Upworthy

First, the huge metric. Last month, Upworthy pulled in 87 million unique visitors.

For an 18-month-old media company, that is simply jaw-dropping, even accounting for the much talked about Facebook Surge. It’s almost twice as many uniques as Upworthy’s previous record month, October, in which it netted 47 million.

But this time round, Upworthy is going out of its way to prove that its social sharing prowess does not just come as a result of its infamous headlines. Upworthy has been mocked by some media watchers for its overly-emotive headlines, which include such cringers as “This Kid Just Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular” (pictured above) and “Dustin Hoffman Breaks Down Crying Explaining Something That Every Woman Sadly Already Experienced.”

Its approach to headline writing has also been mimicked, with a crop of copycats such as Distractify, Viral Nova, and FaithIt, recently coming onto the scene and finding similar viral success.

Upworthy now, however, is rejecting the “clickbait” label that some people have lumped it with.

“Upworthy posts don’t go viral because people click,” the company says in a just-published blog post. “Upworthy posts go viral because people share.”

Even though Upworthy writes and tests 25 different headlines for each post – it does not produce its own content but rather repackages videos and graphics from elsewhere on the Web – the company insists the top line is only part of the story.

“By far the most important factor in getting people to share a post is the actual quality of the content in the eyes of the community,” the company says in its blog post.

To ensure it focuses on quality over quantity, Upworthy has a three-point checklist:

1. Is the content substantive, engaging, and maybe even entertaining?

2. If 1 million people saw it, would the world be a better place?

3. Does the content actually deliver on the promise of the headline?

The company notes that it pays full-time curators to select and publish just five to seven items a week. Only the strongest pieces of content make the cut. “What are they doing with all that time?,” Upworthy asks. “Partly, crafting headlines. Mostly? Finding really great stuff people will want to share with everyone they know.”

The numbers show that approach is working for Upworthy in the meantime. Long term, however, the suddenly crowded field of “socially optimized” content might harm Upworthy’s efforts to remain king of the “share” button. That development, one would expect, is why Upworthy feels a need to prove that it’s more than just a headline factory.