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January 27, 2009

Measuring The Sharing: The Metrics Of Social Bookmarking

Almost every web site you go to these days has some sort of social sharing functionality implemented. So what is sharing or social bookmarking? According to Wikipedia, social bookmarking is a method for Internet users to store, organize, search, and manage bookmarks of Web pages on the Internet with the help of metadata.

That is a nice definition in the abstract, but to Web site publishers, sharing tools allow ALL of their content to travel freely versus selecting specific elements of content for further development into Web widgets (although investing in a Web widget strategy can reap benefits as well).

Most social bookmarking tools are displayed as buttons — or what I like to refer to as “chicklets” on Web pages. A user goes to a Web site, chooses to share or bookmark the content and then clicks on the sharing icon to begin the process. Sharing might include posting the link to your Facebook or Twitter feed. This results in others seeing the posted link, which may include your comments as to why the link is important. Bookmarking the page to a social bookmarking destination of your choice allows you to retrieve the data at a later point in time and also assign meta data to the content for easy search and retrieval.

For the Web analyst, measuring the impact of social bookmarking can be challenging. Most of the social bookmarking tools provide analytics for the code that is placed on the publisher’s Web site. In this case the analytics are self-contained in the sharing tool’s portal and completely segregated from a site’s Web analytics implementation. Specific metrics reported may include:

  • Button views – the number of times the sharing icon (button) was viewed on the site.
  • Bookmarks – the number of bookmark events.
  • Bookmark rate – the number of bookmarks divided by button views.
  • Emails – the number of times the content was shared via email.

The dimension of data that analysts should care about most is the actual content that is being shared and the staying power of that content. Is the content being shared and retrieved on the day it is shared — or does it have longevity, continuing to be retrieved over a long period of time? Optimizing the implementation to drive bookmarks is also important — does the placement of the sharing button on the page impact the number of bookmarks generated by users?

Web analytics tools, although not closely integrated with sharing platforms just yet, also provide the Web analyst with the ability to segment traffic by referrer. You may need to work with your Web analytics provider to help create a custom visitor or session segment that isolates referrers like Digg, Delicious and others. Differentiating among traffic from sites that have bookmarking functionality, social applications and widgets poses additional challenges when trying to sub-segment which functionality is driving the traffic.

Sharing is just a preview of what distributing content across the Web will evolve to in the next few years. With the infrastructure in place, content can flow… well, just about anywhere.

Jodi McDermott is the Director of Data Strategy for Clearspring Technologies and blogs at Contact her at or follow her on Twitter.