It's getting awfully hard to talk about the news business without talking about the Huffington Post. And that's just the way Arianna Huffington likes it.
Twelve months ago, it was just possible to dismiss the impact of the celebrity-infested aggregation-and-blogging site with a supposition: HuffPo readers were mostly interested in political news; therefore, once the hoopla around the election and inauguration of Barack Obama died down, the site's traffic would ebb.It hasn't worked out that way. Quite the opposite, in fact: In November, HuffPo (the site prefers to call itself HuffPost, but everyone else uses the shorter version) attracted 7.9 million unique users, according to ComScore -- a 95 percent increase over the same month a year earlier. That might seem surprising, but it shouldn't be, according to Arianna Huffington, who says the idea of HuffPo as a gathering place for politics junkies is out of date. "Less than a quarter of our current page views are generated by political content," she tells DailyFinance.
Entertainment is the second-most-popular subject area, followed by comedy. This year, HuffPo has been sprouting new "verticals" (as it calls them) left and right. One of the newest, a sports vertical, "has had incredible success within weeks of the launch, partly thanks to Tiger Woods, but not just thanks to him," Huffington says. Next up: A vertical devoted to colleges, which should arrive in February if all goes according to plan.
Besides getting that off the ground, Huffington's goals for 2010 include "bringing more personalization to the site" through such methods as the recently-launched "Social News" initiative; taking the model it employed to provide standout coverage of the Iranian election crisis and applying it to other breaking-news stories; and, perhaps above all, finding new and more effective ways to monetize all the eyeballs it attracts. To that end, the site recently hired former AOL and Yahoo executive Greg Coleman as president and chief revenue officer.
Coleman may have more eyeballs to monetize than anyone previously realized. HuffPo recently received the first batch of data from ComScore's new measurement service, ComScore Direct. Whereas the standard ComScore audience measurement service is panel-based, relying on a relatively small group of volunteers willing to have their Internet usage recorded, ComScore Direct employs "beaconing," which records every time there's a server call on a given Web page. This method is believed to provide a more accurate view of Internet usage that takes place while people are at work, since big companies are reluctant to have their employees serve on panels.
For HuffPo, the difference between the two measurement methods is stark: ComScore Direct pegged the site's unique audience at 17.7 million, versus 7.9 million for the panel-only method. "My belief is the reason the Huffington Post numbers grew so dramatically is because it has very high at-work usage," says Michele Madansky, a media consultant who works with HuffPo. Madansky also believes the disparity shows that HuffPo readers have a high media household in come; affluent Internet users are less likely to take part in panels, which offer cash incentives for participation.
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