The Huffington Post has started a flame war with The New York Times claiming higher online users, but the integration with AOL has a lot to do with that and appears as if many parts of AOL are being rebranded under the Huffington Post. The increase at HuffPo has been largely at the expense of AOL and not some sudden increase in popularity or search engine rank dominance.
It is clear that HuffPo has benefited from redirects from AOLNews.com following their acquisition in February and AOL websites with their own domain names are being converted into directories on HuffPo.
The metered pay wall NYTimes introduced in March, which limits readers to viewing a maximum of 20 articles online for free each month, has lower numbers. The number of unique visitors to the site has since dropped 11.7 percent.
"The May numbers reflect a boost seen by a number of news sites. But passing The Times is a different kind of milestone for the battle between Arianna Huffington's five year site and the Gray Lady. While our source could not confirm the numbers, a report from Twitter claims that HuffPost bested The Times with 35.5 million unique visitors to The Times's 33.59 million unique visitors on comScore. While other traffic sites reported HuffPost passing The Times earlier this year, comScore is the advertising industry standard," the Atlantic Wire reported.
The way AOL is being used to boost HuffPo numbers is easy to see. AOLNews redirects directly, but more interesting is the numerous links on the AOL homepage that go to HuffPo - see the pic below.
AOL has shown an accute awareness of SEO tactics and the anchor text of news items helps raise the HuffPo rankings both in the Google News listings, as well as regular search. Yesterday, on Father's Day, they were looking at ways to get more pageviews - the full above the fold image and headline is conducive to getting that second click and if you had typed in AOLNews.com you would be giving them a hit before reloading and making another pageview for the second site.
If you look at the Alexa numbers for AOL, NYT and HuffPo below, you can see that while the Huffington Post has increased their numbers the falling AOL ones more than offset the overall company numbers. Meanwhile, the New York Times has slowly been increasing despite the paywall problems they have made for themselves.
AOL has had a method of writing that helps search engine rankings and the company's video ranks number two below YouTube. Their Demand/ROI technology, discussed earlier this year, provides topics that will generate pageviews and search rankings. A recently released slide about this gives more insight.
Between the two, the mechanics of search engines are well known - AOL uses Google results and has engineers that no doubt have the ability to monitor them closer than the average site partner, while HuffPo has been heavily testing anchor text use to improve search rankings and gain more pageviews with anecdotal and teaser headlines. Their coverage of the Charlie Sheen story could almost be called carpet bombing with the endless variations of articles on the celebrity.
The battle between these two companies should be an alert to advertisers and how the numbers are counted. There are ads on the buffer pages either when finding a page in search that gives a synopsis and a read more link or on the counts that redirects can muddy.
Arianna needs to concentrate on her properties and forget competing with other publications and be realistic about her combined numbers. She works for AOL and the shell game to promote HuffPo only hurts your new parent corporation.
"As former HuffPo chief revenue officer Greg Coleman told Forbes of the AOL deal, 'she wanted three things: a big bag of gold, a big fat contract, which she deserved, and ... unilateral decision making over her world. And that is where you're going to have some problems... Arianna's a world-class politician, a world-class media maven and a genius at p.r., but she's not an experienced manager,'" Gawker reported.
“The Huffington Post acquisition was one of the smartest deals we made, and it’s gotten a lot of attention, a lot of press,” Armstrong said during the AOL analyst day last week. “If you have negative opinions on that acquisition, you don’t understand it.”
The Huffington Post will be concentrating on creating content for numerous countries, with 12 planned to be added this year, including France, Germany and England getting their own versions like HuffPo Canada. Guess AOL does limit itself given it is America Online - and to the Huffington Post it means All Our Links.
Some HuffPo board members thought an IPO could have raised more money, but would not have given the opportunity AOL offers Huffington personally.
I won't get in to the treatment of the free freelancers, but will be watching the lawsuit. The backlash on that one could lose HuffPo its trendy writers and audience that helped launch the site.