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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.

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    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.

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  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.

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    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!

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      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.

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  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!

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    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..

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    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.

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      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.

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  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?

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    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.

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      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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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 :).

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  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.

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    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.

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      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.

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      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!

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  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.

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  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…

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  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.

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  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.

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    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.

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  14. 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!

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  15. 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 :)

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    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.

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  16. 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.

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    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.

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  17. 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!

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  18. 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).

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