7 Ways to Manage Comments on Your Site (Without Losing Your Mind)

Image of Microphone in Front of Audience

Comments.

For some bloggers, they are the fuel that keeps their content creation engines running. For others, they are a nuisance and a hassle — something they try to deal with quickly in order to get to the “real” business of creating content.

As a content creator, dealing with comments is part of your job. And I believe that comments are an incredibly important part of creating (and growing) an engaged online community.

But how do you maintain healthy boundaries on your site while still encouraging lively and engaging discussion? What are the best ways to manage comments in the blogging world today, and what do you need to think about when creating your own comment policies?

1. Moderate your comments.

All of the big blogging platforms allow you to moderate your comments. Adjust your blog settings so your comments come straight to your email inbox, so you can approve them before they get published on the site. That’s the easiest way to keep strict control over the conversation, and make sure things stay civilized.

We’ve all seen sites where the comments are clearly not maintained or controlled in any way, and we’ve seen how quickly the conversation can go from civil to disrespectful, and unwelcoming to flat-out abusive.

Moderate your community conversation, so your blog is a safe and respectful place for people to give their opinions or ask questions.

2. Use a strong spam filter.

Make your job easier by using a strong spam filter. Spam filters keep the creepies and spammers out of your blog (and inbox) and sequestered in a spam folder. Filters don’t catch everything, but they’ll snag most obvious spam comments. Use one, and your comment moderation life will become infinitely easier.

Akismet is my favorite spam filter plugin for WordPress, and it’s built into every default installation.

3. Have a comment policy.

Decide what you will and won’t allow in the discussion on your site, and write it down. Even if the document is just for you, take the time to sit down and write out your thoughts before you open the floodgates.

Consider sharing your policy on your blog, if appropriate. Michael Hyatt and the Huffington Post both have clear comment policies published on their sites, and those policies are enforced.

We also have a published comment policy here at Copyblogger, and those rules are enforced by the editorial team monitoring the comments on each post.

You can also choose the short and concise route — as Tim Ferriss does — and add a short “be cool” section in the footer of each post. Of course, you need to add a line or two describing what “being cool” means to you and your community.

4. Do your best to respond to questions from your audience.

I’m still working on managing this, but Sonia Simone is an absolute pro at it.

She seems to manage to answer every question in a timely and interesting way, and I love reading her comment responses.

She even takes the time to pull out interesting and relevant comments and puts them in standalone Q&A posts — a fantastic way to serve your audience with even more content .

Do you need to respond to every single comment? There are different schools of thought on this question. Some say it’s important to acknowledge every single comment you receive, even if it’s just a quick “Thank you” as a response. Others say it’s okay NOT to respond to every comment, unless the comment includes a question or other remark that really begs a response.

You need to decide what your policy is on answering comments. Keep in mind that your thoughts on this subject may change as your blog audience grows — as you get more comments, you may find you don’t have enough time to respond to every single one.

5. Have limits on what advice you’re willing to give away for free.

If you’re a coach, consultant or other service provider, you need to be clear about how much advice you’re willing to give for free when someone asks a how-to question in the comments section of your site.

You may decide that you’re willing to address questions that dip into your service provider knowledge, as long as the question is relevant and useful for your entire audience. Or you might decide not to give away any advice that your clients would normally pay for.

But either way, you’ll need to figure out a diplomatic way to refer people to your “Contact” or “Services” page when it’s time to take the discussion offline (and possibly set up a consultation or coaching appointment with you).

As with everything in comment moderation (and in life) — decide what your boundaries are, and stick with them.

6. Don’t put up with trolls, bullies, abusive language or threats.

It’s your site, and you decide what you will and will not allow someone to publish on your posts. You are under NO obligation to publish every single comment that people submit, and you needn’t allow anyone to bully, harass, or push you around.

That said, a little healthy discussion is a good thing, so you shouldn’t arbitrarily delete any commenter who disagrees with you. If they make their point in a respectful way, it’s okay to have a little contention on your site. It might even be a good thing.

In other words, embrace thoughtful, respectful criticism.

Our post on grammar mistakes, 15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly, received a healthy amount of debate and discourse in the comments — and it’s also the all-time most popular post on our site. So don’t be afraid of a little heated discussion on your blog.

7. Take care of your guest authors.

Set each guest up as a user in WordPress, and have WordPress email that guest each time one of their posts receives a new comment. It’s an easy way to let your guest writers engage with their posts (and keep track of which comments they have replied to).

