7 Traits of a Social Media-Friendly Web Site

Filed in MY BEST POSTS, Social Media, Web Site Content by Matt McGee on December 17, 2008 16 Comments
friends photo

We talk a lot about building user-friendly web sites and SEO-friendly web sites, and both of those are things we should be talking about because they’re vital to long-term online marketing success. But we don’t talk as much about building a site that plays well in social media.

That’s a mistake.

Consider this Forrester research from just two months ago: “Social technology adoption increased tremendously this year. Three in four US online adults now use social tools to connect with each other compared with just 56% in 2007.” Here’s more: Big social sites like Facebook show their growth stats (“2.6 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day”) and smaller social sites like Mixx are also experiencing dramatic growth. And do we even need to mention Twitter? I hope not.

So your site might already be SEO- and user-friendly, but is it social media friendly? Here are my seven traits of a social media-friendly web site, and you’re invited to add more in the comments.

Social Media-Friendly Web Site Traits

delicious screenshot1. Social media-friendly content.
This hasn’t changed in years, and probably never will change: People love lists, tips, how-tos, guides, and so forth. This type of content is very social media friendly. As far back as 2005, Darren Rowse wrote why lists attract more traffic, and one look at PopURLs.com shows that this continues to play well on all the social media sites.

Check out the list at right of stories that were popular on delicious yesterday: 10 of this, 40 of that, 21 of the other thing. People love lists. Photo galleries and videos are more types of social media-friendly content.

2. Ability to share content.
The content itself is only part of the equation. You should make it easy for social media users to share that content. For a blog like mine, that means I use the Sociable WordPress plugin which lets me choose the social site icons/links I want to show at the bottom of every post:

social bookmarking screenshot

If you don’t use WordPress, or don’t have a blog at all (more on that below), AddThis and ShareThis offer a similar widget that can be installed into a standard web page.

“But, Matt, we’re a small retailer. No one is going to bookmark our product pages!”

Well, to a large degree you’re right. Pages selling green widgets don’t often fare well in social media. But, people might still share your product pages with their friends and family. So, if you’re a retailer, you could skip the options listed above and just make sure you have a prominent, easy-to-use “Tell-A-Friend” tool on each page so that Jane Shopper can email her husband to say “This is the widget I’ve been looking for!” That’s the e-commerce equivalent of social sharing.

newspaper headline3. Great headlines.
You can’t underestimate the importance of a great headline in your articles, blog posts, and other content. Social media users aren’t known to be patient; a bad headline will turn them away immediately. And if they see the bad headline linked from another site, they won’t bother clicking through to read the article on your site. Brian Clark’s Five Common Headline Mistakes and How to Avoid Them is a great resource. And don’t miss Rebecca Kelley’s description of How a Good Title and Description Can Make or Break Your Social Media Submission.

4. Eye-grabbing photos.
Just like a great headline, a striking image in your article can also help grab attention. When social media users are deciding whether to bookmark your article or vote it up, they often make that decision within the first few seconds after seeing your content. A compelling image can be the difference between success or failure. Muhammad Saleem wrote about this in terms of StumbleUpon users, but it’s true for social media in general: “StumbleUpon users seem more likely to be drawn in by the smart use of images, and there’s no better placement for a great image than at the top of your article.”

No Ads5. No ads, or the ability to disable ads on your pages.
Generally speaking, social media diehards don’t like to see ads on the content they’re reading. This is especially true on digg, and less true in other social media venues. If digg success is your goal, you should remove all ads from the article(s) being submitted. If that’s not possible, minimize them as much as possible. What many social media marketers do is submit the ad-free content to digg, and then put the ads back on the page either right after the content “goes hot” (i.e., hits the home page) or a week or two later when the traffic and links have died down.

6. Social community elements on display.
Community is a big part of social media success, and showing that you’re involved in some of the well-known social media communities is part of having a social media-friendly web site. It’s not a must-have like some of the other items listed here, but having things like a MyBlogLog widget, Facebook Connect, or Google Friend Connect widget is a way of showing that you’re engaged in social communities.

