Decoding Digg Series Part 1: The Domain

The following is the first of a six-post series covering the main aspects involved in hitting the Digg.com front page. NVI CEO Guillaume Bouchard will be presenting a synthesized version of this series at PubCon 2008, November 11th, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Each of the first five posts addresses one main Digg success area, with the final post a recap and evaluation, with expectations, metrics, and global suggestions. The first post concerns the domain.

The basic equation is simple:
Digg homepage = tons of traffic = backlinks = more traffic.

Or, Digg homepage = tons of traffic = branding, or ad impressions, or warm feelings.

Regardless of your bottom line, there are few web targets that couldn’t be hit a little easier with a whack of visitors.

But if you’ve been using Digg for some of your social media endeavors, you might have noticed quite a few changes lately. Namely, you haven’t been hitting the homepage as often, if at all. So why is this?

Brief History (Very)

To give you a better perspective I’ll start at the beginning. Digg’s user base in the early part of its history was largely a techie, sciency crowd. A vast majority of the articles hitting the homepage were tech, science and gaming related and were only occasionally punctuated by sports, politics, and comedy articles. This trend reached its peak in 2006. Suddenly articles from categories outside of these categories were popping up on the homepage and getting there with much fewer Diggs. At this point it seemed Digg was attempting to sell out and it’s thought that changes to the algorithm were made to have the site appear to have a broad appeal and thus attract more potential buyers.

This did eventually attract users with interests outside of tech and science but with that it also attracted bloggers. Digg quickly went from being a social news site to becoming a venue for promoting blogs and websites. The homepage was often filled with spammy articles and it became a battle ground littered with negative comments. This went on for close to a year when it finally reached its saturation point in late August to mid-September of 2008. Though Digg may tweak often, it seemed a more significant change was implemented.

This change meant bloggers would find it harder and harder to get on the homepage. Only a few well known domains are having success on Digg since these changes were made.

Number Crunching

I have been taking homepage samples daily and nightly since major changes were made to the Digg algorithm in September. Approximately 1000 different domains have hit the home in the last 30 days. 410 (41%) of those that hit the homepage have done so at least twice in this 30 days period. The total number of homepages was 3861 and the top 41% (domains that have hit the homepage at least twice in the 30 day period) account for 85% of all homepages.

Maybe the scariest stats of all. Domains that have hit the home five times or more account for 90% of homepages. 100-125 stories hit the home of Digg each day, depending on which day of the week it is (less on weekends). This means only 10-15 articles from relatively new (to Digg) domains can hit the home per day. Since 30% of those are images, and 10% more are videos, this leaves just 6-8 text articles per day (for those of you with words you need to use).

What do these numbers mean? Well, they can mean a few things. If I was naive I’d think that maybe the Digg community only likes the content on these specific domains and content from lesser known domains doesn’t appeal to them, or they’re just not familiar with it yet. I mean, it is a social news site. Surely the users decide, right?

That’s a bit of a simplistic way to look at it and it sort of ignores Digg’s history of tampering with the algorithm. My current guess at a best bet involves the idea of “trusted” and “untrusted” domains. Digg might be giving articles on “trusted” domains an easier time and articles on “untrusted” domains a much harder time to get on the home. It’s worth pondering whether, on a very basic level, a more eclectic mix on the homepage would add value to the site.

The samples of the homepage were taken periodically throughout the day at varying times to get a broader selection. I searched every domain sampled in the Digg search bar to see how many times the domains had hit the homepage before. What I quickly started noticing is that a vast majority of domains (+90%) had articles hit the home at least 5 times before with an average of 386 homepages!

An average of 386 homepages per domain is rather high and perhaps not completely representative. Some of the “big boys” have well over 5000 homepages and would skew the results. I decided to take the average again but this time exclude the big name domains like YouTube.com, Wired.com, Break.com, Cracked.com, Reuters.com, NYTimes.com, Gizmodo.com, Flickr.com, Arstechnica.com, BBC.co.uk, cnn.com, Google.com, engadget.com (all of which have over 1000 homepages) and the average leveled off at 132 homepages per domain.

The results are more than a little discouraging for unhomepaged bloggers trying to crack the Digg nut. They say ‘Content is King’ but it appears the King needs a Queen and that Queen is a trusted domain.

Next week will follow with Part 2: Content, naturally. Until then, please comment!

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