How to Create Digg-Friendly Content: Cracked.com’s Template

A while ago I wrote about using selective reporting to frame news, grab attention and make your content stand out from the rest of the competition. Now lets looks at creating original content specifically for a social media channel. How do you increase the chances of your article striking a nerve and spreading like wildfire within a specific community?

The answer is simple. I’ve mentioned it before. First of all, you need to start by gathering tactical knowledge on the specific website. Know your audience’s fetishes. Know what they love/hate and know what they talk about. Know what cliques exist within the community. Know what totems,  symbols, personalities and ideas are embraced by the general populace.

After knowing that, you can start to create content that is angled towards the specific audience. The mistake that most people make is not having broad appeal. A large general community has many members, each with different interests but a microscopic and overly technical focus on a small topic area may rob your content of the chance of truly going viral.

So what do you do? One method that works is just to use references to heighten content relevance and styling your articles in a catchy format that is easily accessible. What this template looks like will of course, depend on the specific website you are targeting.

Let’s use Digg as an example.

I’m not going to go into all the details on creating digg-friendly content (all that jazz about writing good headlines, using attractive pictures blah blah), instead I’m going to point you to Cracked.com, an example of a website that has perfected the art of writing original content that is attractive to not only Digg but many other channels like forums, blogs and social sites.

A general humor site, Cracked has gradually learned to create a template that works perfectly for a broad range of topics. Their content style does not vary from article to article: they use a more or less fixed template while inserting their topic-of-the-day into it.

What does this mean? That content producers in every conceivable niche/field can create content that will be appealing to a broad audience, just by learning how to use an attention grabbing frame. No more complaints about your site topic being inherently boring or obscure.

cracked



Cracked.com publishes a few articles everyday of the week and without fail, almost all of them will get to the frontpage of digg and sometimes, sites like Reddit. It’s a given that they’ll get frontpage glory, the only question is how many hours it’ll take for them to get there.

Like many other popular sites on digg, their success is accumulative: digg users see their content on the frontpage, read it and subscribe to their site via RSS or bookmark. They then visit it when new articles are published and end up digging them. And it goes on and on, untill a sizable number of digg users have become regular readers of their publication.

A lot of their initial success in the beginning was due to the fact that they wrote interesting content which was supported by a few power users who started submitting their stories. Over time, their integration with digg grew deeper and now every morning you’ll see users refreshing the Cracked.com homepage repeatedly just to be the first to submit the new article.

So apart from having supporters early on, how did Cracked.com take off? Mainly through good writing/ideas and the use of a sensationalistic, list-based content template. Instead of analyzing their website myself, I’ll refer you to two key articles they’ve written on the very topic of creating digg-friendly content and getting it to the frontpage.

The first one talks about writing a cracked-style list post and this quote here is most useful:

There are incredibly important questions in the world that need to be answered, which is why people read the The New York Times. Often when writing a list, your goal is to come up with a question that nobody on the face of the earth would ever actually need the answer to–a question that may in fact have never been asked before in the history of the human race.

This might sound easy but think of it like this: Real newspapers give people answers to the questions they’re already asking. What’s going on in Iraq? What’s up with this Bin Laden guy? It’s easy to know what questions to answer when they’re being asked of you.

But nobody’s asking Cracked and me “Who ARE the Top 10 Greatest Character Actors Who Ever Played Ninjas?” or “What DOES Science Have to Say About the Likelihood of a Zombie Apocalypse?” Journalists have it easy.

They even developed a tongue-in-cheek popularity equation for their list posts:

The” + (Number) + “Most” + (Over the top adjective) + (Subject) + Of All Time (Synonyms like “in History” or “Ever” will also be accepted) = Popularity

Cracked Popularity Equation


The second article (published today) talks about the 7 cheats for hitting the digg frontpage. This is more of a satirical piece and has only two points which are useful. The first is to use to talk about and reference Digg. I’ve talked about this before. The other point is to play to the crowd’s interests. Here’s an exaggerated mockup of a story that does that:

ultimate digg


Note how the title crams in some of the big issues that Digg users care about.

Many people have written about content creation for social media, site optimization and ways to leverage digg. The hundreds of guides or tutorials out there are great but you’ll learn the fastest by observing the best. Apart from regularly watching what goes popular on various social channels, sites like Cracked.com can help you learn how to make even a small topical focus attractive to a general audience. And that’s what you need to reach more people online.


By the way, you might want to add me as a friend on Digg.

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38 Comments - Share Your Thoughts
  • Becoming an active user will also give you a really good understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

  • Definitely great tips for not only cracking the code at digg but also maximizing all business communication. At the end of the day, if you’re not speaking your target market’s language. You’re a mute.

    Jen Thomas
    Research Analyst
    Muvar Software

  • Although the article is true, it is disheartening that such a ridiculous formula is what grabs people’s attention, regardless of the content. While I’m sure the majority of bloggers out there prefer their content to be king, as the cliche says, it very well may fall by the roadside to make way for inane posts that follow these forumlas.

