As we’ve already covered the WordPress basics, I’d like to delve into one particular topic today: the comment function. I'll show you all the settings for WordPress comments, explain where to moderate your comments, and touch on the "side effects" of comments.
WordPress comments: a brief history
I'm sure you already know our favorite CMS originally came from the blogger scene. For years on blogging platforms, it was common practice to comment on posts. This way a conversation could develop with the author, readers could get involved, give feedback, and discuss their opinions.
Insulting comments, advertisements and spam did exist. On most blogs, however, the number of comments of this kind was fortunately manageable. With the growing popularity of WordPress, and with the growth of users on the internet in general, comments and the abuse of the comment function increased at a similar rate.
Interaction or no interaction: what is better?
With WordPress, your visitors can leave their own comments on the content of your website. This function is usually disabled for pages and enabled for posts by default. But not every website necessarily needs a comment area or even benefits from it. If you want to specifically prevent spam content, for example, or improve the performance of your website. More about this later.
Comments in WordPress are beneficial in many situations:
- Comments are a great way to get in touch with your readers, or your customers, and get direct feedback.
- A lively exchange strengthens your online presence. When your readers share their own experiences on your content topic, it underpins your expertise.
The whole topic of comments has become far more complex ever since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force, however. If you now want to activate and allow comments on your WordPress site, seeking legal advice first is recommended. Even if the GDPR crops up a few times in this article, I can't offer you legal advice, nor am I allowed to.
Settings > Discussion
Let's go to the comment settings in WordPress. In the "Settings” → "Discussion” settings in your WordPress dashboard, you can see straight away just how complex even the basics are. But don't worry, I’m going to explain every relevant point below.
Default settings for posts
Besides the classic comments in WordPress, there are also the so-called pingbacks and trackbacks. These are basically notifications that your site was linked to another site and vice versa. In the official WordPress Blog it says "the best way to think about pingbacks is as remote comments."
Attempt to notify any blogs linked to from this post.
If this function is activated, your WordPress will try to send a so called "ping" to the other linked WordPress system. This happens whenever you’ve linked another site on your blog. The pingback will appear in the comments of the linked site. That is, if the linked site allows pingbacks and trackbacks. (See next point)
Allow link notifications from other blogs about new posts
If you enable this function, you'll also receive a notification when another blog mentions and links you. Unfortunately, this option is often used by spammers who hope to get a backlink when your pingback appears in the comments.
Even if you check both boxes, due to the various WP versions, web server configurations, and a number of other factors, there’s no guarantee that this "info ping" will work. On the other hand, if you disable both these options, you definitely won’t receive any.
Since blogs live mainly from interaction with each other, it’s rather useful and exciting to know which blog has mentioned you. For example, you can write a comment there (if they’re enabled) and respond to the mention.
As this function doesn’t always work, as mentioned above, I recommend you also add a Google alert with your name and the name of your blog. I find these alerts more reliable and they always send you a message if your name, or the name of your blog, is mentioned somewhere.
Allow people to submit comments on new posts
Here you determine whether visitors are allowed to comment on your posts or not. If the box is checked, all posts can be commented on. If the box is unchecked, comments cannot be left on any posts.
This setting can be adjusted for each post individually in almost every theme. You can, for example, disable comments overall and then allow them for certain posts. The same applies vice versa.
The settings that come after these are only relevant if you allow comments. If you uncheck the box as in the screenshot above, the following settings will be ignored altogether.
Other comment settings
Users must fill out their name and email address to comment
Here you decide if comments can be left on posts anonymously or not. To reduce the amount of spam, I recommend checking this box. Keep in mind, however, that this function will naturally also give you the names and email addresses of your readers and you’ll have to manage them, keep them safe and delete them completely from the system on demand. While WordPress will help you with this to some extent, you are ultimately liable. Be sure to inform yourself about the legal consequences, I'm not in a position to provide assistance with this.
Users must be registered and logged in to comment
This setting is even stricter than the previous one. Anyone who wants to comment must be a registered member of your website. If you want to enable this option, remember to enable the ability to register in the settings. You can read more about this in my article on the basics of the WordPress dashboard.
This is the most convenient option for you as you can easily remove users who become offensive or post spam. Nevertheless, I also recommend seeking legal advice and assessment by lawyers.
Automatically close comments on posts older than X days
This allows you to deactivate the comment function for older posts. For example, you can choose to close the comment function for posts older than 14 days. Existing comments will remain visible but no further comments can be added.
Organize nested comments in X levels deep
If you allow comments, both your posts and the comments below them can be commented on. This can easily get confusing during longer discussions.
The oldest / newest comments should be at the top
Blog posts usually appear in reverse chronological order. In the overview, the newest posts appear first, i.e. at the top. For comments, I recommend you organize the entries the other way round with the oldest comments appearing at the top. This way your readers can read the comments "from old to new".
Send me an email whenever
Someone writes a comment
You’ll be notified via the administrator email address when a new comment is posted on your site.
A comment is held for moderation
This setting informs you about a comment pending approval and refers to the following settings.
Before a comment appears,
The comment must be manually approved
This is the option I referred to above. You can decide that each comment needs to be manually approved by you. Even if this means additional work for you, I recommend keeping this setting to avoid spam, insults, and other unwanted comments appearing on your site.
Comment author must have previously approved comment
If you’ve approved a comment from someone manually in the past, the system can automatically approve subsequent comments from this person. Even if this setting sounds appealing, I don't recommend it. Why? Because other people who know about this function can simply enter an "approved" email address for spam and other undesired activities.
