I find myself torn between taking HitTail’s suggestions on what to write about, and my own gut instincts. Sometimes they align perfectly, and it’s a no-brainer. You can’t loose: write what you want to write about, and be assured it’s going to generate traffic.
But the recurring question continues: how does HitTail work if I don’t have enough content on my site to start with? The answer is “it doesn’t”. For people at that early stage of website development, HitTail’s value is mostly that of being a real-time Search Hit monitor, which has a built-in “honesty-check”. Huh?
Yep, HitTail tends to under-report search hits, due to strong philosophical beliefs that are tied to the HitTail suggestion algorithms. For example, every entry in the Search Hits tab corresponds to exactly one visitor. If the same referring source shows up 1000 times (such as when you get Dugg), then that corresponds to 1000 actual visitors. And watching that list as it flows by is just so much fun. So for sites starting out, I think my advice is to keep rolling out the content you think is appropriate, so that you reach critical mass, and HitTail kicks in and starts making writing suggestions. But also, try to write things that will get picked up and repeated.
For example, the biggest traffic driver lately has been this article by Darren Rowse from ProBlogger. He includes HitTail as one of the things to do in 2007 to help market your blog in 2007. Darren’s article got Dugg 823 times as of this writing. The combination of the popular ProBlogger site, plus being Dugg must light up the content like a beacon for the aggregation thieves, because Google is currently reporting 39,300 pages that contain Darren’s exact headline. Wow.
This makes me feel the need to share with the HitTail and SEO community in order to put in perspective the two very different aspects of online public relations and outreach. SEO is a slow build, taking months and sometimes years before it’s firing on all cylinders and offsetting the need and cost of other marketing campaigns. But every once in awhile, you hit a homerun and get the benefit in very short order by getting Dugg (or previously, “SlashDotted”). So, what’s the difference, and whose a candidate for getting Dugg?
Well, there’s abundant articles on the Web about getting Dugg, so I won’t repeat that here, suffice to say they advice pandering to the techno-snooty Linux crowd, and using superlatives like “the best”, “the biggest” and the like. Regardless of whether or not Digg continues to hold the crown held yesterday by SlashDot and before that by Yahoo Cool Pick of the day, the timeless lesson to be learned here is that being cool, free and unique can offer a quick pop in traffic if you just get that headline right.
So, the magic shortcut to traffic comes down to what qualifies as cool, free and unique. Naturally, we’re trying to make HitTail qualify, but more often its things like the ability to play Pong on a wristwatch. This “curiosity” driven audience is like the geek equivalent of the gossip rags. And anything having to do with marketing will be attacked by this crowd as disingenuous and not newsworthy (and wristwatch Pong is). So, you must choose your ammunition for getting Dugg with great care.
This is why “free” is such a big part of the Web 2.0 movement. If you can give something away for free which is of great value, it appeals very strongly and fosters spontaneous, genuine linking. You’re essentially putting the world to work for you in a grass roots campaign without having to manipulate or “Astroturf” your audience. They will gladly do it for you out of gratitude.
But can everyone do this? No. It’s for those with the creativity, production and support capacity and resources to put something of value out for free, and not destroying yourself in the process. There are multitudes of examples, suffice to say that HitTail itself is just one, and reveals a lot about its relationship to its creators, the top public relations agency, Connors Communications, in New York City. But for those who are not in the position to do this, there is always your advice and opinions.
And finally, that closes the loop between USING HitTail and building your natural search traffic. For those who can’t get that big instantaneous diggable hit, you can simply develop their voice and opinions through blogging software, and take the slow, steady route, confident that the traffic will follow. If you write it, they will come—just not in the same numbers as the few days following getting Dugg.