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Put Your Money Where Your Blog Is: Should You Pay for Traffic?

Even those of us who blog for purely personal reasons appreciate some validation, whether comments, likes, or just pageviews. Encouraging…

Even those of us who blog for purely personal reasons appreciate some validation, whether comments, likes, or just pageviews. Encouraging that feedback is one of the most frustrating things for many bloggers; when we hit “publish,” we want to see the little bar graph go up, up, and away and when we don’t, it’s discouraging. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what readers respond to — a labor of love sinks like a stone, while a five-minute rant makes the rounds on Twitter.

There’s plenty of advice on attracting and engaging readers (some of it from us), most of which requires time and effort without guaranteed success . . . although there is one foolproof method: pay for traffic. But is paid traffic the perfect way to bring in new readers, or does it undermine the point of a blog?

Pay to Play: Facebook and StumbleUpon

Advertising your blog may seem like a counterintuitive move for a medium based on community and organic engagement, but there are a few services some bloggers use effectively to bring paid traffic to their sites: Facebook and StumbleUpon. (Ed. note: per a helpful commenter, LinkedIn is also an advertising option, especially for those who write about business/career issues.)

They work a bit differently, but both provide a low-cost way to get your blog’s name or homepage in front of a targeted group of potential readers:

  • Facebook advertising lets you show a title, image, and short blurb about your blog to a group of Facebook users you define — say, women aged 18-35 who live in eastern Canada and list baseball and movies as their interests. If someone clicks on your ad, you can choose to take them to your blog’s Facebook page (if you have one) or the page or post you choose.
  • StumbleUpon Paid Discovery brings people directly to your site. You submit a URL to StumbleUpon and choose which demographics and interest groups you’d like to target (humor, food, business, etc), and StumbleUpon sends stumblers right to you.

Both let you test the waters with minimal investment — StumbleUpon charges $0.05 per visitor, and Facebook lets you invest as little as $1.00 a day — but might not bring you the return you’re hoping for. You’ll get the pageviews, but will you still respect yourself in the morning?

The Pros

Aside from the secure knowledge that your stats will have a good day, there are other positives to paid traffic:

  • It’s inexpensive, in terms of both resources and time. You can dabble with paid traffic for just a few dollars to gauge how it impacts your readership, and giving StumbleUpon a list of parameters takes far less time than reading others’ blogs, leaving thoughtful comments, and otherwise engaging online. If visitors like what they see and decide to share it with their Facebook friends or like it on StumbleUpon, the resulting traffic is organic, viral — and free.
  • Visitors will (hopefully) be predisposed to enjoy your great content. You’re profiling them based on their interests, so they should be more likely to engage with what you have to say. In the case of StumbleUpon visitors, you don’t even have to hope they’ll click on your ad — they’re actively looking for new sites to follow; a prime audience.
  • You can offer targeted content to a targeted audience. You don’t need to send visitors to your Facebook page, or even your blog’s home page. You can drive people to a particular post or page you’re trying to promote, or that you think will be most likely to draw them in. If you’ve had a post that was particularly popular with your regular readers, you can promote it in the hope that it will strike a similar chord with new visitors.

A low-cost way to get your blog in front of the very people who are looking for it? Seems like a no-brainer! But before you enter your credit card info, think about . . .

The Cons

Despite the pros of paid traffic, return on your investment still may not exceed your $1.00 budget, and turning to a life of Stumble-chasing can distract you from the reason you started blogging in the first place:

  • Eyeballs on your blog are guaranteed — but engagement isn’t. You can try to up the odds that visitors will stick around with demographic/interest targeting, but there’s no way to guarantee that they’ll become regular readers, or even that they’ll like a single post; advertising has a fairly low return rate, and StumbleUpon makes it painfully easy for a reader to click over to the next big thing if they’re not instantly hooked. It might be gratifying to watch the day’s stats skyrocket, but the letdown when traffic returns to normal levels after your advertising budget runs out is inversely proportional to the joy.
  • You blog because you have something to share, not to meet an arbitrary pageview goal. Few of us started blogging to become rich and famous, and focusing too much on stats can distract us from our real blogging goals and eclipse the pleasure we take in publishing. Writing for pageviews might not effect what you write or the enjoyment you get from blogging — but it might.

The Bottom Line

Should you give paid traffic a try? Maybe. It can’t substitute for the natural, sustained growth that comes from engaging with the blogging community, but it can give your blog a boost, introduce it to new readers, and help you promote a specific product or event. It can be a fun one-off experiment, or a way to test which of your posts sticks with readers. (If you’ve tried using paid traffic, we’d love to hear how it worked for you!)

