While everybody that blogs really likes to get comments to find out what people think of your writing, a look at the statistics you get from the plugins I looked at last time, will tell you most folks do not say much. In fact, most of them do not say anything at all. But there are other ways to find out what they think. One of those ways is to use a poll. There are a lot of polling agencies out there, but if you can’t afford to hire AC Nielsen or Gallup, you can use one of these plugins to at least get an idea.
WP-Polls uses AJAX to add polls to your blog. It actually gives you two plugins, one for a sidebar widget if you want to place polls there, the other to actually make the polls work. The plugin gives you another section on your dashboard menu, where you can create your polls and control how they show up on your site.
Adding polls is pretty straight forward. Type your question into the text field, then the answers you want them to choose from in the answer fields. You have to have 2 answers, but can easily have more than that. And you can allow the reader to pick more than one choice at a time, up to the number of answers in the poll. And you have the choice of having the poll expire at a set time in the future, very handy if you use polls frequently. You can place polls in the sidebar widget, or on any page or post using a shortcode.
On the Options page, you control how the polls are presented, from the color of the and style of the graph bar, to the order in which answers are presented. You also set who exactly can vote, and how the plugin determines if someone has voted before on a poll. It also allows you to set up a page for the results of all of your polls, showing either the finished, open, or both types. The final option you can pick is what will be displayed in the sidebar widget if you use it. If you want multiple polls in the sidebar, you need to choose which ones will appear in the widget itself, otherwise you can control which will be there from either the option page or the widget controls.
Then there is the page of Poll Templates. It has text boxes where you can control the look of the polls, the poll results, and the poll archive page, and includes a very large number of variables that you can use for doing that. This is incredibly handy if you want to make your polls and/or results stand out from the rest of your blog and are comfortable tinkering with html and/or CSS. Or you can completely ignore it if you want to, the supplied styles work fairly well.
Finally, there is the Uninstall page. It goes into your database and removes all the information that the plugin has placed there, including both poll data and tables the plugin needed to work. This is very nice, helping keep your database cleaned up if you decide you do not want the plugin. It would be nice if more plugin developers would do this kind of thing.
PollDaddy Polls has no options at all. At least not on your blog. What it does is allow you to place polls you create on PollDaddy.com (ran by the same folks that own WordPress) on a page of your blog using a shortcode. This means that you must have an account on PollDaddy, but they are free and easy to set up.
Creating polls is also easy, with PollDaddy allowing you to use any number of answers, and even letting you use a variety of media as possible answers. They also give you multiple language choices, let you set it so that the poll takers can add answers, and have a variety of different looks you can use for your poll. Or you can create your own custom styles using their website if you want to make it fit into your site better.
Setting up a poll on PollDaddy is quite easy, with a large number of options available for making it personalized. You only get the percentage of people that answered a question unless you pay for membership at PollDaddy, but that is probably sufficient for most of what you will want to know from your readers. And it has the benefit of not using your server resources.
MicroPoll is also an outside polling service that you access through this plugin. You can use the widget that is installed to place a poll in your sidebar, or copy code from the website and place it on a page on your blog. You can either use a particular poll or have the poll change randomly among ones you have created.
The set up for polls is not as easy as on PollDaddy, and the customization is not as versatile, but it does provide much better analytics for your polls on the free account. If you really want to know where you poll takers are coming from , but are short of money for the PollDaddy accounts, this is a decent option to take.
So there are 3 decent options to find out what your silent readers want. They are not as satisfying as getting actual comments, and the feedback is probably not as detailed. But people will click a button to register their opinion much more often then they will put words in your comment box.
You can use polls as a way of getting your readers more involved and sparking your imagination for posts to write. Darren Rowse (aka ProBlogger) has developed this technique to a very fine degree on his Digital Photography School. He uses his weekly polls as the basis of posts, and uses them to engage his readers on his site. After you vote that you use your camera in a particular way, you naturally want to leave a comment to explain your vote. And once someone has left one comment, they are more likely to keep doing so.
This kind of thing may not work on every blog, but it is something to keep in mind. The worst thing that can happen if you try it is people don’t vote. Which does not leave you any worse off then you started.