December 26th, 2007

Digg Traffic Has Questionable Value For Most Niche Publishers

by

I’ve only had a post reach Digg’s homepage once, back in 2006, and I see no great loss if it never happens again. Why would I forgo those thousands of visits? Because Publishing 2.0, like most niche blogs, is essentially a trade publication (to use traditional media labels), and just as my content has little relevance to Digg’s niche audience, so too does Digg’s audience have little value to Publishing 2.0.

What I’ve just said might come as a surprise to many niche blogs and traditional media publishers who play the volume game when it comes to selling the value of their online audiences. Many tech blogs report audiences measured in shear volume, i.e. hundreds of thousands or north of 1 million, and those numbers are goosed by avalanche traffic from Digg.

The problem is that from a trade publishing ad sales perspective, there’s limited value in raw volume. Trade publishing is all about targeting and focus. Most Digg users are still in high school or college, and are therefore unlikely to have any B2B purchasing power, so they have questionable value to the B2B advertisers on many tech blogs — particular those that cover the BUSINESS of technology.

Of course, tech blogs have CORE audiences that are highly relevant to their advertisers, but the traffic from Digg adds little if anything to that value, and in fact can potentially dilute the value for publishers that sell on a CPM basis.

This is not to say that there aren’t blogs and other online publications that benefit greatly from Digg traffic — for gadget and gaming blogs, Digg traffic is hugely valuable, because Digg users are certainly interested in gadgets and games, and they probably buy them in large quantities. Some types of political stories do well on Digg, as do stories of the weird.

But for most publishers outside of Digg’s audience niche — which comprises mostly male, school-age tech enthusiasts with liberal political views — there is little overlap or relevance.

Here’s an example of Publishing 2.0’s low relevance to Digg’s audience and vice versa. I wrote a post about the future of print publishing and paid content, which was linked to and discussed by other bloggers who cover this top. The post was submitted to Digg and received 61 Diggs before failing to reach the homepage — a process I call “waiting for GoDigg”. I’ve had many posts creep up to the top of Digg’s upcoming page, only to fail to clear the homepage threshold before the 24 hour expiration, reflecting a lack of interest among Digg users.

waiting-for-godigg2.jpg

A lone Digg commenter writes:

This is truly an excellent article – especially for online publishers. I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more attention.

But it’s not the least bit surprising. Very few media and technology professionals — or professionals of any kind — read Digg, and Digg’s high school/college student audience has little interest in the business of media and technology (with the exception of some Apple and Google stories).

Of course, I could write posts that would be more likely to appeal to Digg users, but then I’d have to go pretty far off topic for the readers of this blog, and I see little purpose in diluting Publishing 2.0 like that.

So there was really no loss here on either side. And the same is true for the vast majority of publishers who have put the Digg This button on their content.

A notable example is WSJ.com, which took what for them was the radical step of adding the Digg This button AND making the content free for Digg visitors. You can see for yourself what the results have been. A random sampling of WSJ.com stories on Digg shows single or low double digit Digg counts and very little attention — even for an iPhone story:

WSJ.com – Real-Estate Investors Like View From Mezzanine Section
WSJ.com – The Soul of a New Instrument
WSJ.com – Apple’s iPhone Approach In Europe: Be Proactive
WSJ.com – A New Taste Sensation
WSJ.com – Everybody’s an Analyst
WSJ.com – Will Social Features Make Email Sexy Again?

Again, this isn’t the least bit surprising. WSJ.com content wouldn’t do well syndicated on a gaming blog either.

Publishers who want to figure out whether Digg’s audience has any value to them should watch the following video — lyrics here. (RSS and email readers will need to click through to see it.)

Digg has certainly demonstrated the power of the social news model, with the ability to efficiently direct large volumes of traffic. And for some publishers and advertisers, attracting Digg’s school-age, tech-obsessed audience has huge value. But most publishers outside that niche should be wary of investing too much strategic focus on Digg. (Unless, of course, you’re looking to game the system.)

If Digg could break out of its niche an draw a more diverse audience with diverse interests, the equation might change — Digg could become a truly powerful force on the web, driving value to all publishers. But at this point in Digg’s evolution, it’s unclear whether that will ever happen.

