Why are there comments on WordPress?
When WordPress was rolled out to the public back in 2003 it was primarily a blogging platform, a facility for writers to self-publicise.
The term ‘blog’ is a truncation of weblog: a website for posting discussion or information, usually in reverse date order. Often a blog is used as a diary or journal published online for the public or selected users to see. Commenting enables these users to become part of the discussion. Perhaps, simply by agreeing with and endorsing the article, or conversely criticising the content or certain points made. Comments can also be far more constructive, often becoming mini articles themselves, providing valuable additional content.
Bring your WordPress site to life
Comments brings a blog to life, they extend the debate and enrich the article. They also raise the website’s profile, Google likes comments, it likes to see relevant and useful information; comments add to this (mostly).
Of course, not all WordPress-powered websites employ a commenting facility. As of 2017, WordPress is used for more than a quarter of the websites we see (as of 2017, there are over 18 million WordPress sites). WordPress is a content management system (CSM) and has many useful applications other than the blog. If you use WordPress to generate your website, it is your choice whether to allow commenting or not; it will depend on the type of website you are working on.
As in life, not all comments are good. Some might be overly critical and considered unhelpful, depending on your point of view. Critical comments can however be very useful, and prompting them by writing on contentious subjects or with a contrary view is an effective way of generating debate (especially if you have a thick skin).
The unhelpful comments that produce the most aggravation are spam comments. Spam pervades the web; the modern day equivalent of the nuisance telephone call. In essence, a spam comment is a comment you don’t want, specifically one you didn’t request. Spam comments, annoying at best, can become a real problem on a website when uncontrolled. If your site enjoys a good level of traffic (and often not), it will attract the attention of spammers. Dealing with spam can be a very time consuming operation, but it needs to be done. Not only does comment spam create a bad impression for your site: one where the owner does not care about the content on it, but also Google dislikes websites that publicise or promote valueless websites. If your website displays spammy links it could be relegated in search indexes and possibly removed completely. Spam comments are therefore unhelpful to you, your site and your site’s users.
Why do people spam your WordPress site
People spam for self publicity, or to promote their or another’s website. Like the people that employ spamming, the services or products they attempt to promote are typically less than honourable and often illegal. Electronic communication is an extremely cheap way to reach a huge amount of people whilst bypassing the laws that prevent more ethical forms of advertising. So, spamming is cheap, easy and often very effective.
How to recognise spam comments
For us to deal with spam (without automatic control) we first need to identify it. Fortunately, once you know the pattern, spam is easy to recognise. Many new bloggers however get tricked by the types of comments that spammers use. It’s great to see your first blog post or article appear on your website. According to the International Telecommunication Union (in 2017), very nearly half of the world’s population — about 3.5 billion people — have access to the internet. Publicising your ideas and thoughts almost instantly to this huge potential audience is certainly exciting. When just one of them respond, the excitement multiplies. It’s not hard to see why any comment can be viewed through rose-tinted spectacles — ‘Hey, I got a comment, someone read my stuff!’ Especially when they can be so encouraging, complimentary, and seemingly thankful. A typical spam comment might say: ‘What a beautifully written article, your writing shows great understanding of the subject. Please lets see more of it.’ Lovely, who doesn’t want to read this type of comment about themselves? And who wouldn’t want to include this public endorsement and ‘pat on the back’ with their article?
Unfortunately, the writer of the comment has probably not even read one word of your article. The comment could just as easily be applied to articles about bread making, donkey riding, or brain surgery. So there’s the first tell-tale sign: generic, artificial, irrelevant fluff. If the comment does not discuss your actual content, it’s most likely spam.
Look for the name of the comment author. Does it look like a real name, or is it made up or words that the author is hoping will be picked up by search engines? e.g. if you’ve written a piece about dog grooming and your comment author’s name is given as ‘Dog Clippers’, then you have your answer.
When users of your website post a comment, they can also include their URL (the address of their own website). Check this out, spam comment will usually link to some rather shady destinations (that’s its purpose). Do you want it publicised on your website? Do you want to provide a link for your other users to this particular website? Additionally, there might be links within the content itself, so check these out too.
How to moderate spam comments
So, we’ve identified our spam, how do we deal with, or moderate, it?
Depending on your WordPress setup, you might be alerted to the arrival of a new comment by email, in any case, you will see it when you login to your dashboard. When you see it, there are options to approve it, delete it or mark it as spam. By now, you should know what type of comment it is. So if it’s spam, mark it as such, or delete it. If you delete it, the comment goes. If you mark it as spam, the data is used to educate any spam-fighting tools you use (detailed in ‘How to reduce spam’, below).
If the comment is valid and worthwhile approve it. If it warrants any thanks on your part, then do so by replying to the comment. Occasionally, the comment will ask a question about the article content, and if so, answer it by way of reply. This is how your article gets enhanced, by adding further content that your users have asked for. Responding to your comments (the good ones) shows that you care about your readers and that you are happy to engage with them — we all like and appreciate that kind of attention don’t we?
How to reduce spam comments on your WordPress site
The most effective way to reduce comment spam on your WordPress site is to disallow it. There is a simple site-wide setting in the ‘discussion’ part of the dashboard found under ‘settings’. Uncheck the box: ‘Allow people to post comments on new articles’, and there will be no option for readers to comment. This is a default setting and be overridden near the foot of the editing screen of each individual post or page. To see this option, you might need to check the ‘Discussion’ box revealed by clicking on the ‘Screen options’ tab at the top of the editing window.
If you want to allow comments, but make it harder for people to successfully spam your site then there are other options in the discussion settings.
These are largely self-expanatory. For most applications, ensuring your readers fill out name and email will help, as will holding comments for approval. The latter can be relaxed by allowing previously approved commenters to post without moderation. If you want to encourage comments, then place as few obstacles in their way as you can — it’s a question of balance between spam protection and comment quantity.
WordPress comes pre-installed with a very effective anti-spam plugin: Akismet. This is not active by default, and to use it you must register and choose a pricing plan. There is a free option for non-commercial applications. To use it, navigate to the ‘Plugins’ section of your dashboard and activate the Akismet Anti-Spam plugin; you will be guided through the registration procedure.
Akismet works by maintaining a database of spam (a large database). Each time a registered user marks a comment as spam, the details are sent to the database and this database is used to qualify comments made on registered users’ sites. So, this is why it’s useful to mark spam as such; it helps us all in the fight against spam.
Should I encourage comments on my WordPress website?
This is for you to decide. There is certainly a workload involved in both moderating and replying to comments. But, in return, your site benefits from another dimension. You get valuable feedback from your readers about what they like, dislike, and find interesting. All this will help you to develop your site into a more valuable resource. Commenting also brings with it networking opportunities that could be very useful for you and your website.
Additionally, as already mentioned, all this increased activity on your site will likely result in better rankings within search engines, thus bringing more traffic (and more comments) to your site.
Open up the discussion
Over to you, do you use comments on your site?