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Diggers are Nuts about Knuttz

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The folks over at Knuttz.net have cracked the code on Digg. So listen up, I’m here to explain to you exactly how they do it (well, with one critical missing detail!)

(Now, I have a really busy day today so I want to explain things clearly here, but I’ll need to keep it pretty brieffor me, anyway. If I miss some important points, please take them up with me in the comments. Often, as much is learned in the comments as in the post itself.)

Knuttz.net is a site full of pages displaying ads and photos. That’s basically it. Their revenue model is ad banners, pure and simple. If there’s anything else going on there, I have missed it.

I only came across this site a couple of days ago, on the Movers and Shakers page over at Alexa. This page (which is unchanged from a few days back) shows Knuttz ahead of Engadget, in terms of proportional traffic growth, in the last measurement period – and that’s the same Engadget which experience a surge of growth over the iPhone announcement and eye-candy posts. So Knuttz is doing something very right to have grown so phenomenally in such a short space of time.

Alexa’s rank and reach charts for the last month are startlingly clear in showing Knuttz’s stellar performance this month. You can see that something went very very right for Knuttz the minute 2007 hit. But what?

How Knuttz.net is purpose-built for Digg-bait

Knuttz.net is a simple site. It’s page after page after page of “photo essay” with attempts at catchy headlines on each page. Each page is wrapped in ads, and at the bottom of the page is a teaser inviting you to look at another photo page.

Very quickly I realised that at any given moment, EVERY photo page on the site has the SAME teaser link on the bottom. No matter where you are at any given moment, each photo essay page invites you (at the bottom) to go check out another page, and it’s always the same destination page. site-wide.

Go check it out. Follow the link. Any link.

Now you’re on another photo page on Knuttz that looks like all the rest. Except lok at the top and bottom of this page what do you see? A Digg button, and the number of diggs on that button which is below the “popular” threshold set by Digg (in other words, a story that has not yet gone to Digg’s front page).

The Digg button will stay on that page, and that page will remain linked-to from the bottom of every other page on Knuttz, until it either a) goes over Digg’s “popular” threshold (and to Digg’s front page/s) and no longer needs the button on this page, or b) seems to flounder after a certain amount of time passes, and the Knuttz team will try their luck again with another photoset/page (I assume this can happen, but haven’t seen it all their Digg submissions succeed at the moment!).

Are you following me? In summary, the Knuttz site is one big “traffic funnel”, moving all incoming traffic in the inevitable direction of that Digg button. It’s one very smart strategy.

The view from over at Digg

Knuttz is kicking butt with this strategy. I mean really.

A search on Digg for all submitted stories linking to knuttz.net (along with the Alexa traffic report), reveals that the site has only been around since July last year, and no submitted story had received more than twenty-something diggs until just over two weeks ago. Read that again, in case you missed it. No stories “made popular” until just 15 days ago!

However in the last two weeks, fully 14 stories have gone front page on Digg. That’s getting very close to a front page story per day! Here they are, including the first three of the New Year, which were consecutive submissions(!):

1. Photos: vintage mobile phones (15 days ago)

2. 40 Photos of Abandonned Amusement Park (14 days ago)

3. Video Games Console Evolution (14 days ago)

4. Amazing Pencil Artwork. (10 days ago)

5. Crazy Flipping Japanese Roller Coaster (10 days ago)

6. Photos: Rubik’s cube and derivative puzzles (9 days ago)

7. Ugly, Fugly Cat (8 days ago)

8. Awesome photos of aquarium built at home! (9 days ago)

9. Photos: Bad Ass Storm; Waves Overtake Tanker Ship (Super Structure POV) (8 days ago)

10. Amazing Custom Designed Sushi (3 days ago)

11. “Oops”, said the crane operator (2 days ago)

12. Mario Bricks (2 days ago)

13. Crazy Soviet-era bus stops (1 day ago)

14. Now THAT’S a Music Room (2 hours ago!)

And can I predict the next story to go front page on Digg? Sure. Easy. This one:

Jet Vs. Bird [Digg page]

As we Digg “try-hards” know all too well, it’s the first 60 or so diggs that are the hardest to get, after which a story will typically be “made popular”. After that, all you have to worry about is whether your server can cope with the load of incoming traffic a good worry to have! So I went to a great deal of trouble yesterday to work out whether there was evidence of “syndicate digging behaviour” of Knuttz submissions over a Digg or not, and the short answer is the data doesn’t show anything. I am definitely not throwing any accusations at Knuttz of impropriety.

What is clear, is that with every front page story on Digg, Knuttz will find it easier and easier to get more of their pages onto Digg’s front page in future, since more and more diggers who like Knuttz will bookmark it, return under their own steam, and digg stories “on-page”. What this means is that Knuttz – as an added bonus – is gaining an increasing proportion of their return traffic who are diggers. Think about that

What can we learn from Knuttz?

