Blog Comments and Engagement: Calculate and Use the ConversATion Rate

blog comments and conversation rateHelp, my blog gets no comments! It’s something I often hear being said by marketers that recently started an ‘inbound’ or content marketing program by launching a corporate blog. In order to receive comments, you obviously need some kind of community of people that find your blog worthwhile or simply find it at all.

Moreover, comments are not always essential. The commenting culture is very different in various countries and maybe you just really write darn good posts no one wants to debate about (but that will show in traffic).

Even without many comments you can have a very popular blog. However, in most cases, it is useful to have or pursue them. And especially to measure them.

A corporate blog can have different goals. You know them all by know: showing the people behind the corporate walls, having a more human face, interacting (something marketers forgot), SEO, branding and dozens of other goals.

Comments and conversations in relationships

One of the main tasks of many blogs is building relationships. Obviously, you don’t build those for the sake of having them as a brand. To build them, you need to start somewhere: social connections, known as followers, fans, tweeters and retweeters, etc. You identify them and, next, you try to evolve from a connection to a relationship that potentially can take a business nature or purely remain in the relationship marketing or branding atmosphere. We call the practices, we use to develop those relationships – depending on the context – for example, lead management, community management, etc.

Obviously, with people who comment on your posts and thus interact with them and you, you have a very direct connection. Again, there are various reasons why people do not comment, but if you do not receive any comments, it is very often a signal that something is wrong with your content. Not with what you write as such but with the way you do not offer the people you want to connect with the information or context they seek.

Note that there is some difference between people like me who write a lot on various blogs for fun or out of passion and bloggers who want to establish – business – relationships with a specific audience through their posts.

Improve your content: calculate the conversation rate and act upon it

If you do not get comments, once your corporate blog acquires a certain critical mass and visibility, it often simply means that your content isn’t inspiring and appealing. It does not respond to the preferences and quests of your ‘target audience’. You do not write about what keeps that audience busy (or awake at night), what they want to know and what engages them. In other words: you don’t take their needs into account (and to do that, obviously you must know those first).

Should your posts engage your audience and provoke reactions? Again, it depends on your goals but obviously most companies and bloggers really seek, to use a popular word, “conversations” and interaction, beyond personal gratification and whatnot. Comments are the start of a conversation (if you respond, of course). Furthermore, you want to be customer-centric and thus provide content depending on what you want but most of all what your “readers” want!

If you pursue dialogue with your blog, it is worthwhile to take a look at the conversation rate of your blog. At first sight, conversation rate doesn’t look like a “real” KPI but it is. Wait, stop t a second here: in case you misread, I said conversATion rate, not conversion rate, just to make sure.

Web Analytics 2.0: The Art of Online Accountability and Science of Customer Centricity by Avinash Kaushik

Web Analytics 2.0 -> good book

Back to the essence. How do you calculate the conversation rate for a blog? Very simple: divide the number of comments by the number of posts. I call the metric conversation rate because Avinash Kaushik did so, when treating the question “Are we having a conversation?” from a blog web analytics viewpoint in is book “Web Analytics 2.0“. Watch how your conversation rate evolves and adapt your content accordingly from a reader perspective and interaction viewpoint if you pursue conversation and relation.

Simple, huh?

Oh yes, of course, the dialogues regarding your content take place elsewhere too (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), but with the conversation ratio as defined by Kaushik and in fact many others before him (some big blogs use it since the early years of blogging) you can really go a long way already.

As always, measuring is not enough of course: acting upon the data is key.

Any comments?

  • Tim Watson

    How could I not comment to this post? It would feel almost rude not too.

    What is the measure of “certain critical mass and visibility”? Whilst comments:posts ratio appears a good conversation metric, the number of comments will be directly related to the number of readers. How is this factored? Are there benchmarks for the ratio that means a blog is engaging?

