The Price of Closing Comments on Old Posts
I’ve never been a fan of closed comments, though they are a choice for many bloggers. However, I’ve never liked the idea of closing comments on old posts with the hopes of preventing or restricting comment spam. Here are a few reasons why.
The Myth of Comment Spam Prevention
There are a lot of myths around comment spam. One is that the more popular your blog is, the more comment spam. This is false. The more incoming links to your blog, the more comment spam. Comment spam bots follow those precious links, nofollow and dofollow, to your blog and spam it.
You could say that the more incoming links you have, the more popular your blog is, but that is not always true either. Trust me, it just takes one link to open the door to a voracious comment spam bot, as I’ve proven repeatedly on brand new blogs. These sites have no comment spam for months until that first trackback or incoming link.
The “old posts” myth about comment spam is that comment spammers hit older posts more than current posts. This is also not true. Comment spammers will hit EVERY post they can. Comment spam bots and human spammers don’t check the date of the post before they hit, thinking, “Hmmm, this one is at least six weeks old, ripe for spamming.”
Use the right keywords in your blog post and you can get comment spam in the time it takes to hit Publish and load the post to see the results. Words like credit, foreclosure, mortgage, finance, debt, and such attract comment spam faster than flies to honey. An article I published here on the Blog Herald on Give Credit When Credit is Due: Skip The Middle Man was slammed by comment spam within seconds, all aimed at promoting the get-rich-quick and out-of-debt-over-night schemes. The article had nothing to do with any of these things, but keywords are keywords in the eyes of spammers.
Human spammers also don’t check the expiration date of your blog post. They want your traffic and they understand the nuances of how Google’s Page Rank works. They target posts with similar or related keywords and topics so their trackback spam “counts” towards them and away from you.
Closing off old posts to prevent comment spam doesn’t work and has little or no impact on comment spam. Sure, it will eliminate comment spammers, human and machine, but it will also eliminate legitimate comments on those old posts that still have value.
Loss of Input and Feedback Sends a Message
When you close comments on all posts, you block off input and feedback. If your blog has no need of comments and feedback, then it doesn’t matter. But when you have open comments, then close them, what message are you sending to your readers and potential customers? We will listen, but not for long?
Blog posts are timely and timeless. When people arrive on your blog, they can enter from any search result or referral link to any page at any time.
When they arrive and find the comments closed, with or without other comments, you are sending a variety of messages about your past posts, as well as your present ones. Here are some I’ve heard from students and participants of my blog workshops:
- They don’t care what I have to say or think.
- Guess my opinion doesn’t count here.
- So you mean I have to tell them what I think only on my blog?
- I bet they get more comment spam than good comments if they do that.
- Don’t they know I have something of value to add here?
- Screw them if they don’t want me to participate.
- Why should I listen to what they say if they won’t listen to me?
Rarely do I hear, “Of course they should close comments after a certain amount of time. It’s the right thing to do.” Or “Bet they are saving time by closing comments. I’d do the same thing.”
You Lose Valuable Feedback
Researching an article recently, I ran across a bunch of articles and reference resources with closed comments. Those articles had dead links, and wrong links and misinformation, though the content was basically still valid. Another article was scrambled with an error in the code. Since comments were closed with no clear, easy-to-find contact link, there was no way to contact the blog author to let them know of the problems with the page.
If I found those errors, others are finding them, too. With no way to communicate, poor information and problems continue to plague visitors, and the site owner may not realize there is a problem.
On another blog using an auto-closing comment WordPress Plugin, they had asked for help with only one unhelpful reply of commiseration. Since I had the answer to their problem, I wanted to let them know in case they were still battling with this issue. Without any way to comment, nor a direct link to their comment form, I gave up. Guess they didn’t need my help after all.
There are sensible times when it is appropriate to close comments. If a post has more than a hundred comments, has everything been said that needs to be said? Maybe it’s time to close the comments and start a new post to continue the conversation in the direction the comments took. Once it crosses a certain threshold, comments, threaded or not, become very messy to navigate.
