A few years back Upworthy stormed the publishing world — and eventually proclaimed to be the fastest growing media company ever with 47 million monthly uniques after just 17 months of existence.
So what’s their secret? Tantalizing headlines.
Headlines you love to hate and hate to click but you click anyway, because you hate not knowing what’s behind that headline more than you hate Upworthy’s headlines.
We’ve all fallen for it.
The magic behind those headlines boils down to this: they were about issues we cared about, most involved a positive spin rather than a negative one, and, of course, each headline was built using a concept called the curiosity gap.
But in spite of their smashing success, Unworthy changed how they wrote headlines. Here’s the story — and the lessons you can learn from it.
In this 8-minute episode you’ll discover:
- Three headlines from the top five greatest Upworthy hits, circa 2013
- What made the curiosity gap headline formula so irresistible
- Five curiosity triggers that alert people to such a gap
- Why Upworthy changed a formula that worked so well
- An introduction to the 5 stages of audience awareness
The Show Notes
- Upworthy, closing in on 50M monthly uniques, lists 11 greatest hits
- Should You Use a Curiosity Gap to Persuade Your Visitors to Click?
- Upworthy’s Headlines Are Insufferable. Here’s Why You Click Anyway …
- The Curiosity Gap Is Closing, Says Upworthy
Why The Most Hated Headline Structures Work So Well
Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.
Demian Farnworth: Howdy dear podcast listener, this is Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am Demian Farnworth, your host, your muse, your digital recluse, and the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.
And as always, thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.
Okay. Quiz time. Who can tell me to whom this tag line belongs to: “Things That Matter. Pass ‘Em On.”
Okay. That’s long enough.
If you haven’t guessed, that’s Upworthy’s tagline.
A few years back Upworthy stormed the publishing world — and eventually proclaimed to be the fastest growing media company ever with: 47 million monthly uniques after just 17 months of existence.
So what’s their secret? Tantalizing headlines. Headlines you love to hate and hate to click but you click anyway because you hate not knowing what’s behind that headline more than you hate Upworthy’s headlines.
We’ve all fallen for it.
Three Headlines from the Top Five Greatest Upworthy Hits, Circa 2013
The magic behind those headlines boils down to this: they were about issues we cared about, most involved a positive spin rather than a negative, demonic spin, and, of course, each headline was built using a concept called the curiosity gap.
Here are three headlines from the top five greatest Upworthy hits, circa 2013:
- 9 Out Of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact. Pageviews: 6.3 million
- See Why We Have An Absolutely Ridiculous Standard Of Beauty In Just 37 Seconds. Pageviews: 11.8 million/li>
- This Kid Just Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular. Pageviews: 17 million
Seventeen million on one article. I would kill for that many page views on my website in a year … but one article? That’s unheard of. That’s just like if everyone in Los Angeles and New York City clicked on that page.
What Made the Curiosity Gap Headline Formula So Irresistible
So what makes the curiosity gap so irresistible? Joanna Weibe of Copyhacker writes: “Not knowing everything yet is intriguing for people. We need to connect dots. We need to bridge gaps.”
Eric Jaffe, writing on Fast Company, says, “Curiosity is not much different from other primal desires, such as those for food or love. Its onset, like hunger, is acutely aversive. Its relief, like eating or copulating, is deeply satisfying.”
In other words, curiosity is sort of like being deprived. Now we can have some sense of what Eve may have felt in the garden.
Five Curiosity Triggers that Alert People to Such a Gap
Jaffe points out, this is only true if we adopt the information gap theory, a theory put forward by a man named George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon in the mid-1990s.
But it’s the best theory we have at the moment. So let’s say we do adopt it. Jaffe continues: “Loewenstein outlines five curiosity triggers that alert people to such a gap:
- questions or riddles
- unknown resolutions
- violated expectations
- access to information known by others
- and reminders of something forgotten.
Here’s the thing: Examine old Upworthy headlines, and that’s exactly what you get. They took a page out of Loewenstein’s book.
Why Upworthy Changed a Formula that Worked So Well
But here’s something interesting: Upworthy has since moved away from the curiosity gap headline and onto other headline formats. Here’s a sample from their home page, today, currently, these are the most shared this week:
- The longest floating structure in world history is about to hit the ocean to fix a very big problem.
- Finland is really good at keeping babies alive. Here’s one reason why.
- There’s just simply no excuse for how this police officer responded to a call about a pool party.
Why did Upworthy change? They had a formula that worked. Well, people grew tired of the curiosity gap. Upworthy — mock all you want — tested and tested and tested. They knew what worked. And could really care less what you thought. As long as you clicked, that’s all that mattered. And when you stopped clicking, they adjusted.
The same is true for you. Your audience is not stagnate. It is fluid. It is growing. Morphing. Learning. Changing.
An Introduction to the Five Stages of Audience Awareness
In fact, according to Eugene Schwartz (of Breakthrough Advertising fame, a book you need), your audience (what he calls a market) goes through five stages of awareness.
From complete ignorance of you or your topic, to utter saturation. So you need to know what stage your audience is in, create appropriate headlines for that stage, and then adapt when they move on to the next stage.
Which means, since we are bumping up against our time constraints today, in the next episode of Rough Draft that’s exactly what you’ll discover …
The 5 stages of market awareness …
And all I ask is you listen to the first 54 seconds of that episode. You’ll be hooked after that, I’ll swear.
In fact, the first four sentences are interesting. The fifth will blow your mind. And even make you a little sick.
Because a brave fan asks me a question I don’t normally get … and of course I give her a beautiful answer.
Because 9 out of 10 Americans are completely wrong about this mind-blowing fact.
Okay. I’ll stop. Please. Tell me to go away.
I’ll see you tomorrow. Until then, take care.