StumbleUpon Ads: 60,275 Visitors for $128.90

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Photo Credit: Brian Yang

This post is a case study of the first test campaign I ran on Stumble Upon advertising at the end of 2012. Over the course of a year it has generated 60,000+ visitors at a cost of 0.2 cents per visitor.

I go into detail on the overall strategy, results and mistakes I made as part of my first trial and how I could have tripled the sales and revenues from the campaign.

Finally, this post illustrates a system to use StumbleUpon as a profitable and scalable traffic source for your business.

Backstory And Campaign Details

In 2012 I started writing a fitness blog as a hobby. In the past I’ve had problems managing my weight and it was a great way of both learning a lot about successful weight loss, weight maintenance (important difference!) and experimenting with new advertising strategies.

I had just launched the blog and was facing the typical “new project scenario”: zero traffic and no backlinks, let alone the patience to wait for my rankings to climb up on Google.

So I decided to experiment with what I know best: advertising. As part of this experiment I gave StumbleUpon’s advertising platform a trial (Stumble Upon Paid Discovery).

Stumble Upon’s entire model is based on votes from users. The more “thumbs up” a piece of content gets on StumbleUpon the more users will stumble upon it in the long-term. Paid Discovery is just a way to speed this process up and put your content in front of a lot of eye balls.

On platforms like Google Adwords or Facebook advertising you send your visitors straight to your landing page or product page. This approach doesn’t work on Paid Discovery.

The difference with StumbleUpon advertising is that you promote engaging content first. Having a way to monetize your content is obviously just as important but it’s still secondary. Without engaging content there will be no ongoing free traffic from your initial investment.

Once you have an engaging content piece you advertise it on StumbleUpon. If your content is good people will start giving it a “thumbs up”. This is the key to turning your initial advertising investment into an ongoing free traffic stream.

I wrote a 1,800+ word before and after fitness case study. I decided on this format and post for my StumbleUpon advertising trial for a number of reasons:

1. People love before and after stories and before and after photos. Personal accounts of transformation are interesting to read and motivational as well.

2. My post used the format “5 key lessons…”. Even though many people are sick of seeing list posts everywhere online, the fact remains that they always instill curiosity and get clicked.

3. I knew that I could provide value in the article and that the format would allow me to transition into a sales offer at the end of the post.

Traffic Metrics, Sales And Revenues

Stumble Upon Traffic Graph

Once I had my article live on the blog I created a StumbleUpon advertising campaign. I targeted a couple of different categories on StumbleUpon related to weight loss, fitness and health.

Traffic Metrics

  • Paid visits: 1,298
  • Earned visits: 58,977
  • Total visits: 60,275
  • Cost per visitor: 0.2 Cents
  • Total budget: $129.80

In total I spent $129.80 on the campaign. The green bars in the graph indicate traffic I paid for, the blue bars are free traffic that I earned as a result of people giving the content piece a “thumbs up” on StumbleUpon.

90% of my budget was spent at the end of November 2012 and another 10% was spent in January 2013 to give the campaign another boost.

There was a build up period of about two months until the article started receiving 5,000 to 10,000 free StumbleUpon visitors per month (without any additional advertising spend).

This initial build up period could have probably been sped up by spending a larger budget to get more thumbs up faster.

Sales and Revenues

StumbleUpon traffic is very “flickery”. High bounce rates, low average time spent on the site and low conversion rates are the norm.

Compared to most other forms of advertising the conversion rates are tiny. However, the key is that the strategy laid out in this post is profitable and scalable.

In hindsight, I could have at least tripled the sales and revenues from this campaign. I made a few optimizations much too late and I didn’t apply some other strategies at all.

Here are the major points:

1. I only had a product to sell on the website two months into the campaign.

2. The blog post didn’t have an opt-in form at the bottom until four months into the campaign.

3. I switched the opt-in form at the bottom of the post to a direct sales pitch nine months into the campaign. The three months after this change generated over 50% of the sales mentioned below.

Here are the sales generated from the campaign:

  • Direct sales: 85
  • Book sales: $366
  • Email opt-ins: 200+

How I Could Have Tripled Sales From The Same Traffic

Just like for any other traffic source, every direct marketing principle applies to StumbleUpon traffic as well. You need to get people’s attention and hold their attention all the way to making a sale.

With StumbleUpon traffic attention spans are much lower than for qualified search traffic. Therefore, you need to use the attention while you’ve got it.