UPDATE

An appropriately ironic footnote — this post received 33 Diggs before failing to reach the Digg homepage.

waiting-for-godigg-example.jpg

Comments (19 Responses so far)

  1. I too have only reached Digg’s front page one time, and it wasn’t for anything special – simply my comments on Google modifying its logo for Earth Day in April of this year.

    http://www.louisgray.com/live/2007/04/googles-earth-day-logo-makes-splash.html

    The most insightful posts you and I will have will not be interesting to the common Digg user, who typically wants a quick video, picture, top ten list or rant against “the establishment”.

  2. What I find profoundly annoying is coworkers, clients or partners who insist on embedding a Digg button when the content will NEVER appeal to Digg users.

  3. Hmm… Interesting even if a tad on the anecdotal side. I’m no Digg fanboy (we’ll see if they join the conversation) but Digg has been trying to address this issue for sometime. And you pointing out your site and the WSJ as reason enough to believe Digg has not broken out of its original niche… I’d like to see more data one way or the other before I jump on a bandwagon and agree.

  4. [...] Digg Traffic Has Questionable Value For Most Niche Publishers :: Scott Karp – a good synopsis of the value of being on digg.com especially for the more focused niche blogs. [...]

  5. Scott, I totally agree. Digg is like ADD Central for young people. They have the attention span of 30 seconds. The stories that get popular on Digg are weird, goofy, or gadget related.

    I have made the front page or HOT page on Digg 4 or 5 times and every time it has been a surprise to me. The topics have been random, but the traffic is an avalanche.

    Digg traffic doesn’t return. That big spike in traffic lasts for about 24 hours and they never return. They stay on your site for 60 seconds…2 minutes max…and they are gone. I agree that Digg traffic has no commercial value for most blogs or web sites.

    Given all this, how can anyone thin Digg might be worth $300 million in an acquisition? It would take a very unique buyer to be able to leverage the value of Digg into anything close to that number.

    Don Dodge

  6. [...] analysis of Digg by Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 should interest online businesses still scratching their collective head over how to attract the [...]

  7. Why would Digg be worth $300M? Their voting mechanism is on so many sites; it allows them to collect a lot of information about user preferences from many different locations. If Digg could actually prioritize stories based on personal viewing/voting patterns, it could be very useful. Just imagine going to a my.Digg.com page that would show you articles & posts that you might be interested in, pulled from tens of thousands of sites/blogs.

    That being said, today it’s only useful if you fit into their college/tech/liberal demographic. Personally, I used it for a short time, but found the articles becoming increasingly irrelevant … not exactly the scenario I laid out above.

  8. Don,

    I just can’t help but point out the irony of what you say here juxtaposed with the Microsoft Facebook valuation… You probably had little to do with that (or maybe you did? I have no idea).

    But it’s interesting for me to see a $300M Digg valuation being considered so far fetched after a $15 billion Facebook valuation (which to me is even more far fetched, and it’s the reality one!).

  9. Bob, Facebook was an equity investment, not an acquisition. There is a big difference. The investment was part of a much larger agreement for advertising and other things. Google did a similar thing when they invested $1 Billion in AOL as part of an overall advertising deal.

    Acquisitions are “worth” more or less to each acquirer based on what they can do with the company to leverage their existing assets. This is why I said it will take a unique acquirer to be able to leverage the “value” of Digg. I don’t see much value in Digg as a user, and have a hard time seeing where the value/leverage would be for an acquirer.

    From an advertising point of view Digg is a tough sell. They attract an audience that has no money to spend, wants everything for free, and has an attention span of a few seconds.

    Digg certainly has value for some unique acquirer, but $300 million?

    Don’t fall into the relative worth trap. You know…Google is worth $250 billion, so my company is worth $2.5 billion. That reminds me of a story from my childhood in Maine. “I’ll trade you two of my $50K cats for your $100K dog.” That kind of “logic” works until the bubble bursts…then it looks silly.

    Don

  10. I know the “relative worth” ideology is a trap even if part of the puzzle for any VC type. Plenty of other more important factors exist in any valuation, to be sure. But many of these are behind the scenes factors which the outside world is left to speculate on. Hence, relative worth comparisons tend to get more attention than they deserve. And the difference between acquisition and equity investment is a valid point but isn’t necessarily a conversation ender to my point.

