Today, I have a sad blogging tale for you, especially if you use the commenting widget, Disqus, on your blog. I started writing a quick blurb about this for my Tuesday Entertainment blogging
post, but it became rather long, and considering the popularity of Disqus, I thought it might be worthy of it’s own post.
A couple years ago, I jumped on the Disqus blog commenting bandwagon. A lot of bloggers (especially those on Blogger) were using it because Disqus makes it easier to respond to comments on your blog. You respond once, and the person who commented gets an automatic email with your response in case they want to continue the conversation. Since responding to every comment via email was becoming more popular, this streamlined the process.
I was a little skeptical, because I think Disqus also makes it harder to visit the blogs of commenters (unless they add their blog to their Disqus profile, there is no way of finding their blog). But the ease of responding and the clean look won me over. I got the widget, made sure my blog was linked from my Disqus profile, and I didn’t look back.
Where It All Went Downhill
A few months ago I was offered a sponsored post from an online Shopping company. It was before Eid, and I could use the extra cash for presents, so I jumped on it. One of their few requirements was that I not use affiliate links
in that particular post. No problem,
I thought, because I rarely use affiliate links anyway unless it’s for something very specific.
The post went live, and I sent the company my links so they could approve the post…and they emailed back letting me know they had detected affiliate links in the post. What? So I went to click on a few links to see if I could catch what they were talking about, and indeed, an affiliate network redirect was attached to each link.
What was this? Had I been hacked?
I apologized profusely to the company and let them know I was getting to the bottom of these links. I spent literally the entire day trying to figure it out. I checked the html of the post. Nothing. I clicked on product links in other posts, and spotted the same redirect, and realized it had to be something in my blog template. I spent hours scouring the html of my template, trying to find the piece of code that was doing this. I tried out my template on my design test blog, and it was the same problem. I tested out an entirely new template and it didn’t fix the problem. I could not figure it out! I was crying as I finally decided to remove every gadget on my blog to see if that helped anything.
And then I deleted the Disqus gadget I was using for blog comments. Poof. Problem solved. I no longer saw any affiliate links in my posts.
Of course by then my template was in shambles from all my hunting, and I had to re-install everything and contact the girl who designed my current template so she could help me fix it. What a mess!
I tried spreading my sorry tale in a small Facebook blogging group, and no one else reported the same problem back (yet), but I can’t help but wonder if they weren’t looking close enough. I checked out a couple other blogs with Disqus, and I did see the same type of affiliate links on those blogs as well. I tried to find an email for the company who runs Disqus to let them know that their gadget may have been hijacked to insert affiliate links without the site-owner’s permission (which is what I thought was happening at the time), but I couldn’t find any contact information or support email.
So now I’m telling you, in case any of you has Disqus! You should know that somebody somewhere might be making money off of your blog links without your knowledge.
I had this same problem one other time with a different gadget, an old analytics
gadget called Sitemeter that had apparently been hacked to include affiliate links as well (Sitemeter has long since been deleted from my blog). Some external gadgets don’t necessarily update their security measures, and over time they can be hacked and the code used for purposes like this. I don’t know if that is what is going on with Disqus or not, but my experience with Sitemeter makes me wonder. I wish I had remembered that previous problem gadget before I tore my whole layout apart trying to figure out the culprit – which was Disqus!
What Should You Do?
If you want to see if your Disqus gadget has turned on you as well, try linking to an online clothing store in a post (I tested with a Forever21 product link). Then go to the post on your blog, and click the link while watching your web address bar. It should go to the page smoothly and show only the clothing store link in the address field – if you see an odd flash of a different address before it switches to the clothing store link, that’s an affiliate link.
Needless to say, I removed Disqus, and I have since been a little more suspicious of externally-made gadgets (i.e. those outside of the ones that are included in Blogger). Finding unsuspected affiliate links has happened to me twice now, and I know that I have never had problems with Blogger’s internal gadgets.
If you want my recommendation, I would test out your links. If you find the same issue of affiliate links that you didn’t add yourself and weren’t aware of, remove all Disqus code from your blog (update! or view the first comment below on how to turn off these affiliate links).
The good news is that Blogger has improved the look and formatting of their internal commenting system since the days when I installed Disqus! I still have to respond via e-mail separately, but that is a price worth paying to keep my blog free of these types of issues.
Do you use Disqus for blog comments?