StumbleUpon (SU) is my favorite tool for creative inspiration and web discovery. From a marketing perspective, the site can also be a good fit for companies looking to increase targeted traffic to their websites. However, the key to knowing if StumbleUpon is right for your business is to intimately know your target market, a task which every company should already be focusing on.
A Short History Lesson
Founded in Calgary, Canada in 2001, StumbleUpon is considered a “discovery engine (a form of web search engine) that finds and recommends web content to its users” according to Wikipedia. In 2007, SU was purchased by eBay for $75 million. Its founders bought it back and it returned to its start-up roots two years later. Despite the rollercoaster ride of ownership, the site now claims 1.2 billion searches per month, 25 million registered users, and over 75,000 paid advertisers.
What is particularly impressive is that SU is the only social network to bypass Facebook with the highest share of social media referrals (43%) back in May 2010 and then again in January 2011. The latest StatCounter data shows SU has lost significant share, but it is still second to Facebook with Pinterest and YouTube barking at its heels.
How StumbleUpon Works
SU is built on impressive personalization technology that tracks the content you “thumb-up” using their freely available browser toolbar. Based on such activity, over time SU builds millions of datapoints to “map your brain in ways you can’t just get from knowing someone,” as Jack Krawczyk, SU’s head of Paid Discovery & Partnerships said in a June 2012 interview with Robert Scoble.
Some of the key metrics used to create the datapoints are based on your habits favoriting content using the toolbar and from time spent “stumbling.” What is the difference? Well, you can give a thumbs-up to any content throughout your day, as I do regularly when I find something fascinating in my daily research. But stumbling in itself is a purposeful activity where you can let SU send you to sites it believes fits your tastes and interests by clicking the prominent “Stumble!” button located on the browser toolbar.
In the June interview, Krawczyk also mentioned that SU’s team of PhDs are constantly analyzing databases composed of 30 billion datapoints to provide recommendations on how to improve the personalization technology. In fact, some of the best data scientists in the world work there, including the two of the world’s committers of Apache’s impressive Hadoop massive database management technology.
The following are a few of the key metrics StumbleUpon collects:
- How much time you spend on one piece of content versus another;
- Whether or not you share out to another network;
- If you click on the page SU sent you to, that action is detected and analyzed for the reasoning behind the click (for further personalization); and
- Thumbing up or thumbing down content.
In that same Scoble interview, Marc Leibowitz, SU’s VP of Business Development and Marketing, used an interesting analogy to explain the potential depth of insight of the personalization technology. He began by setting the stage — assume you are a SU user who has been proven to like the San Francisco 49ers football team. Since StumbleUpon knows your habits, it takes your interest a step further when providing like-minded content. As Leibowitz said, other 49er fans that are “roughly the same age, gender, and live in the same area also tend to like these other things that you haven’t really considered, and we’re going to suggest them to you and see how you react.”
The question you may be asking is if this personalization technology is really all that it is cracked up to be. Ultimately you need to be the judge, but consider that the average SU user spends 7 hours per month using SU to stumble an average of 300 times per month, and it is hard not to be impressed.
StumbleUpon’s Paid Discovery
One of the greatest steals available in online paid advertising is SU’s Paid Discovery solution. This is how it works — for about 10 cents per unique visitor, you can inject your website into the stream of sites visited when users are stumbling the best of the web. I am a big fan of SU’s marketing for a variety of reasons including:
1. This is a great audience. As SU’s Paid Discovery literature states, users are “eager to engage with new and exciting content, making your product’s discovery a welcome experience in the eyes of the Stumbler.”
2. Paid Discovery guarantees visitors to your website not through ads or links, but from direct visits to a URL you fully control — 10 cents per unique visitor is an incredible bargain.
3. Consider that each unique visitor has the tools at hand using the SU toolbar to review and share your website on other social networks from which traffic costs nothing.
4. Targeting options are not limited to a shotgun approach — you have the option to target the audience by category of interest, location, a variety of demographics, and even by device (desktop, iPhone, iPad or Android).
Is StumbleUpon Right For My Business?
Despite the above advantages, just as with any advertising platform, you need to consider whether SU’s users are a suitable target market for your business. Here are some factors to consider:
1. As Scoble observed, using SU to find web content is not necessarily something a Type A personality would choose to do. This is especially so with Internet-savvy users who already have an idea of the places they like/need to visit on a daily basis for information and enlightenment.
2. Marc Horowitz noted that during primetime, Stumblers used their tablets most often, while during the daily commute, they tended to stumble via smartphones (hopefully not while driving).
3. The bounce rate of StumbleUpon traffic is notoriously high because of the nature of the traffic — many are understandably fickle about the content they spend time reading in their spare time. For example, Gil Namur (owner of the ezine LifeasaHuman.com) noted a quite high 71% bounce rate in 163,695 SU visits. That said, 46,961 visits stayed on site for over three minutes and visited an average of two pages, which illustrates that those users that do stay may do so for a reasonable length of time.
4. A study of 90,000 SU visitors by MixTheNet.com revealed a greater number of international visits than other social networks, a low number of mobile users (although this has likely increased since the study), Windows users 85% of the time versus 15% on Macs, and monitor resolutions set larger than 1024×768 at least 63% of the time.
5. Once your content is added to SU, it has been my experience that you can expect a spike of traffic which ultimately disappears in short order — unless, of course, you have a truly superb piece of content that goes viral, which is not as easy as it sounds. With that in mind, ensure you have the content 100% ready before submission to take maximum advantage of the initial wave of traffic.
Suggested StumbleUpon Marketing Tactics
If you are interested in marketing using StumbleUpon after everything you have read, make sure you put a plan together with some basic tried-and-true tactics in tow.
As with many social networks, it is frowned upon to use SU to promote your own content. As a result, learn to use the tools SU provides to allow easy sharing of your content. In this way, if it is perceived of as high-quality content, it will have every opportunity to do well within the SU network.
Another suggestion is to make friends of other users and power-users within the SU network. After a while (and only occasionally) you could consider asking them to take a look at a piece of content you have developed to judge if it is worthy of a thumbs-up.
Overall, there is nothing that will serve you better on any social property or search engine than truly well written and unique content worthy of sharing. If you think your content is not being shared enough, try asking a trusted friend in the SU community what they suggest you do to make your content more likely to be shared. Then, once you have made the changes, use Paid Discovery to give it some fresh eyes and another opportunity to shine.
Like all social networks, StumbleUpon constantly reflects the larger trending concerns and topics, but its Paid Discovery feature is a particularly effective vehicle, specifically in regards to its relative cost. For some, it can be a high-performing alternative to more traditional online advertising outlets and as such, StumbleUpon deserves a closer look for online marketers who have hit the wall with other programs or who have tended to dismiss it as just another social network.