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Comments
Posted by Chris M. on 24 January 2012 11:54 PM

Comments and Pings

Managing your comments and pings requires the use of two screens. Going to Comments in the main menu provides you access to all comments that have been left on your site. Here you can approve/unapprove, edit, mark as spam or delete individual comments, search for specific comments, view all comments by a single author/IP or all comments on a specific post, filter by status, or perform bulk actions such as bulk deletion or marking as spam. The other screen is your Discussion Settings screen. You’ll have set your basic discussion settings when you set up your blog, but as time goes by you may decide to change your settings. This is especially common if your blog starts to attract spammers or people who leave unproductive comments, leading many bloggers to turn on various moderation options for comments. You can add or edit these moderation rules at any time by going to Settings → Discussion in the main menu. This screen also allows you to determine the rules for the display of comments on your blog, including comment threading and paging, new features in WordPress 2.7 that can be helpful when you receive a large number of comments.

Comments, Pingbacks and Trackbacks: Terminology

The Comments screen is actually the home of comments, pingbacks and trackbacks, but since they are all ways in which people comment on your content, they are grouped together for management purposes on the Comments screen. A Comment is something someone leaves on your actual site by entering text in the comment form that appears with your posts and pages. Pingbacks and Trackbacks are comments that people make about your content, but that they post on their own blogs instead of leaving a comment on yours. Pingbacks and Trackbacks are similar in intent, but differ in technical execution. For the sake of simplicity, WordPress refers to “Pings” as including both Pingbacks and Trackbacks.

Using the Comments Screen

On the Comments screen in the administration panel, a table displays the twenty most recent comments and pings. If you have more than twenty, pagination appears at the top and bottom of the comments table. Most recent comments are shown on page 1, with subsequent pages showing older comments. As you moderate comments, if you delete any or mark any as spam, new comments will appear on page 1, so that there are always 20 comments showing. By default, this table shows the “All” view, which includes comments of all states and types. If you prefer to see only certain states (such as pending moderation) or types (such as only showing pings, not comments that have been left on your actual site), you can use the filters at the top of the screen. If you have turned on comment moderation, pending comments (those that are awaiting moderation) will be highlighted in yellow.

The comments table includes a significant amount of information. In the left column, the author’s avatar, name, URI, e-mail address and IP address are shown for Comments. Clicking on the IP link will show you all comments left from that IP address. Clicking the e-mail will launch your e-mail program with a message to that person. Clicking the URI will open that web site. For Pings, the left column shows the name of the blog and post title, and the blog URI.

The right column shows to which blog post or page the comment was submitted. The post title links to that post within the administration tool for easy editing of the post. The number of comments displayed after the post title links to filter the comments screen to list only comments on that post. The # links to the live post’s permanent URI.

In the middle column, the comment text is displayed (for pings, an excerpt is shown). Above each comment is the date and time it was submitted, which provides a permalink to the comment on your blog. Hovering over a comment row will cause a set of action links to display below the comment text. These links are:

Approve

If moderation is turned on, comments that are pending your approval to be displayed on your site will show this link. Clicking Approve will make the comment appear on your site.

Unapprove

If you do not use moderation, if you have settings that pre-approve certain comments, or if you have already approved a comment, this link will show. Clicking Unapprove will reverse the approval and change the comment’s state to Pending. The yellow background of pending comments will appear.

Edit

Clicking Edit will take you to the editing screen for that comment, where you can edit the comment text, author name, URI, e-mail address or status of the comment. Click Save to confirm your changes and return to the comments table. You should see your changes reflected in the table.

Quick Edit

Clicking Quick Edit will reveal a layer that allows for inline editing of visible table fields. Click Save to confirm changes, or Cancel to close the layer without committing any changes.

Mark as Spam

Marking a comment as spam will remove it from the default table view. These comments may be accessed by clicking the Spam text link at the top of the screen. If you are running Akismet, be cautious when marking something as spam, as it will be reported and used in determining the status of future incoming comments. If you just think a comment is uninteresting or not worth displaying, use Delete instead.

Delete

This link is red for good reason. If you delete a comment, in cannot be retrieved. If you don’t want it to display but don’t want it to appear on your site, you can use Unapprove instead.

Reply

A new feature in WordPress 2.7, Reply allows you to reply to a comment right from your administration panel. Clicking Reply will reveal a layer in which you can enter your response to the comment. Click Save to submit the reply, or Cancel to discard it and close the layer. Your replies will be automatically approved, so make sure you approved the comment you are replying to, or your readers might be confused. Your reply will appear in the space where you typed it at first, though once you’ve done anything else on the comments screen, your reply will move to its chronological place in the comments list. If you have enabled comment threading on your site, your reply will appear as a threaded response to the original comment.

In addition to using the action links on individual comments, some actions may be performed in bulk. To the left of each comment is a checkbox, which may be used for bulk actions. Simply click the checkboxes next to the posts in question, then select Mark as Spam or Delete from the Actions menu above the column of checkboxes. Click Apply, and all the items you checked will be removed as directed. Checkboxes at the top and bottom of the column act as a toggle to select all/unselect all, or if you have already selected some items will select the inverse.

Yet another option for acting on comments is the use of keyboard shortcuts, a new addition in WordPress 2.7. To use this option you must have enabled it in your profile (just check the box to allow keyboard shortcuts). Once enabled, you can use the J and K keys to move up and down the comments list to highlight a comment for moderation, and use other keys to perform the actions. The keys for actions are easy to remember.

A

Approve

U

Unapprove

E

Edit

Q

Quick Edit

S

Mark as Spam

D

Delete

R

Reply

Searching Comments

You can also search for specific comments by using the search function in the upper right. This searches the text, author name, author e-mail, author URI, and author IP address of all comments. Clearing the search box and then clicking the search button will reset the display and show all comments. The ability to search for comments can be useful for cases such as wanting to find all previous comments by an author to see what they have said on your site before.

