1. Invite Comments - I notice that when I specifically invite comments that people leave them in higher numbers than when I don’t. To some degree this confuses me as most of my readers know that they can leave comments on any post - but I guess inviting a comment triggers a response to some extent. Also keep in mind that new readers that are unfamiliar with blogging don’t always know about comments or how to use them - invitations to participate in well laid out and easy to use comments systems are good for helping them participate.
2. Ask Questions - Including specific questions in posts definitely helps get higher numbers of comments. I find that when I include questions in my headings that it is a particularly effective way of getting a response from readers as you set a question in their mind from the first moments of your post.
3. Be Open Ended - If you say everything there is to say on a topic you’re less likely to get others adding their opinions because you’ll have covered what they might have added. While you don’t want to purposely leave too many things unsaid there is an art to writing open ended posts that leaves room for your readers to be experts also.
4. Interact with comments left - If you’re not willing to use your own comments section why would your readers? If someone leaves a comment interact with them. This gets harder as your blog grows but it’s particularly important in the early days of your blog as it shows your readers that their comments are valued, it creates a culture of interactivity and gives the impression to other readers that your comments section is an active place that you as the blogger value. As the activity in your comments section grows you may find you need to be slightly less active in it as readers will start to take over on answering questions and creating community - however don’t completely ignore your comment threads.
5. Set Boundaries - I noticed that shortly after I set the rules for my comments section (with a comments policy) that my comment numbers jumped up a little. I’m not sure if it was just a coincidence or whether readers responded to knowing what was and wasn’t acceptable. It’s just a theory but I think a well managed and moderated comments section that is free of spam and that deals with well with people stepping out of line is an attractive thing to readers. I personally don’t mind people expressing different opinions to one another in comments but when I sense things are getting a little out of hand and too personal I often step in to attempt to bring some order to the situation (I rarely delete non spam comments). I find that people have responded to this and that comment threads generally stay constructive as a result.
6. Be humble - I find that readers respond very well to posts that show your own weaknesses, failings and the gaps in your own knowledge rather than those posts where you come across as knowing everything there is to know on a topic. People are attracted to humility and are more likely to respond to it than a post written in a tone of someone who might harshly respond to their comments.
7. Be gracious - Related to humility is grace. There are times where you as the blogger will get something wrong in your posts. It might be spelling or grammar, it could be the crux of your argument or some other aspect of your blogging. When a someone leaves a comment that shows your failing it’s very easy to respond harshly in a defensive manner. We’ve all seen the flaming that can ensue. While it’s not easy - a graceful approach to comments where you admit where you are wrong and others is right can bring out the lurkers and make them feel a little safer in leaving comments.
8. Be controversial? - I put a question mark after this one because it doesn’t always work (and I personally avoid it as much as I can these days) - but there’s nothing like controversy to get people commenting on your blog. Of course with controversy comes other consequences - one of which is the risk of putting off less vocal members of your readership.
9. ‘Reward’ Comments - There are many ways of acknowledging and ‘rewarding’ good comments that range from simply including a ‘good comment’ remark through to highlighting them in other posts that you write. Drawing attention to your readers who use comments well affirms them but also draws attention of other readers to good use of your comments section.
10. Make it Easy to Comment - I leave a lot of comments on a lot of blogs each week - but there is one situation where I rarely leave a comment - even if the post deserves it - blogs that require me to login before making a comment. Maybe I’m lazy (actually there’s no maybe about it) or maybe there’s something inside me that worries about giving out my personal details - but when I see a comments section that requires registration I almost always (95% or more of the time) leave the blog without leaving the comment that I want to make. While I totally understand the temptation to require registration for comments (combatting spam in most cases) something inside me resists participating in such comments sections. Registration is a hurdle you put in front of your readers that some will be willing to leap but that others will balk at (the same is often said about other comments section requirements that go beyond the basics). Keep your comments section as simple and as easy to use as possible.