During the web design process, clients ask a lot of questions about the systems I put in place. One of the most common is, “Should I allow comments on my blog?”

Business owners are justifiably concerned about the possibility of negative or profane responses to their content. So what’s the point of comments anyway? Why take a chance on some troll tarnishing your valuable image? Does “comments on” contribute anything to conversion rate? I’ll try to answer these questions and explain how relationships built with comments add value to Roundpeg’s blog.

Before getting into the value of user-generated blog comments, let’s start with some really strong arguments against allowing comments. Scottish user-experience designer Matt Gemmell blogs about advances in technology, news about his software company and some personal updates. In 2011, he turned off comments and blogged about the reasons why.

Gemmell found “only the smallest fraction of people will actually leave a comment on the article itself. Twitter mentions (for my particular readership/audience) are at least three times as common.”

Turns out, most of those comments were actually quick affirmations, not questions or discussions. And while a steady stream of people agreeing with you feels great, it’s not a conversation. However, other members of his community were responding on Twitter and with posts on their own blogs. For Gemmell, comments were little used and he preferred the conversations happening on social media. So he turned comments off.

After posting about his experience, many other bloggers picked up on the discussion. Gemmell wrote a very good round-up of various viewpoints. You can read his responses to those posts here.

Allow CommentsIn terms of online engagement, it appears that a policy of “comments off” lowers overall responses, but maybe increases the overall quality, even if the responses happen outside of your website. So none of your customers will kick you to the curb for setting this rule. They may not have commented anyway, and they might not notice if you turn comments off tomorrow.

The other buzzword we’re working with is “conversions”. It’s a big stinking deal, but I’ll mention it just briefly for now. Indy’s own Doug Karr of DK New Media wrote a short post in 2008 declaring that comments do not equal conversions. Indeed, “the majority [of commenters] are folks I have personal relationships with… and very few, if any, do I do business with.”

If you’re mostly concerned about increasing customer conversions on your website, don’t worry about allowing comments. However, notice who does comment on Doug’s blog: friends. Here at Roundpeg, the same is mostly true. Very few blog posts get any comments at all, though they’re widely shared. And most comments are from friends and other bloggers, people we already know.

As for spammers and evil online trolls, powerful filtering software like Akismet for WordPress plays Gandalf to our Bilbo, freezing out those limited time offers and other garbage.

So if it’s just our friends commenting, what’s the bottom-line value of allowing this interaction? That depends on your strategy.

We allow comments because we like getting them and we’re committed to a strategy that includes guest blogging. This means our authors will sometimes write fresh content that’s published on another business’ website. Generally, this means one of their authors will write something for our blog too. This trade-off gives each business exposure to new readers and potential customers while providing a fresh voice that’s a treat for readers.

The comment section is a place for our blog authors to discover and nurture these guest blogging opportunities. It’s not the place to make a sale, but it is the place to build relationships with other writers online. Allowing comments is just one of the ways we work on these valuable relationships. Our blog authors also reach out on social media platforms like Twitter and even at traditional networking events.

You don’t have to include guest blogging in your strategy. There are a variety of goals you can have for a business blog, not all of which are advanced with comments and extra writing opportunities. But we think it’s fun and it’s right for us.

Of course, it’s a two way street that requires your investment to comment when you read a new article and pay attention to your own comment section. But if you can make your blog social, the long-term results will be a better mix of content on your website, stronger connections to other bloggers and the occasional ego boost from a positive comment.