StumbleUpon: Real or Fake?

We received an email this morning from Brooke Tessman, Director of Advertising Sales for At first, I thought it was a “normal” sales call. Then, I started to think about what she was saying:

StumbleUpon offers a unique opportunity to reach the targeted audience you’re searching for. Discover great websites, videos, pictures and more-all according to your interests. Send your website or video directly to people who want to see your content. StumbleUpon shows your website or video directly to interested web surfers who have already expressed a strong interest in similar content.

Target the exact audience you want. Target visitors by category, location, age, and gender. Get valuable feedback from real people. See how many people rated your content “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down”. Interested in learning more about StumbleUpon advertising opportunities?

What I’m interested in learning more about is… do StumbleUpon users realize they may be stumbling upon paid placements?

50 thoughts on “StumbleUpon: Real or Fake?”

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  3. This comment has nothing to do with this post so I dare not acll this comment. :-) I found your name on a friend’s blog and I googled it. So there’s actually a Pirillo Effect. Way cool!. I mean what can be cooler than to have a phenomenon named after you! You’re the king. Nice to have stumbled upon you. (There. I guess that last sentence qualifies this comment as a comment.)

  4. Wow. That is evil. A quote from their Web site leads me to believe users do not realize they are viewing paid placements:

    “When you use StumbleUpon to promote your website (or other content), we send your site directly to people who match your targeting criteria, and specifically to those who have expressed an interest in similar sites before. We display your content directly in the user’s browser – not as an ad, but as the sole and entire focus. Each unique URL is displayed only once to each member.”

  5. I’ve always assumed I was stumbling into paid placements. It has not made my stumbling experience any less enjoyable, however.

  6. I started using StumbleUpon way back when it was new, but then forgot about it along the way. I picked it up again to use when I just wanted to see something random. It never dawned on me that People would pay to have their sites listed.

    You coudl probably just sign up with a crap load or accounts and keep listing your sites with it.

  7. Chris,

    StumbleUpon makes no secret of paid placement. As a matter of fact if your a paid member of StumbleUpon it is an option for you to disable the Sponsored Stumbles.

    There is no big dark secret only commenters unfamiliar with the service and what it offers.

  8. I believe they mix both paid and stumbled websites to their results. Honestly after using them for awhile, I don’t have an issue with them mixing paid inclusions into the site after all it is suppose to be targeted and so far I am rather happy with the results. After all I get to see a cool website every day.

  9. Very suprised when I first read your post… but happy Richard’s cleared it up. Would be a shame to have a reason to hate stumble, such a great service.

  10. As someone so bored at work to be placed amongst the top stumblers, per Stumble Upon stats…

    Yes, they let us know when the site we stumble upon is a paid advertisement, and kudos to them for not doing it so often as too let us down, it is about every twenty or so stumbles….

    perhaps you should try it before slandering something first, spoken like a true jackass…! doG Bless You!


  11. It’s interesting to see the stumbleupon comments regarding this website.

    Jeremy Luebke’s comment was slightly innacurate.
    The coloured boxes indicate whether a stumbleupon member is a sponsor (ie: paid their dues to get goodies which are now available to everyone) or not. They have nothing to do with the stumbled sites.

  12. I’ve been using SU for months now. Not only do they tell you in the FAQ that you will see paid sites when you stumble, but an icon appears in the toolbar whenever one of the sites you stumble on is one of those paid sites.

    If somebody is really upset by this after using SU, all they have shown is their own inability to read the FAQ. And the author of this article has shown his inability to conduct any real amount of research.

  13. Of course we know there are sponsored stumbles, there is no big secret about it but the StumbleUpon pages are not littered with advertisements.
    Why not go and have a look for yourself?

    There are over 1,000,000 members Worldwide now.

  14. this is not an issue, any SU member can choose to see ads or not, it is certainly no secret! SU is one of the best things on the internet, try it and you will see!

  15. I am very much aware that some of these are “business” websites that the owners of the websites may promote by joiing stubmleupon and self’promoting within. It’s unethical and defeats the reason stumbleupon exists but it does make sense. Those websites that look like the owner has promoted himself are the ones I just pass on by. But I do not thnk stumbleupon is the one responsible.

  16. Yes, Stumbleupon’s users do relize this. On their wbsite, they do talk about sponsered stumbles, and if you upgrade you can get rid of it. Think of it as nagware. You can use it for free, but it has advertising on it. If you pay for the program, the ads go away.

  17. Stumble Uopn has been great for me!
    I can’t count the times that choosing ‘the’ category for the client for a brainstorming boost has saved the day.
    I know we all would like to make a little for our time invested…. SU has worked hard at this. I have no problem with a ‘sponsored’ ad occasionally… i know how to click again if it isn’t what I’m looking for… you know what I mean?
    PS if you are ever without words during a date and the laptop is handy, find out what she is interested in and SU it….. surprising sucess rate….. thank you ;)

  18. I don’t see anything wrong with that, they’ve got to pay for this wonderful service somehow. As a student of advertising campaigns I find this a refreshing take on targeted advertising, it’s a great idea, I’ve never stumbled upon an advertisement that I didn’t actually have a little interest in. (and as others before me have noted, you can tell which are adverts and which aren’t by the color box on the tool bar)

  19. I’m not a sponsored member of Stumbleupon, so have no options as to weather or not I get paid advertising. Even so, I’ve never found it intrusive since it’s kept to a reasonable level. Besides, If I don’t like what I come across I have the option of saying so and posting a rating.