Think of someone who is watching the new Bourne movie on TV, chatting with a friend on the phone and browsing ten tabs on the laptop simultaneously. That’s your average StumbleUpon visitor.

As part of my first StumbleUpon campaign it took me a while to figure out and ideal setup. I made a few optimizations much too late.

Here are four major points that would have easily tripled the sales and revenues from my campaign:

1. Having a strong call to action from the very beginning

After testing an opt-in versus a sales offer at the end of my blog post it was clear that the traffic converted much better into a direct sales offer.

The three months following the switch from email opt-in to sales offer generated over 50% of all sales.

Had I made just this one change earlier in the campaign it would have doubled the sales already.

2. Improving the conversion rate of the offer

I didn’t spend much time on the sales copy of the Kindle book. The copywriting on the Amazon page could be much better which would have increased the conversion rate from traffic to book sales.

3. Switching from Kindle book to self-published book

I sold a quarter million dollars worth of self-published digital products while I was still in college. This product was my first test on the Kindle platform.

I’m convinced that setting up my own sales page with a downloadable version of the book would have generated much better results.

First, I could have split tested the offer using A/B split testing on the sales page. On the Kindle platform you don’t even know what your actual conversion rate is and there is no way to split test your page on Amazon.

Second, by selling my own guide I would have captured the customer’s email address after the sale.

This would have allowed me to stay in touch with them and sell additional products in the future. When you sell a Kindle book, Amazon owns the customer.

4. Finding the sweet price point

Throughout the entire campaign I experimented with price points between $0.99 and $9.99 for the Kindle book.

However, since Amazon doesn’t provide conversion rate details it’s much harder to determine statistically significant results. Based on my limited testing the highest price point of $9.99 generated the best results.

Again coming back to point 3, a self-published book would have allowed for more flexibility in terms of the offer and pricing structure.

Overall I’m happy with the results since it was just a side project and my first test on the StumbleUpon advertising platform.

Below I’ll share key takeaways and strategies for using StumbleUpon Paid Discovery going forward.

Key Takeaways For Profitable StumbleUpon Advertising Campaigns

Despite the bad reputation that StumbleUpon traffic has, my first test campaign was profitable.

The campaign took me about five minutes to setup plus another hour for all of the optimizations made on the landing page.

I generated $366 in book sales from a little more than $100 in ad spend. The campaign continues to generate free traffic so these numbers will improve further over the long-term.

The profit from this first campaign is not impressive, however that is not the point of the case study. The point of the case study is to show that this is a scalable model to promote content online. 

The way I plan on using StumbleUpon advertising going forward is to promote my best content with small targeted advertising campaigns that will turn into long-term, profitable traffic sources.

Even if these campaigns only break-even on the first sale, it’s a great model to push your content out there and get more exposure.

My first campaign generated 60,000+ visitors, added 200+ email subscribers to my list and generated a profit.

Now think about scale…

Repeat this same model for 20 of your best and most engaging content pieces and you can generate 1.2 million visitors, 4,000 email subscribers and tons of exposure all while taking home profits from your advertising.

Here are the five steps to turn this into a scalable and profitable advertising system:

Step 1: Create Valuable, Highly Engaging Content

Boring content won’t get any thumbs up on StumbleUpon. Therefore, this first step is crucial for making your StumbleUpon campaign a success.

Similarly, you can’t advertise a product page and expect your campaign to be profitable. It needs to be content that people want to read and share on StumbleUpon.

The best way to get a feeling of the content that is popular on StumbleUpon is to browse the website for a while. Here are a few examples of content that has generated hundreds of thousands of Stumbles:

– 10 Psychological Experiments That Went Horribly Wrong (1.3 Million Stumbles)
– 50 Life Secrets and Tips (701,000 Stumbles)
– 10 Fascinating Facts About The Human Body (356,000 Stumbles)
– 22 Motivational Pictures To Get You Off Your Ass (539,000 Stumbles)
– 100 Must See Interviews With the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs (117,000 Stumbles)
– Quick Practical, Tactical Tips for Presentations (287,000 Stumbles)
– 7 Social Hacks For Manipulating People (644,000 Stumbles)
– 46 Ways to Start a Business With No Money (273,000 Stumbles)

Step 2: Add A Strong Call To Action At The End Of Your Content Piece

Since conversion rates are low from StumbleUpon it’s even more important to have a strong offer right below your article.

