Policing Links in Your Comments Section

Links in your site or blog comments section are good, right? They can be. They can also be bad. To keep them good, you need to police them.

Any link on your site – internal or external, inbound or outbound – will affect your site’s search ranking. The most important factor here is the link’s quality, and several factors will determine a link’s quality.

(Photo: Simon Rowe, creative commons license.)

Link Quality

Internal links (links to pages within your site) that go to pages with high quality content add value to your site. The closer the anchor text relates to the topic of the page you’re linking to, the higher the value. You want links to all your pages to show search engines the size and breadth of your content, but the more high quality content you have, the more value your site has.

External links (links to pages outside of our site) that go to pages with high quality content add value to your site, and the higher the authority and popularity of the page and site of that link, the higher the value. Again, anchor text needs to relate highly to the topic of the page you’re linking to (or being linked to), and it’s always best if link URLs use keywords, not random code. (Content management systems and some blogs will default to using random code, but you can often change to using keywords.)

Inbound links (links to your site from outside), including trackbacks, are less within your control, but can affect the value search engines assign to you. That’s why it’s important to look at trackbacks (referrals on other sites to yours) and monitor when another site links to you – if you don’t like a trackback you can often delete the notice in your own blog and if you don’t like an inbound link you can request that the other site not link to you; most will comply. One inbound link to avoid is a “doorway” page, which is a list of links between unrelated websites often in exchange for your linking to them.

Don’t accept offers to “exchange” links when you have nothing in common with another site. They’re just doorway sites, regardless of their sales pitch to you. If you don’t have a business or social relationship with the other site in which you would naturally link to the other site in your content, don’t exchange links.

Outbound links (links from your site to others), including those that commenters add on your site, can also detract from the value of your site. You would like high authority and high ranking sites, but in a comments section is less within your control. What you should watch out for include:

  • Obvious spam – links to product pages or topic pages or blogs that have nothing to do with your content but are meant solely to benefit the poster.
  • Stealth spam – written to look like a legitimate comment but containing poor quality links, usually with misspellings to avoid spelling filters. Website URLs and email names are often nonsensical letter combinations, again meant to avoid filters. Also look for URLs with .nl, .pl, .ru, and other international extensions where spammers often originate, plus use of URL shorteners meant to hide obvious keywords or odd URLs.
  • Legitimate comments that link to low quality pages – spam pages, doorway pages, and other garbage content meant to fool you into allowing the link on your page but having no real value to you. Search engines will devalue your site when they follow the link from your site to this eventual garbage page.

You can often engage filters on your comments section that won’t allow comments with spam or with certain numbers of links and other parameters. Some bloggers don’t like to filter their comments; that’s fine if you don’t mind losing search ranking value.

You’re the Boss of You

I once experienced another blogger who used the comments section of my blog to sell her wares on my site. It was blatant hijacking of my blog to sell her stuff, never asking permission and never apologizing. She promoted her products and then provided a link to her product pages. I politely asked her to stop but she continued anyway, so I had to block her from my site. I found out through comments on her own blog that she was doing it to other blogs, too. It’s not OK.

Your blog and your site belong to you, and you set the rules. It’s also up to you to police the rules. That includes watching for links and where they lead or where they originate. Links may be good but they also may be bad. Either way, they can affect your search ranking, which can affect whether new readers can find you!

Managing Multiple Blogs

By Jennifer Ford

One thing that’s so interesting about being a web editor is the way the job is so similar to and at the same time different from our previous roles as editors of print publications. An editor completing a copyedit for a print publication is editing for clarity, style and grammar just like a web editor does for web content. The difference, as our blogger Anne very aptly describes in this post about web editing, is that you must edit with the goal of traffic to the article first in your mind.

