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Social Bookmarking Icons – Are they Worth It?

37 Signals has a post on a topic I’ve been pondering a lot lately also – those social bookmarking buttons at the bottom of blog posts that so many blogs have. They write:

“Given the Ebola-like spread of these things they must be really effective, right? Not so much. Zero out of Technorati’s top 10 blogs feature those icons. And only two out of the 15 entries in the current crop at Digg’s Top Today page offer “Digg me” icons.

This focus on campaigning over content seems like a classic case of misplaced priorities. The reason posts wind up at Digg, Delicious, or elsewhere isn’t because the authors made it easier to vote for them (it’s already easy). A post winds up at these sites because people respond to its content and quality.”

I’ve been pondering these icons lately too for a couple of reasons – to be honest I’m a bit torn by them.

I’ll come out and admit to having a digg icon on the individual pages of my digital photography school blog. It only appears on individual pages where the item is actually dugg first by a reader – but they do appear (and pretty prominently).

The reason I’ve been pondering them is that on some posts (like this post on polarizing filters) the Digg count is pretty small (15 at the time of writing this). Not many people dugg it and the post didn’t really climb digg’s rankings. I suspect that a few of the 15 diggers dugg it after seeing the icon, but it didn’t really capture people’s attention. I think the post was of a good quality – but obviously it wasn’t viral enough.

On the other hand a post that I wrote last night on how to choose a DSLR did much better with Digg (sitting on 631 at the time of writing this). It made it to the front page of Digg today and brought in 20,000 or so visitors. Now I have no way of telling how many of the readers dugg the item as a result of the icon – but I do know for a fact that when I went to bed it was sitting on 4 diggs and I woke up this morning it was sitting on 25 diggs. However this morning when I linked to the post from my forums and sent some readers to it – within minutes the digg counter went up and the ball started rolling. I suspect that it was a direct result of the icon that tipped the post over onto the popular page of digg.

I guess what I’m saying is that on the majority of my blog posts the icon doesn’t do anything (in fact some would say it might cheapen the look of the site – especially when the counter is low) – however on the occasional post the icon might just give a quality post that doesn’t quite have the legs to go viral a lift that creates a digg-a-lanche.

I guess the question is – is it worth having the icons there for that occasional benefit?

The other thought that comes to mind is that Digital Photography School has a reasonably healthy readership each day that might make the icon’s use worthwhile. On a blog with a smaller readership the numbers of readers who see and click it would probably be too small to have any/much impact.

  • I’m in two thoughts – what do you think?
  • Do you use social bookmarking icons on your blog?
  • What impact have you noticed that they have?
  • What suggestions would you have in using them?
About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Bill T says:

    I do not like them, I think some sites over load the pages with icons thinking this will help, or just add color for that matter.

    One or maybe two simple ones maybe, but not the whole series.

    Anyone that knows how to use these services, knows how to use them without the icon if needed.

  2. Doug Karr says:

    I got some grief from some folks on mine… so I created a hyperlink that displays/hides them on my posts. That way if someone likes them, they are there… if they don’t, that’s okay too!

  3. Steve says:

    With my blog, the subject matter is so unique that the readership is never going to be to the dizzy heights of 1000s a day but I do have social bookmarking icons just incase. The truth is, if the quality of content is such, the word will get around to the target audience anyway elevating the post to its rightful position.

    Blogs that are more mainstream will always command a bigger audience therefore a larger slice of the pie, making it all the more important to ensure quality content. Once the audience is set, good quality posts will retain the readership.That said, for those sites the bookmarks make no difference.

    So I guess what I am saying is, social bookmarking icons make no difference to well established blogs whatsoever apart from giving the post a little artwork for distraction. Smaller blogs may benefit but personally I have found no benefit as yet.

  4. Mark says:

    I’ve been using some but find them to have almost no positive impact on exposure/audience growth so I’m thinking about getting rid of them.

    It occurs to me that our topic area is generally too niche-like to make it big on a site like digg. Couple that with the fact that it *seems* as though most diggers are not interested in my topic area and it’s of little value to us.

