The secret weapon behind BuzzFeed popularity

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Latest issue of Wired features an article on How a new breed of media startups is waging a war for your attention covering the strategies that new media companies like Circa News, Gawker, First Look or BuzzFeed use to get your attention and reading time.

I found the BuzzFeed part of the story especially interesting given that BuzzFeed publisher, Dao Nguyen, who has overseen its skyrocketing growth the past few years, claims to follow a technology-oriented approach (instead of a marketing-driven one) to grow their audience:

Nguyen sees BuzzFeed as a technology company as much as a media company, and that means investing in data and software. “When media companies think of growth, they tend to think of it as a marketing function,” Nguyen says. “We talk about growth as a technology function—building tools and products, and making changes in your platform. That’s more lasting than a marketing campaign. Marketing campaigns end after you run out of money.”

And if you continue reading, the story later unveils what’s the main optimization techology they are using at BuzzFeed:

BuzzFeed also has tools like a headline optimizer. It can take a few different headline and thumbnail image configurations and test them in real time as a story goes live, then spit back the one that is most effective.

Sounds familiar right? It turns out, BuzzFeed’s secret weapon to make sure their articles look engaging is split testing headlines. Note that they explicitly mention that the optimizer is not just a simple title test but same as our concept of headline A/B testing where you are can test any combination of title, excerpt and thumbnail at the same time (more on this). It’s not just a different text that can be the key to make your visitors click, it can be a different thumbnail or a better title + thumbnail combination or a more radical title and excerpt variant or ….

Screenshot of Alternative Information of a Headline Experiment
Creating a Headline Experiment

So, you want to be the next BuzzFeed and more than double your visitors (up to 175 million unique visitors in October)? Well I don’t have all the key ingredients to get there but at least one of them is clear: start A/B testing all your WordPress headlines!

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