As if the internet weren’t already such an infinite time suck, along comes a website that targets curious, ADD-addled procrastinators such as myself with blatant but ridiculously effective “click-bait.” Once you’re hooked, its content tugs at your heartstrings so irresistibly that you may not even realize you’re getting a dose of a social message as well.
Upworthy is a phenomenally successful site that scans the internet for “things that matter,” as its motto goes, and then propels them into the pageview stratosphere. Launched in March 2012 by Eli Pariser, former executive director of the activist site MoveOn, and Peter Koechley, former managing editor of the satirical news site The Onion, Upworthy was described in a recent Fast Company article as “the fastest growing media site of all time.” It lured 25 million unique visitors in the first week of this November alone.
What accounts for this skyrocketing growth? Upworthy has mastered the art of marketing “click-bait with a conscience,” as The Atlantic put it recently. A slideshow of Upworthy’s strategy explains that the simple idea is to pique readers’ curiosity with a headline tease that compels them to click, and content that compels them to share. “If you can find that happy medium between entertainment and an emotional connection,” reads one slide, “you can make some magic happen.” Hence an example like, “The Things This 4-Year-Old Is Doing Are Cute. The Reason He’s Doing Them is Heartbreaking.”
Here are some other examples that might be familiar to you, from a list of Upworthy’s 11 greatest hits, along with their traffic numbers: “This Kid Just Died. What He Left Behind is Wondtacular” (17 million pageviews); “9 out of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About this Mind-Blowing Fact” (6.3 million); “His First 4 Sentences Are Interesting. The 5th Blew My Mind. And Made Me A Little Sick.” (4.9 million).