Tag Archives: Akismet

Nov 2015: Getting Readers Engaged: WordPress Comments & Commenting Systems

Things change rapidly in the WordPress world. The content in this post is more than a year old and may no longer represent best practices.

At the November 2015 East Bay WordPress Meetup, we discussed comments on WordPress blogs, including when to enable comments, plugins to blog spam, third-party comment management systems, and plugins like Wheepl and Postmatic.

Prior to the commenting discussion, we introduced some of the features coming in WordPress 4.4, like responsive images and term meta.

When to Allow Comments

WordPress allows comments on posts by default, but you can turn them off in the Settings | Discussion page. That’s also where you choose whether comments will be moderated and whether people have to be logged in to comment, and what placeholders to use for commenters who don’t have Gravatars.

Turning off comments on pages by default was a smart move made in WordPress 4.3. There are not many pages suited to comments.

It’s possible that you don’t want comments on your site, not even on blog posts. But if you want to encourage interaction and engagement, comments can be a good thing. If people ask to be notified of follow-up comments, you have an opportunity to conduct longer discussions–and others who might find those conversations helpful can see them, which they can’t if you just exchange email with the person who comments.

Comments can also give you ideas for future blog posts (when readers have questions, or when they disagree with you) and give you an idea of what your readers want.

How to Encourage Comments

Some blogs seem to attract a lot of comments and some not so many. Controversial posts inevitably attract comments, but you don’t want to stir up controversy for its own sake. The Official BNI Podcast site encourages comments explicitly, asking listeners to post about their own experiences with the podcast topic.

Responding to comments (publicly, by replying to the comment) also encourages more people to comment, because they know you are reading the comments.

Establish a Comment Policy

Make it clear that you will not tolerate personal attacks, profanity, or pointless self-promotion—unless, of course, you actually want to encourage those things. There are plugins to allow you to display your comment policy above your comment form, or you can modify the comment form template (in a child theme).

Avoiding Comment Spam

Akismet is the 800-lb gorilla of spam-blocking, but you are supposed to pay for it on all sites but personal blogs. (Pricing is affordable.) Also, Akismet stores spam messages in your database for 30 days. Spambots are relentless and you can accumulate a lot of spam in that time, bloating your database.

Try the Anti-Spam plugin by Webvitaly as an alternative. It blocks all spam produced by bots, without Captcha, which Sallie believes is the instrument of the devil. (There have been lots of studies done to show why Captcha is more trouble than its worth, in case your own experience hasn’t shown you this.)  Sallie uses this plugin on nearly every site she builds.

Native WordPress Comments

There’s actually nothing wrong with the commenting system built into WordPress, at least if you get only a moderate number of comments. You can choose to require name and email to comment, to moderate all comments, to require a poster to have a previously approved comment before posting, or to require readers to be logged in to comment. (Unless you are already running a membership site, you probably don’t want people to register as users. Also, this requirement tends to deter commenters.)

WordPress displays a user’s gravatar next to their comment, if they have one. If not, you can choose to display a variety of placeholder images, or nothing.

Jetpack Comments

Jetpack Comments allow people to log in with Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or WordPress.com instead of filling out their name and email. People like the convenience of logging in with a social account.

The down side to Jetpack Comments is that you have to use Akismet to block spam–other anti-spam plugins won’t work. Jetpack comments are also difficult to style, because the Jetpack CSS wants to override everything else.

Social Comments

If you want to allow people to log in with their social networking accounts, you have more options than just Jetpack. Two we looked at are Social Comments and Facebook Comments. Social Comments lets you log in with Facebook, Google+, or WordPress.com.

Facebook Comments, naturally, requires a Facebook account, and uses Facebook’s styles to display comments. There are actually a few people left on the planet who don’t use Facebook, which is something to keep in mind when choosing a social commenting plugin.

Third-Party Systems

The two major third-party systems for comments are Livefyre and Disqus. (Disqus sponsored one of our past meetups.) If you have a blog that gets tons of visitors and tons of comments, one of these may be for you. (Livefyre especially is aimed at enterprises.)

