referral traffic
john borthwick

The New Digg Has A Fighting Chance

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Truth In Geolocation

We have a story on our site today about that guy who accomplished a very long space jump. Baumgartner, or something. Apparently this story has made the front page of Digg, and now that front page of Digg is coming in third in referral traffic to that story, on a Sunday, bringing in around 40 unique readers to Facebook’s 100 or so at any given moment according to Chartbeat.

Sure, Digg in its heyday used to be the top referrer of traffic on front page stories versus the third, as many of us who made our careers of gaming posting to the old Digg can attest to. So why have any emotions about it being a third referrer? Well, because even coming in at all is “better than expected,” according to Digg CEO and Betaworks co-founder John Borthwick.

Digg is Betaworks’ first big acquisition and its biggest bet so far, an expenditure in the $500K range instead of anything under. The site has gone from its heyday of over 30 million uniques a month to not being that focused on uniques. “I’m loathe to get into a metrics game,” explains Borthwick. “I have done this before and it’s a treadmill that gets the team focused on the wrong things (at this stage of development),” he says, eight weeks after a complete revamp of the storied aggregation site.

Despite this reluctance to share any concrete metrics (a reluctance that I’m seeing in more and more founders nowadays) Borthwick tells me that over a million people have visited Digg since its relaunch — 1.7 million people in over two months since the site redesign.

Borthwick tells me that mobile usage on the new, more elegant, more pared down Digg is promising, up 15 percent since eight weeks ago, and holds that iPhone, iPad and mobile web users stick around longer and read more — the app is currently promoted in the App Store which doesn’t hurt.

Among these 1.7 million visits, returns are strong according to Borthwick, with users returning 1.4x times on the web, and 2.3x on mobile. Indeed, as we ourselves have seen, Borthwick is confident in the fact that Digg has returned as a top three referrer of traffic to major publishers. “I like the fact that we are driving millions of clicks to websites each week,” he says, revealing that he too visits the site each day.

“What’s really important right now is getting the experience right, getting back to something that people love,” he asserts. Borthwick would like to come up with a better Digg monetization strategy than just slapping on banner ads to the homepage, but swears that he won’t think about monetization until six months to a year from now.

He also brings up this piece on referral traffic in The Atlantic as a far better marker of the site’s prospects than any traffic stats. “It’s great to see Digg as a leading referrer of traffic,” he says. “Not bad for eight weeks of work.”

Of course, as the new design is reminiscent of a Pinterest for news more than a Reddit, what I imagine Medium would look like if I could gain access to it, the new Digg is nowhere near as much of a community juggernaut. But Borthwick is indeed pleased with the modest successes of showing up on other sites’ radar, again bringing up the fact that Digg showed up on The Atlantic‘s radar on their “dark social” story.

“I’m very happy with that [pie chart]” Borthwick writes me in an email, after the fourth or so time I ask him for specific DAU or MAU on Digg. “The internal metrics we track are closer to gaming metrics, engagement is what we focus on, DAU/MAU is tracking around 15 percent, I’m very happy with that. [We’re watching] Chartbeat (another Betaworks company) metrics — concurrents and engagement, we eat our own metrics dogfood.”

“What content companies do is more of an art than a science,” Alexis Madrigal wrote in his weekend piece on why referrer success is at times hard to quantify. And sometimes, in the case of the new Digg, it’s more a religion than an art, as in, do your best and pray.