Two guys walk into a bar. Stop me if you've heard this one.

Will @upworthy type headline work for you? A startling conclusion.

Before I reveal if an Upworthy type headline will work for you, let’s back up and first talk about what IS an Upworthy type headline?

Upworthy is a site that takes videos that are already trending on Reddit and packages them into a super-catchy, super-sharable viral explosion.

Unlike you and I, Upworthy doesn’t have to worry about creating content. They simply take existing content that’s already going bacterial, repackage it, and give it a supercharged rocket booster. And it all starts with the headline.

To get a really good sense of what an Upworthy headline looks like, here are top 10 Upworthy headlines of 2013:

What is an Upworthy type headline?

Upworthy headlines use a psychological principle known as the Curiosity Gap.

Let’s take “A Pastor Asks A Politician Why He Supports Gay Marriage. It Seems He Wasn’t Prepared For His Reply” headline and break it down.

The headline introduces two characters; Pastor and Politician. It already sounds like a start to a funny joke, right? Two guys walk into a bar, one’s a Pastor the other’s a Politician…

All of us have strong feelings about Pastors and Politicians. So Upworthy is tapping into our preconception in a masterful way by introducing these two players to us right in the headline.

Then they add a hot button issue to the equation. Gay marriage.

And then BOOM! The Curiosity Gap. “He Wasn’t Prepared For His Reply”.

The Experiment

So, I decided to see if the Upworthy type headline would work for my business.

I performed a short experiment in November-December 2013 timeframe on Triberr blog. It’s fair to say that the experiment didn’t have enough data points to be entirely scientific, and Im sure the fact that the experiment was done in November-December (holiday season) will skew the data in some way.

I’ve chosen to follow 2 primary data points. The number of first-degree shares, and the number of visits which came directly via the shortner.

Note: Majority of Triberr blog traffic comes from within Triberr, and members are not seeing the headlines when clicking on the Blog link inside their Account drop down. So I’m only including shortner visits in the results.

I’ve compared 3 blog posts which use Upworthy type headlines and 3 posts that use a traditional type headline.

Click on total shares and pageviews to verify the numbers and get up to date info. 

Upworthy type headlines:

Regular Headlines:

Data Aggregated

Sometimes looking at a singular data point doesn’t reveal anything useful. Let’s aggregate these results and see what we have.

First degree shares:

Upworthy headlines got 796 shares total.

Traditional headlines got 952 shares total.

Upworthy pageviews = 1120

Traditional pageviews = 922 (I assumed 300 pageviews for the last post because I lost the data)

Interesting, right? Upworthy type headlines received less shares in total, but attracted more pageviews than traditional headlines.

Conclusion

Please share your own conclusions in the comments, but to me the data has spoken.

I hate to admit this because I see Upworthy headlines as lame and manipulative. Plus I’ve spend years learning how to craft a killer headline and Upworthy essentially changed the game right underneath my feet.

But the data points to the fact that Upworthy headlines are super-clickable even when it’s done by a regular business.

Will I use more Upworthy headlines? 

I was really hoping this experiment will be a total failure. I was hoping it would prove that Upworthy type headlines are an aberration and they only work for the likes of Upworthy and Buzzfeed. These “fast food” sites are ruining my Internet and I’d love to see them gone. They are drowning “home cooked” posts you and I write, and I hate that we have to fight them for attention.

Alas, data says that the Curiosity Gap based headlines work across the board.

So will I use Upworthy type headlines more now? I still feel Upworthy type headlines are exploitive, manipulative, and lame. But will I use them? YES! Absolutely.

Not only that, but I will try to convince you to use them as well. Why? Because if we all start using them, they will stop being effective. And then we can either go back to a more traditional approach, or come up with the next version of super-effective headlines.

Will YOU use Upworthy type headlines?

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Founder @Triberr | Refugee from Bosnia | Professional speaker with a real job | Lousy Mixed Martial Artist | Singer/Songwriter | Global Force for Badassery.
 
33 comments
shwetakvb
shwetakvb

Thanks for this. Upworthy style headlines are not going away for two reasons: 1) content marketing trend is on the rise in the Comms circle and 2) they have huge backing from Silicon Valley (See article here: http://m.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/12/why-are-upworthy-headlines-suddenly-everywhere/282048/)

People like me who are in the business of raising awareness of scientific concepts, Upworthy style headlines are our best way to make that connection with our audience. I agree with you but what are we to do?

