It takes a lot for me to be completely won over by a new product out of the gate, never mind make me a staunch supporter of it from that very same gate.
Usually, I’ll find a bunch of things I don’t like, and use that as an excuse to look for another solution, or one that does the stuff the one I’m looking at doesn’t.
Now and again, though, the actions of the developers or creators of a product make you forget what’s missing, and instead make you focus on the very cool stuff that’s included in the current version.
That’s exactly what happened with the Postmatic WordPress plugin that enables blog comments by email. And now, I really can’t see myself using any other option.
If At First You Don’t Succeed…
When Jason Lemieux, the co-founder of Postmatic, first reached out to me about his product (I think it was on Twitter), I’ll be honest, I didn’t really have the time or inclination to check out another plug-in.
For one, I was tired of content and commenting. Not so much content and commenting itself, but the myriad of commenting systems I’d already tried out and had left for various reasons.
Livefyre, Disqus, Inline Comments, Google+ Comments. All with their strengths, all with various reasons to go with one over the other, and all with the same problem – they don’t play well with each other when it comes to leaving a comment.
You want to leave a Livefyre comment, you need to create a Livefyre account or sign-in with social log-ins (unless the blogger allows guest commenting). Same with Disqus.
You want to leave an Inline Comment, the reader needs to be aware Inline Comments are actually available. Since comment bubbles only appear after a comment is left (unless you want intrusive comment boxes after every single sentence), Inline Comments are invariably missed by readers.
You want to leave a Google+ comment, you need a Google+ account. Not only that, but the notification system is crap, since you don’t know people have commented on your content unless you’re tagged in that comment. You can imagine some of the stuff that could appear on your blog with that in mind.
So, four comment systems, four reasons to sigh.Why do so many blog comment systems make it such hard work to enjoy a conversation? Click To Tweet
Recently, I discovered wpDisquz, which is the comment box you’ll see at the end of each of my posts, at least currently. While I like the format because it uses the native WordPress commenting system, it also has issues – no hyper-linking to comments, no URL box for commenters to get a link back to their own post, and a few other glitches that sometimes make me pull my hair out.
Note: since this post was originally published, I encountered some frustrating glitches with wpDiscuz and deactivated that too. Currently, I’m using the beta version of Epoch (also from Postmatic), which mixes the benefits of third-party plug-ins with native comments.
So, yeah, when Jason reached out, I initially wasn’t interested.
But, fair play to him, he didn’t give up, and reached back out at a time when I was ready to look at commenting options again, especially given how I want to turn this blog into a very personal destination, where conversations are the driver of the content as much as being the other way round.
And I’m glad he did, because Postmatic has made commenting fun again, and reminded me of what it used to be like when blogs were the hub of conversation, versus the multiple social channels that blogs fight for attention with.
Why Postmatic Should Be on the Radar of Every WordPress Blogger
So, you should be getting the gist that I’m a fan of Postmatic, even in its early form (the product is just coming out of beta). Given that there are alternatives to the commenting solutions mentioned earlier, why the big love for Postmatic in particular?
Simple – it’s made by WordPress lovers for WordPress lovers. Specifically, WordPress blog comment lovers (although it does a good job with email delivery too).
Because my whole mantra with this blog has always been about the conversation, and for everyone to have the same voice when it comes to commenting and sharing ideas, Postmatic’s main goal strikes a chord with me.
Engaging in meaningful, timely conversation online is out of reach for too many people—especially in the blogosphere. We have created blogs for so many organizations that publish thought-provoking and essential content, but it often goes overlooked and under-discussed. Last spring we started thinking about how to change that. And so it is that we made Postmatic.
Based on what I’ve seen on my own blog since initially installing Postmatic, and from comments of others I’ve recommended Postmatic to, the team behind the plug-in are well on their way to meeting that goal, and more.
As I mentioned in my initial post back in February, it takes a little getting used to, to not only reply to a blog post by email, but to leave a comment, and continue leaving comments, by email too.
