WordPress Comments: A Comprehensive Guide to Styling and Moderating Discussion

WordPress Comments: A Comprehensive Guide to Styling and Moderating Discussion

Receiving comments on your blog is one of the most rewarding parts of blogging. It allows you to interact with your readers and gives you an opportunity to hear their thoughts and ideas on the topics you cover and the points you raise.

The opposite is also true. If you have ever put your heart and soul into writing a high quality article, you know how disheartening it is if no one takes the time to leave a comment.

From a marketing perspective, a high number of comments raises the profile of your blog and shows everyone that your blog is popular. The discussions that arise from your articles also enhance the original article. This is particularly true for articles that have received dozens or hundreds of great comments.

For example, one of my blog posts has received over 250 comments. The quality of those comments are arguably more useful than my original article and have allowed the discussion to extend beyond what I originally wrote.

Let us take a closer look at commenting on WordPress websites. We will look at how to style comments in WordPress, how you can encourage visitors to publish comments, and how to manage comments effectively. Third party commenting solutions will also be reviewed. Enjoy! :)

How to Style Comments in WordPress

The look and feel of your comment area will influence whether someone contributes a comment to your blog. It is therefore in your interest to style your comment area and make it appealing to visitors.

Check that there is a link to your comment area at the top of your blog posts and in your blog index and archives. Stating the current number of comments with this link helps visitors see what blog posts have comments.

If your current WordPress theme does not have a link to your comment area, you can add one to your design using the comments_popup_link WordPress function.

The Comment Link
Visitors can go directly to your comment area by clicking on the comment link.

The WordPress comments template is named comments.php (though if a developer desired, they could name it something else). It is loaded from other theme templates, such as your post and page templates, using the function comments_template.

The comments template contains the structure and layout of your comments area. You can style your comments area by modifying this template and its corresponding CSS code in your theme stylesheet (i.e. style.css). The classes for styling your comment area should be grouped together and clearly marked in your stylesheet, but do not be concerned if it is not. All you have to do is take a note of the CSS classes that are linked from your comments template and then do a search for them in your theme stylesheet.

Please note that there is no agreed upon naming policy for comment CSS classes. For example, in the past default WordPress themes such as Twenty Twelve would use commentlist in reference to comment list items; however from Twenty Thirteen, WordPress has used comment-list instead. Some theme designers ensure their WordPress themes use the same naming standards as default WordPress themes, though many do not. Therefore, to be sure, refer to the classes used in your comments template.

Improving the look of your existing comment area is not as difficult as you would imagine. It is amazing how simple changes such as colored backgrounds and colorful borders can bring the comment area to life.

One of the most common enhancements to the comment area is to highlight author comments. This simple modification will distinguish comments published by the blog post author from comments left by general visitors.

You can use the CSS class bypostauthor to style author comments. Our resident WordPress guru Raelene Wilson wrote a fantastic tutorial on how to do this earlier this year entitled Improving the Look and Feel of Your Author Comments.

You should also check out the plugin Featured Comments. The plugin adds two new classes to your website: featured and buried. This allows you to mark great comments that add value to the discussion.

Author Comments
The bypostauthor CSS class can be used to make author comments stand out.

If your blog posts are receiving a lot of comments, you may want to consider splitting comments into pages. Thankfully, this is very simple to do as comment pagination functionality is built into the core version of WordPress.

All you have to do is visit the discussion settings area in your WordPress admin area (i.e. http://www.yourwebsite.com/wp-admin/options-discussion.php) and enable “Break comments into pages.” You can define the break off point that comments are paginated. You can also state whether the first page of comments shows the first comments published or the last; and whether the latest comments are displayed at the top of pages.

Pagination is useful if your blog posts are receiving hundreds of comments as it makes pages loader quicker. It can also improve your website SEO.

Break Comments Into Pages
Pagination can be enabled through the WordPress discussion settings page.

Enhance the Comment Area

Improving the commenting experience for readers is not solely about styling. It is also about functionality.

Commenting can be enhanced by offering social logins. By allowing visitors the option of publishing comments through their favorite social media service, you can make the process of publishing comments on your website quicker as the visitor does not need to enter their name and email address.

A popular commenting solution is Jetpack Comments. The Jetpack comments module allows visitors to continue to log in by completing the name, email, and website fields. However, it also allows people to publish comments using Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

The module allows visitors to receive email notifications of new comments and your latest blog posts. This encourages commenters to return to the discussion when new comments have been published.

