A Guide to WordPress Email Notifications and the Discussion Settings Screen

Comment notification settings in WordPress are confusing and make little sense. You may not even realise it. We have tested, analyzed, and documented how it all works and the results aren’t what even we were expecting.

The Discussion Settings screen starts with some relatively easy to understand checkboxes. The default article settings let you choose if you would like to send and receive pingbacks/trackbacks and, most importantly enable commenting. If you aren’t sure about what pingbacks and trackbacks are and why you may want to use them check out this guide at WPKube.

The familiar Discussion Settings screen may contain more mysteries than you thought.

Next you’ll see some nuts-and-bolts comment settings that are pretty self explanatory. Things like requiring commenters to fill out their name and email (or not), how long until comments are closed on a post, etc. This area of the screen is quite simple. What we’re interested comes next: Email me whenever.

Email someone, but probably not you

There are two settings in the comment email notification area.

  • One handles email alerts when a comment is held for moderation.
  • The other notifies that a new comment has been published – which is to say it has passed moderation either automatically or due to someone manually approving it.

There is a good chance that neither of these things will actually email you.

This is way more complicated than the WordPress admin screen makes it out to be

Understanding email addresses in WordPress

The email address used in the General Settings screen may be something you aren’t paying attention to.

WordPress stores multiple email addresses that apply to administrative functions, including comment notifications. The first is the email address you’ll find in the General Settings screen.

This email address may not match your actual email address, and it may be something you never set yourself. Most times it is set automatically by your webhost and could be as generic as admin@bluehost.com. You really should go check.

The second email address is the address associated with each WordPress user. If you visit the Edit My Profile screen you’ll see you have an email address listed there as well. This is where the confusion begins.

The email address associated with your user may be different than the email address found in General Settings. Which can be a bad thing.
A whole big pile of trouble in two little checkboxes.

Despite the wording, Email me whenever does not mean you. It could mean you, it could mean the email address set in General Settings, or most commonly it could mean the user who wrote the actual post. Let’s break it down.

Stock WordPress Comment Notifications

How WordPress sends email noticifications for moderation and new comments may surprise you.
 Moderation NotificationsComment Published Notifications
Post Author
General Settings Email Address
Site Admins

Moderation Notifications

Enabling this checkbox will send notice of pending comments to two email addresses:

  1. The email address associated with the user that is the author of the post
  2. The email address you set in General Settings

New Comment Notifications

After a comment has been approved (either automatically according to your moderation settings, or manually by an author/editor/admin) only one email will be sent:

  1. The email address associated with the user that is the author of the post

That’s it.

The surprising takeaway

The only time in which email me whenever would work as the user intended is if you are running a single-user blog in which you are the admin. In the modern world of WordPress publishing that would be considered an edge case. As soon as there is a second user of any type everything goes the way of the dodo.

You could be leaving your community hanging

If any of the below scenarios applies to your site you may be missing out on important notifications and letting your commenters down by having comments stuck in moderation limbo or worse, not be replied to:

  1. If you are running a WordPress installation with more than one user
  2. You have not set a valid and active email address in General Settings
  3. If you publish posts for guest authors who do not actually log into WordPress

Fix it all with Replyable

Replyable was built to make commenting as easy as possible. This means getting the right comment and moderation notices to the right people and by making it frictionless for them to take action – whether it be approving, trashing, marking as spam, or sending a reply.

 WordPressWordPress + Replyable
Moderation Notifications
To the post author
To the General email address
To site admins (optional)
Moderate comments with a reply
New Comment Notifications
To the post author
To the General email address (optional)
To site admins (optional)
Reply to the email to send followup comment
Contextual, responsive emails that go way beyond the old standard.

Making it easier for your editorial staff and authors to manage conversations means fewer dead end threads, happier users, and continuous gains in search engine relevance.

Fixing comment notifications in WordPress is easy.

Get started with Replyable for free

We’ll continue this post next week with a deeper dive into the moderation settings found on the Discussion Settings screen including some tips for winning the war against trolls, spammers, and a deep moderation queue.

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6 comments

  1. This is a good explanation, Jason. The reason why I originally liked this plugin was how it *displayed* comments. Little did I know that I was making much easier for people to engage with the content on my site — in a way that was familiar and easy for them — though their email. So thank you for continuing to build great things.

  2. dannybrown says:

    One of the weird things I’ve always found frustrating is when you set up a contact form, and you forget to amend the default “who should this email go to” field, or there;s another field where you have to set the “from email” details.

    I tested a form on a new site I’ve just launched, and it came from some weird username of my host. Which means, if I wanted to reply to the contact, I’d have no way of doing so. Which, if I’m selling consultancy services, for example, isn’t a great thing to see happen.

    Grrrr…..

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