Audience Engagement Strategies – Increasing Blog Commenting

Simon Heseltine, Director of SEO at AOL/Huffington Post Guest Speaking at DragonSearch – Part 3

How can we increase our audience’s engagement with our blog? What can we do to help build and encourage conversation and sharing? What does our audience care about and what will make them want to leave a comment on our blog?

After sharing his extensive knowledge and experience about mobile and event marketing, Simon Heseltine, Director of SEO at AOL, talked to #usDragons about audience engagement strategies. Simon’s team works with all AOL brands on organic audience development.

Simon Heseltine guest speaking at DragonSearch.

Simon Heseltine discusses SEO with usDragons.

Read more about other topics Simon talked about in these posts:

Ideas for Increasing Engagement

Huffington Post, one of AOL’s brands, has a dedicated team that works hard on ensuring their readers have a great experience on the site, which not only includes outstanding content but also building community and discussion around the topics. They are constantly looking for ways to improve this experience, and increase the engagement and social shares.  Simon shared some of the tactics they’ve used successfully.

Tap Into Celebrity Connections

When Huffington Post mentions a celebrity, they try to ping them to let them know so they can share the content to their followers to get more views and increase engagement. Celebrities typically have a huge numbers of followers in social media and one tweets from a celebrity can get in front of 1,000s of people building brand awareness for Huff Post.

Make Sharing Easy

When people sign into Huffington Post they can connect their social media accounts and access their comments. If you want to follow someone, you can do it from your Huffington Post dashboard. You can also take a conversation off the HuffPost site and onto Twitter or Facebook. This helps spread the conversation to their followers who might then come to the site and read the article.

Image of how the commenting system is set up on Huffington Post to encourage engagement and blog commenting.

When users want to comment on Huffington Post they can connect their social media accounts and can earn badges. This helps increase engagement, commenting and shares.

Encourage Commenting with Gamification

To increase blog commenting and reader engagement, Huffington Post set-up their website so that commenters can earn badges. Depending on the level they reach, users comments will display in different colors. When they reach the community moderator level, they can delete comments.

Huffington Post badges that active readers can earn.

Huffington Post integrated gammification into their site successfully through giving badges to active users.


AOL’s Case Study – Analysis of The Anatomy of the Perfect Blog Comment

On Huffington Post, 70% of the blog comments are replies to other people’s comments. In an effort to understand audience experience and their motivation to engage and participate, AOL’s Consumer Analytics and Research team conducted a study analyzing the readers’ experience with blog comments and different components of the comments.

Analyzing the Engagement

The analysis team worked conjointly to evaluate comments based on the sum of their components to sequence the DNA of the comments. They broke down the comments by:

  • original article criticism
  • adherence to party lines
  • relevance
  • number of favorites/likes/fans
  • super user status
  • badges earned
  • grammar
  • humor
  • usage of icons/name/geographical location
  • clarity of thought
  • links to external sources
  • fact-based comments

The survey looked at 8 different sites, including CNN, The New York Times, etc. with the goal to understand what actually got people to comment and engage with others. They tried to balance things from many different perspectives like, age, gender, geographical location, and they let readers self-select articles of interest.

They then asked readers to rate comments based on their emotional response, whether they thought it was a quality comment and how well it encouraged them to want to engage and respond.

Criteria used to evaluate comments based on various components.

Benchmarks used to create the blog comment DNA to help analyze and evaluate blog comments.

Survey Results

The key findings:

  • Readers turn to comments for more info and perspectives
  • Readers like to associate an image with a commenter
  • Facts are less important than reaction

You can find the complete study here.

The Perfect Comment survey results.

Results of AOL’s survey.

So What Can You Do to Increase Audience Engagement on Your Blog?

