With the third highest traffic behind Yahoo! News and Huffington Post, the marketing world is wondering how the Upworthy team cultivated the fastest-growing and most engaged audience on the web. It’s got to be the attention grabbing headlines, right?

At the Ad Age Digital Conference, Upworthy CEO Eli Pariser revealed their new rules for driving unprecedented engagement and reach.

First, consider this fact: It’s estimated that there are 1500 pieces of content that a person might see on their Facebook feed per day, and only a tiny fraction of it is seen or shared. Upworthy appears to have cracked the Facebook code, since that platform is the biggest traffic driver for the site, said Pariser.

Here’s why: Upworthy is incredibly picky about what it chooses to publish – just around 200 pieces of content a month. “Pumping up content doesn’t drive engagement,” said Pariser. Instead, the company employs full-time content strategists to post five to six times a week bringing together the very human skill of identifying compelling content, and then supercharging that content with powerful distribution tools.

In essence, Pariser explains that the secret sauce is this, “We think it’s the alchemy of bringing together data and human judgment in a smart way.”

At the heart of its mission, Upworthy tries to shine a light on the types of content that matter in our society. Purpose, said Pariser, is an incredibly powerful thing. And quality drives huge engagement.

By bringing these two things together, Upworthy has created a whole different blueprint for how brands engage online.

Pariser used the example of Goldieblox, and how Upworthy helped the small toy company’s video go viral. If you care about an issue (like the idea that there aren’t enough female engineers), you could find and read a dry, lengthy white paper on the topic. Or you can watch a great video that tells the same story. (Which would you rather do?) The Upworthy team found the Goldieblox video on Kickstarter, optimized it to make it as shareable as possible, and sent it out to the Upworthy audience. Not only did the video get two million views in a couple of days, but people started chipping in to Goldieblox’s Kickstarter campaign. The video’s virality also helped the company win a contest to get their ad on during the Superbowl.

But wait… there are no major brand partnerships with Upworthy, right?

Well that’s all about to change. At the event, Pariser announced an upcoming program which will offer brands promoted posts, sponsored curation, and content consultation. Its first major partnership is with Unilever’s Project Sunlight, a global sustainability movement.

Upworthy’s new program will only consider partnerships that meet three key requirements: Content must be compelling (so, no banner ads); completely transparent (a clear indication of what’s paid and what’s not); and a mission aligned with Upworthy’s.

So what about those headlines?

While they’ve served a great purpose, Pariser says you can expect to see less of the long-winded headlines. The company built a system to figure out what resonates with readers through a variety of metrics, and for a while, those viral-grabby headlines seemed to work well. Now, that same system is leading in a new direction, he explained. It will be interesting to see exactly what that direction will be.

By Dawn Papandrea, NewsCred Contributor

Photo via Fast Company

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