Most bloggers are familiar with the “Digg effect,” a flood of traffic that comes from reaching the front page of Digg, a popular social bookmarking site (if you want to know more about it, you can see my observations on it). Similar traffic boosts occur whenever a site becomes “popular” in any well-travelled social bookmarking site, and the rewards are obvious: huge numbers of page views from real readers.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want their site to have a huge spike in popularity? In fact, for some bloggers, it becomes so tempting that it becomes an obsession: can I sneak this post onto the front page of digg (or some similar site)? They wind up writing in order to grab cheap clicks and spend their time trolling the social bookmarking sites hoping to see another vote in their favor; meanwhile, their site is actually becoming less popular because the posts are no longer focused on the target audience and they’re appearing less frequently.
Chasing fame on social bookmarking sites is a doomed exercise. You might occasionally make a big splash, but your average day-to-day traffic will suffer as your regular audience moves on. Eventually, you’ll grow disheartened as the “valleys” between those social bookmarking “mountains” become lower and lower and soon your blog has lost all direction.
Here are some healthy tips for success with social bookmarking sites while keeping the focus of your blog in perspective.
Don’t promote yourself. Never submit a page of your own to a social bookmarking site unless you’re an involved member of that community. Regular users will check you out and if they see you’re a low-frequency submitter who only submits from one site, they’ll vote you down out of principle. This happened to me with a previous site on digg – I submitted pages from my site every once in a while and soon they were getting buried quite quickly with comments that indicated that I was spamming the site… which I was.
The pros and cons of links to social bookmarking on your site. Once upon a time, I included lots of links to social bookmarking sites at the bottom of each of my posts – and they got me nowhere. Since removing them, I’ve had much greater success with social bookmarking sites. Why is this? Many people see those icons as being pure self-promotion and they won’t bother to ever click them and leave with a bad taste in their mouth. These icons can sometimes even lead to downvotes on such social bookmarking sites. Although you’re somewhat more likely to have a page submitted to a social site with those links, your chances at striking gold are lessened – and they’re potentially damaging to your long-term audience.
Write compelling content for your audience above all. If it is truly compelling, someone will submit it to social bookmarking sites for you. Both times I’ve popped up on major social bookmarking sites, it has been rather surprising (usually, this surprise has involved watching my site dead in the water for a little while, but I digress). I have considered that some of my posts might do well on various social bookmarking sites, but the ones that actually made it were a bit out of the blue (in one case, the post was kind of old when it appeared).
Don’t be afraid to reach out. The stuff that becomes popular on social bookmarking sites is often examples of people looking at common things through a different light. One way to do this without alienating your audience is by simply reaching out: look for new angles on your topic and research it appropriately. Every time I’ve had success with social bookmarking, it’s been as a result of reaching out.
In short, if your audience appreciates your writing, your best stuff will organically find its way onto social bookmarking sites. Thus, your focus should be on maintaining and growing your audience, not gaming social bookmarking sites.
Building a Better Blog for 2007 is a month-long series at The Simple Dollar, outlining steps you can take to build a long-term healthy blog that will attract readers. Jump ahead to the next essay, Don’t Know It All, or back to the previous one, Don’t Chase Away Your Readers.