What Digg traffic looks like

Ever wonder what it's like to have your site appear on Digg's front page? Think you'll be rich and gain thousands of loyal fans?

One of my recent articles, What is Apple releasing on Tuesday?, was submitted to Digg and succeeded in earning a lot of votes, pushing it onto the front page for a few hours.

Sites often buckle under the intense traffic from being featured on Digg. It's similar to, but smaller than, being Slashdotted. I was on the front page on a Sunday evening, a relatively low-traffic time period in web usage, so I only received about 18,000 hits.

My statistics don't represent all Digg users, of course - they represent the Digg users who were browsing during that time, decided to click my article's headline, and had Javascript enabled. But hey, it's better than random guessing.

Here are the statistics, for curious visitors or entrepreneurial website authors:


Ad money

I put a more visible set of Google AdSense ads on my site when my story hit the front page. I've kept them there since then, and tracked their performance on "normal" days for comparison.
  • 0.66% average click-through rate (CTR) on normal days
  • 0.10% click-through rate from Digg traffic

Ad profits are often measured in cost (for the advertisers... profit for the site owner) per 1,000 pages viewed (CPM).

  • $2.00 effective CPM on normal days
  • $0.92 effective CPM from Digg traffic

This isn't just an indicator that my site has a lot of loyal visitors who click on ads constantly. (Believe me, that's really not the case.) According to Google Analytics, 82% of my visitors during the above "normal days" were new to the site. The top inbound link sources, by far, are Google and Yahoo web searches.

My visitors aren't unusually loyal. Digg's visitors just won't bring you the same ad performance that you can expect from general web traffic. You'll have to find another way to get rich. (The mathematically skilled members of my audience have probably figured out that I made approximately $16, total, from being on the Digg front page. That's enough for me to exist in my apartment for about 9 hours.)


Depth of visits

A single appearance on Digg also isn't a very effective way to generate devoted fans.

Almost all (94%) of the Digg visits were only the linked article. Only 4% of them stuck around and looked at other pages on my site, and almost all of those only viewed one additional page.

When browsing through Digg's top stories, users are not mentally navigating a set of external sites, they're navigating Digg. My article was no different in their mental navigation models than if it were a Digg page. They read the article, then clicked the Back button to return to the headlines and read more articles.

If you don't believe me and you're a Digg user, try to remember (without using your browser's history functions) at least three websites you visited from Digg yesterday. No luck? Can you even remember one?


Digg user statistics

It's interesting to note how much these differ from general web user statistics.


Operating systems

  • 57% Windows (of those: 92% Windows XP, 5% Windows 2000, 1.1% Windows Vista!)
  • 38% Mac OS X (of those: 60% PowerPC, 40% Intel)
  • 4.6% Linux
  • 0.04% (7 people) Solaris
  • 0.03% (5 people) FreeBSD - 2007 will be the year of FreeBSD on the desktop!

Such high Mac and Linux usage is incredibly unusual. There's also a lot of early adopters here, given the representation of Windows Vista users.

The Intel Mac representation is also surprisingly high, since they've only been available for 9 months.

This is obviously skewed, since my article was about Apple, but the rest of the Digg audience probably isn't significantly different.


Web browsers

  • 55% Firefox
  • 24% Safari
  • 15% Internet Explorer
  • 2.2% Opera
  • 1.9% Camino

This is a huge Firefox and Safari representation compared to the usage among general users, which I've seen estimated at about 12% and 3%, respectively.

I was also surprised that Camino made the chart. Camino is a custom Mac version of Mozilla that uses the Firefox rendering engine with an almost-native Mac interface. I always assumed there were only about 11 people who used it.


Screen resolutions

  • 25% 1024x768 (15" desktop LCDs and low-end laptops, including the old iBook G4)
  • 23% 1280x1024 (17" desktop LCDs)
  • 10% 1440x900 (Widescreen laptops, including the 15" MacBook Pro)
  • 9% 1280x800 (Widescreen laptops, including the 13" MacBook)
  • 8% 1680x1050 (20" widescreen desktop LCDs and big laptops, including the 17" MacBook Pro)
  • 4.1% 1280x854 (Widescreen laptops, notably the old 15" PowerBook G4)
  • 3.9% 1920x1200 (24" widescreen desktop LCDs)

Digg users have much higher-end and more recent hardware than most people, with an unusually high representation of widescreen resolutions from recent laptops and high-end desktop LCDs. The high Mac usage heavily influences this toward the Apple laptop resolutions.

800x600 is notably absent. In most web surveys, there's a small (around 5%) number of users who use this low resolution, and good web designers grudgingly ensure that their layouts are acceptable within it.


Countries

  • 68% United States
  • 8% Canada
  • 4% United Kingdom
  • 3% Australia
  • 2% Taiwan

No major surprises here for a predominantly American site linking to an article written in English.


ISP types

  • 80% cable/DSL
  • 9% corporate
  • 5% dialup

Most geeks who live in major metropolitan areas have no idea how many people still use dialup, either because nothing faster is available (in the middle of nowhere, where a surprising number of people live) or they just don't care enough to pay more for broadband (extremely nontechnical people who just use email and basic browsing).


So what's the use?

I recently learned that there are services for which a site owner can pay a hefty 5-digit fee and get an organized, one-time traffic blitz from artificial promotion on sites like Digg. It's often used to jumpstart a larger PR campaign or to expose new sites to a large audience, not to surpass the service's cost with immediate ad revenue.

Given the observed behavior of Digg users, and the reasonable application of this pattern to other one-time-blitz traffic, I doubt that this service is worth buying at a high price.

Digg traffic is great for sites. Generally, any traffic is great for sites - I'd rather get paid $16 for an article than $0. But Digg won't turn your blog into Engadget overnight.

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