Does StumbleUpon Paid Discovery Work for Startups?

Update (3/15/2014) – They now doubled the minimum Cost Per View (CPV), consider that when reading this post. 

Anyone wanting to try StumbleUpon Paid Discovery probably has dreams of going viral, but there are a few things that you should know. If you’ve reviewed the StumbleUpon Paid Discovery case studies, you’re probably wondering, “Does it actually work?”

In short: No. (But there are exceptions…)  

I have had success with StumbleUpon’s Paid Discovery before, but with posts that marketed to the masses. What happens when I’m targeting a niche? When I came up with the idea for, I wanted to validate it. While the first thing you should do is create a mockup and approach your target market asking for their thoughts. The 2nd thing I wanted to do is collect 1,000 emails. If I couldn’t do this, I figured there wouldn’t be enough demand. While I did end up collecting enough emails for my coming soon page, was StumbleUpon Paid Discovery an important factor?

Again, short answer: Yes and No.

Recall that I mentioned, “Your first 100 signups are more important than your last 1000.” StumbleUpon was used as a testing ground to accumulate those first 100 signups, the results? Abysmal:

Results & Score: StumbleUpon Paid Discovery Case Study

Screenshot captured 8 Days after campaign start

If you’re not familiar with their dashboard, the most important statistics are “Free” ie. how many free stumbles you’ve received and “ECPV,” Effective Cost Per View. Theoretically, these are contingent upon “Score,” the ratio of likes and dislikes. So what exactly is a good StumbleUpon score?

Rishvika Kumar, Marketing Associate for StumbleUpon answers on Quora:

Generally, a score of 60% or above is considered good. The value reflected (thumbs up to thumbs down) is relative to other advertiser campaigns targeting the same audience. Feedback scores are more conclusive when your campaign has run for a good amount of time, so that enough data has been collected to give you an accurate evaluation of your campaign performance.

Hmmm. Then what’s going on? Shouldn’t a campaign that has run for 8 days with a score of about 95% get a little more than 19 free stumbles? Well, the StumbleUpon algorithm isn’t public (and for good reason), but based on past and present campaigns with StumbleUpon, here are my theories on how the StumbleUpon algorithm works (in order of importance):

StumbleUpon Algorithm

The StumbleUpon Algorithm

  • Market to the masses: I’ve stumbled over 12,000 pages on StumbleUpon, I’ve liked a little over 150 pages. And of those, there are two things that I see go viral: photography and things that make you laugh. What about business related posts? Sadly, not so much. Despite the “entrepreneurship” topic having nearly 1 million followers, the average amount of stumbles for my last 10 likes are a dismal 613 views. And it’s not like I give the thumbs up to anything I see, matter of fact, it’s about 1 in 74 pages. (note: I was not affiliated with any of the 10 likes).
  • The Power User: And by Power User, I mean have thousands of followers within your niche, whom have hundreds of their own followers, etc. Your likes are shown to your followers and the more you have, the more views you get. I think power users are few and far between because many people don’t really view StumbleUpon as a social network. This theory is supported by the fact that I’ve had content “resurface” in the past, generating a bump of traffic for a few days. Many also recommend regularly using the service, submit new links, voting, commenting, etc. Meh. I doubt it has a huge impact, I’ve done all that and I doubt a like from me will get your more than a handful of views.
  • Score: If you’re not scoring above 90% I’d pause the campaign unless you’re reeling in boatloads of free stumbles.
  • Activity Rate: Having a campaign that scores 100% doesn’t mean anything if you only get one like every 100 views, content that has done well for me gets about one like for every 10 views. Even more importantly, likes received over a time period ie. 100 likes in an hour does better than 150 over 5 days.
  • Social Sharing: You can damn sure bet that StumbleUpon tallies social shares via it’s “Share” function, if it’s going viral on Facebook and Twitter, why not StumbleUpon?

StumbleUpon Paid Discovery Review & Conclusion:

Final verdict: Finding a power user to give your site the “thumbs up” may be equivalent to rolling “black 24″ on the roulette table, ie. it’s a gamble. My advice? Save your money and invest in something tried and true. StumbleUpon Paid Discovery could be worth testing to find a repeatable and scalable business model, but in all honestly, unless you’re 9GAG or competing with Flickr, test other channels first.

Lastly, there will always be those who just need to try things for themselves. I’ll leave you with a few tips.

