Facebook Killed the Viral Star: Upworthy’s Traffic Plummets After News Feed Tweaks

Upworthy’s traffic dropped from 90 million in November to 48 million in January.

upworthy viral facebook

Just when it seemed BuzzFeed was changing the way the world consumes news, Facebook threw a one-two punch.

Around the same time Facebook made its News Feed tweaks to focus on “high quality” content, BuzzFeed hired a number of investigative journalists — as well as political and foreign reporters — to supplement the site’s unserious journalism, most famously the listicles and cat GIFs. A number of other sites like Business Insider, Slate and the Atlantic are still benefiting from Facebook traffic.

But viral publishers like Upworthy, ViralNova, Elite Daily and Distractify saw steep declines in traffic after Facebook’s algorithm change in December. Upworthy’s traffic went from 90 million in November to 67 million in December to 48 million in January (a 25 percent drop in December alone). Similarly, the other viral sites showed peaks in November and declines in December.

Upworthy is still trying to understand how to approach their content. The same week Facebook made its News Feed announcement, Upworthy downplayed its click-bait headlines as secondary to substantive content that’s “drawing massive amounts of attention to topics that really matter, like health care costs, marriage equality and global health.”

Yesterday the site’s cofounder, Peter Koechley, told Business Insider that they’d decided to publish fewer stories that were “just personally uplifting” and not dealing with “income inequality, gender discrimination or racial injustice.”

Apart from a renewed interest in traditional journalism — and unlike other viral publishers — BuzzFeed buys lots of Facebook ads, which could be another reason why its traffic actually increased in January. From Business Insider:

BuzzFeed’s business model is to create advertorials on Buzzfeed.com and then get traffic to these advertorials by buying Facebook ads.

If that’s the reason, then the message Facebook is sending isn’t so much that it wants “high quality” content for its News Feed. It’s that if you are a media company, and you depend on Facebook for your traffic, you better make sure Facebook is benefiting from your existence.

*image credit: Business Insider