How StumbleUpon Sent Me Over 127,000 Visitors to a Single Post (And Why It Isn’t as Great as It Sounds)

  • March 23, 2010 by Corbett Barr
  • 33 Comments

the StumbleUpon "wave"

Back in November of last year, I was reading one of my favorite marketing blogs The Future Buzz and got an idea from one of Adam’s most popular posts. The post was 50 Inspirational Images From Flickr Under Creative Commons and it seemed like a great format for potentially getting viral traffic from social media.

I borrowed the format from Adam and created a post of my own at Free Pursuits called 50 Photos to Inspire Life as a Digital Nomad. The images in the post were all from Flickr, and all licensed for use under Creative Commons. It took me about two days to collect the images and format the post.

I choose what I thought might be a catchy title, published the post, “discovered” it on StumbleUpon myself and tweeted it. Then I asked a few friends to stumble and tweet it if they liked it before I went to bed.

The next morning I woke up to a big surprise.

The post had been tweeted over 100 times by 9 in the morning, it was doing really well on reddit, and more importantly StumbleUpon had already sent me over 4,000 visitors.

As the day went by, StumbleUpon (SU) kept sending me hundreds or thousands of new visitors each hour. By the end of the day SU had sent over 18,000 visitors. Twitter (for comparison) sent about 2,200 visitors that day.

What a ride! I had more visitors that day than in the entire previous month. It was a rush, and I was glued to the laptop all day checking stats.

And the surge of visitors didn’t end on that first day, either. Over the following two weeks, StumbleUpon continued to send me thousands of visitors every day. In total, SU sent 83,025 visits in 15 days. Amazing. The post continues to receive between 5k and 30k visits from StumbleUpon each month.

I’m really happy for the traffic and became a big believer in the power of StumbleUpon after that. The only problem is, the visitors don’t stick around long or convert readily to subscribers.

The StumbleUpon visitors spent just 15 seconds on the site on average and checked out 1.14 pages per visit. I had heard visitors from sites like Digg, Mixx, SU, etc. didn’t spend much time on the sites they visited, so I wasn’t too surprised.

Subscriber conversion wasn’t much better, either. In the two weeks I experienced the initial “StumbleUpon wave,” I added 116 new RSS subscribers, which wasn’t significantly more than I was adding in the months prior.

Lessons To Learn…

Your experience with social media visitors (especially those from voting or bookmarking sites like SU) might vary. Your content could convert visitors into subscribers or customers better, and the visitors might stick around a little longer.

But you shouldn’t expect wildly different results from what I had. It’s true, social media can send you a huge wave of visitors, but unless they are coming from a topical site (sites like Sphinn or Tip’d that is focused on a particular niche), only a small percentage will become regular visitors.

I’m not telling you this to convince you to stop relying on social media traffic altogether. Some sites are much more likely to send you people who will stick around. Twitter for instance can be a great investment in time.

However, if you were hoping that hitting the front page of Digg or getting 100k visitors from SU would single-handedly propel your site to rockstardom, you will be sadly mistaken.

A Comprehensive Traffic Strategy is Best

A rush of visitors from any social media is always a welcome experience. Getting broad exposure is usually a good thing, even if those visitors don’t convert.

When planning your traffic strategy though, you’d be better off with a comprehensive strategy that relies on a mix of traffic sources instead of focusing on one source or hoping to hit the social media jackpot.

Just because social media is a hot topic doesn’t necessarily mean it should be the cornerstone of your traffic plans. Also consider how email, RSS, other blogs, press, PR, advertising, search, forums, directories and affiliates should play into building your audience.

If you do hit the social media jackpot and those visitors become customers or regular readers, congratulations. If not, you’ll be glad you diversified your traffic building efforts.

What is your experience with social media traffic? Do the visitors usually convert to subscribers or customers? Please share in the comments!

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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Cherie @Technomadia March 24, 2010 at 8:03 am

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with sites like SU. I played around with them a bit ago, and my initial observations were that yes – I could get sporadic hits of traffic, but it wasn’t the kind of quality targeted traffic I wanted.