I have a few observations and suggestions from my research here:

1. Build a Digg “traffic funnel” into your site too.

This is what I explained above, in regards to the “traffic funnel” that exists at Knuttz. Of course, it works a treat at Knuttz because the whole raison d’etre of the site is funny/weird photo essays, which makes this funneling of traffic very simple to execute. People clicking through these kinds of sites are there for a bit of lazy fun and they don’t need much convincing to click through. On a blog it’s a different story. You can’t easily “tease” someone at the bottom of one blog post to visit another post that is entire unrelated. But funny/weird photos are always related!

2. Build Digg story submission into your workflow (and stay under-the-radar).

I don’t know who gilfil is, and he’s not putting any identifying data in his Digg profile, but I’m prepared to bet he’s on the Knuttz team, since 8 of the 12 stories submitted to Digg linking to the old Knuttz site (knuttz.yi.org) are his, and he has submitted more stories linking to the current Knuttz site than any other digger. But my point is to give him credit for plugging at it. And if he is Mr Knuttz himself, then he’s carefully bypassed the cultural bad behaviour of submitting one’s own stories by keeping his profile empty.

3. Some people must know something about Digg that I don’t.

Check out sicc’s profile at Digg. He signed up on the 15th of December that’s just a little over a month ago. In that remarkably short space of time he has dugg 6,909 stories, submitted 783, and had 94 of those go to the front page. He now ranks 64! Why does he do it? How does he do it? Are you and I supposed to assume that he does this for the love of Digg? If not, how does he “monetize” his time?

4. If Knuttz or I or anyone else was trying to “rigg” Digg, what would that involve?

This is pure speculation, and I can’t find evidence for it in Knuttz’s case, to be absolutely clear. But this is what I’d assume is done in those cases: a site wanting success on Digg would pay a syndicate of diggers to push a story up to the “popular” threshold. Those diggers would be paid, and either a) would enlist buddies to digg suggested stories, or b) would themselves maintain a large number of Digg accounts to digg with. The latter would be so that in order to fly under the radar, they need never use the same account twice with the same “client”.

If you go looking for them, you can find websites as fronts for Digg syndicates (no links, sorry). These sites are “invitation only” and nowhere mention Digg on their front page, obviously. Digg is trying hard to uncover evidence of this kind of rigging, but it’s hard. If 20 different accounts digg the same story in a small timeframe, and they all originate from the same IP, that might throw a flag over at Digg HQ. I am just guessing. But methinks pro diggers are smarter than that.

All I can say is, I’d like to be a fly on the wall, watching how they’re going about trying to keep Digg clean of these syndicates!

Conclusion
Let’s summarise the Knuttz story, again.

After moderate success in the latter half of 2006, Knuttz traffic suddenly when completely nuts from the moment 2007 arrived, and the good times haven’t slowed down a bit. My research suggests this phenomenal traffic increase is almost entirely due to the sequence of 14 (and counting!) front page Digg stories. And since Knuttz have the formula right, they’re assured plenty more front page stories to come. This is largely because their site’s content is an ideal fit for the Digg demographic (unlike sites and content like mine, which are not just avoided, but often buried SEO is a bad word over there).

The critical missing detail: I cannot explain why Knuttz suddenly got the “formula” right on January 1, 2007. If someone can show me that it is on that date that they implemented their “traffic funnel”, then that is all the proof needed that it’s indeed a killer strategy. I could go rifling through archive.org but bummer, nothing there.

If Knuttz people had any interest in transparency whatsoever, we could call them to ask. But as is so often the case with these kinds of projects, the veil of privacy is well and truly drawn: the site lists only an email address; the WHOIS data is all protected, and so on. It just makes it so much easier to ponder if they have anything to hide

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Alister Cameron is an accomplished web designer and internet marketing
consultant who turns established subject-matter experts into expert
bloggers. Alister’s clients are using blogging and social media to leverage
their offline expertise in the online world, and engage Alister to build
their blogging platform or social network; to train them in writing and
online marketing strategy; and to help them stay up with the latest
developments in blogging and online marketing. Alister’s blog is a rich
tapestry of advice, anecdotes and reflections from the frontline of
professional blogging, social media and search engine marketing, and never
without generous dollops of humor and wit.

Diggers are Nuts about Knuttz
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About Alister Cameron
Alister Cameron is an accomplished web designer and internet marketing consultant who turns established subject-matter experts into expert bloggers. Alister's clients are using blogging and social media to leverage their offline expertise in the online world, and engage Alister to build their blogging platform or social network; to train them in writing and online marketing strategy; and to help them stay up with the latest developments in blogging and online marketing. Alister's blog is a rich tapestry of advice, anecdotes and reflections from the frontline of professional blogging, social media and search engine marketing, and never without generous dollops of humor and wit. WebProNews Writer
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