StumbleUpon 101 – The Web Made Simple

StumbleUpon 101 – The Web Made Simple

It used to be that ‘stumbling’ involved embarrassment in front of friends and a grazed knee. These days, it has come to mean the random discovery of webpages in your favourite topic areas — as you stumble across new internet gems. I love finding a new website of interest that I would never have come across in my usual online activities. StumbleUpon has taken this feeling of discovery and turned it into an effective tool for webmasters as well as a joy for users.

I have a mix of readers on this blog from casual browsers and non-technical writers to highly knowledgeable online marketing professionals. To some of you, the following therefore won’t be new but to some it definitely is.

Either way, I hope to offer simple advice for the novice as well as some useful observations for the die-hard. If you are new to StumbleUpon read on. If you are more experienced and are looking for tips and advice, jump to ‘StumbleUpon for Webmasters‘.

StumbleUpon for Beginners

For the uninitiated, StumbleUpon is free. On becoming a member, you are prompted to download and install the toolbar that will control your journey of discovery. Hitting the Stumble button serves up a new random page from your stated interests in your browser, inviting you to give it a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘thumbs down’. You don’t have to give it either, merely hitting the Stumble button again if you wish. But the thumbs become valuable. The more thumbs up votes a webpage receives, the more users will have the same webpage served to them. Too many ‘thumbs down’ and the page is offered to fewer and fewer Stumblers.

This is how the StumbleUpon community rewards quality content. Boring or poor webpages disappear quickly whereas popular pages can go on to be seen by thousands upon thousands.

But the inner workings of SU are a closely guarded secret. How many votes equates to how much traffic? What is the difference between a review (where you provide a few lines to recommend the page to others) and a thumb up or down? How can webmasters use SU to great effect? What mistakes can be disastrous?

StumbleUpon for Users

Once you have the StumbleUpon toolbar, you’ll quickly become addicted to the internet all over again. Suddenly, the wealth of information, entertainment and creativity contained on the web starts finding its way to you in a continual ‘lucky dip’. But to truly get the best from StumbleUpon, you need to be aware of a few things.

1. Remember to vote

It’s very easy to sit with your mouse hovering over the Stumble button and forget to give a page a ‘thumbs up’ before you move onto the next page. Get into the habit of voting as much as possible.

Stumbling a great webpage is your way of saying thanks for the great content. After all, nothing is free, even if it seems like it is. Websites are fueled by traffic. If traffic dwindles, the website will close. Therefore, StumbleUpon gives you a fantastically effective way of rewarding excellent content with more traffic by simply clicking the button.

2. Submit often

I forget this sometimes as well. A page doesn’t have to be served to you by the Stumble button for you to reward it with a vote. Absolutely any page on the internet can be voted up in StumbleUpon. If you are the first to vote, a window will open asking you to provide a few words to describe the post. This helps tag the post appropriately and serve it to the StumbleUpon users who would be most interested.

It only takes a few seconds to submit a new webpage to StumbleUpon, but the owner of the page will be immensely grateful. You have no idea how rewarding it is when a reader submits one of my pages, even without the boost in traffic. It is a pat on the head, an acknowledgment that the post was well-received by at least one reader.

3. Network with other Stumblers

By becoming friends with other Stumblers, which you can do from their individual StumbleUpon pages, you can find other people with similar interests. You can then Stumble through their findings, discovering new webpages you may have missed.

The social aspect of StumbleUpon cannot be underestimated. In this new age of Web 2.0, the sharing of online content is now the glue that holds the internet together. Just as you may already add your favourite links to a Facebook page or email a friend with a funny YouTube video, StumbleUpon facilitates the sharing of online content, bringing the best of the internet straight to you.

You can start networking right now by adding me as a friend.

4. Reviews outweigh Thumbs

If you really want to show appreciation, add a review instead of just a ‘thumbs up’. Many webmasters claim that reviews have far more authority in the SU algorithm, meaning they result in more exposure and more traffic to the page. Be sure to attach the most appropriate tags and keywords.

When doing a review though, you can still add a ‘thumbs up’ to provide context.

