Tumblr - Pros and Cons as a Blogging Platform

by cazort

Pros and cons of Tumblr as a blogging platform; comparisons to Wordpress, Blogspot, and Other blogging platforms.

Tumblr is a popular social networking site and blogging platform. It offers compelling advantages and strengths, but also numerous downsides or weaknesses.

This page discusses the pros and cons of Tumblr as a blogging platform, discussing both what kind of audience you are most likely to reach on Tumblr, how the site performs with respect to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) purposes, the customizability of the site, and how it works for graphic vs. text posts.

Do you use Tumblr?

What Exactly IS Tumblr?

My quick summary of Tumblr, drawing analogies to other website.

Tumblr is an interactive website which shares certain aspects in common with a social networking site and a blogging platform.  I tend to view it as occupying a middle-ground between sites like Twitter, Blogger/Wordpress, and Pinterest, but it also shares certain things in common with what Myspace used to be.

It favors scrolling feeds like Twitter, it favors images and has a predominately-female audience like Pinterest, has a younger (and predominately teenage- and college-aged) demographic like Myspace, but can be used as an all-out blogging platform.

I use many different blogging platforms, and have an active Tumblr blog under the name cazort.

Quick Summary of Pros and Cons

My opinion on the relative strengths and weaknesses of Tumblr

Pros: Strengths of Tumblr

  • Flexibility and ease of configuration for custom HTML/CSS (good for expert users who want to customize themes or make their own themes)
  • Extremely fast, responsive site
  • Image-oriented site
  • Easy to queue posts with minimal effort

Cons: Weaknesses of Tumblr

  • Poor support for comments and discussion
  • Problems with downtime
  • Poor default SEO and poor domain authority for SEO purposes
  • Very young audience or user base may be a downside for many bloggers, especially professional and business-oriented ones, or people whose target audience is an older demographic

Flexibility and Customizability of HTML and CSS

Tumblr is easy to customize and gives great control to the user in terms of using custom HTML and CSS code.

One of Tumblr's greatest strengths, in my opinion, is its support for HTML and CSS customizations.  Tumblr uses a system of themes like most other blogging platforms, but unlike many of them, it make the themes very easy to customize.

The only other blogging platform that allows such easy and detailed customization is Blogger/Blogspot, Google's blogging service.  Personally, even though I have worked with blogger for a few years and am a relative newcomer to Tumblr, only having blogged on it for a few months, I found Tumblr considerably easier to make customizations for.

Fast and Responsive: Tumblr Blazes Major Competitors

Tumblr is much faster and more responsive than Wordpress, Blogger, and numerous other sites.

Speed is important for blogs and other websites, both because it impacts the usability of the site, and also because it can influence search rankings if it is particularly slow.

Tumblr is fast.  I've done casual speed tests of load times for fairly complex blogs, and Tumblr outperforms both Wordpress and Blogger by a long-shot, even when comparing image-rich Tumblr blogs with predominately text-based blogs hosted on the other two sites.

Tumblr's speed is not limited to the loading of the blogs themselves, but also to the on-site features, including your dashboard (which shows blogs that you follow on the site), and the tag pages, which are one of the most useful ways to locate interesting material and connect with other users on the site.  Most features on the site respond nearly instantly.

The speed can be a huge asset to you if you are planning on maintaining a Tumblr blog as a presence on that community, but don't want to put a lot of effort into it.  It takes just a few minutes to browse various tags and queue up a bunch of reblogs for the week, interspersed with your own original posts.  This can help you maintain a blog that is active every day, while putting in only minutes of effort each week.

Excellent Image Support: A Visual Platform

Tumblr is image-oriented. Its best use, in my opinion, is for images or image-rich posts.

I would go farther than saying that Tumblr handles images well, and say that is an image-oriented blogging platform.  This is testified to by the numerous blogs that focus primarily or even exclusively on images or graphic content.  The site is dominated by graphics and photographs, and text posts make up a small majority of the content.

Tumblr handles images in a variety of different ways; you can upload a single image, or a photoset, a series of images treated like a mini photo album, and you can also embed images in text posts.  You can configure images to link to a high-resolution version of themselves, or to link to an external website, which can be an external photo album site like Flickr or Instagram, or any other website.

Videos: Good Embedding, Poor Uploads

If you want to share videos, I strongly recommend uploading videos to YouTube first, and then embedding them in Tumblr, rather than uploading them to Tumblr.

Tumblr has two main features for sharing videos on blogs.: embedding a video, like from YouTube, or directly uploading it.

Embedding YouTube videos works beautifully.  The videos post immediately and play on your blog, and on other people's dashboards.

