Multiple Reasons Why I Loathe Top Commenters Plugins

I benefit from being a top commenter on a number of blogs simply because I am consistently active on those sites, and I have gained the benefit without changing my commenting habits.
Some of my blogging friends are aware of the problems, but have opted to use such a plugin anyway – I fully respect that decision, but many make that decision “blindly” without being aware of the possible consequences.

Is being included among Top Commenters really a benefit?
Does Top Commenters give more benefit to blog owners than the harm it can cause if you are not careful?

Traffic

Andy Beal introduced Top Commenters to his blog on 19th February, and since that time I have been among his top commenters most of the time. I didn’t change my commenting habits, and even argued against including it.

In almost 1 month those links, plus the links from my comments have driven a total of 29 visitors to my site – Google Analytics only picked up 23 of them, so I am sticking with the MBL numbers.
Without exception, the clicks seem to have been on posts where I have made a comment, thus nothing to do with appearing across the whole of Andy’s site on the sidebar.

This might question the value of text link ads for traffic on blogs, I suppose it depends on how much a visitor is worth to you.

SEO

Site wide might be looked on as something desirable from a high ranking blog, but the value is limited.

  • It is in the sidebar, thus the value is diminished by the major search engines
  • The link isn’t permanent – what effect does a link that appears and then disappears at the start of a new month have
  • The link might not be relevant
  • The link in many cases points to the root domain rather than laser targeted LSI Related Content.

This to a lesser extent questions the value of paid text links for SEO, but note with paid text links you choose the anchor text, and can choose to advertise for more than 1 month

Effect on The Hosting Blog

On a well designed blog, the negative effect of providing Top Commenters can be mitigated, but the majority of sites where I have seen this plugin implemented will experience a detrimental effect on their internal Google juice.

The problems associated with the Top Commenters Plugin are similar to those that can affect blogs which have long blogrolls.

  • Theme design – the theme uses the same template file for for the front page and single pages, and thus plugin output appears across the whole site, including duplicate content pages. Good themes use single.php for individual posts, and also include archive.php and other template files for navigation and search pages
  • Widgets – The WordPress Widget plugin is convenient – unfortunately every theme I have seen applies Widgets to every sidebar across a site, and thus the links will again appear everywhere, even if a single.php template exists.

Pouring Liquids

Lets take a situation that you have 10 glass milk bottles in a line, and one of them is filled up with milk.

Your challenge is to consecutively pour the contents of a bottle into its neighbour until you reach the end of the line. You have to do this as quickly as possible.

The smart thing to do would be to use a large funnel, that prevents milk escaping and only allows it to flow in the direction you intend. Without the funnel, lets say you lose 10% of your milk in each transfer, you would only have 39% of your milk in the last bottle.

WordPress Duplicate Content

With WordPress you have multiple navigation and archive pages that contain duplicate content, and on a poorly designed blog theme, would also include blogroll links and Top Commenters links.

  • Date Based Archives
  • Categories
  • Sequential Pages – page1, page2
  • Tag Pages

There are plugins available that add noindex nofollow to the meta tags on these duplicate content pages, and if you wanted to have total control, it is possible to ensure that the only links to your content come from your sitemap – in doing so you could potentially reduce other important factors in search engine calculations such as relevance.

I have seen blogs with as much as 90% external links on all their duplicate content pages.

Alternatively with no blogroll, and no Top Commenters plugin, you can reduce the number of external links on duplicate content pages to as little as 5%, even if you are generous with your external links within the content.

Dofollow – Remove Nofollow From Comments

This is my preferred alternative and I use it on all my WordPress blogs that have comments enabled.

  • All comments provide permanent links, and you can make that link more relevant by using a deep link to related content on one of your own sites
  • All trackbacks provide a followable permanent link between related content
  • Comments only appear on the single pages that are gaining from other sites. They don’t appear on most duplicate pages.
  • Real comments with related content surround your backlinks giving them enhanced value
  • By cultivating and preserving Google Juice, it flows to where it matters, subsequently comment links on those pages are more valuable.

Here is a list of available dofollow plugins, and some alternatives that can be used for other google juice flow control.

Effects on Other Services

Site wide links do have an effect on other services such as Technorati and some meme trackers as I have recently discussed. This can be beneficial for the number of links, but remember that Technorati ranking is based on number of unique sites rather than the number of links.