    But, I could be wrong. I have a habit of being wrong. :)

  5. I don’t think there’s a one-answer-fits-all to this one.
    It depends on the type of article (some are newsy and diggable and some aren’t, even on the same blog.)
    It depends on your readers (if they in general aren’t very web-literate they probably don’t even know what the icons are or even what digg or delicious even are). I’ve had a few readers on my blog actually ask me what the bookmarking sites are for.
    In general though, the downside to putting them on for most blogs is fairly minimal, even though the upside is probably spotty as well.

  6. Enrique says:

    I’d have to go with the classic “It doesn’t hurt” philosophy :) I’ve been using the Notable plugin on one of my WordPress blogs and made careful note of the traffic before and during its use. Traffic did not go down after I plugged it in, which is good.

    The bad thing is, it looks like it’s only been used some 10 times in the last 3 months. That’s when I go with the classic “Any traffic is good traffic” ;)

    Fortunately I can choose which social sites I want to display, so as time progresses I weed out those that don’t get used, which I’m hoping will make it less intimidating for my visitors.

  7. I was thinking about using them on my events website, but the more I saw other websites putting a bank of more and more icons, the more I thought that these sites were starting to look more like MySpace pages or personal blogs, instead of more professional, quality driven sites.

    Not to mention, events on my site end. After that, how noteworthy is the page?

    Glad to hear they don’t seem to make too much impact. Makes the decision to not use them easier.

    Tom

  8. Katy says:

    I have them on my website, but I doubt anyone uses them, I just put them on because everybody else seemed to be doing it!

  9. MacStansbury says:

    Wanna know how I found out how to trackback sites? I saw one in the comments, and tried my darndest to figure out what it was. And my introduction to trackbacks was buy looking at something and trying to make sense out of it.

    While trackbacks are sorta Web 1.7 b2, all the icons had better mean something. If you’re going to have a Digg This! button, you sure better (at least occasionally) tell people to Digg this. I’m a fastidious del.icio.us user, and I make it a point to point out how the one social bookmarking service I use is important to people. There’s a link to del.icio.us on every page, in a neat text line, but it’s not part of 300 other links.

    That said, if you don’t put an ad out, nobody’s going to click it. I figured out trackbacks only after I saw a trackback. I stated using del.icio.us after I saw it on somebody’s site.

    If you get Diggs off of somebody seeing the box and clicking on it, consider yourself lucky. I’d say the conversion rate for Diggs is ridiculously low.

  10. brem says:

    For me, it’s only a matter of making it easier to bookmark. However, what triggers the user to bookmark or not is not the presence or absence of those buttons, but good content.

  11. pcunix says:

    I put a “Digg this” link on each post, but it is seldom used.. I suspect part of the problem is that Digg requires a login, which is a complicated extra step if you aren’t already a member..

    I have had some good traffic now and then from Digg/Slashdot, etc. but frankly it’s mostly visitors I could do without: one trip folks with a narrow, specific interest – narrow and specific isn’t my “thang” :-)

  12. Robert says:

    As a fairly new blogger that has these icons, I can say that they haven’t helped me, but they haven’t hurt me either. With my current exposure pretty low, I’m hoping that the bookmark links more than the digg style links will help get the ball rolling with traffic.

    One day when I have thousands of visitors they may not make as much of an impact as people find you regardless by word of mouth (word of blog??), search engines (how I found this your site), etc.

  13. Peter says:

    Darren,

    Personally, I think that the standard icons at the bottom of a post are a waste of time. As 37 Signals point out, it’s easy enough to add a site to your preferred social bookmarking site (if you think it warrants it – I tend to use del.icio.us as an “available anywhere”, browser independent, bookmark list for my own use; I don’t usually consider the wider implications of adding a link) without the need of the icons – although they can serve as a useful reminder.

    However, the icon you use on your other blog (the digg one) strikes me as being more useful as it only appears after the post has already been “dugg” and only on the individual pages; this keeps it in line with the ethos of social bookmarking in my opinion.

