Paid Comments – They Can Be 100% Ethical

Whilst travelling I missed a blogstorm – “Buy Blog Comments” a controversial service that allows you to pay a fee to have someone promote your website writing comments.
This is probably going to be my most controversial post ever, and lots of people are going to think it is just linkbait, but I sincerely believe that paid comments can be ethical.

There has been quite extensive coverage of the topic on Problogger, and this comment by Darren Rowse really went into the details about why the Buy Blog Comments service wouldn’t work.

At $19.99 for 100 posts you’re paying them 19 cents per comment. For someone living in the US or Canada to make a decent living at 19 cents per comment (he says they are US/Canadian citizens that make the comments) how many comments would they need to leave in a day? To make $100 they’d have to leave 526 comments….

An 8 hour day has 480 minutes in it. They’d need to be leaving comments at over 1 per minute. Now to make a comment genuine and add to the conversation they’d need to read the post before making the comment….. The site says they also hand pick blogs from relevant niches (more time)…. I guess then that Jon needs to take his cut before sharing it with the people who work for him…. I can’t see how it adds up. Those working on this scheme need some fast way of posting comments – I’d suspect that they’d need to do at least two comments per minute.

But that doesn’t mean that all such services are totally unethical, not by a longshot.

Employees

If you have a full time employee, knowledgeable about your business, there is a high possibility that you would allow them to write comments on blogs. Matt Cutts is “just” an employee of Google , but is trusted enough to leave the occasional comment on a blog. He even uses his own name these days rather than “Google Guy”.

Permanent VA

Lots of people have virtual assistants, who they trust to respond to email correspondence. It is quite possible that such an employee might also be suitable to respond to blog comments that are not too specific in nature, or after sufficient training.

Subcontracted Bloggers

Many companies feel they are not quite “in-the-groove” to do their own blogging, and thus hire a specialist to blog on their behalf.

As an example, a very professional service is offered by Jim Turner of One By One Media, Bloggers For Hire.

Part of such a blogger’s responsibilities might well be monitoring and responding to the blogosphere, and part of that responding could be commenting on other blogs, especially if they linked to the corporate blog in response to an article.

That would be a paid comment

Outsourcing Blog Content and Comments

I haven’t actually had time to look around inside Blog Mastermind yet, but on my trip I spent a lot of time with many of Yaro’s own mentors. I am fairly confident that he doesn’t recommend doing all the blogging yourself, you would use outsourcing for blog posts, and quite possibly expect those outsourced bloggers to respond to comments, both on your own blogs, and those that might have linked to those blogs in response to articles.

Paid commenting again…

I noticed that Darren Rowse also has a special deal to sign up with Blog Mastermind for just $47 per month – if you want to be a problogger, but not tied to your keyboard 16 hours per day making peanuts, it might be a good option, and they have just done a free podcast that is worth a listen.

Outsource As Much As You Like

Many of my readers are probably familiar with Michel Fortin, one of, if not the greatest online direct response copywriters.

Far fewer are familiar with Sylvie Fortin, Michel’s wife who has been running a service called Workaholics for Hire for 8 years, providing outsourcing services, mostly behind the scenes for many of the internet’s most successful marketers.

As well as providing general purpose Virtual Assistants, they also provide a host of specialist services.

  • Viability Research – for both niches and products
  • Ebook Development
  • Content writing – this includes blogs
  • Product location for monetization
  • Transcription Services
  • Customer Support
  • Blog Creation & Customization (a very hot offer if you need something professional)
  • Sales Page Makeovers
  • Webmasters on Call

Absolutely nothing controversial in that list at all, in fact I am sure many of my readers might be tempted to use some of those services, especially the blog creation and customization for one fixed fee.

It is in the blog promotion services that things if looked at in isolation become a little controversial.

