After the Demise of Upworthy-type Headlines, What’s Next?

After the Demise of Upworthy-type Headlines, What’s Next?


Content these days is often being duplicated to the point that we’re reading the same thing over and over again from different publications but not learning anything new. The only differentiating feature are the headlines. But even that’s getting monotonous.

Scrolling through my Twitter feed, I notice that Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Viral Nova, and similar publications use the same headline structure called the” emotional intrigue” or “curiosity gap” headline. It’s like this one headline structure worked for one platform, so the other publications in the sector jumped on the bandwagon.

It makes sense when you consider the 80/20 rule: “On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.” And a really good headline will increase your traffic by 500 per cent. Headlines are crucial to any website that cares about its performance. They’re the deciding factor on whether someone will read the content you and your team toiled over for hours.

The genesis of the Upworthy “emotional intrigue” Headline

Upworthy shares uplifting content centering around social issues. But what they’re really known for are their headlines. If you get your news from Facebook or Twitter, chances are you know what I’m talking about.

Headlines like:

"If A Monster Murdered Your Child, Would You Be Able To Handle It As Compassionately As This Man Did?"

“A Man Falls Down And Cries For Help Twice. The Second Time, My Jaw Drops”

"The Story Of A Girl Who Needed Help And Why One Guy Regrets Not Having Done More”

Their mystery coupled with the emotional responses they provoke makes you want to click to find out more. And this headline structure has become popular because it works. Upworthy has close to 100 million unique visitors each month. And a site that employs similar headlines, Viral Nova, is doing well too.

 It’s no wonder that Upworthy priorities headlines in the writing process. Every article has at least 25 headlines which are then immediately tested to see which headline will attract the most hits.

Not all headlines are created equally

The headlines befit Upworthy’s overall mission for social good because it makes good use of the “emotion” in the emotional intrigue headlines. Their stories pull on people’s heartstrings, so it makes sense that their headlines do too. But just because it works for a site like Upworthy, it doesn’t mean that every publication should use it. Different headlines work for different sites. It all depends on your content and niche.

No one learned this lesson like CNN when they used the emotional intrigue method for a news story on Twitter.


Not a good move. CNN received wide backlash when they tweeted that headline. Granted, that tweet got more retweets than any other story that day. But the retweets definitely weren’t worth the insensitivity and the blow to their brand.

Trend or Pattern?

The CNN fiasco has not dissuaded other outlets from using the curiosity gap headline. Upworthy’s rapid success has resulted in a lot of mimicry, leading me to believe that this headline style will lead to oversaturation, lessening its effectiveness.

 In fact, people are already sick of the style. Google “Upworthy headlines” and articles with the words “insufferable” and “annoying” pop up.  There comes a point when the intrigue is just plain predictable. And then it’s onto the next trend.

And it makes sense. As the web evolves, so will headlines. They’re not meant to be static in style. According to Neil Patel, headline trends are similar to fashion trends.

“They come and go, changing and shifting with popular sentiment and contemporary concern. In order to capitalize on popular headline trends, you’ve got to stay aware.”

What does the future hold?

So what’s the next trend in headlines? I predict emotional intriguing headlines will slowly dwindle as people catch on–it's only click bait! I think short keyword-relevant and keyword-rich headlines will prevail. Publications will go back to the basics and, although there will consistently be different approaches made to see what gets the clicks, many headlines will remain informative, with a splash of emotion.

And, if we’ve learned anything from Upworthy, it’s that great headlines are not written by accident. They’re the result of strategy and testing. In short, great headlines come from people who prioritize headlines.

 But you can craft headlines that fit your content and niche by basing them on these three factors: your goal, your audience and where the headline will be promoted.

Want to increase your social presence? Go for viral and linkbait headlines as used by Buzzfeed and Upworthy. Want to improve SEO? Include long tail keywords in the headlines.

Think about how social media promotion affects your headline. Twitter’s character limit demands shorter headlines that also have space for retweets, while Google+ and Facebook allow for longer headlines.

 Last, but not least, you need to experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. For their blog, Buffer posts different headlines for various times of the day on their social media platforms. This way they are able to gather data on which headlines are most effective for their audience. This is more beneficial than using a headline style because it’s en vogue.

If you prioritize headlines in your content strategy by strategizing and testing, you won’t have to worry about trends. Like Upworthy, you might even set a trend of your own.

What is your headline strategy? Let us know in the comments.

What do you think?

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