If you’ll look to your left…

It’s time for the Blogger’s Quilt Festival once again, and while I may not have a quilt of my own to show, I want to send you over to Paulette’s blog at The Way I Sew It. Paulette is the blogging friend I was visiting when we had our car accident, but when you see the quilt she is featuring in her post, you’ll understand why I wanted to hand deliver it. It’s absolutely gorgeous! I am so proud to be a part of the creation of it. If all goes as planned in the next couple of weeks, after a very long hiatus, she will have a pattern available for this beautiful quilt.

Go check out the quilt now, and give her some love!

What’s up with that “No Reply”?

Another side to the No Reply Comment issue, by Piecemeal Quilts
I wrote a post about a year and a half ago called “No Reply”? No Kidding! I’ve received comments here and there, usually expressing relief that the commenter wasn’t either crazy or stupid. Recently, Amy from Sews N Bows found it, and is writing a guest post as part of series on blogging at Plucky’s Second Thought. In our emails back and forth, she suggested I write another post to help clarify the issue.

Blogging Platforms

There are many different blogging platforms, some of the biggest being Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, Live Journal, and TypePad, with new ones added almost monthly. I’m going to focus on Blogger and WordPress for the sake of this post. I am NOT going to argue which platform is better, because “better” depends on the user’s needs. Obviously, I prefer WordPress, since that’s the platform I use.

Blogger is a popular platform, extremely recognizable, easy to use, and preferred by many amateur bloggers. It is owned by Google and it interfaces well with other Google products.

WordPress is extremely versatile and highly customizable, and is preferred by professional bloggers and amateurs who prefer more control over their blogs. WordPress is the most popular blogging platform in the world.

Blogger Comments

In Blogger, the blog owner can choose one of four comment settings. In order of most restricted to least restricted:

  • Blog members only
  • Google Account users
  • Registered users (includes Open ID, WordPress, etc.)
  • Anyone (includes Anonymous users)

If the blogger wants to be open to as many comments as possible, they choose Anyone. This opens them to more spam, but also allows people to enter the conversation without sharing any personal information, either publicly or privately. With the Anyone option checked, this is what you’ll see in the comment form:

Blogger Comment Form

Registered Users is safer because the commenter must have provided personal information at some point, either when they set up their own blog or website, their OpenID certificate, or their Google Account. This personal information is not necessarily shared with the blogger or the public.

Restricting comments to Google Account users means that a commenter must sign up with Google before leaving a comment. It goes a step further, though, and forces you to also create either a Google+ or a Blogger account to leave a comment. With a Blogger account, it creates a profile page that you can edit to list additional details like your blogs, your email, and blogs you follow. The Blogger account default setting does not include any of this additional information.

It is unlikely that you’ll run into a blog with a Blog members only setting, as membership blogs tend to be private. Even if you do find one, you won’t be able to comment so it isn’t really an issue.

Blogger has additional comment settings, including adding a word verification (CAPTCHA) and requiring moderation on comments always or only on posts older than a specific number of days.

WordPress Comments

In WordPress, comment settings have a number of variables. The pertinent options include:

  • Comment author must fill out name and e-mail
  • Users must be registered and logged in to comment

These are both yes/no options, so which boxes are checked determines what information a commenter must share. The most restrictive would have both of these boxes checked, requiring the commenter to provide their information AND be registered/logged in with WordPress, Twitter or Facebook. More commonly, WordPress users just require commenters to fill out their name and email address. This helps reduce spam and flaming, although it by no means eliminates it. This is what the comment form looks like:

WordPress Comment Form

Other options in WordPress include closing comments on a post after a certain number of days, requiring comment approval (moderation) on all comments or only on new commenters, allowing threaded or nested comments (where you can reply to a comment and your reply will appear below that comment), moderating or blacklisting comments that include certain words, and moderating comments that contain more than a specific number of links.

You’ll notice that the commenter also has the option of receiving follow up comments or new posts via email.

What is “No Reply”?

It is important to note that “No Reply” is only an issue for people who use the Blogger platform to host their blogs. 

In order to understand “No Reply,” first you need to understand the opposite – let’s call it “Reply.” A “Reply” comment is one where the Blogger owner is able to respond directly to the commenter via email. In a “No Reply” comment, the Blogger owner cannot respond directly via email. So what prevents them from replying via email?

Blogger users can see their comments two ways, in the Comments page in their Dashboard, or via email. By default, all incoming comments are sent to the blog owner via email. They can turn this off if they choose, and only view comments on their Dashboard. As I understand it (and please correct me if I’m wrong), they receive emails for ALL comments, including spam, which may be why so many Blogger users choose to implement word verification on their blogs.