These tools let you log in with social accounts and they help you keep track of posts you’ve commented on. They also help with managing spam and other problems, relieving you of the burden of moderation. Importing your comments back into WordPress if you stop using them is possible, but might be awkward.

Postmatic: Email Commenting

Postmatic arrived to considerable fanfare. It allows people to not only follow your comments by email, but respond to comments by email–and you as the blog owner can reply to comments without having to log in to WordPress. There are free and pro versions.

The developer of Postmatic kindly offered a premium license to give away. The winner of the drawing was Maggie Wu.

Wheepl: Comments Across the Web

Wheepl was supposed to be our sponsor for this meetup, and give a demo, but the developer got stuck in Canada because of visa issues.

Wheepl is a real-time commenting system which exists apart from WordPress to help you conduct and track conversations across platforms. It looks interesting, but it’s not clear where your comments live if you want to be able to keep them. We hope Mukul Sud will be able to come to the meetup at another time to provide his demo and answer questions.

TL;DR on WordPress Comments

Comments may not be appropriate for your site (or your client’s site). But for some sites, comments are a great way to engage readers and get ideas for new articles. WordPress and various third parties offer multiple ways to block spam and increase interaction.

Jan 2013 Meetup Notes: Favorite WordPress Plugins

Things change rapidly in the WordPress world. The content in this post is more than a year old and may no longer represent best practices.

nextgen-gallery

Ted Curran’s Notes

Meetup members shared WordPress plugins and other tools they rely on. Some of these plugins and services are free; some cost money.

Plugins Discussed

Columns and Appearance

Comment Systems and Anti-Spam

Backups & Security

Themes Discussed

Cloud Storage Discussed

Hosting Discussed

AIO-event-calendar

Sallie’s Notes

(Just a few items not included in Ted’s notes, and a few later addenda.)

July 2010 Meetup Notes: Choosing a Canon of Plugins

Things change rapidly in the WordPress world. The content in this post is more than a year old and may no longer represent best practices.

Questions & Answers
Marquee?

Susan started off by asking about putting a marquee (scrolling text) on her WP site as a placeholder for forthcoming content. Though none of us had used such a plugin, we found a few in the plugin repository and tested Marquee Plus on Sallie’s test blog.

Marquee Plus input

marquee plus options

The initial result was pretty bland, but what I didn’t notice during the test was that you can include HTML tags and style your text that way—or make links.

Marquee Plus first test

Enclosing the words in <h1> tags produced the following result:

Marquee Plus test 2

How do I keep a post on the top of the home page?

To keep a post at the top of your blog’s index page (index.php) even after you have posted more recent items, check the “make post sticky” option in publish. (You can also set this in the “Quick Edit” section.) This only works on the main index page, not on the archive or category pages.

Sticky Post in edit window

sticky post in quick edit

Image gallery that links to posts?

Mari asked how to create a gallery of images that linked to posts like the one at No Recipes.

post thumbnail gallery from no recipe

It appears to be a Random Posts widget of some kind. We took a look at the Advanced Random Posts plugin, which has an option to show post thumbnails, but no obvious way to leave out the titles. It’s probably worth doing some further searching and testing. Prizes for anyone who locates the best plugin.

Do you need a development server/test installation of WP?

It’s always a good idea to have a test site of some sort, either installed locally or online, where you can experiment with plugins and themes, particularly if the plugins are older and you don’t know whether they’ll work with your version of WordPress. But you can test them on a live site, too. The worst thing that’s likely to happen is that you’ll have to go into the plugin directory by FTP and delete the plugin if it breaks your site completely.

What’s the difference between WordPress.com widgets and WordPress.org Plugins?

WordPress.com gives you a set number of available widgets to add to your sidebar, and that’s it. On the plus side, they’re all guaranteed to work, and to work together. When you install a plugin on your WordPress.org site, there are many ways it can extend the site’s function. Sometimes that will be through a widget, but not always. The plugin could do something like back up the site, create a sitemap, add elements to posts and pages, etc.

