Everything You Need to Know About WordPress Comments

Johannes Mairhofer Last updated 10/23/2020
10 Min.
blog comments
Last updated 10/23/2020

After I have already presented the WordPress basics, I would like to devote myself today to a topic in more detail: the comment function. I'll show you all the settings for WordPress comments, explain where you moderate your comments and go into the "side effects" of comments.

WordPress -comments - a short review

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.

Exchange or no exchange: which 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.

In many situations, the comment function in WordPress can be valuable: 

  1. Comments are a great way to get in touch with your readers, or your customers, and get direct feedback. 
  2. 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

WordPress  Comments
The "Discussion" setting in the WordPress dashboard.

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, there are also the so-called pingbacks and trackbacks in WordPress . These are basically notifications that you have been linked on another site and vice versa. The official WordPress blog says about pingbacks: "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. 

Since this function, as mentioned, unfortunately does not always work, I recommend that you also set up a Google Alert with your name and the name of your blog. This works in my opinion more reliable and sends you a message whenever your name, or the name of your blog, was 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

With this setting you determine whether posts can be commented anonymously. To reduce spam, I recommend that you check this box. Keep in mind, however, that with this function you also receive the names and email addresses of your readers and have to manage them, keep them safe and delete them completely from the system on request. This is where WordPress helps you, but you are in a bind. Make sure to inform yourself about legal consequences - I cannot and am not allowed to give advice on this at this point.

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 registration option in the settings. You can read more about this in my basic article on 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 e-mail when

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. 

Commentary moderation

WordPress  Comments
Comment moderation helps you to detect spam comments.

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

WordPress  Comments

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).

Standard avatar

The service Gravatar for WordPress is popular the world over: 

Gravatar Avatar
Gravatar is a popular service for standard avatars.

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.

WordPress -Moderate comments

WordPress  Comments
You can moderate your WordPress comments in the section "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

WordPress  Comments
Aksimet is a popular WordPress comment plugin.

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

Antispam-Bee
The spam plugin Antispam Bee makes it easier for you to manage your comments.

Antispam Bee is another Plugin to moderate and manage comments. Antispam Bee is free and, according to its own statement, 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 more than annoying. But the spam blocker Antispam Bee puts an end to it: Stefan Kremer from the plugin collective shows you how to stop spam comments in WordPress .

Final thoughts

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

On my own blog, I have decided with a heavy heart to no longer allow comments. The interaction and the exchange with my readers used to be a lot of fun for me. In addition, I have implemented with great pleasure regular competitions or other actions, which have brought me on the one hand visitors, but also always great exchange.

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

A little trick that I currently use myself is the following: For posts that I would like to discuss, I invite visitors to reply to me on Twitter. To do this, I first create a tweet with the question from the blog post and then link it directly to 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.

Final tips

  • For the creation of an imprint I recommend the generator of eRecht24.
  • For the creation of a data protection page I recommend the data protection generator of 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. 
  • If you decide to activate the comment function in WordPress, please inform your visitors about the analytic tools you use in your privacy policy.
  • 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!

Johannes is very curious and has already reached various stages in his career. As a trained IT specialist and freelance photographer, he is versatile and can see through the different "glasses" of his customers. Today he works as a freelance photographer and consultant for WordPress and photography. [Photo: Dennis Weißmantel]

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