Whatever you decide, paid traffic shouldn’t be your main path to blogging success; the likelihood of real engagement is too low and the risk of disengaging from your own blog too high. It can be an interesting supplement to your other activity online, but in the end, it doesn’t compare with the community you build and nourish with real interactions.

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  1. Thanks so much for the research you did on this. I really agree with your conclusion: “in the end, it doesn’t compare with the community you build and nourish with real interactions.” Blogging, I think, is all about community and sharing something you think may be of value to others.

    1. I agree to the conclusion too, no need to fret about the traffic. Once ppl notice the value of your blog content, soon traffic will start to happen. It also don’t hurt to comment and share your views about other blogs… Being a regular member of the crowd will win you “fans” too! Just be vocal, be honest and polite.

  2. Love that you shared both the pros and cons, and how you’ve identified exactly what disturbs writers most–in the vein of “if a tree falls in the forest,” I’ll add that the feeling is similar: if a blog posts to the internet and no one reads it, did it matter? I’d like to see a f/u post about driving traffic to your blog if your goal is beyond merely personal, but to see your work, services, product, whatever. Thanks.

    1. Whether it matters depends in part on why it was written, although I’d argue that it almost always matters :)

      Check out the “Traffic and Growth” category here for more on increasing your readership. It’s definitely something we’ll be writing more about!

      1. It could be an interesting excercise finding out how it works and if it doesn’t cost much probably well worth it for a short time.

  3. I personally don’t believe in paid traffic, but I don’t blog for traffic either. I just blog because I think it’s a safer way to express negative emotions and relieve stress, and a great tool for self-reflection. Well-written post though!

    1. Yes I agree with you. Self-reflection is the key here. I know what attracts attention to my site. People don’t give love offerings for you hard work either… but I hate when people over advertise their books and blogs, it gets very boring. Yet I feel sometimes one has to be aggressive and at other times discreet … but paying someone to do it sounds a bit on the desperate side. Nothing new..

    2. I also agree with you. Like you I don’t blog for traffic… although I’m always a little excited when it happens. I used to do all that I could to get traffic, and even considered paying for it. I want people to read my blog because they are interested and are entertained by what I write. Paid-for traffic is not going to accomplish that.

      1. It is, of course, lovely to get volumes of traffic – but that, per se, means nothing if it is not backed up by genuine interest and comment. It is, after all, very easy to press a Like button! Having said that, I am very ambivalent about the whole filthy lucre side of things: I gave up teaching (after 30 years!) to write full time – and, thus far (one year on), have made very little dosh – have sold less than fifty copies of my novel, and blog for free. But the writing itself is my first love.

  4. Seems to me it’s only worth it if you’re running a company blog or a small online business. Even then, would the return on investment be enough to make the cost worth it?

    1. It can be really effective for small business sites, or marketing services. In that case, you’d want to do some research into your target demographic, make sure you’re sending people to a really compelling landing page, and then start experimenting — luckily, the low costs means the barrier to entry is pretty low.

      1. If I ever start a business, I’ll have to consider doing this. Probably beats that horrible comment spam that exists all over the internet and makes no sense.

  5. I think the amount of energy you expend to connect with other bloggers equals the returns. But paying for someone to promote is an excellent way for someone who is lazy, like, for instance, me! Thanks for discussing both sides.

  6. Quite the timely post! For whatever reason, our blog traffic is much less than last year, and yet our connections with other bloggers and other like minded folks has dramatically improved. Since I’m very active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms in addition to the blog itself, I kind of view all of this activity as being part of the blog.Page views may be down, but satisfaction is way way up! I think the quality of the interactions is much more important than page views.

  7. I’ve been thinking about that and wondering what’s the worth in it. It really bothers me that I’d have to pay to get more people to even notice me, but I do understand that there are a million others out there. This post helped so much.

  8. Thank you for this post. My weekly blog has only 23 posts and I am at the bottom of the viewer/interaction/engagement pile. Paying for readers is not my style but glad to know that the option is out there :).

  9. I sometimes find it difficult to believe that people don’t blog for traffic in one way or another. No one blogs for empty traffic but nearly everyone wants someone to become a regular reader of their blog. Otherwise we wouldn’t have made it public since keeping a journal offline is easier than starting a blog.

    1. I think most of us welcome the validation of readers, but there are plenty of people who don’t blog for pageviews — as a reader upthread mentioned, the quality of interaction can be much more important (and motivating!) than then quantity. Finding a few kindred souls can be more satisfying that a 500–pageview day.

