Let’s Name the Recent Digg Changes “Carrie”

The recent changes at Digg have been seen by some as anti-popularity-contest. Some diggers are finding it takes a lot more votes for stories they submit to become popular, and, at least to me, it appears the ratio of top-digger to everyone-else content on the homepage has gone down dramatically.

With search engines it has been helpful to name certain algorithmic changes made by Google; Florida, Bourbon, etc. I propose that we name this recent change “Carrie” after the movie.

Top diggers are the like the popular kids, the ones who are successful and get the attention of adoring masses. Carrie on the other hand, was different, didn’t quite fit in very well. But her day came on prom night and the cool people paid.

I’d consider it a sort of an anti-prom-king/queen, revenge of the underdog reference. What do you think — got a better name?

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Votrs.com Private Beta Invites

I just launched the new member’s system of Votrs.com which allows you to upload your own avatar and background, and edit your previously shortened links. It also allows you to have a shortened user page that shows all the links you’ve posted to Votrs and their social media voting buttons.

Right now the member’s system is still sorta rough around the edges but I’m opening up an invite only beta to start testing it out and figuring out what features will come next, if you’d like an invite leave a comment here or email me.

Here’s a page with what some people are saying about Votrs already (this is all before the new system).

Here’s a post about using the non-member’s features of Votrs, and here’s an awesome video about it made by Tanner Hobin:

If you like stuff like this, maybe you want to follow me on twitter?

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The Freebie Niche: A Secret and Powerful Vector for Social and Viral Marketing?

This past Friday I noticed one of my sites was getting a lot more traffic than usual, after digging into the referring sites report in Google Analytics I saw the site had been posted to a large number of “freebie” websites and forums. As of this writing, just under 72-hours after it began the freebie niche has sent over 10k visits to my site. This is digg and stumbleupon amounts of social media traffic here, but what differentiates it is that over 100 different sites sent traffic in the first 3 days. Graphing the traffic sent by the 80+ sites that sent 2 or more visitors (the blue line) against what we’d expect to see from normal power law distribution (the red line) we find that we have an overly diverse stream of traffic. When you get 10k visits from more “traditional” geeky social media (like digg or stumbleupon) far less sites send substantial traffic, usually a small handful of sites are responsible for the vast majority of new visitors. This robust long tail of sites also means that my site now has a large number of traffic-driving links pointing to it, but it is still to early to study any potential SEO benefits.

Digging a little further into this “freebie” niche, I did some keyword research and found 9 of the most popular terms to research a bit more. Comments posted on forums linking to my site as well as the focus on the word “baby” in the keywords may indicate this niche is demographically very similar to a WAHM (work at home mom) audience.

First, I ran the keywords through MSN’s demographics tool and the gender breakdown jumped out at me. When marketers think of social media, we’re generally picturing a largely male and geeky audience (a 2006 report indicated 94% of diggers were male and other data shows 64% of the top 50 stumbleupon users are male), but this niche appears to be overwhelmingly female.

The traffic generated by the freebie sites led to over 700 new sign ups to my website, of which 94% were female, corroborating MSN’s gender data.

Another area where this niche is surprisingly different from other social media niches is the age breakdown of the audience. Here we see that with the exception of two outliers (student free stuff and free christmas stuff) searchers tend to belong to a unified age group older than normally seen on social sites.

In fact, the majority of searchers in this niche are aged between 25 and 50 in stark contrast to the much younger audiences of sites like Digg (that 2006 data said most digg users were 20-30, though the average top 50 stumbler is 34).

I was also able to look into the geographic location of the new sign ups, unfortunately MSN’s geo data was unusable for this. Data from my site showed yet another data point on which this audience was notably diverse and distinct from more well known social media site visitors. There seems to be very little (if any) of the “usual” skew towards urban locations beyond what sheer population density would account for.

