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Upworthy Clones Are Everywhere, Clickbaiting Articles To Millions Of Readers

Stashed in: Social Media, Awesome, Growth Hacks!, BuzzFeed!, Upworthy!, Active Users, Rising meets Risen, Social Web, Distractify!, Viral Content

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Like Upworthy, Distractify tries to find positive stories to present to readers with vague headlines. It also teases cute animals, like Buzzfeed. Recent headlines include:

Distractify is a 3-person bootstrapped team, founded by 20-year-old Quinn Hu. The one-month-old site says it earned 21 million uniques in its first 30 days, but 90% of that traffic comes from Facebook. Quantcast shows a more modest — but still amazing — 14 million uniques.

distractify traffic month 1

How the heck?! Just choosing good titles???

I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get things to spread on Facebook.

Am I just picking bad titles? Is the growth hack to pick good titles?

There's gotta be more to it than just clickbaiting people, right?

The articles themselves seem more BuzzFeedy than Upworthy.

The one thing I would suggest, and maybe you have done it, I think you have a habit of talking to a lot of people, but ask people in different demographic groups what makes them click.   Not a scaleable solution, but a start

Thanks Josh. There don't seem to be patterns yet, but I will keep looking.

By the way, those that live by Facebook die by Facebook:

Media startups like ViralNova and Distractify don't care how you find them. They don't care how long you stay on their websites, if you type in their URLs directly, or if you even know their websites' names.

They aren't trying to build brands. They're trying to earn traffic from social media referrals instead of through SEO or direct visits. 

Is it a lasting trend? To some degree.

The digital world is shifting from one that is page-ranked (Google) to people-ranked (Facebook), which means people-recommended content is here to stay. Also, content that is light on text and heavy on visuals is easier to consume on mobile devices. So the Upworthy-inspired article format won't disappear either.

But there is one serious issue these sites will run into: they rely almost entirely on Facebook for traffic. If their Facebook referrals go away, so do their readers and ultimately, their businesses.

Other startups that have relied heavily on Facebook have fallen hard. They include Zynga, Viddy, Fab, Path and BranchOut. The minute Facebook changed its algorithms and stopped promoting their products, their traffic nosedived. Viddy returned money to investors and pivoted. BranchOut pivoted. And Zynga's stock tanked.

Right now, Facebook is being kind to publishers, sending them more traffic than ever before. But all that could change. (LinkedIn, by the way, used to do the same thing. The traffic surges stopped when LinkedIn created an in-house editorial team.) 

Bryan Goldberg is on his second media site. His first was Bleacher Report. Now he's working on a site called Bustle. This time, he feels diversity of traffic is the single most-important metric for his startup.

"Even though the 1 million uniques is a great early milestone, the thing that has me really excited is the [diversity of traffic]," Goldberg recently told Business Insider. "The distribution of sources is almost perfectly even, which shows that Bustle is finding readers a lot of different ways. Having done this for a second time, I cannot overstate how important that is to me."

But until Facebook decides to pull the plug, the Upworthy clones will keep growing.While you can bemoan them for their clickbait headlines, no publisher can force a reader to share content with friends. And these sites' readers are sharing a lot.

Note that it's Facebook alone -- not Twitter, not Pinterest, and not Google+ -- that enables these clickbaity sites to spread.

That in and of itself is fascinating. Facebook is making the web clickbaitier.

Looking at this a bit more, there are often some striking visuals that go along with the headlines, that connect with people in a way that words cannot or do not.  Case in point, look at the attached image, its the title and the visual imagery working together to build the instant connection


The pictures help but they are in violation of Facebook's terms, so Facebook can shut this down any time they want. Facebook's terms dictate that the only "full image takeovers" allowed are those with people in them. The above picture is an example of a full image takeover without a person -- so it should have the limited "article view" instead.

Once Facebook shuts them down Facebook's channel will no longer be usable to spread articles like this.

Adam, here is a question, and I suspect you are doing this already, but when you post articles, what sort of metrics are you looking at in terms of response.   The answer might be sitting there right in front of you.

Perhaps it's not an apples to apples comparison.

BuzzFeed writes its articles -- they have a paid staff of writers and editors.

PandaWhale just has posts that are assembled by individuals who find interesting things.

So PandaWhale's goal is not really the same as BuzzFeed's.

True enough - it does depends on what you are attempting to do.  Given that I don't see much if any advertising on here, its obviously a different model, although I will start posting articles and giving them titles along the lines of  "14 things you must see today" and "23 pictures that will change your life".  

Yeah, advertising is not our thing, and clickbaiting isn't our thing.

Genuine interesting stuff saved by people interested in that stuff: that's our thing.

TNT just bigupped Bleacher Report by featuring an actual segment facilitated by an editor.  Really gone big when big media references them (like Reddit). 

So is Reddit mainstream now? Feels like it.

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