    Peter

    P.S. Is the plugin for the digg icon you use generally available?

  14. I have a few icons in my post footer. They are not used frequently, but I suspect they are used. In moderation, I find these icons to be a positive design element.

    I put the less-popular services into a drop-down list instead of using their icons; see my blog for an example.

  15. Razib Ahmed says:

    The irony is that until a blog becomes successful (=generating a lot of pageviews daily), these icons are useless. However, when your blog generates a decent amount of visitors and you get some loyal readers then these icons can generate more traffic for you.
    I support the idea of social bookmarking icons because I have noticed that they work well with Google. If your entry is submitted to some of the social bookmarks these entries come in the first page of Google search (and Blogsearch too) more easily.

  16. engtech says:

    What I think works best:

    - understand what the different social communities are like, and what posts are successful on them

    - use the rule of three: if there’s more than three they’ll ALL be ignored

    - only put a small number of them on posts that will have a good chance of going viral

  17. Mark says:

    Brem: Excellent comment.

    engtech: I like that last bullet.

    Darren: You should do a post on “What makes a post go viral”!

  18. Andy Beard says:

    A very interesting topic.

    I currently have a post on my blog which has generated 29 comments (some of them my own) over the last 3 days.

    The post discusses a very interesting topic (at least in my opinion), and the commenters by and large are known personalities within the blogging and internet marketing world.

    It is actually turning out to be a very civilized conversation, full of touching testmonials with some true insight into the value of the service in question on one side, and on the other, a known trademark owner trying to justify the way they are defending their trademark .

    It is quite probable the traffic coming to the post is mainly from a forum, possibly indirectly (someone maybe didn’t create a hot link) as it doesn’t show on my server logs or tracking.

    The post has just a few bookmarking icons at the bottom

    I thought the post interesting and important enough to “seed” it myself on Digg. It is not something I do often.

    To date the post has received…

    4 Diggs (including my own)

    I might have received more Diggs if I had a Digg counter showing, but I am tempted not to do this for 2 reasons.

    1. The conversation is extremely civilized, thus encouraging some very big names to express their views openly
    2. Qualified traffic – if you bring in traffic that doesn’t really understand the discussion fully, you can end up with loads of comments that add nothing to the conversation.

    Whilst my blog is setup to withstand massive amounts of traffic if I ever get it, I am not sure I want it.

    I am not going to link to the post directly. If people are interested they will find it.

  19. mStraz says:

    I use them on my site (although new). I think they could make things simpler for the reader should they choose to bookmark the article. However, I don’t use text like “digg this!”, but rather the micro icons (3 max, like engtech stated above) provided by the “wp-notable” wordpress plugin.

    They add a little bit of flare to the site and I’m sure readers will eventually become blind to them. Are they use useful? Meh, maybe not, but it doesn’t hurt to have them.

  20. jdanylko says:

    Your timing is perfect, Darren.

    I’m currently reworking my site and was contemplating whether to remove my social bookmarking icons or not.

    Based on your article, I think I’ll be removing them…at least keep two or three.

    Thanks for the informative post.

  21. Thomas says:

    I use social bookmark icons all the time and I think it’s just an easy way for users to save your posts. Much like how everyone has feed buttons to make their blog easy to subscribe to. I think the more popular your blog is, the less you need them as you’ll get links anyways. But it never hurts to make it easy for the users.

  22. John Smulo says:

    I think the 37 Signals post makes a false comparison. Just because the top 10 on Technorati doesn’t use these tools, it doesn’t necessarily mean that blogs with smaller readership shouldn’t use them.

    Blogs that get a lot of traffic will likely continue to get a lot of traffic if they continue to post helpful content. But they obviously didn’t get to this situation overnight. Quite possibly they used these types of tools earlier on and this was a significant part of what helped their blogs become what they are today.

    However, my thought is that blogs with less traffic, and especially new bloggers, have to post great content *and* use some well-thought out tools to kick start greater traffic.

