StumbleUpon is one of those sites we've had on our radar for quite some time. We covered the company's redesign last year, which re-focused the site on topic features. So when StumbleUpon snuck in a strange change the other day without telling anyone, we were shocked. This update made it impossible to get direct links for the pages one is stumbling unless they choose to not sign-in to the service.

The entire point of StumbleUpon, for the user, is to build up a taste graph that will better deliver stories that the user would like. But many sites depend on referral traffic from StumbleUpon, which is something outside of the StumbleUpon user's direct stumbling experience.

"As part of redesign that spawns user experience that you write about, we look a lot at how users are using our service," said StumbleUpon's VP of Business Development and Marketing Marc Leibowitz. "We have some things in mind to address this concern."

StumbleUpon's response is that, well, they were "just trying to improve the user experience." And besides, they told us, two-thirds of users use the Web bar.

What a great solution. Truly. Not only will StumbleUpon not be able to get an idea of that user's taste graph, that user will miss out on the entire community aspect of the site.
"Signed-in users, when they're encountering the Web bar it is about their stumbling," Leibowitz said. "Visitors can easily close the Web bar."

In other words, if you do want to see direct links, just don't sign in.

What a great solution. Truly. Not only will StumbleUpon not be able to get an idea of that user's taste graph, that user will miss out on the entire community aspect of the site.

Leibowitz cited accidental clicks on the "X" button of the Web bar as StumbleUpon's main reason for getting rid of the Web bar entirely.

"People would accidentally click the button - they don't have an extension such as Chrome or Firefox extensions, so they can't go back to their Stumbling unless they go directly to StumbleUpon.com."

This sounds like a complicated solution for a pretty easy problem. It would it have been pretty easy for StumbleUpon to just add a box that pops up when the user clicks "X." It could say something simple like: "Are you sure you want to close this page and leave StumbleUpon?" Instead, StumbleUpon says, it is thinking only of the users - not the people who receive tons of referral traffic from the StumbleUpon discovery engine.

"The trade off is that we have to make some concessions around the way we show the URL," Leibowitz tells us. "There's no way we can change the way the URL is displayed in the address bar, but there are some ways we can make it easier to copy and paste the source code."

For StumbleUpon users who are still looking for a way to see the direct URL, try using a StumbleUpon Firefox add-on or Chrome extension.

What Will Happen to StumbleUpon Referral Traffic?

"My website used to get 70-80% of referral traffic from StumbleUpon," writes ReadWriteWeb commenter Jeffrey Davis. "After the redesign, that percentage dropped to 40%. I suspect now that it will drop even further...especially since SU is now hijacking the pageview."
Unfortunately for sites who depend on StumbleUpon for referral traffic, there aren't too many alternatives.

"My website used to get 70-80% of referral traffic from StumbleUpon," writes ReadWriteWeb commenter Jeffrey Davis. "After the redesign, that percentage dropped to 40%. I suspect now that it will drop even further...especially since SU is now hijacking the pageview."

Pinterest is now Davis' number two referrer.

This is only one isolated case, but it's telling. Perhaps it's time for marketers to start shifting their strategy from StumbleUpon to Pinterest. Because it doesn't look like StumbleUpon will be backpedaling on its latest decision anytime soon.

Has referral traffic to your site suffered since the StumbleUpon redesign? Tell us about it in the comments.