Web Development 200 - Social Media and Social Bookmarking

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Once you have your page(s) ready to receive visitors, and search-engine friendly, the next step is to get visitors to your page. Building up a consistent stream of significant traffic to your site requires a lot of effort and time, and there are many aspects to this task. The next several posts will describe how to achieve this goal. I have divided this work into the following smaller tasks, ranked in order (I believe) of sophistication: social bookmarking, link requests, directory submission, forum participation, blogging, article writing, and offline marketing. The first four of these tasks have been grouped together in a general “200” level of development activity because I believe these activities are the quickest and easiest way to get links.

Social Media

Today, almost everybody with Internet access has a Facebook account. If they don’t have a Facebook account, perhaps they are a member of one of the many other social networking sites such as MySpace, LinkedIn, Friendster, etc.--many such sites exist. In fact, an extensive list of social networking sites is posted on Wikipedia, but even that list is not complete.

If you are already a member of one of these sites, making the world aware of the existence of your web site is as simple as including the URL on your “Profile” page. And, if you are on Facebook, you also have the options of “Sharing” a link, or creating a “Fan page” which can include your link. As your network grows, more people will visit your page, see the link to your web site, and potentially visit it.

Social Bookmarking

Social bookmarking is another first step you can take to promote your web site. (In addition to the benefits of promoting your site, social bookmarking sites do provide a practical service. Personally, I like their convenience--your links are available from anywhere--as well as their practicality--they are a back-up in case your computer crashes.) Many social bookmarking sites exist on the Internet. The biggest and best-known are probably Delicious and Diigo, but there are hundreds of others. For example, here is one page that lists several social bookmarking sites: Social Bookmarking Sites List. Furthermore, web developers frequently post on the topic in their blogs, for example, here is one from Caroline Middlebrook. A web search would turn up many more similar services.

Note that in addition to general bookmarking sites, several specialty bookmarking sites exist that target particular audiences. For example, the goal of Brainify is to be used by students for bookmarking pages relevant to their studies (registering for a Brainify account is free, but users must sign up for an account with an email address from an academic institution). Depending upon the purpose and topic of your web site, you might find a social bookmarking service into which your site is particularly suited. In any case, social bookmarking is a good way to raise the profile of your site; I recommend creating accounts with one or two online bookmarking services, and bookmarking your site on them.

I happen to like Delicious, so let’s consider an example using Delicious.
Signing up for an account is free and easy, and once you have an account you can save your bookmarks online.

The general routine follows (after you have logged in to your account):
Enter a page’s URL.
Give it a title, if you don’t like the one automatically assigned.
Give it a description, or include some notes to yourself, if you don’t like what has been automatically assigned.
Give it some appropriate tags.
(Note that all bookmarks you save on Delicious are public by default unless you check the option to keep a bookmark private. You have to log in to your account to view your private bookmarks.)
Save it.

Repeat this process to save a few of your favorite bookmarks and save a link to your website. I recommend saving a few pages that are similar in topic. When you are saving the URL of your own page, remember to try to include one or two of your target keywords in the title and description. Be accurate and honest, but try to get a keyword or two in there somewhere.

A few aspects should be noted.

First, if you saved a URL that other Delicious users have saved, Delicious will indicate this fact by including the statement “X saves” over the title of the URL, indicating that X number of Delicious users have saved the same URL. For example, say one of your favorite sites is the Web Hosting Talk forums (http://www.webhostingtalk.com/). If you bookmark this URL, Delicious indicates that this URL has “1457 saves”. In other words, 1457 Delicious users have bookmarked this URL. Also note that the statement “1457 saves” is hot linked; if you click on it, you are taken to a page listing the users who have bookmarked that URL, as well as a list of their tags. You can then click on a user name and view their saved public links. You can check out all of them, or you can focus on the links that the user has tagged with tags in which you are interested. It is a great way to discover sites that are similar to your own.

On the other hand, suppose you have saved the URL to your site, which is brand-new and nobody else knows about. In this case, Delicious includes the statistic “1 save” over the title of the URL, meaning, so far, you are the only person to have saved this URL on Delicious. However, the tags you have assigned to this URL may already be in use by other users. Using the example from above, say I had tagged the Web Hosting Talk URL with the tags “hosting” and “webhosting”. If I click on my “webhosting” tag, only my bookmarks to which I have assigned the “webhosting” tag are listed; however, at the bottom of the page is a hotlink giving me the option to “See all links tagged webhosting”. If I click on this hotlink, I am taken to a page listing URLs that have been saved on Delicious and assigned this tag, ordered by number of “saves”. This is another way to see what other bookmarks Delicious users are saving with the same tag. Or to investigate some of the “related tags” that Delicious presents.

The key observation to be made here is that this process works in reverse. Other users may not know about your site, but if they save a URL with the same tag as you, they may take some time to investigate what other URLs are bookmarked with the same tag, leading them to your bookmarks--and your site. So tag your bookmarks carefully; they should be descriptive, accurate, and have enough general appeal to bring other users to your bookmarks.

Another reason to carefully tag your bookmarks is to ensure that they appear in tag searches. Again, if nobody yet knows about your links (and, in turn, your website), users may still be lead to them when they do a tag search. At the top of every Delicious page is a “Search” option. Users are much more likely to perform a search for pages tagged “webhosting” rather than “cheap-hosting-in-Canada”, or something like that. Such a tag is too specific to have much interest, and the odds of such a tag bringing traffic are small. So put some thought into the tags you assign to your bookmarks.

One other aspect of social bookmarking which I would like to mention before concluding this post is that if you succeed in making your site popular to the point that many Delicious users bookmark it, it may be featured on the Delicious front page--which leads to much additional traffic. It is a goal for which to aim.

To summarize, social media and social bookmarking offer the opportunity to create the first links to your site and, with them, traffic. Both of these methods are completely under your independent control; you do not have to go through another person and the results are immediate. Unlike directory submission, forum participation, and article writing (all of which will be discussed in subsequent posts), neither method requires the approval of an administrator, editor, or moderator. The independence, the ease, the immediacy of results, and the potential of driving significant traffic to a site, are all features that make the employment of social media and social bookmarking sites good first steps in the promotion of a web site.

Edit (14 December 2011):
Since making this post, I have also come across another list of bookmarking sites: