Online Marketing Lesson 40: Social Bookmarking Secrets

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Social bookmarking sites allow users to store and organize bookmarks of pages from around the Web. They are “social” because the users can interact with each other. On most sites, for example, you can add and remove friends, exchange messages and bookmarks with those friends, comment on the submissions of other users and even create micro-communities around specific topics of interest.

The second factor that makes those websites “social” is the interpretation of the overall user activity to determine what stories (or bookmarks) are hot on the Web. Some of the sites let their users vote the submissions up or down, using an algorithm to evaluate the most popular ones (e.g., StumbleUpon.com). Other sites merely track the number of times that each story was bookmarked (e.g., Delicious.com).

Regardless of how they do it, most social bookmarking sites have a “front page” where the popular stories get featured, and as a consequence those stories get a lot of attention and a huge amount of traffic. There are cases of websites receiving over 100,000 visitors from a single story that got featured on the front page of Digg.com, for instance.

It is easy to see why social bookmarking sites should be a part of any online marketing plan. Getting traffic from those sites is not as straight forward as submitting the stories from your website, though. In this lesson we will explain how things work behind the scenes, so that you increase your chances of success.

Don’t Try to Game the System

A first warning that we need to put forth is that you should not try to game the system. Success with social bookmarking sites comes from understanding how they work and optimizing some factors to maximize the exposure that your content will get, and not from trying to manipulate things.

There are services on the web that sell votes on social bookmarking sites, for example. You basically pay a certain amount of money, and they guarantee that your submission will get 100 or 200 diggs (i.e. up votes on the Digg.com website).

The problem is that these tricks rarely work. At best, therefore, you will lose time and money. At worst you will get your website banned, and will not be able to get any more traffic from the social bookmarking site.

The 5 Steps to Success

If you want to generate traffic with social bookmarking websites, you will need to go through the 5 steps that we describe below. In reality big websites (e,g,. blogs with over 100,000 subscribers) only need to care about the first 3 points, but since it is pretty rare to find one of those, you can assume that all 5 points are essential.

1. Quality Content

It all starts with the quality of your content. If you have superb content, there are chances that you will get some traffic from social bookmarking sites even without actively seeking it. This will come from visitors or readers who will spontaneously submit or bookmark your articles or pages.

If your content is low quality, on the other hand, you won’t have success with social bookmarking sites, regardless of how hard you try.

Obviously “quality content” is subjective. Something that you like might seem terrible to another person, and vice-versa. So how do you find what the users of a certain website deem as quality content? It is simple, visit that website on a regular basis and study what kind of content is featured on the front page or gets the higher number of votes.

2. Good Match with the Site

Apart from having good quality, your content must also match the style of the social bookmarking site where you want to get traffic from. Every social site has a community around it, and each community has its preferences and tacit rules.

Fark.com, for example, is a social bookmarking site for funny, weird and bizarre stories. If you submit your article titled “Top 100 Free Education Resources” there, your submission will probably get buried and you won’t get any traffic. And this will happen not because your content is low quality, but rather because it didn’t match the style of the social site in question.

3. Good Submission

On most social bookmarking sites, the quality of the initial submission influences the chances of a story going hot and getting a lot of exposure. The two main factors that affect the quality of the submission are: the profile of the submitter and the title and description used in the submission.

The stronger the profile of the submitter, the higher the chances of the story getting votes and getting promoted to the front page. Similarly, the better the title and the description, the higher the chances of the story getting noticed and voted by users of the site.

4. Initial Push

Every hour there are hundreds of stories being submitted to the major social bookmarking sites. Unless your website already has a huge audience, therefore, your own submissions are probably going to disappear among all that activity.

You can combat this problem by giving your submissions an initial push. There are several ways to do this. If you are a member of some community or online forum, for example, you could post about the story you are trying to promote there. Alternatively you could ask your friends over instant messaging or email.

The important thing is to be transparent, by stating that people should only vote if they find the story interesting and worth it.

5. Diversity of Votes

Giving an initial push is not the same as always having the same users voting on your stories. Most social bookmarking sites have algorithms to identify this group behavior, and they might discount the votes or even ban your website.

To avoid these risks, it is important to have diversity in your votes, and the easiest way to achieve this is by letting the stories flow as naturally as possible in the social bookmarking sites.

For example, vary the friends or communities that you ask to support your submissions, and give some time for the stories to receive natural votes from the users of the social bookmarking site, too. Secondly, if you see that one of your submissions is not doing well, just let it be. You can’t force a story to the front page. Either the community likes it, or it doesn’t.

