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New Lessons in Creating Unforgettable Content

Looking at today’s mass media can be a depressing. We live in an age when CNN makes Miley Cyrus’ twerking a cover story. Sites like Buzzfeed flourish by publishing “articles” such as 24 Inspiring Photos of Pigeon Street-Style. On the surface, it appears as though the internet is nothing but a rehashed version of a shallow gossip mag.

Thankfully, that’s only an illusion. Because the web is, in essence, a comprehensive library for all of global consciousness, it’s natural that some questionably valuable content be at the forefront. Not every site rising in the popularity ranks leaves us questioning the validity of evolution, however; some support the notion that great content can truly equal huge success.

Can Positivity Finally Rule?

Many have lamented for years that mass media content – online and off – almost always maintains a depressing tone. Yet few sites have attempted to quell these concerns by presenting positive and intelligent spins on current news stories, and even fewer have seen any level of success. That is, until now.

Cue Upworthy, a ridiculously savvy and upbeat news site that is exploding onto the scene. Launched in March of 2012, Upworthy has a familiar news model, with a twist. The site’s “curators” search for fascinating content on the web, and then present it with immensely articulate and witty insight. Unlike Buzzfeed’s obsessive, regurgitated lists, Upworthy takes the unusual and interesting, and tells these stories from a whip-smart, and upbeat, perspective. It’s wonderfully refreshing, and catching on like wildfire.

The Upward Climb of Upworthy

Since its conception, Upworthy’s stated mission has been to “host the intersection of the ‘awesome’, the ‘meaningful’, and the ‘visual.” The site has significant knowhow in the form of its founders, too. Co-created by Peter Koechley, formerly of The Onion, and main organizer Eli Pariser, they made it their mantra to only publish content with heart, meaning, and significance.

These are subjective terms, sure, but it’s easy to argue that articles like What the Future Might Look Like if We Don’t Push for Gun Control (a top story at the time of this writing) easily trumps the value of Miley’s offensive dance moves.

The public seems to agree. In just over a year, Upworthy has hit several significant milestones. They’ve seen over 30 million unique site visitors, with an impressive 6+ minutes average time spent. They have over 3 million social media subscribers across all networks and newsletters, and their content accounts for one fifth of all social signals that social measurement company SimpleReach measures – that’s from a pool of over 5,000 publishers.

Late last year, they also received $4 million in financing from some major social media players, namely former Facebook executive Chris Hughes and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Upworthy is definitely on the upswing.

How Upworthy’s Success Can Inspire all Content Marketers

There are many fantastic lessons the rapid popularity of Upworthy can teach all content creators about how to play big, play fair, and come out on top. Their rapid rise negates all those that lament that only the content scrapers, negative ninnies, and SEO black hats get their just desserts. Good guys finish first sometimes too, and you can follow suit by absorbing these teachings:

Keep content fresh: Upworthy posts new goodies daily, thus pleasing people and search engines equally.

Quality definitely, definitely trumps quantity: You won’t see archives of endless posts from Upworthy, but what you will see is a nice bundle of articles or videos you actually want to read and watch.

Headlines are crucial: skim through the various content titles, and you’ll find snazzy headlines like “Who Doesn’t Like to Watch Half-Naked Girls Dancing? These Guys, After They See Why It’s Happening” and “Dear Religious Extremist: The Cameras are Staying, and That’s Final”. These are anything but the typical mundane openers, and they’re enticing readers to click in droves.

Social signals matter: Upworthy heavily encourages users to link to their content through social networking sites, calling their business a “mission-driven media company.” According to Scanvine, Upworthy is now the number one most shared website on all social media channels. This is a major factor to their seemingly overnight success.

Venture beyond the usual: In the words of co-founder Pariser, “We go for visible, sharable stories and really stay away from doing more typical, text-driven articles and blogging. We lean into images and videos.”

Have a brand identity: Upworthy is not afraid to let their curators voice strong opinions, but it’s done so with a consistent overall identity. Editor-in-Chief Koechley states that, “What’s important is that the content itself, the message itself is ‘upworthy’ and not a blatant play to cover up what the company is about. I don’t think we’re going to work with Chevron CVX +2.69% saying what they’re doing is great for the environment.”

Adhere to honesty, and a commitment to the community you serve: Upworthy never hides the fact that the content they present is normally gathered from other sources. Pariser explains it this way: “A lot of organizations and brands come to us with content that’s upworthy. There’s an opportunity to do right by them and by our community as well by elevating that content to our audience while being really transparent about the fact that it’s promoted.”

Distribution is critical: While great content is obviously a focus, Upworthy puts just as much, if not more, effort into intelligent distribution efforts. As Koechley told VentureBeat, “Having good content doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t actively trying to get people to see it.”

The explosion of this savvy media site is indeed great news for all those content creators who have never given up on quality. The web will likely always have a soft spot for celebrities and their embarrassing habits, but there’s a huge market for intelligent and world-changing content as well. Let Upworthy’s success inspire you to reach new content and marketing heights too.

What are your thoughts on the site’s enormous success? Does it change your own content creation tactics in any way?

Digital producer, game designer, Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs, Tina Courtney-Brown has been shaping online businesses since 1996.  She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, social networks and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director and true cooking diva.  Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.

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