    In other words, you cleverly sidestepped even addressing Facebook in your context of what makes Digg a touch sell. That is, “an audience that has no money to spend, wants everything for free, and has an attention span of a few seconds.” That’s not too far off from describing Facebook to a certain degree.

    The investment type may be different (equity vs. acquisition) but interestingly enough, Facebook is in the same boat, in that it’s a social site relying on advertising. And while I think the attention span of Facebook users is probably much higher than that of Digg users, the “money to spend” and “want everything for free” factors are likely not that different across the two sites.

    But let’s assume for a second that I’m way off the mark and that the equity vs. acquisition point of yours makes all of what I said above irrelevant… I’d be curious, in this scenario, if you were to analyze Digg from an equity viewpoint, if the $300M would be more palatable? Let’s say, for example, a $30M investment for 10%?

    Putting it in this framework, what makes Facebook 50x more valuable than Digg (or many more times more valuable, really, since the $15 billion Facebook valuation is real and the $300M Digg valuation is apparently high)? Because using your advertising criteria (which seems most relevant), I’m not seeing why Facebook is so much better (it is better, but not to the degree that these numbers show, in my opinion).

  11. Very good point. Every time we get traffic from Digg, Fark, Boing Boing, Slashdot, and other such sites, we make it up to our advertisers with over-delivery. The traffic is consistently worthless no matter what engagement metric you look at (time on site, page views throughout that visit, CTR on ads). B2B publishers that pollute their pages with Digg buttons are stupidly trying to be cool “like the kids.”

  12. Great article…I didn’t realize the Digg audience was so young. Does anyone have any metrics on bounce rate for Digg? I just did a Stumbleupon.com experiement and the bounce rate was over 90%…just awful.

    (here’s the article: http://aldebaranwebdesign.com/blog/stumbleupon-my-experiment-to-increase-website-traffic-using-stumbleuponcom/)

    And it’s also interesting that you don’t even recommend adding “Digg” buttons at all…wow.

  13. I’m not sure of the value of Digg traffic but have started to find that del.ico.us to be really useful.

    I have started to use del.ico.us as an alternative search engine to google. The way that I see it every time someone bookmarks a page on a social bookmarking system they are effecively voting on that page a relevant content.

    It is fairly easy to trick Google. It is much harder to trick a social bookmarking site.

  14. Nice article Scott! I wish more people understood this like you do.

  15. Which B2B sites do you find useful for audience generation?

  16. Facebook was not valued at 15 B, 1% of equity was sold for 200+ M! One M$ exec referred to it as a fad. When you can’t get M$ to overpay then… even they know it’s a fad!

    I think all the talk about marketing on these sites is a joke and you might as well go and throw your money right down the toilet because… that’s where it will end up eventually. The problem marketing to people via SM is that the buyer isn’t in the buying mode so… ROI sucks and the time invested is significant. Digg and Facebook are for amateurs the same guys who were spamming classifieds back in 97!

    The only one I see as valuable to the buying process is YouTube where we’ve seen great conversion increases from displaying videos on product pages. IMO, when people display your video that is a better back link then some SM news site.

  17. I can’t help but wonder if the tone of the article would have been different if stories from P2.0 had regularly gotten on Digg’s homepage instead of just missing? Also you say that “Very few media and technology professionals — or professionals of any kind — read Digg.” Where did that info come from? I know well over a hundred media and tech professionals and I’d estimate 80% of them read digg on at least a semi-regular basis.

  18. [...] story on Publishing 2.0 gives in-depth details on the concept that Digg traffic has little value when it comes to making money for niche [...]

  19. Ok. Lets just be honest.

    I’m ranked within the top 200 submitters to digg. I have gotten over 50 stories to the front, some from my sites, most from random sites on the web.

    Digg was originally built to spread news between users. It has evolved into a site that can be very useful to a web marketer or blogger, or very wasteful for a random site.

    I like to use it for LinkBaiting, which is very taboo on digg. But if you know what you’re doing, it’s absolutely worth it. If you get one worthwhile story to the front page of digg, you will get TONS of links pointing to that specific article. This will be discovered by Google and you will quickly start to climb in rankings for every keyphrase you rank for.

    So, while the traffic is pretty much useless, and sometimes just annoying, it’s the links that are valuable. The links & better google-rankings is why digg is still a very valuable tool.

    Great article! I wish it wasn’t already submitted, Because I think I could take this to the front!

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