7 lessons learned from digg’s home page

This past Thursday, our new media site, israelplug, reached digg’s home page. As we watched in disbelief, tens of thousands of readers flooded our site (and brought it crashing down in the classic “digg effect”). This was both exciting and frustrating. We learned a lot from this experience, and I would like to share some of these lessons with you.

First, here’s some background: we started to officially launch our new site on Thursday. As part of our launch strategy, we began to bookmark articles on the major social media sites, including digg, del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, and Facebook. Within minutes, one of our articles was picked up by diggers and the number of diggs began to rise.

At first we thought the diggs must be coming from friends. But the diggs kept rising, until they began to rise at a furious rate. The article landed on digg’s home page.

Now, for those of you who are not familiar with digg, here is a short explanation of its importance: digg is a site where people “vote” for articles. These votes are called “diggs,” and the more “diggs” an article gets, the higher its popularity rating. Articles that land on digg’s home page are exposed to zillions of digg readers, and this usually results in an onslaught of traffic to the article. And this, my friends, is what web site owners dream of.

This trip to digg’s home page has been an interesting learning experience, so I would like to share my lessons with you:

  1. If you want to build traffic to your site, bookmark your articles. By bookmarking your articles on digg, del.icio.us, and other community sites, you will make people aware of your article. Once they are aware, others may start bookmarking it too. You never know which of your articles will take off, so you might as well do this.
  2. Have your site on a serious dedicated or virtual private server. My sites are all on shared hosting. That’s ok on a usual day, but it can’t handle the “digg effect.” As soon as our site started rising up the home page, the servers crashed and the site went down. That means that at the greatest moment, nobody can see your site. I called our hosting provider and begged them to get it back up – I told them to name their price, just to get it up. They said “Sorry ma’am, there’s nothing we can do. You should consider a dedicated server.” (Which is a service that they don’t even provide!) Of course, they could have borrowed some server juice from someone else for that short time that I was exceeding my CPU, but they wouldn’t budge. Very bad service. So if you want to get to digg’s home page, and reap the benefits, make sure your site is on a server that can handle it and has decent service.
  3. Have a killer title. It seems that articles that make it to digg’s home page are those that are dugg by digg devotees. These are people who invest a lot of time and effort in digging articles that they deem worthy, and monitoring certain other key diggers to see what they digg. I think that a large percentage of them don’t even actually read the articles they are digging. They just look at the title, see who else has dugg it, and digg it too.
  4. digg devotees like science/tech/geeky articles. Articles on technology, science, and other “geeky” subjects are loved by digg devotees. They also seem to like American politics.
  5. diggers don’t like blog spam. Blog spam is when you write a short post about someone else’s article or post with the goal of gaining visitors off of the success of the blog/article you are writing about. If diggers suspect that this is what you are doing, you will be shunned. They want original content.
  6. digg comments are a culture unto themselves. People can comment under every link that is dugg. This becomes a whole conversation unto itself, but what’s even more amazing is that the commenters can digg up other comments up or down! This is like a rating system for the comments, and if a comment gets dugg up, it means people liked it, and if it gets dugg down, it means people think it sucks.
  7. To make money from ads, you need to monetize your site smartly. My site is monetized with Google Adsense. Although thousands of people clicked, I made something like $2. I made almost as much from two clicks on my other blog, WordPressGarage.com. I don’t know why the click rates were so cheap, but that really sucks. Your visitors will click on ads – just try to make sure you’re making money from those clicks.

The site is still getting traffic from digg, and the number of feed subscribers that shot up during the digg effect is now coming down. Therefore, I have yet to see whether this traffic can be maintained in some way, or if all those readers will disappear as quickly as they came.

Anyone have any other words of wisdom for those who aspire to achieve digg stardom?