January 08, 2008
How To

Sherpa 101: How to Use Digg to Go Viral - 10 Strategies to Making It Part of Your Marketing Strategy

SUMMARY: For marketers on a tight budget, viral marketing can be a cost-effective alternative. But execution relies on referrals and word of mouth, so it’s difficult to measure the impact.

There are places, though, where content can go to flourish. Like Digg.com -- a social media website that can serve as a launch pad for a surge in your Web traffic. Learn how Digg.com works and how to craft content that “diggers” will love to discover and share.
Digg.com is a social media website that lists and organizes hyperlinks based on users’ votes. There are no editors. Links are submitted by the Digg community, with users encouraged to view the content and vote on it. The more “diggs” a link gets, the more prominent its placement.

A website that gets enough votes can ascend to the Digg homepage, where a huge influx of Web traffic can flow to it. More than 17.6 million people visited Digg.com in November, according to Compete. Sites with links on Digg’s homepage can get traffic spikes that reach into the tens of thousands.

For a marketer, Digg.com can serve as a viral platform for content. Links on the Digg.com homepage can spread around the Web, generating hundreds, sometimes thousands, of inbound links.

“My average Digg homepage stories have been getting anywhere from 400-600 one-way links, per article. Obviously there are exceptions. I’ve had one with 2,000 or 3,000 minimum,” says Dean Hunt, Buzz Marketer, MidasCode Ltd.

Cameron Olthuis, CEO, Factive Media, says he gets articles onto the Digg homepage almost every day. One successful article, ‘The Most Dangerous Drug in the World,’ attracted 50,000 to 60,000 unique visitors and more than 2,000 in-bound links.

While many people attribute success on Digg to luck, marketers like Hunt and Olthuis say they consistently succeed by creating content the community likes. “[It] has allowed me to launch websites on a budget of zero,” Hunt says.

In our latest Sherpa 101 on social media sites, see how Digg works and how you can use it as a low-cost part of your overall marketing strategy.

How Digg Is Organized
Digg does not host content. It aggregates and categorizes links to other websites.

Content is in four forms:
o Text -- called News, which can include opinion articles, blogs, etc.
o Video
o Images
o Podcasts

Content is organized first by these platforms and then by topic. Topics for news, video and images are:
o Technology
o World & Business
o Science
o Gaming
o Lifestyle
o Entertainment
o Sports
o Offbeat

Each topic has its own page, which features the highest-ranked links. The most popular links with Digg users -- whatever category -- can make it to the homepage for everyone to share.

How Content Moves on Digg
#1. Users submit links

Links are submitted by members of the Digg community (membership is free). They first appear in the “Upcoming” section of each topic.

According to Digg’s FAQ page: “New submissions [are] live in the Upcoming section for between 12 to 24 hours, depending on the popularity of the topic they fall under. After 12 to 14 hours, if the story has not been promoted to the homepage (become popular), it falls out of the queue.”

#2. Community votes

After a link is submitted, Diggs members can view it and decide whether they want to “digg” it by clicking a button next to the link.

While the number of ‘diggs’ helps a link’s popularity, it’s not the sole arbiter. Some links make it to the homepage with as little as 35 diggs; other links may get 150 and never make it. A link’s popularity is determined by the Digg.com algorithm, which considers many factors.

The algorithm is a proprietary secret, but there are obvious factors:
o Number of “diggs”
o Number of “buries” or negative votes
o Time a link is on Digg
o Diversity of the members who “digg” the article

For the most part, the community controls content on Digg. Operators only remove a story if it violates Digg’s Terms of Service. “Otherwise, the Digg community is responsible for removing stories that are spam, duplicates, lame, inaccurate, or submitted to the wrong topic,” according to the Digg.com FAQ.

#3. Constantly updated pages

Time is an important element in the Digg algorithm, which means links change constantly. New links bump off older content about every 20 minutes, says Hunt. Links that make it to the homepage typically last about four hours.

“It used to be about eight to nine hours a year ago. But as the Digg community grows, there’s more members and, therefore, there’s more stories,” says Hunt.

Other Digg Features
Digg.com, like many Web 2.0 websites, offers many opportunities to interact with users. You can add friends and “shout,” or send a message, to each other. You can view your friends’ profiles to see what stories they’re digging and submitting. You can join discussions by commenting on articles.

