Short: Bloggers should take advantage of their comment sections by editing posts for clarity. If readers have been confused so far, take a minute to prevent future readers from also being confused. Note the change and thank your commenters!
Long: If something’s wrong on Wikipedia, we fix it. Others review our change, the edit is credited, and then the problem is solved. But if something’s wrong in a blog post, we make a comment. Others read our comment, the author defends the post, and the problem remains.
Why do blog posts have to be static documents?
First, we have a blog post titled 36 SEO Myths That Won’t Die But Need To, written by Stephen Spencer. It’s a good post; I’m sure we could find a more fitting example of the phenomenon at hand, but we don’t really need to. The post’s content is obvious from its title. It’s about popular SEO misconceptions. A lot of it is stuff we tell people all the time — meta tags, h1 tag trickery, and keyword density are all obsolete, for instance, and targeted traffic is more important than winning results page rank fights.
But this post gets really interesting once we read the comments. As professional nerds, these commenters are falling over themselves to find all the spots in the post where Spencer is wrong. Or, more accurately, technically wrong. Reading the post, it’s clear he knows his stuff and has expressed his knowledge in a Good Enough manner, but he left himself open for commenters to pounce. We could say they’re being pedantic and just overeager to outfox the author at his own game. Except, the things they’re pointing out aren’t supposed holes in his logic, but a few specific poorly phrased arguments. Most of Spencer’s points are well-written, but we can see why his commenters are jumping on certain items.
#14, “It’s important for your rankings that you update your home page frequently (e.g. daily.),” is not a myth — it’s true, as many commenters scramble to argue (FIRST!). Fresh content helps a page rank well, whether some high-ranking pages update infrequently or not. If a stale page outranks fresh pages then there are other factors, such as links or domain maturity, that are having a bigger sway. Many commenters offer this rebuttal, and they’re all right. After reading their objections, Spencer could’ve said “Allright, I’ll edit #14 to clarify. #14 is now tempered with the qualification that a page doesn’t ALWAYS need fresh content. Thanks for pointing that out, commenters X, Y, and Z.” But he didn’t — instead, he clarified in the comments — because that’s how the institution known as The Blog Post works, for whatever reason. Why?
Every author knows the terrible feeling of working on something and then finding people aren’t getting it. When your article is in print, there’s nothing you can do to fix it. But that’s the beauty of the web. You can restate, and you should restate, while thanking those who inspired you to.
A blog author shouldn’t look at a churning comment section and see stubborn dissenters. He or she should see peer review.
Think about it — academics tear apart each other’s arguments all the time. That’s how arguments become excellent! Very, very few published authors of any stripe have ever written a manuscript and squirted it straight into the public without any sort of peer review.
I’m not suggesting that Search Engine Land has no editors or that Spencer didn’t have colleagues look over his post beforehand. But he did likely run it past experts who knew him and knew what he meant to say. And internal, institutional review by fellow experts is one thing — it’s the best way to make sure your facts line up and so forth. But the whole heart and soul of the internet is the public perspective — the blogger needs the public’s understanding. That’s what the blogger needs to take advantage of by letting commenters weigh in with an actual impact on the document. You don’t see a movie producer responding to focus groups with “No, you’re not getting it.” Instead, she says, “How can I express my ideas in a way that you understand?”
We could counter that a published blog post isn’t like a focus-grouped movie. It’s already been released into the wild, while focus groups occur well before a movie’s release. But the difference here is that a released movie can’t change — until the DVD director’s cut, at least — while a blog post can change at the literal push of a button.
The only reason they don’t is that we’ve been conditioned to think of a published document as a document that the public must come to terms with. What if we think of the blog post process as something like a grad school thesis that could eventually become a book, meaning each expanding of its audience is also the next stage of its revision?
I’m not calling for crowd-sourced blog posts, though that would be an interesting model to try. This doesn’t mean every blog post needs fussed-with after every critical comment, but it does mean a comment section consensus should move an author to edit. In the case of the post I linked to, the whole post-comment editing process would mean adding a few qualifying sentences to three or four points. That’s it! Wouldn’t that be worth it? Especially if the author cares about his or her post being as link-worthy as possible for many years to come?
After all, a blog post isn’t just a news splurt that disappears in the stream … it’s not a tweet. It’s a webpage that will be around forever and hopefully be read by one person every day for the next decade. Shouldn’t it represent the best we have to offer?
And I’m not saying authors shouldn’t stand their ground. In yesterday’s post here, I somehow wrangled up a small mob of Creed fans. We dearly appreciate them stopping by and offering comments, but no matter how many Creed fans show up, I’m not changing my mind on how hilarious that Scott Stapp Florida Marlins video is. However, if I’d said something especially dumb like “No sports team should ever hire someone to record a theme song,” then I’d be happy to be corrected by commenters.
Choosing to differ on opinion is great — choosing to differ because the author didn’t write clearly enough is a missed opportunity.
Are we selling our audiences short if we think of them as pupils instead of peers?
The content creator should be right in such a way that even newbies can understand.
Even if the commenters aren’t technically right, consider this: if enough of them are wrong about the same thing, then perhaps that thing wasn’t expressed clearly enough.
By “Blog Comments Are Pointless,” I mean that the average blog post comment, no matter how insightful and contrary to the author, has no effect on its subject blog post. You could argue that a comment is in a way a part of its post, as they’re both on the same webpage. Certainly I linked to the post that I linked to because of its comment section. But wouldn’t MORE people have linked to that post if its author had used his commenters obvious, worthwhile, and justifiable complaints to edit his post until it was airtight? Again, I’m not attacking Spencer, because this is how The Blog Post works all across the internet.
Newspaper editors and bloggers correct factual and grammatical errors all the time, hopefully noting the correction with a time/date update and credit to the reader who pointed out the error. So why don’t all bloggers do the same when it comes to errors of logic or errors of syntax that SEEM like errors of logic?
If every Joe P. Netscape can find 10 seemingly nitpicky reasons to dismiss a post, then what good does it do if the post is right?
Why can’t a blog post be replaced by its own director’s cut?
What do you think should I change about this post? :)