Great Affiliates Don’t Steal Upworthy Headlines (They Do This Instead)

You’ve been reading about Upworthy. I know…

Their skyrocketing growth, their profits, that they’re the fastest growing media site of all time… And while everyone else is focused on creating content Upworthy is making millions by stealing other people’s stuff and reframing it in a new, better way. Their secret ingredient?


If you’re an affiliate, you might be thinking it’s a good idea to steal some Upworthy headlines and apply them to your own campaigns. Today I’m going to tell you:

  1. Why crazy Upworthy headlines won’t work
  2. What you should do instead (It’s easy)
  3. The results of my experiment testing the theory

But first, a little background information.

Who Is Upworthy? is a viral content website started in March 2012 by Eli Pariser, and Peter Koechley. Upworthy takes existing content, mainly videos and reframes it using eyeball-grabbing headlines that are impossible not to click.

Upworthy: Currently getting 4 Million Uniques a day (quantcast)

They’re calling Upworthy today’s greatest viral growth hackers, saying their “the fastest growing media site of all time” Fast Company

Upworthy, which MoveOn founder Eli Pariser started in March 2012, clocked 8.7 million monthly unique visitors within its first six months and now garners more than 10 million uniques a month.

The Rip Off

Now, the entire internet is in a race to steal their headline concept and try to duplicate their success. This is a great idea for some (viralnova) and a horrible idea for others (you).

Why? Because Upworthy headlines make huge promises and then don’t payoff.

  • Good idea: If you run a website that sells ads based on impressions (CPM), you make money without having to make sales. All you need are clicks to get paid. Upworthy headlines are probably a great idea for you and will dramatically increase your profits.
  • Bad idea: If you’re an affiliate marketer who relies on getting clicks and conversions, writing sensational headlines could leave you with sky-high CTR, thousands of dollars in clicks and pennies in the bank.

But it’s not all bad news.

You can steal Upworthy’s headlines and create conversions. But to do it, we’ll have to talk about David Ogilvy.

Meet David Ogilvy, The Original Mad Man

David Ogilvy - The Original Mad Man

David Ogilvy, considered by most to be “The Father of Advertising” was a British advertising executive and founder of the New York ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, one of the world’s largest advertising firms.

Ogilvy was a genius at advertising. But more specifically – he was a genius at creating advertising and headlines that sell.

“If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” – David Ogilvy

Ogilvy’s thoughts on headlines:

“The headline is the ‘ticket on the meat.’ Use it to flag down readers who are prospects for the kind of product you are advertising.” – David Ogilvy

Ogilvy recommends using the headline to call out your target demographic, which is exactly what you need to do to pull clicks that convert. But you can’t take that advice too literally either.

You can’t write:
Women’s Yellow Tennis Shoes On Sale Here, Please Don’t Click Unless You’re A Woman Who is Going to Buy Yellow Tennis Shoes Today!

What you can do is mix Upworthy and Ogilvy together – and make a crazy-high CTR ad that also calls out the customers that convert.

My Experiment Using Upworthy + Ogilvy Headlines


Before writing this article I set up an experiment on a new campaign to see how well an Upworthy + Ogilvy style headline works in practice. The theory made sense to me – but theories don’t pay  the bills. You will never know for sure unless you test the idea live.

Here are the results, replacing the product name with XYZ (obviously).

  • CTR = click through rate
  • EPC = Earnings per click

Control headline: (the style being used by the lazy affiliate collective)

“1 Odd Trick to Save Huge on XYZ’s”
CTR: 1.56% EPC: $0.28

Upworthy headline:

“His XYZ Caught On Fire Right Next to The Church… But You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!”
CTR: 11.43% EPC: $0.04

Upworthy/Ogilvy headline:

“If You Have an XYZ and Think You’re Getting Ripped Off, You Better See This…”
CTR: 3.45% EPC: $0.61

The Upworthy headline got 10x the clicks but made almost no money. It didn’t work because obviously people were just clicking the ad to see if the church burned down. If I was getting paid for impressions that ad would have dominated. But I need conversions to get paid.

