3 Cardinal Sins of Blog Comment Management

I read a lot of blogs. But my time is limited like most people, and that means I can't always comment as much as I'd like.

When I do take the time to write a comment for one of your posts, it's because I thought you had something interesting to say and I wanted to engage in the conversation. But sometimes in the process of trying to leave a comment, I change my mind and leave.

It's usually because a blogger has put some kind of road block in my way. Are you making one of these mistakes and potentially driving away commenters?

Here are three things that stop me, and possibly some of your other readers, from commenting on your blog. 

1. Forcing Registration Before Commenting

I can't believe people still do this, but every week I come across at least one or two blogs where you can't comment without registering. You're long past the point of needing registrations to control spam. All forced registration does is piss readers off. I don't care what your reasons are, and most of your readers don't either. Don't do it.

Registrations can be optional if they grant access to other features of your site. But there's no good excuse not to allow people to comment as guests these days.

2. Exercising Poor Spam Control

There are two basic ways you can screw up spam control on your blog:

  1. Letting spam go live on your site.
  2. Over-moderating comments.

The first is a problem for your legitimate commenters. Spammers might expose them to malicious links if you don't have any kind of spam protection in place. And spam in your comment stream disrupts the real conversations.

That said, trying too hard to prevent spam can also stifle conversations. Any extra step a reader has to take in order to leave a comment presents an extra obstacle that might send them away.

I understand the need to protect yourself from spam. But you don't need complicated captchas to do it.

I've used a number of anti-spam plugins in the past. I started with Akismet, but it had problems where legitimate comments were being blocked (not even making it to the spam folder). So I switched to the Growmap Anti-spambot plugin which only requires commenters to check a box.

In recent months all of my bigger sites using that plugin were heavily hit by spam -- hundreds of spam comments every day. It appears someone figured out a way to target users of the plugin, and I was far from the only person having this problem (although my much smaller sites seemed to be fine with it).

I've also tested a variety of captcha (both word and math varieties), and found none of them struck a good balance between protecting my comment stream and maintaining active discussions. Leave the captchas for things like comment forms instead where they'll impact fewer people.

I more recently switched to an anti-spam plugin simply called "anti-spam" in the plugin repository. It's fantastic so far, blocking spam and not requiring real commenters to do anything extra.

Try a few anti-spam solutions out and see what works best for your blog. But keep in mind that your efforts to control spam on the back-end shouldn't impair someone's ability to comment on the front-end.

3. Using 3rd Party Comment Management Systems

Okay. So this one is more of a personal complaint. But it's a big one. I despise third party comment management systems (such as Disqus and Livefyre). I almost never comment on blogs that use them. I find them invasive and obnoxious.

I won't go into all of the reasons I can't stand seeing blog comment management systems. But I'm far from the only person who avoids blogs that use them. Know that doing so might mean losing some commenters -- not good if your goal in using them is to bring about more open conversations.

If you absolutely must use one of these kinds of tools, consider the following:

  • Don't let your comment management system force registration with their service. Readers shouldn't have to register on your own blog to comment, and they sure as hell shouldn't be forced to register with someone else.
  • Give people the option to comment as a guest if possible, and do so without posing extra limitations on them (like not letting them add a link to their handle so other commenters know where to go to learn more about them). People shouldn't be punished for not wanting to register. The only reason you wouldn't do this is to prevent spam. And as I've already pointed out there are other, and better, ways to thwart spammers.
  • Don't let your comment management system pull things like Twitter mentions into your comment stream. First, it does little more than stroke your own ego and give an inflated sense of your own influence when you add little-to-no-effort-required tweets linking to your post as if they carry the same weight as thoughtful comments taking part in a conversation. Don't use pseudo-"synch" features to bring Facebook or other social media comments to your blog comments either. Just because something is publicly-viewable, it doesn't mean you own it. The bigger issue though is noise. Readers get enough of that as it is. They don't need it in your blog comments.

These are three of my own biggest pet peeves as a blog reader -- things that frequently stop me from taking the time to comment on blogs I otherwise enjoy. What most often stops you from commenting on blogs? Would you register just to leave a comment?