Comment Moderation

Comment moderation is a feature in WordPress that allows you to prevent comments from appearing on your site without your express approval. Moderation can be very useful in addressing Comment Spam, but it has more general applications as well. If you have turned on comment moderation, then you will be notified of any comments that are left on your blog. Depending on which settings you’ve enabled, you may need to explicitly approve each comment before it goes live, or you may only need to approve comments by people who have not left approved comments on your blog before.

WordPress runs a number of tests on each new comment before posting it to your blog. If a comment fails one of these tests, it is not displayed immediately on the site but is placed in a queue for moderation, the process of manual approval or deletion by the blog’s administrator. You can control which comments get held for moderation on your Discussion Settings screen, which is accessible at Settings → Discussion.

If you would like every comment to be held for moderation, check “An administrator must approve the comment,” listed under the section called “Before a comment appears”.

If you would like to send suspicious comments to the moderation queue, while letting innocent comments through, you will need to specify a set of rules for determining which comments are suspicious.

The first option is to hold comments for moderation if they contain an unusually large number of hyperlinks. Most normal comments contain at most one or two links while spam comments often have a large number. Look at your own comments and set this to a value that makes sense for your audience. If you do not wish any links to appear in comments, set it to 1. Many people set it to 2 to allow commenters to provide helpful links in their comments while weeding out mass-link comment spam.

The second option is to specify a set of moderation keys which, if present in any part of the comment, will cause it to be held for moderation. These keys are specified one per line in the large text area, which is blank by default. Moderation keys can include common spam words, swear words, IP addresses, and Regular Expressions (names, phrases, etc.).

When you add a new moderation key, it’s a good idea to test its validity by checking previous comments. Simply use the link entitled “Check past comments against moderation list,” which is located underneath the text box containing moderation keys. This asks WordPress to check previous comments and tell you which ones would be flagged for moderation under your new set of keys.

The box marked Comment blacklist works in exactly the same way as the comment moderation box, except that comments that match these words will be deleted immediately and without notification. So be careful! Genuine comments could be deleted without you ever knowing they were there.

Adding moderation keys or blacklist keys can help reduce the amount of spam comments you get, but be careful! If you include words that someone uses legitimately, the comments will be held or deleted. For example, you may have entered “viagra” as a key, assuming only spammers would include that word in comments. However, a friend or regular reader may use the word innocently in the context of responding to a post you’ve made or making a joke. Comments can also be held or deleted because part of a word matches. For example, if you’ve entered a the word “xnsd” because it is a spam word, swear word, or the name of an annoying commenter (yes, this is a fake word; no one can be offended by fake profanity), you’ll be protected from comments that include “xnsd” in the author name or comment body. However, if someone includes “aklxnsdhw,” which is not a word that should be screened, their comment will be held or deleted because it contains the objectionable string “xnsd” even though it is not objectionable in this other word. Because of this, it’s a good idea not to use regular expressions in the blacklist (as opposed to the moderation list) unless you are very sure that there is no possible way it could prevent legitimate comments from being shown. Once a comment has been deleted, it cannot be retrieved.

Comment Spam

If you’ve been on the internet for any amount of time you’re probably familiar with “spam” in your e-mail inbox. For the uninitiated, spam is an unsolicited commercial message, or something you didn’t ask for trying to sell you something. So what does this have to do with blogs? Just as you can get spam messages in your inbox, people will leave spam comments on your blog. However, unlike e-mail spam where the target is you, comment spam generally targets search engines.

Why on earth would a spammer target a search engine on your blog? Let’s start from the beginning. Several years ago Google pioneered a search technique called PageRank. In addition to looking at the content of a page, PageRank also looks at who links to a page and what that link says. This technology is what made Google very good at returning relevant results and made it the most popular search engine today. Because their ranking system relies so heavily on PageRank people can sometimes game the system in what’s called “Google Bombing.” A google bomb is when a large number of different websites link to a page with the same link text to influence the ranking of that page for a search term.

This brings us back to the spammers. A spammer might have a site that sells viagra and wants to be at the top of a search for viagra on Google, so to create the effect of a google bomb they leave comments on hundreds or thousands of weblogs linking to their site with the link text “viagra”. They don’t really care if you see it, in fact they’d rather you didn’t because you would delete it, they just want the search engine to see it when they index your page.

Fighting Comment Spam

Comment Moderation is very effective in addressing unwanted comments. The best defense against comment spam is just watching your comments. Selecting Comments from the main menu will take you to a screen that shows a listing of the latest comments on any post and you can quickly scan the comment activity on your site. The faster you respond to comment spam on your site, the less likely the spammers will return. The Akismet plugin that is bundled with the WordPress install, is highly effective at combating comment spam because it taps into a wide community of bloggers reporting comment spammers. If you decide to activate Akismet, please be sure that when you click “Mark as Spam” on an incoming comment you truly believe it is spam. If it’s just uninteresting or you dislike what the author had to say, click Delete instead, so that the author isn’t marked as a spammer in the Akismet system.

Stealth Spam

A new technique is the spammers will leave a perfectly normal-looking comment except for the commenter’s URI or name. The best way to watch out for this is to visit the URIs of people who leave comments on your blog. (This is a good practice anyway.) If one looks suspicious, either delete the comment entirely or leave the comment and delete the URI. Another “stealth spam” tactic is to use a div-tag around a bundle of hundreds of links. This becomes more and more common because many types of software display the given HTML tags directly and not the HTML code. To avoid this the software must strip out the HTML tags while inserting the comment into the database.

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