Comments have always played an important role in blogging and content marketing. If you’re familiar with my product creation process, you also know that for me personally, comments have been an important source of insights into what exactly my customers (and potential customers) want out of a product.
If you have a WordPress website, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to picking a commenting system. Apart from the default comments that come part and parcel with WordPress, you can also choose from these alternatives: Disqus, Jetpack Comments,Facebook Comments, Livefyre Comments and SolidOpinion.
Read on to discover the pros and cons of each solution, as well as my personal favorites.
Let’s start with the most straight-forward commenting solution for any WordPress website: the one that comes baked right into WordPress.
The default commenting system is solid and gets the job done, but it doesn't come with any extra bells and whistles. Visitors can leave comments by entering a name and email address, nested comments (comment replies) are supported and avatar images are driven by Gravatar, which is free and widely used.
And there ends the feature list for the default WP comments.
The one point I want to briefly expand upon is the spam problem mentioned above. Theoretically, WordPress comments work out of the box, with no further customization needed. In practice, the comments system doesn't work as a standalone product.
Even if your site isn't very popular, you will soon get hundreds, if not thousands of spam comments submitted on your site every day. The volume of spam is such that manual moderation is simply out of the question, so an anti-spam solution is a must.
By default, Automattic's own Akismet is added on new WordPress installations. For commercial sites, Akismet costs $5 per month and it does a decent job of automatically filtering spam.
Out of all the solutions I've tried, I've consistently found 3 issues:
Jetpack Comments is the WordPress team's own answer to some of the shortcomings of the default commenting system. Part of the Jetpack plugin, Jetpack Comments completely replace the default comments and come with a few distinguishing features.
Some of the new features include social sign in (users can comment using an existing social media account), an option to receive reply notifications by email and an option to receive email notifications about new posts on the blog.
To me, the pros and cons balance out and that's not a good thing. Were it not part of a large (and mostly free) bundle of other WordPress extensions in the Jetpack plugin, I think this commenting system wouldn't have too much going for it.
Disqus also offers social sign-in and a notification system, but it's more than that. Visitors can open a notifications tab directly on your site, that will show them replies and other activity from anywhere they've commented previously.
You can also use Disqus to list posts related to yours, from your own sites as well as other Disqus enabled sites.
There are two important factors that you should be aware of when using Disqus:
Disqus is widely used and the discussion thread is cleverly designed to highlight the best contributions and make adding a new comment as frictionless as possible for new visitors.
I haven't used it on any high-traffic sites, so I can't say much about the spam filter. What I can say is that I've never seen a spam comment make it through, but I don't know how many legitimate comments get whacked by Disqus.
In my opinion, Disqus is a good solution and its advantages outweigh the drawbacks quite significantly.
Facebook comments do a good job of eliminating spam, in part because all commenters must be authenticated Facebook users. When using FB comments, I've never had an issue with spam getting through.
There's also a social traffic compontent to this system: there's an opt-out feature that will post a new comment as an activity in the commenter's Facebook stream, which can potentially drive more visitors to join in the discussion.
Facebook comments make you face a tough decision, because they come with some strong advantages but also with some significant drawbacks.
In our own Thrive Themes, we've added a feature that lets you activate Facebook comments on their own or alongside the default WordPress comments. We've also added a very simple way to embed Facebook comments anywhere in your content in Thrive Content Builder.
Even so, you'll still have to consider carefully before you use Facebook as your sole commenting system.
Much like the other solutions, Livefyre comments can be added to your site through a WordPress plugin and they completely replace the default commenting system.
Livefyre also offers social sign-in, but even the default (name + email address) signup form opens in a popup window, so it's not as smooth as the Disqus system. A distinguishing feature is what they call "Social Sync": this unifies comments posted on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks and brings them all into the comment stream on your site.
Livefyre has some interesting features and is comparable to Disqus. There is one factor that's difficult to put into words or quantify, but to me, it just doesn't feel as good to use as Disqus does. This might just be a subjective thing, though.
The best way to describe SolidOpinion is to say that's it's a commenting system inspired by free-to-play mobile games. That is to say, the main objectives of the system are to get users engaged with gamification features and then monetize them through micro transactions.
You can add this system to your site by using the SolidOpinion WordPress plugin. Commenters on your site can then earn and lose points, depending on their interaction. You can set your own rules and award or subtract points based on comments, votes and more. The more points users earn, the more visibility their comments get and the more features they unlock (such as the option to add annotations inside other users' comments and even cross parts of other comments out).
This is where it becomes like a mobile game, because these features can create something of a power struggle between more seasoned commenters and newer ones. This power struggle can be overcome by paying for extra features (yes, really). In addition, SolidOpinion also offers the option to use ads around your comments for added monetization.
To me, what SolidOpinion does is quite unsavory. It creates a competition among members of your community that not only awards them powers over each other's comments but also encourages them to simply pay their way up the ranking system.
When it comes to the purpose I use comments for, SolidOpinion misses the mark. Unfortunately, this kind of model has worked exceedingly well in the gaming industry, so there's a good reason why we're seeing it applied in other areas.
There's no single right or wrong solution here, but there are some strong contenders in the roundup. Here are my (somewhat subjective) thoughts on what I consider the top 3 commenting systems for WordPress:
The default commenting system has a lot going for it. First and foremost that it doesn't involve any third party, you don't have to worry about how your visitor's data will be shared and used and you aren't locked into any system that might be hard to get out of, further down the line.
Sure, it lacks features like social sign-in or comment voting, but you don't strictly need those to engage your readers on your site.
Disqus is a slick and well designed commenting system that comes with some clever engagement features, but without being overloaded or confusing. It allows you to import and export comments, so the "lock-in" factor is greatly reduced as well.
My favorite thing about it is that when you use Disqus, you don't have to spend any extra time thinking about how you're going to deal with spam or what plugins or extensions you should use.
Having said that, you should also keep in mind that Disqus is an ad-supported business, so they track your visitor's activity and they serve ads after or inside your comment stream. You can opt-out of the advertising and tracking features, though.
Let's be clear: Facebook comments have many disadvantages and anything I wrote above about Disqus tracking your visitors is doubly true for Facebook. But it also comes with a huge advantage in the form of its large user base.
When using Facebook comments on your site, many of your visitors will already be logged in anyway, which means there are zero hoops for them to jump through before they can leave a comment. I've seen high levels of engagement whenever I've used Facebook comments, which is probably because of the social factor (comments attract more commenters). I've also noticed that I get more long-term comments (i.e. comments added to older posts) with Facebook comments. No idea why that is.
On sites that offer Facebook comments as an option, I've noticed that somewhere between 10%-30% of comments are submitted using the default WP comments. That means you might be losing out on 10%-30% of potential comments if you offer only Facebook.
As a final note, I think it's worth considering using Facebook comments for very specific purposes such as on a marketing page or launch page, while using a different commenting system on your regular blog posts.
I hope this post helps you find the right WordPress discussion system for your site. If you have any questions, please ask by leaving a comment below. I'm also interested to hear what your favorite systems are and why.
In the spirit of this whole post, let's get a discussion started. :)
I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better marketer and product creator. Read more about my story here.