These features can be fun, but for marketers looking to generate website traffic, they may not be worth the trouble.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about how many friends you have on Digg, that sort of thing,” Hunt says. “A lot of people get caught up in the whole how many friends they have determines your success. Personally, I don’t even submit my own content, nine times out of 10. So it doesn’t really matter that much.”

Hunt says he doesn’t need people to see what content he has submitted, because he usually doesn’t submit the page he’s driving traffic to.

Content Remains King
Some Digg members have developed a following because they have been submitting articles for so long. Other Digg users will consistently read their profiles to see what articles they are digging. These members are called “power users” because they control a large percentage of Digg’s homepage content. This happens, in part, because the articles they “digg” gain extra exposure through their profiles.

Wooing a power user with your content increases your chance of making it to the homepage. You may want to research what types of content power users digg, or reach out and develop a friendly relationship with some of them. Remember, though, that power users aren’t everything. Content is still king.

“You could have all the power accounts in the world but if you’re content is horrible then it’s not going to make the Digg homepage. So, it’s important that you write content that is very appealing that the community is going to like, something that hasn’t been on there before, something that’s unique,” says Olthuis.

Create ‘Diggable’ Content
Tactic #1. Study content

If you’re new to Digg, spend a week or so browsing the website before trying to leverage its traffic. Study what kinds of articles make it to the homepage and topic pages. Think about how you could make content appeal to the Digg crowd.

Start with a search on the site. Here’s how:
o Go to Digg’s search page
o Select to search only “front page stories” from the drop-down menu
o Type in keywords for your industry
o See what type of content could work for you

“Kind of analyze the stories from the search that come up and ask yourself why those stories did so well on Digg,” Hunt says. “Ask yourself what did they write you are not doing … just really try and get to the roots of the core of what those stories are.”

Tactic #2. Appeal to the masses

Submitting content to Digg is not like submitting an article to an editor -- it’s like submitting it to millions of editors. A link’s success is based on the Digg community’s eclectic tastes.

Common attributes for articles on Digg:

o Technology -- Digg launched in 2004, back when Web 2.0 was just a concept. Its audience grew from a technology-savvy base. You’ll notice that tech news stories are very popular. But don’t fret -- tech news has its own category. You don’t have to publish tech content to make it onto the homepage.

o Novelty -- Many Digg stories are a bit strange and appeal to a younger male audience. “Just recently there was an article about a kitten that was born with two heads. But again, it sounds stupid, but they really laugh it up over novelty content,” says Hunt. There’s an “Off Beat” category for such stories, but odd content stretches into other categories, as does tech news.

o Big news stories -- There are, of course, plenty of typical news stories that make it onto Digg.com. They come from well-known sources, like CBS News or FoxNews.com.

o Sensationalized -- Digg stories are often loaded with exciting and provoking language -- especially the headlines. Successful headlines found recently on the site included:

- “Obama lays the SMACKDOWN on Hillary”
- “Could a morbidly obese goalie shut out an NHL team?”
- “Shock at $85K Mobile Phone Bill”

Although the links are organized into categories, the eclectic tastes of the Digg community seep into all of them. For example, you’ll find standard political news in the World & Business section, but you’ll also find headlines like “The Most Dangerous Appliance in Your Home: The Television.”

Tactic #3. Find new angles

Getting onto the Digg homepage is an art, not a science. It requires thinking about old types of content in new ways.

“There was a recent Digg story that got featured on CNN as a big feature. The article was just simple tips about what to do when you’re retiring -- I think the article was titled something like ‘Retirement Advice from Britney Spears’ -- they linked every piece of advice to something that’s happened to her career or her life recently,” says Hunt. “A simple blog post that probably wouldn’t have had many readers had it been boring retirement tips. But they put the Britney Spears angle in there, added some humor, put a few images in there and 24 hours later, it was a CNN main feature and it was on the Digg main page. It was a huge success.”

Another example is a self-help story Hunt designed for the site. Titled ‘Self-Improvement Advice from the Devil,’ it had a humorous twist with the following attributes:
o Submitted to Digg by someone other than Hunt
o Gained more than 880 diggs
o Made it to the Digg.com homepage
o Spread to other social media sites
o Drove more than 56,000 unique visitors to the article’s page in seven days (more than 21,000 came from Digg), says Hunt.

