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Enabling Comments: Positive Feedback or Target Practice for Visitors?

Enabling visitors to comment on your Web site's content can be a double-edged sword fraught with positives and negatives. On the one hand, allowing your visitors the ability to comment gives you an idea of how much attention your content is getting (in addition to analytics), and how it is being perceived by users. On the other hand, comments can start a virtual crap-storm of controversy over a seemingly innocuous topic. As the saying goes, there's no such thing as bad publicity, but does a line need to be drawn when it comes to flaming for the sake of flaming? Eventually, comments can get so out of hand, they devolve into something that barely resembles the original topic.

The latest example of this conundrum comes courtesy of Food Network's Recipe Ratings and Reviews. Paula Deen's English Peas recipe caused one of those aforementioned crap-storms of controversy due to its simplistic preparation. Who needs a recipe to throw together canned peas and butter? Many industrious home chefs took exception to the need for this recipe, to the tune of 321 ratings, spouting everything from, "This is a joke, right?" to "Thanks Paula.. works for me... a cookless old batchelor who needs simple instructions to survive!" Sandwiched in between those comments was everything from attacks on Ms. Deen and her culinary empire, to Food Network being all about "food theatre" and not about "anything useful that could inform or teach anyone about cooking." This particular commentator also suggests that "The executives of the Food Channel should quit, sell everything they own, and beg for alms outside the homes of people who actually know how to cook." All this over canned peas and butter...who would have thought?

What is interesting about giving your visitors the ability to post comments and feedback on your site is that it enables them to say things they wouldn't ordinarily say in a face-to-face encounter. The virtual anonymity the average user is afforded online emboldens them to act in ways they would never think to in real life. A keyboard gives us the ability to ratchet up the snark and the sarcasm in forums that are available to anyone. Of course, these forums can be moderated to remove those comments we don't wish to read, and leave those that are glowing endorsements. So far, Food Network has left those comments alone.

There are some who say that an emboldened visitor is a valuable visitor. Generating a certain type of feedback is good for business as it draws attention to your site. This can be true for small businesses looking to raise their online profiles, especially when your products and services are so exceptional that visitors are compelled to sing their praises. That is the kind of feedback everyone wants to read - the kind that depicts your business as one that provides exactly what people are looking for. But, there is a certain segment that wants to read the negative stuff as well. It is the owner of the site who has the ability to edit comments to weed out the snark, and sometimes, those comments are best left in place. Those can be tricky waters to navigate, so always pay attention to your analytics, but reign in those commentators who aren't doing anything other than using your site as their own self-serving forum. Riding a wave of notoriety can give you a much needed boost, until the next sensation goes viral.

Not sure whether to include comments on your site? Ask your Toronto SEO consultant if enabling comments is a good idea.

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