      1. And when one receives a lot of views vs. low number of visitors, it starts to feel…wrong. To me since I have just a personal blog. I just experienced it and am now highly suspicious..

        I’d rather have a bunch look shortly. I don’t expect people to spend tons of time on my blog in a day.

      2. That’s why I tried to make a difference between different types of traffic. Everyone wants some kind of appreciation otherwise it wouldn’t be public.

        I definitely agree with what you’re saying. I was extremely happy with the last comment I received on my post. It is extremely motivating knowing someone likes your work!

  10. I think blogging is just sharing your views and ideas, its not just about attracting traffic but ya it gives appreciation too. So if someone gets appreciation to write more from this than its not bad either.

  11. the day that blogging has an associated cost to it other than that of a laptop and internet access is the day I stop blogging… I am not out to sell my work… it I were I would choose the conventional means of publishing as my medium… in other words I am giving my writing away for free so what sense would it make to pay to advertise…

  12. I’ve been debating whether or not I want to pay for traffic. I think I might give it a whirl just to see how & if it really works. I like to write just to vent (hence the name “Chocolate Vent”) but it would be nice to reach a new audience.

  13. Think like this – Time is Money. Many of us spend a lot of time commenting on other blogs and creating a community. But if that time can be spent more usefully elsewhere, we might as well buy some (little) paid traffic to compensate for that. There is no guarantee that we’ll get comments/subscribers, but we’ll at least know that people have read our blogs.

    This strategy works better for niche blogs, when advertisements are carefully targeted at readers interested in our niche. For personal blogs, I think ads are not worth it.

    Advertising works even better if we have some product to sell on our blogs. Even then the ROI is (generally not good enough to justify the investment, but as you say, one of our posts/products has the potential to get viral due to increased exposure.

  14. I wouldn’t pay for traffic. It’s takes time to develop.
    Just be patient and it will come sooner than you think.
    Keep blogging and leaving comments.

    1. I agree. Generating traffic on a more personal level by learning and creating good content learning new techniques, networking, and patients are the true ways to gaining successful visits.

  15. Thank you for sharing! I hadn’t though of using Stumbleupon for advertising. I will have to look into this. I’m working on a startup business and trying to learn everything I can about finding the people who are looking for my service. Whether I use it to send people to my blog (no content yet) or directly advertise my site, I’ll have to try a small test run and see what happens.

    Thanks!

  16. Love that you shared multiple sides of the argument — I’m new to blogging and am hopeful that if I just stay true to myself and try and blog about what would interest me consistently, that people like me will come along for the ride :)

    1. Welcome! It sounds like you’re on the right track — if *you* like reading your blog, chances are someone else will too! And if you start participating in the community, all the better.

  17. I’ve briefly tried StumbleUpon Paid Discovery for my personal blog and while it was fun watching my page views briefly skyrocket, I don’t think I’ve gotten a single long term reader from it.

    StumbleUpon tells you how long, on average, a viewer spends on the page and it’s amazing how short it is—almost always less than a minute. StumbleUpon says they only charge for views that meet certain criteria of “engagement”, but they don’t specify what that is. Given that even a 6 second page view passes criteria, I’m not impressed by their criteria. As soon as I stop the StumbleUpon campaign, the page views go back to their normal levels.

    StumbleUpon Paid Discovery is easy to experiment with, you can spend a small amount of money and it’s simple to stop a campaign and stop paying. It’s a bit of a thrill to get hundreds of views in a couple of hours on a blog that normally gets a few views a week, but I won’t be doing it again.

    1. Yup, I had the same experience with a blog I used to write. A few posts got a little traction from Stumble Upon users liking/up-voting them, which was nice, but ultimately it was all about numbers and not engagement.

  18. Though I do watch my stats like crazy I don’t want to pay people to come read what I have to say. I put my thoughts and views out there so people can relate and understand me and my writing style better. I do this for me, the views from my audience and the feedback I receive is just a bonus!

  19. This is all true. I think what compels a lot of people to blog, along with self-expression and reflection, is that it’s nice to think that someone else out there is reading or identifying with what you’re saying (or writing, I guess).

  20. Very interesting, I never realised that it was option, still I think I’d err on the side of it not being worth it. I’m still trying to work out what readers want to see but since I’m blogging to express my thoughts and views, it’d be wrong to try and be something else?