  • Article Marketing
  • Blog Comment Marketing
  • Discussion Board Buzz Marketing
  • Blog Directory Submissions
  • Free Classifieds Marketing
  • Press Release Marketing
  • Web Directory Submissions
  • PPC Campaign Management

Blog comment marketing? Discussion Board Buzz Marketing? That can’t be right… can it?

Before you have some kind of knee-jerk reaction, it is something that is totally logical, and 100% ethical.

Paid Blog Commenting Can Be 100% Ethical

  • You pay someone to research a niche you know nothing about
  • You pay someone to create a product and sales page for a suitable niche
  • You outsource a customized blog design
  • You pay someone to write blog content to help promote the niche product
  • You pay someone to provide customer support

So if you have all these services, obviously the only remaining task is promotion, and that might include some ethical forum marketing or even writing or responding to blog posts and blog comments.

If you can hire someone for that role for your company on a permanent basis, it is certainly just as ethical to hire someone part time working from home to do it as well, in fact it is more ethical than doing it yourself for a niche that you know very little about.

Other Opinions

Chris at Blog-Op couldn’t see much value and offered a great suggestion for quality traffic, get a review from me and spend the change on more conventional advertising.

Obviously that is good for me, but not always what someone in a specific niche is looking for. I am hardly going to review a squeeze page for a free dating book, and whilst I believe I have cultivated a high value audience, it is not a mass audience.
That review would be better suited to someone in the Make Money Online niche, or a high quality niche specific blog on sexual relationships such as Dan & Jennifer (nothing sexually explicit directly but discusses quite adult topics)
Note: Linking through to Dan and Jennifer has been gnawing away at the back of my mind for ages, as they are a true example of a quality niche site, and you should see how well they use video on YouTube – sometimes the encouragement to visit their site at the end of each video is as long as the content – really well done!

Dane on his new WordPress Design Tips blog thinks it is a storm in a teacup and that things like this have been going on for years.
He is quite right, and anyone seriously interested in spamming your blog with junk is already doing it, and clock up 1000s of links per day, or more likely hit your spam filters as they are looking for soft targets.

One idiotic marketer from the UK has produced a “special report” with a list of dofollow blogs he spent a lot of time trying to find and is promoting it on Digital Point – what an idiot, you can find 300 dofollow blogs just by visiting my no nofollow community on Bumpzee, but unless you are going to write something really on topic that will bring targeted visitors and give you a decent relevant link, there is absolutely no point commenting, as the comments are unlikely to stick.
He is the same guy who has also come up with a Google Custom Search engine of dofollow blogs.

Conversation & Measuring Sticks

It is all about joining in the conversation. If the intent of a comment is clearly to join in the conversation and not just for SEO, that is an ethical comment. It is possible to join in discussions to sway them to your way of thinking, or entice people to click a link.

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Comments

  1. says

    I see nothing overly controversial with your post, sorry :). I agree with your statements and also don’t make a big fuzz out of the “paid for blog comments” thing. It is very simple.

    If the posted comments are just a new form of spam to circumvent spam filters, you as advertiser paying for those comments will not gain business from this type of advertisement, probably the opposite instead. The comments will also have a low chance of remaining active at the blog and will most likely be deleted like any other spam that might gets passed the filters. You will loose reputation and eventually customers and will have a harder time to find new ones.

    The low cost of the service makes me assume that it will be outsourced to some low cost country half way around the world (from you or me :) ). At least did you advertising dollars help to support an evolving economy somewhere else and get the bread on the family table for somebody.

    If the comments are good and you gain business as a result of it without a loss in reputation or even gain from it, reputation or authority, great, go for it. There is nothing wrong with that.

    You see, the problem solves itself very naturally.

    p.s. this comment is a “paid comment”, because it is business related and any time I spent for it is working time, (which hopefully gets compensated via one way or another = paid. :)

    If we want to make it unpaid, lets talk about text art or Cirque Du Soleil hehe.

  2. says

    Hey Andy, I’m not sure why, but I almost expected you to go the other way on this one. Should have known better. Good analysis of the concept as a whole.

