Here’s how you can take command of your blog’s comment section, stop the spam, and encourage more visitors to post genuine opinions that add value to the conversation.
The 90-9-1 Rule: There are many lurkers online
Some bloggers blog to meet, interact and engage with similar people, but may be concerned with the lack of comments on their content. Don’t worry. There’s no reason to panic when you see no comments on your post. It’s not because nobody sees or likes your content. There are more people paying attention than you realize by looking at the comment section.
The simple explanation is that most people are lurkers. The internet is a great place for people to join a community and passively observe. There’s no obligation to respond. The New York Times Innovation Report showed that only 3% of visitors read comments. Only 1% write comments.
This is the rule 90-9-1. 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% contribute a little, and 1% account for almost all the discussion.
The benefit of high-quality comments
Google and other search engines see your comment area as part of the whole content on the page. If your comment area is full of spam, self-promotional, and generic posts, it could negatively impact the way you rank in search results. Google has targeted and demoted low-quality user-generated content.
So how do you ensure this doesn’t happen? Have high-quality comment standards. Moderate the comments. Filter out spam and self-promotion. Remove anything that’s not bringing any value to the debate. A top-quality comment area will make your blog more credible to search engines and visitors alike.
The elephant in the section: Spam
One of the first unpleasant surprises a new blogger will encounter is comment spam. 90+% of comments you get is spam made by robots but disguised as real people making real comments. In a way getting spam is a good sign as it means that Google and search engines are ranking your site. The spammers usually find your blog in the search engine results.
Comment spam is a desperate and not very effective form of mass marketing. It’s favored by marketers with products that are hard to promote through legitimate means. Spammer’s goal is to leave a link to their site in order to not only attract visitors but also to improve their search engine results.
Most spam is very evident and easy to detect. Some spammers are a bit more savvy and stealth. They hire real people to leave thin, one or two sentence comments that specifically address the points in your post and look perfectly normal. Another nasty trick spammers use is to copy the real, intelligent comments on a thread and repost them with a link to their junky URL.
These are the signs you should look for to detect spam comments:
- Commercial keyword phrases instead of a real name in the “Name” field
- Spam-looking URL in the “Name” or “URL” field
- Thin type of comment with no real value or insight, but with links
- Comment about something unrelated to the topic of your post
- Comment in a different language than the language you are writing in
Some settings and plugins that can help you fight spam and we’ll get to those. Still, moderation of a comment section could have a significant impact on your time. There’s spam, but also vicious attacks and hate speech.
To allow comments or not to?
Some of the biggest websites, such as The Verge and Re/Code, have completely removed comments from their posts at certain times. On the other hand, some sites, such as AVC, have amazing communities and vibrant comment areas that add great value to the whole user experience. Who’s right here? There’s no right or wrong answer.
WordPress makes it easy to make your choice. Comments are on by default, but what if you’re bored with comments? Think they are too time demanding? They don’t contribute much to the goals you have? Prefer to take conversations to social media instead? You can simply turn comments off.
In “Settings”, go to “Discussion” and tick off the “Allow people to post comments on new articles”. You can also turn comments off on individual pages or posts by ticking off “Allow comments” in your writing screen.
How to turn your visitors into commentators
Let’s look into how you can get more people to post genuine and valuable comments to your articles.
Create comment-worthy content
Attracting quality comments starts with the creation of content that thrills people and gets them to want to respond back. Make people care about what you’re saying. If they care, they’ll be more invested and inclined also to comment.
Answer emails that you get. Respond to tweets. Thank people. Build a relationship with your readers.
Challenge your visitor to think (differently)
Don’t be afraid to go against the norm and against the conventions. Be passionate. Pick a side. Be controversial. Have a strong, different, unconventional opinion and perspective in your posts.
Either people will refuse to look at something differently, and feel the need to express their commitment to their current beliefs, or you’ll open their eyes to a whole new way of looking at something. Playing devil’s advocate can be a comment magnet.
Does it say “0 Comments” when your article has no comments? Does that sound inviting to your ears? It certainly does not, but that’s how it might be displayed on your site. Edit it to something more inviting such as “Leave a comment” or “Your thoughts are welcomed”.
That first comment can make a difference
After the first comment, it becomes easier. When visitors see other people debating, they’re more likely to join in the conversation and start posting themselves.
Some bloggers get people in their close network to comment shortly after the article has been published. Send an email and ask for a comment. This could become part of your marketing routine after publishing a new post.
Other bloggers will gladly return a favor
Post thoughtful comments on other sites. The more you do this, the more comments you will get as some bloggers will return the favor. This can be seen as an artificial way of increasing comments, but if they are all you care about, it works and will surely help.
Attract bloggers to comment by activating CommentLuv plugin. It gives them more exposure as their latest post will be shown alongside their comment.