Another example of this similar-but-different characteristic of web editing is blog management. Blogs are a facet of your web publication just like an editorial, feature article  or column, and you’ll see better success if you give them just as much attention. There are so many different purposes for a blog that some publications have many of them. If you visit the blog directory of the New York Times, you’ll see they maintain a whopping 66 blogs at the moment. In addition to writing for a staff blog, I manage seven other blogs for my publication that are written by contributors. Most of those blogs have multiple authors. It can be overwhelming at times, even for just a handful of blogs, when you think about managing that many authors and trying to stick to a plan.

It’s important when managing multiple blogs to create a calendar. There are lots of tools available to choose from that can help you with this (one example is this WordPress blog calendar plugin and another is this Excel blog editorial calendar created by tech blogger Michele McGraw). Take into account the amount of time you’ll need for the blog posts: Will you be writing? Copyediting? Posting press releases? For myself, I’ve needed to create different systems based on the way each blog works, but in general I use a spreadsheet to work out a calendar for each blog. An overall editorial schedule that sets out the topics you’d like to see in the blog can help you generate traffic and keep things interesting. If, for example, you can coordinate posts to cross-promote other articles on your site or to coincide with events that are important to your readers, you can increase traffic to your blog and your site. When you’re establishing a new blog, ideally you should post at the very least once a week to make sure content is always fresh and to become a trusted source of information in your niche.

When you’re managing multiple authors, finding those authors for a contributed blog is the first hurdle. Social media (like Facebook and Twitter) and e-newsletters are good avenues for recruiting bloggers if you want to open up the invitation to your readers. We took applications for a student blog we recently launched, and requested that potential bloggers tell us about their motivation to write and their plans for topics, so we could choose the bloggers we thought would be reliable and interesting.  When you’ve assembled your list of contributors, remember that each author has his or her own style, schedule and strengths. You might want to give bloggers the freedom to post on their own, or you might want to request that they send posts to you so that you can publish them after proofreading. Try developing a tip sheet with any special instructions and style points that your blog authors need, so you can send it to the bloggers before they begin writing.

And have fun! I’ve developed great relationships with bloggers as we got to know one another better, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

My next post will be a discussion of a FOLIO: webinar I attended on creating mobile apps for publications.

The Errant Tweet: Editing Social Media

by Rebecca L. Wells

Whether you’re in a one-person consultancy, a newsroom, or a large corporation, your marketing and communications strategies likely include social media assets that must be edited and curated. But not every social media site is the same. How do you craft an editorial policy that covers all the bases?

While there is no solid consensus on editing techniques for each type of social media site, there are some general guidelines to consider.

The Permanent: Wikipedia, Message Boards, and Blogs
Some social media properties have more staying power. They may show up in search results for years, or have trackable editing that makes any change to the content transparent. Examples of this type of social media include Wikipedia, Linked In, message boards, and blogs.

Wikipedia is somewhat self-policing in that an editing history is visible for every entry. But blogs are trickier: do you edit old posts? Delete them? What merits an update – a typo, or breaking news that contradicts your original post?

The Washington Post handles it this way:

Blog posts should be updated quickly and transparently to correct erroneous information.The placement of the correction should reflect the gravity of the error. Major corrections (e.g., when the headline or driving premise of the blog post is wrong) should be noted in the headline and at the top of the post as well as within the blog item.

Many media outlets and personal bloggers follow this rule. For example, if you have published a post complaining that cable service is down in your neighborhood, and those services are reinstated shortly thereafter, you should edit your post to reflect that. Your statement was valid given the situation, but you don’t want to misinform your readers.

A less obvious issue is what to do when you discover a typo. If you are merely changing a “thier” to “their,” it would be more distracting than it’s worth to call that to your readers’ attention. You have not changed anything of substance; you’ve merely corrected a spelling error and made your post easier to read in the process.

Corporate blogs
Corporate blogging can be a different, and less transparent, example. As an editor, you should make sure your writers are familiar with libel and defamation laws; you also must ensure that your legal department reviews content before you post it. This could prevent you from being asked to remove information that was already published.