Many of the freebie site’s I’ve seen so far appear to have old designs and cater to a less technically-savvy audience, so I checked into the technology the new visitors were using and neither connection speed nor screen resolution seem to indicate that this audience is unsophisticated. They use Internet Explorer primarily (diggers tend to use Firefox), so the niche appears to be non-technical but surprisingly savvy.

A percentage of the traffic sent to the site came from low-traffic live journal blogs, which tells me that these users may in fact be blogging about offers they’re exposed to on freebie sites (I did find at least one instance where a user posted a link to my site on livejournal that I believe is the result of the new traffic), meaning of course that this niche could be very profitable for SEOs to market to for link development.

Many of the comments posted about my site indicated that the users weren’t interested in my site, instead they just wanted to get the freebie I was offering, but other comments indicated that users were exploring other items on the site and forwarding it to friends they thought it would be more relevant to. Freebie users seem to understand that there is an exchange, where they complete some action (in this case sign up to the site) and in return they get a freebie. Implicit in this exchange the user is willing to provide a large amount of personal information, making the niche a goldmine for research. Posts on freebie sites show that these users will likely at least be using separate email addresses so email list building here is dubious. If substantial numbers of these users have their own blogs however, the requested action could have been linking to my site. One of the areas I’ll be looking into more will be exactly what is the level of social media engagement and sophistication possessed by these users.

A large portion of the new traffic the site received was from web based email clients, indicating many users were emailing the site to each other and perhaps the site had been listed on one or more email lists. The rest of the visits came from freebie blogs and forums, formats that allow for this community to be easily seeded with new offers, I’ll be doing substantial testing of this niche in the coming weeks and will report my findings here. I was able to identify which small site(s) posted a link to my site in chronological order, however the individual sites generally do not mention where they first saw the offer. The other area of focus in my research will be understanding the social graph at work behind the flow of offers between these freebie sites.

I’d love to hear if any other webmasters or marketers have experienced anything similar to my story, or have actually succeed in doing something like link development via this niche.

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Initial Thoughts on Ad Intelligence

Got an email last night that Microsoft had released the beta version of its Ad Intelligence adCenter Add-in for Excel 2007 keyword research tool, what a name (good old Microsoft). I saw this tool at the MS booth at pubcon, and it looked pretty sweet, luckily we’d also just upgraded to Excel 2007 at the office so I downloaded the plugin and installed it. After playing with it for a little bit and comparing it too Wordtracker, KeywordDiscovery and actual AdWords PPC data I’ve got a few issues I don’t like:

  1. Sometimes when the plugin queries the KSP server it takes a while for it to come back with data.
  2. The default geopraphic data setting is to display country-level information, state and city level data is more useful to me (You can change the default to state or city in the Advanced Algo dialog).
  3. The geographic data report seems to duplicate keywords for some reason.
  4. After you select the methods you’d like to expand your keyword list with, you have to specify max keywords for each technique and minimum confidence levels, which is very cool, but the windows are confusing and its not obvious that you have to set different levels for each of the 3.
  5. Included in the monetization data is “Average Position” I have no idea what this means or where this data is coming from, I didn’t put in a site or bid amount.
  6. The actual keyword traffic data seems to be full of skew (has lots of domain names with a bunch of searches on them supposedly), possibly from rank checking etc. Wordtracker’s data looks cleaner.

The one thing in the new tool that I love though is the Geographic and Demographic data. Pull a list of keywords out of Wordtracker into Ad Intelligence and run these two reports to get a pretty good idea of who the searchers are and what they’re respond to on your site. I haven’t seen any data out there like this for free before, and what I have seen is pretty expensive. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts as I use the tool over the next few days and weeks.

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New Server and Design Update

I changed my server to mediatemple tonight, because my old host couldn’t handle digg traffic very well. So far I’m liking MT, but its early.

Also, if your DNS has updated to this site’s new nameservers you’ll see a new top header thingie, and if you’re reading this through a feed reader, click on through and see.

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