How to get success with social news/bookmarking sites
Anyone who has been frontpaged on Digg knows what happens; but it's hard to experience (even more so if your site falls within a niche that sits comfortably outside of mainstream interest). I've experienced sufficient coverage on most of the major players so I feel it worth documenting what to expect on each - and also whether it's a good idea or not. The trick is embracing the sense of shameless self promotion that has to go with submitting your own content to these sites.
Why wouldn't it be a good idea?
Traffic is traffic right? So surely getting lots of it is a good idea - whatever the situation? No. It's one thing to have your idea exposed to the 10 visitors a day you get from Google (who were actively searching your information) and it's something entirely different to have 10,000 people thrust in your direction. You have to appreciate that the users of social news/bookmarking sites don't always have an information requirement, they're just there to express their opinion. If your content is written badly or your idea sucks then you will certainly hear about it. I wrote an article back in February outlining some simple tips on how to get on the Digg front page which should help.
"Submitting your own content to these places is good because not all coverage is organic"
Exposing your fresh-faced content to 10,000 people is an "experience" that is likely to damage your confidence and you probably don't need that while you're trying to get going. It takes a while before you realise that people who don't like your idea are far more likely to give you a piece of their mind. If you're not ready for the occasional torrent of hate that things like Digg bring - then you're not ready for Digg. And that's without even touching the notion of whether your server can handle it.
Start small, aim bigger
Ultimately Digg is the king of these sites because I've witnessed it send over 10,000 people in a matter of hours and it prompts the other sites to show you attention too. It's not necessarily a good idea to aim at Digg straight away because you need to learn how to handle these users, write your content specifically for them etc. Aiming at sites like Furl, Fark and some of the lesser known niche ones is a good thing to do. Your success rates there should help you tailor your content towards the correct markets.
How Digg sends traffic
The traffic structure when you get "Dugg" is a funny one. You'll have massive numbers of visitors for the first couple of hours and it'll keep going for 6 hours or so before slowing somewhat. 24 hours later it's largely finished sending people in your direction but round two of the traffic-storm is about to start. You see, if people had an opinion about your submission then it's likely they wrote about it somewhere - occasionally someone who actually has readers will blog about your content... You see where this goes? You then get referals from them.
Digg starts you being Stumbled (StumbleUpon)
The funny thing is, if you're Dugg it's almost certain that within a week you'll be hit by StumbleUpon users - hard. StumbleUpon is a weird creature; it sends traffic in surges but it sends a LOT of it. Looking at my statistics StumbleUpon is the second highest referer for Seopher.com (at 18.35%) behind Google's 21.87% domination. It's odd because of how distributed the traffic becomes. Also (quite helpfully) content can be stumbled more than once (unlike places like Digg). Meaning if you wrote some good content that got Stumbled 2 months ago, it may actually rise again (as this has happened to me a couple of times). I wrote an article a while ago that details quite how much you can do with social bookmarking sites.
Here we have a social bookmarking site where users can save websites of Interest to their bookmarks - however, "hot" topics (ones that are being bookmarked a lot) are shown on the front page. The quality of user from del.icio.us is actually quite good because they have a vague information requirement which means they're likely to read your content. I was on the frontpage of it only yesterday for my 70 coolest applications post and 1 in 4 readers read more than JUST the article they landed on.
You should try and target your content for the site that's right for you
Not every site is suitable for you. It's unlikely that your content will sit happily on Slashdot: you need to still try and work within your niche. More importantly you need to understand the user in order to get the content right.
Understand the user
Using Digg as an example; Digg users are vast in number, highly judgemental and astonishingly childish. They see so many new sites a day that if yours doesn't offer them something within the first 3-4 seconds of the content loading then they're off again. Reddit users tend to be more thoughtful and scientific, meaning you'll get constructive criticism more than "OMG THIS PAGE SUCKS TEH FAT ONE!!". You need to understand what the reader of each site is different.
And there you have it. Submitting your own content to social sites is a good idea and I highly recommend it because not all coverage is organic. The purpose of sites like Reddit and Digg is to allow normal users to submit items of interest and let the wisdom of the crowds determine it's usefulness. However, for your site to organically make it's way there you actually need to have snagged a few of these readers in the first place.
Ensure your server can handle it and focus on writing good content targetted towards those of us who use social news/bookmarking sites and you should do just fine.
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