Website Design with Comments in Mind

WA_header_POTM_comments

Communication between you and your readers starts the instant they get on your site, long before they’ve read a single comic or blog post. What messages are you sending to your audience just with your website design? You might not realize it, but your site could be a barrier to reader interaction!

Eliminate the barriers

Make it Easy to Read

We’ve all learned the cardinal rule of no red-on-blue color combinations, but that doesn’t mean we’ve learned our lesson on bad text-and-background choices. White text on black backgrounds causes a lot of eye-strain to read, particularly with a large amount of text. Yet you’d never guess that based on the number of blogs out there with this exact combo! This makes it difficult to read for any long period of time, which means that people are far more likely to skim or skip anything you have to say. Make sure to avoid odd font choices as well. Your goal should be communication first, visual appeal second.

Why do you want to hurt me this way?

Why do you want to hurt me this way?

The same rule goes for font choices and site layouts. It’s easy to get caught up making a very fancy design that’s dysfunctional to the reader. Focus on clearly communicating before you think about the flourishes to make it pretty.

Make it easy to Comment

In some cases, first-born child and/or hokey pokey may also be required.

In some cases, first-born child and/or hokey pokey may also be required.


In the internet world, clicking is work. So when readers visit our site, it shouldn’t be a chore for them to read or contribute their own comments. Many website designs make it difficult to find comments. A common WordPress layout is to store all comments under a “Comments” link with a word bubble displaying the number already received. That’s one click. Then the would-be commenter must find a place to leave their own comment, usually by another link. That’s another click. Then, after they add what they want to say, they probably have to go through a series of hoops to sign into a commenting service or pass a human-test. That’s even more clicks – maybe two or three! with all that extra work, it’s a wonder anybody leaves a comment at all!

Go through the process of leaving a comment on your website. Count how many clicks the reader must make. If it’s over two, you may want to re-think your design!

Make it clear you want to Connect

Compare two hypothetical designs:
TalktoMe
SITE A: The colors are black, red, and gray. There’s no link to any social media, email, or forum — if you want to contact this author, good luck! Comments are your only option, and even then, it’s clear the creator rarely replies.

SITE B: The colors are white, yellow, and blue. Social media, contact info, and other links are clearly displayed at the top. Every comment has a reply from the creator, and it’s always friendly.

Now tell me…on which site are you going to feel like leaving a comment?

Color sets a mood, which in turn will impact how people feel about you, your work, and your site. The content, and how we arrange it, also sends a message. When ways to reach the creator are clearly displayed, it says “I want to connect with you! Here’s three places you can say hello!” Hide those contact methods, and it lets people know you don’t want to be disturbed. So consider the messages you want to send carefully, and make sure it’s clear you want to connect!

Invite them in

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Not everyone is naturally outgoing. Many people need to be invited to speak up! So, as a good host, how can we make our guests feel comfortable?

Drezz covered some ways you can invite readers in with your content and questions in an earlier article, but there are ways to use your website design to help you out.

Have a character do it for you

Sheldon

Sometimes it’s best to let our characters do the talking for us. Dave Kellett’s site for Sheldon has Arthur just below the comic to invite you in. It’s friendly, it’s fun, and it makes the comment section clear without being intrusive.

Polls

funny-graphs-and-charts
Sometimes people don’t have the time or motivation for a lengthy comment, but still enjoy staying engaged. A poll can be a fun way to open the door to your readership. They also help you learn something about them and spark debate. There are several plugins available for simple, one-question polls, but if you want something more comprehensive you can also use Forms in GoogleDocs for a free and versatile survey.

Connect your content

Manage your time - pick the ones that play to your strengths!

Manage your time – pick the ones that play to your strengths!


Maybe blogging isn’t your thing, but tweeting is near and dear to your heart? Or perhaps you’re a Facebook fanatic or a G+ groupie? It’s okay if you do most of your personal interaction on just one platform and struggle with others. Just make sure to focus on the one you excel at, and broadcast it! You can even embed some feeds directly into your site, give readers a clear idea of where the best places to connect with you are.

Cultivate the connection

Be active in building your community!

Be active in building your community!


The short-term goal is starting the conversation, but it won’t do you any good if you don’t reward that commenter’s courage. It can be scary to post on a website, especially for the first time! You don’t know how the creator will respond – will they ignore you? Lash out? Start a flame war?

What you as a creator do next is crucial, not just to that individual commenter, but to all future commenters. People will often read through the commentary under a comic to get a flavor for the community and creator. This is why it is critical that you cultivate a safe, welcoming place for readers to interact with you. Demonstrate to your commenters that you value their input and support. Reply to every comment you receive. Be appreciative of praise and criticism alike. Show through your actions that this is a place where readers reaching out is welcome and encouraged! You’ll find that this will earn you good will with commenters and lurkers alike!

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Posted in Featured News, Helpful Hints, Site News, Tech and tagged , , .

30 Comments

  1. I was JUST thinking about putting back in a character to ask people to comment (it was lost in a site redesign). You are REALLY Knocking it out of the park with useful articles!

    • Happy to be of service! Glad it was useful for you. Personally, I like comments front and center, but I understand the appeal of putting them in their own section. I think a character invitation can be a great way to bridge that “click = work” gap.

  2. Some really great pointers in this article, for sure, but I want to take issue with one thing…

    The “human test” for comments is VITAL if you don’t want your comments section, and or email box, drowned in spam.

    • I agree. I’m not saying that it should be removed. I’m saying be aware of the number of clicks (and thus the amount of work) you’re making your readers go through in order to engage. Determine which are the most vital, and do away with the rest.

  3. I’m going to revamp a lot of things and have been putting it off. This makes me want to try and engage people with comments again. I know it’s blasphemy, but as a reader I kind of find most comments boring. On news sites comments can be downright scary.