Note that there are more than 10,000 plugins in the repository right now, and they don’t all play well together. No developer can test his/her plugin against all the others, never mind all the combinations.

Do widgets always have to be in the sidebar?

It’s up to your theme designer. Some themes also have widgetized footers or headers. If you’re designing a theme, you can put a widgetized area almost anyplace. But if you’re not comfortable editing the code to insert a widgetized region, you’re stuck with what the designer has provided, and should look for a theme that already has widgets where you want them. Note that widgets don’t always translate from theme to theme, so if you change themes, your widgets might end up in the “Inactive Widgets” section.

Is there a cross-platform offline blog editor?

Yes! You can use ScribeFire, the Firefox (and now Chrome and Safari) plugin to edit posts offline. I have no idea whether it stores local copies of those posts the way Ecto or Windows Live Writer does.

Can you post the same information to more than one WP site simultaneously? We want to keep the information on two sites updated in tandem.

You can use RSS to populate your site with content from elsewhere (if they’re posts), but you may need to do some tweaking. Talk to Anca about this; she’s working on it for a client.

How do I back up my blog?

There are dozens of plugins. The old standby is WP-DB-Backup, which backs up your database and mails it to you. There’s also Automatic WordPress Backup, which backs up your themes, plugins, uploads, and database to Amazon S3. Or you can use the amazing commercial BackupBuddy plugin, which makes restoring/moving sites easy. (With most other options, you need to do a manual restore.) Check for host compatibility before installing.

Your webhost may back up your site, but make sure the backups aren’t stored on the same server as the site itself.

Is there a gallery besides NextGEN that allows user uploads? NextGEN’s public uploader doesn’t give users the option to include a caption.

Uh…good question. If you have an answer, post it to the meetup mailing list!

Rotating Banners

Someone asked at the end about rotating banners. There are themes designed with this feature built in, but also plugins for it. One recent one that’s 3.0 compatible is Banner Rotator FX.

Plugins

We didn’t approach the plugin list comprehensively, and if we’d covered everything, it might have taken us until 5 PM. I’ve distributed the list separately and uploaded it to the meetup site.

The summary is that Sallie thinks every site should have:

Other plugins tend to vary depending on what you’re using the site for.

You can find Sallie’s Plugin Bookmarks on Delicious. There are 257 of them as I type this.

Mobile Plugins/Themes

Note that there are times when you will want a custom mobile theme, because your blog header and footer and sidebar don’t display normally (if at all) in WPTouch or WordPress Mobile Pack. But these themes can make navigation of your site much easier for users of smartphones. You should give users the options to choose to use the mobile theme or not through a theme switcher link.

WPTouch switcher link

WordPress Mobile Pack Switcher Link

You’ll need to create custom icons for your different pages in WPTouch. You can generate them using the Flavor Studios iPhone Icon Generator. Note that these may be overwritten if you update the plugin!

Announcements

Graham Bird won a copy of Beginning WordPress 3 by Stephanie Leary, donated by Apress. We look forward to reading Graham’s review. There’s another copy in the WordPress Meetup Lending Library at TechLiminal. If you leave a $10 deposit and sign the book out, you can take it home for a while.

New Sponsor

The Meetup has a new sponsor, WP Questions. If you’re a WP expert, you can make a few bucks answering questions. If you’re a WordPress newbie, you can get help for just a few bucks.

Future Meetups

We’ll hold our next meetup on August 22nd. The topic is BuddyPress. If you have a topic you’d like to present on, submit an idea or send me an e-mail.

Meetup Members’ Plugin Picks (June 2009 and Feb 2010)

Things change rapidly in the WordPress world. The content in this post is more than a year old and may no longer represent best practices.

Somehow the June Meetup notes with favorite plugins never got posted. There was another request for plugin recommendations in February. Here are two lists with some plugin suggestions from the two events.