When they receive a comment via email, it looks something like this:

Blogger Comment Email

Notice that the From: line shows a name (piecemealquilts.com), but the actual email address following it is <noreply-comment@blogger.com>.  This is a No Reply comment – if I replied to that email it would eventually bounce back disappear into the ether. (Thanks, Pam, for clarifying that!) If I had left the comment using my Google/Blogger account, it would have shown my email address, and clicking Reply would have sent an email to the address I shared in my Blogger account.

“No Reply” isn’t as big an issue for Blogger users who turn off their email notification, because the Comment page on their Dashboard doesn’t show email addresses anyway. Here’s what the Comments page looks like in Blogger:

Blogger Comment Dashboard

See on the far right side where it lists the “name” of the commenter? These are links – if they click on “piecemealquilts.com” and it will take the blog owner directly to my blog home page. If they click on “Sandi@Piecemeal Quilts” it will take the blog owner to my Blogger profile.

Blogger Profile

They would then have to click on my email (or right click and copy) in order to send me an email. These extra steps are why I believe most Blogger users prefer to receive their comments via email.

So why is “No Reply” only an issue for Blogger users? Because Blogger is the only platform (that I’m aware of) that doesn’t either have an option for a commenter to enter their email address, or share the email address from the OpenID information with the Blogger user.

For comparison’s sake, here are the same screenshots from WordPress:

WordPress Comment EmailAbove is the email I receive when a comment is left on my WordPress blog. I erased a few pieces of private information, but all of those links in the post mean I can reply directly via email, view the commenter’s blog, trash the comment, or move it into spam.

Wordpress Comment Dashboard

This is the Comment page of my WordPress Dashboard. I blotted out personal info again, but you can see that each comment shows the name, email address and website (if provided). Here I can Unapprove, Reply within the blog as a threaded comment, edit the comment, mark it as spam, or trash it. I can also click on the email address (or right click and copy) to send an email to the commenter.

Why are you “No Reply”?

There are two reasons why a commenter would show up as “No Reply”:

  1. If they leave a comment with a Name/URL, WordPress, OpenID, or anything other than a Google/Blogger account, they will always be No Reply. The commenter cannot change this. The Blogger user cannot change this. It is a limitation of the Blogger platform. The only way this will change is if Google changes it.
  2. Some commenters who use a Blogger account are still No Reply because of settings within their account.  The default is to NOT share the email address, causing them to be No Reply. They CAN change it if they choose, but some people prefer not to share their email address publicly.

How to Change your No Reply Status

I hesitate to include this because there are so many posts that tell you this already, but for the sake of complete information, here’s how a person using a Google/Blogger account can change their No Reply status.

Go to http://www.blogger.com/home

If you are logged in, click your name in the top right corner and a box will pop up. Click “Blogger Profile” and it will take you to your profile page.Blogger Profile Edit 1

If you are not logged in, do so and it will take you to your profile page.

Blogger Profile

At the top right, click “Edit Profile.”

Blogger Profile Edit 1

Make sure the box next to “Show my email address” is checked. Below that, be sure your email address is entered. Scroll all the way to the bottom and click “Save Profile.”

How to respond if the comment is No Reply

Obviously, the easiest comments for a Blogger owner to respond to are the ones that are sent using a Blogger account with a public email address. They receive an email, they click Reply, they write the message, they’re done. If a commenter uses a Google/Blogger account and is No Reply AND does not have a blog of their own, there’s really no way to reply to the comment except in your own blog. However, with minimal effort, everyone else can be contacted.

Right there in the comment email (or on the Comment page of the Dashboard) is a link to their website, blog, or Google/Blogger profile page. The Blogger profile page may provide a blog link. Just one or two clicks will put the Blogger user on the blog or website of the commenter. Look for a Contact page or an About Me page or section. Most blogs provide a way of contacting the owner, but even if they don’t, you can still just leave a comment.

Why non-Blogger users are so frustrated by this “No Reply” stuff

I understand how frustrating it is for a Blogger user to be unable to to respond to their commenters. They want to engage with their readers – it expands readership and it’s fun to talk to like-minded people. But what about the rest of us? Why does this whole “No Reply” thing bother us? Well, because we’re bombarded with it, blamed for it, and there’s nothing we can do to change it. If you Google ‘”no reply” comment’ (with quotations around “no reply” so you don’t get everything that has the word “no” and the word “reply” and the word “comment”) you get 6.3 million hits. That’s almost six and a half million Blogger users who are telling us that we need to fix something so we can interact with them – BUT WE CAN’T. We can’t change it. Our platforms are not at fault – theirs is.

