When Copyblogger removed blog comments on March 24th, it sent reverberations throughout the web. As one of content marketing’s digital founding fathers, removing comments made a statement about where things are, and where they’re going in regards to community participation on the web.
At first, I was skeptical. Copyblogger has a smart marketing team, so I’m sure part of the reason they dropped comments was to reap the coverage reward it undoubtedly would result in.
But there’s something real to be said about the attrition of quality comments on the web, especially for a site of their size – it can be overwhelming to moderate, and otherwise, not worth it. Throw in the potential coverage coupe and the decision becomes easier – disable and see what happens.
Then, I realized something else Copyblogger was doing that changed the game. It shifted my initial reaction from being mixed about the switch to a feeling of being completely blown away.
Copyblogger’s Simple But Powerful Calls to Action
In the week following Copyblogger turning off their comments, Scott Tousley, a content marketing specialist here at Siege, told me about something new they were doing at the end of their post copy – adding a call to action to join the conversation on Google Plus.
In addition, Copyblogger also added a simple blue box at the end of the post to funnel people to participate on Google Plus or Twitter.
This might seem basic and somewhat non-effective, but what Copyblogger does here creates a marketing engine that will end up being incredibly powerful for them in the long-term.
What these two calls to action do is not just say “come and comment on Google Plus”.. what it says is “come and comment on Google Plus.. and by the way, we’re pretty certain you’ll add us to your circles, too.”
You see, when you click one of Copyblogger’s Google Plus CTAs, you end up on a page that looks like this:
The comment thread for this post basically yells at you to follow them in a way that’s not in your face or over aggressive. If you have any intention to comment at all in a way that’s not completely negative, you almost definitely will end up hitting that button.
And what that button does is funnel you into yet another channel of Copyblogger’s marketing machine – a channel that makes a ton of sense for their tech-savvy audience. With that, they’ve suddenly changed the “let’s have a conversation” sentence into a powerful growth engine for their business.
The Data Behind the Change
To confirm that my above hypothesis was accurate, I went to CircleCount and pulled the data for Copyblogger since they started implementing this strategy – March 24th, 2014. I used a date range of March 24th to April 15th, and compared it to February 11th, 2014 to March 23rd, 2014 - a date range that I felt was significant enough to draw a reasonable conclusion from.
From February 11th, 2014 to March 23rd, 2014, before the change, Copyblogger gained an average of 15.72 followers on Google Plus each day.
From March 24th, 2014 to April 15th, 2014, after the change, Copyblogger gained an average of 40.47 followers on on Google Plus each day – an increase of more than 157%.
And I don’t want to understate this – Copyblogger has just gotten started with this strategy. If it was possible to wholesale apply this to all of their old posts, their growth rate could exponentially increase based on traffic still coming in through search, links and otherwise.
By my count, at the time of this writing, they’ve only fully applied this to 16 posts. Copyblogger has more than 7800 pages indexed in Google. But their Google Plus growth rate still went up 157%.
You can’t just multiply that number, because Copyblogger has a core readership and many of them will likely circle up and then not do so again, but still keep reading. However, there’s no doubt the number can be increased and probably will over time using this strategy for every new post.
Is Removing Comments Now for Everyone? No
Despite the impressive Google Plus growth for Copyblogger in the last few weeks, I still don’t think removing comments is for everyone – even for everyone in the tech space.
There’s potential for net engagement to dip for the site, even if lots of its readership will now be following on Google Plus. For other companies, this move might not be on-brand given a history of a passionate community engaged through comments, such as with Moz or other companies like them.
At Siege, we jostled with the idea of removing comments after stumbling into this data. But after some internal deliberation, we’ve come to the decision that it’s not the move for us. Your business may be different. Consider all the options and act accordingly.
[Editor's Note: The original conversation around this topic can be found on Google Plus, where I broke this information before publishing this blog post. No, that's not a lame attempt to funnel you to my account.]