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Upworthy's Traffic Goes Lower, but Revenue Is Climbing

The viral content-spreader's traffic is back to where it was a year ago. Perhaps an Ice Bucket Challenge video will turn things around.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

The last time we checked in on Upworthy, the viral Web-sharing startup, we found that its traffic was sagging. Not a big deal, said CEO Eli Pariser: The company was training more people to find stuff to share, so it hadn’t spent as much time sharing stuff.

Three months later, Upworthy’s traffic is still headed down. After peaking in November, the site is now back to where it was a year ago. In July, it had about eight million visitors, down from a high of 18 million last fall, according to comScore.

Upworthy Chart

What’s going on? The same thing as before, says Pariser: The company has been bulking up its staff — it used to have a half-dozen full-time curators, and now it has 17 — and it has been teaching them how to find Upworthy stuff to share. “The July numbers aren’t especially worrisome to me,” he said.

Pariser says he’s confident his trend line will head back up now that he’s got his new people trained. One of the new hires was the one who found this video, which went up this week and has turned out to be one of the site’s most popular finds.

Yesterday the site drew seven million uniques — one of its highest traffic days ever — and Pariser says that most of that was because of this:

No surprise that an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video has done well for Upworthy — everyone (everyone!) on the Internet is interested in ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos this month. And true to Upworthy’s mission, the site didn’t show a random ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video, but one with a surprising, emotional and idealistic twist.

Then again, I’ve seen that video several times in my Facebook feed, but never from Upworthy. The last two times I’ve seen it were from Huffington Post and something called QPolitical, which appears to be one of many bare-bones sites which exists solely for the purpose of republishing viral clips. (See the update below).

Which brings up one of the nagging questions I have about Upworthy, which is primarily dependent on Facebook traffic: Isn’t it worrisome if QPolitical, or any other just-hatched site, is distributing viral clips just as effectively as Pariser’s team?

Nope, not a problem, Pariser says. “We’ve always seen other folks pick up new videos that we surface, and we’re happy to lead,” he said. “Usually that means we contribute the vast majority of views.”

The kicker, Pariser says, is that regardless of its traffic numbers, Upworthy is actually generating money, via its new native ad push. He says the company has already beaten its 2014 revenue goals.

Update: Sure enough, immediately after we published this piece, I found that two of my Facebook pals had shared Upworthy’s Ice Bucket video, after all:

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