When you invite guest bloggers to publish posts on your site, it’s also your job to make sure no one abuses them. One of the things I love about Copyblogger (especially back in my guest posting days, when I was nervous about answering hyper-critical or trollish comments) is that Brian and Sonia would jump in on the rare occasion that a commenter was disrespectful or rude.

Your policy should always be to militantly protect your guest authors — they are your guests, after all.

Over to you …

Hopefully you’ve gotten some ideas for coming up with your own policies and rules about managing the discussion on your site (and I’ve made it a little easier for you to moderate your comments in a way that works for you AND your community.

Some popular bloggers have recently decided to drop public comments from their posts. Others keep them open, but employ a strict moderation policy that leaves no room for bullies or trolls.

What are your rules about comments on your site (and what stories do you have to share about commenting gone awry?)

See you in the comments?

About the Author: Beth Hayden is an author, speaker, and social media expert who specializes in Pinterest marketing. To get more traffic-building tips, download your free copy of Beth’s e-book, The Definitive Guide to Driving Traffic to Your Website or Blog with Pinterest.

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Comments

  1. Wow this sounds like one of those “high quality” problems.

    I’ve got more issues with trying to get anyone to comment, PERIOD, than having too many comments!

    My only issue is the occasional comment where I can’t tell if it’s spam or not. Like they will make a somewhat vague statement that COULD be spam, or also could just be a user who isn’t necessarily that good at English.

    • The easiest way to determine if a comment is spam is if they include a link either in the name/email/website fields or the comment itself. Of course many people include legit links, but spammers’ links are pretty wonky. Look for nonsensical series of letters and numbers, bit.ly links, or just obvious selling/marketing words.

    • When I’m trying to figure out whether something is a spam comment or not (and I agree — sometimes it’s hard to discern), I look at the email address or URL of the commenter. That’s usually a dead giveaway.

    • If the user name or email address don’t make it clear, a URL almost always will. On rare occasion, I’ll okay the comment after removing a URL that I have a problem with. I have comments moderated for new commenters only – once I’ve okayed that first comment, posting is automatic, and I’ve never had anyone send an acceptable comment and then follow with garbage. Certainly without the incredibly accurate Akismet protecting my blogs, though, I’d have given up blogging a long time ago – the note is my Dashboard currently says “Akismet has protected your site from 257,843 spam comments already.”

    • Something else you can try if you aren’t sure whether a comment is legit or not, is to copy the entire comment, or a paragraph if it’s long, and search for it on Google with quotation marks. If you see the same comment on other sites, send it straight to spam.

  2. Excellent post, Beth. I wholeheartedly agree that “You are under NO obligation to publish every single comment that people submit, and you needn’t allow anyone to bully, harass, or push you around.”

    I run several websites, two of which are the most popular fansites for a couple of TV series with very vocal fans. Over the years my co-admin and I have become more and more vigilant about not allowing people to abuse us (or each other or the show creators) in the comments. We get criticized for it at times, but gradually our readers have learned what is acceptable (creative criticism) and what is not (trolling, bullying, harassment). Having a clear comment policy helps tremendously, but we still occasionally have to remind them how to behave with a note at the end of a sure-to-be-heavily-discussed post or comments on our podcast. And we use the “trash” button as needed and without guilt.

    Re: spam – we just implemented a plugin called Simple Comments by Todd Lahman that has killed spam dead. Not a single piece of spam has made it onto our sites since we activated the plugin 2 weeks ago, and only a couple of false negatives have ended up in the queue. It’s a premium plugin, but the cost is minimal, especially when compared to the time savings of wading through and deleting spam!

    • Hi Mel…so are you using this Simple Comments plugin alone or with something like Akismet? Sounds nice if you don’t have to see spam at all.

  3. Well, I would like to know under what circumstances is it good to use the Facebook Comments plugin? I know some people don’t recommend it, but some people I talk to find it very useful in engaging their audience.

    • Hi James — this might just be me, but I don’t like the Facebook comments plugin. I think using it makes the incorrect assumption that everyone is A) on Facebook and B) okay with commenting via Facebook.

      I also don’t like putting my commenters through unnecessary hoops in order to join the discussion (like making them sign up for a special login, etc.). Make it as easy as possible for people to comment, because any small roadblock is going to discourage a potential commenter, and they will leave the site.

      • Totally agree with Beth on this. Facebook is probably the last commenting system I would use for my work-related blog.

        When you work in Commercial Real Estate software like I do, there’s a pretty strong aversion to subjecting friends and family to your opinions and observations on Facebook.

      • I simply do not comment if a site is using Facebook comments. Same goes for Disqus
        I aint going through the hoops to do the site owner a favour by adding content to their site

    • Do you think the majority of your audience is on FB? Not everyone’s is.