TianaKaiMiami
TianaKaiMiami

Great finish, yes, let's all use them so they fall flat and we can go back to the not as manipulating titles! I think I heard that they write 25 titles before they choose one...have you heard about this? I did that for my last post and it blew up on Twitter, I need to test this more myself.

PatrickAllmond1
PatrickAllmond1

I want to see the study that shows if these type of headlines convince people to buy more, not read more. I don't want readers and likers. I want buyers ;) 

enzuguri
enzuguri

You second set of articles ("regular headlines") are not about the same thing, wouldn't it be a fairer test if they were about the same subject matter? Otherwise I don't think this would be a totally fair comparison

SalesDuJour
SalesDuJour

Interesting post. More important than quantity of readers are demographics and results. Are you attracting the right demographic and what behaviors are you driving, i.e, include a CTA. 


"Lose Belly Fat with this..." turn my stomach (pun intended). "Did you know you can improve..." or "Stop making this mistake and..." works for me if you the content delivers. I like curiosity, not manipulation, Does the content deliver real value to the reader, is my criteria.    

LisaMason
LisaMason

Interesting experiment. I think I may try it for myself. I'll let you know how it turns out. 

JohnDukovich
JohnDukovich

I wonder if Tiberr's members, being bloggers themselves, are more sophisticated than the average content consumer. Possibly, many of them realized the headlines were manipulative and didn't take the bait.

ahynes1
ahynes1

A couple additional thoughts.... 

It would be interested in seeing this over an extended period.  My gut feeling is that Upworthy style headlines were more effective initially, but may lose effectiveness over time as more people use them, as more people talk about them, and as people start feeling more manipulated....

Also, don't trust advodude.... He probably doesn't know anything about Upworthy!  (See his profile to find out why!)

advodude
advodude

Also make sure to check data on http://www.thumbtack.com/labs/abba/ for statistical viability. Often things I think win turn out to be statistical ties.  And when you post on Facebook, make sure the share text doesn't give it away or negatively impact audience either. I've murdered some of my own posts with sarcasm in the share text above the link.

advodude
advodude

The headline is only part of the puzzle. Make sure to test share image and description as well, since those both can impact clickibility. I've had some success giving away the punch line lately if it makes you feel any better.

Clay Amerault
Clay Amerault

Great experiment.  I was pondering how well these types of headlines would work for non-Upworthy sites as I was recently reading through some of Upworthy's slideshares on the virality of content.


I note that the articles with "regular headlines" received more engagement in terms of comments on the articles than those with Upworthy type headlines (10 comments for the regular headlines vs. 0 comments for the Upworthy type headlines at the time I write this comment).  I also note that a couple of the regular headlines use "case studies" and "anatomy of a" in them, which I suspect are enticing terms for triberr's audience.  But I think that just enhances this experiment vs. using a just the facts type headline.


It would be interesting to run the different headlines on identical content in an AB fashion and test shares, views, comments, engagement, etc.


This was great stuff.  Thanks for sharing.

Milaspage
Milaspage

Great post Dino. I checked out your page views because my first question would be over time if the upworthy titles would result in more clicks through via search engines. I see that you were measuring the shortened urls, so they are definitely stemming from shares. (I realize it seems silly for me to check this, but I felt it was important). This brings me to my next point, over time it would be interesting to look at the performance of these titles in search engine queries. Upworthy speaks to the general public, where as you have an already segmented profile of reader (if you will) via Triberr. Although Triberr does have an enormous sampling of the population with its diversity of subject matter/interest ranges, these are still people in general who are using Triberr because they have heard about it somehow, which means they are already not in the general population but a population of more advanced internet marketing types (regardless of subject that they specialize in). 


This being said, people know you don't write about nonsense. I think it is also safe to say that you do "over the top" really well, because when someone visits your blog, they are guaranteed to find good information - so if you started naming posts absurd things, simply because we know you always provide value, we will likely click through. If you write a more standard or boring headline, we may not jump to view it - but when you write something that blasts us we do. So I think the real general rule will come when there has been some time to verify how click through rate from search engines works on these titles vs. others. 


If someone starts off using these types of titles and doesn't have the knowledge or the wow factor to deliver, they may risk being labelled as one of those "headline writers" who you and I and many people stay away from. Would it perhaps be safe to say that it is a good idea to either come up with content that seriously delivers on what's behind the crazy title - or stick to good content to establish an audience with straight forward titling until such time that it is clear that a good blog base & reputation has been established?


