By Jill Whalen, CEO High Rankings
If you’ve been anywhere in the SEM/SEO-sphere over the past month, you’ve
probably heard of Danny Sullivan’s latest venture, the social news/community
site “Sphinn.” It’s sort of a Digg clone, but
specifically for search marketing topics. Danny says it’s supposed to be
pronounced “spi-hin” but to me it’s definitely “sfin” because otherwise it’s
totally sphelled wrong!
When I first looked at Sphinn, I thought it was basically another SEO forum
except that you can vote on the posts you think are good. I read some of
the discussions but lost interest pretty quickly, as all I could think of
was, “Wow…this is totally going to be a spammers’ heaven for link drops!”
Basically, anyone can register and post a link to any article they want, and
since Sphinn is not using the nofollow link attribute it’s going to be
pretty tempting to linkmongers!
When I received an email from Chris Sherman, Search Engine Land editor and a
stakeholder in Sphinn, telling all of us SEL columnists not to be shy about
Sphinning our own columns, I was a little taken aback. Promote our own
articles? Really? Isn’t the first thing you learn in Online Community
Netiquette 101 that self-promotional posting is one of the greatest gaffes
you can make? I remember being called out for that numerous times back at
the turn of the century when I’d drop a link in forums where it seemed to
make sense to do so. In our High Rankings Forum, we delete those types of
links on the spot. We have very strict rules about linking, but policing it
is very time-consuming.
Which brings me back to my original concerns about Sphinn. Danny and his
gang might be watching it very closely at the moment, but they have a
zillion other things on their plates. Are they going to be able to devote
the time and energy to separate the good links from the bad and remove them
accordingly? Danny’s online properties have tons and tons of traffic,
making them huge targets for search engine spammers. Could Sphinn really
work as intended and naturally bury the spammy link drops?
I decided the only way to find this out (other than waiting for it to play
out on its own) was to register as a Sphinner and learn more about how it
actually works. So one boring Saturday a few weeks ago, I conducted a test.
My recent article from the last newsletter, “10 Blogger Types: The Good, the
Bad, and the Sleazy,” seemed like a good
enough one to start my Sphinning career, especially since catchy titles and
top-10 lists seem to be favored at most social media news sites.
Just 28 minutes after my post, I got a Sphinn! Whoo-hoo, I was on my way to
fame and fortune! Thirty minutes after my post I read another post at Sphinn
that I liked, so I Sphunn it, which pushed it from 5 to 6 Sphinns. After
that I got tired of refreshing my screen every few minutes (Saturdays are
notoriously dead on search marketing sites, so I wasn’t expecting much
action until Monday). I stepped away from my computer for a few hours (yeah,
I actually do that now and then!).
When I checked again 3 hours after it was
originally posted, my article was up to 5 Sphinns — yeah baby! Upon closer
inspection, I noted that Danny was one of my Sphinners and figured his
thumbs-up might encourage others to Sphinn it as well.
6 hours - 8 Sphinns
10 hours - 10 Sphinns
On Sunday morning when I first checked, it had 13 Sphinns, and after being
posted for a full 24 hours was up to 14. By then it had been promoted to
the “Hot Topics” category and was out of the “What’s New” section as well.
While watching and waiting, I had Sphunn a few more articles and it appeared
that some of the folks whose articles I had Sphunn had returned the favor
and Sphunn mine. I was hoping they didn’t just do it as a reciprocal kinda
thing, but that they actually enjoyed the article itself. There had been
some previous articles at Sphinn about how it was a popularity contest with all sorts of politics involved, which I really am not into.
1 day and 2 hours - 16 Sphinns
1 day and 7 hours - 18 Sphinns
At this point, I had noticed that Danny had removed certain articles that
didn’t quite meet the Sphinn guidelines, which was very encouraging to me.
Still, I continued to wonder if he’d always be there to do that and whether
they might be planning on hiring a full-time babysitter for Sphinn.
Before bed on Sunday - 19 Sphinns
I have to say, I was quite pleased and pleasantly surprised at having
received so many Sphinns so quickly, especially during a slow weekend. I
found myself getting caught up in the Sphinn-tasticness of it all. Each
time I’d see a new Sphinn, I’d get all excited. No matter how old you get,
receiving recognition for a job well done is something that we all crave.
Still, a more important test of Sphinn was whether it was driving any
traffic to the High Rankings website, so I fired up my other social media
playground, MyBlogLog, in which I have a nice
simple stats program set up. I found that on Saturday, I had 23 visitors
from Sphinn, and on Sunday, I had an additional 47. Not a ton, but again,
not bad for a weekend. Eventually, I’ll check my Google Analytics to
evaluate those visitors and to see if they took any additional action at the
site, like perhaps signing up for the newsletter.
Monday - 22 Sphinns but they seemed to be petering out.
As I write this 11 days after my 10 Blogger Types article was originally
posted, it has 27 Sphinns. Comparing it with other articles that had been
posted around the same time, I was satisfied with that number. It was clear
that people liked the article, and that was nice to know.
During the past week and a half, I have spent quite a lot of time at Sphinn
and have done some additional research and Sphinning beyond just that first
article. What I noticed was quite interesting.
For instance, my recent SEL article, “Over-optimization Is Like Being a
Little Bit Pregnant,”
was posted Thursday morning, and I was happy to see that someone had
Sphunn it within a few hours, because I really didn’t want to do it
myself, despite Chris Sherman’s encouragement to the contrary! I also
thought it would be good to see if the results would be different for
an article of mine that someone else had Sphunn. Would it receive more
Well, apparently pregnancy isn’t sexy enough for the Sphinn audience, or
perhaps my article just sucked, but as of today…6 days after it was
Sphunn, that poor article got only 2 Sphinns (and 1 was mine!). I can’t
measure the traffic to that one since it’s on the SEL site, so I’m not sure
if people read it but didn’t Sphinn it or if they simply never bothered to
click through from Sphinn. The headline/title you use on your article or
when you Sphinn it seems to be very important. I *thought* mine was pretty
catchy, but maybe not. A lot of stuff there gets posted very quickly, and
if people have only so much time to spend, they will browse through the new
ones and just click on the ones that sound interesting.
On a happier note, Pauline’s interview with Seth Godin
got Sphunn quickly by someone and ended up with 16 Sphinns as of today.
I also Sphunn a number of articles and blog posts that I had read last
week as I caught up with my SEO RSS feeds, and many of them rose to the
top of Sphinn very quickly. The most Sphinns were obtained by the blog
post I submitted from fellow SEMNE members over at KoMarketing. They
had a fun post listing 15 traits of SEO nerds, and it is currently up to 32 Sphinns!
All in all, I like Sphinn a lot more than I thought I would. I even think
that by its very democratic nature it could possibly be immune to
link-droppers, as the crappy stuff gets buried fairly quickly (as evidenced
by my SEL article . That said, as far as I know there aren’t currently
any armies of Sphinners set up to scam it like there are with Digg. If
Sphinn becomes very popular, you can bet those will crop up. I believe that
if Danny and the gang continue to police it vigilantly, it could be a cool
place to keep your finger on the pulse of the SEM/SEO world. Whether it
becomes a spammers’ heaven for link drops is yet to be seen!
---Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Consulting Agency.
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