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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 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.

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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. 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.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. 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!

    Like

  3. 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.

    Like

  4. 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.

    Like

  5. 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!

    Like

  6. 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.

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  7. 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.

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  8. 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!

    Like

  9. 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?

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    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.

      Like

  10. 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. 😉

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  11. 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. 😦

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  12. 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.

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    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.

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      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.

        Like

  13. 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……

    Like

  14. 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!

    Like

  15. 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

    Like

  16. 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.

    Like

  17. 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.

    Like

  18. I think it’s nice to have some inexpensive options to advertise your blog. I dont think it’s something to be ashamed of. Now if you spent hundreds of dollars with little results, that might make you a bit depressed. But if you spend 5 bucks for a bit of advertising, its a good test without spending a fortune.

    Like

  19. I’ve thought about paying for advertising. I’ve also done the community interaction thing and it does seem to work. Facebook seems to be terrible for generating readers and being new to twitter, it seems like there’s no way to get that going. Still I try. LinkedIn is next I think. I’ve also added a line of blog related T-shirts being sold by a college kid, son of friend. All proceed go to him and I get a little attention out of it. Hopefully it helps.

    http://stevekallio73.wordpress.com/

    Like

    1. Twitter can be great for traffic, as your readers share posts with their networks. As with any other network, though, you get out what you put in — you need to spend time cultivating relationships with people first.

      Like

  20. I’m relatively new to the blogging world so this was perfect timing for me. I struggle each day with ‘should I post my articles on FaceBook and LinkedIn accounts or not. My blog is geared towards parents with small children, so I fell less concerned with posting to FB than LinkedIn (a more professional site). But I’m not really sure how else to get the readership if not ‘putting it out there’ so to speak! Thanks for the food for thought!!

    Like

  21. This was a really good article. I’ve never considered paying for traffic, but obviously someone’s doing it. Ha! I hoped to hear the other side of the argument, and you delivered it. Now I know! Thanks so much for the info 🙂

    Like

  22. I find it a bit sad that my comment about “don’t bother trying to get more traffic” was deleted. Because dude. Buying traffic is not the point. If you don’t want a voice in your community saying this aloud, I’m not sure what kind of community you’re trying to build.

    I’ve been Freshly Pressed Twice. It is a lovely honor and I’m very, very pleased that the WordPress crew has liked my writing. Each time you get a bump of about a thousand more views. I get a thousand more views whenever my content is on Reddit. I’m not too psyched by either of these traffic bumps. In fact, I find them disruptive to what I am trying to do.

    You know what you get when you get that kind of sponsored traffic? Spam. You get a hundred comments of “I leikked your post!! Lookit mah BLOG!” or “I HATE YOU, YOU’RE FAT, I HATE YOU, DIE. but first here is link to mah blog.”

    I don’t want those people on my blog. I want my community on my blog. I trust that those who need to read my words will find them. I trust that the blogs I want to read will make themselves found to me.

    I guestblog for Captain Awkward. When she got Freshly Pressed, you know what happened? A thousand more views and a hundred comments of “I leikked ur post! Here is link to MAH BLOG!!”

    CA asked to be removed from the Freshly Pressed rankings because it was driving too much spam to the site. At the time there were only a few comment mods, and it was disruptive.

    “But don’t you want the 1,000 extra views?”

    CA gets 1,500 views an hour. Sponsored traffic didn’t make a dent.

    Look at the comments on Facebook’s sponsored posts and promoted groups. Most of those people aren’t going “Wow, I’m excited to see this content that I’m totally interested in!” Most of those people are going “EW I HATE THIS.”

    So no, I don’t think paying for blog traffic is a good idea. I think building a community is the way forward.

    Like

  23. While I’ve been following the feedback on this post, another blog by John Saddington (john.do) came my way, and its topic seems relevant for many of the commenters (it was for me):

    A Few Thoughts on Self Marketing and Removing the Stigma
    http://john.do/self-marketing/

    Reading between the lines, admittedly, it seems like many bloggers are shy about promoting what they do. But that is what they do. Saddington suggests that we should own it, be proud of it and claim it! Otherwise, he suggests, if you don’t believe in it, who else will?

    Just food for thought. Really liking the insights I’m getting here on the conundrums of blogging.

    Like

    1. Thanks for sharing this post, it was a good read. Seeming too boastful of one’s work and showing just the right amount is a fine line to tread. I’m working on that myself. I’ve always been more the humble type, not so much because I’m not proud of my young blog, which I am but because I don’t ever want to impede or intrude onto others unless they ask, but then again how can they ask if you don’t tell 😉

      – Rakhi

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  24. It’s like that old saying, quality over quantity. I try to approach every aspect of my life with that motto, the friends I choose, the purchases I make, the posts I write, and that applies to this as well.

    My blog is kind of my baby. I want the right attention, not a lot of wrong attention. That being said, buying views could be great if you happen to have 1 viewer who does share to 2 friends and then that friends shares etc.. For now though I think I’ll stick it out the conventional way 🙂

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