Links with headlines like ‘Self Improvement 101,’ or ‘10 Ways to Improve Your Life’ have been done thousands of times, says Hunt. “We’ve heard it all a million times. We’re really kind of sick of it. So, find a new angle, try and be different. Don’t be afraid of pushing boundaries and thinking outside the box.”

Tactic #4. Keep it simple

“People who are looking for content on Digg, they don’t want to come across things where they have to spend a lot of time reading and digesting information,” says Olthuis.

Ways to make your content easier to consume:
- Use lists -- Top 10, Top 20, or top whatever lists tend to do well.
- Pictures and video -- concepts are easier to understand with visual aids.
- Short paragraphs with bold headlines -- make your content so people can easily just skim over it and kind of grab the meat of it very quickly. “A lot of people will only spend a few minutes on this and they try to digest this information as fast as they can before they move onto the next article,” says Olthuis.

Submitting Content
Step #1. Prepare your page

o Remove ads

The Digg community is sensitive to marketing. Its users prefer sites without flashy ads and overt link requests. They are less likely to “digg” a page if they think it was created for marketing purposes and not for the sake of the content. They will be even less likely to provide you an inbound link from their websites.

“One thing I do, and this may sound really strange … I remove pretty much all the [Google AdSense display ads] and pretty much all the ads from the entire website if I’m pretty confident that this story is going to get on or be submitted,” Hunt says. “I personally try to make the site look respectable and kind of make it look like I’m not out there to take anyone’s money. I’m just on there to be an authority. So I remove the AdSense…during the Digg experience.”

o Add social buttons

Digg’s Tools section provides buttons for your site that let readers submit or digg pages without visiting Digg.com. These buttons can be useful, but there are better alternatives, says Hunt.

Some publishing platforms have plug-ins that can offer dozens of buttons for submitting a page to a range of social media sites. Sociable, a WordPress plug-in, supports 61 different social content sites, including Digg. Since any content you get onto Digg can potentially spread to other sites, it’s a good idea to include a few different buttons.

o Add links to sign-up forms

Make it easy to subscribe to your email newsletter or RSS feed. Your site will experience a surge in traffic if your content makes it onto Digg, so have these forms easily accessible to try to get as many of these one-time website visitors to become repeat visitors.

Step #2. Prepare your server

Depending on how much traffic you’re used to getting, a successful Digg campaign might overwhelm your server and crash your website.

“You really need a dedicated server,” says Hunt. “I [started] with a virtual private server, which is usually modern enough, and within five minutes of hitting the Digg home page, it just completely destroyed it. I think it went offline eight times in the first 48 hours.”

Step #3. Publish the content, wait seven days

The Digg community usually reacts negatively to all things marketing, including self-promotion. Some will frown upon a member submitting and digging their own content. Setting up a waiting period might be a good idea.

After publishing an article on a site “what I do is to give it seven days, give it a week,” says Hunt. “If someone from Digg has not found the article and kind of picked it up and submitted it, then I kind of relook at the article and try and decide whether I really think this is good enough to get on the Digg platform. If I really still firmly believe that it really is as good as I first thought, then I’ll submit it myself. But, nine times out of 10, I try to kind of get it out there and grow some legs and hope that it gets submitted by someone else. I think that gives it a bit more credibility.”

o Publish and submit with caution

“All the work you need to do has to be done before you hit that publish button. If you hit publish, or you hit submit on Digg and it turns out to be full of spelling mistakes or your facts are incorrect, it’s kind of too late to be honest,” says Hunt.

Treat Digg as Part of Your Overall Marketing Plan
Remember, don’t put all your eggs into the Digg basket.

“You’ll never hear me say that Digg should be your overall strategy or that it should replace SEO or that it should replace Google AdWords. It really shouldn’t. They should all kind of work hand in hand together,” says Hunt.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Digg:

del.icio.us - social bookmarking site

Top 30 social bookmarking sites:

Wordpress - get a free blog here:


Factive Media: Building large media audiences:

Case study - “Discover the Insider Secrets of a Successful Buzz Marketing Campaign”:

Dean Hunt's blog:

Cameron Olthuis's blog:


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