Jetpack Comments
Jetpack Comments allows visitors to publish comments through their social media service. It also lets commenters get email notifications on future comments.

Two other useful WordPress plugins to consider that offer social media commenting are Social and Social Comments.

Social allows commenting via Facebook and Twitter and allows tweets and replies to be pulled into the discussion. Social Comments is one of the best commenting plugins available to WordPress users as it allows visitors to publish comments via the default WordPress form, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or the third party commenting solution Disqus.

Another commenting plugin to consider is CommentLuv. It features anti-spam controls and helps you build a community by allowing visitors to share their latest tweets and blog posts with their comments.

Third Party Commenting Solutions

Do not despair if you are not comfortable styling your comments area. There are a number of third-party commenting solutions that will enhance the look and functionality of commenting on your website.

Two of the best solutions are Disqus and Livefyre. These services will completely replace your default WordPress form with their own unique comment form. All comments published through their forms are synced back to your website so that a copy is stored in your WordPress database. This lets you easily switch back to the default WordPress commenting system at any time.

Disqus and Livefyre offer support for all major social media services and boast community features such as threaded comments, top comments, and email notifications. They also offer analytics and moderation tools such as blacklists and spam controls.

Livefyre
Livefyre replaces your comments area with “Real-Time” conversations.

Facebook is another popular third-party commenting solution. Facebook comments can be added into your website using HTML5 code or an iframe. Facebook have also released an official Facebook WordPress plugin to help you integrate Facebook comments into your WordPress website; though other Facebook plugin solutions are available too, such as Facebook Comments.

If you have a large following on Facebook, you may want to consider adding Facebook comments to your website as Facebook users tend to stay logged in to the service at all times. Therefore, Facebook users will be more inclined to publish comments.

The downside to using Facebook is that all comments are stored on Facebook’s servers, not yours. Additionally, if you only offer Facebook comments to visitors, those who do not use the service will be unable to publish comments.

Thankfully, Facebook comments do not replace the existing WordPress comment system. You can therefore integrate Facebook comments into your website and display it together with the default WordPress comment form.

Facebook Comments
Facebook users usually stay logged into their Facebook account at all times. Therefore, they do not need to sign in to publish a comment.

In April 2013, Google introduced Google+ Comments to Blogger users. A few WordPress plugins were released around this time, such as Google+ Comments and Comments Evolved, that allowed WordPress users to integrate Google+ into their website. However, these plugins have not been updated in over a year, therefore I would not recommend using them.

Encouraging Visitors to Comment

As a blogger, your aim should be to “convert” your visitors. You want to convert every visitor into an newsletter subscriber, an RSS subscriber, a social media follower, or a commenter. Ideally, you will make them subscribe and comment.

Many bloggers fail to realise the connection between commenting and subscription. In my experience, taking the time to give an intelligent response to a visitor’s comment goes a long way to converting commenters into loyal long term readers.

“This is a clear indication that the person respects you, enjoys your blog, and wants to receive updates on your future blog posts.”

I frequently have conversations with visitors in my comment area and then notice that they have liked my Facebook page or followed me on Twitter. This is a clear indication that the person respects you, enjoys your blog, and wants to receive updates on your future blog posts.

There is obviously value in receiving comments from visitors that are not subscribers. I frequently receive great comments from people who do not follow me online. Therefore, do not be dismayed if your commenters do not follow you or subscribe to your blog; as their comments are still valuable.

The question that many bloggers ask is: How do you turn a visitor into a commenter?

There are many ways to help encourage visitors to publish a comment; however I think the key is to make people want to comment. If you publish poorly written generic articles, few people are going to take the time to leave a comment. However, high quality well-written articles will can generate a lot of comments.

  • Technical tutorials and walkthroughs will receive comments from people you helped and people who have questions about your guide.
  • News related blog posts will receive comments from those that want to give their view on a particular event or topic.
  • Opinion posts will receive comments from those who agree with you, and those who do not.

Another key factor is the writing style in which you write. Technical and business writing styles are ok for news posts and tutorials, but I believe that a relaxed conversational style of writing will encourage more people to comment.

This is because writing in the way you talk is generally more welcoming to people and draw people into the discussion. Just be careful not to use too much slang or you may alienate a lot of your audience (I’m more than happy to start using Scottish slang in my articles if you don’t believe me!).

Author Bio
Author bios establish credibility and make blog posts appear more personal.

