Why I Loathe Top Commenters Plugins
I benefit from being a top commenter on a number of blogs simply because I am consistently active on those sites, and I have gained the benefit without changing my commenting habits.
Some of my blogging friends are aware of the problems, but have opted to use such a plugin anyway – I fully respect that decision, but many make that decision "blindly" without being aware of the possible consequences.
Is being included among Top Commenters really a benefit?
Does Top Commenters give more benefit to blog owners than the harm it can cause if you are not careful?
Andy Beal introduced Top Commenters to his blog on 19th February, and since that time I have been among his top commenters most of the time. I didn’t change my commenting habits, and even argued against including it.
In almost 1 month those links, plus the links from my comments have driven a total of 29 visitors to my site – Google Analytics only picked up 23 of them, so I am sticking with the MBL numbers.
Without exception, the clicks seem to have been on posts where I have made a comment, thus nothing to do with appearing across the whole of Andy’s site on the sidebar.
This might question the value of text link ads for traffic on blogs, I suppose it depends on how much a visitor is worth to you.
Site wide might be looked on as something desirable from a high ranking blog, but the value is limited.
- It is in the sidebar, thus the value is diminished by the major search engines
- The link isn’t permanent – what effect does a link that appears and then disappears at the start of a new month have
- The link might not be relevant
- The link in many cases points to the root domain rather than laser targeted LSI Related Content.
This to a lesser extent questions the value of paid text links for SEO, but note with paid text links you choose the anchor text, and can choose to advertise for more than 1 month
Effect on The Hosting Blog
On a well designed blog, the negative effect of providing Top Commenters can be mitigated, but the majority of sites where I have seen this plugin implemented will experience a detrimental effect on their internal Google juice.
The problems associated with the Top Commenters Plugin are similar to those that can affect blogs which have long blogrolls.
- Theme design – the theme uses the same template file for for the front page and single pages, and thus plugin output appears across the whole site, including duplicate content pages. Good themes use single.php for individual posts, and also include archive.php and other template files for navigation and search pages
- Widgets – The WordPress Widget plugin is convenient – unfortunately every theme I have seen applies Widgets to every sidebar across a site, and thus the links will again appear everywhere, even if a single.php template exists.
Lets take a situation that you have 10 glass milk bottles in a line, and one of them is filled up with milk.
Your challenge is to consecutively pour the contents of a bottle into its neighbour until you reach the end of the line. You have to do this as quickly as possible.
The smart thing to do would be to use a large funnel, that prevents milk escaping and only allows it to flow in the direction you intend. Without the funnel, lets say you lose 10% of your milk in each transfer, you would only have 39% of your milk in the last bottle.
WordPress Duplicate Content
With WordPress you have multiple navigation and archive pages that contain duplicate content, and on a poorly designed blog theme, would also include blogroll links and Top Commenters links.
- Date Based Archives
- Sequential Pages – page1, page2
- Tag Pages
There are plugins available that add noindex nofollow to the meta tags on these duplicate content pages, and if you wanted to have total control, it is possible to ensure that the only links to your content come from your sitemap – in doing so you could potentially reduce other important factors in search engine calculations such as relevance.
I have seen blogs with as much as 90% external links on all their duplicate content pages.
Alternatively with no blogroll, and no Top Commenters plugin, you can reduce the number of external links on duplicate content pages to as little as 5%, even if you are generous with your external links within the content.
Dofollow – Remove Nofollow From Comments
This is my preferred alternative and I use it on all my WordPress blogs that have comments enabled.
- All comments provide permanent links, and you can make that link more relevant by using a deep link to related content on one of your own sites
- All trackbacks provide a followable permanent link between related content
- Comments only appear on the single pages that are gaining from other sites. They don’t appear on most duplicate pages.
- Real comments with related content surround your backlinks giving them enhanced value
- By cultivating and preserving Google Juice, it flows to where it matters, subsequently comment links on those pages are more valuable.
Here is a list of available dofollow plugins, and some alternatives that can be used for other google juice flow control.
Effects on Other Services
Site wide links do have an effect on other services such as Technorati and some meme trackers as I have recently discussed. This can be beneficial for the number of links, but remember that Technorati ranking is based on number of unique sites rather than the number of links.
Maybe it influences some, but rewarding 5 or 10 people, when 100s of people take part in your blog isn’t the fairest system in the world. In addition the people who often try to be the top commenter for the link value often should be spending more time on their own blogs than commenting on yours.
I am all for encouraging discussion, but not at the detriment to someone elses real interests. Helping people sometimes isn’t encouraging them to spend hours per day commenting on your blog just to get a temporary site wide link that is of little short term, or long term value.