What you need to know about StumbleUpon, the Web’s newly-hot referral source
Is it true? Is it possible this lesser-known service, which helps users discover Web pages based on their interests and other people’s recommendations, has dethroned Facebook and Twitter?
All we really know from the data is that StumbleUpon drives most of the social media traffic to the 3 million websites that use StatCounter for their Web analytics.
StatCounter is a free service that some website owners install to track relatively simple data about the number of visits. Most news organizations and large websites use more detailed analytics services like Google Analytics or Omniture.
We don’t know who exactly the 3 million sites using StatCounter are (there’s no overview on the site), but we can assume they don’t include a representative sample of mainstream content publishers. And because StatCounter’s data is not weighted to represent news sites or the Internet as a whole, we can’t draw any conclusions.
In the specific case of a news website publishing timely or breaking stories, I expect Twitter and Facebook are the dominant referrers. But there is still a role for StumbleUpon in your social media strategy.
What does it mean?
StumbleUpon has grown to 15 million users and its site traffic is rising. Whether or not it beats Facebook, it can generate significant referrals, so news websites ought to pay attention to it.
While Twitter and Facebook excel at spreading the breaking or local news of the day, StumbleUpon is for the long tail. The type of content that succeeds on StumbleUpon meets a few criteria: the subject is useful, interesting or bizarre; addresses a niche topic; and has enduring value.
To understand why, you have to know how the service works.
- Impressive. StumbleUpon is a serendipity engine that tries to recommend amusing and delightful pages based on the number of similar users (people who share a particular interest) who “like” a page over time. A page needs to be especially useful, interesting or bizarre to get someone to stop and like it, rather than stumbling on to the next thing.
- Niche. StumbleUpon users begin by defining their personal interests, and now they can browse within one interest at a time. So the service is a home for things that appeal greatly to narrowly defined audiences rather than general-interest audiences.
- Enduring. This is not a real-time news network like Twitter. Pages in StumbleUpon gain likes and momentum over time. So think of explainers, guides or revealing features as good candidates from a news site. A site homepage itself often gets traction for the general purpose of discovering the site, whereas you don’t see many Facebook likes or tweets of home pages.
To cement that a little, here are some of the Poynter.org pages that have received the most StumbleUpon referrals this year. The home page of Poynter.org comes in first, and near the top are several how-tos (useful and enduring) on:
- Writing short
- Managing introverts and extroverts
- Using online fonts (a post from 2005 -- momentum!), and
- Going to grad school as a journalist.
How to optimize for StumbleUpon
Not that we need another cottage industry like SEO for StumbleUpon (SUO?), but you can take some basic steps to capitalize on the service.
First, add the StumbleUpon badge to your home page and article pages. Much like the Facebook and Twitter buttons that surely are there now, this badge enables a user to add or recommend your page to StumbleUpon. You also can add a widget to your site that shows your best-rated StumbleUpon content.
Second, be prepared to capitalize on the new visitors that stumble your way. The nature of StumbleUpon is to send browsers to sites that are new to them.
When they land on your site and realize they like it, you should have obvious widgets or links somewhere encouraging them to follow you on other networks or to sign up for email or RSS content delivery.
Linking to related posts on your site also can help extend a StumbleUpon visit through a few pages instead of directly bouncing to the next recommendation. That’s generally good practice for all Web visitors.
For something more specifically targeted to StumbleUpon, you could build a special widget that greets StumbleUpon visitors, introduces your site in a sentence or two, shows other popular SU pages on your site and invites the user to follow you or subscribe.
In the long run, it’s really not useful to measure StumbleUpon against Facebook or Twitter. They exist in two entirely different classes -- one is a timeless, passive, serendipity engine, the other is timely, active, two broadcasting networks. Both are important in their own ways, and deserve their own strategies.