More Comments

Maybe it influences some, but rewarding 5 or 10 people, when 100s of people take part in your blog isn’t the fairest system in the world. In addition the people who often try to be the top commenter for the link value often should be spending more time on their own blogs than commenting on yours.
I am all for encouraging discussion, but not at the detriment to someone elses real interests. Helping people sometimes isn’t encouraging them to spend hours per day commenting on your blog just to get a temporary site wide link that is of little short term, or long term value.

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Comments

  1. says

    Some bloggers have even made the high-school atmosphere complete by letting readers vote on individual comments. I’d never really considered the technical reasons for why top commenters might be a bad thing, but from a social aspect it’s bad enough -j

  2. says

    Andy i love the milk pouring analogy. This would make a great graphic showing the basics of how PageRank works and why it’s better to funnel links into one website rather than 100.

  3. says

    I agree with the sentiment of your loathing, but I can’t completely agree. I use the plugin and have the top commenters wrapped in a scroll box. It does not reset every week, month, or year. I could not care less about what it does to my page rank, my traffic ranking, or whatever. In my own very humble opinion, anything I can do to boost others will eventually come back to me. Of course, I’m not into the SEO thing either.

  4. says

    lol Andy by any chance you did not have my blog in mind writing this did you?

    I did install the plugin, porbably not putting much thought into it. My origianal intention was to say thank you to my my commentors by putting their links up on the hope page wich has the highiest rank. But reading your article makes me rethink if they will trully beefit from it. Some how I thought that “dofollow” in comments was not enough, since most of those posts have no rank at all. Great article!

  5. says

    Andy, I’d read you commenting here and there about doing a post like this, you haven’t disappointed.

    Loathe is a strong word mind. ;)

  6. Aaron Pratt says

    Comments are content.

    Look at SEOmoz, they have top commenters over there who write good copy if you know what I mean. ;)

  7. says

    I’ve also come to loathe top commenters plugins, not necessarily for the SEO aspect, but because they encourage the wrong kind of comments, comments for the sake of comments that aren’t worth reading and make the whole discussion irrelevant. Just check out John Chow’s blog for an example of this.

    I do think that I will edit my single template to display my blogroll only on the home page.

  8. says

    This gives me an impressio that there are many duplicating redundation content is prevailing in abundancy. further we are pathetically discussing how to get through. Well tats the way of life on the Net.

  9. says

    Excellent read Andy. I’ve stayed clear of the top commenters plugin simply because I don’t want to clutter my site with widgets. This highlights many other reasons why I should continue to overlook it.

  10. says

    @Andy – when you introduced it, it was for a test period – I am just providing some data analysis and possibly suggesting a good alternative test.

    @John – Voting on comment is because of Digg – to be honest I don’t like the way Digg handles comment because it disrupts the flow – maybe I need to change settings.

    @Cvos – It could be used in that way, but then again if all those sites have only 30 links, the total is only 3000 for the central site and the content on each topic will be buried as happens on almost every SEO blog I have seen.

    @RT Cunningham – I totally agree with your sentiment, and some SEOs who do it professionally (I don’t) don’t care about it on their blogs either, and I respect that attitude.
    My gran as far as I can remember never gave us sweets as kids, other than maybe chocolate eggs at Easter. Birthday and Christmas presents from the age of 5 were always money that was always put in a savings account.
    At the age of 17 I went out 6 weeks before taking my driving test and bought a fairly new car and paid my insurance for cash, all from that same savings account.

    At the end of the day your site receives a certain amount of juice to share out, and the only way it flows out from your site is external links.

    Some will flow out to external links in your content, lots will be wasted on links that don’t really do anything for visitors such as submission buttons, and the remainder will possibly go to commenters in one way or another.

    One of the things I have discussed in the past and it is pure speculation is whether Google attributes weight to various links and then shares it out pro-rata, or whether their might be some loss of juice when a link in the sidebar gets discounted.
    You could look on the latter situation as a Link Juice Tax for being in the sidebar.

    @Vlad – no fingers pointed, I just write about what I observe – in many ways the blame partially rests on the way theme developers integrate Widgets. as it is capable of supporting multiple sidebars.

    @Rob – I have covered some of this before on this blog, and we have certainly had out discussions. Just bringing those thoughts to my own neighbourhood.

