Over the past couple of months, commenting service Disqus has been rolling out an advertising program that it calls Promoted Discovery with relatively little fanfare (or at least without much outreach to the tech press). Now it’s ready to talk about some of the initial results.
The ad program takes advantage of the new article discovery feature that Disqus launched over the summer, which introduces a box in the comments section highlighting other articles that readers might like. Promoted Discovery is a way for advertisers and publishers to introduce sponsored links into that box.
In a blog post published on the Disqus site, David Fleck, the company’s general manager for audience, said that more than 10,000 publishers have already signed up for the program, including Investopedia, Men’s Health, Bossip, New York Observer, Smart Mom Style, and my old employer VentureBeat. Disqus is now serving 5 billion ads per month across 1.5 billion pageviews, with initial advertisers including MTV, American Express, Citibank, and Intel. Fleck wrote that 94 percent of those advertisers have committed to run programs next year, too.
The company isn’t saying anything specific about revenue or clickthrough rates (CTRs), but Fleck writes that CTRs have doubled over the past two months, as Disqus has improved its algorithms for recommending high-performing ads. (The program also employs human editors to ensure that the headlines featured in ads are both accurate and compelling.)
Fleck discussed the results with me over the phone. He said one of the hypotheses behind the program was that Disqus can drive highly engaged traffic, because commenters are likely to be “leaning forward when they see a recommended piece of content.” And he said that’s been borne out in the initial results, with advertisers finding that readers from Disqus usually “outperform similar traffic sources” (such as Facebook, Twitter, and Outbrain) by 2-3x in areas like page consumption, time spent on site, and number of comments and shares.
There have been a few surprises during this initial rollout period. For one thing, Fleck said he was surprised by the growth of the content marketing industry: “That’s something people have heard about, but brands that had exploratory budgets out of the gate have ramped up an order of magnitude higher.” He said he was also impressed by the number of advertisers using the program to drive traffic to their video content.
Next year, Disqus “will really hit the gas pedal” on the program, Fleck said. Any Disqus publisher can sign up for Promoted Discovery right now, but the company will be doing more aggressive promotion and education next year.