Secrets to Success on Digg

by Eric Enge

One of the early sessions at SMX Social Media was the session titled: "Extra! Extra! The Social News Sites. This session feature Neil Patel, Tamar Weinberg, and Chris Winfield as speakers. They all did an excellent job in providing an overview plus some great detail on how to work with the social news sites. This article will integrate all of the information they provided (plus a smattering of extra information from yours truly) into one cohesive overview for winning on Digg.

Background Info

Conventional wisdom holds that the major thing you can accomplish by having a story promoted to the home page of Digg is inbound links to your site. In contrast, the quality of traffic is reputed to be poor in nature. In other words, if 30,000 people come to your site as a result of seeing an article on the Digg home page, don't expect them to be buying products or clicking on ads.

According to Neil Patel, stories that make the home page receive an average of 129 links, and more than 10,000 visitors in an hour. It is also not uncommon for stories that make the Digg home page to receive more than 1,000 links and 100,000 visitors. This is pretty lofty stuff.

Getting on the home page requires 70 or more Diggs for most categories of content. However, lesser traveled categories can get there with fewer Diggs. For example, articles in the sports category can make it with 30 or so Diggs. Digg uses a 24 hour cutoff, so you need to get this many votes in that timeframe.

Some other points of interest are:

  1. Top users need more Diggs to reach the home page
  2. Votes from trusted users (e.g. active contributors) count more
  3. 0.7% of stories get to the home page
  4. Top 100 users control 56% of the home page content
  5. The podcast section delivers very little traffic
  6. The video section is OK
  7. The comments you get on a Digg posting will skew towards the negative

The Digg Effect

One of the more well known phenomena with reaching the front page of Digg is known as the "Digg Effect". It has happened many times that stories have made the home page, and then the server of the web site can't handle the traffic load. This is bad, bad, bad (i.e. bad). Getting stories to the home page of Digg is not trivial. You don't want to lose all the benefits once you get there.

The best way to address this is to test it. Do NOT rely on simple representations that you have no need to worry. The smartest thing to do is conduct an actual test of the load that your server can handle. Try a trial of 500 simultaneous connections to your server and verify that you can handle the heat.

On a related note, dynamic sites are more likely to have problems. In many hosting environments connections to the database server end up being the limitation on what the site can handle.

Becoming a Top User

Becoming a top user is very helpful in your quest to get stories on the Digg home page. You can get there without being a top users, but it is a lot easier if you are one, or your story is submitted by one (remember 56% of the stories that make the home page are submitted by top users).

This is because lots of people watch the profiles of top users to see what they submit. As a result of this following, stories submitted by these users accumulate Diggs much more rapidly than stories submitted by others.

Becoming a top user will be a serious investment. It is not easy. First and foremost, forget about submitting any of your own content. You'll need to spend lots of time commenting on other people's submissions (preferable on the submissions of top users, and if you can, be one of the first comments as this will be more likely to get you noticed).

You also need to study past submissions in the topic areas where you plan to submit content, and see what types of stories have worked in hose categories in the past. While you are at it, study the form of the submission.

Once you start making headway on those tasks, you will need to spend time every day (perhaps an hour or so) submitting quality content from other sources. A focus on breaking news is a mart idea, because it is a ready source of ideas and content, and it does well on Digg (note: news, not press releases).

The key thing is to find sources that work for you. You want to be tapped into sources that break news early on, where you can get notified that something has happened, and then you want to get your submission up less then 30 minutes after the news breaks.

Another useful thing to do is to follow the submissions of other top users. You can be one of the first people who Digg their stories, and that also creates visibility.

All these steps are part of a process, the process of creating friends. You should also formalize that, by using the Digg friends feature to friend lots of other users. Pay particular note to whether or not these people friend you back. If they are not reciprocating, consider unloading them as a friend and moving on to someone else.

It's important to not treat this as a frivolous process. Learn the lingo of the community. Target people who have similar interests to yours. Make sure you contribute more than you get. Be genuine, and become a real part of the community. Digg users don't like fakers, so engage for real.

It's also helpful to be transparent and open. Have real contact info in your profile, including your blog, email address, and IM account info. Also make sure that you use a unique avatar - this will help give you a real identity.

