Visualizing the StumbleUpon Audience

StumbleUpon has gone from hipster niche play to social media giant. In this post, I’ll analyze and visualize the StumbleUpon audience, and give some tips for marketers seeking to use this channel to drive traffic.

With more than 20 million users, sending more than 1 billion referrals per month, StumbleUpon is a major player in our attention economy.
StumbleUpon Grows to 20 Million Members

But what does the StumbleUpon interest graph really look like? What sort of content will perform best on StumbleUpon? And how can marketers use StumbleUpon to accomplish their goals?

(If you aren’t familiar with the basics of StumbleUpon, I recommend you read this post & sign up for an account. Stumble your interests, and use the service as a consumer before you try to market all over it.)

What is the StumbleUpon Audience Interested in?

One of the biggest challenges with social media marketing is finding the perfect fit between your content and the social media site’s audience. If you share the right content on the right site, it can go viral, get tons of traffic, lots of links, and really move the needle on your web promotion efforts. If you get it wrong, you’ll rapidly find yourself getting flagged/banned by the site in question.

Fortunately, most of these social media release a great deal of data about their audience to their advertisers, and StumbleUpon is no exception. In August 2011, StumbleUpon released some audience data that we can use to understand the nature of StumbleUpon’s audience.

I used ManyEyes from IBM & Tableau Public from Tableau to create some interactive visualizations of the StumbleUpon Audience. (You’ll need to have Java enabled to view these interactive visualizations.)

Categories Versus Topics

StumbleUpon has two layers of interest taxonomy – Category & Topic. Categories consist of a number of topics and are broad fields like “Science & Technology” or “Arts/History”. Topics are more granular, going from broad topics like Humor to narrow topics like Glaucoma.

StumbleUpon Categories

(Unfortunately WordPress is stripping out my interactive visualization – you can see it here –
The StumbleUpon Audience, VisualizedMany Eyes

StumbleUpon Topics

(Unfortunately WordPress is stripping out my interactive visualization – you can see it here –
The StumbleUpon Audience, VisualizedMany Eyes

What are the Most Popular Topics on StumbleUpon?

The interest graph on StumbleUpon is remarkably similar to the distribution of search engine terms – there are a few highly popular topics, a ‘chunky middle’ of somewhat popular topics, and a ‘long tail’ of hundreds of niche topics.

If we visualize this as a block histogram chart, it looks like this:
The Long Tail of StumbleUponMany Eyes

If we look at this another way, it should look even more familiar to search marketers:

Sheet 1

What are the most & least popular topics on StumbleUpon?

Unsurprisingly, the most popular topics on StumbleUpon mirror the most popular topics in all media.
General interest topics like Humor, Music, & Bizarre/Oddities are the most popular:

10 Most Popular StumbleUpon Topics
TopicAudience Size
Comedy Movies1,727,497

By contrast, the least popular topics are all over the place – ranging from Taxation to Glaucoma to Squash.

10 Least Popular StumbleUpon Topics
TopicAudience Size
Gay Culture21,366
Soap Operas15,935

How Can Marketers Best Use StumbleUpon?

When users are on StumbleUpon, they’re looking for interesting things to look at, rather than things to buy. This is a sharp contrast with search traffic, where someone is looking for something specific, often with purchase intent. StumbleUpon traffic has all entertainment intent – it’s ‘lean back’ traffic, instead of search’s ‘lean forward’ traffic.

Purchase Versus Entertainment Intent by Traffic Source

However, this ‘lean back’ entertainment intent makes the StumbleUpon audience prime for content promotion – they’re in a great mood to share, link to, and enjoy your content. Combine some great content with StumbleUpon’s Paid Discovery service, and you can generate a large number of social media conversations & links, which can in turn deliver higher search engine rankings and a great deal of revenue.

How Should I Target My Paid Discovery Campaign?

StumbleUpon Paid Discovery lets you target either categories or topics. Which topics & categories should you target? Should you go big or small?

If you’re trying to build buzz: You’ll need a big audience to generate the thousands of tweets and shares you’ll need to make your content ‘go big’. Aim for the largest segments possible – and try to make your content visually engaging & funny. As you can see, the largest StumbleUpon topics revolve around a) things that are funny, and b) things that look cool.

If you’re trying to build links: If you want to build links to grow your search engine visibility, go niche. While there may only be 12,604 of 20 million Stumblers interested in Glaucoma, you can bet the ones that subscribe to that topic are deeply interested in ocular health. This is how you can target the ‘linkerati’ – the bloggers and other opinion makers that make a disproportionate number of links on the web.

Conclusion: StumbleUpon a Wealth of Great Traffic

StumbleUpon is a great channel for marketers, and seems to be only improving. (Notice the vertical line of user growth in the image at the beginning of the article.) Understand the StumbleUpon audience, what they’re looking for, and you can swan dive into a stream of great visitors.

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