Remember Upworthy—the preachy, warm-and-fuzzy, BuzzFeed-ish aggregator; king of click bait and master of the knowledge gap headline that hijacked the entire internet?

How could you forget this?

upworthy headlines

With these headlines (and MORE), Upworthy—the fastest growing media entity in the history of the world—was exploding, dominating your (and everyone else’s) newsfeed, racking up 90 million page views in November 2013.

But as you know in the fickle world of digital content things change. In this case, Facebook updated their newsfeed algorithm to reward “high-quality content,” eradicating the plague of click bait in the process. With their traffic tap shut off, Upworthy’s audience evaporated (now only 20 million visitors a month) forcing an editorial strategy evolution—announced by their new editorial director Amy O’Leary (formerly of The New York Times) in July.

For content marketers, Upworthy’s rise, fall, and resulting pivot is ripe with valuable lessons.

Because I can’t resist, as Upworthy might put it:

Once on top of the world, a now-struggling publication is making a shocking change to reinvent themselves. Why every content marketer must read this story, and the 4 lessons you can’t afford to miss. Number 3 will BLOW. YOUR. MIND.

Thankfully, those headlines are dead.

“We sort of unleashed a monster. Sorry for that. Sorry we kind of broke the internet last year. I’m excited going forward to say goodbye to clickbait.”-Upworthy co-founder Peter Koechley.

Apology accepted?

Craft your own content—own it

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In a presentation worth a gander, O’Leary laid out Upworthy’s new course, which distilled down is this:

  • dump the curated clickbait—cheaply repackaging aggregated content with those headlines
  • produce original content driven by gobs of data

As we all know and Upworthy realized—the hard way, I might add—consistently creating compelling content is hard, but worthwhile, work. There is no shortcut to a lasting, loyal audience—hacking, curation and luck will always fall short—because content marketing is not a game, a passing fad, a cheap-and-easy trick to capture eyeballs.

Not surprisingly, Upworthy’s new approach to content creation mirrors the content marketing strategies of the most successful brands: invest in crafting your own content (content you own), tell powerful stories in your unique voice—stories that educate, entertain and resonate with a well-defined target audience—and good things will happen.

Have a mission. Don’t just tell stories for eyeballs.

Before Upworthy began their journey away from curation to creating original content, they established an editorial mission statement to guide each-and-every step along the way.


“We believe that buried inside the relationship between stories and data, there is the power to change the world.”

To survive (and thrive) in the street fight for attention, you need more than a solid content marketing strategy. You need a content marketing mission statement—a clear, concise definition of where you want to end up—to serve as a handy, trusty compass to ensure no one on your team gets lost along the way.


Without a clear content marketing mission, it’s easy to get caught chasing eyeballs, investing in the wrong efforts and getting lost.

Storytelling and data don’t have to be sworn enemies

Upworthy’s new mission focuses their efforts on flexing the data-driven muscles they’ve beefed up for the past 3 years with great storytelling techniques to produce empathetic, original content about stories and subjects that matter.


Too often content marketing teams divide into two camps: creatives—writers, designers and other former media-types; and tacticians—data heads, optimizers, seasoned digital marketers.

But the best content marketing harmonizes the talents and skills of both camps—unlocking valuable, and actionable, insight from data to inform and improve high-quality storytelling.

O’Leary, herself a former “creative” who was long skeptical of data’s role in producing great content wrote in Upworthy’s manifesto:

“You can learn serious things about storytelling from the right data. If you’re measuring the right things your data should feel like a glorious spreadsheet of applause.”

Measuring with the right metrics

Here comes a heavy dose of bitter reality, most content marketers are measuring the wrong things. Don’t worry, though, Upworthy is here to help. Seriously.

Still measuring page views and unique visitors, consider shifting your attention to an attention-shifted metric such as Upworthy’s attention minutes.

Total Attention on Site (per hour, day, week, month, whatever) — that tells us (like total uniques or total pageviews) how good of a job Upworthy is doing overall at drawing attention to important topics.

And Total Attention per Piece, which is a combination of how many people watch something on Upworthy and how much of it they actually watch. Pieces with higher total attention should be promoted more.

Attention-focused metrics working in combination with strategic conversion-focused tracking (newsletter subscriptions, white paper downloads, webinar registrations, qualified leads driven, etc.) will revolutionize your content marketing measurement and unlock valuable insights.


Admit it, you mimicked Upworthy’s click bait headlines in the past to juice your content marketing efforts. Thankfully these valuable content marketing takeaways from the new Upworthy won’t leave feeling icky.

1. Invest in creating your own, original content. Curation should be a part of the content mix, but ensure you also craft unique content your audience finds compelling.

2. Ensure you have a succinct content marketing mission statement—and everyone (from your executives to your contractors) gets it.

3. Work to break down boundaries between creatives and tacticians on your content marketing team to unleash improved results.

4. Measure, and tune, your content marketing with the right data—namely attention and conversion-focused metrics.