  3. says

    I also agree with your post. The fact that the person leaving the comment is paid to blog, or post comments does not make what amounts to nothing more than writing or advertising ethical or not.

    The problem is that some for pay comment systems leave valueless, uninformative, insincere comments that are nothing more than attempts to jack SEO. The for hire commenters never return, and have no memory for any particular blog.

    I generally try to avoid deciding whether or not that behavior is “ethical”, but I do know it’s not behavior a blog owner want to permit on the part of visitors. Many blog owners consider particular comments are “spam” in the sense that they are numerous and undesirable. (In many ways, spam and weeds are similar. A comment in the wrong place is comment spam; a plant in the wrong place is a weed;)

    I know you are aware that my approach is not so much to yammer on and on about the ethics of the for pay human comment spammers. My approach is to write plugins to let the blogger who owns a site reclaim control of the link juice doled out on the blog. Irrespective of the “ethics” of for pay comments, it is the bloggers right (and sometimes obligation) to delete or add nofollow tags to any comment on their site.

  4. says

    Well… you have some points but here’s the key for me. Say you have a personal assistant of yours leaving comments on other blogs. If that assistant signs their names as “Andy Beard” and is pretending to be you, that’s where I take issue.

    If they put in their comment, “Assistant to Andy Beard” etc. I’d feel better about it.

    Matt Cutts of Google surely doesn’t leave comments as “Sergey Brin” for example.

    • says

      But wouldn’t you say Matt Cutts could validly and Ethically sign comments Google (within Google’s own policies on such an activity)? or if I hired an employee, working to promote my blog, couldn’t they as my representative sign posts as Blog Strokes? Or do you see that as the same thing as them signing “Sergey Brin” in the one case and “Dane Morgan” in the other?

  5. says

    Linkbait. Really, really good linkbait, but linkbait nonetheless. If paid posting is ethical, it’s possible that paid commenting could be ethical. But I think Darren Rowse’s assessment is correct and at that pace there’s no way that service, hitting those numbers, would be ethical or even worthwhile. Great article, Andy.

  6. says

    First of all thanks for the link love and the phrase “very professional service”. We do pride ourselves on total transparency and being nothing more than a contract blogger service representing the voice of the company through blogging. Watching for links to the blog, discussions about the company and all the rest is just a part of being a good blogger. It has nothing to do with separate details of what should be paid or not. As a personal blogger talking about knitting or the price of tea in China, part of what a blogger does is comment and follow conversations to build readership. Joining in the niche and participating is the key to blogging success.

    A professional blogger should have no different agenda. Grow the readership and open the conversation. If that means going back and checking if a comment generated another comment, or merely responding to a company mention either good or bad, it’s all part of the “blogger job description”. We treat our bloggers as representatives of the company. Many companies can’t afford a social media manager or community person, so we provide that at a low cost to them. If our blogger cannot make comment due to a company policy or due to a lack of knowledge in an area, we ask the principals of the company to step and make comment and continue the conversation. At the http://www.mogomobility.com blog for instance we get a number of comments and “contact us” questions we cannot comment upon, but we take that opportunity to seek out an answer or a statement and respond directly and immediately. Yes we charge for blogging services but blogging is more than words on a page. Blogging is participation. Participation includes comments.

  7. says

    I’ve been following stories on this service since it came out. I stand in a neutral position on this, I think it’s a great service for the blogs they leave comments on IF they do it right, and I think it’s a so-so service from a customers standpoint because you’re letting someone else speak on your behalf. I’ve also seen people commenting all over the place about how they don’t want to be commented and they’ll be watching and this and that, and I think that’s just an ego problem on their part.

  8. Biswaroop Todi says

    [edit]

    I wasn’t going to comment on this article because I am sick of hearing about it. But Some article submissions and PR web sites allow people to subscribe to specific categories related to their web site as RSS feeds. If a website subscribes to the RSS feed for the category that you have submitted your article to, your article and back link will not only show up on the website that you have submitted to, it will also automatically appear on all of the websites that subscribe to the RSS feed of that category.

