Sticky Features for your Blog Network with WordPress MU 2.8: Part 1

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WordPress MU 2.8: Beginner's Guide

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Build your own blog network with unlimited users and blogs, forums, photo galleries, and more!

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by Lesley Harrison | October 2009 | MySQL Content Management Open Source PHP WordPress

One trap that many web site owners fall into is spending lots of time pulling in traffic but not offering anything to encourage visitors to return. This leads to a rather self-defeating cycle where the site owner is forced to constantly promote their site to keep bringing in the same number of visitors, eating up valuable time that could be spent improving the site in other ways.

Fortunately, a little time invested during the early days of building a site can pay off very well in terms of encouraging repeat visitors. In this article by Lesley Harrison, we will:

  • Learn what is meant by making a site "sticky"
  • Look at ways to build conversations with visitors through comments and contact forms
  • Make our visitors feel like they are part of a community with gravatars, polls, and welcome messages
  • Find out how to encourage visitors to subscribe to the site, and keep them coming back

What do people mean by "sticky"?

If you have ever ran a blog or web site before, you may have noticed that it's fairly easy to get a spike in traffic by submitting a good story to a few social bookmarking sites or by being lucky enough to get a link to one of your posts from a much larger site.

The problem is that after a day or so, when the submissions fall off the front page, it's likely your traffic will die down to its usual levels again. Some site owners fall into the trap of chasing after the next traffic spike, using "linkbait" articles with intentionally controversial titles and content, when they should really be focusing on quality content, improving the site, and working towards sustained growth.

Many bloggers submit their site to StumbleUpon.com. StumbleUpon is a web service where users can enter their interests, and be sent to a random site that will match those interests. Those users can then either give a "thumbs up" to the site they are sent to indicating that they like the site or a "thumbs down" if they don't like it. Those votes are used to improve future suggestions and increase the chances of the next site that they "Stumble Upon" being one that they are interested in.

Other popular sites for increasing traffic include Technorati (a site that measures the "authority" of a blog based on how many other bloggers are linking to it), and the news/story-related sites Reddit (a general interest site with everything from politics to gadgets-related news), and Digg (a site with a focus on tech and gaming news).

A sticky blog is one that doesn't just attract new visitors, it keeps them. Instead of having a visitor click through from a link on Technorati or visit by using the Stumble! feature of StumbleUpon, skim the page they land on and then leave, a sticky blog would make that visitor stay around a little longer.

Ideally, visitors would read the article they were interested in and then find themselves intrigued enough to read more articles. They may comment on some articles and then keep returning to read answers to their comments. Or, they may decide to subscribe to the blog so that they can read future posts.

A sticky site encourages readers to become engaged with the community, resulting in long-term increases in traffic. When new readers arrive at the site for the first time, they get involved themselves and keep coming back. They may also tell their friends or link to the site from their own sites, giving you free promotion.

Letting readers and authors communicate

Interesting content is vital, but one of the best ways to get people coming back to your blog network is to give them a chance to interact with the site's authors and with each other. This not only makes the readers feel valued, it also opens up a dialogue that encourages repeat visitors.

Contact forms

Providing visitors with a way to contact you privately is useful for several reasons. The visitor may want to discuss advertising opportunities, submit some news you may be interested in, or ask for help with a problem they have accessing part of the site. You could post your email address on the site, but this makes you vulnerable to spam attacks. A contact form is a safer way to allow your visitors to contact you.

Time for action – setting up contact forms

Let's set up a contact form:

  1. Download Contact Form 7 from http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/contact-form-7/.
  2. To install, upload the contents of the archive file to /wp-content/plugins.
  3. Activate the plugin and go to the settings page (Tools | Contact Form 7). You can also access the page by clicking Settings under the plugin name, which appears on the Manage Plugins page.

    Sticky Features for your Blog Network with WordPress MU 2.8: Part 1

  4. You can add new fields using the Generate Tag drop-down menu.
  5. Further down the admin page you will see options to set error messages (such as the message users will see if they miss out a required field, or if they try to upload a file that is too big).
  6. Once you have created the form, make a note of the tag at the top of the screen (in our case this was [contact-form 1 "Contact form 1"] ).
  7. Create a new page (Pages | Add New) called Contact Us, add a short message to the page, and then paste the contact form tag into the page.
  8. Depending on the theme you are using, you may need to add the Pages widget to your sidebar so that visitors can find the new page.
  9. Your page should look something like this:

    Sticky Features for your Blog Network with WordPress MU 2.8: Part 1

What just happened?

Contact Form 7 is a powerful contact form tool that supports CAPTCHAs (via the Really Simple CAPTCHA  plugin), file uploads, drop-down menus, and more.

You can define multiple contact forms and have each one submit to a different email address. This could be useful if you wish to have different people contacted for, say, advertising queries, news submissions, and tech support.

You can also have a contact form submit to multiple email addresses. So, as well as having the relevant person receive a copy of each message, the site administrator could ensure they receive a copy of all messages too.