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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23 thoughts on “3 Cardinal Sins of Blog Comment Management”

  1. Love this, just love it. Those are my pet peeves too. I hate having to fill out a captcha or jump through other hoops… the check if your human is about all I’m willing to do and I don’t ask my readers to do even that.

    Thanks for the info on the plugin… I’ve been using askismet which means sometimes spam gets through.

    • Thanks Anne!

      What I love about the newer plugin I’m using is that it isn’t only easier for readers, but it’s also easier for me. No complicated settings to worry about. And the spam is filtered before it even goes to my spam box, so I’m not left to dig through piles of virtual garbage to make sure legitimate comments didn’t accidentally go there. So far people have been able to comment without any problems (or if they have had any, I haven’t heard about it yet). And I save at least 20 minutes each day not having to go through the big spam lists on all of my WP installations.

      I stopped using Akismet a few years ago when a couple of regular readers emailed me to ask why their comments weren’t being approved. I’d never seen comments from them on the posts they’d mentioned. So we ran some tests where they posted comments at a certain time, and then I’d follow-up and check to see if they were showing up in my WP admin, even in the spam folder. They never got to me at all. I dug into it more and found a few other bloggers who had discovered the same issue on their sites. So I moved on to something else. It’s possible they’ve cleaned up whatever the issue was by now, so you might be fine with what you’re using.

      The only other thing I’m currently doing here is using the WP setting that moderates someone’s first comment. Once they have a comment approved, their later comments go live on the site right away. So the plugin is catching all the automated crap and that moderation setting gives me a chance to catch the manual spammers and ban them with little to no effect on most other readers. It’s about striking a balance without causing any huge inconvenience for your community. 🙂

  2. You are absolutely right about all of these! I like the format of your comment system best (which is the same I use on my own website). I won’t comment if I have to register, and the sad part is those are usually the articles I most want to comment on. 🙁 I reluctantly signed up for Disqus because so many blogs are using it now. Hopefully more bloggers take this advice to heart and make commenting easy.

    • I signed up for Disqus when it was new to test it out (back when I was blogging in the PR and social media niches where it was gaining traction). But I won’t log in. I don’t appreciate any service making it easy for people to track my comments from one site to another. I’ve dealt with my fair share of cyberstalkers already, thanks. Nor do I want these systems connected to my social media accounts.

      I’ve seen the same issue where bigger blogs are the worst offenders, sometimes making the most difficult to comment. I get that they probably get slammed by spammers. But using any kind of registration requirement — to their site or through 3rd party logins — is a dated, and unnecessary, way to resolve it. If people truly want to foster conversations like so many claim, they’d stop putting 3rd parties between their blogs and their readers.

  3. The one screen I maintain is holding a comment in moderation if it’s your 1st comment. It doesn’t stop the person from leaving their comment. It’s only after they hit Submit that they see it’s held for moderation.

    I know some people feel strongly against even that, but I have not found it to be a problem as I get an email about the pending comment and approve it the same day. Easy to do when you have as few comments as I do. ;-)Like I always say, different strokes for different folks.

    I am 100% with you about making me jump through hoops. I have backed out of many posts when you give me a bunch of hoops. I absolutely will not register. I also signed up long ago with Disqus, but I refuse to sign up for Livefyre or any other.

    And I hate, hate, hate captcha. It is so hard on my boomer eyes. I have to really like you to use it. 🙂

    • I’m not a fan of blogs that moderate all comments. But I feel moderating someone’s first one is a fair solution as long as you check comments frequently. If you keep them waiting for days or something, I can see that being a problem. Unless someone comments when I’m sleeping, it’s usually approved within an hour or two at most because I can check that from my phone if I need to. I think if it got to the point where I had dozens of first-time commenters being held in moderation at any given time, I’d rethink that. For me it’s more because I’ve dealt with some pretty scary stalker-types in the past and we’ve had more than a few trolls around this site over the years. This gives me a chance to catch any problems before they become public problems. Fortunately it’s a rare thing now. So who knows? Maybe as I continue to make changes here I’ll end up dropping that filter too.

