Digging for Google and Avoiding the Hate

The Digg community’s hatred of SEO and SEOs is legendary; unfortunately, so is their power to generate traffic. Many postings even get noticed in Google, generating more traffic and potentially boosting a web site’s SERPs. So how do you conduct a campaign without getting buried and ridiculed? The answer is that you don’t look like you’re conducting a campaign. Keep reading for some advice.

Full disclosure here: I’m not a member of Digg, but I’ve participated and lurked for years at a number of other online social sites, some of which operate in ways very similar to Digg. And I don’t shy away from doing research.

Digg, as you probably know, is an online community whose members post links to various items they find that they think might be interesting to other members. Their home page as of this writing – on the US election day – included stories on the ten most athletic  US presidents, 18 crazy ways to hang your hat, a 45 percent drop in GM sales, Black Panthers intimidating voters in Philadelphia, and so forth. The community decides which stories will get on the front page by voting them up or down. Enough up votes brings a story to the front page; enough down votes “buries” it.

As you’d expect, getting to Digg’s front page gets the lucky story (and by extension, web site) a ton of traffic; it’s known as the Digg effect. When a story gets enough “Diggs” voting it up – only 50 to 100, according to Chris Lang – it is seen as relevant by Google for its particular key words. This means that at least Digg’s link to the story shows up in a Google search using that key word. If searchers follow the Digg link, your site ends up getting even more traffic.

As I said, however, the Digg community hates SEOs. I don’t mean just a little; I mean vicious, butt-of-jokes-worse-than-lawyer-jokes level of hatred. Here’s an actual example: “What’s better than ten SEOs nailed to a tree? One SEO nailed to ten trees.” Ouch! It’s only cold comfort that this hatred was brought on by SEOs who clearly went about ranking the wrong way. It doesn’t tell you how to do it right.

As near as I can tell, there’s no need for all the Digg hatred, because it’s not difficult to do it right. You just need to approach the community in the right frame of mind when you’re ready to get your content out there. Taking information from, among other sources, a case study and an interview with Digg Director of Operations Scott Baker, what follows will hopefully serve as a guide for safe Digging for you.

Maybe it’s because part of my job involves visiting a variety of web sites (including social news sites), but I’ve never been able to understand why so many SEOs apparently don’t get the following point: if you want to be effective in getting the word out about your content to a community, you need to understand the community. And the only way to understand the community is to become a part of it: read and lurk until you get a feel for the members’ interests, wants, needs, tastes, and so forth. That’s why SEOs sometimes do badly on Digg.

So what do Digg users like? You may find it hard to believe, but it seems that linkbait features high on their list of “guilty pleasures.” Take a look at some of the items that made the front page in the previous section; the titles that list X number of things is a dead giveaway. You can’t use just any kind of linkbait, though; it has to be quality linkbait that plays directly to their interests.

Jane Copland, writing on viral marketing for SEOmoz, may have hit the nail on the head when she observed that “Digg’s hatred of SEO can’t compete with their liking of good, interesting or controversial content. They remind me of people who profess to hate all things French and yet can’t refuse champagne. People who say they can’t stand the USA but who can’t get enough of American T.V. Dogs that are scared of vacuum cleaners but that can’t stay away from them when you’re cleaning.”


There are a few points to keep in mind about the Digg community concerning the content you choose to post. First of all, they are, by and large, made up of male, tech savvy users; even when they aren’t, they tend to react that way. You need to make them happy – and especially, you need to make sure you don’t offend them (more on that in a bit). If you don’t have content that is likely to appeal to this group, you probably won’t do well on Digg; you’ll need to figure out some kind of angle that will work, or simply choose not to use Digg. There are plenty of other social media sites out there.

Scott Baker, Director of Operations at Digg, isn’t just an employee; he has a Digg profile and he’s clearly an active user. He doesn’t hold the secrets for getting to Digg’s front page; according to him, no one does. “It’s all in the hands of the users,” he insists. But he did have some useful words for Digg newcomers who want to avoid getting buried.