When you ask people for their views, they are more likely to give them to you. Conclude your post with a good open-ended question such as “What is your experience with this?”. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get a visitor to share their opinion.
Ask for additional feedback
When you publish a list of tools, apps, tips, or tricks, open it up to the readers to submit their own additions. When a visitor submits an excellent addition, edit your post and add it to the list with a credit to your visitor.
Don’t provide all the answers in your content
Ask some questions without giving the answers. If you provide both sides to an argument, or answer every question, that’s awesome, but just not if you want to get a lot of comments. Your visitors want to be part of the discussion, so be sure to leave them something to talk about.
Recognize the visitor and participate in the conversation
Respond to every legitimate comment you receive, so people know you’re listening, and care about what they think. People comment in the hope that they will be heard. No one likes talking to a wall. Be approachable, answer the questions and write your thoughts. Recognizing your readers will help to create a community and visitors will be encouraged to come back.
Comments Redirect plugin redirects your first-time commentators to a page of your choice. This is a page where you can thank them, ask them to subscribe to your newsletter, or follow you on social media. Alternative to this is Thank Me Later plugin that sends a ‘thank you’ email to your commentators.
Let your users subscribe to comments
Allow visitors to tick a box and get e-mail notifications of new comments in the discussion. This encourages people to come back and stay engaged in the debate. Jetpack Subscriptions is a plugin made by people behind WordPress. It allows your visitors to sign up to receive email notifications about new comments or new posts.
Integrate social media profiles
Use Jetpack Comments to integrate social media logins to your comment section. This removes the requirement that readers need to fill in their details. It allows them to use their existing WordPress account, or their Facebook, Twitter or Google+ accounts.
Give exposure to your biggest fans
Top Commentators widget allows you to feature a list of top commentators in your sidebar. This rewards your top fans but also encourages others to join the conversation and become one of the “top commentators”.
Use social media to source opinions
Ask a question on Twitter or other social media. Collect the answers and publish them in a post. Comment on and analyze results and trends from the comments. Thank the people who responded to your question and tell them about the article they were featured in.
Amplify the comments
Comments can be a great source of inspiration for content ideas. Publish a post on an interesting topic from a previous discussion. Answer a visitor comment in a new post. Promote interesting comments to posts and publish them as entirely new posts. Give credit to the commentator.
Quote a comment in social media, and ask for thoughts: “Here’s what a reader thought, what do you think?”. This brings you even closer to the original commentator, helps you get more engagement on your social channels and gives more spotlight to your comments.
Do a giveaway
Giving a prize can inject life in your comment section quickly. If you want quality submissions, say “whoever has the most creative response wins this awesome prize!”. Don’t do this all the time as it’s not a long-term solution to encourage comments by giving prizes as once the prizes are gone, people won’t be motivated to comment anymore.
How can I control spam comments in WordPress settings?
In “Settings” -> “Discussion” several options that can help you eliminate spam:
If you prefer not to allow trackbacks and comments on your blog tick off “Allow link notifications from other blogs (pingbacks and trackbacks)” and “Allow people to post comments on new articles”.
Both of these can also be changed from post to post. In your post writing screen find “Discussion” and the options to “Allow comments” or “Allow trackbacks and pingbacks on this page”.
Check that “Comment author must fill out name and e-mail” is on. You could also allow users to register and then set “Users must be registered and logged in to comment”.
Most spam is posted on older articles so use the option to “Automatically close comments on articles older than X days”. Set the number of days to 30 and it will drastically decrease the amount of spam.
Tick “Comment must be manually approved” to manually approve each comment before it gets published. The option “Comment author must have a previously approved comment” will help decrease your workload by allowing comments from people you have already approved.
Many spam comments have links within them. Set the option to “Hold a comment in the queue if it contains X or more links.” Set the number of links to 2. You can also block comments with any specific words, names, URL’s, emails or IP addresses that you assign. If you get a lot of spam about certain products or from certain IP addresses put them in here.
Active an anti-spam plugin
Akismet is the most popular anti-spam plugin. It’s made by the same people who make WordPress, which makes it a great option. Activate it and the majority of your comment spam issues will be taken care of.
Want to make Akismet eliminate even more spam? Activate Captcha. It adds CAPTCHA to any forms on your site: login, registration, contact, and comments. Visitors will have to type in a code shown on an image to post a comment.
Beware that putting barriers such as a CAPTCHA protection could leave you with fewer people commentating. Find a balance between protection from spam and the usability of your site.
No matter how carefully you go through your WordPress settings, and what plugins you activate, it’s inevitable that some spam and low-quality comments will slip past your guard. Do a manual scan of the comments too.
To make sure that you don’t block any real comments, it’s good practice to occasionally check the “Spam” folder and “approve” comments that are not spam.