Message boards
Some website message boards can show up in search results for years. Yet it is a method of communicating that often focuses on short-term (and therefore quickly outdated) content.

The best practices for message boards are similar to blogs; you should provide transparency and clarity for your readers. For example, if you posted a link to a site that is now broken, and the page is still prominent on your site or through searches, add a note to your original post that says “ETA: this link has now been changed to (provide new link).” (ETA is an abbreviation commonly used by online community posters; it means “edited to add.”) You can also add disclaimer language warning readers of outdated information that will appear with old posts. You should not, however, worry about correcting old news or outdated information as a rule; it’s an archive and readers should understand that.

If some of your message board threads are very out-of-date, lock them so users cannot post new messages that may keep old pages high up in search results.

The Ephemeral: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest
Some social media sites, unlike Wikipedia and blogs, produce more ephemeral, or short-term, content.  On Twitter, frequent users may post several tweets a day, but if followers are not checking often, they may miss several of those tweets and only see a few that were most recently posted.

News feeds on Facebook are similar. If your rogue post, rife with misspellings or a link that doesn’t work, shows in others’ timelines before you can delete it, it won’t last for long unless somebody captures your error with a screenshot.  But if it has been out there for a while and collected “likes” and comments, leave it and issue an updated or corrected post.

To delete or not to delete?
Regardless of the nature of the site, there are times when you need to update content you have published. If breaking news impacts a story you posted, for example, you should update your Twitter or Facebook feed with that breaking news. As with blogs, if you have to fix a minor typo that bears no weight on the matter at hand, deleting a post to replace it with the correctly spelled version is fine.

MT, RT, QT
On these dynamic social media sites, you should be careful to credit any other people who have provided content you are referencing. On Facebook, if you are sharing something one of your friends shared first, it’s appropriate to say “via.” For example, if your friend Debbie Brown posted a review of Jimmy’s Deli that you noticed and now you want to post it too, you should post it as “Jimmy’s Deli Review via Debbie Brown” (with Debbie Brown’s name linked to her profile).

On Pinterest, if you are re-pinning somebody’s pin, they are automatically credited; and if you want to change the description of an item, it’s understood that users add their own labels. So you don’t need to call out the fact that you have changed the wording of the original description. But if you are using the original description, you should make sure that it is appropriately written for your audience and your brand.

Twitter has a more complicated etiquette. If you are quoting another person’s tweet, you should use the QT (quote tweet) abbreviation so the original tweet appears in quotes. If you are shortening a tweet so you can fit it and your comment within Twitter’s 140-character limit, you should use the abbreviation “MT” (modified tweet). Otherwise, you are editing someone else’s words without acknowledging it.

Because the social media landscape is ever-changing, you should review your policies on a regular basis. One good resource is the Social Media Governance site, which provides a list of links to social media policies for dozens of organizations, from the US Navy to the New York Times.

Web Editors: Does the Rush for Quantity Risk Writing Quality?

Do you agree as a web editor – or as a reader – that “the blogosphere has killed good writing”? In a recent opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Kinsley (founding editor of Slate and now editor at Bloomberg View) reviews a blog article by Reuters financial blogger Felix Salmon, who suggests that in a bid for quantity over quality, the Web is killing off good writing. Part of his evidence is some institutions letting go of their blog editors. Another is the sloppy prose and lax fact-checking evident in some blog articles.

How often do you find typos, misspellings, inflated wording, passive voice, poor logic, noun-verb disagreement, other grammatical errors, and even erroneous math evident in articles? What about word flow and writing that is pleasing or even fun to read rather than ragged and jagged and much like nail-scraping on a chalkboard?

Does this overflow from blogs to other Web writing?

What do errors on the page say about author and site credibility?

Web editing is about a lot of things, including taming technology to make content appear online. However, at the heart of good web editing is good writing – making the content readable, understandable, and factual. Is that at risk in the rush for quantity?