  23. Chris says:

    I have a fairly new site and had a bunch of those social bookmarking buttons. I was considering taking them off anyways, but seeing the article earlier today convinced me to do it. My reasons:

    -They cluttered the site up
    -Everyone else is doing it so they’re bound to lose most of their effect sooner or later
    -I thought it was kind of cheesy and amateurish to look like I was begging for traffic
    -My traffic is pretty decent for only one month, but almost all of it is from my own initiatives, not users clicking little buttons
    -I wasn’t getting much traffic from social bookmarking sites anyways
    -The content isn’t suited to the technology, news, politics, trivia stuff that’s popular on the social bookmarking sites
    -I have articles on my site and can post them to Reddit, del.icio.us, etc myself if I think they’re good enough

    Maybe if I had way more traffic or different content I would feel differently, but at the moment they wasted space on my site and came off a little tacky IMO.

  24. jeff barson says:

    Since I use a service, squarespace, that doesn’t support the icons, I haven’t been able to do it, but I’ve sometimes been jealous.

    Guess I’ll have to rethink. They would have messed up my layout anyway.

  25. It depends on your blog audience. There are tons of people who do not even know what social bookmarks are, let alone what the benefits are. I’ve been asked many times by non-techies who read blogs “What do all those little icons mean?” Personally, I think having a row of icons makes the blog post look cluttered. Keep it simple, and pick no more than 3.

    Then there is the issue of the type of content you write about. If you go to popurls.com, it quickly shows what is popular in many of these social bookmark sites, and if you look closely most of the topics are about technology, politics, business, celebrity gossip, or geek humor. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t put the icons up if you don’t write about any of those topics. I am just pointing out that the “game” in these social sites is popularity, and these are the topics that are popular. Not that, that can’t change. I hope they do.

    If your post is of high quality, it will find it’s way to the social sites without the icons. I mainly write about beauty and body issues but I wrote a post called “How to explain RSS the Oprah way” (For the ProBlogger “How To” series ;-) and it quickly got some big feet on all the social sites. It made it to the front page of Digg. What helped the most, I believe, in getting lots of “diggs” and “deliciousness” was getting the post on Micropersuasion and Lifehacker (I wrote these 2 sites), plus being on a popular ProBlogger activity and having Kevin Rose as one of my diggers.

  26. Steve Olson says:

    I have two. Delicious and Reddit. I think the reddit one has produced some results, just because of my success on that site.

    Steve

  27. guv says:

    I run a small traffic personal blog, on average 350 p day. I ran the social bookmark plugin a while back and do not think any of the icons were used. One reader commented they were confused by the icons at the end of the post and suggested I write a tutorial post on how to work them.

    I removed them after instaling a new theme. I’m still explaining to most friends and family what a blog is let alone how to work social bookmarking sites. In my opinion folks will use them that are already using them without clicking on the icons as most browsers will have plugins that enable this, ie. firefox & delicious extension.

  28. guv says:

    Forgot to add to the above, I have however recently added a ‘digg this’ icon at the end of a post. I have my doubts though whether it will get dugg at all due to the subject matter. I think this is more suited to blogs such as this or perhaps niche/technical reviews etc ….

  29. Darren Rowse says:

    The plugin that runs my digg icon is called digg this.

  30. Dave Taylor says:

    I’m with Brem here: to me the issue isn’t whether it’s a benefit to *me* as the blogger, but whether it’s a benefit to my *reader*, making it easier for them to bookmark the entry with their favorite service. I currently have three services I offer easy links for: Reddit, Del.icio.us and Digg. Heck, I even wrote about how to add these links automatically in a Movable Type template:

    http://www.askdavetaylor.com/add_digg_delicious_links_to_blog.html

  31. Shane says:

    A lot of bookmarking icons can really muddy up a site – and I think they can grab attention away from the content, your internal links, and your adsense spots.But I do think they are helpful, especially when you’re starting out and I would suggest the following …

    - Limit the number of icons to a few of the more well known sites

    - Think about using text links rather than graphical icons – it’s less obtrusive on the page

  32. I think the kind o fDigg Buttons you have on your blog that only show up when the story has already been digged work.

