Comments can be a double edged sword. On the one hand they facilitate a conversation between you and and your users, offer an avenue for feedback, and increase engagement. On the other, comment threads can be a toxic environment and require an investment of your own time to respond and moderate them. WordPress offers comments out of the box, with a multitude of plugins that allow you to manage, moderate and generally get more value from them.
In this article, we’ll go over why you might want to include comments, why you might not, and how to implement your decision in WordPress.
Where Comments Came From
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment that comments started on the Web. What is clear is that comments emerged from the discussion boards found on early computers, before the Internet even existed. This evolved into the guestbook once blog’s began to gather traction, and eventually formed into the comments we know today, down at the bottom of every post.
In the earlier days of the web, comments presented the only way for bloggers to connect with their users, and a certain level of conduct was unspoken but expected. As the web become more pervasive, comments fell victim to spammers trying to boost their search engine results and negative commenters just looking for a place to announce themselves. It became necessary for site owners to moderate the comments to make sure that they remained constructive. Metafilter, for instance, has a full staff that moderates comments on their site to ensure that comments are not harmful. At the same time, social media offered new ways for bloggers and site owners to connect with their visitors outside of their website, and with a larger community.
In today’s landscape, there are several alternatives to comments, and you can disable them while still maintaining this connection in other ways. Still, it’s hard to deny that in the best of circumstances, comments can be the foundation of a strong community and connection. So site owners are left with a choice: Keep comments or turn them off?
Despite the negativity that often surrounds comments, they can be a foundational piece of any blog. Comments not only give you a way to hear directly from your users, but it also gives readers the assurance that you are listening to them, and responding to what they have to say. After all, communication is a two way street.
Comments are especially important in a number of situations. If your site is just getting started, for instance, comments give users the easiest way to acknowledge your posts, and help you keep track of which posts are most successful. Comments are also useful if you are trying to foster a community on your site. If you’d like to keep visitors talking to one another, then it’s best to keep comments organized in one location. In the case of Elegant Themes, comments are the best way for our authors to solicit feedback and answer questions. If we were to try alternatives, which we will discuss in a moment, then this direct connection would be lost.
For blog’s that are looking to meaningfully grow, and make users feel like they are part of the site’s community, comments are a valuable asset.
Why You Might Want To Turn Comments Off
There are some cases, however, when comments may not be to your benefit. Popular Science, for instance, decided to shut down their comments last year after finding that threads were actually able to skew perceptions of the content itself in a more negative direction. Rather then try and moderate this themselves, they turned comments off entirely to keep a focus on their post’s content. YouTuber PewDiePie recently made the same move, citing the constant barrage of negativity as his motivation. In cases where comments are legitimately creating negativity on your posts or are not leading to anything constructive, turning them off may be your only option.
Even if your site isn’t as popular as this, comments are only useful if you are responding to them. In order to keep comments constructive, you will have to invest time into moderating and guiding comment threads. And this investment may not be worth it to you. If you leave comments unchecked, then they can quickly degrade. If you don’t feel like it’s important to your site to be responding and moderating comments, then it may not be worth having them at all.
But that doesn’t mean your connection with your audience needs to be lost. There is also the potential to bring conversations about your content outside of the post, and onto social media channels. Sites like Copyblogger, for instance, have chosen to remove comment threads from the bottom of their posts and instead encourage interactions on Twitter and Google+. This allows them to facilitate communication between their users without having to moderate it themselves. It also means that conversations can become larger than just a single post, and you need only respond when it is relevant. If you have an established social media presence, then moving conversations away from your blog and onto these channels may be a smart move.
Fortunately, WordPress, with the help of some plugins, gives you plenty of ways to manage your comments. We’ll go over how to switch on and off your comments, then go over a few plugins that offer smart alternatives.
How to Enable Comments in WordPress
Comments is a feature that ships with WordPress. It require a comments template and a line of code to display in templates, but these are included in just about every theme available to you. By default, comments will be turned on, and will be displayed at the bottom of your posts.
If you are using a theme from Elegant Themes, you can easily manage comments on posts and pages. To do so, go to your theme’s Theme Options and navigate to the Layout Settings section. At the top you will see two tabs, one for “Single Post Layout” and another for “Single Page Layout”. In each, you will see an option to show comments. You can turn comments on and off for that post type, so it’s possible to have comments switched on for just posts, just pages, or both.
If you want a bit more control over your comments, you can visit Settings -> Discussion in the WordPress admin. Here, you can specify whether or not users need to be logged in to post comments, or fill out a name and email in order to post. These options raise the bar to entry a bit, but will help keep spam at bay. For even heavier moderation, you can select the “Comment must be manually approved” option. This means comments won’t appear on your site until you go to the admin and manually approve them. The instant feedback is lost, but it can help keep comments constructive.