Here you can adjust the algorithm that detects spam comments. For example, many links in a post are a clear sign of spam. You can also define certain words such as "Viagra", "sell" or "sex" as suspected spam.
Caution: similar to plugins, this option analyzes the comments for corresponding words and links. If you use this option, your users must be informed about the analysis as you may be editing and processing personal data.
Avatars are the symbols or photos that appear next to the comment. They're often photos of the user who wrote the comment. Sometimes they’re also comic figures, icons, or logos.
If you check the box "Show avatars", other items will be activated. If the box is left unchecked, all the following settings will be ignored. My recommendation here is to check and set the maximum rating to "G” (suitable for all audiences).
The service Gravatar for WordPress is popular the world over:
The free service gravatar.com allows you to link your email address to one or more photos. All services that use Gravatar will then show your chosen photo when you use your email address to comment.
While Gravatar really is a great service, you need to exercise caution in today’s climate. By connecting your email address with your photo, you’re processing personal data after all. Blogs and websites that use Gravatar access and process the Gravatar database - and with it a lot of personal data.
As gravatar.com is now owned by wordpress.com, this data is unfortunately no longer located in the EU but "somewhere" in America. So again, if you use gravatar.com, inform your visitors about it. Legal advice is, as always, recommended.
For all commenters who have not linked their email address to Gravatar, the "default avatar" set below will be used. If you allow comments but you’re unsure about the legal situation, I recommend this variant. If you inform your visitors and ideally get some legal advice, the Gravatar variant is certainly the more attractive option.
Moderate WordPress comments
In the WordPress dashboard, you’ll find the item "Comments" in the navigation on the left. All comments appear here in a tabular overview.
The overview in the upper area lists all the comments you've already received. You can also filter the comments and show:
- only your own,
- all pending,
- all those already approved,
- all suspected spam or
- all those in the trash.
There might be additional sorting options in this section if you use certain WordPress plugins. Pay particular attention to the area "suspected spam". It's very likely you'll find some fake comments here, especially at the beginning.
If you allow comments, you should check here regularly to see if there are any new comments for moderation. Do this even if you’ve activated the setting "Notification of new comments". This is because these notifications may not reach you - or might even be classified as spam by your email provider.
Moderate comments with WordPress plugins
There are now a great number of WordPress plugins to analyze, check and filter out spam from comments.
Akismet, for example, is one such plugin for comments. It’s even integrated by default in many WordPress installations. Akismet comes with many features and advantages for managing your comments. Since the contents of the comments are sent to the U.S. with this tool, there’s also one big disadvantage, namely data protection.
Before you use this plugin, you need to seek legal advice. You should also inform your users that this tool is used on your website.
Antispam Bee is another plugin to moderate and manage comments. It's free and, according to the provider, GDPR compliant.
In contrast to similar solutions, Antispam Bee works completely without captchas or sending personal data to third parties. Thus, Antispam Bee is 100% compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
You can adjust the WordPress settings for comments in a much more advanced way with this tool. It also allows you to, for example, delete spam automatically, include the time of the comment in the rating, and create statistics. All of this makes Antispam Bee a rather exciting tool. Despite the GDPR compliance, you should still inform your visitors about your use of the plugin.
Antispam Bee blocks spam comments
Spam comments and trackbacks are especially irritating. But the spam blocker Antispam Bee puts an end to that: Stefan from the plugin collective shows, how to stop spam comments in WordPress.
WordPress comments are an excellent way to get in touch with your readers, stimulate the exchange of experience and knowledge, and respond directly to customer feedback. Nevertheless, you should always ask yourself whether comments on your website really add value or if they just create extra unnecessary work for you. The downside with spam, links and the like certainly doesn't stop at your site.
The decision to allow comments on your WordPress site should therefore not be taken too lightly.
My personal experience
For my own blog, I took the difficult decision to not allow comments. I used to really enjoy the interaction and exchange with my readers. I also enjoyed organizing competitions and other activities. While these activities brought me visitors, the interaction itself was also fulfilling.
In the end, the risk of the legal grey area was just too much for me personally. Moreover, I simply don’t have the time at the moment to react adequately to comments and moderate them. My website is more of a "self-presentation" and portfolio of my photos than a place for extensive discussion. However, I do keep the option open to maybe allow comments again in the future.
It may well be that I want to encourage more exchange in a few weeks’ time and I’ll activate the comment function on my WordPress site again.
Tip: outsource comments
One little trick I currently use: for posts I’d like to discuss, I encourage users to reply to me on Twitter instead. I post a tweet first with the question from the blog post and then link it directly in the post.
This brings me feedback and followers on Twitter. On the other hand, I can get at least some of my readership (those with a Twitter account) to participate in the exchange. The big advantage: I'm no longer involved in the neverending discussion about privacy as I don't moderate the comments myself.
- To create an appropriate legal notice, I recommend Generator from eRecht24.
- For privacy pages, I recommend the Data Protection Generator from lawyer Dr. Thomas Schwenke.
- Allow around an hour when using these generators and you’ll have to answer many questions.
- Depending on whether your website is set up privately, professionally or as a shop, these generators are free of charge or reasonably priced.
- Remember to log in to your system at least once a week to moderate your comments and also respond to questions and, of course, deal with insults.
- Ideally get advice from a lawyer or, at the very least, from the WP community and experienced WP users.
- Think one step further when creating the privacy page: most hosting providers store the IP addresses of visitors for a certain period of time, for example, for security reasons. Such information also needs to go on your privacy pages.
Comments in WordPress - yes or no?
Now I’d like to hear from you: what’s your experience with the comment function in WordPress? Do you allow interaction on your website? Please let me know in the comments below!