Disqus Review: Should You Use It with WordPress?

Engaging your visitors is vital to growing your audience, and enabling comments is one way to help you achieve this.

There are many comment plugins out there, including our own Comments +, which integrate with many social media sites, but one of the most popular commenting options available is Disqus.

It offers many impressive features, such as active logins for an extended period and one universal account for all Disqus-enabled sites. It’s a popular choice, with millions of comments posted each month.

Sounds great, but does it actually work? Will it increase user engagement on your site? I’ve tested this plugin through and through to give you the nitty-gritty details.

Disqus
Disqus, pronounced “discuss”, is a service and tool for web comments and discussions.

Disqus Comments Free Plugin Review: Should You Use It with WordPress?

What is Disqus?

Disqus is a free commenting system that can be installed across multiple CMS and site platforms, including WordPress. It allows a user to create and login to a single account in order to comment on millions of websites that have this service installed.

The WordPress plugin was created by Disqus’ founders Daniel Ha and Jason Yan in 2007. They first met in seventh grade and began developing the service years later while attending UC, Davis, before eventually dropping out.

Since then, Disqus, Inc. has grown, currently staffing 59 people and housing about 20 million comments and one billion unique visitors per month.

What’s even more impressive is the user engagement: About three billion people read comments every month and 80 million of them vote on them.

How Much Does it Cost?

Disqus is completely free to use for both you and your site’s visitors. The only cost involved is for those who wish to run non-invasive advertisements among the comments.

Using the free version means you will see ads placed above comments as your site grows, but it’s a small price to pay for free commenting software.

For qualifying sites, you can even earn money as a publisher through their Promoted Discovery program.

What Do You Get?

You and your users will have unlimited use of a comment box that will be placed on all your posts, replacing the standard WordPress comments feature.

A comment box powered by Disqus with one comment displayed beside its respective author and avatar.
Disqus comments look sleek and professional while also offering a lot of functionality and features.

You will also have access to free support, including Disqus’ Knowledge Base and community forum, in case anything should go wrong with the service on your site. It’s also easy to get in touch for one-on-one support for more specific technical issues on the plugin page in the WordPress Plugin Repository.

Disqus has many features all rolled into one plugin and service. Besides allowing visitors to comment on a post:

  • Visitors can login with Facebook, Twitter and Google+
  • Users only need one account to comment on all Disqus-powered sites
  • Comments are threaded and look professional and eye-catching
  • Visitors need to sign in only once to enable commenting for an extended period
  • Comments can be voted up or down
  • A discussion or a single comment can be shared via email or social media
  • Users can favorite and subscribe to updates of a thread

There are also many customizations and settings:

  • Comments can be stored off-site to help improve your site’s performance
  • You can choose between three different styles and two fonts
  • Automatic comment approval can be turned on or off
  • Comments can be flagged for review
  • You can choose to close comments automatically after a set number of days
  • Comments can be imported and exported
  • A custom login button can be uploaded
  • You can choose to integrate WordPress to allow site logins

For a plugin that focuses on user engagement, the features are incredibly promising, but how does Disqus stack up in real world applications?

How Does it Work?

The setup is surprisingly easy. All you need to do is sign up for a new account and then add the site you wish to display the comments.

A registration form on the Disqus website for a site to use Disqus comments on their site. It simply asks for the site name, choose the beginning of the site URL (followed by .disqus.com) and the subject category  in a drop down box.
Your site will be linked to your Disqus account after registering and the URL you choose will be where comment moderation can be accessed.

Once completed, you are then directed to a page where you can select from the many supported platforms. After choosing WordPress, you’re given step-by-step instructions on how to install the plugin.

The first three steps involve installing the Disqus plugin (go to Plugins > Add New, search for “Disqus,” and then install and activate the plugin). The fourth step requires you to follow the instructions provided under Comments > Disqus.

You’re then asked to upgrade your database by clicking Upgrade.

Once the Disqus plugin is installed and activated, and after heading over to Comments > Disqus, you are prompted to upgrade your database by clicking the "Upgrade" button.
It may seem as though a task like this would take practically forever, but within a few short seconds the upgrade was complete.

