For many organizations, deciding whether to allow user comments on a website can be a conundrum. Although comments offer many benefits—there’s also a downside to throwing open the doors for all to weigh in. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the pros and cons of enabling user comments—and how to make the most of them if you do.

Gaining Rich Audience Insights  

In a post for Digiday, Viafoura’s Olivia Collette described both the perks and challenges related to comments sections. With the deprecation of third-party cookies on the horizon, she noted that user comments can be a rich source of first-party data—if handled the right way. 

“User-generated content, like that in comments sections, can provide publishers with valuable audience insight to continue to engage with their readers meaningfully,” Collette said. 

On the flip side, if comments aren’t moderated appropriately, things can go downhill fast. 

“Comments can indicate how readers feel about a publisher’s content, but if not moderated properly, discussions can spin out of control, which alienates users, the newsroom or both,” she explained.  

From Collette’s perspective, two key ingredients are needed to transform user comments into rich data sources:

  • Moderating comments with the support of artificial-intelligence (AI)
  • Requiring users to register in order to comment

Underscoring the importance of the registration requirement, she noted that as soon as that takes place, data gathering can begin.  

“When a publisher follows a registered user’s movements on their site, there’s quite a lot to glean from their interactions with the comments section alone,” Collette explained. 

She said the types of data that can be gathered include:

  • Declarative data—”which includes information that a user actively gives, such as when they post a comment.”
  • Inferred data—”which tracks a user’s interest, tone or sentiment.”
  • Augmented data—”which is acquired when the AI learns qualitative information about commenters to gauge individual users’ behaviors, preferences and desires and how people feel about specific content.”

Boosting Engagement and Performance

In addition to acting as a rich source of user data, Collette said comments can help boost both user engagement and performance of the site. 

“A survey by Viafoura of more than 650 million users found that commenters generated 48 times more page views and 99 times more dwell time than anonymous users,” she wrote. “Digiday found similar results a few years ago when polling the Financial Times on its readers who also comment. This group is estimated to have a dwell time that’s seven times higher than those who skip the comments, and they come back to the Financial Times site more often.” 

A recent SearchEngine® Journal (SEJ) article by Matt Southern confirmed the value of user comments to boost site performance—specifically when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). 

Summarizing a Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout recorded on February 18th, Southern cited related guidance provided by Google’s Search Advocate, John Mueller.

When asked whether user comments are considered a ranking factor, Mueller said they could help with ranking—if they’re relevant to the content of the web page. When that’s the case, Google has more to work with. 

“What I think is really useful there with those comments is that oftentimes people will write about the page in their own words and that gives us a little bit more information on how we can show this page in the search results. So from that point of view I think comments are a good thing on a page,” Mueller is quoted as saying.

On the flip side, Southern said that “irrelevant” comments can “drag down the quality of the entire page”—which underscores the importance of comment moderation. 

In this context, he also offered a reminder to be careful during comment clean-up. 

“Cleaning up a comment section that’s full of irrelevant and/or spammy content may lead to ranking improvements,” he said. “On the other hand, removing comments that add valuable context to pages may lead to ranking drops.”

Deciding whether to enable user comments can be a challenge for any organization. According to these experts, a major factor that can help you decide is whether you have the resources available to give the comments section the attention it deserves. 

When that’s the case, the rewards you receive may include deeper engagement, richer insights, and a boost in SEO to improve visibility regarding the unique offerings your healthcare organization provides.

Contact us today to find out how we can help you level up your healthcare marketing strategy.