    Comments sometimes seem to be a separate feature that overshadows the content of a site, too. I know my little comic is in no danger, but some entertainment sites seem to be hosting their own version of Jerry Springer in the comments, with fights breaking out that require heavy moderation. That, more than anything, has turned me off to comments.

    So hopefully there’s some middle ground. I like comments that actually have something to say but don’t devolve into name calling and outright fighting.

    Maybe I’ve over-thought this.

    • I’ve always been afraid of exactly what you mention, but I find that, at least for more personal projects like an original work, that we as creators have a significant impact on setting the tone for comments. I’ve managed to have some discussions on some very hot-button topics (a few weeks ago we discussed bigotry, racism, and sexism…and what it was and was not). 40+ comments, and not a single one of them was inflammatory, rude, or antagonistic. We had a similar discussion on the nature of good and evil, and whether or not evil could be justified by context. Things like that.

      You DO have some influence over your own space. You just have to cultivate it carefully.

    • I take no credit for the idea. It’s something I noticed Dave does, and have always thought it was a good way to direct people to the comments section, without potentially cluttering a design with comments on the front page. I think it’s adorable and fun, and a great way to invite people in!

      • I like the idea of the character asking for comments, but did you click it? It doesn’t pass the “many clicks test” it links to a forum and I was confused on where the thread for the comic was.

        • I’m not saying that the particular application of the idea as seen there is perfect. I’m just show-casing an idea. I personally would apply it differently, in order to reduce both the many-clicks and the forum confusion that you pointed out.

  4. Thanks for this post Robin, lots of food for thought! I have COMICPRESS/WORDPRESS and I have to approve all first-time commenters. I hope that doesn’t scare readers. I also have to say I love having the character ask for comments! Thanks again for taking the time to put this together, I need all the help I can get ! *L*

    • My pleasure, Rich! A lot of these thoughts came from studying lots of different webdesigns and seeing what drew me in, or what “body language” the site had. I also found the book “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” by Steve Krug really helpful!

  5. Another excellent article!

    I like the black with grey and red text best. The white backgrounds really hurt my eyes. :`D

    I’d like to address the comment spam problem. I use Akismet, which is free for non-commercial sites and is reasonably priced for commercial ones. Akismet holds the comments for me in “pending” folders. I don’t know how it does it, but it always seems to know the difference between spam and legit comments.

    I agree with you that the author sets the tone. I have never yet had anyone say anything for which I would need to moderate their comment. We have some great discussions over on Aedre’s Firefly. Not as in-depth as you have on Leylines, Robin, but not too bad. <3

    • It’s tricky online because reading a screen is different than reading a piece of paper. Have to be careful with white & black combinations. Although black text on white can be too bright, white on black causes a lot of eye strain due to how the eyes interpret light. White text “scatters” the eye, which makes it hard to read white on black for large amounts of text.

      • I see what you’re saying about the white text on black. I suppose that’s why I use a cream text on black instead on my site. I’m wondering now if I should take a poll of my readers.

        My congenital visual problem tends to scatter all light, so I have to get my family to help me know if what I’m creating is working.

        But then who spends enough time on any website to get eyestrain these days? :`) (except people like me who strain to read the thin grey fonts on bright white backgrounds found all over the web –like that of this reply box I’m typing in right now.)

  6. Take characters like Simpsons, Tom and Jerry for example.

    And laughing at silly people who are not as bright or rich as we are makes us feel warm and secure.

    If you love cartoons, there is always something that you have never seen
    before.

  7. Just to throw this in there… I converted my commenting system to Disqus. It’s a WP plugin, and while it takes a little bit, it converts all your old comments over too. It’s a smoother design than the regular WP comment system, and you can comment without waiting for the whole page to reload. (If you’re super concerned about your page views, this may be a detractor). It also allows people to post using their social media logins, so no need to create YET ANOTHER profile with gravatar. I like it.
    Anyone else use this? Opinions?

    • If you’re using Jetpack, it has a nice comments plugin that lets you use social media as well. It’s not as full-featured as Disqus, but it’s a modern comment system without the bloat.

  8. Of course, social networking helps you to find supportive friends, family or neighbors to have the opportunity of fun and increase the circle to integrate people’s sense of social connectedness.. by enabling social connection plugins or website design with comments would be the better way to discuss about the article or event…

  9. Nice thought-provoking exploration!
    I’ve spent some time posting comments to my site in the way the reader would have to do it, and absolutely second your suggestion to do this, Robin.

  10. One thing you might want to add to the discussion is what one uses as a commenting feature on their site. If you use something like disqus, that can be confusing for people, simply based on all the choices to sign into it. The guest feature leaves you wondering how you’ll show up after you post and in some cases, it just sticks and resets. I don’t necessarily want my comments collected by a commenting feature across the web that shows me commenting on a comic in one post and a news article in the next. If someone has a disqus or intensedebate commenting feature, I’m more likely not to leave a comment.

    I have used several commenting features over the years, both on my site and as a user when visiting others and the one that is the quickest and easiest is the WP comment feature. 2 clicks and your comment is done. click 1) brings you to the comment area, you fill in name and e-mail, url is optional and you write comment, click again and done. There is no collection of your comments across the web with this, it’s individual.

    It’s one thing to find ways to get people to want to comment with graphics and invite blurbs, its quite another to get them to embrace the comment feature they have to interact with. My preference are the ones where I’m not signed into a commenting service, I just want to comment and not sign up for the ability to do so.

  11. Great article! A lot of “should be obvious” points that I often forget all pulled into a concise but thorough guide.

    Will definately be following in the future.

    Lisa

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