Headline Split Test Results
Result: A statistically significant double conversion rate

The Upworthy + Ogilvy headline doubled CTR and doubled conversion rate. It worked because it was a big tease that forced users to click to find out what the hell was going on – but it only teased a specific segment (People with an XYZ that think they’re paying too much) giving me a much higher chance of making a sale.

How You Can Start Today

Here’s how you can get started today. I’m assuming you have a campaign up and running here. If you don’t well – you need to get on that.

  1. Go to your campaign and look at your best performing ad
  2. Go to and pick an irresistible headline (or write your own)
  3. Now, rewrite the ad, adding a specific callout to your target demo
  4. Split test and try to destroy your best ad

Invest Time in Writing

Upworthy has said in interviews that they write 25 headlines for each ad. I have tried this practice myself and can tell you that it works.

  • Open up your text editor of choice (I use Byword) and start writing
  • Write every headline that comes to mind
  • Write some that are wildly different than the others

You’ll be shocked by how much better your 18th or 19th draft will be than your first headline.


  • Pick the top 4 headlines
  • Test them against each other
  • If you find an overwhelming winner, congrats
  • If not, keep the best one and add 3-4 more from your list

It takes about 30 minutes and is worth every second. If 25 headlines is too much for you, try to do at least (10) ten.

Have fun doing this stuff. For me this is one of the most fascinating parts of the job. Seeing how differently people react to small changes has always been my favorite part.

And remember. If you enjoy your job, you can make a lot of money, without ever working a day in your life.

Thank you for being here,

Challenge: Using “iPad Mini” as the product, write your best Upworthy-like headline in the comments. I’ll pick a winner.

Example: “His iPad Mini Was His Best Friend… You’ll Be Shocked When You See Why!”

  • Eugene

    Hey man, great post. Headlines can indeed make or break a campaign. Here is my shot at it inspired by a classic one: “They Laughed At Him For Spending The Whole Day On His Ipad Mini, But Then They Saw The Screen..”

    • Malan Darras

      Great one Eugene – I would click the hell out of that headline

  • Zingali

    “They Thought He Was Playing Games On His iPad Mini, Until They Looked Closer”

    • Malan Darras

      Hey Zingali, I get a big “it might be porn” feeling here. haha would click.

  • Stan Oleynik

    Nice post Malan, keep it up!

    Here’s my Upworthy-like headline for the iPad Mini: “How my iPad Mini saved a kitten’s life, read the rest of the story now!”


    • Malan Darras

      Stan, nice one, but do me a favor and tweak the end of it. Try leaving more of a cliffhanger…

      • Stan Oleynik

        Malan, how about this one: “I didn’t know an iPad Mini can save a kitten’s life until I read this SHOCKING story…” (link takes user to an article about an app that can help save an animal’s life)

        • Malan Darras

          #boom nice upgrade man

          • Stan Oleynik

            Haha, thanks man!

  • Malan Darras

    Yeah that’s a great one (and it works). How’d the POF campaign go?

    • Matthew Geer

      -50% (roughly) over the first two days. Had I cut out the second one (with 18 clicks) it would’ve broken even.

      I didn’t have much of a budget left, and since I ran this over Thurs/Fri (figured more clicks/conversions being the weekend), I don’t know how reliable the data was and/or if I should’ve continued running it.

      Long story short, I probably should’ve ran this over the course of a week for more/better data. I think.

      • Malan Darras

        Yes, if you have a campaign that is breaking even stick with it instead of trying new things.

        Rarely does a campaign profit on day one, or even in week one. you have to stick with it and optimize it aggressively. you could be leaving a killer campaign behind.

  • Matthew Geer

    Here’s my headline:

    I Stood, Horrified, as My iPad Mini Bounced Off the Ground, 30 Feet Below

    But My Jaw -Really- Hit the Floor When I Picked It Up, and the Screen Was as Good as New

    What Protected It…. –>

    • Malan Darras

      Great ending Matt… and the arrow is a nice touch

  • Bronson

    Hey Malan, I’m loving the consistency with the blog posts. Keep it up!

