One of the ways that the internet truly changed publishing is that it provides readers with the ability to publish back. The ability to comment on blogs and articles empowered readers’ free speech. Unfortunately, in the realm of online dialogue, commenting on blogs is one of the more underutilized and misused tools.

It’s been long-known that blog commenting can be a good way to drive traffic to your site. In fact, if you’re just getting started online, I think commenting on blogs is probably the best way to join the conversation. In theory, it can help you be a better reader/listener and prevent you from merely becoming another noise maker.

Heed Andy’s advice

Andy provides some good advice on what not to do here and here. In my opinion, his best advice is this:

If you comment with care and skill, you’ll draw readers and perhaps even referrals or clients. But if you drag the conversation down, you’ll hurt your reputation and maybe even make people hate you. If you are ever in doubt about commenting, silence is golden.

Read the post

It might sound silly, but if you’ve ever moderated blog comments, you know that many people don’t seem to even take the time to read the post. Aside from pure comment spam for links, generic and nonsensical comments are one of the most effective way to hurt your reputation with bloggers and readers.

Read the post. Spend some time thinking about it. Read it again. You don’t earn points for the number of comments you leave. You might earn points if you add something to the post’s conversation.

One more time, just don’t spam

Despite many people’s best efforts to discourage it, blog comment spam continues to run rampant:

While I’d like to think that posting a generic spam comment, on a post that recommends against this very practice, must be a joke, I am skeptical. Commenting like this serves absolutely no purpose but to annoy.

For those of you who insist on paying someone to leave comment spam to increase search visibility: You’re wasting your money and hurting your reputation! Google has repeatedly warned against such practices:

FACT: Abusing comment fields of innocent sites is a bad and risky way of getting links to your site. If you choose to do so, you are tarnishing other people’s hard work and lowering the quality of the web, transforming a potentially good resource of additional information into a list of nonsense keywords.

FACT: Comment spammers are often trying to improve their site’s organic search ranking by creating dubious inbound links to their site. Google has an understanding of the link graph of the web, and has algorithmic ways of discovering those alterations and tackling them. At best, a link spammer might spend hours doing spammy linkdrops which would count for little or nothing because Google is pretty good at devaluing these types of links. Think of all the more productive things one could do with that time and energy that would provide much more value for one’s site in the long run.

If you’re paying anyone to do anything on your behalf online, make sure that you know specifically what they plan to do and their rationale for doing it. Get it in writing that they aren’t polluting the web on your behalf.

You be you

Use your real name in blog comments. Use a real picture of yourself. Further, instead of just linking to the homepage of your law firm’s website, include a link to a profile or bio page that contains more information about you.

If you want your comments to be taken seriously, you need to be authentic. Own your comments. Stand for something. Share an experience. That’s what real lawyers do.

Public and permanent

Of course, always assume that everything you do online is public and permanent (even if the site says that it’s not public).

While it should be obvious, remember that your ethical obligations apply equally to your communications online as they do offline. However, don’t allow your obligations to paralyze you from participation. It’s quite sad to hear lawyers talk about avoiding online discussions for fear of breaking the rules. It’s also sad to see popular blogs close comments in order to better control the conversation.

Some of the best content online comes from blog comments. Blog comments are among the best ways to share knowledge or just be social. If the time you have to participate online is greatly limited, I recommend that commenting on blogs be on your very short list.

Do you spend time commenting on blogs or other sites? What’s been your experience?