The past few years have seen a dramatic change in the way conversations evolve around web articles. At first, before social media, the only avenue was the comments section underneath the article. Then much of the conversation began to revolve around the distribution channels – like Facebook comments. If you want to disable or enable comments on your website, this article is for you!
Another development was the quick rise of online trolling. It became increasingly difficult to monitor comments and those popular sites which freely allowed comments were soon converted into cesspools of abuse. As a result, many major websites removed comment sections from their pages altogether, choosing to let the social networks police them instead. For example, Search Engine Land now directs its users to its social stream for comments:
But what about average websites? Not all online articles lend themselves to the challenge of trolls. In today’s world, what are the best practices to follow for comments? Here’s what I’ve learned over the past 10 years.
Stick with In-House Comments: Don’t Outsource
The first decision to make is whether to use a 3rd party commenting service like Disqus or Facebook comments instead of rolling your own. WordPress for example comes with a serviceable commenting system. But it lacks many of the important features necessary for proper comment management. Like moderation, ajax submissions without page reloads, voting systems, etc.
Customization is Limited
This is probably the single biggest issue with 3rd party solutions. While they offer the ability to make some changes, a lot of them simply don’t have enough customization. Disqus for example, adds a “see more” link for long comment threads. But there’s no way to collapse the entire parent comment itself to move to the next one.
You’re also restricted from changing the color schemes too much, and the Disqus assets will always remain unchanged.
They Can Slow your Site
They Can Make Commenting Harder
Often, 3rd party solutions require users to have an account with them to post something. This network is separate from your website’s account and can create duplicate work. It can easily deter people from commenting at all in many cases.
In short, the native commenting system of your CMS probably has a lot more flexibility to get the exact feel that you want. The best large sites have actually built their own comment systems. The National Review for example has a very slick commenting system that doesn’t slow down the page!
Not all Articles Need a Comment Section
Many major websites have restricted comments only to opinion pieces and editorials. Reuters is probably the biggest examples, and even sites like the New York Times have rules on which articles readers are allowed to weigh in.
Similarly, you don’t need to enable comments on your website for all pages. It’s easy to create rules to disable comments on specific types of posts. Maybe a certain category of posts doesn’t require them. Or sometimes, you’ll want to disable comments on posts older than a certain date. Either way, it’s something to think about.
Sometimes an empty comment section creates a negative impression in the mind of a user, in which case it’s best to remove the functionality altogether. There are no hard and fast rules, and each website needs to determine what’s best for its specific niche. But these are the trends that I’ve observed over the past few years.
In summary, three takeaways:
- Use your own commenting system, or the native function of your CMS
- Don’t enable comments on your website willy-nilly on articles on which it doesn’t make sense to have them
- Sometimes, introducing a bit of friction increases the quality of the comments significantly
I’m a NameHero team member, and an expert on WordPress and web hosting. I’ve been in this industry since 2008. I’ve also developed apps on Android and have written extensive tutorials on managing Linux servers. You can contact me on my website WP-Tweaks.com!