a lot lately and I need to do better.

In thinking about it just now, I think part of the reason I've become so lazy is precisely what you describe ... how many times can you muster an answer for 15 "yum!" comments?

This is food for thought and I'm definitely chewing on it. Thank you!

holly said...

Wow Daniel, I wish I would've started reading your blog when I started blogging. I've long struggled with the 'who' and 'what' I've wanted my blog to be, and have just settled in the middle for wanting to have engaging content, whatever it may be. It's still evolving and a 'work in progress'. Like some of the others above, I really like your idea of posing a 'question' to readers to encourage them to interact. I've noticed you also pose 'directional' tweets which definitely make me curious about clicking your tweeted links. Well done! Thanks for all of these helpful and thought provoking posts.

Daniel said...

I'm loving the comments and insights so far, although ironically, there was a reader who typed in a comment that said, "YUM! I have to try this!"

He deleted it a few minutes later--fortunately. :)

A few thoughts:

Emmy, there are lots of ways to blog, and you certainly can share your thoughts in a blog and totally ignore the comments. It's not the best way to interact with your readers (obviously!), but if your purposes for blogging are to put your thoughts out there and optimize your time, this is a valid solution.

But as Mary at MCM Voices says, that can be seen as off-putting to many readers. Some readers will leave you, and you have to be okay with that.

I think perhaps a middle solution would be to shut off comments totally. Many bloggers embrace this solution, and it can work well.

James: absolutely it is not wrong, especially if those comments are content- and value-free. I nuke them too. I'll talk more in depth about this subject in a future "Ask Casual Kitchen" post.

Kittiesx3: I think that's a blogger who doesn't understand blogging. Thanks for sharing.

Kira: Yes! Exactly. In my view blogging is a conversation, and you want to invite your readers to participate. By all means ask questions.


Daniel said...

Some more thoughts:

Diva on a Diet: Thanks for the feedback and positive vibes. I will say that you have quite a lot of readers on your blog, and quite honestly, many bloggers would kill for that. :)

But if you'd like, I'd be happy to brainstorm some ideas with you to drive more of the types of interactions you'd like with your readers. Drop me a line via email and we can share some thoughts.

Holly: Thank you for your thoughts! If I might offer you some unsolicited advice: Don't beat yourself up. If you look back and read some of the early posts in Casual Kitchen's life, I too struggled with finding my voice and figuring out what this blog was all about.

The thing is, your voice and your purpose can change and evolve. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Every blog, even the most snazzy and professional blog, is a work in progress.

Finally, thanks for noting my approach to using Twitter (readers, if you want to follow me on Twitter, I'm @danielckoontz). I've been tweaking and trying different things there, and I'm happy to hear the feedback.


Charmian @ChristiesCorner said...

Bear with me. I could be long winded.

Comments aren't simply a way to create discussion. They are also a way to increase traffic/page rank/visibility for both the host and the person commenting. It's not just about freedom of speech and sharing ideas. Commenting is also about improving your blog's presence. So, I'll take a genuine "yum" over no comment any day.

But we DO want comments of value. To encourage unique commenting, I usually ask a specific question so commenters can share their insights, preferences, kitchen stories. I've also added "Comment Luv" to my blog to encourage comments. When a blogger posts a comment they are rewarded with an instant link to their most recent post. I do this because I think the food community should know about each other. Pay it forward, good karma, etc. Plus, let's face it, when you see 43 people have commented, don't you want to read the post more than if no one has commented?

Having said that, I delete spam. Fortunately, I've only had a couple of nasty comments so it's not an issue for me.

As to raising the level of discussion? Controversy, innovation, oddities effortlessly breed comments. Recipes and pictures of lol cats don't. Sometimes, "Looks delicious!" is the best you can hope for. Don't want those comments? Add buttons such as Facebook's Like button so they can vote without cluttering your comments section.

It's not a perfect solution, but the web is evolving. Who knows what we'll be asking in a year or two.

Over to you, Dan.

Dave said...

I'm a big fan of Boing Boing's practice of disemvoweling - removing the vowels from a post to limit the bang of unwanted postings without stifling the discussion.

Luckily - everyone at Food & Fire has played nice so far and I haven't needed to employ it.

Daniel said...

Charmian, more really interesting insights, thank you.

Agreed absolutely that even "yum!" type comments are better than nothing. And I like the Comment Luv feature on your blog because, well, links and linkbacks are the fundamental currency of the internet.

And thanks for the additional ideas on spurring conversation, those are good ones.

Dave: Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I'd heard the term "disemvoweling" but until now had no idea what it meant. Love it.

And your blog has such great karma that I can't imagine a troll showing up and wrecking the vibe.


Marcia said...

I really enjoy the dialogue and "real" comments. (Like the one you left on my "I feel guilty" blog.) My hubby reads my blog and hates the "yum" comments.