AOL’s case study clearly demonstrates that understanding your audience and what motivates them to comment is the first step in creating a content marketing strategy for increasing their engagement. Here are some good starters to consider:

  • Write unique articles that your audience will want to share and comment on.
  • Instead of pushing for frequent, fluff blog articles, it’s more beneficial to you and your audience to write well-researched, valuable articles that will have to potential to be shared and referenced more.
  • Understand what motivates your audience to engage and find ways to further encourage the conversation (much in the way Dino Dogan explained that we need to stir up the readers’ emotions to get them to leave a comment).
  • Analyze your communities strengths and weaknesses.
  • Create a social media strategy that revolves around letting people who would be interested in your content know about it.
  • Ping people you mention in your article.
  • Mention celebrities in your content, but only if it is relevant and make sense, and then ping them to increase the chance of them joining the conversation either by commenting on the blog or sharing your content with their followers.
  • Make submitting blog comments easy for the readers
    • allow them to sign in with their preferred social media account
    • let their comments go live immediately
    • don’t use capcha
    • Make it easy for readers to connect with other commenters and take the conversation off-site to help get the conversation in front of their followers.
    • Examine the comments on your site and study them compared to your competitors to see what you could do to increase the potential for improving commenting on your site.
      • For example: should you have gamification? Should you get rid of anonymous commenting?
      • Reply to comments in a way that will help make the commenter feel good and encourage them to continue the conversation.
      • Build relationships with your industry peers and other audiences who will not only comment on your blog but will help amplify your reach.
      • Constantly experiment to find ways that can help increase you audience’s engagement.

What Do You Do to Increase Engagement on Your Blog?

Now it’s your turn. What did you find worked best for you to increase reader engagement? What didn’t work? Share will us (how appropriate) in the comments below.

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12 comments on “Audience Engagement Strategies – Increasing Blog Commenting

Paolo Vidali

I think it really comes down to community– too often the web is used as a passive technology (like television) where content is delivered to the masses. But it’s in the comments that real engagement and sharing of ideas and knowledge can occur. Fostering that can be key to the success of a website, in any metric.

    Jason (@Sonray)

    I agree with this Paolo, there have been numerous times where I’ve read a blog post that was basic and very high level on a given topic but was able to find the true gems, tips and tricks from the author from within the comments.

    I really loved how the Huffington Post brings gamification in to reward their community which adds additional levels of engagement to further nurture their community.

      Etela Ivkovic

      Good point Jason. I’ve seen many blog posts where not only were there gems from the author in the comments that were not covered in the article itself, but I often found a lot of amazing value in reading others’ comments and discussions.

    Etela Ivkovic

    Completely agree with you Paolo. Broadcasting will not go too far. Engaging with a community of passionate people and taking the effort to understand them are key.

Evan Auerbach (@evanauerbach)

Excellent point about analyzing engagement. The concept of a analyzing a comment’s DNA is interesting, Understanding your audience and their behavior will certainly prepare you for a better content strategy.

Ryan Biddulph


Dino is spot on as is this article! Move your readers to comment by pushing their buttons. In a good way. People will speak if you give them reason to do so.


    Etela Ivkovic

    Yes Ryan. As simple as it sounds, it is often the case that content is created from the author’s perspective and without more thought given to how the audience would feel more connected to the piece. Understanding your audience will help you create your content in a way that will speak to them and move them. It is also exciting to experiment with different approaches and monitor how each one does.

    You do have to be careful though when pushing those negative buttons so as to not alienate other portions of your audience. Attack bait / hate bait can only take you so far.

      Etela Ivkovic

      Very good point Simon. Controversy is good as long it’s a healthy discussion but I share your concerns about alienating some of your readers.. it can be thin ice. I personally like to stay away from negative things but I can see how in some industries or depending on who your audience is and what they like, it might be more ‘acceptable’ than in others. But you should know where the line is.

In my perspective, I always appreciate when a forum or article has a Gamification aspect. It quickly establishes a sense of authority/importance when I see someone with a high amount of posts/’badges.’ There is that moment when I want to join the site to try to establish myself as a knowledgeable and active person. However, as Paolo mentioned, it is important to understand the community your content is targeting; making sure the content is suitable for gamification to be introduced. A great article series!

Digdev Direct

The most important factor with building audience engagement is to remember that your audience is composed of real people just like you, with their own interests, ideas and questions. Through interacting with your audience by sharing interesting information, asking and answering questions, and telling stories, publishers and content marketers can dramatically increase engagement. Below we offer ten specific strategies for helping to build audience engagement…