This is a guest post by Jeremy.
Have you ever wondered how some posts go viral with 100,000+ hits on StumbleUpon and others only get 23? Or why two of your posts of equal strength and style differ in the amount of traffic you receive by several orders of magnitude?
When using StumbleUpon, there are many tips throughout the internet that are designed to help you maximize your ability to get stumbles. The sad truth to this is that StumbleUpon is as elusive as figuring out Google or other large SEO factors. The amount of metrics that go into determining what is good and what is bad make it impossible to decipher.
After years of playing with StumbleUpon, having an account blocked, and another become successful, then lose that success only to regain it again, I’ve figured out a few things that should be looked at loosely when trying to send traffic to blog posts.
1) Account Strength is the Beast
StumbleUpon lets you share many posts, make friends, and even have reviews of your account. The more of these you have over more random sites, the higher your account will be rated. This is simple; StumbleUpon trusts the views of users with hundreds of shares and a pattern of quality submissions than a spammer who only has a few dozen. I did not even begin getting 100+ views on a stumble until after 50 unique reviews, and that is a modest count.
Try this: A great way to strengthen your account is to stalk sites that you know will get many reviews on StumbleUpon – like Matador Network. Be the first to review a post immediately after it is live, and let the people behind you fill it with likes. Your account gets stronger significantly from this.
2) The Friendship Double Edged Sword
Having friends on StumbleUpon is a great way to strengthen your account. Your stumbles get a boost because people are friends with you, who in turn make you appear to be a trustworthy source.
Sharing recently stumbled articles with your friends, unfortunately, does absolutely nothing to get a post viral. StumbleUpon cares more about organic likes than your friends liking a post just because you are connected. With this, a post that gets 20 thumbs up and 5 reviews from friends may be stuck at only 50 views.
3) Organic Likes are Better
An organic like is someone who thumbs up or reviews your page that you are not connected with. In order for this to happen they must stumble upon your site either by the toolbar or reading your site on their own.
When they thumb up your post or review it without any encouragement, the benefits are more substantial as this is a sign of an actual quality post. It is possible for you to get one thumb up after a post from someone you don’t know who has a strong account, and end up with 600 or more views.
Remember: You can only get organic likes from your initial discovery if people are actually around to read your post, so submission time is key.
4) Submit Your Post at the Right Time – Staying in the Cycle is Key
When traveling Asia, I would submit posts at the equivalent of 3am, 4am, 7am EST time. My StumbleUpon returns were low. Why is that? No one is using StumbleUpon at that hour. A post can’t be looked at if no one is clicking the Stumble button. Better hours are between 5 and 10pm EST when more people are at their computer.
When you submit, you get an initial boost of shares based on the post criteria (through means that are still unknown) and the strength of your account. The rest of the traffic you get is from people that the post is shared with, and how many thumbs up you get.
If you get zero thumbs up, the post will fall out of the StumbleUpon sharing, and may never get traffic until someone boosts it in the future from reading your site. If you continually get thumbs up and reviews from this initial burst, the sky is the limit and you will stay in the network for some time – the key to being viral.
5) What Posting Criteria is Good?
It is hard to say on this one. Since StumbleUpon is so secretive, everything is always purely speculation. My best articles are always authoritative and not personal stories, making the use of the program even harder against us travel bloggers. List posts also seem to do well as a site is deeming the “Best of” with authority and are generally easier reads.
The other major topic that you’ll see from time to time is photos. We all have amazing photos, and it is important to showcase them front and center in any post you want to get stumble traffic from. A post without photos is meant for certain doom.
Try this: You can get a feel for this by selecting the ‘travel’ topic and stumbling 20 or so posts just to see what comes up. Here are the first few that I got:
“Mondays are for dreaming: Ten dream-worthy moments”
“7 Epic Journeys in SE Asia”
“Hohenzollern Castle – photos”
“Top 10 Man-Made Wonders: Amazing Monuments”
“Ultimate Guide to Packing Lists: 45 Tips for How to Pack Light”
“Mopeds in Mykonos – photo essay”
“Thailand Travel Photography”
See the trend?
The Pitfalls of StumbleUpon
Even with all of these tactics, there are a few thoughts you should keep in mind when submitting to StumbleUpon. A few pitfalls will mean certain doom to a post and you will never get traffic to it again no matter how hard you try, unless a major player likes your page.
1) Review a post if you are the first thumbs up.
If you get a prompt for a review when you thumbs up a post, for the love of everything good, review it! A post with a like and no review is like the kiss of death and it takes a really strong SU account to bring a post back from this. Ever see a post of yours stuck at ‘1’ and no more, only to take 8 likes and 4 reviews to get it to boost to 50? This might be one of the reasons for the problem.
2) Small photos have an equally bad effect.
This may be a stretch, but from what I can tell, StumbleUpon really likes photos. When you submit a post, a photo should be large enough that it gets grabbed by the thumbnail image on the SU discovery page. If it is too small, the photo will be a generic image of your blog or blank. That does not give a lot of credibility to your post, and seems to have a negative effect. I’ve found that bigger than 240x300px does the trick, but this is an estimate.
3) Don’t Over Promote and Remember to Actually Stumble!
It is easy to say do not over promote your own pages, as a history of repeatable behavior is the sign of a spammer. Break things up by actually using your SU toolbar and stumbling for posts, liking them, and giving reviews. Forgetting these may flag your account and reduce your potency. But even though using the toolbar is great, you still have to vary your discoveries from many sites in order to keep the appearance of being random!
With these thoughts in mind, your StumbleUpon account can become very powerful. But with that power, it is only as good as your organic likes let you become. If you continually submit a string of posts that do not get likes, you will stop getting the critical initial traffic. Be sure to balance the amount of discoveries you have from powerhouse sites and our independent blogs to ensure that your account gets ideal traffic on both ends. Remember – It takes both an initial boost from your account and continual boosts from random users to go viral, and balancing that is very, very tricky.
For more great tips on using Stumble Upon check out Go, See, Write’s How-to Guide on driving traffic using Stumble Upon.
What is your secret trick to get traffic from StumbleUpon? Help us out and submit below!
Jeremy is the primary author of Living the Dream and Free Travel Contests, as well as co-author of the travel food blog The International Food Project. He has traveled to 34 countries throughout North America, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and currently planning his next long term adventure for 2013.
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