      I’m with you on captcha. Even when I swear I typed everything in the image right, half the time they tell me I entered something wrong. I spend more than my fair share of time grumbling over those things. 😉 I think the only time I’ve used it on comments here was when I realized there was a problem with GASP and I had to quickly get it off my site. I put up a math captcha for a few days until I could find a better solution. And thankfully I did. 🙂

  4. I’m with you on moderating the first comment, Jenn and Cathy. I find that works well in most cases. I’m also trying out the plugin you recommended, Jenn, because of issues with GASP – so far, so good. I don’t mind Disqus etc if I can comment as a guest and don’t have to jump through hoops.

  5. Great post!

    I see both sides of it, but as I commenter on blogs, I like to get in and get out. Having to register with a third party is somewhat of a pain. I have enough passwords and usernames to remember. 🙂

    I too can understand moderating the first comment, but if you’re a regular contributor, you should be free and clear. I’ve had blogs time out on me because the “moderating comment” aspect took too long. Or I make a comment and that’s it. The comment doesn’t show up so I have no idea if it’s being held for moderation or if the blog timed out.

    • I haven’t dealt with too many timeouts from the commenter side of things, but when I do run into problems I usually try to reach out to the blogger. Sometimes they’re unaware of the problem. I know I was grateful when a regular reader here contacted me to let me know of a timeout issue shortly after we moved things to this new domain. Apparently a temporary spam plugin we used was timing out well before the timeout settings I’d set for it. Apparently it only affected users of one browser, and because our comments are so quick when testing, I probably never would have replicated the issue myself. Things happen from time to time, and what we see isn’t always what the site owner sees.

      What annoys me with moderation is when I go back to a post days or weeks later and my comment still isn’t approved. It’s just sitting there with it’s “awaiting moderation” message. And it’s usually clear the blogger hasn’t approved anything else recently either. Blogs are social media tools. If you’re not going to be at least reasonably social, you should give up blogging and find a more static content distribution method. It’s ridiculous to use such a social tool if you’re not going to allow your readers to interact with you.

  6. I totally agree with the third party comment management. I too have many times restrained from commenting on a blog because when I tried it told me to sign up for their service.

    I even signed up for livefyre once because I really wanted to comment on that blog and then it spammed me with all the comments that came after me, even if they were not a direct response to my comment.

  7. I hate Captcha, too. But there it is on my blog. Why? Because Blogger has yet to offer me anything better.

    I like the idea of the first-comment moderation. I’ll dig today to see if Blogger offers this. Otherwise, I have to open the floodgates. I tried that a few months back and within hours, I was inundated with spam showing up in comments.

  8. Well, you’ve given me something to consider. I happily signed up for Disqus forever and a day ago because all the “big bloggers” were using it. I’m usually pretty anti-third-party but for some reason Disqus never bothered me. Now I’m re-thinking that. Hmmmm.

  9. Hi Jenn,

    There have been sites where the hoops I’ve had to jump through have kept me from leaving a comment. Usually it’s those sites that have both a captcha and also require registration. Why should I have to register to simply leave a comment when they will already have my email and URL? I also don’t like sites that require me to log in through Facebook in order to comment.

    • Same here Laura. While I know plenty of people don’t seem to mind, I don’t like the idea of letting a blogger’s choice in a third party tool push me into connecting that tool to my own social media accounts. I’m never comfortable with that given how often privacy policies seem to change with all things social media these days. When someone comments on a blog, their trust is with that blogger. So giving that blogger basic information is one thing, especially when you fully control how you identify yourself. Your trust is not necessarily with some third party, and trying to push people into that extra relationship is inherently limiting to your audience. I don’t need to be worried about what someone’s comment management system has access to on my social networks, especially when those terms and privacy policies might change in the future.

      Perhaps the only thing worse than being asked to log in with Facebook, Twitter, and Google accounts are the blogs that are completely outdated. I’ve come across a few where you’re forced to log in through a third party account, but they’re accounts most people probably don’t even use anymore. I can’t remember which site it was now, but one I recently wanted to comment on only let you comment if you registered on their site or logged in with your AOL, Yahoo, or Hotmail account. I was shocked when I saw that.