Growing Your Network

Growing a network of friends who also want to get traffic from social bookmarking sites can significantly improve your chances of success. You will be able to ask for help when giving an initial push to your stories, and also to exchange ideas and strategies to promote stories more efficiently.

How do you go about growing your network, though? The best ways are via email and instant messaging. Whenever you talk with fellow webmasters and bloggers via email and instant messaging, mention that if they want some help to promote their stories on social media, they just need to give you a shout. Some people will ignore you, but others will say “thanks” and actually send you some stories.

Do not approach this networking part by sending requests for votes on your stories out of the blue. Remember the golden rule: give before you ask.

Individual Sites

The concepts that we illustrated above apply to virtually all social bookmarking sites. Each site has its own features and nuances, however, and below we will talk about the major ones individually.

Digg.com

Digg is one of the largest social bookmarking sites, and if you get featured on its front page, you can expect to receive a horde of visitors (usually this varies from 10,000 up to 100,000). Another advantage of getting featured on the Digg front page is that it leads to many backlinks and mentions.

The downside is that Digg works under a make-or-break system. That is, you either make it to the front page, or you will hardly receive any traffic.

As with most social bookmarking sites, getting your stories submitted by a power user can drastically improve your chances of landing a front page. It will give you all sorts of data regarding Digg, including which users sent more submissions to the front page over the last 24 hours, 7 days, 30 days and 365 days.

You will find links to the Digg profile of those power users, and many of them list their websites or instant messaging information publicly. This means that you can approach them and try to build a relationship. Many people spam those users asking for votes and submissions, so getting their attention won’t be easy. If you use a good approach, offer something in return, and don’t rush it, however, it is perfectly possible to add them to your network.

Here is practical guideline to Digg submissions:

  1. Get someone with a good profile to submit the story (not necessarily a power user, but someone who is active and has at least one front page).
  2. Make sure that the story gets submitted to the right category, and that it has a catchy title.
  3. Wait 30 minutes (for some natural votes) and then give it a push.
  4. Ask your friends to vote on the story (via email or IM).
    Space the votes in time (e.g., one vote every 10 minutes).
  5. Diversify the sources of the votes (e.g., ask some people to vote on the button inside your website, others on the Digg shortened URL, others yet on the “Upcoming” section).
  6. Aim to get your story featured in the “Hot” sidebar of the upcoming section of its macro category.
  7. After that Digg users will either vote on the story and send it to the front page, or 24 hours will pass and your story will disappear from the “Upcoming” section.

StumbleUpon.com

The main difference on StumbleUpon is that it doesn’t have a “front page.” Since this social bookmarking site works around a browser toolbar, the internal algorithm figures what stories are getting good feedback from its users and then it displays the popular stories to a higher number of users.

In other words, it is not a make-or-break situation. Even if your story doesn’t get hundreds of votes (called “thumbs up”) you might still get a good amount of traffic, say 500 or 1,000 visitors. If the story becomes popular, on the other hand, you could receive over 10,000 visitors.

Another benefit of StumbleUpon is the fact that its traffic lasts over time. The peak usually happens within 48 hours of the submission, but the traffic can last for weeks and even months.

The profile of the submitter is not as important as on Digg. Instead, the diversity of the votes plays an important role. A second factor that many people believe to be important in the StumbleUpon algorithm is the period within which the votes will come. That is, the faster your story gets voted up, the higher the chances of getting traffic. Finally, user reviews are also important.

Here is practical guideline to Stumble submissions:

  1. Only actively promote your best content.
    Get someone with a good profile to submit the story (not necessarily a power user, but someone who is active).
  2. Bever ask the same person to submit two stories from your website in a row.
  3. Make sure that the submitter will add a review too, as this can improve the chances of getting traffic.
  4. Ask your friends to vote on the story (via email or IM).
  5. Use the “Send to” feature in the toolbar and send the story to your StumbleUpon friends.
  6. Ask some friends to add a review to the page.
  7. After that it will be in the hands of the StumbleUpon users.

Action Points

  1. Study the front page (or the popular stories) on the social bookmarking sites that you want to get traffic from, and try to understand what kind of content the community likes.
  2. Start building a network of friends who also want to get traffic from social bookmarking sites.
  3. Start experimenting on Digg and StumbleUpon, and track the results that you will get (i.e. votes, comments and traffic).

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