First, make sure that you categorize your piece correctly. In some cases, this can be a minor thing. For example, the tab “Sports” has several sub topics, one of which is “Football – US/Canada.” Here’s a hint: if you’re not from the US or Canada, what goes under that topic is probably not what you think of as football; you want to file your World Cup stories under the “soccer” topic. But sometimes this is a major thing; don’t confuse “political opinion” with “political news” unless you want to get buried.

Second, before you post a story on the site, make sure that it hasn’t already been posted by someone else. The site has a search function that will help you find duplicates; use it. You might even be surprised to see that someone else has already picked up content that you’ve created. (By the way, if it’s your own content, you’re better off if that happens; Chris Lang recommends having someone else submit your blog posts for you rather than submitting them yourself). If your story isn’t unique, then find a unique angle. For instance, if you write a science blog and you’re reporting on a powerful new type of electron microscope, but someone has already posted that story, you could cover it in your blog and also post a humorous list of eight things they hope to finally see with it (like pick-your-least-favorite-politician’s remaining brain cells).

Third, a small caveat on the above that also brings into play the first piece of advice: don’t post a link to your own blog and try to pass it off as a news story. If you’ve primed your readers with your headline and description to expect a news story – such as “Obama Promises Major Science Funding Boost in Inauguration Speech!” — send them to the original source. If you’re writing about it in your blog, you might consider a headline like “Reflections on the First Black US President.”

Fourth – and this is a big one – don’t try to game the system. Every Digger comes with a finely-tuned bogosity meter, and Digging a story up or down takes a single click. What’s more, they can bury a story for any of five different reasons: duplication, spam, wrong topic, inaccuracy, or the classic “OK, This is Lame.” Baker noted that “When unscrupulous content owners tried to pay top diggers for diggs, it didn’t work because the stories themselves were not of high quality. That’s the built-in BS detector of Digg.com.”

Digg is not for everyone. It’s a contentious community, and if you’re easily frustrated you could end up spinning your wheels uselessly in comments, as Danny Sullivan did when one of his stories made it to the top of Digg without his trying to put it there, and was quickly buried. So how do you know whether Digg is your audience? Your SEO Plan, the company that featured the Scott Baker interview, suggested four indicators that you could be successful using Digg:

  • You have unique content that appeals to an audience of young opinionated techies.
  • You are an excellent writer with a real talent for creating wry headlines.
  • You’ve already built up a following of readers that are likely to Digg your content.
  • You’ve spent enough time using Digg that you really understand not only the mechanics and technical aspects of how it works, but have a good feel for the community.

So what about the nuts and bolts? If you’re ready for that, here are a few points from a case study written up by Chris Lang, which I linked to earlier.

  • Have someone else submit your item to Digg. Then see that it gets shouted to diggers who are friends of both you and the submitter (in the case study, 48 mutual friends received shouts).
  • See that your keyword phrase is used correctly in the title of the blog post, the Digg submission, and if possible the Digg description. Check your keyword for traffic in the Google AdWords tool before using it – and don’t automatically shun niche keywords. In the case study, the term “baggage theft” was used; in general, that’s not a heavily searched word, but if you’re running a site focused on travel tips, the people searching for that term want what you have to offer.
  • Pay attention both to your diggs up and how your comments are rated. Chris Lang speaks in praise of comments that are rated positively. “I have come to believe that a comment is as powerful as a Digg at times,” he observed.
  • In his case history, Lang noted that the Digg post made it to #9 in Google for its key word, and the blog post sat at #8, two days after it was submitted. If the site owner wants to maintain that position, Lang suggests creating some organic links. He notes that the poster “could even write another blog post and link back to the first. That would even bolster it a bit.”

So what’s the take-home lesson here? Well, I could tell you all about the somewhat technical stuff – do this, do that – but it all goes back to what I said in the beginning: it’s the attitude with which you approach this that counts. I’ll let Lang get the last word: “You are not out to spam Digg for a few worthless links. You are there to bring interesting information and news to others of like interests.” Anything else is just so much spam. Good luck!

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