[Note: The purpose of this article is to help AC users understand social bookmarking sites and how they can be used to promote content and generate page views. I’m focusing most on Furl because it has some real benefits and because (*sigh*) it’s also the most cumbersome to use. Please note that this article may make social bookmarking seem more complicated than it really is. Sites like Furl.net and Del.icio.us aren’t hard to understand once you use them; you just have to pay attention to what you’re doing and read the help sections if you’re confused. I wrote this article because several people on Associated Content have asked for guidance with using Furl in particular.]
When my content is published on AC, I add it to three social bookmarking sites that I like: Furl, Del.icio.us, and BlinkList. There are others, but these are three of the most stable ones with the highest number of users and thus the best chances for exposure. On average, it takes me about 90 seconds total to list one AC link on all three of these social bookmarking sites. Given that small investment of time, it certainly pays off with page views. While it’s unlikely that any single AC article is going to get thousands of hits this way, every little bit helps: 15 here, 74 there, 33 over there….those little figures add up over time with very little work on your part.
So if you’re ready to begin using social bookmarking sites like Furl to promote your content, let’s get to the nitty gritty:
In a nutshell, what is social bookmarking?
Social bookmarking is, more or less, what its name implies. It’s a way of bookmarking links to websites, except that it’s done with the concept of sharing in mind. Rather than simply adding a link to your browser’s insular list of favorites, you’re adding a link to the social bookmarking site and describing it so that other people might find it and look at it. It’s like saying to strangers, “Hey, this is cool…you should check it out too.”
The easiest way to add content to a social bookmarking site is to use a bookmarklet in your browser. This is a special kind of button that functions a little differently than a regular bookmark. Whereas a regular bookmark would just take you to a site like www.furl.net, a bookmarklet is a button that says, “I want to take the URL I am on and add it to my list of links at Furl.” This seems to confuse some new users, but it quickly begins to make sense. It’s just a shortcut for listing.
Because everyone’s browsers, popup settings, and other computer-specific features are different, I won’t explain here how to add the bookmarklet for Furl (which they call a Furl button). However, after you sign up, you can check out their help section and look specifically at the “Button Help” area if you’re stuck. The other sites have similar guidelines for their bookmarklets.
Once you add the bookmarklet, you’re free to surf the web, stop on anything you think is cool, and bookmark it. Furl calls this “Furling,” BlinkList calls it “Blinking,” and Del.icio.us just calls it saving.
If your main goal is to promote your own writing (like your Associated Content links), then the sites you want to Furl, Blink, or save are your various content URLs. It’s important to understand that you’ll be using social bookmarking sites a little differently than most people. The average user is looking for new and interesting sites and saving them to Furl, Del.icio.us, etc. You are basically doing that too, except that the sites you’re saving are your own work instead of sites you happened to stumble upon while surfing.
To add an AC article to Furl, make sure you’re on the first page of the article and then click on the bookmarklet. It should pop up a little Furl window that allows you to add various fields about the link you’re Furling. You can edit the title to make it shorter, give a rating, add comments, and catalog the article using a form of tagging (discussed below).
Tagging / Topics / Categories / Keywords
Social bookmarking sites always use some kind of tagging to help catalog the links. The name they use for this process will differ by site. On Del.icio.us, they’re “tags.” On Furl, they’re “topics” and “keywords.” After you poke around at a social bookmarking site, you’ll learn their lingo.
The point is that the bookmarker (that’s you!) selects words relating to the topic. It’s like picking keywords for SEO, except that they don’t necessarily have to be exactly the same words you used in writing an article. If you wrote an piece entitled “Public Transit in Minneapolis,” obviously “public transit” and “Minneapolis” would be important tags to include, but on a social bookmarking site, you’d also want tags like “environment,” or “train.” The more tags you add (within reason), the more pathways you give for other users of the site to find your links.
Furl is a little trickier than Del.icio.us and other social bookmarking sites because it includes two ways to tag links: topics AND keywords. Don’t let this throw you. Topics are higher-order categories like Entertainment, Health and Politics. Furl has a set list of these topics, but you can certainly create new ones that you think are warranted. For example, I added Sociology, Gay, Environment, and Humor because those are topics under which many of my links might fall – but they’re still sufficiently broad. Then, Furl uses keywords to get more specific when describing a particular link.
Let’s look at a sample article that I Furled entitled “MegaBus: Cheap Bus Fares for Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Minneapolis, and More.” I placed this article with the following topics: Business, Consumer, Transportation, Travel, and Urban. Some of these were pre-existing topics, and others were taken from my self-created list. Then, I selected keywords: bus, budget, cheap, college, Greyhound, Midwest, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Indianapolis. There’s no exact science to deciding which terms should serve as topics and which should serve as keywords, so just use your judgment. On other social bookmarking sites, this isn’t an issue because they only use one kind of tagging.
Why’s Furl so great?
One benefit of Furl is that it lets you see how many people click on the link you suggested in addition to how many people think it’s so awesome that they actually save it too. On other sites, like Del.icio.us, you only see how many other users save the link (but not how many of them actually view it). As you can imagine, the number of people who visit a link is going to be much higher than the number of people who like it so much that they add it to their own collection. In other words, with Furl, you get a more specific idea of how popular your links actually are. To look at the number of link views on Furl, simply go to Furl.net (remember NOT to use your bookmarklet this time) and look under the Archive section.
Other tips for promoting content using Furl and its peers
1. List your articles a day or two after they’re published. It usually takes a few hours for the ads to get in tune with the content on your page, so if you wait a day before your link makes a debut at a social bookmarking site, you know that the ads are going to be most germane and help AC generate more revenue by increasing the likelihood of a click. When you add something to these sites, it immediately goes onto the “latest links” page (or whatever they call it) for a matter of minutes, which gives you an initial boost for exposure.
2. When selecting keywords/tags, don’t retype everything. If you list first on Del.icio.us, select your tags and then copy them to your clipboard (CTL-C) so that you can save time when adding them to Furl and Blinklist. I cut and paste like a madman, and it saves me time.
3. Remove “Associated Content” from the name of the article so that it’s less cluttered. When someone visits the link, they’ll see it’s AC. What’s most important is getting a title that attracts people and isn’t confusing. It can be the same as your article title, or you can alter it slightly to make it catchier than it is on AC.
3. Poke around each social bookmarking site to see what kinds of content are popular on each. Furl is a great place, I’ve found, to list travel-related articles, gay-themed content, and political pieces. Del.icio.us seems to be popular for humor and techie content. Learn which tags/topics/categories/keywords are popular and where they’re popular.
4. Furl has a lot of extra features that you probably won’t use, so don’t get tripped up.
5. Read the help sections. Read the help sections. Read the help sections!!! Did I mention that you should read the help sections?
Best of luck with this particular promotion method. I know that social bookmarking has earned me several thousand page views for minimal investment in time. It’s also a wonderful concept – you’ll find all kinds of links and unusual things you might not have discovered otherwise. You may even get new ideas for AC content this way.