But ya know, I don't mind those so much. I started blogging to have a record of my successes and failures in the kitchen. I like posting the ways I can throw together dinner with whatever is in the fridge. And if it inspires someone to say "yum" and try it themselves, great!

I read a lot of food blogs for the food content, and bookmark many for ideas later. There are some that I go to for more thought-provoking content, like this one and Cheap Healthy Good.

And my mood changes. Right now life is so crazy that I'm lucky to read any blogs, much less keep up daily (I gave up on keeping up with KathEats a few months ago.) As far as blogging...a couple of food photos a week are about it, with the occasional recipe thrown in on the weekend.

I try to respond to others' comments, but I don't get much traffic. And I'm okay with that. I can never tell if they come back to check, so often my "comment" is simply a regular visit and comment to their blog. Like Joanne. That girl is FUNNY and makes such delicious food. And you know? Most of my comments on her blog are "you are so funny! and your food looks awesome! and hey, my hubby went to Cornell"

chacha1 said...

Excellent pointers here, Dan. I get few pageviews per day and fewer comments, perhaps because my content is so very niche.

But I always thought of my blog primarily as a resource for my personal training clients and dance students - and since I only do that work on a very part-time basis, I expect most of my views are idle links. That's okay.

I am wondering, though, if my posts aren't just a little TOO informative. As you say, if I try to anticipate and answer any questions, why should someone comment?

I guess that's just the residue of working in law firms so long. Unanticipated questions = insufficient research, not good.

Daniel said...

Hi Marcia, thanks for your comment. I think it gets back to what you're looking for in a blog. And as I said before, I don't object to "yum"-type comments per se, they are by far better than nobody reading at all!

Perhaps the truth is readers and bloggers naturally gravitate toward places where they fit with each other. The "yum" commenters find their way to sites that encourage and/or embrace them, while the more conversational commenters will look for places that encourage and/or embrace them.

Chacha1: I struggled (and still do struggle) with this too. Some of my early essays were exhaustive to the point that they killed any potential conversation well before it had a chance to spring to life.

What I've found works well for me is to ask questions, especially provocative questions, or even better, questions I wonder about but don't know the answer to.

Once you have a critical mass of readers (don't worry, you'll get there!) you will be shocked at how much you can learn from them by simply asking questions like this.

These are great comments and thoughts so far. I'm grateful to have such insightful readers!


bored said...

“Comments aren't simply a way to create discussion. They are also a way to increase traffic/page rank/visibility for both the host and the person commenting. It's not just about freedom of speech and sharing ideas. Commenting is also about improving your blog's presence. So, I'll take a genuine "yum" over no comment any day. “

Most blog comments are written by other bloggers; everyone trying to “increase traffic”, no doubt. This is why I am generally uninterested in blogs or blogging. A blog is not a conversation. It’s a personal soapbox. The blogger controls what is said, not just by deleting comments, but by writing strategically to raise readership and/or make money on ads. Unless the blog is about a subject of extreme interest to me, why would I sit there and let myself be manipulated? Might as well go read a (well-researched) book on the topic.

Barbara | VinoLuciStyle said...

I disagree with 'bored' completely. Comments weren't designed as a way to increase traffic/page rank/visibility for both the host and the person commenting; they are simply used for such.

And I don't like that use. Period. I know the people who are using other food blogs with their idiotic 'Yum' and 'Great Post' comments; we all do. It's lazy and I think arrogant to think I want my efforts to reward that laziness!

I call them 'first responders' - always the first there, always the same vacuous comments and I've found one seemingly simple solution. I have my comments list in descending order; seems if they're not guaranteed first position with their link back to their site my food is nowhere near as yummy!

Ronda said...

This is interesting. I'm not so sure about deleting "great post" comments, but maybe if I actually got lots of comments I would feel differently. ;) I occasionally comment just so they know that I read it all and liked it. And I think I'd be a tad hurt if they just deleted it. Even if I have nothing to add, I like to acknowledge a good post. One blog I read recently said you should always "like" a post if you actually read it all, which might be a good idea, except that not all blog platforms have a Like button. I'm also not sure how to reply to all comments without sounding really repetitious. I am glad they stopped by, but how many times can you say that without sounding really contrived?

I am mulling the idea of leaving a gap in your argument so that people have something to add...that sounds a little difficult. But I do wish for more provocative comments, so I may try that.

Daniel said...

Ronda, thanks for your thoughts. And by the way, I have to say I couldn't be happier with the quality of the comments on this post, including yours. Lots of great insights.

As far as replying to comments on your own blog, I think there's a valid range of opinion. I personally have changed how I handled comments: I used to respond to nearly all of them, either to thank the person for commenting or to directly respond to what they said. I thought I was just being polite, but I later found that I was over-involving myself in the conversation.

When I started to step back and not comment so much, it turned out that other readers stepped in, offering their own responses and opinions to other readers' comments. I didn't *need* to comment so much, and when I backed away, it helped drive more conversation among readers.