    [message from the zealous comment moderator, who may or may not be Andy]
    As far as I am concerned this was manual spam – sure article submission was mentioned, but only in passing, and the commenter just happens to do manual article submission

  9. says

    Damn Andy, and I was just going to pay you to review my dating e-book…. ;-)

    You are quite right of course that they can be ethical, but the example quoted by Darren is unlikely ever to be. I also agree with the earlier comment that the commenter shouldn’t pretend to be someone else.

    As with anything, web-based or otherwise, you get what you pay for and $200 for a 1000 comments could be much better spent.

    If paid posts should be disclosed (as they should be), should paid comments?

  10. says

    Dammit, I wish I had more time to write what I think, but I have pesky clients hammering at my door like a demented mob, screaming that I write linkbait for them.

    Whenever ethics and internet marketing are mentioned in the same sentance without mentioning Aristotle or our Judeo/Christian code which forms the basis of our moral code, my “what’s the angle here” radar blips on.

    We still have one foot in the jungle, in a heartbeat we can turn into rabid savages and rip out the throat of our enemies with a pair of small nail clippers to defend yourself and your clan.

    So when it comes to leaving a few words when invited on another bloggers blog and getting paid for it so you can pay the rent and eat, and it works. Then fine, the natural order of “things” will sort it out.

    I’m a big believer in karma, and no, karma was not invented by a US TV executive so more detergent can be sold. You pay for short cuts, and in the end I think you will get short cutted yourself.

    Do bad people die rich and happy? Yes.

    Is being paid to leave comments on a blog bad, or unethical? I have no idea.

    I do know that when I took the link condom off, I got a little more action. OK let me say that in another less double en tondre way. I get more comments now, and some of them I know are simply for the link juice. But here’s the thing. I have enough to go around, so come get some.

    Damn you Andy Beard for suckering me into writing this comment. Now I really must get back to work before the rabid mob really do batter down my door and steal my stash of Chile Doritos.

    Maybe more on this later.

  11. says

    I can actually think of situations and blogs where someone spending 20 seconds thinking and writing about their comment would actually be ethical, and might even increase the quality of the normal comments on the site…

    Commenting on blogs like Perez Hilton and dare I say it… John Chow ;)

  12. says

    I did have few negative things to say about this new business. I still believe that their business model is unsustainable…. However if I were behind the website, I would be happy with such great feedback. If they read all the feedback and adjust accordingly, they may actually do real well. But as Darren said with 19 cents per comment it does not look so good.

  13. Buddha Statues says

    Good analysis of the concept as a whole.

    [edit]Spammy “Buddha Statues” link deleted

  14. says

    Hey Andy,

    I wrote a long response with similar thoughts on ProBlogger’s comments, but had a glitch when I hit “Send” and lost it.

    I’m very, very glad to see your post.

    I have employees that do comment for me. They also give me the URL’s of where they commented so I can check them and make sure the comments are of value. They actually do a very good job, and sometimes have insights I wouldn’t have thought of.

    They are also non-US based, and are paid wages lower then US-based workers would receive. They are happy because they are still receiving higher wages then they would at the jobs available to them in their home country (if they could find a job at home) and because they enjoy working at home.

    I provide training, and am available on Messenger much of the time to answer any questions they might have.

    They never post as me, because my niche work is not done in my own name.

    I do have employees that occasionally do something in my name (i.e. send out an email about a software update). I don’t see that as unethical, and if they were posting blog comments in my name, I wouldn’t see that as unethical.

    As a teen I worked for a CPA as a secretary and would often write letters on his behalf, signing his name, etc. Not unethical – simply what happens when one’s business grows.

    Anyway, I could go on and on. I appreciate your voice of reason in this debate.

    And a shout-out to the blogosphere: EARNING OR PAYING MONEY DOES NOT MAKE SOMETHING UNETHICAL BY DEFAULT.