    @Aaron – In my opinion SEOmoz discuss fairly established best practice SEO with a lot of authority – I don’t have customers, I play around with things, experiment and speculate, and then just report the results or just my thoughts.
    For me relevance and LSI are highly important, even if enhancing relevance creates more duplicate content (tag pages, archives etc) – A good recent example is >Toolbar Pagerank – I can’t explain why my site, or that of Alice Seba rank higher for Toolbar Pagerank than Matt Cutts.

    Possibly the search results you see are the top results based on using multiple algorithm threads, so sites that score well in a totally different way have a chance to rise to the top.

    @John – some time ago I did a small site review off-the-cuff “How a Blogroll Can Kill Your Pagerank” that was in a very similar vein.

    @Immortal – I encourage people to look on duplicate content in different ways – some aspects are bad for your original content to rank well, other times it can be used to your advantage either through strategic syndication, or providing features for readers that also enhance relevance for search engines to use.

  11. says

    Reading this article… I had will to make a comment.

    I completely agree with your opinion that the top commenters plugin is useful both for the hoster and the commenters.

    Anyway at the moment it doesn’t seem to be very diffused through wp blogs (or maybe I just found a few).

  12. says

    Andy, you might be right that many external links are possibly negative for your ranking, however, as far as I know for instance the PageRank algorithm doesn’t depend too heavily on outgoing but rather on incoming links. Keeping in mind you’ll receive incoming links easier when you spread ‘the link love’ as well that might be a bigger advantage than disadvantage…

  13. says

    Internal linking is just as important as the links coming in from external sources.

    The link you get from commenting here in many ways is more valuable than sitewide blogroll links on a blog that has 100 people on their blogroll on every page.

    Top Commenters just adds to that mess on many blogs.

  14. says

    Although I agree with some of your points, I do think that especially for a small blog the psychological effect of inducing comments to grow community is far greater than any of your negatives. I’ve seen that plugin give some ignition to a blog that was floundering, because although the commenters come for the juice, some will get hooked into returning once they’ve been exposed to good content.

  15. says

    At the very least people could use if is_home() and if is_single() so that the links don’t perpetuate over duplicate content pages, and at the same time increase the number of internal links on a page to compensate.

  16. says

    Fascinating post Andy – really useful stuff!

    I currently use the Top Commentators plugin and I must confess in the past I’ve been a little ignorant with how site-wide links and duplicate content can harm my site (and learnt from bitter experience!)

    I’m planning a reshape of my side columns and I think I’ll do away with the top commentators plugin in favour of dofollow very soon.

    Thanks for the advice :)

    • says

      What you can do is use “if is_home” so it only shows on your front page, and also increase the number of internal links.

      If you use Dofollow you should also be careful to have lots of internal links to spread the juice out to your pages that might not get as many links.

      Things like related posts help, and on this blog the tag cloud at the bottom of the page grows with each comment or trackback.

  17. says

    First let me say I agree totally with your post and you definitely have me thinking about removing my Top Commentators plugin. I use it in conjunction with DoFollow but in reality it might not be the best system. I believe in rewarding commenters regardless if they post one contributing comment a month or twenty.
    Speaking of which, I found your blog while researching for my latest challenge the DoFollow Pingback Challenge. Hope you pop over and take a look, either way glad I found your blog.

    Oh and love that Don’t be An Idiot icon and page. I am definitely adding that to my blog.

  18. says

    Hi Andy,
    I just did a search for the top commentator widget and tried one site, but kept in mind that I saw your comment in the search results about why you loathe this widget. I am so happy I came back to read your post.

    I have the do follow widget and I was going to add the other because my blog is new(since Dec). I thought it might help, but now after reading your post I agree with you. I’m not that great with SEO, but that makes total sense. Like I said I’m new to blogging and I really appreciate the knowledge you have.

    I don’t know how to make it so my blogroll is only on the index page. Would it hurt to make it a page of it’s own, like a resource page? Thanks for your help, I really appreciate your blog and I’ll be back another time to read more of your advice.

  19. says

    Having a blogroll listed on a single page is a good option.

    Currently you have your blogroll appearing twice on every page, which isn’t a very good idea from an SEO perspective.

    You do need to think about reciprocation and also your monetization. Some of those links you are maybe making money from, and some of those people on your blogroll might be linking to you from their blogroll.

    As an alternative, you might find this page helpful

    http://www.avinash.ws/wordpress/how-to-add-nofollow-attribute-in-your-blogroll-wordpress.html

  20. says

    Thank-you so much. I have changed my blog around and also created a separate page for resources. I also added a link back here because I really think it will be useful to other people. I have also been reading more of your posts and really appreciate your knowledge.