    I am not a great digg user. From time to time I go to digg a spend a little bit of time browsing the articles and give a digg here and there. When I am reading a blog and I like the article I don’t go to digg to see if the article is already there and digg it, but if i have a button righ there under my nose, I’ll give it a digg

  33. I blogged about your post, Darren. :)

    http://www.photocritique.us/2006/10/31/graduate-from-the-world-of-point-and-shoot-photography-go-dslr/

    I’m similarly torn. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I’m a pretty new blogger, and nobody has heard of me (yet — that’s what ProBlogger is here for) ;) I like the social bookmarking tools but not in excess, and comparing my two blogs to each other, I am utilizing the sociable plugin for one (with all buttons enabled) and a customized solution from toprankblog.com on the aforementioned blog. To be perfectly honest, its implementation is practical and can often give a user a subtle hint. The sociable idea is a little bit too heavy on the graphics and probably not really useful — at least if you choose all of the buttons.

    I certainly don’t see social bookmarking icons as a deterrent. If anything, they will be an aid. The top blogs highlighted by 37signals are famous because of their age and the content within — but mostly because age and regular updates (by dedicated editors) make these sites popular. For newcomers to the scene, these buttons can get the blogs there, but it will take time. Some blogs made it on their own merit, but if Technorati is really tracking 58.6 million blogs, then besides the content and marketing of your blog, you’re going to have to give your blog a little push so that it gets out there even further. (And after reading the comments, this is exactly what John Smulo in #23 said) ;)

  34. Josh says:

    I used to put those icons in one of my blogs awhile back. Never really see it’s effectiveness in terms of clickthrough rate or whatsoever. There seem to be everyone’s doing it nevertheless. Any major benefit? i doubt so, in my opinion.

  35. Ross Hill says:

    I think in the end it comes down to how nice you want the design of your site to be. It is hard to argue that having 20 little buttons with different icons looks nice, but it might get you a couple of extra hits on a good post.

  36. Karen says:

    I’m not that savvy at setting them up, so I don’t have them, but I have experienced “button envy” on a number of occasions…

    However, after reading all the comments, I think I’m happy with the state of affairs as they stand on my site :)

    All the blogs I read are from word of mouth reference anyway.

  37. Paul says:

    I recently added a couple options to two of my blogs and I did it as an experiment of sorts to see what, if anything, it does for my blogs. I have 6 icons at the bottom of each post and while they are certainly noticeable, I don’t think they are “in your face” when you view them.

    I am curious whether people will respond to them or not. The way I see it, my blogs could only benefit from the icons. My one blog is a pretty small blog and I feature some items which I believe are of interest generally (for example, Scrybe, the Google acquisitions etc) so they may help build my readership. Then again, they may not.

    If readers complain about them, I may remove them. For now, I would like to see what happens.

  38. Eh? You can get extra traffic by having social bookmarking icons on yoursite? Kewl!

    Actually – apparently I had installed it on my 1800HART blog last May and don’t recall EVER being “digged” by anybody or seeing that icon. So .. I just “DUGG” myself tonight on my latest post to be sure it works, and it does. ~ I guess I’ll see what happens now ~~ C’mon Traffic!! (Can I digg myself?)

    Back on topic .. I like the DIGG button at the top of a post but admit to only clicking the button if I like the blogger or site in general (like Digital Photography School for instance) Only then will I click the DIGG button as a courtesy or gratuitious click or tap on the back to the blogger – not because I liked the article (even if I did a little) but because I like the site and hope to encourage continued blogging. Personally – I don’t really care about social bookmarking sites, but I know some like it for some reason.

    I’m blind to all those gajillion icons show at the bottom of people’s posts and don’t think they cheapen the look .. it makes it look more .. Bloggish. i.m.o.

  39. jdanylko says:

    Darren,

    Just to add more fuel to why we shouldn’t have the Social Bookmarking Icons…

    http://www.37signals.com/svn/posts/93-its-the-content-not-the-icons

  40. Darren Rowse says:

    jdanylko – what do you mean by that link? it’s what I linked to in the main post above….