My goal is to connect with ‘our people’ – not get the highest numbers.

Corbett Barr March 24, 2010 at 8:13 am

I like that goal, Cherie. Connect with as many real people in your niche as you can. Broad social media may not be the best avenue for that.

Gary Arndt March 24, 2010 at 8:06 am

What does a marketing blog have to do with photography? Why would people stick around? It sounds like a blatant link bait attempt.

Corbett Barr March 24, 2010 at 8:12 am

Great observation, Gary, but if you read the post you’d know the article wasn’t posted here. It was posted at a blog called Free Pursuits, which is about lifestyle design and travel. Also, the “linkbait” post was more about travel than photography, so it actually does somewhat fit with the theme of the site it was on. Not a perfect match by any means, but definitely related.

Derek Clark March 24, 2010 at 9:06 am

I think the problem is that even though the pictures were about travel, that isn’t why they were stumbled. People on stumbleupon like pretty pictures, and that is why they give the thumbs up, not b/c they are interested in travel. I suspect if that was a photography blog there would be a much better chance of gaining more subscribers.

Corbett Barr March 25, 2010 at 9:35 am

You’re right, a photo blog would have a better chance of gaining more subscribers, but how much better is my question. My point is that the conversion rate for visitors from sites like these are always going to be relatively low, just given the nature of the site. If anybody has a different experience, I would love to hear it.

Maren Kate March 26, 2010 at 10:50 am

This was fascinating to me, I agree with you because though that number at first seemed tempting if people aren’t staying around it really doesn’t matter quite as much – because one hit wonders exist everywhere online, the harder thing is to be someone who matters. Great stuff!

Corbett Barr March 26, 2010 at 11:46 am

Yes! Although Maren, big numbers can matter for other reasons (like social proof for instance), even if the visitors aren’t sticking around.

Gail from GrowMap March 26, 2010 at 11:22 am

This post clearly points out that we all need to optimize our blogs to capture new readers BEFORE we generate viral content. Each of us really needs to be offering something special for download to encourage visitors to subscribe. I recommend FeedBlitz for doing that and will be writing how-to posts soon on using it.

If StumbleUpon is still sending that post large amounts of traffic you might try to get that idea implemented and then compare the percentage of subscribers before and after. That is a post I would really love to publish or read!

I see you do have a call to action at the end of that post so maybe you should test different wording. Perhaps visitors from StumbleUpon don’t yet understand subscribing.

The bottom line though is that traffic from content sites like StumbleUpon equals “curiosity” clicks and those visitors are not likely to convert well no matter where you land them.

I am continually amazed at how few blog readers read more than one post during a visit or click on the links within an article. Blog writers like you or me are far different than most readers (except for other blog writers like us).

Corbett Barr March 26, 2010 at 11:49 am

Great points, Gail. I have experimented a little with different wording, and even with a small subscribe form, but nothing resulted in significant differences. I do agree about optimizing on-site factors before trying to create viral content, but in this case I had already done extensive on-site conversion testing.

Ed March 26, 2010 at 2:25 pm

one of my posts got viral like yours. it sent me tons of traffic. a week later all the traffic dissapeared and i was back to the same amount of traffic. i guess stumbleupon is more short term than long term

Corbett Barr March 26, 2010 at 2:35 pm

That’s true in most cases (although the post I wrote about actually still gets lots of traffic from SU).

Joseph Ajilore March 26, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Woow, thats a lot of traffic, i always wonder why they click on it if they are no looking to read it through.

Michelle Mangen March 27, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I’ve had similar results with my StumbleTraffic (and have never had one get as much traffic as you mentioned!)

Could just be the nature of the beast.

Any ideas on what is the best way to find topical sites (such as the two you mention – Sphinn and Tip’d?)

@mmangen

Corbett Barr March 27, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Which topic are you looking for? I don’t know of any resource that lists all social media / social bookmarking sites by topic, but I may know of some specific sites offhand.