StumbleUpon for Webmasters

A few things I’ve learned — some the hard way.

1. Don’t submit your own

StumbleUpon is there to serve the end user with quality content, not to serve you with traffic to your website. If the same user submits pages from the same website too often, the technique will lose effectiveness. It can even result in the website being temporarily restricted from receiving StumbleUpon traffic.

When I started this blog, I regularly submitted my own posts. After a while, the ratio of submits from my own domain against my other submissions obviously triggered something in the StumbleUpon algorithm and traffic to my site from SU dropped from hundreds a day down to single figures. Even when others submitted my pages, the numbers remained low. My website seemed to have been blacklisted for a short period.

I wasn’t alone as I discovered when Pandemic Labs decided to analyse my plight. The StumbleUpon Terms  clearly state that a webmaster risks blacklisting their website if they continually submit it, but there was no mention in any FAQ or customer support page – causing many distressed webmasters to waste hours trying to find out what was wrong. Therefore, self-submission is probably the most common and most damaging thing a webmaster can do.

After a while things picked back up again, but I have since resisted the temptation to submit my own posts.

Just don’t do it.

2. Don’t let others over-submit your webpages either

The above rule goes for anyone submitting webpages from a specific domain, not just the webmaster. After all, StumbleUpon has no way of knowing who the webmaster is and who is just an avid fan.

Anecdotal evidence (and there is pretty much no other kind when it comes to StumbleUpon) says that a Stumbler’s authority in submitting pages from a specific website fade the more times they submit from the same domain.

I can attest to the truth in this. I have some regular readers who like to Stumble my posts. As when I stumbled my own, at first they would generate lots of traffic for me. Very quickly, though, their votes became a welcome pat on the back but attracted little to no traffic.

This is why Stumble exchange groups only work in the short term and are not advised. After a few days of cooperation and mutual Stumbling, you need to find a new batch of Stumblers to maintain your flow of traffic – any success is short-lived. Stumble exchange groups are also contrary to the StumbleUpon guidelines.

The problem may be worse though. Analysing the StumbleUpon behaviour of my posts, it seems possible that the person who submits has a major effect on how any further votes are calculated. For example, back when I was still submitting my own posts, a second ‘fresh’ Stumbler added his vote to mine. Traffic still dwindled, despite the second Stumbler being new to the site.

A couple of days later, my new reader returned, this time submitting the post himself before I voted. The post submitted by him gained far more traffic than the post submitted by me, despite the only votes being mine and his in both occasions.

I can’t prove this – I can only give you my observation – but it does seem that the source of the first submission characterises how StumbleUpon treats that page, regardless of who may vote later. The wrong Stumbler can effectively work as a penalty against your webpage. I assume if enough ‘fresh’ Stumbles happen, it will outweigh the negative effect, but it’s probably best to avoid the bad start to begin with.

Therefore, it can be useful to educate your readers not to over-submit your website. They may think they are doing you a favour but they can actually prevent your page from getting more traffic from fresh Stumblers.

3. Not all Votes are Equal

It isn’t just the number of times you submit or vote for pages from the same website that can affect how much traffic StumbleUpon gives you. Your general StumbleUpon activity can also affect how the algorithm responds.

Again this is purely anecdotal, but in observing the StumbleUpon traffic through my own site I noticed a few strange trends. For example, one page can receive ‘thumb ups’ from fresh Stumblers and increase in traffic by a couple of hundred. Another can receive fewer votes but leap up to thousands of hits.

Recently, my post ‘How to Win Arguments Online‘ had been regularly receiving a handful of SU hits each day, three months after originally being submitted and having a spike of a few hundred visitors. A few days ago, it suddenly sprouted into life again. All of a sudden it was receiving a couple of thousand StumbleUpon hits a day. Then it dropped down to a couple of hundred and now it has leapt right back up again.

The post currently has 40 thumbs up and four reviews. All the reviews date from three months ago so, as best I can guess, there may have been one or two new ‘thumbs up’ to spark the new surge.