      I’m not sure what happens to your existing comments if FB decides to do something weird and close the program or make some other undesirable change.

    • Great article Beth ( Aka queen of everything Pinterest)… just kidding.

      James if you have ever heard of the term “digital share cropping”. You never build your content on a platform on a service that could pull the rug from under you.

      So if Facebook decided to not allow Facebook comments on your blog any more tomorrow, you would lose all the comments on previous blog posts.

      BAM

      and their is nothing you can do about that. :(

      I personally would not take the risk.

    • Well, I think with Facebook comments it’s easier to deal with #6 :) People think twice before posting anything abusive.

  4. Thank you Geoffrey, Sonia, and Beth. I am just putting the finishing touches on my website so there aren’t comments yet. I just installed the FB Comments plugin yesterday. But the “digital share cropping” perspective has changed my mind.

    I love the way comments are set up on this site with the box to check for follow up comments. What is it?

  5. Hi Beth,

    The rate of spammy comments I receive seems to be increasing exponentially. Amazing how well Akismet works ;)

    I try and answer every comment and I’m pretty certain I have over the years. There are exceptions of course. But some people do amaze me. I know one blogger who always gets 50-100 comments and answers them all.

    Number 5 is a tough one, isn’t it? I may be guilty of giving away too much, especially via email. But the bloggers I admire are people who give, give, give, but are also extremely successful business people … tough balancing act there, huh?

  6. Hi – great topic that’s often much on my mind. Comments are definitely a mixed blessing – you worry if you don’t get any, but if you get inundated, although it’s lovely, it can be a hugely time-consuming task to keep up with them. I do have a policy of responding to every comment that I publish – I’ve had too much experience of writing comments myself and getting no response, which can be very demoralizing.

    I find identifying some of the smart spam comments can be tricky – I’ve lately stopped giving benefit of the doubt and if I’ve any concerns at all I won’t publish. I usually check their url, as other people have mentioned. Like Murray, I only moderate new commenters.

    We’ve had quite a bit of debate on my blog about third party commenting systems like Disqus – I dislike them myself, and so do most of my readers. Quite a few bloggers seem to be experimenting with Google+ comments and there are some blogs where 2 or 3 commenting systems are in operation – I think this makes the comment stream a confusing mess.

    I think it’s helpful to have some way of letting commenters know you’ve responded to their comment via email, so they don’t have to subscribe to the entire comment stream or keep returning to the post to check, in order to see responses to their own comments. I used to use the ReplyMe plugin for this, but now have the CommentLuv plugin, which incorporates this function. I will no longer subscribe to comment streams for individual posts – it generates too many emails – and I don’t have time to keep checking back on posts I’ve commented on, so unless a blog has this kind of system, I never see the replies to my comments, which is a shame.

    • I personally hate Disqus and some of the other systems as a user/commenter. I know it has some great tools for the blogger, but 19 times out of 20 I simply won’t comment if I have to jump through the Disqus hoop.

      • Agreed, I loath Disqus! Very aptly put, “Disqus loop” lol. Yeah if I have to fool with that, no comment from me. It’s very disappointing when that’s the only option

      • Sonia,

        Thank you for sharing your opinion about Disqus.

        I’ve noticed Copyblogger doesn’t use it, and there are plenty of online comments saying people are disqus-ted. :)

        I was on the fence about using it, but I installed the system because it looks nicer than the WordPress comments.

        However, my blog is still a baby and have considered switching to the built-in comments feature.

        Again, I appreciate everyone’s input on this post.

        Cheers!

  7. I’ve been a total fan of “Akismet.” Then I encountered an aggressive, mentally ill troll. (Seriously!)

    After he turned dark, I spammed his backside. Then, much to my chagrin, he got back in by merely changing his user name. (As we all know, IP’s roll over from ISPs, so this wasn’t a huge shocker).

    I kept spamming his new names. After that started to fail too often, I added another god-send… “Conditional CAPTCHA.”

    Another awesome tool, that after a bit, he started circumventing.

    On advice from a friend, I then added “NoSpamNX.”

    Seriously… all for one delusional madman, but I did not want him on my site.

    In the end, you “get what you pay for.”

    These are all excellent, free tools, but he continued to be able to circumvent all of them with simple tactics, including going out and making new email accounts with different providers to be able to attack my site.

    I finally sent him a simple, short email asking him to leave the site alone.

    So far, that seemed to work. But We’ll see what happens when he starts drinking.

    That’s my tale of the trolling spammer. And it wasn’t fun.