Ever since blog commenting became more open source, we’ve needed to jump back to a post to leave a comment, and then sign up for notifications if we wanted to know if anyone replied to us. That kind of behaviour is ingrained in us.Commenting by email requires a mindset change - but then so do all great innovations.Click To Tweet
So, flipping the mindset to commenting via email takes a little leap of faith – but the benefit to us, as bloggers and commenters, is worth it.
Especially with the new features from the recently public version.
More Than Just Comments by Email
While Postmatic’s methodology is sending a blog post out by email, then inviting people to leave a comment by simply hitting “Reply” to that email, it feels like it’s more than that simple premise.
Probably because it is more than that, intentionally or otherwise. When chatting with Jason about some ideas regarding future additions to the plug-in, I mentioned that I see Postmatic more as an engagement optimizer than a simple comment plug-in.
Because that’s exactly what Postmatic does – it not only encourages more comments and engagement by removing the technology barrier to leaving comments, it optimizes how that looks and feels for both commenter and blogger.
Seamless Integration with Any WordPress Blog
As long as you have a self-hosted WordPress blog, and you use native comments (or even wpDisquz, which supports Postmatic integration), you can get Postmatic set up in minutes.
Because Postmatic uses email to reply to, and receive, new comments, your existing native WordPress comment styling isn’t touched. All that changes is you have a little box below the comments to sign up for Postmatic comment replies, and you’re good to go.
If you currently use another solution (like Livefyre, or Disqus), and you decide to switch back to that from Postmatic, your comments are there ready to import back into that platform. Try that the other way round, without getting some weird leftover Livefyre or Disqus styling in return.
Moderation via Email
Run any blog with comments activated, and you’re going to come up against comment spam. It’s the bane of every comment system, even with the various filtering, moderation and blocking features around to combat it.
Postmatic makes it really easy to moderate via email, even when on the go. As a moderator, you can use “Approve”, “Trash” or “Spam” as a reply to a comment notification and Postmatic takes care of the rest.
Again, a bonus if you don’t have time to jump into your WordPress dashboard (or third party comment system admin area) to quickly moderate spammy or abusive comments.
Responsive HTML Email for Posts, Comments and Invitations
While the free version of Postmatic offers a perfectly functional email notification system, it’s when you jump up to the premium version that the design really kicks up a notch.
Using the Postmatic Premium template, you can add your own header, end of email widgets (for promotional banners, email sign-up, or anything else you’d normally put in a WordPress widget), and footer template.
This lets you have a branded email and comment reply notification that is immediately recognizable as yours – and it’s all responsive, so will look good on any display.
Email Notification Throttling
When I wrote about Postmatic in February, the post ended up getting over 200 comments. 100 of these came within the first couple of hours of the post going live.
Now, while this is great for engagement, you can imagine what that must look like for someone’s Inbox, especially if you leave the conversation for the day, then come back to your email in the morning only to see your email clogged with comment notifications.
Enter Postmatic’s notification throttling, one of the new features that a lot of early users of Postmatic – probably commenters more than bloggers – have been asking for, and a great addition to make the user experience even more enjoyable.
If a post gets more than six comments in an hour, Postmatic will pause notifications and instead send out an email that advises the post discussion is taking off. The post commenter/subscriber then gets an option to leave it on pause and resubscribe to the conversation at a later time, or rejoin there and then.
It’s a slick implementation that puts full control into the commenter’s hands – if you rejoin, you know what you might be getting yourself into. If you no longer want notifications, you won’t get them.
Past Commenter Invitation and Email Provider List Migration
I mentioned earlier that I see Postmatic as more of an engagement optimizer than a commenting solution, and their “past commenter invitation” option is part of that.
When you switch Postmatic on, you have the option of sending an email out to people who have commented on your blog before, but may have dropped off the radar.
You can send a personalized invite out to those folks, advising of your switch to Postmatic and inviting them back to the conversation, with the promise of never contacting them again if they don’t reply (click to expand).
It’s a great way to reach out to members of your community that may have slipped out of sight. This also lends itself to migrating your existing email list subscribers, if you also want to use Postmatic to deliver your content.
