Remember the 1990s? When techy TV presenters spoke in awed tones of a future World Wide Web, offering a wealth of on-demand information, streaming video, and an unimaginable level of innate interactivity?

It can all seem a little quaint now. We’re so used to a web experience driven by user interaction that features such as commentable content can seem like part of the digital furniture.

But you shouldn’t underestimate the value of user comments. If you can create content that naturally accrues comments from visitors, this can have a beneficial impact on the ranking of particular pages – as well as generally helping to build your online presence.

Reader comments are doubly useful for SEO because they help to pad out pages with extra content that is generated free of charge and will most likely be unique and – at the very least – related in some way to the topics covered in the article or post itself.

In this way, long-tail phrases that you might never have thought of can become part of your living, growing on-page content – and help to improve the visibility of your site.

But, as countless content writers know, the battle to actually get a discussion going can be tough.

Most site owners will have read up on advice relating to how content can be optimised to encourage comments. Much of the advice online focusses on adding actionable or leading content into the equation and hoping for the best. Bu there are other ways to engage readers. Read on.

The Complexity of Commenting

For users, the first barrier to commenting is complexity. The commenting process should be made as easy as possible in order to achieve a feel of natural, flowing conversation. Requirements such as a user login or a field which must be completed before a comment can be posted only serve as barriers to user engagement, leaving visitors lost for words – or, more likely, too bored to care.

It’s a good idea to remove as many of these as possible, without opening up the floodgates to spam. The use of social plugins can be a great help, since letting users log in with Facebook or Twitter before they post will be simple and can minimise the amount of input they need to make.

Positioning Comment Forms

When you’ve got a website that has a lot to say, you need space to say it. The result: a site that surrounds articles with ads, social plugins, reading recommendations and other detritus

Putting all of these things directly below the content can mean that comments are relegated to much further down the page, making them less obvious and accessible.

Positioning all of the elements on the page for maximum effectiveness is only a few steps away from alchemy. But comment forms should be given high priority. If your visitors can see that they have the option to post an opinion, you will likely gain more than you sacrifice.

Commenter Recognition and Notifications

If you operate a blog with a growing community of readers, a good way of getting them to come back regularly and add fresh comments to your content is to offer them an incentive for doing so.

This can be as simple as something like a plug-in that ranks your more prolific contributors, providing them with staggered rewards that mark milestones in their history of interactions on your site.

In addition, making sure that you receive a notification when comments are posted so that you can respond thoughtfully and appropriately is sensible, since this will make contributors feel like they are engaging in a dialogue, rather than tossing their comments into the ether.

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About the author:

Alistair Harris is ClickThrough’s head of content. A double-award-winning senior journalist, Ali holds both the NCTJ and NCE qualifications and has more than ten years of experience in traditional press and PR. He has worked in digital marketing and SEO for the past three years and is passionate, enthusiastic and committed to quality.