Using Internet Conveyor Belts to Drive Traffic to Your Site

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Here's a question for you. What does the following picture have to do with generating buzz for your website?

It's a typical conveyor belt such as you might find in any large donut shop or pastry factory. Krispy Kreme lovers, eat your heart(s) out.

And it also happens to be a near-perfect metaphor for how users find and browse content on the modern web.

Social networking sites, link repositories, news sites, discussion groups, even that great juggernaut of search engines, Google itself, all use the conveyor belt apparatus to deliver content to their users.

In other words, users are accustomed to seeing pages containing rotating lists of links to relevant content. New and/or more popular content appears towards the top of the page. Older, less popular content is reserved for the bottom of the page, or for some other page entirely.

Here's a picture of the conveyor belt:

The Conveyor Belt

And the famous Google conveyor belt: 

The Google Conveyor Belt

Depending on the nature of your site, conveyor belts will often be your primary method of attracting visitors. Unless users are typing your URL into their browser window, they'll usually find your content in some sort of conveyor belt listing, of which there are thousands all across the net:

  • Google Search
  • Google News
  • Yahoo
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • Reddit
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • Slashdot

Understanding how to make your content appear, even intermittently, on the major Internet conveyor belts, is worth its weight in gold. A properly conveyor-belted article can bring in thousands or hundreds of thousands of unique visits to your site. A single mention near the top of a major conveyor belt can take an obscure site and push it into the mainstream, at least for a time.

You must give your site a chance for exposure by placing it on the conveyor belts that are relevant to it.

It's important to remember that a given piece of content doesn't necessarily have to break the front page of or appear as the #1 result for a generic search term in Google. Getting your content to the top of a conveyor belt is quite a feat, but what's really important is that your content appear somewhere on the conveyor belt, preferably not at the very end. That article you submitted to Digg, which only got 7 Diggs? Those 7 Diggs are valuable. That's 7 unique visitors who decided to independently "digg" your article. Those 7 visitors imply an unknown number of other visitors who did not choose to digg your article. Now every visitor who sees the page, sees a Digg count of 7 and knows that, while this might not be the most interesting content ever written, it was at least good enough that 7 independent people decided to express their opinion by Digging it.

In other words, getting your content on a conveyor belt has value beyond merely getting X additional users to visit your site. It also serves as a way to inform random visitors that your content has a degree of authenticity.

Putting it all together

So what does the conveyor belt metaphor mean in practice? Here are the broad strokes.

Titles are more important than you think. In a typical conveyor belt setting, the title is the only part of your content most users will ever see. The universal practice is to display hyperlinked titles which, when clicked, navigate to the full version of the content. So you have to structure your titles with this kind of mechanism in mind. A bad title can doom an excellent piece of content to the back pages, while a good title can vault even mediocre content into popularity. I can't overstress the importance of choosing good titles if you plan to compete. You must create titles that convince readers to click through.

Submission time is important. Each conveyor belt is different, and moves according to its own cyclic schedule of high activity, followed by low activity. By submitting your content at the wrong time, you can effectively hamstring it. The problem is that large conveyor belts have to deal with an almost continuous stream of submissions. New submissions generally get routed to a "New" or "Upcoming" set of pages, where all new content sits and stews, until it gets enough votes or Diggs to rescue it to a more prominent location. So if you submit a piece of content when all your readers are asleep, what happens is that a bunch of other people come in behind you and submit their content. Three or four hours later, when your users wake up, your content has been pushed down to the 3rd, 7th, 14th page of the "New" category - deep enough so that most users never see it, and never get a chance to click on it. In order to avoid this, submit your content when your likely readers will be awake and active, so that you can garner enough initial votes to prevent immediate obscurity.

Participation is important. In order to really know what kinds of content will do well on which conveyor belts, you really have to spend some time using those conveyor belts. Don't just submit to Reddit because you've seen other people submit their stuff to Reddit. Submit to Reddit because you read and participate in Reddit, and because you've got a solid feel for the kind of content that does well on Reddit. Another reason to participate is that many sites have some notion of "karma", which basically describes the authenticity of a particular user. If you create a account for the express purpose of submitting and Digging your own stories, that's fine - but make sure to Digg some other good stories, too. There may or may not be a practical advantage to doing this, but one thing's for sure: it can't hurt. And ultimately, you'll get a lot more out of these sites if you're able to gradually build a solid network of friends and fans over time.

Voting widgets are important. Many conveyor belts, such as Digg and Reddit, feature a voting process in which users rank content and are ultimately responsible for determining the visibility of that content. This is typically done through a "voting widget" appearing next to the story, either on Digg itself, or on the original page where the content appeared. For example, in the top-right corner of this page, you'll see a typical, run-of-the-mill, voting widget. If you don't mind a widget like this appearing on your pages, take advantage! And when you do, remember to not only display the voting widget at the top of your content. You also want the voting widget displayed at the bottom. You want the reader to see your (excellent) title on Digg, click through, read the content on your site, and then click the voting widget you've positioned at the bottom of your article. That's the user interaction you want, as it makes it as convenient as possible for readers to vote on your content

Hopefully this article has given you some food for thought when it comes to understanding the quasi-mechanical structure of sites like Digg and Reddit, as well as how to leverage that structure to promote your content. Of course, it goes without saying that for any of this to work, you've got to have content worth reading. But assuming you already have that base covered, exposing your content to popular conveyor belts can bring the lifeblood of any site - traffic - to your doorstep.

Tags:,, social networking

3 comment(s)

Nice post. Although there are plenty of other things that attract people to your website. Would be good to know just exactly how I can attract people to my website :D

pokerisrigged, Do the same thing as james did with coding the wheel :)



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