You can set a prefix for each message, in addition to the subject line the visitor sets. For example, if you set the prefix to [Slayer-Form1], all emails from that contact form will have a subject line that begins with that text. You can use this to set up filters in your email application, making it easy to prioritize emails from different contact forms.

Improved comments

The basic WordPress MU comment feature allows readers to post their thoughts about a blog post, but it is not very good for encouraging discussion. One useful service for bloggers is IntenseDebate. This service allows for threaded discussion in comments, subscription to comments by RSS and email, and the ability to tie blog commenting in with other social networking sites and follow comments made by other blog readers.

Time for action – IntenseDebate Comments

  1. Download the IntenseDebate Comments plugin from http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/intensedebate/.
  2. You will need to sign up for an account at http://intensedebate.com/.
  3. Activate the plugin.
  4. Go to Settings | IntenseDebate. You will be presented with a login screen. Enter the account details for the account you created in step 2.
  5. Once you have logged in, click Start Importing Comments.
  6. The import process can take a very long time, even if you don't have many comments to import.
  7. Once the import process is complete, you can tweak the settings to suit your blog—although I found the default ones were a good starting point.

    Sticky Features for your Blog Network with WordPress MU 2.8: Part 1

  8. The IntenseDebate Comments plugin has its own Comments caption, so you may want to remove the Comments header from the index.php file in your theme folder.
  9. The new comment box should look something like this:

    Sticky Features for your Blog Network with WordPress MU 2.8: Part 1

  10. You can moderate comments using the already familiar WordPress MU interface or the dashboard on the IntenseDebate site.

    Sticky Features for your Blog Network with WordPress MU 2.8: Part 1

What just happened?

IntenseDebate is a commenting system that sits on top of WordPress and WordPress MU. It is ideal for all blogs, whether they are part of a blog network, or a standalone blog. It does not replace the existing WordPress comment system; it only complements it. This means you can use IntenseDebate in conjunction with other plugins that rely on the WordPress MU comment system.

Readers can comment on your blog using the IntenseDebate comment system. If they have JavaScript turned off, they will be presented with the normal WordPress comment system instead.

IntenseDebate has lots of useful features that will make your users feel a greater sense of engagement with your site's authors. Those features are described below:

  • Threaded discussions:

    IntenseDebate supports threaded comments. This makes it easy for readers to follow the discussions going on in the comments section. Readers can reply to the blog post itself, or reply to a specific comment, and IntenseDebate will break related comments into threads so that the discussion is easy to keep track of.

  • Track comments or comment anonymously:

    Readers can comment anonymously, or, if they have an IntenseDebate profile they can log in to it and comment using it. Any comments made will be stored in the WordPress comments database and also be sent to IntenseDebate.

  • Subscribe to comments:

    Readers can subscribe to comments on a particular post by email or through their favorite RSS reader. If they have an IntenseDebate account, they also have the option to send a Twitter message or "Tweet" to alert their friends that they have commented on a particular post.

  • Reputation and voting:

    Another useful feature is the reputation system. Visitors can vote on comments, and comments that get a lot of negative votes will be hidden from view unless a user requests to see them. This is a handy form of "self moderation" for the community. The reputation system applies to only logged in users and gives each user an overall rating based on the quality of their comments on sites all over the Internet.

Activating IntenseDebate on your users' blogs

One important thing to remember is that even if you set IntenseDebate to automatically activate for your users, it won't do anything unless they set it up. Your users will still have the original WordPress MU comment system. They will be alerted to the fact that the plugin is not working for them by a message that will appear at the top of every page in their admin panel.

Sticky Features for your Blog Network with WordPress MU 2.8: Part 1

Have a go hero – tweaking IntenseDebate

IntenseDebate has so many features that there is not enough room to cover them all here. Take a look at the Extras (http://intensedebate.com/extras) page for some widgets that you may want to add to your blog.

Also, check the Settings page for your blog in IntenseDebate. You can edit the moderation settings on that page. The default settings include a list of spam words that will cause comments to be flagged for moderation. Comments will also be flagged for moderation if they contain more than two URLs. You can tweak the commenting system's settings to filter by IP address, email address, key words, and profanity. You can also alter how the comments are displayed, the text displayed when people report comments, the layout, and the location of the blog's RSS feed. You may want to change that to use the FeedBurner version of the RSS feed.

>> continue Reading: Sticky Features for your Blog Network with WordPress MU 2.8: Part 2

WordPress MU 2.8: Beginner's Guide Build your own blog network with unlimited users and blogs, forums, photo galleries, and more!
Published: October 2009
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About the Author :


Lesley Harrison has more than ten years of experience working in the world of IT. She has served as a web developer for various local organizations, a systems administrator for a multinational IT outsourcing company, and later a database administrator for a British utility company. Today, Lesley runs her own video gaming site, Myth-Games.com, and works as a freelance web developer. She works with clients all over the world to develop Joomla! and WordPress/WordPress MU web sites.

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