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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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