    Either way my last post about mosaics went down very well, can only hope my future posts go the same!
    http://myromanbritain.wordpress.com/
    Ben,

  21. For quite some time now I hated word press thinking they have anything to do with pay for traffic seriously. I have had people threatened me that the only way I will get publicity is by paying so -so amount each month. I have lamented over this issue over and over. I do get conversation through email that has made my blog stand out for me. I thought about the distractions of too many likes that kills the joy of writing. I have often rely on my own statistics to waive away some of those people that thought I was not getting their likes. I see sometimes 600 likes in a blog and worry about the authenticity of those blogs. I wanted to re-blogged an article on that but did not want to start a negative topic. I just recently realize what is going on here. How people are strangely boasting of taking over blogging world. Saying that without them no one can make success here. I recently wanted to send my apology for hating word press thinking they have something to do with it, I am glad you cleared this air. I will blog now knowing that word press is doing everything to protect us not the other way round.

  22. Great blog post. One of the purposes I chose to blog was because I enjoy writing and I want to receive feedback from other bloggers. This is very interesting and helpful. On a daily basis, I do check my stats to see how many views I have, but in actuality, that does not count as much as receiving feedback from others. I enjoy hearing what others have to say about my posts because responses will help me in the long run. And using social networks sometimes can be a helpful tool to build an audience.

  23. Actually, depending on the blog content LinkedIn can be a great choice. They’re cheaper than FB and their demographic has literally ten times the money of FB, so if your blog is about a profession or industry, there may be much better value for you there.

  24. It stinks when you make a blog and you have absolutely no traffic whatsoever. Been there. I don’t think anyone has to pay for traffic unless they need to make money for themselves. When I started out I had no one but through tireless comments and hard work I have followers and lots of traffic! Yay me!

  25. Thank you very much for posting this article. This is exactly true that bloggers will watch their stats and personally, I think paid traffic could be considered for business blog rather than personal blog. To boost my traffic, I created a facebook page and sure enough my stat bar goes well up. I do get a lot of views from facebook but unfortunately they are non engaging. At the end of the day, I supposed it depends of what kind of blog you have and whether or not you want to get paid to be notice. I definitely won’t as my blog is my autobiography and I would not want to pay anyone to read my story. It has a big hit from facebook clicks and all my ‘friends’ sure are inquisitive enough to visit regularly boosting my stats! I tried to engage them even humbly appealed for readers to LIKE me but they chose to quietly visit, read my story and crept quietly away but come back day after day QUIETLY. My below post is what I mean about non engaging. Only fellow bloggers will comment and that is very rewarding indeed.
    http://littlegirlstory.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/from-autobiography-to-two-pennies-worth-of-thoughts/
    This is a very relevant article and I relate to it hugely. Thanks again for sharing.

  26. I’ve tried the “promoted” posts on FB, and while it did result in a huge jump in my “reach” for the day, and several new page likes. The one thing it didn’t do was result in a single sale. Now money is not what motivates me to pursue photography with the passion that I do. However I am interested in making photography more than a hobby. I would not have my fan page, my WordPress blog, and my website if I weren’t trying to promote myself and the images I make.

    The most successful method I’ve found for increasing traffic to my fan page and blog has been to engage with other bloggers,facebook pages, my fans, and to continue to create content my followers will enjoy.

  27. As you’ve illustrated in your article, along with numerous comments, it all depends on the point of your blog. I’m a real estate agent who uses my blog as not only my outlet to satisfy my desire to write, but also as a tool to potentially generate additional business. As such, absolutely I’d pay to grab some more traffic!
    Thanks for the insightful post!

  28. I never considered paying just to promote my blog. If you have something good to share, people will come back. Never mind that you have few followers, I’d rather read positive comments from people who just dropped by and found a post that they like. Page views and likes of course are barometers that you are reaching out to people out there.

  29. Good article. I blog to vent and really don’t care to pay for bragging rights. I appreciate my readers and subscribers more knowing they found me, I didn’t pay for them.

  30. Wow! I have read each and every comment above and glad that many of us, like me, would love engaging readers rather than just increase traffic. Paying for traffic sounds so fake if you are not running a business and many bloggers had shared that giving money only boosts traffic for a short while. I love readers to leave comments on my blog post, reading their insights and thoughts give value to my blog posts. Having followers give double value to my blog! I always take time to leave comments on blogs that I like as I know I would love mine to have comments too. I would certainly continue to leave comments or liking others’ posts and hope others find mine interesting too. It would take time to build readers but at least I would “respect myself when I wake up in the morning”! Great post, thanks for sharing!

