Question and answer sites are popular in the legal marketing world, with Avvo being the gold standard. Is it possible to build “mini” QA features on law firm websites?
I’ve experimented in the past with plugins that add QA functionality to WordPress, but most have fatal flaws that prevent a scaleable platform. For example, the WPMU QA plugin looks nice, but it doesn’t have a moderation feature. Any spammer can create an account on your site, type a bunch of gibberish, and hit “ask.” Regardless of what the “question” is, the content is sent by email to your entire community. You, as the site admin, can delete the question, but not before your credibility is damaged. I can tell you from experience that hosting a QA forum without adequate moderation is a nightmare.
Building on Gravity Forms’ Guest Post Ability
Many of you are aware that Gravity Forms allows users to submit content to your site without accessing your WordPress dashboard. Content submitted in this way can be queued as a draft post, just as any other blog post would be. In this way, Gravity Forms works beautifully within the native publishing functionality of WordPress.
In order to use Gravity Forms to create a QA platform, we expand on the guest post feature, creating a new “Ask a question” form, and a custom post type called “Questions.” By adding a custom post type, we create a separate queue for the questions that are submitted through the site. This gives us the ability to manage Questions and blog posts separately. We use this plugin to integrate Gravity Forms and custom post types, allowing site owners to designate which custom post type the Gravity form sends data to (in this case Questions). Take a look at the screen shot of a WordPress dashboard with QA enabled for a visual.
Once a Question has been submitted through the custom Gravity form, it queues as a draft, which allows for moderation! The site admin can publish substantive questions, and delete spam. Questions are assigned to unique topics by creating QA categories.
Once you’ve read through and approved a question, it’s published to a specific page on your site devoted to QA. Again, this allows site owners to keep their blogs and QA sections separate.
Your community is only notified when a new question, that you’ve moderated and approved, is posted.
How? Through Mail Chimp. Mail Chimp’s blog post to RSS feature works great for QA. For example, let’s say you’re creating a QA site, and only notifying members of your community when a question has been asked in their state. In this case, you’d create a category for each state, and subscribe community members to that state’s RSS feed. When a new question is published in their state, they’ll be notified via email. You can customize emails to include custom designs and instructions for logging in to answer questions.
One of the most important things I’ve learned about working with WordPress, is that you don’t want to venture too far afield from its wheel house, which is publishing. WordPress falls under the heading of content management system for a reason. If you can use the basics of WordPress to accomplish your goals, don’t try to reinvent the wheel, go with the basics. Applying this lesson to QA, we use WordPress commenting for answering questions. Depending on the theme, you will either modify HTML or the function.php file, to switch comments for Questions (a custom post type) to “Answers.” This is an easy word processing fix for a developer who knows what they’re doing.
Just as using custom post types allows questions to be reviewed as drafts, which gives site owners the ability to moderate submissions, one of the core functions of WordPress is to moderate comments. You can edit answers, or decide not to publish them at all. This solves one of the major problems with QA plugins. They allow users to post all the crap they want to your site, a major problem because not every user who signs up has good intentions.
You can use commenting to supply answers in one of two ways:
1. Leave the comment field open to anyone, and only approve comments (answers) that are submitted by a member of your community.
2. Leave comments closed, until a user logs in. This gives a slightly more official look to the QA platform, but may hinder some users from answering questions, as some will choose not to take the time to log in, and abandon the process altogether.
Another advantage of using commenting to answer questions is that it makes adding “bells and whistles,” such as voting on the usefulness of certain answers, that much easier.
The Experience for Users Who Ask Questions
A good QA system will not only communicate with your community to notify them of new questions, it will email the user who submitted the question once it’s been answered. As I outlined above, Mail Chimp will notify users via RSS when a new question has been posted.
Gravity forms will provide an immediate conformation message, and follow up once the question has been submitted, and commented on (answered). Users who ask questions will receive three layers of communication:
1. A confirmation message: this will appear on the thank you screen that appears after the question has been submitted. This URL can also be tracked in Google analytics as a conversion.
2. Notification: the user will receive an email with instructions, a secondary conversion option, phone number, or simply a timeline for expecting an answer. You can customize these emails with HTML, links, whatever you like.
3. Notified of answers: Just as blog authors receive notice when a comment is added to one of their posts, users who have asked questions are notified when their question has been answered. In order to enable this functionality, a custom send to field should be created in the question form. This allows users who have been asked a question to receive notice of an answer without the need to create a user account on your site.
SEO, Content Marketing, and Other Benefits
Whether questions are sent to a community, or distributed internally to your organization, a QA platform can be a great way of demonstrating expertise while keeping the content on your site fresh and relevant. Especially for our law firm clients, we find that is an effective way of adding user generated content to a site.
Google is showing an increased bias in favor of fresh content, and frequent QA posts make it easy to churn out relevant material, without all of the publishing burden falling on your shoulders.
Through the Gravity Forms Mail Chimp plugin, you can also give questions askers the option of joining your email distribution after they’ve asked a question.