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 or less?

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!

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

August 9, 2007

CEO and founder of High Rankings®, Jill Whalen has been performing search engine optimization since 1995 and is the host of the free High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter, author of "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" and founder/administrator of the popular High Rankings Search Engine Optimization Forum. In 2006, Jill co-founded SEMNE, a local search engine marketing networking organization for people and companies in New England.

High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization firm located in Framingham, MA specializing in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, in-house training, site audit reports, search marketing seminars and workshops. High Rankings has a 100% success rate for substantially improving client rankings and targeted traffic.

Jill speaks at national and international conferences and has been writing about SEO and search marketing since 2000. She's been quoted in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. Her articles have appeared in numerous print magazines and online websites including CIO Magazine, CMS Focus, The Internet Marketing Report, ClickZ, WorkZ, Inc.com, Entrepreneur, Lycos Small Business, WebProNews, SiteProNews and others. Jill has also appeared on many online and offline radio programs such as Entrepreneur Magazine's E-Biz Radio Show, SearchEngineRadio and the eMarketing Talkshow.

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