Comment Management in WordPress

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WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems in use, driving a large percentage of websites that we encounter from day to day. The reason for this is that, while the blog might arguably be past its golden age, most websites still incorporate some form of blog functionality, even if it’s simply a feed of upcoming events. The blog has simply remained one of those foundational technologies of the Internet as we use it, because it brought interaction…interaction in the form of comments. The engagement that comments bring is what makes blogs integral to what you’re doing with your website, and blogging is at the center of WordPress’ DNA.

The Components of Comments

Comments are more than just discussion on the information in your post. Comments are another way that potential clients can engage you, which means that they are ultimately a valuable way to generate leads…just as valuable, if not more, as your contact form. WordPress, of course, provides us with a comment form that is easily implemented, but I see a lot of sites that pay little attention to the comment form, leaving it in its out-of-the-box state without providing any further functionality. This important channel of interaction with your readers, and potential customers, deserves more attention than this.

Besides the obvious decisions about requiring or not requiring users to be logged in, permitting anonymous commenters, etc., there are several critical components of comment management that are not included in WordPress core. When considering plugins for your site, it’s important to think about which of these functionalities you’ll want to add.

  1. Subscriptions. This, in my opinion, is the most glaring omission from core. We all interact with a lot of posts, tweets, and ideas on a daily basis, and that makes it easy to lose track of the conversations we’re having with others, even important ones. I always try to engage my commenters within the same day that they comment, and I want them to be able to know that I’ve done so, so presenting readers with an option to subscribe to follow-up comments on a post is critical. Jetpack has a great module for this, but, as I’ve alluded to in the past, Jetpack is heavy, bulky, and only the right choice in a small percentage of sites. A new plugin in this space is Postmatic. They’re new, but extremely popular, and for good reason. Postmatic offers readers the ability to not only subscribe to comments by email, but also to post new replies and comments to the blog simply by replying to an email. This is a huge boost to engagement on your blog. I highly recommend Postmatic (they provide subscriptions to new posts, as well).
  2. Login. For a lot of bloggers, requiring users to login on the site itself is sufficient for comment management. Others prefer to reduce that barrier to commenting, and allow users to login with their social media accounts. I have mixed feelings about this: on one hand, I like the ease of using my Google account to login to everything as a user, but, as a site administrator, I also don’t particularly want to have that data interaction occurring on my site. If you want to implement this functionality, the two most popular solutions are Disqus and Jetpack’s Comments module. I’m not a fan of either: Jetpack loads the enhanced comment form in an iframe, which makes styling the form to match your theme next to impossible, and is an approach that I just don’t think is best practice. Disqus also loads in an iframe, and, in my experience, is a terrible experience on mobile. I also don’t like to have my comments stored in someone else’s cloud…that’s the whole point of hosting my own WordPress site instead of using a WordPress.com solution. The list of other plugins offering this feature rotates frequently, each with it’s own risks and potential payoffs. I don’t think that this is worthwhile on my own blogs, but every site owner has to evaluate this for their own use case.
  3. What do you want your form to sayThe comment form in WordPress is fairly useful, but did you know that you can customize the verbiage, fields, which fields are required, and which HTML tags are permitted in comments? Small touches like this help personalize the comment experience for your readers, matching the tone of your site and writing style. Anything that makes your site feel more unique than others is a good thing. For these sorts of customizations, the comment_form() function is a good place to start.

I should also mention that the order of fields in the default comment form will likely be changing with the 4.4 release in a few months, placing the textarea in the comment form first. I’m not certain if this is a completely finalized decision yet, but it will most likely be. Besides the aesthetic changes, this will have an impact on theme development as hooks used with the comment_form() will potentially fire in a different order.

If you’re looking for some help implementing customizations to your comment management system, feel free to contact me and we can talk about what you’re looking for. And, if you have tricks that you like to use that I haven’t mentioned here, let me know what they are. You know…comment, and all.

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