I would definitely use these kinds of titles if the content of my article is going to deliver, because there is no problem with them in that sense. The problem is when delivery is poor or the person is not knowledgeable enough , or does not have the experience or presence online yet to give confidence to the viewer that what they will get is value. If i click through on one of these once or twice and don't get what was promised, I kind of stay away from further posts. There is too much information out there and too many interesting articles to read daily to spend my time on things that have in the past been hit and miss.


What do you think of that? Is it about establishing rapport and quality first, then entertainment as appropriate? 


Your data is indicative enough to support doing the teasing and shocking headlines, but I'd say you better deliver - or you may risk your credibility. :)


Great thoughts to start the day! Thank you Dino! :)


dinodogan
dinodogan moderator

@TianaKaiMiami It's true, they do. I think thats a good idea, except singular bloggers cant do this by themselves. So, it's a unfair competitive advantage they have individual content creators who write their own content and operate essentially by themselves. 

dinodogan
dinodogan moderator

@PatrickAllmond1  yup. You're 100% correct. Thank you. You just convinced me away from Upworthy headlines. 


Upworthy is in the business of selling ads and aditorials. So they dont care what kind of eyeballs they get. Im in the business of selling a product, so all I really care about are qualified eyeballs that are likely to buy the product. 

dinodogan
dinodogan moderator

@enzuguri Controlling for the topic would be beneficial, and I think I organically accomplished that. All 6 articles are really about the same or related thing. Even tho it may not sound like it from the headline. Not sure if thats a good thing or bad :-)

dinodogan
dinodogan moderator

@SalesDuJour I think you're onto something. I always regret clicking on an Upworthy, Buzzfeed, Mashable, Business Insider shares because the content is lame. 


The headline acts as a bridge between a reader and the content. I always try to provide valuable content, but if no one clicks, no one will see it. So I've limited this experiment to headlines alone. As far as "did it attract the right kind of audience", you are 100% correct to ask that. 


The answer is I dont know, but I suspect that it didnt. Upworthy is in the business of selling ads and aditorials. So they dont care what kind of eyeballs they get. Im in the business of selling a product, so all I really care about are qualified eyeballs that are likely to buy the product. 


So yup...I think you're asking all the right questions :-)

dinodogan
dinodogan moderator

@JohnDukovich  Triberr community is more savvy than your average bear :-) So, you might be right, John. That would explain lower share numbers. Their readers definitely came thought tho and clicked. So, I think you're onto something. 

advodude
advodude

@ahynes1@dinodogan yea, some of the more formulaic ones are sometimes testing less well than ones that give things away. That's the nice thing about having a testing system, we'll be constantly adapting. We aren't going to be using the same voice forever. It will end in sadness for everyone.

dinodogan
dinodogan moderator

@ahynes1 I agree. I will definitely keep at this, and Im counting on you being right regarding their effectiveness.  I really dont feel good using Upworthy type headlines. So I secretly want them to not be effective :-)

dinodogan
dinodogan moderator

@Clay Amerault I'm probably going to do a follow up experiment. Greater number of posts will give me a better idea what really works. 

advodude
advodude

We write 25 per post then test our 4 favorites. Don't expect them all to be good, most won't be. Once you get practiced at it you can write 25 in 15-30 minutes. The key is to cross into desperation as that's when you get the best headlines.

TianaKaiMiami
TianaKaiMiami

Agree! I wrote 6 great headlines then I started spitting out random stuff, kinda funny though. Brainstorming with someone else may prove useful. I discovered more topics and more importantly, tweaked titles I can use for Twitter.

PatrickAllmond1
PatrickAllmond1

@dinodogan @PatrickAllmond1 WooHoo. Influence - I haz it :) But yeah that is what I spend my day doing. Reminding people that traffic doesn't matter. The right traffic is what we all need. Now there is something to be said for - if you get a lot of traffic some of it is bound to be qualified. That is the concept that billboards go by. 

TianaKaiMiami
TianaKaiMiami

@advodude Desperation kicked in after headline number 6-7...it worked. It's a great, easy concept since it really makes me put more effort into the headlines. Also, it's fun to just go for it! 

dinodogan
dinodogan moderator

@advodude I saw your presentation on slideshare, so I knew that :-)


Thnx for leaving a comment :-)