Next, you’re asked to enter your Disqus username and password, and then select the site where you would like to add Disqus comments.

The final step in the installation of Disqus comments to a site. You are asked to select the site you wish to add Disqus to from a list of pre-registered sites.
I only registered one site so it’s the only option, but you may have multiple sites listed on this screen.

You will then be sent to a confirmation page, which redirects you to a dashboard page for the plugin. This page includes a link to their site where you can manage comments and settings. There is also a settings tab in the top, right-hand corner of the page, which provides some key settings.

The plugin settings tab on the top, right corner of the plugin's dashboard page.
The plugin settings page seems to be tucked away, but skipping them could mean drastic cuts to your site’s speed and increased server load.

On the settings page you can choose to to export and sync comments to your WordPress database, upload a custom log in button, add your site’s log in to the comments and choose whether comments are automatically synced from the Disqus site to your database.

There are a few other options in case the plugin does not work on your site, along with a few other basic settings. On the Disqus site, there is a whole slew of other settings and options, such as automatic comment moderation and important account settings.

The most notable options I discovered were that your display name in the comments and your username to log in were two totally different settings.

The profile editing pop up on the Disqus member's area with the "Account" tab selected and the username listed.
On many sites across the web, your username and display name are usually the same thing by default, but not on Disqus.

Instead, your username is randomly generated as shown above and unless you change it or memorize it, you may very well have difficulties logging in to comment. Luckily, you are also able to log in with your email address, which you provide on sign up.

There’s also the option to choose whether comments are automatically approved or held for review before being posted publicly. By default, comments are approved.

You can also enable media attachments and automatically remove comments that are flagged as inappropriate.

A selection of general Disqus settings including pre-moderation, media attachments and flagging comments
If you’re worried about spam, there’s an option for holding comments when they contain links. You can also pre-approve URLs.

Beyond the general settings are options to appoint additional moderators, blacklist users, and delete all comments permanently.

It took all of three-to-five minutes to install and sett up Disqus on my test site. I was immediately able to see the new comments area load when I refreshed an existing post. I had no issues logging in and commenting.

Ratings

Learning Curve / Ease of Use

Setting up the plugin was an easy and straightforward process and the settings were clearly explained. My only issue surrounds some of the settings. If you’re not attentive, you may miss default settings that could prove to be problematic in the future. For example, all comments are set to be approved automatically. If you wish to hold comments for moderation, you need to manually adjust the settings in your account on the Disqus site.

The plugin’s dashboard page displays a Go to Disqus Moderation button with no mention of important additional settings, which may require your attention.

There are also plugin settings, which could potentially put a severe strain on your site’s resources and this isn’t made clear, either.

For these reasons, I couldn’t give a perfect score for this criterion.

Features

Disqus certainly isn’t short on functionality. It seamlessly integrates comments into your site and will even automatically display avatars or gravatars that are attached to the account or email used to sign in.

It’s great features like this that create a smooth and hassle-free user experience. Disqus makes it so easy for users to interact with your content and leave comments using existing login credentials for Disqus.

I first joined Disqus to comment on an article I happened upon and normally wouldn’t have bothered leaving a message in order to avoid jumping through hoops and signing up for a site I probably wouldn’t visit again. When I saw how I could easily sign in without creating an additional account, I was sold.

I even went ahead and made a Disqus account since the sign up form was quick and hassle-free.

Under a Disqus comment box, log in options are available or otherwise you can create a Disqus account by only entering your name, email and desired password as shown in this image.
With such simple sign up options that would grant me instant access to commenting, I figured I’d go for it. I didn’t even know what Disqus was at the tine or that I could comment on many sites with this one account.

Though these features are great for me, not everyone will find them appealing them. Some concerns may arise with visitors who may be worried that their social media profile details will be available to strangers or that comments are shared in their Facebook feeds or tweets.

Since Disqus doesn’t allow anonymous comments, it may turn people away from engaging. This feature is great for filtering spam comments, but if your audience doesn’t prefer Disqus over other options, it may be time to look for another option such as our own Comments + plugin.

All things considered, Disqus offers numerous features that are optimal for user engagement in most cases. A full score is rightfully earned for these reason.

