How to Engage Readers Into Effective Discussions
Do you want to be an owner of a blog where no one is interested in providing their feedback about the articles or content? Or, do you want to be an author where your posts ends up getting no comments at all?
I am sure you don't want to feel alone among quality blog posts. So what should you do?
Writing quality content and sitting back waiting for readers to provide their feedback won’t work.
In this article, we are going to talk about some useful techniques for increasing the possibility of getting quality feedback by simplifying the commenting process.
Let’s get started.
Importance of Comment Feedback
There are various factors that contribute to the success of a blog and user interaction is one of the major ones. No matter how good your content and traffic, there is very little potential of achieving your goals if the users are not providing feedback or not buying your services or products.
Readers are more likely to talk about your content if they see comments from other people with similar interests. The solution is to try to engage users into discussion, using various techniques, and create interest in their mind.
There are well-known techniques such as asking questions, allowing people to link back to their site in comments, providing rewards and so on.
Today we are going to focus on technical stuff more than the type of techniques I mentioned above. Our primary goal is to customize the WordPress comments functionality to make it super simple for users to provide their feedback and engage in effective discussions.
Why Do We Simplify the Comment Process?
As readers you can easily read the content, grab what you want, and proceed with your tasks even without thinking about commenting.
Generally most of the comments we see will be for appreciating the article, suggesting improvements or pointing out possible errors or mistakes in articles. There will be very limited comments asking for help, questions, explanations, etc.
So in the reader's point of view, there is no additional benefit in commenting unless they want answers to a particular question. This means that most comments will be for the benefit of the blog.
That is one reason why we need to make it as simple as possible to comment in a very short time.
Who Is Responsible for Creating Effective Discussions?
Readers need to provide their feedback regularly to create effective discussions. So they will be the most important part of this process.
Authors need to make sure they respond to the comments as quickly as possible and make the readers feel important in their responses.
Blog Owners need to moderate the comments as quickly as possible and make sure to provide additional credits for special comments by putting a list like top commenters.
Now we know why discussions are important. Let’s move into the technical aspects of a comments section.
WordPress Comment System
WordPress has a built-in comment system which is very easy to customize according to our preferences. First lets take a look at the comment submission section for both logged in users and general users.
Logged in Users
The power of the comment system comes with the ability to customize each section.
We are allowed to modify:
- Comment form title
- Comment form fields
- Content displayed before title, after title, before fields, after fields etc..
- Or the complete comment form
Let’s see how we can improve the comments section to make it quick and easy.
How to Optimize the Comments Section
In this section we are going to look at some cool techniques to enhance the process of your WordPress comments section. I will be breaking these techniques into a few sub sections to make it easy. You will require some coding skills to implement these techniques on your blog.
Simplicity Is the Key
There can be different types of users with different knowledge levels, but everyone prefers simplicity. Making the comment section as simple as possible is key to getting your first comment, which leads to bunch of comments.
So lets make things simple.
User registration - Do you want your readers to be registered with the site before commenting on any page or post?
Unless it is a major requirement, I suggest you allow comments without registering. Registration is a process that takes time and also users need to confirm their email address. No one will be interested in such a process just to appreciate your article.
So get rid of that functionality as quickly as possible.
This is another time consuming task for the readers. It's hard to read the images created by most of the tools. Hence this is definitely going to direct the user away from the site. Captcha images are mainly used to prevent comment spamming. Get rid of this validation in the comment form and let your comment-spam-prevention plugin do the spam control on the backend.
Number of fields
Generally we use name, email, website and comment as the form fields. But I have seen websites with additional fields in the comment form to get more details. Too many fields is an easy way of preventing readers from commenting. Keep fields to a minimum in comment forms and don't make them required unless it is essential. Name, email and comment is necessary. Website is something we need to make optional since not everyone has their own website.
Most often we use titles like “Leave a Comment”, “Post Comment” etc. Readers see those kinds of titles everywhere and hence will not have any special interest. In order to attract users to commenting, we need to have a catchy title like “Comment and Add Your Voice”. This will make the readers feel that their voice is important to you.
Unique Identity for Commenters
As a reader you maybe suggesting a unique idea or pointing to a possible mistake in the articles using the comments section. So the other readers who see your comment get to know you as an experienced person in this field. Name only will not help the other users to identify you. Comment sections should provide a unique identity to the commenters.
