Social Bookmarking is the New Web Directory

In my last post, I reviewed a history of web directories and declare them dead & obsolete. Once upon a time they were relevant to organizing the internet and providing a better user experience, but that was a long time ago and web technology has improved quite a bit.

Yet in many ways, the link directory lives on in the modern social bookmarking website. Sites like Digg, Reddit, Propeller, and Mixx give users and webmasters a way to submit links, discuss them, and democratically organize them. Why does the bookmarking site succeed where traditional directories have failed? Let’s take a look.

Value for Surfers

Directories just don’t add value for surfers anymore. Anything you want to find can be discovered with a search engine, so you don’t need to click through categories and pages of listings to find the website you’re looking for.

Bookmarking sites, on the other hand, provide customers with fresh content and conversation. Heck, it can be entertaining to participate on some of these sites even when you’re not submitting links. The chat alone provides a value for surfers that directories never accomplished in their original form.

Democratic Quality Signals

Its not just fresh content that goes to the top, its good and popular content that finds its way to the featured spots. Surfers get to decide what is good, unlike with directories where the highest bidder would get the top, front-page link.

By the next day, the “best links” will be all brand new, so this provides incentive for the surfers to return.

Search engines also learn a lot more about where to rank these links based on the democratic quality signals. Unpopular stories get one vote and fade off the upcoming page to the archives of barely-indexed content. Popular stories get linked to from hundreds of member profiles and spend some time on the high PR front pages or category pages. Rather than assigning equal editorial value to every link on the domain, search engines can see exactly what the people like.

The ultimate democratic quality signal is picking up even more links to the story on third party sites. Since other webmasters visit bookmarking sites in high numbers, excellent stories get picked up on their sites. Links can fly like crazy, and before you know it you’ve become a viral sensation. Trust me when I say the search engines can recognize this and almost instantly reward your site with organic search traffic through SERPs and PR.

Deep Link Love

A favorite for webmasters – deep links. These are any back link that points to a page on your domain other than the top of the domain itself. Deep links can be powerful for ranking purposes, but before social bookmarking sites they were a bit of a pain to acquire. In directories, deep links were typically considered a “premium service” and by premium they meant they wanted money.

Now, bookmarking sites only want deep links. People want to get right to the content! Pick your URL, pick your anchor text and suddenly you’ve got a deep link pointing to your favorite page. Whether or not that link is ultimately worth anything is up to the quality signals delivered democratically through the community.

Bookmarking Outlook

I don’t think everyone online is going to be a Digg fanatic, but its still probably a growth segment. Surfers will have varying interaction with bookmarking sites. Some will just browse without registering, some will vote and comment, and even fewer still will actively be involved in submitting new links. But even those who never set eyes on a social bookmarking community will be somewhat affected by their existence as content writers aim to appease the social horde and search engines follow the popularity signals they’re generating.

Webmasters looking to start a new bookmarking site should be mindful of a monetization strategy: even Digg can’t turn a profit. Too big to fail or too big to work? Some smaller bookmarking sites do make money, and running a Pligg site only takes a moderate amount of technical effort & time.

Its definitely a better idea than starting up a directory – even if they are kind of the same in some fundamental way.

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