Out of the box

This plugin worked very well right from the start. Integration into my test site was seamless and I didn’t run into any issues. As I’ve already touched upon – and will continue to mention – I did find fault in the default settings, which could potentially cause future problems.

While the plugin worked great immediately after installation, the default settings will not be sufficient for everyone and could easily cause problems.

Reliability

Disqus is a reliable service when the optimal settings are used; you are able to export copies of comments as backups and will likely not see any service disruptions.

Security issues are also dealt with in a timely manner as was discovered by the Cross-site Request Forgery vulnerabilities, which were quickly solved last year.

One of the downsides to this plugin is a potential lack of quality of comments since anyone can sign up for a Disqus account without providing a real name or photo. You may still receive spam comments, although, Disqus does a great job in filtering spam from genuine posts.

However, with anonymity it’s not uncommon for comments to get out of hand when trolling inevitably occurs. Insults and down-right rude behavior may be a result for which you need to be prepared.

Comments like this:

A comment using Disqus saying "It's called free speech. Use it or lose it."
This is the PG version of many comments out there that are, let’s say, less than constructive.

Even worse, you may even get hugely off-topic and down right offensive comments like this one (NSFW):

NSFW: An offensive comment using Disqus reading, "Everybody knows women are whores and men are pigs, come on."
This is a small sample of what’s unfortunately out there in large sums. Surfing comments is not always a good idea.

I can’t say a plugin is entirely reliable and carries through its promises when comments like these are far too common, even if the plugin itself runs quite well.

If you are considering using this plugin, you need to seriously think about the impact it could have on your site and your audience. If you wish to run a professional site, Disqus may not be for you.

It’s also not sustainable when you factor in its resource consumption, which could run rampant if you’re not careful.

Resource Consumption / Speed

The biggest issue I noticed was with the option to automatically enable comment syncing from the Disqus server to your WordPress database. This would allow all comments to be stored in your database as well as off-site.

If many comments are made and database syncing is on, you will notice large drops in your site’s speed and an increase in your server load.

The more comments you have, the more your server will be placed under pressure. This could cause an issue with many sites that host with VPS or dedicated servers, but the biggest concern is for sites using shared hosting. Resources are often limited in such cases and if your site becomes heavy with comments, you will likely see the strain damage your site rather quickly. You may even exhaust your resources, which would result in your site being disabled until you purchase more server space or other similar options.

The more I commented and put pressure on the plugin, the more I noticed these effects. It was subtle, but for sites with hundreds or thousands of comments, it could mean a serious drain on resources.

If you’re not prepared and do not disable automatic syncing, you could very well run into problems in the future.

This is not an uncommon issue, either. Many users have reported dramatic drains on their resources that occurred only after installing Disqus on their WordPress site.

If you plan on using this plugin, I would strongly recommend at least a VPS housing for your site as the resource consumption is noticeably high with dramatic drops in site speed.

Conclusion

Rich features and an incredible user experience are what make this plugin great and drive user engagement on sites around the world, with 20 million comments per month overall.

It’s no wonder why Disqus is so popular among its some one billion unique monthly visitors.

However, increased server load, hits to site speed and comment trolls are an unfortunate reality if you install this plugin, so it’s worth doing your own investigations before using Disqus.

Successfully using this plugin ultimately lies in your specific needs, though I don’t recommend this plugin on shared hosting plans. For everyone else, Disqus can provide a great commenting system if you’re well prepared.

If you’re still sitting on the fence about Disqus, it may be helpful for you to check out alternatives such as our own Comments + and Chat plugins.

If you would rather use WordPress’ default comments system, you can customize it to reduce spam: How To Remove The URL Field From WordPress Comments.

You may also be interested in our posts 16 Plugins to Help You Communicate With Your Users and Slideout Your WordPress Comments Just Like The New York Times.

What are your thoughts on the Disqus plugin? Share them in the comments below.