    -Michelle

  15. says

    I agree with this post. It would be hard to tell if someone actually wrote a comment themselves, or paid someone else to do it.

    Some argue that if you pay someone to post a comment, it doesn’t help that blogger because it’s a one and done deal and that persons not coming back. I myself have posted a comment on anothers site because I thought the post was interesting, but the rest of the site either didn’t pertain to my interests or the content wasn’t that good.

    This issue comes down to quality. If you pay someone to comment on blogs, it should be highly relevent and not “spammy”

  16. says

    Damon,
    I value one time commenters, but don’t give them “dofollows”. I give dofollows only after 3 comments. My reason is purely practical: I can check comments to some extent, but I am bound to let a few slip through.

    I prefer to not give a “dofollow” to a few worthy comments rather than attract a swarm of comments for “cashmere dog sweaters”, dating sites, or SEO services. (My knitting site does seem to attract 4-5 of these daily.) Should I ever fail in my vigilant effort to delete those links, I want dofollow plugin to not give them dofollows.

  17. says

    Are you not using any spam plugins, Lucia? I have blogs that get hundreds of “spam comments” every day, and I almost never have to moderate a comment. When I do, it’s Spam Karma that let me know there was a problem in the first place.

  18. says

    I came in sceptical, but now I’m not so sure that you don’t have a point. “If the intent of a comment is clearly to join in the conversation and not just for SEO, that is an ethical comment” is hard to argue with! Maybe it’s just human nature to be fundamentally uncomfortable with fuzzy lines and slippery slopes… and at base, I guess, it all comes down to the “quality” of the comment rather than whether or not the person commenting is doing so out of spontaneous enthusiasm or because they’ve been paid to do so.

  19. says

    i’ve also wondered how its possible to get US/Canadian posters on such low margins… but theres nothing wrong with having paid comments. a shame bloggers need to resort to these tactics for seo, but unethical? surely not!

  20. says

    Hey Andy,

    Thanks for the shout out and for the kind words. We appreciate it. :-)

    We had started out doing advice articles, but the change to video for our Dating, Relationship, and Sex advice column is probably the best move we’ve made to date. It’s been golden as far as opportunities that have come our way.

    Case in point, we just got back from L.A. from our first national Television appearance – directly resulting from our online videos, and we were just contacted by another TV producer for a major daytime show.

    Also we had our first talk radio appearance last week on a very popular show syndicated across Canada, and just did an interview with a major California paper for a Sunday feature story that ended up being syndicated across dozens of other papers across the country.

    That, plus we love what we do! Great stuff and great fun… :-)

    Have an awesome day!
    Dan & Jennifer

  21. says

    Hi Andy,

    I agree with this post, oddly enough I was having this discussion with my father-in-law and I was saying there is nothing wrong with it as long as it is:

    1. helpful to the visitors
    2. related to the topic
    3. not abused

    He seems to disagree, he is a stubborn ol mule who still does things the hard way :)

    I haven’t yet used this method but know some people that has had great result from using it and getting high rankings for competitive words..

  22. says

    This seems to be a similar moral dilemma to writing sponsored posts on your own blog. I would say that sponosred posts are not unethical, as long as there is disclosure.

    Dfference with comments is that there is no disclosure. No room for it, apart from anything else!

  23. says

    Hey Andy- Thinking about Darren’s statements about how many comments per minute have to be made in order to make a decent living- he probably started a landslide over at DP. :)

    I get offers all the time from people on DP willing to do dirty, tedious, monotonous work for next to nothing. I can’t lie…I have hired some myself but I do give generous tips if they do a good job for me because if they do quality work, I want them to be available for me. :)

    I agree that comment posting on blogs can be done ethically- but I reserve important jobs for myself or for pros I have worked with in the past that I trust. There is nothing more unprofessional than comments that are not pertinent to the conversations. It completely shows your company in a bad light. (Like the Wide Circle comments you mentioned on another page of your blog).

    My two cents worth.

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