  20. Do you mean someone’s using the web to as a way to make money? I’m shocked and horrified! We better get a handle on this before they figure out how to sell porn on the Internet too!

  21. Fun thing is, i just used StumbleUpon to came up with this site.

    who cares if there are paid stumblers, you know, some people need ways to feed their children :)

  22. I know that some of the stumbles are sponsored and I still like it.. But where are these supposed “colored boxes” or “green buttons”.. I have not seen them and usualy just guess which sites are sponsored and which are not..

  23. su is the one extension i don’t think i could do without. personally, i don’t care if a few stumbles are paid placements. if i don’t like the current page (paid placement or not) i don’t look at it.

    by the way chris, i loved you on techtv and i love your contribution to cpu. but i would never have visited your website if not for su.

  24. Stumbleupon’s advertising practices are spelled out very clearly in every page of their introductory and help pages.

    All members are told about the ads, and are given the ability (unlike many websites) to turn them off! It is guaranteed that no more than one stumble in 10 will be paid stumbles.

    Anyone who chooses to become a ‘sponsor’ can avoid them all together for $20 a year.

    i’ve been stumbling for a little over a year, and while i HATE being marketed to in normal life, in stumbling it is well worth it for the sheer number of fascinating websites i’ve stumbled on randomly- ones i’d never thought to look for otherwise.
    i became a sponsor a year ago, and turned off all of the advertising at that point. in fact, it’s almost time for me to pay another $20 for another year of carefree exploration and discovery!

    anyway, anyone wondering if i’m legit or not- visit my stumble pages at

    i just wanted to put it out there that yes, stumbleupon members know they are being marketed to- and it’s a very passive, mild and avoidable inconvenience. there’s nothing shady or underhanded about the stumble format.


  25. actually, one thing is that when stumbling, you tend to see FAR FEWER ads than when surfing alone.

    the reason is that the only sites you are sent to as stumbles are ones that OTHER members have given the thumbs up to. the more stumblers thumb a page, the more members it gets distributed to….

    inversely, the CRAPPY sites full of ads and popups either never make it into the library, or get THUMBED DOWN so often that they stop going around.

    so i definitely see fewer ads now, and it is at the point where when i DO happen upon a site full of ads, i am disgusted and feel marketed to! LOL!


  26. Yeah its pretty easy to tell or a site has paid for it or not, Its no big deal, I rather have it this way than a permanent banner on your page. Besides personally I use it more as a bookmark page and hardly ever press the SU button.

  27. I’ve been using SU since 9/03 and am a huge fan. Paid placements are identified in the SU toolbar with a green icon. I’ve actually found about 50% of the paid placements to be interesting. I also once saw a paid placement for a product I owned and whose design I wasn’t terribly pleased about. So, I posted a review of the site and the sponsor got back to me shortly to let me know my gripe was being resolved in the next version.

    In my opinion SU is one of the best things I’ve found to make my web experience more enjoyable and to keep me abreast of interesting and new sites. I’m no newbie, either; been on the interweb since back when Gopher was the way to go…

  28. When you join SU you are asking to specify your interests; therefore if I were interested in what you have to offer it wouldn’t/doesn’t matter to me in the least bit if SU is making money off of it or not. The SU community is growing leaps and bounds…. there has to be some revenue to cover the overhead for the “free” stumble upon experience. Yes, that’s correct, you do not HAVE to pay, although many people (including myself) choose to because it enhances the features. So, in answer to your question, maybe you should consider rephrasing to, “Do Stumble Upon users care if there are paid placements”?
    In my opinion SU is the best search engine ever created. Kindest Regards.

  29. Stumbleupon is the best site ever! i get “stuck” stumbling for hours!
    And i don’t see any problems with the website making money off of it!
    They made a unique website and a lot of people enjoy it…
    The people who thought of SU, created & designed it need to get paid for it! Don’t you think their idea is worth it!
    Besides u don’t stumble upon just any paid websites, but only the ones you picked yourself, so I really don’t mind it at all…
    By the way, you think other websites don’t get paid the same way? Like MySpace for example! Or do u think all of the ads on their website is placed there for free!

  30. Victoria –

    You still stumble upon paid placements, just ones in your target areas. Apparently they limit it to 1 in 20, so I really don’t see a problem with it.

  31. I dont have a problem with it from both an advertiser and a user standpoint. Sometimes its pretty easy to figure out that a site has paid to be there, its easy enough to thumbs down that one.

    I also have a small campaign going with a client that is getting 92% approval rating within the community and over 120 people have thumbs upped the site within the past 3 days (about 9%).

    So as long as the content is good I am willing to sit through a paid spot here and there, especially if the paid spot is something I am interested in.

  32. There is a little green man icon that appears in the bar when you find a paid entry. I was glad to find this out; up until then I had been down-thumbing anything that looked too commercial. Now I just wait for the man to thumb it down!

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