By: Chanelle Leslie on 20-09-2013 in Content Strategy, Online Marketing

At 18 months old, Upworthy is still in its infancy, but it’s already gathered more monthly viewers than Entertainment Weekly, People.com, and TMZ.

That’s impressive as it is, but what’s more impressive is that it’s done that without producing any content whatsoever. Upworthy simply functions as an aggregator, sharing videos and images that are already online and optimising them for consumption with better titles and descriptions. Just this month, the team announced that investors had gathered $8 million to expand the site. That’s $8 million being spent on what is essentially some good headlines and an email list, proving that content optimisation can do (almost) anything. Let’s look closely at what makes the site so great – and how we can learn from their expertise.

1. Take click baiting seriously

upworthy headlines

Look at the above image and tell me what those articles are about. You can’t, can you? Upworthy’s click baiting stands head and shoulders above everyone else because they’re deliberate about not giving away the topic of the piece in its headline. They’ve even divulged that for every article, they create 25 headlines before choosing just one to publish. That’s right, 25 headlines must be produced. One gets used.

Co-founder Peter Koechley told Wired they take headlines so seriously because a bad headline means millions of hits lost. ”The difference between a good headline and a bad headline can be just massive. It’s not a rounding error,” he said. “When we test headlines we see 20% difference, 50% difference, 500% difference. A really excellent headline can make something go viral.”

2. Sell a belief, not a product

upworthy sells a belief upworthy sells a belief 2

In one of the most popular TED talks of all time, Simon Sinek talks about the power of why. His theory is that in order to sell a product (or in our case, convert a visitor), you must first sell them a belief. From their content to their email pop-up, Upworthy does this flawlessly.

If there is a relevant cause that your company can align itself with, find it. Find a belief, and push it hard. You won’t convince anybody, but you will attract people who support your cause. Unless your company goes by the name of Oxfam, chances are your product won’t elicit enough emotion from anybody to motivate people to share. It doesn’t even have to be particularly controversial: it just has to be bigger than your product. Are you a florist? Try educating people about locally grown flowers. Do you sell photography equipment? Then promote amazing new tech innovations.

According to New York Times research, 68% of people share in order to give others an idea of who they are, and 84% of people share to support causes or issues they care about. If you don’t sell a belief that is bigger than your product, that’s an inexcusable amount of potential engagement that you’re missing out on.

3. If you ask for shares, ask politely

upworthy sharing option

Nobody likes being forced to do things. Previous split tests have shown that visitors are more likely to share content when the copy gives them a choice. Didn’t your mother teach you to ask nicely for what you want? Politely suggesting a share, and conveniently surrounding content with share buttons, allows visitors to make their own choices about sharing. Don’t back the user into a corner by demanding a share; if you create great content, they’ll want to share it anyway.

Oh, and in case you were wondering if all those share buttons were too much, adding the floating buttons resulted in a 398% increase in shares. And because of it, a typical piece on Upworthy is 50% more likely to be shared than its equivalent on Buzzfeed, and more than twice as likely to be shared than if it were on Mashable.

4. Allow the viewer to engage before offering a pop-up

upworthy social prompts 2

Give the reader a chance to enjoy your content before presumptuously hankering for a Facebook like or an email signup. If they haven’t gotten to know your content yet, chances are they’ll close off your pop-up without consideration. Instead, create a pop-up that appears after scrolling below the fold, like Upworthy did here.

5. Do away with default unsubscribe forms

upworthy unsubscribe

Don’t assume that somebody who clicks unsubscribe never wants to hear from you again. Chances are that they actually do want to keep in touch, or they wouldn’t have signed up to your list in the first place. They probably just don’t want to hear from you quite as often. Design your unsubscribe form around the assumption that the person who clicked unsubscribe still likes your company, and you can slash your unsubscribe rate.

6. Make video content easy to skim

upworthy video prompts

If you’ve ever bustled to reach for the autoplay off button on a Fairfax news site, you’re one of the many people who understands that video can be annoying. Not just because of autoplay, but because you simply can’t skim it if you’re short on time. Or can you? The content curators at Upworthy seem to have found a way to facilitate videos for the time poor: guide the viewer through the video by telling them which bits they need to see. Ideally, transcripts or accompanying articles are best when posting video content. But sometimes, that simply isn’t feasible. No need to lose your time poor guests altogether: just give them points to skip to in your lead paragraph.

7. Emotion sells

tech_upworthy32__02inline__405

Which of the above images generates the most emotional response from you? The fourth, right? Little wonder, then, that it was that very image that resulted in the biggest increase in clicks. We describe an emotional scene as a moving scene, because that’s exactly what emotion does: it moves us to action. The more emotion in your content, the more likely it will be viewed and shared. Even if your content is dry by necessity, you may be able to include a related image that generates emotion.

What else have you noticed about the ways Upworthy delivers content?

 

  • Jamie Press

    Great post, Chanelle.

  • RyanGetz

    Upworthy absolutely does a stellar job with reader engagement. Good article!

  • davidgroff

    I refuse to give in to Upworthy’s click bait. I want to know what I am getting into, and for how long. Upworthy is the AOL of good causes.

  • Steven Wilson-Beales

    thanks for the article. #MAZEBALLS

  • Steven Wilson-Beales

    I noticed they don’t have traditional navigation – it’s very article-led. What do folks think about that?

  • http://www.seolocalcafe.com/ Chandana Munasinghe

    Honestly awesome post.

  • Luke

    Great post Chanelle, thoroughly enjoyed it, its funny how things seems so simple when someone points them out to you :)

  • http://www.buildandbalance.com/ Michael_N

    It’s fascinating how much they test. How many times have you heard that you should test and yet you don’t. This is a BIG reminder of just how important testing is. Furthermore, to tease readers is a major lesson I’m getting here. I seriously need to tease more. Thanks for this!

  • Katharine Nicholson

    Great discussion, folks – some excellent points are being raised. :-)

  • http://www.kwasistudios.com/ Woj Kwasi

    I agree. Testing is paramount. How we perceive something to be used is often very different to its actual usage. Applies to most aspects of marketing :)

    Yes, teasing appears to be a good approach too!

  • http://www.kwasistudios.com/ Woj Kwasi

    Makes sense. That way everyone can have their own journey throughout the site and not be limited by conventional means or web designer “preferences” :)

  • Pogoman3

    This looks very compiled and is also very informative. Thank you. I could use some of that in advertising my book on scam prevention.

  • http://crankleft.com/artists/brad-hodson Brad Hodson

    I sometimes cave because I’m interested in knowing what it’s about and if it’s recommended by a good friend source.

    But Upworthy’s baiting is pretty despicable; I hate it.

  • Mitchell Dröge

    You’ve nailed it Chanelle. Lately, I’ve been watching Upworthy videos after getting stoked by the title, only to find out the content was actually pretty lame.
    Their click baiting works like a charm until the spell is broken by repeated weak content. However, I reckon more than enough viewers support the messages they bring across, so my prediction is that they’ll be around for a fair while longer.
    Thanks for your analysis!

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  • Jeff Tappeiner

    Wonderful article Chanelle! Baiting seems extremely effective. Imagine the long term sustainability when paired with good content. We can improve on their model with this information.