The direct upload feature is notoriously poor, although it's gotten a bit better over time.  Unlike YouTube, Tumblr is not primarily in the business of videos, and thus hasn't focused on developing a good video player.  So, in addition to having to wait for the video to process, once it's uploaded, many people will have problems viewing your video.  Browser support for Tumblr's player is poor: there are many browsers which are still in use, on which YouTube-hosted embedded videos will play but Tumblr-hosted ones will not.  This means that not even all Tumblr users will be able to view your video.

YouTube is also a better option if you want to build an audience in the long-term.  Tumblr doesn't give you any additional visibility for having more video views, or for people viewing your videos for longer periods of time, whereas YouTube does.  On YouTube, if you publish a video once, and it attracts some interest, it will likely continue to draw views over a long period of time.  Uploading to YouTube and then sharing by embedding on Tumblr is, in my experience, the best way to go if you want your videos to reach as broad an audience as possible.

Almost No Comment Feature: Con or Hidden Pro?

What looks like a downside or omission may actually be one of Tumblr's hidden strengths.

For the longest time, Tumblr had no comments at all, and most Tumblr blogs still do not have any sort of comments enabled.

It is possible to use Tumblr's customizability to insert code from third-party comment systems like Disqus (my personal favorite), IntenseDebate, or LiveFyre to add commenting capability beyond that included with Tumblr's built-in options.  If you are really wedded to the idea of using Tumblr, but absolutely want a full-featured comment system, these are the best option.

A hidden benefit?

I want to mention that Tumblr's lack of comments is not strictly a downside, but has some compelling hidden benefits.  Tumblr makes reblogging posts easier than on nearly any other major blogging platform, and the combination of the ease of reblogging with the lack of comments means that most of the time, reblogging is used to comment on or respond to posts.

But because reblogging sends traffic, attention, and an implicit endorsement from the commenting blog, this setup tends to mean that people will leave more positive comments than negative, and that the negative comments you receive in this fashion will tend to be limited to people who like and want to support your blog or the overall theme of your post, and just have a small quibble to discuss.

I recommend trying out Tumblr with comments disabled, as I think the lack of comments is actually one of the strong suits of the site; it not only has immediate benefits, but it also shapes the culture of the site in interesting ways.

Problems With Downtime

Tumblr has persistent problems with downtime and outages.

Above, I mentioned how the speed and responsiveness of Tumblr is impressive.  A flip-side to this is that while the site is quite fast when it's up, it tends to have more downtime than most other major blogging sites.

How much downtime?  I've used the site for days without noticing any problems, but I've seen the site be down for half an hour or an hour a couple times a month, which can be a big deal if you're trying to use the site for something important.  The downtime has been enough for the site to attract media attention to it.  All Things D reported that in 2011, Tumblr had a total 42 hours of downtime.  Contrast with Wordpress's 1.6 hours and Blogger's 0.3 hours.  I could not find figures for 2012 but downtime still seems to be a problem.  The downtime likely stems from Tumblr's extremely rapid growth.

Poor SEO Performance and Domain Authority

Tumblr's massive size and small number of links into the site make it a poor choice for SEO.

One of the biggest downsides or weaknesses to Tumblr, in my opinion, is in SEO (Search Engine Optimization).  This weakness has several different origins, some of which can be easily fixed, and some of which cannot.

The default themes included with Tumblr tend to make bad choices for on-page SEO.  Title tags are usually set in such a way that list the blog's name first, followed by the title, whereas the best practice is usually thought to be in the reverse order.  Many blog themes also have non-standard on-page navigation that is poorly suited to helping search engine robots crawl your site.  Fortunately, these factors can be changed with a few easy customizations to the theme's HTML and CSS.  I recommend reading Tumblr SEO Guide on Tumblring.net, and also A Few Tumblr SEO Tips.

The other reason Tumblr is bad for SEO is that its domain authority is poor relative to the size of the site.  Tumblr is a massive site, and it is populated primarily with younger people who use the site as a social networking site.  Because an overwhelming majority of the site's users do not generally do much (or anything) to link to their Tumblr blogs from other websites, the site has a disproportionately small number of links into the site, relative to the number of pages on the site.

My experience has been that, even with adding numerous external links to a Tumblr blog, it is common for only a tiny fraction of pages on a Tumblr blog to get indexed by major search engines.  Blogs without external links to them, even if they have a large following, may not even be indexed at all!

Very Young Audience - Teenagers and College Students

Tumblr is dominated by a very young demographic which is also skewed towards females, people with depression and body image issues, fandoms of various communities, and people with left-wing political affiliations.

Tumblr tends to have a very young audience.  An overwhelming majority of the users on the site are teenagers and college students.  The site's user base is also considerably more female than male.  The audience of the site is particularly important to consider, as Tumblr's poor SEO and domain authority make it hard to draw traffic to the site from external search traffic, but the site's internal structure makes it relatively easy to get attention from on the site.