    • J-P De Clerck

      Well, Tim, I didn’t elaborate on that matter for a reason. It’s a good question and answering it with numbers would be a lie. You can ask the same question for Facebook Pages and LinkedIn Groups by the way. My experience with those (when do people start interacting in a LinkedIn Group?) translates in numbers but these numbers are not “objective” and comparable with those of others. They don’t only depend on the people commenting and the number of posts but also on the posts themselves and the way you engage a community! I know some folks did research into “engagement benchmarks” but I don’t remember who. And the reason is simple: I forgot because these benchmarks don’t say a lot. It’s the same with all the email benchmarks we use or the benchmark reports of MarketingSherpa. I use them as well but what’s their real value, besides being a vague beacon? I believe in the “zero” approach (while keeping some numbers in mind): analyze where you are now and then check the improvement gained by every single change. With the critical mass and visibility I really mean that point of traffic and of community where direct interaction can occur. And, as you and I are used as email marketing practitioners, the answer as always is “it depends”. The conversation rate is a very individual one and I would hate to see it benchmarked.

      Here is what it depends on:

      1) The value of your traffic. By that, I don’t mean the numbers of visitors (we all know what you can achieve using StumbleUpon or the SEO and writing techniques in that regard) but how the profile of your visitors matches your goals and target groups. See also my last post on Dave Chaffey’s SmartInsights (time to do a new one really and urgently): “How can we change the traffic-building mindset?”:

      The way people arrive on your blog is key as well. So, the conversation rate can be best combined with these metrics (referrers etc.). I guess you know that a visitor coming from StumbleUpon doesn’t show the same behavior as one coming from your blog’s newsletter, for instance. Same thing with people coming from LinkedIn, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

      2) Your blogging approach. Even if you have only 200 visitors per day, it’s possible to have many comments: it depends on how you blog (and are, see further). Let me give you an example: I write long, theoretic posts, based on my daily work. They don’t really provoke debate. Now, take other blogs I write for (besides Social Email Marketing and others I once started): if I write a very informative post in Dutch on MarketingFacts, I often get zero comments and a lot of traffic. If the post would suck, it wouldn’t get tweeted and retweeted and read so often as it does. But, indeed, no comments. If, on the other hand, I post a controversial, provocative or interrogating post, it will get lots of reactions. And the thing is you know when it will happen. When I interviewed Dela Quist last year, he said marketers should send more email. Post that on a marketing blog and sensation and comments guaranteed. Same thing for rants or simply thought provoking posts. The topic plays a role as well. Write 19 tips on gaining more money with Twitter and you get kudos. Write a post on the impact of the recession on multichannel banking in the French financial industry and you get less comments ;)

      3) On top of the topic there’s the personality. I am not a always a very responsive person to be honest. But if you consistently seek interaction with your community and engage your readers, as brands should do (I blog for other reasons) the engagement is much faster and bigger. It’s not only about your interaction with readers on your blog (for instance, if people comment to a post I wrote to promote one of their links – common SEO BS practice – I will thank them and congratulate them with their link building effort, that’s not what a “company” would do, is it?). You can even take it further. Look at Olivier Blanchard, @thebrandbuilder: he is very responsive on his Twitter account, on Facebook, etc. He focuses on interacting and, on top of that, has strong opinions. This clearly reflects on the comments on his blog: people love to interact with him for many reasons but most of all because he is responsive.

      There is much more but my point is REALLY: it depends. From a business viewpoint not in the least from the goals. That’s why I will rarely advice customers to blog as I do, let alone to hire community managers with my attitude ;) Still, conversation rate, is a metric that matters for those that seek to engage people, as often the case in business blogs. But benchmarks: not for me :)

      • Tim Watson

        Thank you for the long and considered reply.

        I’m of the same view about benchmarks, so a little contra of me to ask what exists for blog conversation KPIs. Whenever I’m asked about benchmarks on email I say like you, its about what you’ve done to improve on your last metrics, not how you compare to a benchmark. Benchmarks add nothing, they give such a broad brush number it has no meaning. Benchmarks would be more honest if they included variance of the underlying dataset. I’m sure the numbers that go into a ‘benchmark’ can vary by a factor of ten.

        As for ratio comments:posts then it fine if you define your own and see if you get better. Levers to make it better include then more comment worthy comment as well as simply more readers.

        Totally get your points about type of post. Newspapers have long sought to find a controversial spin to get readership. If you’ve ever known a story first hand, then seen the headlines and story as reported, the truth gap (as personally perceived to reported story) can be quite amazing.

        • J-P De Clerck

          Absolutely agree, Tim, on all topics. In fact, this metric has been used by online media and group blogs as well. The people at the Dutch marketing group blog I write for and mentioned started doing it in 2006. They called it the Conversation Index (CI): they divided the number of posts by the number of reactions and trackbacks.

