The Brilliant, Unusual Way Media Startup Upworthy Grew To 10.4 Million Monthly Readers In Its First Year

Business Insider

Most media companies focus on covering the latest news. Eli Pariser and his army of bloggers at Upworthy don't, yet they have grown from no readers last year to 10.4 million last month.

If The New York Times is a designer store with new, original items that keep readers informed, Pariser is running an antique shop, recognizing the value in old gems, and selling them for much more.  

Essentially, Upworthy goes dumpster diving in the Internet's archives, hoping to find gold. They're looking for any scrap of a moving, visual story they can tell that was, for some reason or another, initially overlooked by readers. They polish it off with a catchy headline, send it out into the Twitterverse and Facebook, and watch the readers flock to the page.

When you're promoting old stories, there's not much competition either. News sites compete to be the first to a story, so there's a lot of overlapping coverage. It'd be hard for another site to stumble upon the same older content Upworthy finds at exactly the same time. 

To find the hidden gems, Upworthy's content curators spend a large portion of the day scouring YouTube and other visual sites.  They don't crank out dozens of stories each; Pariser estimates only 60 pieces of content are created per week. Interest, not t imeliness, is what matters when it comes to social content.  

"Our mantra is to over-promise and over-deliver," Pariser told us this morning. "If you write the perfect thing and no one sees it, it really doesn't matter. It's like giving a speech to an empty room. But having a really clicky headline only goes so far if it's [tied to] something people will actually be interested in. The content also has to be good enough."

When Upworthy's curators find something that moves them, they comes up with at least 25 headlines for that piece of content. Upworthy is data-driven, and the team can tell when a headline is hooking readers. It uses a platform called SimpleReach to further understand article analytics.

Take a video about a bully, for example. It ultimately received 4 million views, Pariser explained, but the author tried 16 headlines before landing on one that resonated with readers and reeled them in. 

"W e have 5,000 publishers, and 20% of all social actions we record on a daily basis come from Upworthy -- significantly more than any other single site," SimpleReach CEO Eddie Kim says.

The in-with-the-old, out-with-the-new strategy is working for Upworthy. It recently raised $4 million from investors and its traffic has grown faster than any media company we've ever seen. Last month, Upworthy had 10.4 million unique visitors. This month, Pariser says Upworthy will beat that number. Previously, Upworthy's high month was October, when it hit 8.7 million uniques, so while traffic took a temporary dip, it's back up to mind-blowing numbers.

Here's a chart of the company's uniques per quarter:



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