If you’ve asked a question, poll, or survey, or offered customer support with the answers clearly in the blog post and in the comments, some like to close comments then as the rest of the comments tend to be either clutter, time wasters, or people asking the same things over and over because they just don’t read the post. Make the last comment include a summary with links to all the answers, like a FAQ, echoing the information in the blog post, and close the comments.
Comments are critical feedback and information. By closing comments, you may be missing valuable feedback that can help your blog now. Feedback that can update a post, or even suggest a new blog post idea that will link back to the old post, networking your content together and building a body of work.
If you choose to close the comments on any blog post, ensure there is a clear link to contact you so you keep the lines of communication open.
The author of Lorelle on WordPress and the fast-selling book, Blogging Tips: What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging, as well as several other blogs, Lorelle VanFossen has been blogging for over 15 years, covering blogging, WordPress, travel, nature and travel photography, web design, web theory and development extensively as web technologies developed.
Such a great post that completely kills the misconceptions about blog comments and spam. I agree completely, closing comments on old posts does more harm than good. Thank you for clarifying this :-)
The biggest misconception about spam is that you can solve it at expense of your readers. When bloggers start to think “I can also add captcha and forget about spam” they are “solving” having actively contributing readers together with having spam.
I manage a large number of blogs, and my experience is completely opposite from this. Old posts are hit way more often than new posts. It’s not even close.
A lot of people think that, but the stats don’t measure perception just reality, though it could be true in your case. I’ve had single old posts hit hundreds and thousands of times by spam bots, which are caught, but not old posts specifically. This skews perception.
The truth is that comment spammers are getting so sophisticated, nothing is safe. So closing old posts is no better or worse than any other technique. It doesn’t stop them specifically as everything is fair game for them. We have to stop them at their source, not our blogs.
Yeah, on several of my blogs, I virtually never see a spam comment on newer posts, but regularly see them on old posts.
And no, I definitely wasn’t arguing your point about closing comments on old posts. I think you’re right. However, trying to stop spammers at their source is a losing game. As long as there are ISPs who will harbor them (and as long as there’s money in it, there will be), we’ll have to employ anti-spam measures not only at our blogs, but all along the path from them to us.
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we had an opt-in policy rather than opt-out. :D I’d like the same for telemarketers and email and snail mail ad campaigns. SIGH.
I agree that closing old posts comes at a cost. Older posts may get more comment spam if their content had keywords that attract comment spam and/or links that attract comment spam. I notice particular posts that get spammed a lot and I have been trying to avoid those keywords.
Blogs are supposed to be an interaction with the readers and anything that gets in the way defeats the purpose.
My problem is that old comments are closed, but I don’t want them to be!
Does anybody know of any quirks or conflicting plugins that may be causing this for me?
Check your Plugins and deactivate any that will close comments after a specific time period. And check in the WordPress Support Forums for more help.
Yea, there’s tons of request on it, all suggesting deactivated plugins, guess I shoulda known better.
I did come across this snippet in my travels there though:
‘I used phpMyAdmin to edit the MySQL database by using the UPDATE command to set the comment_status of all existing posts to “open”. ”
Unsure if that’s not just a band-aid, but I’ll give it a shot first…
btw: I wish those WP forums would do something about their own serp excerpts – the whole first line is nothing but a repeat of the menu options from the top of the page, meaning we have to click on every dang link!
Thanks again. So weird, I hardly ever venture out, and here I am begging on 2 different sites of yours within 2 days lol.
I’m not sure what you are talking about with the WordPress Support Forums, but directing your concerns directly to them is a step in the right direction. For more on updating your database, see Search and Replace in WordPress MySQL Database.
Some of your points are worth noticing.Thanks for busting out the misconceptions,and yes you will get the appaud from many like minded people on it.
I would never close comments on a post. I have thought about it a few times, simply because some posts attract so many comments over time that the value of each comment degrades.
But here is my view. If the article is no longer relevant to be commented on, then it is no longer relevant to keep on the site.
If people are still commenting on older posts and not on the latest posts, you should probably figure out WHY people prefer the old post over the new, less commented posts. Could your navigation on the blog be misleading? Could your older posts be of higher quality than the latest? Or could it just be the fact that existing comments entice people to comment. It’s not always fun to be the first to comment – but to be #36 or #264 is perhaps not as intimidating.