    It Would Be Hard For Me To Believe People Actually did this with the Ipad Mini … Except I saw It Myself

    • Malan Darras

      Hey Bronson, if you guys consistently come and read, i’ll consistently write them.

      nice headline! I’d change the end to “Until I Saw This…” (cliffhanger action)

      • Bronson

        Hahaha, I’m testing crazy headlines with my pof profile using the strategies above. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • ric

    Malan, thanks a lot man. This is genious.

    OT: Woah, that upworthy site is probably as feminist as it gets. I shrugged a few times at their headlines

    • Malan Darras

      hey ric. Upworthy is verrry smart about what they post about. They post the things that people (and a lot of women) will share on Facebook. Who do you think does most of the sharing?

  • Jered Burright

    Its clicks you want? This one is solid gold right now!
    “I thought I knew all of the uses for an iPad Mini, Until I seen Miley Cyrus use it for this…”

    • Malan Darras

      Jered… thanks for the laugh I just cracked up over here. You’re right that would get some serious clicks – but the conversion rate might suck.

      Works with any celeb – “Until I saw Justin Bieber using it for this” “Until I saw Brad Pitt using it for this…” awesome

  • ChazTramayne

    “Did you pay over $300 for your iPad mini? Secret Bargain Website Exposed!”

    • Malan Darras

      Exposed! always a good one Chaz

  • Malan Darras

    Thanks to everyone for submitting headlines. It was really close but the winning headline goes to:

    “They Laughed At Him For Spending The Whole Day On His Ipad Mini, But Then They Saw The Screen..”

    Why? The ending is such an irresistible cliffhanger – It would be impossible to not click through.

    Congrats Eugene and again thanks to everyone for your great ideas.

    • Eugene

      Thanks man! Can’t go wrong with a classic.

  • Peter

    For your experiment,

    Were you paying on a CPC basis or CPM basis. If it was a CPM basis, I think you would have made more money with the UpWorthy headline

    • Malan Darras

      Peter, good insight and you’re right. That kind of CTR would drop a CPM ad’s costs so low it’d be hard to lose in most cases.

      In this case the campaign was CPC. However, on this network CTR does effect cpc – but the Upworthy ad’s epc was so much lower that the trade-off didn’t balance out…

  • keshav0001

    Loved your experiment!

    I know you have a winner but thought of chiming

    “Warning! His ipad mini can seriously make you shit in your pants! Do not click..”
    “See how this ipad mini burnt down his house..and what apple did ?”

    • Malan Darras

      Hey keshav – Warning is one of my favorite words. i like the aggressiveness of “burnt down the house” too – there could be lots of great image ideas with that one.

  • samrex

    Awesome man, thank you for this.

    • Malan Darras

      yep yep, now steal it and put it to use

  • MikroB

    Great Idea….Thank You!

    • Malan Darras

      you be MikroB

  • sxyshandy

    OK, I gotta try this too.
    “His Family Stays Close In His Final Hours, Wondering Why He Is Still Holding His Precious Ipad Mini. And Then They See Why.”

    • Malan Darras

      haha i love that one

  • Will Oviedo

    Great content Malan Thanks

    • Malan Darras


  • Thien Kai Wei

    Thanks for this headline post! Just about to get my next batch of banners done.

    • Malan Darras

      get it!

  • Jozef

    You’re on fire Malan ! But you will cry when you see what this kid did wih his Ipad mini !

    • Malan Darras

      😉 i see what you did there…

  • Yussef Gilkey


  • Love Raj Singh

    Can’t believe missed this post. Pure gold. 🙂

  • Poiana Andrei-Minel

    Great posts ! Thank you Malan !

  • Alyssia Alexandria

    Thank you for sharing this thoughtful, article, be well!:)