It's been about 6 months since the redesign of The Smart Passive Income Blog went live.
Although no blog design will ever please 100% of its audience, overall I'm extremely happy with how well this particular theme has performed. Everything from time on the site, to search engine rankings and even overall feedback from the audience has been mostly positive.
There were a lot of decisions based on design and functionality, but there was none more interesting—and perhaps debatable—than that of my decision to use a third-party commenting system to facilitate comments at the end of each post.
For 5+ years, I used the regular, built-in WordPress commenting function. For the last 6 months, I been using Disqus (pronounced: “discuss”).
In this post, I'll be going over the reasons why I decided to use Disqus, including the pros, the cons and the outcome of using this application.
Before that, however, I think it's important to talk about comments in general, because it's a heated topic with multiple sides, and it's important to know where you stand before you think about commenting systems on your specific blog.
Should you even enable comments in the first place?
The Debate on Blog Comments
I personally prefer to enable comments on my blog (obviously), however there are a lot of bloggers who prefer to turn them off.
Leo Babauta from Zen Habits is one of those bloggers, and Seth Godin is another.
In fact, two years ago, I had a public debate about this topic on Think Traffic (now The Sparkline over at Fizzle.co), and although both sides argued their hearts out, many readers were still left undecided.
I know a lot of bloggers, especially beginners, who stress over getting more blog comments. They worry when they see a post they've written only get just a couple of comments.
They say things like, “Pat, I had hundreds of people read this post, but hardly anyone is leaving a comment. What's wrong?!”
Nothing is wrong.
The number of comments are NOT a good indicator of a successful post.
In reality, a very small percentage of readers will actually leave a comment. Although you see hundreds of comments on posts here on SPI, the percentage of commenters to total number of readers is still extremely small.
Check out the graphic below from Priceonomics, which I saw on a retweet from Derek Halpern. It was posted in an article about why you should never read comments, but it ties in directly with our debate today about allowing them:
Oh, and then there's this graphic, from the same article:
Just read the comment section on any popular YouTube video, for example, and you'll see that the comments are actually quite depressing—often rude, violent and definitely not worth our time.
Because of this, I can see why turning off comments may be a correct decision for some bloggers.
5 Reasons Why I Keep My Comments ON
For me, however, I prefer to leave comments enabled for a number of different reasons:
- I like giving my audience the option to leave a comment—even though most people do not. Leaving the floor open for discussion after my post gives off a feeling of community and invitation, as opposed to “This is my post, these are my words and that's final.”
- Replying to comments (which was much easier when my audience was smaller) is a great way to show that I, as the blog owner, am actually listening to my audience. Even though a small percentage of people actually leave comments, many more read them and if my response to another community member is there for everyone to see, that's a positive outcome for the brand as a whole.
- I'm lucky to have an amazing audience here on SPI who often adds to the discussion, and many times the discussion happening in the comment section becomes more valuable than the post itself, like in this recent post about email marketing and landing in the gmail primary tab every time.
- Social proof. When people come to the site and they see a large numbers of comments on posts, it immediately gives off the idea that this is a populated site that other people read too, and people are more likely to stick around and click-through or read an article. When you're just starting out, however, social proof can work against you. Here's an AskPat question (from 10 year old Briggs!) that may help you with increasing engagement and comments on your site.
- It's my personal preference.
In regards to #5, this is the way I choose to run my blog. It's my blog, and I do what I feel is best, and your blog is yours and you should do what feels right to you. I don't believe there's an absolutely right or wrong way here, and I totally understand why some people turn them off, but overall I'm extremely happy with my decision to leave them on.
Of course, enabling comments means inevitable spam, which was a huge problem for me in the past. Over the course of 667 posts over the past 5 years, I've accumulated over 3,000,000 spam comments.
Yep—3 million. But luckily, 99.999% of them were caught by spam filters and plugins, but the occasional spam comment does come through and I still have to spend a little bit of time moderating.
Before I get into my decision to use Disqus and the outcome of it, below is an episode of AskPat that shares some tactics I've used to help get rid of spam, in case that's an issue for you:
(or click here to listen on SoundCloud)
My Choice to Go Third-Party
My motive for using a third-party commenting system on the new redesign was purely experimental. I was satisfied with the built-in WordPress comments, however I was getting a ton of questions about third-party commenting systems and there was no way for me to give an honest answer and share my experience because—well—I had none.
So…what better way to know what it's like than to try it out myself.
There are a number of strong cases for using a third-party commenting system.
Firstly, because someone has to login and authenticate before they can leave a comment, the likelihood of spam comments, and beyond that, the likelihood of troll-like comments are far less, since they typically like to leave comments anonymously or using a fake name and/or email address.
Since switching over to Disqus, the spam comments have nearly all but disappeared. I'm very happy with this.
Secondly, it's a little bit easier for commenters to go back and track all of their previous comments. There are ways to do this using the WordPress commenting system, but there are more options for comment subscribing using a third-party service like this. People are more able to customize their commenting experience on the site.
Thirdly, comments are able to be shared via social media, which helps promote the post. To be honest, I don't see this feature being used very often, even though it's there. Only a couple of times I've been inclined to share an actual comment from a blog post—but again, that option is there just in case.
Fourthly (and this one is my favorite), the quality of the comments has increased—by far. Besides the spam and troll comments that are virtually non-existent, the comments from my audience are—for a lack of a better word—better. In general, they are more thought-provoking, and also longer too.
There are other features that I like which Disqus and other third-party commenting platforms make easy to enable, however they can also be implemented on a WordPress commenting system with plugins, such as replies and threaded comments, and voting up good comments. The ability to sort through the “best comments” (i.e. the highest voted) and newest and eldest is very handy.
As with most things, there are some drawbacks to using third-party commenting systems.
My biggest fears before I made the switch, was that it would be difficult to implement and import my existing comments, and that if someday Disqus or whatever other commenting platform I chose were to go down or go away, I'd lose all of my comments forever.
Essentially, I feared losing total control of my comments, and I didn't want to make a “forever now or hold your peace” type of decision.
I learned that many of these commenting systems allow you to save your new comments into your old WordPress database at the same time, so if the platform disappeared, the comments would still be there to pull from.
Another big drawback was change. People fear change—even if it's good sometimes. Although the look and feel of the comments were going to change, it was the change in experience and how people left comments that worried me.
By switching over to a third-party commenting system, I was requiring people to login, or at least do a little bit more than before when leaving a comment, which could lead to frustration for some. This makes it a little harder to leave a comment, but at the same time it filters out those who maybe shouldn't be leaving a comment, like spammers and trolls.
There's give and take.
Platform Options to Choose From
Why did I choose Disqus?
Again, it was simply because I was getting the most questions about it, and also it's the one that I personally have seen on most other sites using third-party commenting systems. When I looked over the features of each, there was not one particular reason why one seemed better than the other, although things may have changed since I last checked.
Overall, the higher quality of comments, and the decrease in spam means this was a great decision for me—at least at this point 6 months into the new site. It also makes it a lot easier for me to reply to comments too, since Akismet (a plugin designed for WordPress to get rid of spam) was marking my own comments as spam too.
I'd Love to Hear from You!
Leave a comment below (hehe) sharing your thoughts on this topic:
1. Blog comments: ON or OFF? Which do you prefer?
2. Third Party Platforms vs. WordPress Built-in Comments
Are you annoyed when you have to log in to leave a comment, or go through the extra steps, or does it really not matter?
Would love to hear your thoughts below. They will be incredibly valuable, not just for me, but everyone else who is tackling this topic for their own blogs too.