  31. As a new blogger (who quite literally started two days ago) i find this information very useful! i have already been using facebook to “freely” promote my first book as a famous writer hopeful and have seen a little success with this advertising. i think after reading this i am strongly considering at least creating a page just for my blog. would waiting till after i have blogged more be good to do before i go creating a page for it on facebook?

    1. This is something we’ll cover in a future post, but for now, I’ll say that you don’t necessarily need to wait until you’ve blogged more, but you should think about what the content of your Facebook page will be — if it’s nothing more than links to your posts, it’s not going to add much.

  32. Just to put this out there, I want to share a habit that works for me both in increasing page views from a targeted audience, as well as being a positive and valued member of the blogging community:

    You know how WordPress recommends us to comment on other people’s blogs with the same interests are ours? They wrote it as a recommendation for increasing referrers. I took this one step further by finding blogs of the same interest (in my case, poetry) that have lots of followers and commenters. Then I check out the blogs of their commenters and leave sincere and well-thought-out comments on their posts.

    Usually I don’t just comment haphazard on the topmost post; I browse their recent posts, pick two or three that I liked best and comment on them. It lets me get to know their blog, and the effort is not lost to the blog owners. That makes many of them feel compelled to click my name and check out my blog. And since I know that they already like the kind of stuff I write (because that’s how I found them), I have greater chances that they will subscribe, comment and come back.

    This doesn’t make your page views “boom” in a day then die quickly. As it will take time for bloggers to find new comments (unless they are online 24/7), I get a more evened-out increase in views and subscribers.

    I may also add that this habit lets me dispel my jealousy of the people whose blogs have similar content as mine but get 20x more subscribers and commenters. :) It’s those blogs that help me seek out my targeted audience and introduce myself to them. And at the same time, I feel myself growing into a member of the community that other bloggers appreciate and like having around. ;-)

  33. I created a blog to talk to people. Plus, times are hard. I don’t need to be paying for people to look at my blog or talk to me. That’s paying to have a relationship with someone. I am against that. O wow, I just told my brother he should get people to pay him (petty cash) to be a social commodity. I was telling him he makes 2 people want to talk and enjoy each others time together. I so contradicted myself. :(

  34. I think it’s a great idea. Sure, through some scope one might think they didn’t ‘earn’ their reader base but let’s face it, things are harder these days. Everyone’s trying to become a popular blogger, people spam emails and news feeds and comment boxes saying, “Follow me” “FUNNY BLOGS HERE” or “I follow back.” People do all sorts of bullshit because they want a bigger fan base, because it brings some joy or meaning in there life-I don’t know. I think, that promoting your blog through advertisement is a more civilized way of going about it though. You’re not annoying people with spam or being obnoxious by posting a hundred comments on an already popular blogger. It’s a way of hitting the ground running-getting ahead of the traffic. And then hey, maybe if your blogs good than that reader base will continue to grow on it’s own. I think, adding a little miracle grow newer hurt the garden or the gardner.

    1. In the end, you still have to earn your readers — the advertisement will bring you a traffic spike, but its your content that will turn a visitor into an engaged reader.

      1. Exactly, take the garden analogy for example. The miracle grow (advertisement) is only going to help it grow. But one must still plant the seeds, water the garden, find a spot where the sun hits it, take the weeds out, pick the harvest when it’s right, and all those other things a gardener does. In the end the blog has to be good, the content has to be there. Without that it would be like adding the miracle grow to a pile of dirt and expecting to get a full harvest.

  35. Very Well said………I’m a new blogger and like chocolate covered race medals said If I say true to myself then people will come along for the ride…………I’ll just say that It’s your own opinion that matters……

  36. Yes, in as much as I agree
    with you that Blogging is
    about building a community
    and sharing
    something that may be of
    value to others, I think it is best to steer clear of buying links or traffic. Google is penalizing sites who buy
    links. Instead, it pays to build links naturally by writing valuable content. Thanks for sharing!

  37. Seems to me it’s only worth it if you’re running a company blog or a small online business. Even then, would the return on investment be enough to make the cost worth it?

    I completely agree

  38. Excellent, indepth post! I’ve tried Facebook ads and it works to promote a specific post but as you say, stats usually return to normal when the budget runs out.

    A better thing to do might be to promote one time events through paid traffic.

    It’s also fun experimenting with different types of ads. Promoting specific, targeted posts usually generate more clicks than promoting your blog i general, in my experience.

  39. Quality of traffic and engagement is what matters not just numbers – in my opinion.

    I think commenting and linking to similar blogs will get you much more quality interaction than any advertising will.