Based on my tests with StumbleUpon I would recommend the following strategy: if your price point is relatively low (anything below $50) start out with a straight sales offer below your content piece.

My test campaign with a low priced book has shown that there is not point in adding extra friction by making people opt-in first and then trying to sell them.

If your product is more expensive ($50 and up) I would recommend a form with a strong incentive to opt-in. This could be a case study, a report or anything else that is valuable to your audience.

Once people have opted in from your blog post you can build a relationship with them and turn them into customers later.

Step 3: Run A Targeted StumbleUpon Advertising Campaign

StumbleUpon Paid Discovery gives you a whole range of targeting options including geography, interest targeting, desktop and mobile targeting, age range and more.

There’s also an option to let StumbleUpon set up the targeting automatically for you. That’s not a good idea.

For my campaign I set up a couple of campaigns for different interest categories on StumbleUpon. I ran each of the campaigns with different Google Analytics tracking links (use the Google URL builder for this).

Based on the different tracking links you will be able to see which traffic gets the lowest bounce rates in Google Analytics. StumbleUpon also shows you a quality score in your campaign which is based on the amount of people voting up your content.

If your score is low it either means you are targeting the wrong demographics on StumbleUpon or your content is not engaging enough.

Once you have set up your campaign a budget of around $50 to $100 should be enough to get enough initial exposure on StumbleUpon.

Step 4: Track And Optimise Your Results

If you got everything right up until this point you don’t have to touch your StumbleUpon account again. Now it’s time to sit back and wait for the free StumbleUpon traffic to come in.

This is where you should start testing different approaches to convert your visitors into leads or sales. The best way to do this is by running an A/B split test on your offer.

No matter whether you using an opt-in form or a sales offer you should be split testing the wording of your call to action to maximize the results.

Step 5: Rinse And Repeat

After you have run your first profitable StumbleUpon campaign you can keep repeating the process for every one of your best content pieces.

You don’t have to create new content for this strategy to work. You can also start promoting your existing, most engaging blog articles using this strategy.

Let’s say you apply this strategy for your top 10 blog posts with a budget of $100 each.

Over the course of a year this $1,000 investment can easily turn into 500,000 to 1,000,000 additional visitors each of which will cost you less than a penny.

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13 Comments

  1. Nate February 11, 2014 at 6:08 am #

    Stefan,

    This is great. I don’t have any experience with paid StumbleUpon but now and excited to dig into it. Seems SU traffic is similar to Pinterest traffic and I think your suggestions on best ways to capitalize/monetize the traffic is really useful as well.

    Thanks and looking forward to future posts!

    Nate

    Reply

    • Stefan Maescher February 11, 2014 at 8:40 am #

      Thanks Nate! Looking forward to talking to you about your Pinterest strategies.

      Reply

  2. Reena September 17, 2014 at 12:49 am #

    This is a great article! You suggested to use an opt in form for items that cost $50 or more with a free report. How soon do you send the offer to this audience? Or should the product offer be in the report at the end? Also do you recommend if you have one particular really engaging page can you advertise it more than once to build he traffic further for that page?

    Reply

    • Stefan Maescher September 17, 2014 at 10:56 am #

      There are different ways to approach this. You could link to the offer from the free report already. Alternatively, you can first build a relationship by providing more content via email and promote the offer later. Both approaches can work.

      You can definitely advertise a page more than once to increase exposure and total organic traffic. The more engaging the content the less budget you should need to start a snowball effect though.

      Reply

  3. Let's Build November 14, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    Nice! I think I’ll give this a go and see how it goes.

    Cheers mate

    Reply

  4. Janet August 8, 2015 at 11:40 pm #

    Thanks for the info Stefan. I’ve been looking for a way to get started doing some paid marketing on a small budget and this looks like a great opportunity.

    Reply

  5. Valerie November 18, 2015 at 6:56 pm #

    I’m kind of mind-blown that this isn’t the most shared, most engaged post on SU ads I’ve seen — but you’re making the case that it’s still an open field (which I’m happy to hear). Thanks for assembling such a helpful article!

    Reply

  6. Andre November 20, 2015 at 8:54 pm #

    I’m doing a lot of research currently for a similar project and this post was Very Helpful!! Thank You so much for writing it and getting me accumulated with Stumbleupon Ads!

    Reply

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