    Dominic’s right though, becoming an active user and building a following over time is useful. Let’s hope pre-fab structures such as these (as entertaining as they can be for lunchtime reading) don’t take over the net! :)

  • It is not the topics, John, but the format. People always want to be ahead of the curve, even if it is about a zombie apocalypse.

  • I just read that second article right now, it blew me away! I totally agree with you about observing the best in order to succeed. The amount of success they have achieved is quite astounding to be honest, but I’m sure it wasn’t an easy job to reach where they are right now.

  • Good article Maki. By breaking down Cracked.com articles like you have we can see some key points that will help your article gain popularity. Thanks for sharing.

    Regards,
    Arnold

  • Nice tips. I will definately take some of the advice on board. Now I just need to be creative…..

  • Great tips and I also have to agree that building your friendships on digg is time consuming. If you don’t take your time though you will and up with 15 shouts from 1 person everyday. I see that as an abuse on digg and I delete that person. So finding good friends that are not overdoing it is the time consuming part.
    Thanks for the breakdown for writing a good headline,very helpful.
    Keep it flowing:-)
    Rheyanna

  • Cool tips, I like it :)

  • Is “creating Digg-friendly content” really Digg user-friendly? I am starting to sound like a broken record, but I can’t finish a social media comment without reference to the lack of a filter for all the noise. All of these Top # lists may be entertaining for some, but most of the content is senseless above all else — which says what about those diggers? Fortunately, I appreciate Digg trying to address this problem by launching a recommendation search engine. I have found myself discovering more since its implementation.

    Side note: Maki, didn’t you just have a big problem with Digg a few days ago suspending your account (or IP)? Was that ever resolved?

  • Break has many digg friendly content.

  • Thanks. I’ll be keeping an open mind on the equation. It looks like it really does work.

    “The” + (Number) + “Most” + (Over the top adjective) + (Subject) + Of All Time (Synonyms like “in History” or “Ever” will also be accepted) = Popularity”

  • It’s amazing how much it works.

  • Great post as always Maki! I will go and have an in-depth look at cracked.com to see what I am missing.

    Thanks,
    JR

  • great tip to increase website interaction and improve website popularity. it is very helpful

  • Thanks for sharing that great tip!

    I am always in a marvel about how well to maximize and make use of social bookmarking sites like hugh PR’s ones as Digg. Your post was very informative, kudos!

  • I enjoyed this. The formula made me laugh out loud, but it sounds good to me.

    I added you as a friend on Digg (I’m at digg.com/users/jshare) and I Stumbled and Dugg this for you.

  • I have been so focused on discussing my niche I never take a step back to appeal to the wider market. However from experience I can add that my most successful “social” articles are always numbered i.e my 6 best or the number 1 way to … It seems to break the infomation down that social readers seem to appreciate. Oh and for an obvious tip mention in your article “if you like this article dont forget to digg it” or something along those lines. As soon as I did that I started getting the social traffic. Thanks for the tips.

  • Hi Maki - Thanks, this is really useful. I’m really trying to understand Digg right now and this has made it a lot easier. Also, thanks for the reference to Cracked. I hadn’t heard of it before so I’ll be studying their posts carefully.

  • Fantastic posts, some great tips that I’m sure will help me and my blog. :)

  • this is a bloody great post. I have digg envy of Cracked. I tried more than once last fall to be the first to submit an article but after about figuring out what their schedule was and spending countless hours trying to be the first to get anything and never getting close I finally gave up and went back to my real life. Yes I was bitter, but I did learn a very good lesson about being the first or second to comment on one of those articles. That does almost as much for your popularity as getting the digg.

  • fantastic post!

  • Definitely some very good tips. My first time around with Digg, I had no luck and no success. However, when I began to incorporate some things, my chances of hitting the front page increased. Granted, I only have a 9% popular ratio, it’s still nice to know there is the potential. It’s all about networking and creating content that people are going to love to read.

  • Roger Samara on July 22nd, 2008

    This is a fantastic Post.
    These are great tips that will help be push my blog and increase the my visitors.
    Roger Samara

  • Useful stuff! It’s also deployable on blog post titles.

  • Pretty cool info. Once everyone knows how to design for Digg, it just gets all that much harder to get dugg again.

  • Great tips! Definitely you title is one of the most important factors to be high in Digg. Copywriting skills can really help here.

  • This is a wonderful written article which should help many. It can be a challenge.

  • There’s another question that’s worth to point: guys at cracked.com write the most hilarious posts. You may use the formula you want, but if your content sucks, it just won’t work.

  • awesome…. wondeful article… but it is not as easy as writing and implementing this to get on front page on digg.. Digg networking helps a lot to get on front page.

  • Thanks for giving me a clear direction regarding Digg. Because I’m so new to blogging there is more then I can understand floating into my already confused older (age 62 brain) This analagy was great.

    Now the idea is to implement what I read…we just launched our new page..so as beginners not everything is working. However, we will continue until it’s right and Digg will be our next goal.

    Thanks a lot..

    Dorothy from grammology
    remember to hug your gram
    grammology.com

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