          They defined a CI, bigger than 1, as ‘broadcast’ instead of ‘conversation’. It took – the very popular blog – 2 years to have any conversation at all (from 2004 until 2006:

          Obviously, you have to look at the nature of the blog as well. All participating bloggers have their own style and topics, again the same story. What would also be interesting is mapping it with content groups (in web analytics): I bet you receive much more comments if you blog on social media these days on such blogs. In fact, most topics on it are exactly about that now. It’s the sign of the times. And, last but not least, the Dutch really have a commenting, debating, arguing and conversation culture. I guess that’s why I’m one of the few Belgians (we have that culture much less) that adores blogging there ;)

  • Tim Watson

    Actually, those who ask ‘why doesn’t my blog get comments’ should first check if comments get moderated and if so, who does it, how quickly and how reliably. I’ve found several sites where my comment is awaiting moderation for several days and sometimes stays in that state forever. I really feel annoyed in the cases that a comments button exists but comments are ignored.

    Better but also not perfect is where comments are not responded to. Also happens too often in my book.

    • J-P De Clerck

      Very true as well. One would expect a business to at least know that ;) As for the personal blogs: I guess it depends on how chaotic/busy one is ;)

  • Christina Pappas

    I have heard that if you get 1-2% of subscribers to comment, then its working. If you are just starting out and only have a few subscribers, this could mean zero. I had a similar issue at my last company; nobody was commenting on my content. But – my traffic was nearly doubling every month and the time spent was increasing too. Also, when people entered the site through my blog posts, I tracked what percentage were then going to check out our solutions. This mattered to me more than comments because it was a lead generation tool. If nobody comments but you get tons of leads, is your content bad? I would have to argue that its not. Also, what type of content are you posting. If its purely educational, you may not get lots of comments. Some of the most popular blogs with some of the best stuff I have ever read get zero comments but have thousands of subscribers. Why? Because by the time you get to the end of the post, you either are so inspired you need to just get right to it or they left you dumfounded (in a good way) and you just have nothing to say besides ‘great post’ (which to me is a waste of time).

    • J-P De Clerck

      Thank you for your comment, Christina. I have indeed found similar percentages. You might remember for instance that Jakob Nielsen once found 90% of the members of a community are lurkers: they read, visit or follow but never leave anything behind or don’t contribute in any way. Nielsen also found 9% contribute a little and only 1% contributes actively (the famous participation inequality and user participation 90-9-1 rule). More recent research either confirms this either shows slightly higher or lower percentages. But, then the question becomes what a community is. The community of a blog differs from other communities. Remember the extremely low percentages of people who actively contribute on Twitter, for instance. Furthermore, there are several bloggers that know the tricks to receive more comments and engage their readers so it’s really hard to compare anything at all.

      Obviously, in your case the main goal of your blog seems to be conversion by creating traffic to relevant web pages and generating leads, which is one of the many goals blogs can be used for. Whether content is bad or good purely depends on your goals and on the readers and, again, depends on the type of blog and the
      type of content. For me, if people say “what a great post”, or better, “great inspiration, didn’t think about it this way before” that’s what you could call a “personal KPI” since it means I’m achieving what I strive for personally: make people think with me. Now, if my main goal would be to generate lots of traffic, I would have to adapt my approach. Same thing with generating leads.

      My blogging advice to businesses is different from my personal blogging approach. It’s not entirely difficult because I try to help businesses find a right balance between the usual ‘best practices’ (for what they’re worth) and personality, depending on goals and reader preferences and needs. For a business, making people think, can be a goal as well by the way. In the end, asking the right questions is very closely related to making people discover the solutions, with a little help. That’s basic good old Professional Selling Skills even.

      You are right about the type of posts as well: the content and tone provoke the reaction (educational, provocative, engaging, involving, you name it). You can invite people to comment very easily, by your style, by being responsive and obviously by making commenting a friendly, easy and “rewarding” experience. Not striving for comments, while generating leads, is OK. No manager in his right mind will fire you for generating leads :)

      Conversion, however, also happens in the second, third, etc. degree and by involving social ecosystems, has some sort of “long tail” effect in the longer run. Community matters if it delivers value. And, most of the time, it does. Conversion is not linear.


  • Donna

    Thank you – this was helpful for what I needed to articulate my thinking :D

    • J-P De Clerck

       I’m glad it helped :)