Characteristics of Digg Users

It's also helpful to have a general background on the Digg community. There are more male users on Digg than female. The age of Digg users is in the teens and twenties. The audience is very technically oriented. Demographic data suggests that a large percentage of the Digg audience does not have a college education, and that their political leanings are liberal in nature. Here are some more facts about Digg users:

Things That Digg Users Love:

  1. Apple
  2. The Office
  3. Ron Paul
  4. Battlestar Galactica
  5. Apple
  6. Google
  7. Chuck Norris
  8. The environment
  9. Open Source

Things That Digg Users Hate:

  1. Microsoft
  2. George W. Bush
  3. RIAA
  4. Fox News
  5. Press releases
  6. SEOs

Winning Content

When you sit down and begin to brainstorm what type of content you could produce that Digg users will love, you should start by researching what type of content similar to yours has been successful in the past. This is free intelligence that is easily obtained, and should give you some ideas about articles that you can produce that might succeed.

This is the most important part of the process really. Take some time and brainstorm this in depth. Come up with a few dozen ideas. Then examine past winners in your category again, and whittle that down to a few articles that you can write.

In addition to the topics listed under "Things That Digg Users Love" above, here are a few other ideas that you can use while deciding on things to write, and how to position them:

  1. Lists
  2. Games
  3. Controversy
  4. Tools
  5. Breaking News
  6. Pictures
  7. Tech
  8. Science

Things to Avoid

There are also "don't dos". One of these is that you don't want to self promote. The Digg terms of service don't prohibit self promotion, but the community does. Just don't do it. Similarly, avoid any form of spamming.

It's also tempting to do things to steer votes. For example, there are services that allow you to buy Digg votes for a relatively nominal fee. Don't go there. These services can help you, for a while, but over time this is likely to get discovered.

Also, be careful about how you vote for your own articles. Certainly avoid more than one vote from a given IP address. For that matter, avoid the temptation to have the same 5 users keep voting always for your articles, particularly if they always seem to be among the first few votes.

For that matter, if you submit a story, and it gets 20 Diggs in 20 minutes, that's an obvious flag. That is simply not natural. An article getting 20 Diggs in 2 hours is a lot more like it. All of these scenarios are easily detected.

That does not mean you should not let people know you have an article up on Digg, but you need to be careful about how you do it. For example, it's also tempting to use Digg's "Shout" feature to tell all your friends about the great new content you submitted. This grows really old, really fast.

So stay away from this. Other mechanisms people use to tell people about content include Pownce, Twitter, and Facebook are commonly used to promote, but using one of these services is a risky practice as well.

Basically, do any self promotion you do in private. Digg users don't like spam, and once they begin to conclude that you have been spamming, they don't really ever forgive you for it.

One major theme of this article should be clear by now. Become a valued member of the community. This is the best way to reap the rewards inherent in participation.

Things to Do

There are things that you can do to help your cause. Some of these are:

  1. Write a compelling title. The title is the most important component of a Digg campaign.
  2. Write a great description. This is also very important. Better still, make the description opinionated and get the conversation started.
  3. Use real numbers instead of written out numbers (10 instead of ten)
  4. Use () or [] in your title or description, because they stand out
  5. Remove any ads from your content. Digg users do not like advertising.
  6. Check the upcoming most popular page (http://www.digg.com/all/upcoming/most) and Digg stories in front of you to help push them to the home page, and out of the way of your story

Summary

I've said it above, but it's worth repeating. Become a valued member of the community. This it the most secure strategic approach, and it will also bring you the biggest rewards. The follow the other tips in this article, as well as article written by the speakers on the SMX Social Media panel referenced above, and you will off to a great start in your Digg career.

Other Recent Articles

  1. Kim Krause Berg - Oct. 22, 2007
  2. Twitter's Jack Dorsey - Oct. 15, 2007
  3. Google's Matt Cutts - Oct. 8, 2007
  4. Yahoo's Tim Mayer - Oct. 1, 2007
  5. Jakob Nielsen - Sep. 24, 2007
  6. Gary Angel - September 12, 2007

About the Author

Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: https://www.stonetemple.com.

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