Upworthy’s Viral Content Marketing Strategy – Content Curation


If your business uses content marketing, this is a must read. In a previous article, I talked about the website Upworthy.

If you read that article, you know that they started in 2012 and in their first year, more than tripled the monthly traffic that media giants like The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and Business Insider were able to generate in the same time period. You also know that Upworthy has grown their website to 53.5M unique monthly visitors. Oh and did I mention they’ve grown their Facebook followers to just under six million Facebook likes in less than three years? What’s most impressive is that they’ve grown this following by sharing serious, meaningful content.

In this article, I’m going to discuss with you the 5 Content Marketing Strategies Upworthy has used to create viral content, get dramatically higher click-through rates, and get rapid growth of their social followers and email list… including a content marketing secret shared by Pharrell!

Step 1: Find or Create Epic Content

The first step behind growing your business through content marketing is to create or curate amazing content. Sounds obvious, right? Upworthy happens to be a site that doesn’t create any original content. All they do is curate epic content based around the concept of “Things That Matter.” And the fact that their content is meaningful and they are still able to generate the traffic, means that the marketing strategies can be applied to your business’ content.

Here’s an example of some of the meaningful content that Upworthy shares on a daily basis:

  1. Meet The Billion-Dollar Industry That Literally Banks On Human Misery
  2. The Taliban Made Life Ugly. Now Her Life Is All About Creating Beauty.
  3. Think Marijuana Is For Stoners? Meet A 6-Year-Old Girl Who Might Just Disagree With You On That.

A lot of people stress out about having to be an expert in their niche and knowing everything there is to know. Well, that’s not the case. If you can be the platform that curates the best content in your niche the way Upworthy does with Things That Matter or Singularity Hub does with future innovations, or TED does with ideas worth sharing, you can become a destination for tons of traffic. Now alternatively, creating your own content like I Love Marketing does, whether through interviews or just speaking on topics you are an expert at, can be a fantastic strategy as well. What ever you do, make sure you are putting out A+ content for your niche.

OK, so now that your content is EPIC, how do you compel people to read and share it? The honest truth is, it doesn’t matter how good your content is. If you don’t make it compelling enough to click and share, no one will know it exists. That means your next goal must be to compel people to click on your link and share it.

Step 2: Make Your Content Compelling Enough to Click and Share

If you know anything about copy writing and running ads, you know how important headlines and images are. This is the step where attention to detail and testing will get you major returns in readership and the area where Upworthy has crushed it. Take a look at the image below and see how you can break down the intricacies of every post.

upworthy frame

Let’s break it down.

The Share Text 

Let’s face it. Most people aren’t creative enough or are too lazy to come up with original shareable commentary for content that they share. This is where you need to create that “Share Text” or “Tweetable” for them. For example, with our Lifecycle Marketing article, Mike Dillard shared our content on Facebook and Twitter with this amazing comment, “This is one of the best articles on marketing and building a profitable business/funnel I’ve ever read. Provides some cool insights into Tony Robbins’ business. I’d have easily paid $100 for it…”

mike dillard facebook post

You couldn’t dream up a better Share Text for an article. Well, our link for that article has been floating around on social media, driving tons of traffic to our website and guess what most people are saying when they share the link? Exactly what Mike Dillard said when sharing our article. Now everyone that shares our article is giving it this glowing endorsement because they liked the content and choose to copy and paste Mike’s Share Text. Honestly, we got lucky that someone said that about our article but you can build similar shareable text into your content for users to share for you. Hopefully you can see how powerful creating a great Share Text can be for getting higher CTR’s and shares.

The Headline

I know what you are thinking. Upworthy just uses headlines that are hyped up to get you to click. Well, answer this question for me, if making a snarky and entertaining headline is the difference between 100 people seeing something important and 100,000 people seeing something important, which would you choose?