Instead of sending a blast email out to everyone, Postmatic determines those that have taken an active action in a certain timescale on your existing list – click, open, forward, etc, – and only sends an invite out to those people.
It’s another way of showing respect to subscribers, and keeping spam out of the inboxes of email users.
So, Postmatic is Perfect, Then?
These are just some of the new features that Postmatic is offering, now they’ve moved out of beta. There’s also:
- Guaranteed email delivery and seamless Jetpack, Mailchimp, and MailPoet list integration
- Almost instantaneous comments (within 6 seconds of sending the email)
- Social sharing within email using multiple supported sharing options
- Better privacy for all users
- URL support when commenting on a blog natively, so your username/name links back to your own blog/site
- Full control over commenters and comment history, and more
I’ve also been fortunate to have a look at what Jason and the team have coming down the line in the next few weeks and months when it comes to even deeper integration between comments, blogger and readers, and they’re pretty damn exciting.
With all that being said, Postmatic isn’t perfect – yet. Some of the core things I’d really like to see are:
- Email and comment analytics. Currently there’s no way to know how many people opened your email, forwarded, replied to comment, etc. While that’s not too important from a commenting angle, it’s an important requirement for email lists. The team have mentioned this is in the pipeline – it’ll make a big difference.
- Video embeds inline. If you have a video embed in a post, the Postmatic email template doesn’t pick it up. Instead, there’s a message that says, “This format is not supported by your email client”. While it’s not super important, it does mean you need to click through to the post to view, which dilutes the “reply by email” benefits a little. In fairness, most rich media content creators and subscribers prefer RSS for this, so it’s less of an issue than it could be.
- Weekly digests. Currently, I run a weekly newsletter versus instant updates, as do many other bloggers I know. Postmatic doesn’t support this format – however, this is something else that the team are working on, and hopefully it’ll be here soon as an option.
In the grand scheme of things – with perhaps the exception of the analytics – these are minor quibbles in what is otherwise an awesome plug-in and experience.
And, to be fair, Postmatic isn’t positioning itself as a replacement for the Mailchimps and the Awebers of the world – yet. Instead, they want to make the process of blog post to email to reader to comment-by-email to ongoing engagement as smooth as possible.
In that regard, they’ve succeeded in spades.
The Proof is in the Engagement Pudding
While Postmatic doesn’t offer analytics for comments, etc., at the moment, there are other options out there that you can install, if you want to track the change pre-Postmatic and post-implementation.
One of these is Graphical Admin Report, that shows you behind the scenes statistics about growth of your blog, including comments. Using this, I ran a comparison of my own blog’s comment count for the six months between November 1 last year, and April 28.
The first three months – November, December and January – are all pre-Postmatic. The last three months – February, March and April – cover the period since I switched Postmatic on.
Despite the plug-in doing a weird right-to-left comparison, you can see for yourself how effective Postmatic has been at increasing comments and, by association, engagement on my blog.
Even the lowest of the comment count for Postmatic (for this month) is still more than the highest comment month in the previous quarter (November).
This rise in engagement seems to be happening elsewhere, too, once Postmatic is installed. A couple of bloggers I introduced to Postmatic, Jens-Petter Berget and The Jack B, have seen an increase in comment numbers since installing.
Jens-Petter’s post, New Breakthrough Commenting System for WordPress, and Jack B’s It’s What Every Blogger Wants (and their subsequent posts) are good examples of the way Postmatic can increase engagement when introduced properly.
Because it is a mindset change, as well as a change in behaviour, and as humans we’re often not good at that – a good introduction by the blogger helps ease readers into the change.
Wrap your head around it though, and email commenting makes so much sense.
We already do it, anyway – if we use Livefyre, Disqus, Jetpack or native comments, we get an email notification telling us of a new comment or reply. And we still have to jump through another hoop to comment. Postmatic removes that hoop and leaves you to spend that time more effectively.
As the title of my post says, when it comes to WordPress blog comments, it’s the only solution I’ll use on my blog moving forward.
For a blogger that cares about engagement and true interaction with his readers, that’s the highest possible endorsement I can give.
You can check out Postmatic, and get a free two week trial of the Premium option, here.