You’ll also see a few options related to trackbacks and pingbacks. These go hand in hand with comments, and are meant to track who is linking externally to your post. If included, they can be displayed right alongside comments so users can read these responses.
There are several other options available to you that allow you to customize your comments here, such as turning on and off threaded comments, or blacklisting certain users from posting. I recommend reading the Codex entry on WordPress.org for more information.
How to Disable Comments
If you’d rather disable comments altogether, there are a few ways to do this. If you are using a theme from Elegant Themes, you can once again go to the Layout Settings in your theme options, and disable the “show comments” option on pages and posts. This will turn off comments on both new and existing posts, and will remove the comment form from your site.
If you don’t have this option available to you, disabling comments requires a few more steps. The first step is to go to Settings -> Discussion in the WordPress admin and uncheck the “Allow people to post comments on new articles” option. Doing so will disable comments for all future posts.
However, if comments exist on any of your current posts, then they will still be displayed. To remove comments entirely, you’ll want to use the Disable Comments plugin.
Disable Comments Plugin
Disable Comments is a plugin that allows you to remove comments from every post, both new and already published. After you install and activate the plugin, you can navigate to Settings -> Disable Comments. Here you will see a few options. You can either choose to disable comments everywhere (on Posts, Pages, and custom post types) or select which post type you want to remove comments from specifically.
Once you’ve disabled comments, the comment form will be hidden from the bottom of posts, existing comments will no longer be displayed, and pingbacks and trackbacks will be shut off.
Turning off Comments on Individual Posts
If you want to disable comments on just a few posts, you can use WordPress’ Discussion feature. Simply go into the post editor of the post where you want to disable comments, and click the Screen Options tab at the top of the page. Check the “Discussion” box and you will see a new Discussion metabox appear at the bottom of the page.
This metabox has two options, “Allow Comments” and “Allow trackbacks and pingbacks”. Uncheck both of these boxes before you publish a post, and the comment form will be removed.
Some Alternatives to Comments
Fortunately, there are a couple of creative plugins that help you manage your comments, and offer alternative approaches.
Disqus is a third party comment hosting service that allows you to get a bit more out of your comment threads, with a few more options than WordPress offers out of the box. Moderation in Disqus gives you more control, and there is a lot of spam protection built in You can choose to open your comments to guests, or allow users to sign in with Twitter, Facebook, Disqus or WordPress to post. Disqus allows you to moderate comments without having to invest as much time into them.
There are a lot of popular sites out there that use Disqus, so the interface should be familiar for your users. And they offer a free plugin that you can install on WordPress, which automatically swaps out WordPress comments for your own, and syncs comments between databases.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems with comments is that they’re appended to the bottom of a post, left as an afterthought. Some believe that the reason comments are often so negative is because they are hanging all the way at the bottom. If you truly find comments important enough to include on your site, you might want to align them with your content. This encourages users to take part in a conversation instead of simply saying whatever is on their mind.
Inline comments offer a solution to this problem. If you’ve ever used Medium, you’ve seen inline comments in action. Basically, users can respond to specific lines and paragraphs within your posts, instead of en masse at the bottom. These comments are then served up contextually, placed along the side of a post’s content wherever they are relevant. The result is meaningful conversations that center around specific ideas.
Inline Comments is a plugin which brings this functionality to WordPress. It allows users to add a comment or respond to any paragraph, which are then displayed alongside them. The plugin uses WordPress comments or Disqus comments, and gives you access to options to style and customize its output. If you’re looking for a way to promote more constructive comments, Inline Comments might be a good solution.
We talked a bit about using social media to encourage conversations about your posts outside of your site. This can be as simple as putting a request at the bottom of your posts telling users to go to Twitter or Facebook if they want to provide feedback, and then responding appropriately through those channels. But if you find that there is a lot of conversation about your site happening on these platforms, it may be a good idea to pull this conversation in and display it at the bottom of your posts.
The Social plugin from Mailchimp is actually a complete social media plugin, allowing you to automatically publish your posts to Facebook and Twitter. But the plugin also goes one step further and lets you pull in any @replies, retweets, mentions and comments from Facebook and Twitter, and then append them to the bottom of your post. Users can even publish to Twitter or Facebook right from your post. Social pulls all of these mentions automatically and replaces normal comments entirely. It can be customized on a post by post basis, and styled according to your brand.
Placing social media mentions underneath posts helps users understand that the best way to start a conversation is on Facebook and Twitter. It also gives users an incentive to contribute, knowing that their responses will be visible to other visitors. If you’re thinking of using social media instead of standard comments, try using Social.
There are a lot of reasons why you might want to enable or disable comments. Hopefully, you have a good sense of what you might want to do, and the means to make it happen. If you’re still on the fence, just try experimenting. Put comments up and see if you get any responses. Post a quote from your post on Twitter and Facebook and see if people offer feedback. The most important thing is to find a way to connect with your users, so they truly feel like a part of your site.
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