    (Yes, I called someone delusional or mental. A UFO Conspirator believer who “knows” our US govt. orchestrated 9/11, and other such spatter. A truly disturbing man, who, unfortunately, found himself supported by many a disturbing and fanciful website.)

    • “..he continued to be able to circumvent all of them with simple tactics, including going out and making new email accounts with different providers to be able to attack my site.”

      Moderating each new email account’s first comment takes care of even that. Even a crazy person will soon get tired of every comment he makes just vanishing.

  8. Number 6 is so important and yet so tricky. It can feel easy to deny any negative comment and yet, if the commenter is not an outright troll, you can write an answer that will create a teachable moment. The work to create it is one of the hardest (and most rewarding) parts of writing a blog.

  9. Akismet is like a massive wall keeping all the blog comment trolls out of your precious community space! I think its good to keep everything nice and positive but having an objection every once in a while can also be an opportunity to present your blogs vision and build trust with your engagers. Thanks for the awesome content Beth!

    - Justin

  10. From the response to my earlier comment, I decided not to use Facebook comments plugin. However, I had already installed it but hadn’t launched my site. Now I can’t get rid of it.
    I deleted the app and the info on the admin page of my website and it’s still there.

  11. What would we do without akismet. It seems that i get almost as many spam comments on my blogs as I do real ones.

    I get very annoyed when I get to a site that does not moderate comments, it can get frustrating trying to sort through the good ones. Some of them I think are blogs that are not maintained any more, or the author just doesn’t know how to moderate them!

  12. Awesome list, Beth!
    I use CommentLuv Premium on my blogs and it has GASP incorporated, which takes care of spam. Some weeks I see more spam than usual, but in general it’s manageable.
    I try to answer to all comments on my blog but it’s not always easy, it could take some time.
    I am wondering if it’s worthwhile to keep comments open on old posts, that are not so relevant? What is your opinion about closing comments on older posts?

    • I always end up searching through old blog posts when I’ve found a blogger I like. Or I’m being redirected by some newer post. Often, I want to comment with something that came to mind, but comments are no longer open or simply being ignored.

      So I’d suggest keeping them open and commenting when you have time. Like Beth said, you may have a newer post you can lead them to or spark a thought for a new post.

  13. I’m a fan of just keeping them open. If it’s a post that’s no longer relevant, perhaps you can point people toward a more recent/relevant one that you’ve written…perhaps by adding a note at the top with a link to the new post. But I don’t see any harm in keeping the conversation open.

    • Thanks, Beth, I appreciate your reply! The idea to close comments on some posts came from noticing that a lot of spam is coming for some particular posts (and old!) I thought I’d be able to cut on that a little bit :)

  14. Excellent advice on managing comments for blogs. Systems like livefyre, Discus help manage a lot of spam these days. I guess there are newer and creative ways to stop spam and comment management easy.

  15. Great post Beth,

    I use comment moderation for managing comments on one of my blogs. I think it works best though some manual work is involved.

  16. It is a real struggle keeping the spammers out of my comments. They get trickier all the time, so thanks for this great advice.

    May I also ask your advice on trackbacks? Why do I need to approve those and how can I tell if it’s one that I should approve or not?
    Thanks!

    • I approve trackbacks on my site if they’re from a reputable source, and I actually want to display the link on my site. If it’s a junky site (or just spam) I reject them. But I do approve trackbacks when I can, because I consider it part of the overall conversation on the post.

  17. Though comments are the best way to connect with the fellow bloggers, the thing that stinks is the spam. Even after using akismet and other plugins still these spammers manage to reach.

  18. I was hoping for a little more … I dumped Akismet pretty early on because I didn’t find the filter all that effective. Invested in CommentLuv Premium and up until a month or so the spam filter (GASP) was working great, but now I’m getting way too much junk coming through. Time to tighten the rules I guess. Another blogger who uses the same plugin has decide to bite the bullet and disallow links to solve another problem – 404 errors causes by the links in CommentLuv. I’m not quite to that point yet, but I am going to see how things go with him – that may be the next step.

  19. Beth,
    Thanks for a good article which addresses a topic which affects us all.
    I am interested in your advice about a comment someone has left me, concerning a number of ‘written errors’ which appear on my website.
    I believe all writing should be concise and unambiguous and thus the rules of grammar are often essential to successful communication. They provide a structure and framework on which to hang our words, sentences and paragraphs. However, I feel that we should write with our own voice and style and this sometimes leads to compromising the rules of grammar. Shakespeare, the greatest playwright of all time, was never shy when it came to splitting an infinitive or ending a sentence with a preposition. The Bible has examples of grammatical transgressions – “And in the beginning the word was God”…..
    I am not sure whether I should respond or press the delete button. This comment could be misconstrued by others, when in fact ‘an error’ is simply my choice to put style above rules of grammar. Spin pass back to you.

