I’ve mentioned before that I wish I could change how comments work on my blog. I’d love for readers to easily see when someone replies to their comments here or provide the ability to subscribe to comments for a post. A system like that often encourages more interaction on a blog by enabling back-and-forth conversations. I’d also love for people to be able to edit their own comments.
Unfortunately, my blog has no such capabilities. Even though most people never come back to check, I reply to virtually every comment on my blog. I appreciate the time readers take to leave comments, and I figure the least I can do is say thanks. I’ll also edit my reader’s comments if they request, as I can offer the service if I can’t offer that ability.
If I were starting from scratch on my blog, I’d use the JetPack plugin to allow people signed in to WordPress to receive notifications of replies and subscribe to comments. But now I’m rather stuck, as other parts of my website would break if I implemented JetPack at this point. (Don’t get me started with that grumble. *sigh*)
Because of my desire for better commenting, I’ve often considered going to a third party system, like Disqus, Intense Debate, or LiveFyre. However, every comment system has its own set of pros and cons. For the time being, I’ve decided to stick with this less-than-ideal situation.
Even though I’m stuck, I figured my research might help others make the decision of whether to set up a commenting system for their blogs or websites. What you decide will depend on your priorities, as well as what will encourage your readers to leave comments.
We can’t expect readers to leave comments unless they’ll benefit in some way. While different incentives might work with different readerships, we can study the most common ones.
When choosing a comment system, keep in mind…
- People Want Ease of Use
Many comment systems (like Disqus) require readers to log in. That means commenters have to create an account to leave their comment.
I’ve seen polls where over 50% of readers would not leave a comment if they had to create an account to do so. Having to create an account is asking your readers to go the extra mile to comment, and only the most dedicated will do so.
- People Want Others to Notice Their Comments
Some comment systems don’t automatically pull commenters’ avatars (like from Gravatar) unless they’re logged into their proprietary system. Many people are visually oriented, and they notice the avatars of others they know.
When we take the time to leave a thoughtful comment, we’d like others to read it. Avatars help our friends and acquaintances recognize our comments, and if strangers like our comment, our picture helps them recognize us across the web, which builds our brand.
- People Want Readers to Be Able to Find Them Elsewhere
Some comment systems, like Blogger and Disqus, link our name on a comment not to our website, but to our profile on that system. That means if someone likes our comment and wants to learn more about us, they can’t just click our name to check out our homepage.
Instead, someone interested in connecting with us would have to go through multiple steps to get to our homepage. That makes our comments—no matter how brilliant—less likely to result in connections with others.
- People Want Backlinks to Their Websites
Related to the previous point, some commenting systems allow readers to “log in” through their Twitter or Facebook account rather than the proprietary system. However, that ability does not equal a check mark in the ease-of-use column. Linking to a Twitter account or a comment system account still gives any potential traffic to the other site and not to the reader’s homepage. In my analytics, I’ve seen people find my site through comments I’ve left on other blogs, and that wouldn’t happen if I’d instead linked to my Twitter account.
Other commenters hope to increase their Google Rank by commenting on popular blogs. When a commenter’s name links directly to their website, Google counts that link as a “backlink” that can affect Search Engine Optimization (SEO) (where the site shows up in a Google search). While the recent updates to Google’s SEO algorithms make these backlinks less important to Google Rank, they still play a part, especially for quality comments that add to the discussion.
- People Want to Comment from Their Mobile Devices
More frequently, readers are viewing blogs from their mobile devices, like smart phones and tablets. Some commenting systems work well in a mobile format and some don’t. Again, only the most dedicated readers will come back later to comment from their desktop.
In addition, don’t trust claims of ease and compatibility—test, if at all possible. Visit other blogs with that commenting system from mobile devices to see if it works—easily—as advertised.
- Visually Impaired Readers Want to Read the Comments Too
For years, Disqus has had issues with their comments being unreadable by the screen readers used by the visually impaired. They promise they’re working on it, but the programming code used by Disqus confuses screen readers because the comments are no longer straight text.
I don’t know for sure, but other commenting systems might also suffer from this problem. In general, the more bells and whistles, the less likely screen readers will be able to decipher the comments.
- Everyone Wants to Avoid Spam
Every blog needs a way to deal with spam comments. WordPress blogs come with Akismet, which is awesome at weeding out spam comments.
Log in systems are less likely to receive spam comments because few spammers will create an account. Unfortunately, fewer legitimate readers will set up accounts too.
Blogger/Blogspot blogs use Captchas to ensure commenters are real people, but many hate Captchas with a passion and will avoid leaving comments at all. Between this point and the previous points about linking, I know people who refuse to comment on Blogger/Blogspot blogs for any reason.
What Should We Look for in a Commenting System?
The best answer to this question depends on our goals. In general, if we’d like to encourage more comments, we should make sure our choice:
- Doesn’t require a log in
- Automatically imports avatars
- Links to commenters’ homepages
- Allows comments from mobile devices
- Is readable by screen readers
- Eliminates spam but doesn’t use Captchas
However, if we’d like more bells and whistles on our comments, we should prioritize what else we’d like a system to allow:
- Choice of threaded or non-threaded comments (nested replies). Blogs with frequent conversations between parties might do better with threaded comments. Blogs with commenters who reply to several comments at once would do better without threaded comments.
- Ability for commenters’ to edit their own comments
- Linking to commenters’ most recent post
- Email notifications of replies and new comments
- Ability to reply by email
- “Liking” comments, or up/down voting
- Integration with social media (Facebook comments, Twitter mentions, etc.
- Deeper moderation and spam control
An additional concern I have with a system like Disqus is that all comments are stored on their servers. While site owners have the ability to export those comments, they still have to trust a third party with an essential element of their site.
Personally, I’ve been burned by this in the past on too many minor elements of my site. See Google Friend Connect, Feedburner, my first mobile provider, and currently, my social sharing plugin. I prefer true ownership of my online home whenever possible, especially for the critical element of blog comments.
Why Does Our Commenting System Matter?
Our commenting system matters if one of our blog’s goals is to receive comments. As I mentioned, polls often show that readers are less likely to leave comments on any system that requires them to log into an account. I’ve heard from friends that their blogs’ comments decreased after switching to a commenting system.
For example, I recently took a look at the website of someone who was concerned about the lack of comments on her blog. While many variables can affect blog comment numbers, in her case, I saw her blog commenting system was working against her when it came to encouraging comments.
The system required creating a proprietary account or logging in through Twitter or other account. After I pointed out the issue, she was able to allow comments by URL (just leaving the website information, like I have here), which I hope helps her, but even so, her website provider doesn’t link to Gravatar. Avatars show up for a commenter only if they’ve logged in.
We Must Provide Benefits If We Want Commenters
Avatars and links are incentives for people to leave comments. Those elements help commenters build their brand and name recognition, as well as help them create an impression of quality content.
Providing benefits to our commenters can only encourage more comments. Some blogs will do better by offering the bells and whistles as benefits, and other blogs will do better by offering branding benefits. By becoming more aware of the issues, we can make the best decision for our readers, our blog, and our priorities.
Were you aware of the problems with commenting systems before? Have you ever refrained from commenting on a blog because of the commenting system? If you’ve switched systems, did you notice a change in the number of comments you received? If you use a commenting system, what were your reasons and priorities for going that route? If you don’t use a system, why not? Do you think I should use a commenting system on my blog? Why or why not?
P.S. Have you entered my Blogiversary contest yet? This is your once-a-year chance to win “me”? *smile*Pin It