If you want to compel clicks, you have to make your headline intriguing. Ever notice which headlines make you curious and get you to click? Well, there is a science to it.

upworthy social headlines

When writing your headline and trying to make it intriguing, don’t over think it! Here’s a case study of Upworthy curators getting a little to clever with their headlines.

upworthy case study

Maybe you think you’re not that creative at writing compelling or interesting headlines. You spend hours writing your best content but only five minutes on writing one or two headlines. Upworthy understands the power of a good headline so they take a different approach.

upworthy editorial process

Here are a few more guidelines Upworthy follows when creating headlines.

  • Don’t give it all away in the headline
  • Don’t give it all away in the excerpt, share image, or share text.
  • Don’t be shrill. Don’t form an opinion for the end user. Let them do that.
  • Don’t bum people out.
  • Don’t sexualize your headlines in a way your mom wouldn’t approve.
  • And don’t over think it. Some of your headlines will suck. Accept it and keep writing.
  • Lastly, be clever. But not TOO clever.


Facebook let’s you add additional description for your content in the excerpt area. This is further real estate for you to create intrigue. Make sure to follow the same rules as your share text, headline, and shareable image.

Shareable Images

Just like headlines, you probably realize that some images draw curiosity and compel you to click more than others. Well Upworthy has done the hard work for you. They’ve narrowed it down to ten types of images that have the “secret sauce” for creating intriguing, shareable previews.

upworthy shareable image

upworthy share image

Still don’t think headline and images are important? Here’s another example of a video Upworthy created 25 headlines for and then split test to see what got the most visitors. The result was a 36x increase in clicks.

upworthy click increase

Step 3: Website Optimization

You know Upworthy puts in a lot of work to get people clicking their articles website. Well, they also spend a lot of time making sure they get the most out of that traffic and you should too!

Upworthy puts a ton of focus on getting people to share their content to grow their traffic.

upworthy fix share buttons

Pop-ups have been around since the beginning of time. Most people would say they hate them. Well Upworthy started using pop-ups but they designed them to be un-obtrusive and elegant. For example, Upworthy hits you with a pop-up after you finishing consuming a piece of content. They know their readers are already interested in their content, so why not suggest a way for them to get more? Turns out, their readers actually appreciated the suggestion!

upworthy action button

Upworthy also captures emails with this same technique. They wait until after their visitors consumes their content, then lets them choose if they would like to subscribe. Below is a 2-step process they tested, creating commitment or small yess’es as Dr. Robert Cialdini teaches in his book Influence.

upworty button

second upworthy button

Upworthy also uses a fly-in box in the bottom right of their site if someone finishes a video or reads an article and gets to the bottom. While Upworthy’s CTA is to get people to Like them on Facebook, you can just as easily add your own CTA like getting them to subscribe to your email list.

upworthy facebook slider

Step 4: Keep Testing

Oh ya, did I mention you should run split tests? Test everything! Test your headlines. Test your images. Test your shareable text. Test your website optimization. Upworthy has been wildly successful but even their founder said it this way, “We’re maybe as good as a coin-flip at guessing what’s going to work best for our users. We rely on testing to just make better decisions. People are really fascinating and interesting… and weird! It’s really hard to guess their behaviors accurately.”

While you can follow best practices, you will never know exactly what will work with your audience. There are just too many variables. So don’t get frustrated and keep testing. Once you get the marketing dialed in, your traffic will explode and you will reap dividends.

Here are a couple examples of tests that Upworthy did that brought them significant improvements.

upworthy do better]

upworthy little things

Step 5: Get Lucky

Getting something to go viral or getting lots of shares always requires a bit of luck. Keep working on your content strategy incorporating the marketing strategies I’ve described above. Like I mentioned Upworthy gets 53.5M unique monthly visitors and only .3% of their post go extremely viral. You might get lucky and hit a trend that everyone is interested in before anyone else. You might get lucky and have a major influencer see your content and share it to their gigantic list. Who knows. Keep testing and persevere and you’ll find success.

What Do You Think?

How do you think you can apply these content marketing strategies? Did you get any killer ideas? Have an app that makes one of these strategies easier? Leave us a comment below and let us know what you think.

If you found this article useful please SHARE it and SUBSCRIBE to our newsletter below to get more marketing strategies we use with our clients like Peter Diamandis, Joe Polish, and Arianna Huffington.

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