  41. Jan says:

    I does not like them to. It’s sometimes over load sites and private blogs. I think it’s does not help.

  42. Slazzie says:

    I disagree, I think social network links make the difference sure not everyone will use them and some will get used more then others, but if even 1 person uses one of the more obscure sites that I have an icon of on my site, then it will have paid off. Add as many social icons as you can without overdoing it, if any of them get used – you’ll get 1 extra bit of notice somewhere on the web, that’s 1 more then if you had nothing at all. I guarantee the sheer probability is on your side that someone who uses that social network will come across your site and chances are they will be reminded to use that link. It doesn’t hurt, and can actually help – or don’t use it, doesn’t matter to me because I’ve seen the amount of traffic that this can harness.

  43. Marvin says:

    I consider the icons to be a must have feature on my blog even if they aren’t actually used. It’s my opinion that it has become an expectation of readers to see them at the bottom of each post. It’s kind of an unspoken rule that if you have these on your site then your hip, dialed in, with the program so to speak.

    From the reading I’ve done about effectiveness it seems that some definitely are more beneficial then others. Apparently Stumble upon is a favorite and for some bloggers has provided new traffic. It may be that there is a reader demographic which relates to the kind of social bookmarking sites the frequent or use.

    If you could figure out which sites appeal readers that are likely to find your blog content relevant you might want to include those and exclude others and diminish the size of the flock of icons that appear on many sites.

  44. iZeby says:

    Social bookmarking has become one of the major methods of free promotion for websites. We would be crazy not to take advantage of such a huge means of promotions.

  45. iZeby says:

    I love social bookmarking, it is an awsome way to promote sites for free.

Trackbacks

  1. pixelgraphix says:

    Social Bookmarking Optionen: Lust oder Frust?…

    Aus vielen Blogs sind sie kaum wegzudenken, in einigen springen sie schneller ins Auge als der eigentliche Artikelinhalt: Die Bookmarking-Optionen für die Social-Bookmarking-Dienste wie del.icio.us, digg und Co. Selten beschränken sich die Webmaster…

  2. [...] Social Bookmarking Icons – Are they Worth It? (tags: bookmarking icons) [...]

  3. [...] Darren Rowse of Problogger read the thread with interest and didn’t know what to make of it. I happen to be contemplating the value of these social bookmarking icons myself, but I think that Darren does doubt the power of them a lot more than I do (and I’m certainly not as popular as he is!) [...]

  4. [...] Social Bookmarking Icons Problogger Darren Rowse recently wrote a post about having those social bookmarking icons at the bottom of every blog post, and if they are worthwhile. He was referring to another post by 37 signals, which advocates quality content. [...]

  5. [...] I think I side with Rand on this more than the others, and the three above are not the only ones talking about it either. Social bookmarking icons on blogs to me are a positive thing. It allows readers to virally get the word out about an article to an unlimited number of readers. If I like an article and send it to 10 people via email, and they send it to 20 others, chances are it will not be seen by nearly as many as if the article got 20 diggs. [...]

  6. [...] Darren has a post up talking about if it is worth it to display social bookmarking icons. I am sure you have seen them or tried them out. They are little picture links that when clicked allow users to “easily” add your post to social web 2.0 sites. I guess what I’m saying is that on the majority of my blog posts the icon doesn’t do anything (in fact some would say it might cheapen the look of the site – especially when the counter is low) – however on the occasional post the icon might just give a quality post that doesn’t quite have the legs to go viral a lift that creates a digg-a-lanche. [...]

  7. [...] I also came across this post from Darren Rowse, Social Bookmarking Icons – Are they Worth it?, which takes a mixed view. I’ll let you read the post for the details, but for the gist I guess what I’m saying is that on the majority of my blog posts the icon doesn’t do anything (in fact some would say it might cheapen the look of the site – especially when the counter is low) – however on the occasional post the icon might just give a quality post that doesn’t quite have the legs to go viral a lift that creates a digg-a-lanche. [...]