Monday, December 23, 2013

How a Viral Headline Raised $300,000 for Cancer Research

Doctors gave Zach Sobiech bad news just after his 17th birthday: bone cancer would take his life within one year. Undaunted, the teenager recorded a song about struggling with the sickness.

The website, Soul Pancake, picked up the video and featured Sobiech in an online documentary, “My Last Days: Meet Zach Sobiech.” The biopic appeared on the websites of Fox News and People, and soon garnered tens of thousands of views.

Then the editors at Upworthy saw the spot. After testing 79 options, they repackaged it under the headline, “This Kid Just Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular.”

The results were remarkable:

  • The video was viewed almost 12 million times
  • Sobiech’s song, “Clouds,” skyrocketed to the top listing in iTunes
  • Upworthy raised more than $300,000 for cancer research

Upworthy co-founder Peter Koechley frames the story this way: “Had [we] not optimized that headline, that post would have gotten maybe 1 million views—not 15 million.”

Upworthy Goes Viral by Optimizing Optimism

Related: How a Viral Headline Spurred a Police Investigation