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Increasing traffic - the social bookmarking effect 

Traffic from social bookmarking services can really give your site a huge boost in traffic, delivering thousands of visitors to your site within a few hours.

While the initial effects are very temporary, if you give people a reason to come back you'll certainly notice a positive cumulative effect.

So what is social bookmarking, how does it work, how can you get people to bookmark you and what can you expect? We'll look at some of these issues in this article. Firstly, perhaps bookmark this article in case you don't have time to read it right now? ;):

Bookmark this page

I'll explain a bit more about social bookmarking button options a little later in the article.

What is a social bookmarking service?

A social bookmarking service is a site that allowing members to add page links as bookmarks, categorize those links, provide added commentary; make those bookmarks available to the rest of the bookmarking service's community and usually allows those members to also make comments on the bookmarked page.

The service that kicked of the social bookmarking craze in 2003 was Del.icio.us. Since that time, hundreds of other social bookmarking services have been launched, with the most popular probably being (in no particular order):  Google Bookmarks, Digg, Furl, Reddit, Newsvine, Yahoo MyWeb, StumbleUpon, Technorati, Ask, Live Bookmarks, Simpy, Blogmarks, Facebook, Netscape, Slashdot, Hugg, Shadows, Backflip, Wink, Spurl, LinkaGoGo, Mister Wong, Feed Me Links, Netvouz, Magnolia, Diigo, Blue Dot, RawSugar and BlinkList.

All of these services have the ability to deliver hundreds or thousands of targeted visitors to your site within a very short time; sometimes within hours of your page having been bookmarked if the wider community finds the entry of interest.

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Recent example of the social bookmarking effect

The example below is a traffic snapshot is taken from a relatively new site of mine (not Taming the Beast.net), launched a few months ago with minimal fanfare. I've probably spent no more than 15 minutes a week on average actively promoting the site as I'm choosing to focus on content development for the time being. I'm still a big believer that good content (and plenty of it) is king in the long haul and being bookmarked a positive side effect of that effort. 

I prefer to use this example rather than one from a higher traffic site as I feel it really accentuates the before and after change and is more relevant to most site owners.

The spike you see over a 24 hour period is solely due to a single bookmark from a single user who felt the article would be of interest to their community. I was surprised by the level of traffic, given that the social bookmarking service isn't the biggest around and the subject matter of the article I really didn't expect to be overly popular or sought after.

While the traffic spike was short lived, note what happened afterwards. 

  • Between 1 - 14 April, prior to the social bookmark related spike; the site was receiving on average 135 visitors a day, with those visitors viewing 3 pages a visit.

  • After the spike, between 17 - 27 April, the site received an average 231 visitors a day; viewing 3.5 pages a visit.

  • Within 24 hours of the spike, there were at least 36 more inbound links to the site, one from a very high ranking industry authority and a couple of nice established mid-ranked sites linking back.

Thanks to this bookmark, traffic to site has increased 58%, and while on the 15th and 16th he page view ratio really dropped as people were just focused on a single article; after the spike, visitors were viewing slightly more pages on each visit. Some of them came back to dig around a little more.

Other benefits from this traffic spike aside from new visitors and incoming links were some added revenue, subscribers to a newsletter and feed, plus I established some great contacts. Those new inbound links should also help things along even further in the time ahead, both through direct traffic and perhaps through a rankings boost.

You can imagine what the long term effects could be you could land a similar social bookmark a couple of times a month. Social bookmarking traffic is a great way to build recognition for your site in the process of getting established.

What to expect from a social bookmark traffic spike

Stories I've read from others who have experienced spikes due to social bookmarks are pretty similar to mine - low page view ratios during the spike, increased inbound links after the spike, more newsletter and feed subscribers. The spike doesn't generally increase more sales immediately, but it can result in improved sales in the ensuing timeframe.

Given the amount of traffic that can be delivered within such a short timeframe and bearing in mind what I received in this instance is low compared to other times it's happened and other reports I've read; you need to be confident that your host can handle it. It is not unheard of that web hosts will shut down a site if a sudden spike occurs. This is not something you want to discover when it occurs. We've all heard the old saying of "15 minutes of fame" - a social bookmark can provide you with the break you need, or send you flying back into obscurity again.

If you can identify the source of the traffic while the spike is occurring, be sure to get out to the source and see what's being said. It can give you some great tips on how to improve that article or the site itself. If it's a blog post that's been bookmarked, you may find that most of the conversation isn't occurring in your blog thread, but on the social bookmark site itself :). 

While the spike is occurring, drop everything if you can and monitor as much as possible; engage with those people who leave comments or contact you as fast as possible. In the above scenario, because I have multiple online projects and a full time day job online, I was somewhat caught off guard and probably didn't do as much with the situation as I could.

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How can you attract social bookmarks?

So, here's the big question - how do you get/increase the number of social bookmarking traffic spikes your site receives?

It's not something I've heavily focused on, purely due to time constraints, but I'd certainly advise all site owners in a similar situation to have the basics in place to scoop up a few bookmarks.

Have great content

Yes, it's an old chestnut, but totally relevant. There must be items of interest to get a bookmarker's attention. If you're purely an ecommerce site, get some informational content up and separate it from the sales stuff. These could be articles, tutorials, reviews, industry news. Ensure that your informational resources have high visibility on your site and treat these pages like a landing page.

Optimize for search engines

While at times you can be bookmarked through chance; you need to think about how people are going to stumble across this bookmark fodder in the first place. 

In the scenario above, it occurred through a search engine referral. The person was seeking information on a specific subject and my article ranked highly in search engine results. If it had been one rank lower, the bookmark may have never occurred. Search engine optimization definitely plays a role in increasing the chances of having an article bookmarked - pick up some search engine optimization tips.

Social bookmarking buttons

This is really important - you need to make it easy for members of these services to bookmark you. Creating special links that make adding your page to a bookmark list a matter of a few clicks is the best way to go.

One of the problems facing many site owners is the proliferation of bookmarking services - you wind up with bookmarking icons all over the place. I created a social bookmarking generator last year that you can use, but another service I feel is far more effective is AddThis. Click on the button to see how it works:

Bookmark this page

No more icon shooting galleries and the AddThis team keep the list of bookmarking options current, plus the service provides you with some stats - and it's free! For a minimum fuss setup, AddThis is the way to go. Bookmark buttons should be place at the beginning or end of articles if possible, but even if you can just place it somewhere noticeable in a common element such as a sidebar, that's a good start.

Become a contributor

This is a strategy to handle with care. Join a few social bookmarking sites and start adding bookmarks of your own; *but* don't make them all your own content. The community will soon pick up on this and ignore your contributions; considering them to be "spam". See this as a longer term strategy; create a list of bookmarks that are related but aren't from your own site, add thoughtful commentary for each then occasionally drop one in pointing to your own site. Ensure that any bookmarks you add are top quality, including your own.

The lure of potential big traffic has seen many site owners and marketers really blunder with this strategy.  

Social bookmarking - fad or standard?

I don't believe that social bookmarking is going to go away any time soon, it will simple evolve - so it's really something that you need to add to your marketing arsenal; after all, it's free targeted traffic.

Some site owners spend a lot of time focused purely on gaining social bookmark links with varying degrees of success. I suggest approaching it in a more balanced fashion - an important part of your marketing strategy, but more as a side effect of good content development and solid search engine optimization rather than the be all and end all of promotion.

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
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In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.

Copyright information.... This article is not available for reproduction without explicit written permission from Michael Bloch and Taming the Beast.net

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