You need not be shy about the fact you want more comments. Be bold and ask for comments directly from visitors. I frequently ask my readers at the end of my blog posts to leave a comment and give me their view on an issue. Many bloggers place a request for comments directly into their website design.

When people do take the time to leave a comment, make a point of responding. This kind of interaction is key. Other people will be more inclined to publish comments on a blog when they see that the author is approachable and takes the time to respond to comments. It shows that the author cares about his/her blog and the community that surrounds it.

Another way I interact with commenters is to expand upon the points they raise in comments in a new blog post. For example, if a reader asks a question or raises an interesting point in their comment, rather than respond with a large blog comment, I may write a whole new article about the issue and refer to the commenter in my article.

Please also remember that the ease at which a person can publish comments on your website will influence how many comments you receive:

  • Make it easier for visitors to leave comments by allowing people to login using their preferred social media service to publish a comment.
  • Allow commenters to get updates of new comments on your post using plugins such as Subscribe to Comments Reloaded or the subscription feature in Jetpack Comments.
  • Be aware that forcing people to create an account in order to publish comments usually results in fewer comments being submitted.

Ultimately, the goal is to develop a great blog with high quality articles and create a community around it.

Managing Comments Effectively

The way that you handle comments has a large effect on the quality and quantity of comments that are published on your blog. Without doubt, a blog that had no moderation controls in place and no filters for spam, would receive a large amount of spam comments, trolling comments, and abusive comments.

However, you do not have to spend a lot of time managing your comments. The key is to set up everything correctly from the start so that most things are automated.

Take spam for example. You could review every comment that is submitted to your blog to ensure that no spam comment ever sneaks through. However, it is more practical to set up your WordPress discussion settings so that commenters with approved comments can publish new comments without moderation. Anti-spam WordPress plugins will also block 99.9% of all automated spam.

I recently published an article here on WPMU DEV that explains how to stop spam comments on your WordPress website. I encourage you to follow the recommendations set out in the article.

Once you have configured your website to tackle spam, you can focus on responding to legitimate comments that are published on your blog.

To ensure that you are always notified of new comments on my blog, you may want to consider enabling the “Anyone posts a comment” checkbox in the WordPress discussion settings area. This allows you to be notified whenever someone publishes a comment on your blog.

Email Settings for Comments
You can be notified by WordPress whenever new comments are submitted or held for moderation.

Do not be scared of people who disagree with you. Debate is healthy and can generate interesting discussions between you and your readers.

Unfortunately, not everyone who publishes comments on your blog will be polite and respectful. As a blogger, you also need to deal with trolls who simply want to get a rise from you. You also need to deal with the occasional problem commenter who publishes abusive comments.

Internet trolls are not always as transparent as you would expect. They will frequently try and disguise their intentions as honest, while trying to get you and other commenters to take the bait. As the old saying goes: “Do not feed the trolls”.

“The best way to deal with trolls is to simply ignore them.”

From time to time you will also receive abusive comments from unsavoury characters. As a rule, I never entertain people like that. If someone posts a comment on my blog that is racist, bigoted, or attacks myself or another commenter on a personal level; I simply delete their comment or mark their comment as spam. And if they persist on leaving abusive comments, I will ban their IP address and email address.

I believe a zero tolerance policy is the best way to handle abuse. If you would rather not delete the abusive comment, you could respond to the comment with a message that stresses that abusive messages will not be tolerated. You can then ban the commenter’s IP address so that they can not respond. However, I have found that to be a tremendous waste of time and energy. It is better to simply delete the comment and move on.

To help encourage high quality comments, I recommend adding a note to your comment area that spam and comments of an abusive nature will not be tolerated. You can also create a blog comment policy on a dedicated page and link to it from the comment area.

Final Thoughts

Blogging grew in popularity because it allowed readers to join the discussion. It transformed content from being a one way street into a medium that allowed visitors to participate.

Managing comments on your blog does not have to be too time consuming. You can eliminate the vast majority of problems in advance by configuring your discussion settings correctly and installing a good anti-spam plugin. A blog comment policy can also help inform visitors what is allowed in the comment area, and what is not.

You do, however, need to put some energy into commenting. If you want to increase comments, you need to interact with your readers and show them that their contributions are valued. Do not assume that readers will continue to comment if you do not take the time to respond. You need to participate.

What are your views on blog commenting? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment area below. Additionally, please feel free to share the WordPress plugins you use on your website to manage and enhance comments.

Image credit: Flickr.