Content discovery networks drive paid clicks to your blog articles. Two big players in the space are Outbrain and Taboola. But there’s another network that I’m bullish on, and, in my opinion, it performs better than either of these. What is this magical network? StumbleUpon.

What is StumbleUpon?

The way I explain StumbleUpon to clients is that it’s like TV channel surfing, but on the internet. Basically, you’re not sure what you want to view, but rather than flipping through TV programs, you flip through websites.

When you sign up as a StumbleUpon user, you tell the network what subject categories you’re interested in. As you start to look at articles through the network, you can also tell the platform which pieces of content you like and don’t like. The algorithm factors in how long you engage with each site, and whether you’re motivated to share articles. Using this data, the platform predicts what content you might be interested in next.

From a user perspective, your web browser looks exactly the same, with one small exception – the browser bar, which I’ve highlighted in red:

Within this bar, you’ll notice a few things. First, the red Stumble button. This is how you “change the channel.” Each time you push it, a new article appears.

Next to the red button is a thumbs-up. You push this to tell the algorithm you liked this article and to show you more articles like it. Similarly, there is a thumbs-down button to tell it that you’re not interested in seeing articles like this.

There is a share drop-down menu so you can easily post the article to Facebook, Twitter, or share it via email or with people you’re connected to on StumbleUpon.

The bookmark icon enables you to add that article to a list you’ve created, such as articles you intend to read later or articles related to an upcoming trip.

As you can see from the image, I was looking at the “Trending” category, but by pulling that option down, I can choose a different category. The categories shown here are ones that I’ve told StumbleUpon I was interested in, like American History, Food/cooking, and Dogs.

Each time I “Stumble” something, I land in a different corner of the internet. Sure, I can tell the algorithm in which direction I want to go (Bizarre/oddities, please), but the fun is that I never quite know where I’m going to end up.

StumbleUpon for advertisers

Why is this network a good thing for advertisers? There are a few reasons that I’ll go into in depth:

  • Interest targeting
  • Sites, not ads
  • Organic exposure

Interest targeting

The main reason I like StumbleUpon is that you can target people by what they’ve already expressed interest in. While the Categories shown to the user (as seen above) are broad, on the advertiser side, they become more specific.

StumbleUpon divides its content into three tiers: Category, Subcategory, and Interest. For advertisers, you can target any of these tiers.

Here’s an example. A Category like Home and Travel is the broadest subject area. Several subcategories lie beneath that, including Food and Beverage, Home and Garden, and Travel. Under the Food and Beverage subcategory, several Interests are nested, including Beer, Cigars, Restaurants, and Wine.

So let’s say I’m promoting a blog article about great beer destinations around the world. I could target users who have told StumbleUpon they like Beer (which on the advertiser side is an Interest) and Travel (which is a Subcategory).

Stumble also offers advertisers what it calls “Interest Bundles,” which include Gamers, Health Nuts, Financial Gurus, Paranormal & Conspiracy Theorists, Techies, and Treehuggers. To make your campaign targeting simpler, you could choose one of these pre-determined demographic groups. In the image below, I’ve chosen Bookworms, and this bundle includes all the Interests to the right.

So all in all, StumbleUpon offers you an additional targeting option that Outbrain and Taboola don’t. Just like them, you can target by geographic region, gender, age, and device. But because you can also target interest areas, the audience will be more likely to engage with your content. (To be fair, Outbrain and Taboola try to match your content with similar content in its network algorithmically. But I don’t think they always do the greatest job of it.)

Sites, not ads

Another standout feature of StumbleUpon is that the reader lands directly on your content. It takes ad creation out of the equation altogether.

On Outbrain or Taboola, you create ads with various headlines and images, and the algorithm will favor the best-performing combination.

In order to land on your article, a user has to go through the following path:

User reads a piece of content where your Outbrain or Taboola ad resides → User clicks on the ad → User lands on your page

On the other hand, with StumbleUpon, the path is more direct:

User is surfing on StumbleUpon → User lands on your page

Sure, for an advertiser it’s nice to be spared having to create ads. But more importantly, it’s an easier flow from the user’s perspective. Saving that click means fewer bounces. Rather than an ad having to set expectations and then your landing page either meeting or not meeting those expectations, a user can immediately see whether or not she is interested in reading the page. And there’s no “fat-finger” accidental clicks on your ad, either.

Organic exposure

Finally, perhaps the best part about advertising on StumbleUpon is that (unlike on Google), your organic and paid performance work in concert.

When someone Stumbles on your page, that Stumble is counted regardless of whether it was a paid click or an organic click. The more Stumbles you get, the more likes and shares will follow. And, to the StumbleUpon user, there is no visible difference between paid and organic content. No “Sponsored Content” disclaimer appears anywhere on your page.

Even after your paid campaign is over, your content may continue to receive organic (unpaid) clicks. I’ve seen this many times for different clients.

Here’s a recent report for a StumbleUpon campaign. After the Paid and Unpaid clicks stopped coming in (because the campaign ended), we continued to receive Earned clicks on articles we had posted to StumbleUpon in the past.

In addition, StumbleUpon offers the option to pay for “Engaged Visitors Only.” This higher CPC (you add $0.05 to your bid) means that you’ll only pay for visitors who stay on your page for at least five seconds. If a user bounces or hits the Stumble button before five seconds, you pay nothing.

In this screenshot, you can see how StumbleUpon breaks down the various clicks this advertiser received. 993 clicks were Paid, meaning 993 people stayed on the page for at least five seconds. 479 were Earned, meaning these clicks came organically and were thus free. 225 were Unpaid, meaning 225 people left the page before five seconds had elapsed.

As an aside, StumbleUpon will factor in your Unpaid and Earned clicks in your CPC, creating what they refer to as your effective CPC, or eCPC. They’ll add up what you’ve spent and divide that number by the total number of clicks — paid, unpaid, and earned — and that number, your eCPC, will show on your dashboard. If you want a more apples-to-apples comparison against other content discovery networks, you should divide your spend by paid clicks only, giving you a “true” CPC.

Anecdotally, I can report that paid clicks on StumbleUpon are generally a fraction of what they are on Outbrain and Taboola, and average time on site and pages per visit is higher. For one client, the (true) CPC on StumbleUpon was $0.15, while a campaign that ran on Outbrain at the same time averaged a CPC of $0.53. Because of the disparity, fewer clicks came through Outbrain, and yet the average time on site for an Outbrain visitor was 11 seconds shorter than for a StumbleUpon visitor. It’s just one example, but in my experience, not unique.

One final benefit is that all visits from StumbleUpon, whether paid or organic, will appear in your Google Analytics data as Referral Traffic. This looks better to the Google algorithm than Paid traffic (though Paid traffic won’t hurt you), so more referral traffic may improve your SEO.

Have you had a good experience promoting content on StumbleUpon? Am I being unfair to Outbrain and Taboola? I’d love to know. Drop a comment or tweet me @kimkohatsu.


Kim Kohatsu is the founder of Charles Ave Marketing, where she brings the power and reach of Madison Ave to small businesses and startups.