Frédéric Filloux has written a great analysis of the Huffington Post’s SEO techniques, and is uncompromising about the implications:
When I discuss this with seasoned newsroom people on both sides of the Atlantic, most still firmly believe the quality of their work guarantees their survival against a techno-centric approach to digital contents.
I’m afraid they are wrong. Lethally so.
Frédéric goes into some detail about the way sites like the HuffPo find original journalism and re-wrap it with catchy headlines, quick links, some fine-tuned social engagement tools and a bunch of content straight from the article itself. In particular, he notes that a particular article on the New York Daily News received 2 comments, 1 tweet and 1 Facebook share, while the corresponding Huffington Post version managed 4601 comments, 79 tweets and 155 Facebook shares. And presumably, a whole bunch more advertising revenue.
In other words, because traditional media is failing to adopt new media techniques, sites like the HuffPo are eating its lunch.
The essence of what we’re seeing here is a transfer of value. Original stories are getting very little traffic due to the poor marketing tactics of old-fashion publishers. But once they are swallowed by the HuffPo’s clever traffic-generation machine, the same journalistic item will make tens or hundred times better traffic-wise. Who is right? Who can look to the better future in the digital world? Is it the virtuous author carving language-smart headlines or the aggregator generating eye-gobbling phrases thanks to high tech tools? Your guess. Maybe it’s time to wake-up.
Maybe – but the traditional media orgs that manage to turn this around and adapt to the 21st century (think: the Guardian) will win the day. Original content and the smarts to market it? Now we’re talking.