StumbleUpon Paid Discovery Tips:

  • Seeing as a lot of people are Googling, “StumbleUpon Paid Discovery coupon code.” I figure I’d chime in on how to get one. Simple, follow their Paid Discovery channel on Twitter. Every now and then they ask a trivia question that relates to StumbleUpon Paid Discovery, the questions are easy to answer and there aren’t that many people that participate. So I was able to score $20-30 of free advertising on SU (can’t remember exactly). It’s not much, but it is free.
  • Create an infographic. Images tend to do well in StumbleUpon.
  • Link Bait. Top lists like “The Top 7 Best…” or popular topics such as “iPhone 5″ can not only catch attention, but also a few links.
  • Submit multiple pieces at once with StumbleUpon Paid Discovery. Users will see your brand over and over again increasing the chances of getting a new user.
  • Danny Ashton

    Jay, Great post.

    From my experience with Stumbleupon PD – it’s all about the visual content. IMHO, people go on Stumbelupon because they don’t want to read/work any more.

    One thing I would suggest for future campaigns, is to spend a your budget a lot quicker than $2 per day. You really want to simulate a viral blast rather than spread the ad spend like you would with more targeted platforms like Adwords..etc

    I am using Stumbleupon PD a lot – so would be good to catch up on G+ hangout some point to share experiences.


    P.S: You should really give Reddit paid ads a whirl – it seems like a perfect audience for

    • Mike Nardella

      Hey Danny and Jay, how do you get your ECPV so low? I am trying to use StumbleUpon PD for

      I don’t know what to target specifically but it always seems as if my suggested bid comes out to around 17 cents.

      What would you suggest doing to optimize my StumbleUpon PD? Thanks


      • jaysoriano

        Mike – They recently raised prices, which IMHO, would make StumbleUpon Paid Discovery even less effective.

        I still have money in my account though, I’ll test it and report my results.

  • Al Phillips

    I have a question really. I’m launching a new book about, believe it or not, living with hemorrhoids instead of having surgery or a surgical-like procedure. Do you think something in a health or a gluten-free food niche will work with StumbleUpon Paid Discovery?

    I have had good response from StumbleUpon as an SEO traffic source and was hoping to be able to use Paid Discovery to push some traffic to my relatively new hemorrhoid or my old gluten-free site.

    I intend to sell Kindle eBooks with it.

    Whatcha think?


    • Jay Soriano

      StumbleUpon is a content engine – so it really depends on your content… as well as how big the niche is on StumbleUpon. Based off a quick look at your website, I’d try Facebook ads first targeting mentions of “hemorrhoid” or “gluten-free.”

      • Al Phillips

        Thanks Jay…

        I appreciate the input!

        Have a great day.


  • Anirudh Bahaudr

    Hi Jay,
    Great post. Well, StumbleUpon paid discovery worked for me. What I was promoting were articles from my blog. I did realize that people on StumbleUpon are more likely looking for visual content like cool web apps, images etc, so I thought I should target people within the age group of 45 to 55 who are most likely to read than people in the age group of 18 to 40. And yes the demographics I targeted did read my content, went over to other articles on my blog and shared it many times.

    I feel the trick is to target the correct age group and content categories as per your content.

    Best wishes,
    Anirudh Bahadur

    • Jay Soriano

      Interesting, what categories were you targeting?

      • el_guero2000


        Tank you! You taught me a lot. And I think your article and Anirudh’s comment are driving me towards targeting older readers for my blog. Now if I can get it to work.

        Thank you


  • Andrew McCauley

    Great article, thank you.
    I am wanting to know how much you can filter your demographics? I have an Apple Newstand Magazine that I would love to be able to target, but my readers need to be on an Ipad to read it. So, can you target to device specific demographics with SU?


    • Jay Soriano

      Andrew – You can target readers by device.

  • Ashley Pearson

    Will promote funny picture posts with them then instead of anything else and compare the results.

  • Ali Raza

    I want to start campaing for my iphone unlocking site but I can not find exact category for it. I think they need to add speciic categories for Android, iPhone, Blackberry and for other phones too. Also please tell me if I start campaing for so what you think that will I get any sales from stumbleupon’s targeted traffic.

    Thank you.

    • jaysoriano

      You can target by device, don’t think your unlocking site would do well on SU though… AdWords would be your best bet. Or focus on SEO.