Media analyst Peter Kafka at Re/code wrote a great report on Upworthy’s declining traffic today, along with some comments from Upworthy co-founder Eli Pariser. It was reported that last month, Upworthy had their lowest traffic yet at just 10.7 million visitors – the lowest since August last year.
Pariser had an interesting explanation as to why his site’s traffic – which is known to amass insane amount of clicks for its provocative headlines – is down: they’re focusing less on the content itself, and more on what goes behind the scenes. Since they’re so focused on beefing up their editorial team to prepare for the future, they’ve neglected the thing they do best: curating content.
Perhaps that’s the optimistic explanation to the situation.
But I’ve got a different theory.
People aren’t clicking Upworthy links because they’re just sick of it.
People are sick at the way Upworthy hypes everything up as though it’s the most important thing ever and that you can’t live another day of your life if you don’t click on the link they just shared.
When Upworthy first started doing the “curiosity-gap” headlines, it was innovative. It was a new format that people weren’t used to.
What people were used to back then was a title that described what the piece was going to be about (for example: Obama’s Meeting With Congress Shows That The Two Parties Are Still Willing To Cooperate). But here’s Upworthy’s take on the headline: Obama Met With A Couple People In Congress Who Hated Him. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next…
It was new. And because it evoked people’s curiosity and emotion, they clicked on it.
Sure enough, it worked – for the first few months.
Then traffic began tapering off.
The more people shared Upworthy’s content on Facebook with the hyped-up headline, the more people were exposed to it and eventually, if you were like me, you would feel it’s nauseating to even read Upworthy’s headline. Essentially, Upworthy’s initial boom to popularity was what hindered them in the long run.
Also, it gets annoying after a while. Here’s a bet I’d be willing to take: if suppose a group of people had the choice to visit Upworthy or BuzzFeed’s homepage, most of them would choose BuzzFeed’s. Why? The answer is simple: it’s just less annoying.
People eventually got desensitized to Upworthy’s only ammo in their arsenal: the alluring headlines.
While BuzzFeed is innovating with highly-sharable quizzes, new forms of content (including long lists of just a person’s train of thoughts with pictures/GIFs punctuated in between them every so often) and original video, Upworthy hasn’t innovated (in the minds of the average Internet user). Most of Upworthy’s content involves repackaged pictures, infographics or videos. That’s all.
That’s what they’ve been doing since they opened their doors in 2012 and that’s what they’re still doing right now.
But as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” right?
Well, the thing is, it’s starting to break… and I’m not sure if Upworthy can innovate beyond their original novelty of highly clickable headlines.