The best sites are sticky—they don’t just attract new visitors; they encourage repeat
To make a site sticky, you need to build a relationship between your site and your
readers. You want to make sure that even when your readers leave, they can’t forget
about your site, because they’re still linked to its ongoing conversation. One way to
do that is to notify readers about posts that might interest them. Another strategy
is to tell readers when someone replies to one of their comments. Both techniques
use email messages to lure visitors back to your site.
If your site is on WordPress.com or you installed Jetpack on a self-hosted site, you
automatically get a convenient opt-in system for email notifications. It starts with
two checkboxes that appear in the “Leave a Reply” section.
You can hide the post notification and comment options. Go to Settings→Discussion
and then uncheck “Show a ‘follow comments’ option in the comment form” and
“Show a ‘follow blog’ option in the comment form.” But there’s really no reason to do
that, unless you use a plug-in that adds similar options somewhere else on your site.
Taking Care of Your Peeps
Even on sites with thousands of comments, most readers keep
quiet. Whether that’s due to laziness, indifference, or the fear
of being ignored, the average reader won’t leave a comment.
So when someone does speak up, you need to do your best to
keep him in the discussion.
One way to do that is with the comment-tracking option you
just read about (see Figure 12-8). You can also reward commenters
and stoke the conversation several more ways:
• Comment on your commenter’s sites. You already know
that, every once in a while, you need to step into a
discussion with your own comment. Visitors like to see you
involved because it shows you read their opinions just as
they read yours. However, if you see a particularly good
comment, you can take this interaction a little further.
Follow the commenter’s website link. If the commenter
has a blog, stick around, read a bit, and add a comment
to one of his posts. Comments are a two-way street, and
the more you participate with others, the more likely it
is that a reader will keep coming back.
• Thank commenters. Not every time—maybe just once. If
you notice a new commenter with some useful feedback,
add a follow-up comment that thanks her for her input. If
you want to get fancier, you can use a plug-in like Thank
Me Later (http://tinyurl.com/wp-thank) to send an email
message to first-time commenters, telling them you
appreciate the feedback. (But be warned, you need to
tweak this plug-in carefully to make sure you don’t send
out too many emails and annoy both your commenters
and your web hosting company.)
• Ask for comments. Sometimes, non-commenters just
need a little push. To encourage them to step up, end your
post with a leading question, like “What do you think?
Was this decision fair?” or an invitation, like “Let us know
your best dating disaster story.”
Signing Up Subscribers
Although it makes sense to put the comment notification checkbox in the comments
area of your posts, that spot isn’t a good place for the checkbox that lets readers
subscribe to your posts. Ideally, you’ll put a prominent subscription option after
every one of your posts and on your home page.
There’s another problem with the standard post notification checkbox. To sign up
for notifications, a reader needs to leave a comment. Not only is this requirement a
bit confusing (readers might not realize they need to write a comment, tick the sitesubscription
checkbox, and then click Post Comment), it’s also unnecessarily limiting.
Fortunately, WordPress offers a better option, with a subscription widget that can
sign up new followers any time. If you use WordPress.com, the widget is called Follow
Blog. If you use Jetpack, it’s called Blog Subscriptions. They’re virtually identical,
the only difference being that the WordPress.com version recognizes WordPress.
com users and lets you address them with a customized message.
NOTE WordPress.com site owners get one other feature: They can adjust the frequency of their outgoing
emails so readers get notified only once a day at most, or just once a week.
TIP It’s a good idea to include the subscription widget in two places: your home page sidebar and the footer
area of each post, with a message like “Liked this article? Subscribe to get lots more.”
Occasionally, you might want to reach out to your followers and send them an email
that doesn’t correspond to a post. For example, you might offer a special promotion
or solicit feedback on a website change. If you decide to take this step, tread
carefully—if you harass readers with frequent or unwanted emails, they’ll feel like
they’re being spammed.
If you decide to go ahead and email your followers, you first need to get their email
addresses. Here’s how:
• If you use WordPress.com, visit the WordPress.com home page (http://word
press.com), log in, and choose the Stats tab. Scroll down to the “Totals, Followers
& Shares” box. Under the heading “Followers,” WordPress counts up the
total number of people subscribing to posts and comments. Click the Blog link
to get their email addresses.
• If you use Jetpack on a self-hosted site, choose JetpackÆSite Stats and scroll
down to the Subscription box. You see the total number of people subscribed
to your blog (and those who are registered to receive replies to a particular
comment). Click the Blog link next to the number to see the full list of email
Even Better Email Subscription Services
Jetpack gives self-hosters a solid, straightforward subscription
package. The WordPress.com servers handle all the user tracking
and emailing, making your life easy. But Jetpack doesn’t
include any settings that let you customize the way it handles
subscriptions. More advanced email and newsletter plug-ins
(some of which will cost you a bit of cash) offer more features.
One example is the popular Subscribe2 plug-in (http://tinyurl.
com/wp-sub2). It adds the following useful features:
• Digests. Instead of sending readers an email after you
publish every new post, Subscribe2 lets you send a single
email, periodically, that announces several new posts at
once. Subscribe2 calls this message a digest. For example,
you might choose to send subscribers a weekly digest
summarizing the past seven days’ posts.
• Excluded categories and post types. Perhaps you don’t
want to send notifications for every new post. Subscribe2
lets you exclude certain categories or post types (like
asides and quotes) from notification emails.
• User-managed subscriptions. If you’re willing to let
readers sign up as subscribers on your site (page 370),
they can manage their own subscriptions. For example,
they can subscribe to just the post categories that interest
them, and pick the most convenient digest option.