Disqus: Testing the Targeted Ad Market for Web Comments
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a “Jump to Comments” button to help readers skip over the ad.
Hubspot’s Bodnar says publishers may find the ad feature too invasive, or too much of a distraction from their own content. The question is whether they’ll accept the ads or forego their free Disqus service.
“Yes, moderating comments is painful, but it’s pain on the publisher’s part,” Bodnar says. “But an ad on top of the comments section is pain and suffering for the reader.”
Alternatives for managing online comments include the anti-spam software offered by WordPress; IntenseDebate, a unit of San Francisco-based Automattic; and Portland, ORE-based Muut, an online comments and discussion forum.
Fleck says Disqus will succeed even if it loses big media outfits who may be turned off by its new ad feature. The large number of smaller publishers that are independent of media conglomerates will make up for the loss in traffic, he says. These smaller sites, such as Disqus user SuperHero Hype, appeal to specialized audiences that advertisers want to reach, Fleck says.
While publishers can’t opt out of Sponsored Comments completely, they can block ads from specific companies, Fleck says. For example, an environmental group can veto ad content from companies such as Chevron or Shell that might conflict with their mission, he says.
“Publishers can blacklist companies they don’t want to have—we respect that, for sure,” Fleck says.
I later asked Fleck in follow-up messages whether a publisher can eliminate whole industry categories such as “oil companies” from ads on their sites, without entering every company name from that business sector.
The reply came from Steve Roy, vice president of marketing at Disqus. In an e-mail to Xconomy, Roy said Disqus is building “a suite of controls for publishers to manage their advertising mix. While I can’t speak to the exact mechanics of how controls will work, conflict management will be a part of it.”
Roy’s message also suggested the possibility that some websites will be exempt from the obligation to host Sponsored Comments.
“Over time, as advertiser demand grows, there’s the potential for ads to reach the majority of the Disqus network of sites,” Roy wrote. “However, there will be important exception classes of sites where advertising doesn’t make sense.”
If a site is considering adopting or keeping Disqus, how would they know if they’re part of the “exception classes?” I asked Roy. Can they choose to be?
“Every site that will have advertising is given advance notice. We’ve been communicating with publishers about this since November and we’ll continue to do that,” Roy wrote. “Feedback is an important part of this process.”
There’s another possible concern for Disqus: Is this the best time to test a mandatory ad feature that publishers may see as a headache? In recent years, notable publishers such as Popular Science, Reuters, and Re/code have eliminated their online comments sections altogether, moving discussions about their content to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
I asked Roy to comment on this.
“For publishers that do value engaging with their audience, Disqus offers the best service to do that and the only one that monetizes reader engagement,” Roy said. “We think that’s a compelling proposition.”
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