Case Study: How to Get a StumbleUpon Submission Reviewed 200 Times in 2 Weeks

While StumbleUpon traffic is not really reliable and I strongly advise you not to depend on it for your blog StumbleUpon is still one of the most valuable places to get attention on the Web. To show you how a successful submission can generate overwhelming buzz I will take apart a hugely popular stumble submission I did myself. This is an article that was chosen out of 10 by my readers. People power is SEO 2.0!

So: How to get a StumbleUpon submission reviewed 200 times in 2 weeks?

Take a look at this image first:


The submission I am talking about is a somewhat artistic work of the “us” design studio titled “Free range workers“. It deals with “the similarities between many office work conditions and battery farmed hens”.

While it is a really weird piece and I submitted it because it deserved attention by the people interested in radical art (I am an art blogger for over 5 years in Germany, I even organized a whole festival in 2004) I would never have expected the huge amount of attention it got on SU. Why? I submit strange artworks all the time. Some of it gets some attention, some other stuff gets ignored altogether.

So when I discovered that the “Free range workers” had received 200 reviews after a mere 2 weeks I decided to take a closer look at it and compare it to other similar submissions. Moreover I tried to find a pattern comparing it to other wildly popular submissions.

I have come up with some characteristics that these have in common. While this is not a recipe to repeat this success whenever you want you surely can deliver a better suited type of content for the StumbleUpon community after reading this.

The right topic. A popular one
This is crucial for success on StumbleUpon: You have to offer a potential audience what it wants. In sports stadium the people want to watch a football game, in a movie theatre people prefer to watch movies, in an art gallery they want guess what? So what kind of content do people on StumbleUpon prefer? Well, art is not bad but you need to get more exact in your research. How can you determine the preferences of stumblers?

It’s simple. Just take a look at which groups are popular. My submission fitted at probably 3 of the most popular groups of SU users “Awesome Pictures“, “Bizarre Hunter” and “Photography“. Of course not the groups themselves made it go big, but the groups can be used as an indicator at what kind of content will perform well on SU.

Similarly, one of the most popular submissions of mine was one about Firefox. It wasn’t something really important but the huge attention it got was due to Firefox being one of the most popular topics on SU. In fact the Firefox group is the single most popular group at SU.

Zeitgeisty but timeless at the same time
StumbleUpon is not social news like the infamous Digg or the bright upstarter Mixx. Nobody wants to read news there as it takes too long from sender to recipient. You might get served the news by SU long time after they were originally posted. Thus the events have probably unfolded in a different direction already. So

StumbleUpon submissions must be timeless.

The information must still be valid or make sense in a few days, weeks, months or years. What stumblers do want is that the submission reflect the current zeitgeist.

So here again: Timeless art but the currently popular Firefox come to mind. When I started using Firefox a few years ago (it was called Phoenix back then) it was a really light weight, fast and underground browser. By now it’s a monster which will eat up all of your memory. So I often use Opera for certain tasks. It does not matter.

People are used to FF by now and they want their preferences to be respected. So you can’t post something about there being better browsers than Firefox which would fatal for your submission. You have to accept the zeitgeist of the time which says that Firefox is the #1 to succeed on SU. Unless, by now Chrome might be popular as well.

The free range workers are timeless in their attempt to make life worth living for both humans and animals alike while they are reflecting on the current zeitgeist of the web generation, living in offices without much daylight.

No bullshit
This is something more savvy users already know. If you use tons of distracting ads, widgets and there is portal like clutter on your page, social media users will hate it. If you take a look at the Free range workers page you notice that there is nothing beside the single work, not even a link.

Basically it a frame based site so that I had to open the frame content to submit it. So it was done accidentally exactly right for the StumbleUpon audience. In fact I will “thumb down” submissions that have more ads and clutter that actual content.

So remove everything that is not necessary to get more stumblers to vote for you.

Social media users do not click on ads anyways so using Adsense and other CPC ads does not work anyways. Correct me if you have different experiences. I don’t use Adsense at all so I only rely on what others wrote here.

This in fact surprised me a little. Many people report that bad reviews result in less visitors etc. Not here or at least not if there is a good mix of both. At the beginning several people voted the Free range workers down, sometimes for no other reason than me submitting it as some people just vote down everything just because I submit it, “the evil SEO”.

It seems that negative reviews of the misguided kind motivate others to write a review of their own

when they disagree. After a while only positive reviews followed suit because most stumblers think for themselves and do not take bullies seriously. So while it does not make sense to submit crap it works fine to submit stuff not everybody agrees on.

The fitting categories
I already made you aware that it is very important to submit a post to the fitting category. As tags and categories are mixed on StumbleUpon you can submit to several fitting categories by adding tags that match categories. I see the same mistakes on SU with categories over and over.

For instance most people fail to see that the Science/Tech category is not about “tech” in the sense of “everything about computers and Internet” but about science and thus technology related to real life, like in engineering. Also “computers” is used for all types of content while it is in fact about, surprise!, computers… yes, the boxes with chips in them you use to access the Internet.

So if you have a post about Firefox it’s neither about science nor is it about computers.

It really depends on what exactly you write. It could fit in “web development”, “software” or even “marketing” (Firefox plugins for affiliate marketers) or search (SEO plugins for Firefox).

In the case of the Free range workers I chose “bizarre”, “arts”, “food” (it was at about chicken wasn’t it? ;-) ) “vegetarianism” (Boys just wanna have fun!) and design. The category was later changed to “satire” which I didn’t realize existed before as SU has far too many categories to know them all.

Do not miscategorize.
StumbleUpon is like watching TV. You do not want sports on the discovery channel do you? So people will switch off their TV set.
Now I hear you crying out:

My website is far too “boring” it has nothing to do with bizarre arts or Firefox!

  • Do I have to dress like a jerk,
  • make ridiculous photos
  • or make a list of the best Firefox plugins for plumbers?

Well, it sure would get some attention. You don’t have to though. It’s like in real life, banks and companies sponsor artists or art fairs, even have their own galleries.

  • Sponsor an artist or simply pay him to be able to display hers/his works,
  • hire a programmer to create a Firefox extension everybody needs etc.
  • or do not take yourself too seriously, make something ridiculous, the people love exploding iPods and the likes.

While doing all that always remember that social media is not a direct response channel, it’s about long term reputation building.


Last updated: September 5th, 2011.