Displaying a small image of the person in front of the comment can certainly help others to identify them as a real person. So the easiest and most popular technique is to use gravatar images. You can register on gravatar.com and upload a profile image. So whenever you comment using the same email used for registration, most of the WordPress comments sections will grab your image through your email.
Following is a preview of effective usage of gravatar profile images.
As a blog owner you need to make sure to show profile images in your comments section, while readers should be commenting using their email address used for the gravatar registration.
- Highlight author comments
You comment in an article expecting the author to respond to your comment and answer your questions. How do you feel if the author doesn't respond? I don't think you will consider commenting on the same blog again. If you are an author like me, you should somehow let users know that you are responding back regularly and make sure to respond as promised.
As readers you should have a way to see whether an author is responding to comments before taking time to comment.
Highlighting author comments can ease the task for both authors and readers. Readers will be able to track whether the author responds just by looking at the comments posted.
Following is a preview of a comments section which provides highlighting of author comments.
Staying Updated With Discussions
Comment section of the post requires regular updates by both readers, authors and blog owners. Here we are going to look at how everyone can stay up to date with latest comments.
Notifications on comment replies
You leave a comment on a post expecting a response. Would you be willing to check regularly whether it has been responded? I am not quite sure you will unless it's really important.
On the other hand do you have the time to check for new comments regularly, being a writer of dozens of posts?
Even though you might love to do it, it's not realistic.
So both readers and authors need to have a method of getting notifications about new replies and responses to comments. It is a must to enable email notifications on new comments to both authors and readers. You can place a checkbox under the comment form to allow users to get notifications like the following.
Subscribing to comments thread
Most times comments and replies are related to the commenting person and author only. Other readers will not have any kind of interest. But sometimes there can be comment threads where each of the points discussed is important to all the readers. These kinds of comment threads are equally important as the content offered in the post. For such occasions readers would want to stay up to date on every comment. Subscribing to a full comment thread using email is an ideal feature for these scenarios.
Research on the comments of your posts and see whether you can find this kind of important comment threads. If you can find lots of these among your posts, you better be implementing this feature.
Highlight unanswered comments
This is mostly important for authors. As an author you will be able to find the latest comments at the top of the comments thread. But how do you find replies to your comments? When the reader comments, the author responds. When the reader replies again with a new comment it is placed at the middle of the comments thread and it's very difficulty to find them without going through each and every comment.
If we can highlight the replies where the author has not responded, the responding process will be much easier and quicker for all the authors. Following is a preview of how we can highlight unanswered comments.
Enhanced Comment Navigation
You know the importance of a navigation menu for a website. Similarly navigation for comments plays a vital role in creating effective discussions. Let's see how we can use various techniques to provide better navigation and traceability.
Both too many comments on one page and too few comments on one page can be a headache for readers and authors alike. Too many comments makes the post very long while too few comments per page makes it difficult to navigate to the older comments.Default value of comments per page in WordPress is set to 50 top level comments. But you need to provide your own value based on the average comments you get on your blog posts. Try to make the navigation as simple as possible for any comment.
I would prefer providing page numbers for older comments instead of "older comments" and "newer comments" links since its difficult to view an old comment in the latter method with a post containing hundreds of comments.
Following is how I prefer comment pagination. What is your preference?
Generally we see a sub-level comment with an indent to its parent comment. So it's not difficult to identify the reply comments. But I prefer seeing comment numbers in front of every comment, to make it super simple to track replies and even know how many times the reader has replied to the comment. In this technique you can keep top level comments as 1, 2, 3 etc. First reply of second comment becomes 2.1 and reply to 2.1 becomes 2.1.1 which is very easy to track.
Only thing is we cannot provide numbers for too many levels as it can become really messy. So make sure to limit the numbers up to 2-3 levels maximum.
Here is a preview of effective usage of comment numbers.
We discussed about the techniques we can use to improve user feedback. Not all of these techniques are going to suit everyone. So now it’s your turn to test these techniques to discover what suits you the best.
Today, we talked about the default WordPress comments system. Also there are some well known comment systems which add power to your comments section.
In my next article I’ll be talking about Disqus, which is one of the most popular among WordPress blogs with a wide range of additional features.
If you haven't heard about it, you can try it immediately by providing your valuable comment in the comments section under this post, which is powered by the Disqus comment system.
I am looking forward to knowing the techniques that worked for you and things I may have missed in this article. Make sure to read my next article on Disqus too.
Until then hope you have a good time getting comments on your blog.