Another frustration is the “fix” that is offered. “It’s okay, you can change your no reply status,” we’re told. “All you have to do is set up a Google/Blogger account and use that when you leave comments.” When I first discovered the problem, I tried just that. But when I set up my Blogger account, I discovered I could not list my WordPress blog in my profile. The profile only allows you to list Blogger blogs. My options were to leave a comment on someone else’s blog without sharing my blog address, or leave a comment with my blog address and hope that they’d make the effort to contact me. Or, to simplify: Build someone else’s readership, or build my own. That’s a no-brainer. I’ll share my blog URL, thank you.

Then there are the blogs that instruct you to leave your email address in the comment. Do they not understand that some people don’t WANT to make their email public? Or, as in my case, don’t want to make it public in a hundred different locations? I provide my email address on my blog, in addition to having a contact form. Once is sufficient. The more times you put your email address out there, the greater the chance of it generating spam.

How about giveaways that tell you they will draw another name if your comment is No Reply. It always makes me wonder – do they make any effort to contact the winner, as explained in the previous section, or do they just move on to the next person?

I’ve had some fantastic conversations with Blogger users who have taken the extra few seconds to contact me through my blog after I left a comment. There are a lot of really awesome people out there! It’s the ones who don’t know better or don’t think they should have to make the effort that frustrate me. I’ve always been a No Reply commenter, so I don’t know if this is typical, but I receive responses to about 10% of the comments I leave. It’s hard not to think that there are a lot of Blogger users who aren’t making the effort.

There are levels of blogging. I would be shocked to receive a comment response from a professional blogger who literally make a living at it and receive hundreds or thousands of comments a day. Frankly, I only comment on those blogs if they’re hosting a giveaway, and if they mention “no reply” in their comment form, I don’t bother. The bloggers like me, who write for themselves and not to make a profit, or the ones who would like to build a readership so they can generate some income from their blogs, don’t have the same excuse. Building a readership means engaging the readers, and it’s a two-way conversation. It means hopping over to the commenter’s blog and reading a bit, or even just scanning a few photos. Dismissing a reader because they can’t just click reply and dash off a sentence or two does both the blogger and the commenter a disservice.

I know exactly how time consuming it is to do this, because it’s what I do when I receive a comment. Even though I can easily respond through my email (because with my settings, WordPress ALWAYS gives me your email address), I also take a few minutes to look at the commenter’s blog if they provide it. Sometimes I mention something I saw in their blog in my reply, sometimes not. Sometimes I end up following their blog, sometimes not. I’m far from a perfect blogger – sometimes I neglect to respond to a comment, if it’s been a particularly difficult time for me. But I ALWAYS look at their blog if they list it. Every. Single. Time.

Here’s a suggestion. Instead of simply telling people to fix their No Reply status, acknowledge the reasons for it and say what effort you’ll make to reply. Something like “If you comment with a Google Account and do not know if you are a No Reply commenter, you probably are! Here’s a link to how to change it so I can reply to your comments. If you choose to maintain a No Reply status but have a public blog listed in your Google/Blogger account, or if you comment with OpenID, WordPress, or other platforms or websites, I will try to contact you through your site.”

Other things to consider

In order to allow “Name/URL” as a commenting option, the Blogger comment setting must be set to accept Anyone. Anyone also allows anonymous comments, which leads to spam, which, as I mentioned early, must be especially frustrating for Blogger users if they receive an email for every spam comment. I understand why they would choose the Registered Users option instead. But that means anyone who has a website that is not a blog on one of the big platforms, or uses Facebook, etc. may have difficult even leaving a message. They’d have to set up OpenID credentials, and they probably don’t even know it exists. By the way, you already have OpenID credentials if you use Yahoo, Flickr, MySpace, LiveJournal, AOL and several others. Check out the Open ID website for more info about setting up or using OpenID.

The only way this problem will ever go away is if Google changes the way Blogger works. They need to explain to new Blogger accounts the ramifications of sharing or not sharing their email so they can make an informed decision from the beginning. They also need to give Blogger users the ability to receive comments that keep the email private from everyone except the blog owner, whether it’s through a Blogger account or via a Name/Email/URL option. Until this happens, No Reply will be a constant problem for Blogger users. If you want it to change, tell Google.

Finally, remember that if you want people to return to your blog, you must give them a reason to come back. Sometimes it’s content, sometimes it’s giveaways, but mostly it’s because you’ve created a connection that your reader wants to maintain. The best way to create that connection is by responding to their comments. If a blogger doesn’t make the effort to communicate with their reader, their reader will eventually find another blogger who will. This is a sales transaction – you are selling your blog to your readers. If you want them, you must communicate with them on their terms.

Thank you for taking time to read this (as usual ridiculously long) post. I’m interested in your thoughts. I promise I’ll reply!