Moon Hussain March 29, 2010 at 9:53 am

Hi Corbett,

This was a fun read for me. It must have been quite exciting to get such a surge of readers. While for someone like you it didn’t bring many new subscribers, for a young blog like mine it might do wonders.

I’ll be subscribing to this blog too. Great stuff!

Corbett Barr March 29, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Hi Moon. Yes, it was exciting. I do think it’s possible to get more subscribers and repeat visitors than I did from a viral post on SU, but I haven’t heard from anyone who has done much better.

DaveUrsillo March 31, 2010 at 6:14 pm

I’ve noticed similar suddenly-exciting / ultimately-disappointing spikes in traffic to my website. I think that these lists of “how I did X” “Y number of best Z’s” are, while extremely popular, the crux of these spikes of traffic. In the end, its the real, original and memorable content that retains traffic and equals subscribers.

Social media is great for exposure; what you do with that exposure will make or break your blog.

Adam Singer April 5, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Glad this was successful for you – that’s the WHOLE reason I create that type of content, to share what it can do and inspire others. Thanks for sharing your success.

Chris Guthrie April 19, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I think the other benefit would come from the links you got the article. Looks like 226 right?

Corbett Barr April 19, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Yes, Chris. Good point. Yahoo says I have 226 links to that article from other sites. Although if you look into them, I think there are far less than that in reality. Also, the quality of those links isn’t great on average, but I’m sure they are helpful from an SEO perspective.

Thanks for pointing that out, since I neglected to mention it in the article.

Buy a New Computer - A beginner's Guide October 2, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I had recently a similar experience from stumble upon to one of my sites. As usual I checked the stats of my site and when I saw the visitors of that day I thought that I had selected the whole month… Again I checked and I couldn’t believe in my eyes. Although the visitors from stumbleupon.com are the majority they do not convert to customers. However they spend a little more time than 15 seconds to my site but definitely they are not customers. To give an example, my google adsense earnings did not increased at all. Of course I like that my site gets now a lot more visitors than before…

Pat McLoughlin December 14, 2010 at 12:54 pm

I agree with the idea that you need visitors from a variety of sources and hitting a “social jackpot” wont necessary convert visitors, but I have been trying for a while to get people to come to my site via stumbleupon and stumble wont sent me anyone. Why is this?

Do multiple people need to give it a thumbs up before they send people? I have been very frustrated with stumbleupon because I hear a lot of success stories like yours and stumble has yet to send me people.

Everyone reading this give me a thumbs up on stumbleupon and lets see if they send me anyone at all. Jk… thats probably not allowed. but seriously can anyone tell me why stumble doesnt send me traffic?

Jia Jun December 26, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Agree with you Corbett.
I experience a peak when I first submit my posts to Reddit and Stumbleupon too, and it’a happy to see it, but just each of the visitors spend really less time on my site, which means not really reading what I wrote.
Anyway, it’s a good try and place to kick start with. :D

Hot Tech - NixFly.com May 20, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Yeah, those traffic spikes are great. But personally, I only ever see about a .05% return visitor rate by the time the traffic from SU ends. Still, if you can hit it big (100k visitors), that .05% can be a lot. And some may even be lifelong readers! Social media definitely has its place, but it is important to diversify your traffic sources.

AfricaInside January 8, 2013 at 10:51 am

Thanks for the SU info. Interesting. I also read thru the comments and was curious (as was the reader who asked you but never responded again to your reply) about topic specific site. You mentioned you know some. I would love to know of any for Africa and Animal lovers.
Thanks so much. Lori

alexs@upfromnothing.com June 29, 2013 at 9:06 am

I have a theory and maybe its crazy. Hear me out. Stumble Upon visitors come for one thing only correct? Why not use that to strengthen the PR and Alexa score of none landing pages. Wouldn’t that then help the whole site gain greater standing?

IPRAVES August 6, 2013 at 6:49 am

nice post. just started the SU and working on it

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