  10. I don’t moderate the first comment. Occasionally spam does get through, but I usually delete them quickly.

    I still use Akismet and I’m fairly happy with it. It hasn’t labeled a legit comment as spam in a long time.

    • Are you sure all legitimate comments are actually coming through though? That was the issue they were having a while back. Some would go through fine, and spam would appear to get flagged fine. So the blogger would assume it was working as it should. We would only find out there was a problem if a commenter took the time to contact us privately to say their comments were never being approved. Some would just disappear. They wouldn’t get to your moderation queue, and they wouldn’t go to the spam box. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to who got through and who didn’t. I certainly hope they sorted it out given how many bloggers use them. I just don’t think I would personally trust them again after that.

      For me, the first comment moderation was less about traditional spammers and more about splogs, trolls, and hackers. All Freelance Writing used to cover more controversial topics than most, so trolls were a problem every once in a while. I try not to let splogs stealing my content get any backlinks on the site, and the most recent have come through the comments even though trackbacks were disabled. But the biggest issue was the fact that AFW was hacked a couple of years ago. That’s when I got much more concerned about unknown folks being able to post malicious links on the site. Once they have their first comment approved I worry much less about them posting something malicious. I would say if I go three months without any of these problems cropping up, I’d probably even reconsider the first comment moderation. But given that I’m in the middle of dealing with yet another big splogger who was pushing links into the comments all the time, I’m glad it’s in place for now.

  11. My biggest complaint is wordpress.com hosted blogs that want me to login to wordpress. I use to have no problem commenting on blogs. Then I briefly decided to start one at wordpress.com and signed up with the e-mail address I use for commenting blogs. After about a week I decided I didn’t like wordpress.com.

    Now, whenever I try to post on a wordpress.com hosted blog, it insists that I log in to do so.

    Another complaint I have is gravatar. A lot of blogs want to use a gravatar.com icon and I can understand that, but they generate cute custom avatars for those who choose not to use gravatar.com. The way they do this is by a simple md5sum hash of your e-mail address. That instantly makes you trackable by bots.

    Leave comments on a blog supporting snowden and a hash of your e-mail hash is there for the NSA to scrape. Leave a comment on a blog of an adult nature and your e-mail hash is there for media (or whoever) to scrape.

    While the hash itself isn’t your e-mail address, it’s not difficult to create a database of e-mail addresses and their hashes.

    I am not a fan of wordpress internals but I wrote a wordpress plugin (smartAva) just to deal with that issue, salting the e-mail before the hash so it isn’t trackable if the blog uses gravatar.

    The other thing that really annoys me about a lot of blogs the blogger makes them difficult to read. Since they wrote the content, they know what it says and have a harder time comprehending how their design decisions impact the readability of the blog. People interested in blogging really need to read a book or two on basic design.

    Media that auto-starts. I’ll leave a blog that starts playing media. Usually it is advertisements but not always. I will press start when I want the media to start.

    Finally, JavaScript hovers This is often advertisements but not always. Sometimes a hover comes up asking for e-mail address to subscribe, and it blocks my view of what I am reading. I don’t comment on those blogs and I rarely come back.

    Those are my main issues with blogs and why I often don’t comment.

    I loved this post, thank you to @TheJohnSoares for tweeting it. And since no hovers came up asking me to subscribe, I think I will.

    • I hear you on the WordPress.com blogs. I had to register with them for access to a client’s blog at one point, and now I’m also pushed to login every time I try to comment on one of their hosted blogs using that email address. I usually just comment with a different address when that happens, but I can see that being pretty frustrating if you prefer to use a single one.

      Thanks for mentioning the Gravatar plugin.

      It’s sad that we still have some sites with auto-playing audio, isn’t it? Didn’t that go out of fashion at least a decade ago now? People should know better. All I can hope is that they’re using an ad network where they don’t control every ad served, so they didn’t realize it was happening. And subscription pop-ups can certainly be overdone, so I understand your frustration about that as well.

      Thanks for stopping by, and thanks to John for sharing the post with you. 🙂

    • I’m with you Mark. It seems so silly. I don’t care if they want me to register and sign in on their own site or through a third party. It annoys the heck out of me. Registrations are for forums and membership sites, not basic blogs.


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