7. A blog.
Social media is also about conversations, and there’s probably no better way to encourage conversations on your site than a blog. It can be the place where numbers 1-4 on this list are housed. You can still have social media success without it, but a strong blog will become the hub of your social media efforts and can make your web site social media-friendly.

Your turn: What else makes a web site more social media-friendly?

(“Friends” photo at top courtesy notsogoodphotography, “Headlines” photo courtesy zimpenfish, both via Creative Commons)

Comments (16)

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  1. Dean says:

    Hey Matt,

    Great post. Out of curiosity why don’t you include the digg button for your sociable plugin? I went to digg this post…

  2. Matt McGee says:

    Dean, I’m about 95% positive that my domain is banned from digg. Well, you can submit stuff, but it’s auto-buried. I write about SEO, and the digg crowd says SEO is evil. So, no sense wasting space with a digg button….

  3. Dean says:

    Nice, was just curious. Good stuff.

  4. Peter says:

    Matt – would you consider adding other elements that make a site social? Things like voting up content, rating, etc. You did mention the ability to share content, but I am wondering if some other simple elements will help enhance the experience and engage visitors. Things like commenting on a blog are much more difficult to get a person to do then say clicking a voting icon.


  5. Matt McGee says:

    Hi Peter – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a “rate this post” thing on your blog, so readers can give an article 1-5 stars (or whatever it might be). That might engage readers to a degree, and can certainly give the author feedback.

    But I don’t consider that kind of thing a social element. The result of the vote is what? Not much. It never leaves the blog post. My goal with this post was to talk about things that help a site do well out on social sites — whether it be digg, stumbleupon, mixx, etc. — and with social media users. Lists, headlines, great photos, etc., can all help with that, but I’m not sure voting buttons would.

  6. You hit it on the head…easily scannable, to the point content is the key to capturing a social media audience.

    Good list.


  7. Peter says:

    Gotcha – I was interpreting your post to be a bit more broad about how to make a site be more social and not be a one way conversation between the blogger and his or her audience. Someone sharing a blog post on Digg or StumbleUpon is basically an individual saying that they feel that this blog post is good enough that I want to let others know. Rating is just another form of that which can be both important for the blogger to know if what they produced was actually good and it can also be important to the next person to read it. It’s sort of like the fact that this blog post you did has had 20 “Sphinns”. It is definitely something that I look for to know what other people thought of something like a blog post. If the goal of social media is to be social, my point is that there are different levels and ways for a site owner to engage with the community to create social touch points.

    Good stuff and I enjoy the back and forth!

  8. Guillaume says:

    Thanks for the list. For my part I would say that some feature like Facebook Connect is the hottest thing that makes a website social media friendly.

  9. Gregor says:

    I like the share this page opttion – for small businesses or retailers it’s difficult to explain the use of Digg, StumbleUpon etc (and product pages aren’t really the right type of content for those sites).

    But people still might want to share a product they’ve found with a friend – and you have to make it easy for them to do that.

  10. This is great, the ability also to leave a status of what someone is doing at any given moment is also very important.

  11. Gerald Weber says:

    You hit most of the things right on the head here. I think the blog is a big one because it is a way to engage your website visitors in a social way on your site and keep them coming back to see what else your going to post in the future.

  12. I think the example of Now Public is a fantastic example of a social site that leverages user generated content in a great way. I’m particularly a fan of their user profiles that incentivize writers to write more. http://www.nowpublic.com/ Of course Yelp is pretty good for this as well.

  13. Almost every trait of a good social media is covered. Great post. I think eye-popping headlines, interesting illustrations and ability to vote are 3 of the most important factors.

  14. I like the one about the ads. I hate it when I’m on a social network like Myspace and then it covers the whole page with a full advertisement. It turns me off big time. Although, I do believe that content, headlines and pictures are the best way to capturing an audience.

  15. Tyler says:

    I just wanted to leave a comment saying what a great blog post this is, even though it’s a bit older. The sociable plugin is a great one to have and my tests have shown that lists are much easier to get social media attention as well.

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