The Good

  • Incredibly easy to install with no coding required
  • Entirely compatible with Multisite
  • There are many available settings to help reduce spam
  • Users can login with other social media accounts for increased usability
  • Only one account is needed to access all sites with Disqus, increasing engagement
  • It's free and there are many third party add-on plugins that are also free

The Bad

  • Users can create an account with a fake name, which allows for trolling
  • If something goes wrong, support is hard to come by, although it is free
  • It's easy to reduce the speed and massively increase server load without realizing it
  • Most other comment or subscribe to posts plugins will be completely unusable
  • Uninstalling leaves excess metadata in your database tables, reducing site speed
  • Many settings aren't obvious and can reduce usability for yourself and your users

Our Verdict

  • Learning curve / ease of use:
  • Features:
  • Out of the box:
  • Reliability:
  • Resource Consumption / Speed:
  • Overall:

14 Responses

  • New Recruit

    I’m not sure you can criticise in one paragraph…

    “Since Disqus doesn’t allow anonymous comments, it may turn people away from engaging. ”

    …and then moments later…

    “One of the downsides to this plugin is a potential lack of quality of comments since anyone can sign up for a Disqus account without providing a real name or photo. You may still receive spam comments, although, Disqus does a great job in filtering spam from genuine posts.”

    You cannot have it both ways!

    As a commenter, I’m always pleased to see sites using Disqus – one login to remember for all sites plus great notifications when people follow-up on my comments.

    • Hey Dear Geek,

      Thanks for your feedback!

      The way I see it, it unfortunately does go both ways since anyone can sign up with a fake name and not add a profile picture. Even though they’re technically not anonymous since they comment with an account, they remain a mystery since they do not use their real identity. Although guest commenting is an option, it’s not one that’s available by default and depends solely on the settings from site to site. This means that anonymity is a factor whether or not someone signs up for an account. I tried my best to explain this in the article, but it seems I could have done a better job explaining it.

      Disqus is definitely a great option to see for those who comment. I personally love seeing that option as well since there only is one login to remember like you mentioned.

      Cheers,

      Jenni McKinnon

  • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    You critisise the server load of disqus based on its setting to house the comments within the database yet you provide no evidence whether turning that setting off so that it only loads from the disqus server made a difference?

    Also isn’t storing comments in the database what every other comment plugin for wordpress does anyway? 100,000 comments is going to put a strain on server load no matter what plugin it’s running through….

    • Hey Dr_Scythe,

      You make a compelling point. Thanks for the feedback. The thought crossed my mind, but I didn’t add any of that information since there are so many factors that go into determining the server load as I touched upon in the article including that not everyone will have my particular setup, but through my research I found my findings to be generally true.

      Switching off the syncing mode did help load times, but I mentioned it the way I did in my article because this was not the default setting and I was testing the plugin out of the box, without adjusting any settings as suggested by the post.

      That’s very true. If you’re using other comment plugins, you may find a strain on your server, but many plugins handle this well by default while I found Disqus did not.

      Hope that clears things up a bit.

      Cheers,

      Jenni McKinnon

  • Design Lord, Child of Thor

    Hi!
    Despite the fact the article is well documented and well written, I think it missed the point.
    The point of externalize comments is to bring the comments control back to the user. How many times did I left a comment on a website comment system and I was not able to edit it or to delete it… ? What if I want to see all trace I left here on here if every website has it own comment system ? Bringing the data ownership back to the person who wrote it, it is for me the best way to engaging comment. i can change name and avatar, it will be actualized on all website. It is the feeling of identity on the web and I feel the data belongs to me.

    Secondly, some mistakes.
    Quote : Since Disqus doesn’t allow anonymous comments, it may turn people away from engaging.
    It does. It is called guest comment.

    SPAM?
    I neve guet one in five years (multiple website running)

    Slow server ?
    Well what would you synch the comment to your server? The idea is to externalize to gain speed!
    More, the comments are lazy loading. So it may take time, but nothing disturbing.

    So why not using discuss?
    -no html in content
    -no linked to wordpress user name (if you run some kind website with users account, stick with the default comment system). This is the main reason of why you wouldn’t use disqus.
    -no open data. I mean there is even more ‘free’ comment system outhere. If disqus one day choose to add advertisement everywhere, this would be bad. We can trust them so far as they didn’t do it.
    -there is other engaging way to mesure the quality of a conversation. Look for discourse.