June 2009

  • Google Analyticator for inserting your Google Analytics tracking code. It knows not to count your own visits if you’re logged in as administrator. (Still compatible with 2.9.2)
  • Calendar lets you insert a calendar for appointments using a shortcode. (Compatible up to 2.8; may or may not work with 2.9)
  • Bad Behavior helps keep out the spambots (and other malicious bots). (Compatible up to 2.9.2)
  • Contact Form 7 lets you build contact forms easily and insert them into posts and pages with a shortcode. Includes Akismet integration and captcha to keep you from getting overloaded with spam forms. (Compatible up to 2.9.2)
  • FormBuilder is the plugin you want when you need forms beyond what Contact Form 7 can create. (Compatible up to 2.9.2)
  • YSlow is a plugin for Firefox, not WordPress, and it’s actually an addition to the Firebug plugin, but you’re going to want both of them if you do any site development. They’ll help you figure out why your site (or someone else’s) is running slowly, and how to fix it.
  • All in One SEO Pack is still a favorite, though our SEO expert prefers Headspace 2 (see below). (Compatible up to 2.9.2)
  • Google XML Sitemaps makes it easier for Google to index your site. (Compatible up to 2.9.2)
  • Shopp is a commercial (meaning you have to pay for it) e-commerce plugin to integrate a shopping cart and payment gateways into your WordPress installation. Many people prefer it to the free WP e-Commerce, which nevertheless has lots of features. (Both compatible up to 2.9.2)
  • WP Super Cache can help speed up your site and protect it from a sudden rush of visitors. (Compatible up to 2.9.2.)
  • WP Widget Cache does the same thing for your widgets. (Compatible up to 2.8.1)
  • WP Limit Posts Automatically gives you more control over where to use excerpts and how long they should be. (Compatible up to 2.3; I’d be surprised if it worked with 2.9, but you can always try.)
  • WordPress Mobile Edition automatically creates a mobile-friendly version of your site for smartphones. Last updated in June 2009 and largely superseded by other plugins; see my post on mobile plugins.

February 2010

  • Akismet. This goes without saying, or should, and comes installed with WordPress. Just don’t forget to activate it. (Compatible up to 2.9.2)
  • Broken Link Checker monitors your blog for broken links. (Compatible up to 3.0 alpha.)
  • Headspace2 SEO has even more features than All in One. (Officially compatible up to 2.8.1, but works with later versions.)
  • Redirection is a lifesaver when 404 errors pop up or when you have to send someone from an old blog installation to a new one. (Compatible up to 2.9.2)
  • Search Unleashed. Everyone knows the search engine is the worst feature of WordPress. This plugin helps. (Compatible up to 2.9.2)
  • WordPress Database Backup is the first backup plugin I ever used and a good, solid, reliable one. I actually made a donation to the developer. On the other hand, it only backs up the database.
  • pageMash lets you arrange your static pages easily by dragging and dropping them. You can even hide pages. The new menu system in WP 3.0 might make it obsolete. (Officially compatible up to 2.7.1, but I’ve been using it on 2.9.2 with no troubles.)
  • Display Widgets lets you create custom sidebars for each page without having to create multiple sidebar.php files and multiple page templates. Amazing! (Compatible up to 2.9.2)
  • AnyFont lets you upload fonts and use them for headers. (It converts the text to images.) Not suitable for long blocks of text, but nice for those with typographic leanings, at least until CSS 3 is widely supported. (Compatible up to 2.9.2)
  • BackupBuddy is a new commercial plugin. It doesn’t yet work on all web hosts, but when it works, it’s amazing. Read my review here. (Compatible up to 2.9.2; requires PHP5; new builds at least once a week.)

Pete Mall, a WordPress core developer, has volunteered to speak to the Meetup about plugin development. Stay tuned for details.

Postscript 3/27/10

Two things I forgot to mention. One is the new Plugin Picks series from the WordCast Network, where Dave and Kym discuss a different plugin each Monday and Wednesday. Another is the Find Replace plugin, which sounds like a candidate for the Most Valuable list, though I haven’t tried it yet.