  21. says

    Great article, I totally agree with you on the abuse of the Top commenter plugin. I was going to add it to my own site but decided not to. Also I see many blogs that don’t really get the benefit of those top commenter links.

  22. says

    I was just searching for “top commenters” and this blog entry was way on the top. Had to read why you loathe the plug-in. It certainly does not hurt the blog using the plug-in because most of them only limit the out bounds to ten. And it definitely encourages more conversation, as people are literally competing for these top commenter links. A blog shouldn’t be so concerned about hoarding PR, as building good indexable content is more important when good comments contribute to the content.

  23. says

    I think adding nofollow to the comments is the way to go, but if you have a smaller blog you really have to let people know you don’t use nofollow on your comments. Most seo’s searching google for “top commentators” or “top commentors” will be looking for sites that give some link love back to those who participate. Of course blog owners have full right to delete spammy comments so you should make it clear that you don’t allow one word/sentence comments.

    I just installed the top commentators plugin on my blog recently and saw an immediate increase in comments. Some are crap but most are good. I’m happy to link to other webmasters willing to freely add content to my blog. What I am thinking is that adding nofollow to the comments would be even better. I’ll have to test it out.

    Regards,

    Jeff

  24. says

    BTW, I got an error using firefox when submitting my last comment. Something about a cache error. I thought my entire comment was lost but entered the captcha code and it worked. Might want to look into that as it looks bad. Peace.

  25. says

    It is one of the problems running the latest version of WordPress and the problems it causes with a few very popular plugins, in this case spam karma.

    You might think top commenters is a minor problem, but you are giving sitewide links, including all your duplicate content pages.

    I see you like the plugin so much you nofollowed the link to the author.

  26. says

    Personally I am a big fan. Although, I guess it is a bit of a cheap way of getting a site-wide links. But, it is also a way of encouraging comments on your site. If the comments are spammy, you could always delete them.

  27. says

    I was researching this plug-in, and of course this post comes up in Google. I appreciate your comments and thoughts, I was interested in just the traffic aspect and seems that may be a little short as to what I expected.

  28. says

    I like the way Yahoo handle nofollows. It will still follow them it just means the link means less. Nofollow was intended to stop sites indexing pages that don’t need to be indexed, and not stop people sharing relevant links.

  29. says

    Some webmaster forums are all a buzz about using this as an SEO tactic and a way to get high quality backlinks. I came across this site actually because I was researching the benefits / drawbacks to such a plugin. I just want to thank you for the insight.

  30. says

    I don’t see what real interest is added to a blog by showing who the top commentators are – if the blog’s good (like this one :) ) then it shouldn’t be necessary! If anything, I tend not to bother with comments when I see such a list because all too often the majority of comments are a result of competition or for SEO purposes alone rather than for any genuine relevance or interest.

  31. says

    This was a good find in the process of searching for the top commenters plugin! I’d already worked through the logic of taking a blogroll out of the sidebar but had not connected that logic to the top commenters feature, until reading this. And anyway, I’m more interested in people commenting in order to contribute something useful or interesting, rather than so as to be in some sort of commenters’ steeplechase. Thank you.

  32. says

    The top commentators plugin sounds useless to me as one good post is more valuable than ten pointless ones, although there are always sites which go for the number of posts/rivalry to be number one poster aspect to look good.

  33. says

    Thanks for the great insight into the top commenter plugin. As for the duplicate content issue, I have run several tests on different blogs and I can’t really tell a difference as far as SERP/SEO goes.

    How does that affect the duplicate content?

    Thanks!

  34. says

    Hi Andy,

    excellent post, on my first blog I added a top commenter’s plugin and it was nothing but spam and hastle. i never thought it hurt my SERPs though due to duplicate content.

    Sam

  35. amazonproduct says

    I have implement Some SEO tactic and a way to get high quality backlinks.
    But i have found interesting trick here about top commenter's plugin.
    i never realize that it can impact my SERPs.

    Great Post.
    Thanks

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] Spam — both bot created and people created — was making it so that I ended up linking to spammy, off-topic, or just plain crappy blogs. Those who really provided value to the conversation were being pushed out by spammers. There were even some cases where the spammer would use the name of a real contributor, with a link to a spam site instead of the one who left the original comment. There are also a few other reasons. [...]