If you want to reach people with your blog who are in the demographics represented on the site, then this is great, but if the demographic is a poor match to your intended audience, unless you plan on doing all the work yourself to send people to your blog and build up a subscriber base, I recommend looking into another blogging platform.

The audience is also very specific in terms of interests and values.  The site has a definite left-wing slant to it, with active communities for feminism and various forms of left-wing activism.  There is a huge community of people struggling with and blogging about depression, eating disorders, body image issues, and other mental disorders.  The site can be a key place to connect with people if you do anything online related to any of these topics.

What Does Tumblr Look Like?

Some screenshots of Tumblr, illustrating the site
Screenshot of Tumblr Homepage
Screenshot of Tumblr Homepage
Viewing a Tag Page - Tea
Viewing a Tag Page - Tea
Tumblr's Post Authoring Form
Tumblr's Post Authoring Form
Tumblr's HTML/CSS Customization Form
Tumblr's HTML/CSS Customization Form

Did you find this page useful or informative?

This poll helps me keep this page written at the right level for the audience who is reading it!

Alternatives to Tumblr: Blogging & Other Functions

Different websites can fulfill or substitute for the different functions of Tumblr.

If you're just doing straight text blogging, or primarily text posts, I recommend Wordpress.com.  If you want a text-oriented free blogging platform that has more customizable HTML (for expert-level users) Blogger/Blogspot is a good option.

If you're looking more for a straight microblogging platform and social networking site, I'd point to Twitter.  If you're looking for a graphical site where you can follow people and share lots of images, I'd point to Pinterest.

More of My Pages

Pages on unrelated or distantly-related topics, but I hope you find them interesting!
Why This Way is a consensus-based organization and belief system which may or may not be a religion, depending on your definition of religion.
RateTea is a social and community website where anyone can rate and review teas.
Benefits of rainforests to humans, moderation of climate, temperature, rainfall, and wind, economic value of forests, etc.
Updated: 08/09/2015, cazort
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Raintree on 08/27/2014

Very well thought out article clearly listing the uses, pros and cons of Tumblr. I found this really helpful as considering Tumblr but I did not know about it in this level of detail. Thank you.

cmoneyspinner on 02/25/2014

I've made Tumblr my primary blog, if you don't count my Wordpress blog and you totally ignore my other blogs which were created for affiliate marketing purposes. :)

ologsinquito on 07/26/2013

Excellent well-researched article. Thanks for writing it.

cazort on 04/08/2013

Thank you! I only recommend joining Tumblr if you plan on using it primarily as a social site...I think the poor domain authority makes it a poor choice if you are blogging. But creating a supplemental Tumblr account to complement or balance your other websites and social media presence may be worthwhile for some bloggers who choose a different host for their primary blog.

This way, you can not only share posts on your Tumblr (and potentially reach a new audience this way) but you can also engage with other Tumblr users by reblogging posts and adding your own commentary. I also find that sharing pictures on Tumblr attracts more attention than text posts, and you can configure the pictures to have a click-through link to a page of your choice, which can be useful as well.

I also like having a presence of Tumblr because I'm interested in connecting with the younger demographic. I don't want to become one of those older adults who is out-of-touch with the younger generation, and at 32 I'm already feeling some generational gaps, but I find Tumblr has helped me to keep up-to-date with some cultural changes better than any other sites.

Roohi on 04/08/2013

This is a very useful post on Tumblr. I haven't tried it but I have to say one thing. I really found the hidden benefit of the comment feature not enabled quite interesting. If I do try it out, I will surely disable the comment feature.

I must say though that the higher downtime and the poor domain authority factor that you mention is making me wonder whether I should give it a try or not.

cazort on 02/25/2013

Thank you, I do think it is a cool site and a bit addictive. I think one of its downsides is that it can easily become a bit of a time sink.

EliasZanetti on 02/25/2013

Tumblr is undoubtedly cool and a bit addictive too :)
Nice post!

RubyHelenRose on 02/21/2013

Interesting evaluation of tumblr, I like it for it's speed!

cazort on 02/21/2013

This is a good point...Tumblr seems to have more downtime than the other blogging platforms. This has been my experience too. So the speed comes at a cost. Other sites may be much slower, but I think they tend to be more reliable.

Thanks for bringing up this issue. I added a section on downtime; I think this is important and worth including on the page.

katiem2 on 02/21/2013

What a great run down of tumblr. I must say I've learned a great deal here and found your pros and cons to be very informative and helpful in terms of choosing the right blogs/social sites to meet my needs. It also helps better understand the demographics of each option to better direct niches. Well Done! I will be back to read this again, it's worth more careful review. :)K

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