Three UNBELIEVEABLE Reasons Sites Such as Buzzfeed, Upworthy, and FTW are Absurdly Popular

What are they?

Over the past several years, sites such as Buzzfeed, USA Today’s FTW, and Upworthy have exploded in popularity. These sites link viewers to viral content from the web. These sites have articles which are filled with pictures, videos, or GIFs with minimal amounts of text. From July 2011 to July 2013, Buzzfeed’s unique monthly viewers rose from 4.3 million to 19.3 million. The other sites have seen dramatic increases in viewership as well. In December 2013, FTW had 17.3 million unique viewers, and Upworthy is the fastest growing media site of all time.


These sites are not without controversy. Buzzfeed articles have been criticized of plagiarism. Upworthy’s headlines make outrageous claims, often letting down the viewer when clicking on a title. These titles have been labeled “clickbait”, which entice viewers to click on them. FTW follows in a similar vein as these sites. An example of such headlines can be seen here, from my screenshot from FTW’s main page at


Other complaints include the simplistic text in these articles. The phrase “listicles” has emerged because of the Buzzfeed-esque article style, which includes pictures or GIFs and short captions. Other complaints include misinformation through articles or picture captions. A humorous site,, illustrates this writing style, pointing out one “article” simply repeats “THIS”  after every image.

As I have an extreme dislike for sites such as these, I wanted to explore what makes them so popular. I may not want to make a site like Buzzfeed, but if I feel I came up with an idea that gets me loaded, I would definitely try. An idea we may or may not like still can appeal to a large amount of people, and isn’t that the whole goal of marketing a product?

The Takeaway

“Well, what’s the takeaway?”, you ask. By using these techniques, an advertiser can get large amounts of visits to a site if their titles are enticing. These sites often aim to have an emotional response from their audience, and often they do. Upworthy often posts inspirational stories which viewers can relate to. Buzzfeed posts lists of funny GIFs about situations many of us have experienced. GIFs and pictures of our trends from the past of awesome or horrible things we like at the time make us feel good and/or embarrassed.

These listicles are also easy to digest, which is especially important when viewing from a mobile device. By utilizing these techniques, advertisers can increase their viewers if they are aiming for the audiences which visit these sites. Advertisers have noticed, and Buzzfeed’s pages are littered with ads such as United’s sponsored article, “13 Ways Speed Skaters Brave the Boundaries of Physics”. The article is the advertisement, and it’s written just like an article you would expect to be posted on Buzzfeed. In addition to mentioning United several times at the beginning, they have links to their Facebook page and a real time feed of their Twitter activity on the side of the page. The ad blends in with the rest of the home page and doesn’t feel like the average web ad.

The condensed, Buzzfeed version of this article on why these are successful:

1. This style of website draws an emotional response from the viewer.

2. The headlines do a good job of grabbing the viewers’ attention.

3. The articles are quick to read and easy to view on a mobile device.

How effective do you think these sites are as advertising vehicles?

– Shawn Dewey

3 thoughts on “Three UNBELIEVEABLE Reasons Sites Such as Buzzfeed, Upworthy, and FTW are Absurdly Popular

  1. At first i thought these sites are nice but they are no different than the videos or commercials i try to skip when watching a youtube video.

    After reading this post, i can see how the humor, and emotional response get people to click on these lists more often than not. it is appealing entertainment that may be a new avenue for marketers to look into when designing their advertising campaigns.

  2. I’ll admit I’m guilty of clicking on these types of articles from time-to-time. A lot does have to do with the headline doing a fantastic job of pulling in a reader. For that reason, I think advertisers should start looking closer to this type of format for their ads. While I generally skip over ads as soon as they pop-up, they also do a good job of making me see the ad when they’re a part of the article.

  3. From a graphic designer’s perspective I can see why these websites do so well. I can see how the layout is spread evenly and the space around the articles are clean cut. The typography really makes a difference when defining a page and they do it very well. The rule of 2-3 typefaces are used in each website design. The bolder font really stands out and is very easy to read compared to Newspapers where you only get 12 pt. TimesNewRoman. Also, i like the visuals and how they enhance the colors to pop from the images. The images are worth a thousand words alone. These sites are very effective because they were definitely looking out for the older generation.

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