    • Sara, for what it’s worth, I think this type of comment sounds more like a common spam trick I see over and over on my sites. I would go through all the motions of verifying if it is spam (check the URL of the site the comment links to, look at the email address, see if the name is a keyword phrase instead of a real name, search for the comment on Google to see if it appears on other sites etc.) if you really want to be thorough, but I’m 99.9% sure this is just spam. I wouldn’t approve it if I were you.

      Besides, does it really make sense that a once off commenter criticizes your writing like that, especially if you know the quality of your writing is actually good? Does the comment add value to the discussion? I’d definitely be interested if it was one of my regular readers, but I’d be very suspicious if I’d never seen this person on my site before.

      Just my 2 cents…

      • Brendon,

        Thanks so much for this helpful post. Thanks also for letting me know how to identify spam. I once replied to ‘someone’ called Janet Brown and then subsequently found out the error of my ways! I will press the delete button and not lose any sleep over it. Best regards. Sara

    • This looks a lot like spam to me too! I’d at least delete the comment if I were you, Sara.
      Even if they are legit and the only thing they can see from your blog are minor mistakes here and there, and not the message that you are sending out, then you don’t need to have them as readers.
      My 2 cents ;)

      • Delia,
        Thanks for your two cents! I try and be meticulous when it comes to proof reading my work and your are correct, I don’t need negative readers/comments. I love it when people such as yourself and Brendon take the time to share helpful tips and advice. Best regards. Sara

  20. Great points here Beth Hayden which highlight why I should read the content on copyblogger more often (I’m already subscribed)
    One slight disagreement I do have is in the recommending of Akismet. It is far from the $0 cost that many seem to believe. The minimum for a commercial site is $5 a month while it would cost $50/mo to cover the sites I am involved with. That is money the business is not yet able to afford.
    Instead, we use one called Antispam Bee which installs direct from a WordPress install. It does a similar job pretty effectively and comes at no cost

  21. HI Beth,
    I am using comment luv on my blog so many spammers comes their and drop their comments, some time they use software for this. I am also using Akismet which is helping me a lot in detecting them.

  22. Sheetal Sharma :

    Loved reading this post, i am sure if these steps are kept in mind, anyone can achieve online blog success by keeping a check on comments section.

  23. Good points, especially the point about guest posters. Comments must be one of the best ways to reward a guest poster for having contributed – they get to see their work impacting your audience. Probably nothing more encouraging than that!

    As for dealing with trolls, I have the luxury of running a casual humour blog, so comments from trolls and hateful folk are easy to turn into a funny post, so I welcome the blog fodder they may bring.

    However, I have no doubt that a comment policy, clearly presented and rigorously enforced is a must for a serious, professional blog.

  24. Which spam filter do we all use? I am stuck in between a couple of different options right now.

  25. How do you get the little box with the phrase, “Notify me of followup comments via e-mail”?

  26. Blog Commenting is where the communites had started taking shape even before social media was born. Most of the big sites realized early the importance of building tribe in comments. Sites like Digg, Gawker, Reddit, Huffington Post where comments are by far the most intelligent/engaging owe their success to the active community in their comments.

    Infact, I myself went to Digg initially for the links but stayed for the comments.

    But to build a engaging community in comments, you need to give people the tools to engage and promote a discussion then hopefully they will utilize it. The use of gamification is also becoming a great way to incentivize the reader to participate in a manner that keeps the conversation moving forward.

    My two cents on the art of building communities through comments: http://www.betaout.com/blog/the-art-of-building-communities-through-comments/

    As Nick Denton said, “Publishing should be a collaboration between authors and their smartest readers — and at some point the distinction should become meaningless.”

  27. I can’t tell you how many times I have just sat watching my screen in utter disbelief at some of the things that people say (let alone get angry over). Content moderation is an absolute must.

  28. Hi there!

    Thanks for the article, this inspired me to write a comment policy. :-D I’m looking into ideas of where to post it on a blogging website. I noticed, as you pointed out, that Tim Ferriss does it after every post.

    I also see that your comment policy is here -http://www.copyblogger.com/comment-policy/. My question is, how do I find the Copyblogger comment policy from your homepage (or even from your average blog)? For some reason I can’t seem to find it naturally. (Maybe I’m looking into things a little much – but I’m wondering if that’s on purpose because you figure most people are cool and don’t need to read it, haha).

    Thanks!

  29. Great post Beth,

    I use comment moderation for managing comments on one of my blogs. I think it works best though some manual work is involved.