    In conclusion:
    Disqus is pefect for small websites that doesn’t need user account. It’s ability to centralize all comment for its user is definitely one of the best idea it has to offer.

    • Hey ExtremRaym,

      Thanks for your feedback!

      I did talk about the features you mentioned, but certainly not in length since I wanted the article to be quick and easy to read, rather than dragging on for each and every point. You’re certainly right, though. Disqus definitely gets an A+ for UX.

      I wrote and tested this plugin out of the box. By default, guest comments are not enabled so anonymous comments are not possible. Even when someone signs up, they do not need to enter in their real name or add a real photo of themselves as an avatar so even though they’re not technically anonymous, they still remain a mystery.

      As I mentioned in the article, Disqus has an amazing filter for spam comments, although, occasionally it does come up even if it is rare for many users. I’m glad to hear you had a positive experience in this respect.

      As I mentioned earlier, I tested and wrote about this plugin out of the box and by default, syncing is enabled. This is why I mentioned it in the article since it could pose a serious risk for users on shared hosting platforms.

      You make some great points there. Disqus currently does plan on inserting advertisements in between comments through their Promoted Discovery Program. From what I found, they’re only running it on large, popular sites at the moment. I wasn’t able to find specific dates for this info, though.

      You make another great point! Editing comments is certainly a useful feature and it’s been mentioned to us already and is under consideration to be added to our comments section. Thanks for mentioning that. :)

      Hope that clears things up.

      Cheers,

      Jenni McKinnon

  • Flash Drive

    Hi Jenni,

    First and foremost, I went and check my settings for Disqus. Importing comments isn’t enabled by default.

    Secondly, Jason Cohen of WPEngine himself recommends Disqus, as it helps lessen the burden on the server :) As such, please do not advertise your plugins if they don’t do the same (load comments off server)

    • Hey Leokoo,

      Hmmm weird. I created a fresh install of WordPress with a fresh install of the Disqus plugin and found that there were defaulted syncing settings enabled. In fact, when I view the settings now, the option available is to disable automated syncing, not enable it.

      As I mentioned in other responses to the comments above, this review is written for Disqus out of the box and since I found database syncing to be enabled by default, this could cause issues for many people if they aren’t aware of it.

      Also, everyone’s comment needs are not identical. There are many people out there that will indeed praise Disqus, but as I mentioned in the article, it may not be the right choice for everyone depending on what they’re looking for and this is why I mentioned an alternative.

      I specifically did not want to mention a comparable plugin to Disqus because if it doesn’t work for someone, why would they want to use a plugin that’s basically the same and will have the same features they don’t like? I didn’t think it would make much sense and that’s my reasoning behind it.

      Hope that clears things up. There’s a reason why Disqus is very popular and it can certainly be an optimal choice for many, but I also wanted to be as fair as possible with this review and set my own bias aside (since I personally like Disqus) to offer a more objective view.

      Cheers,

      Jenni McKinnon

      • Flash Drive

        Hey Jenni!

        Appreciate your quick reply :) Hmm, perhaps if you plan to review Disqus, do consider the following

        1) Review a number of similar plugins. You can then have one final summary with a review table. Authorhreview’s WP Rich Snippets plugin have that feature, if you’re keen. Only by reviewing a number of similar plugins, can we know if the current plugin we’re reviewing (in this case, Disqus), is good enough, or better

        2) Import a few hundred (if not a few thousand comments) and run performance test on GTMetrix and Tools from Pingdom on these plugins. By then only can we tell if the plugin is performing or if there’s a better alternative.

        Btw, I still feel Disqus outperforms WPMU Dev’s own Comments+ plugin, as it is hosted elsewhere.

        • Hey again Leokoo,

          Those are great suggestions! I’ll see what I can do. :)

          Use whatever works for you. :) In my mind, it’s like comparing apples to oranges – they’re both fruits, but they’re inherently too different to really say which one tastes better, especially when it all depends on preference. Some people who do not like one plugin may like the other because they have such different features and capabilities. If you prefer Disqus, all the power to you. :)

          Cheers,

          Jenni McKinnon

Comments are closed.