I can only surmise that the new votes for the page have been made by people with a greater level of StumbleUpon authority than those other 30-something votes that have

kept the post ticking over with a handful of daily hits. Again it is only an assumption, but it would make sense to suggest that those users who Stumble a lot of pages regularly and submit a wide selection of sites daily have a far greater weight given to their votes than someone who occasionally stumbles a handful of pages and submits rarely.

This kind of authority is found across a lot of social media sites, such as Digg, so it is certainly reasonable to assume the same occurs at StumbleUpon.

The implication is that it is important to network with SU power users and place your content in places where top Stumblers gather. Attract the right eyeballs to your content and you may get a huge boost in traffic.

4. Stumble regularly

Just as with any social media activity, you need to give to receive. Spend some time each day stumbling through sites, voting and reviewing as appropriate. Webmasters do notice who is helping to promote their work and often reciprocate.

If you want to encourage more reviews instead of simple thumbs, give out plenty of reviews. It’s simple.

If you include Stumbling and submitting as part of your daily online habits, your own authority will grow and you may find more Stumblers start visiting your site and returning the favour.

If You Enjoyed This Post, Please Stumble

It never hurts to remind people to Stumble. Add the submission buttons to your website. I have a ‘Stumble it’ link at the top and a button in the ‘Share This’ window at the bottom of every post.

Go on. If you’ve found this post useful, Stumble it. Write a review. Better yet, adopt the habit of Stumbling whenever you see content you enjoy. That way, if you enjoy mine, I’ll be rewarded with a ‘thumbs up’ from you and a few new readers who may appreciate the page you helped them to discover. I’ll be sure to return the favour by stumbling quality content I see. It may just be yours.


  1. Excellent post, as usual. Great information for those of us new to the whole social networking thing. I know some people get sick of hearing “content is king,” but that’s the reality and there’s a lot of junk out there. I’m glad to utilize something that combats that.

  2. Great post. I will now stop stumbling my own blog. 😉 One thing I don’t understand – how does stumbling other people’s sites help people find my own blog posts? Say I start regularly giving a “thumbs up” to CopyWrite posts – would you then notice I’m a frequent stumbler, go look at my stumbleupon profile, find my blog, and THEN stumble me? I feel so dense!

  3. Kimota says

    Yes and no. The essence of social media is not always so direct, which is why online marketing often causes trouble for traditional offline marketers who want a direct cause and effect. Not every page I stumble causes the webmaster to hunt down my blog and Stumble me. In fact, it’s only a small ratio.
    However, stumbling other blogs CAN build your standing within the StumbleUpon community, particularly if you add pertinent reviews. I have certainly visited the StumbleUpon pages of people who have written interesting reviews of my pages, added them as a friend and then watched what else they stumble.
    On the other hand, you need to work the network. Add friends. Firends can send pages to each other for consideration. “If you like this, would you consider Stumbling it” for example.
    Those with the biggest networks will attract the most SU traffic, either from directly sharing pages or by following each other’s discoveries and finding new sites yourself.
    Remember, it is important not to rely on one or two Stumblers as their votes on your URL dwindle very quickly over repeated use. You need to find ways to attract fresh Stumblers to have a look – and that means networking.

  4. Thanks for the tips, I’m new to StumbleUpon and I’ve heard some really good things about it, I can especially relate to your comment about being addicted to the internet all over again, looking forward to stumbling on some more of your stuff!

  5. This is a great post. I found it very helpful and stumbled it and bookmarked it on Delicious too. I never knew by clicking on Stumble button it gives me websites that I would be interested in. That’s awesome! I will definitely do that each day for at least some time. How do you know when someone submits something from your page?
    I also linked to your site in my post at

  6. Thank you very much for this information on stumbleupon, I had no idea about self submitting your own site. Very helpful pointers. Blessings, RH

  7. Learning from the Top 50 Aussie Marketing Blogs

  8. Very informative. I’ll sign-up stumbleupon now.

  9. I use SU professionally as a source of information, inspiration, and network partners. It’s a great way to see what other people are up to, collaborate (through comments), and brainstorm. SU is a great way to explore the internet.

  10. Very helpful I will stop linking ALL my post to stumbleupon.