Is search engine optimization key to Huffington Post’s success?

This article suggests the Huffington Post’s value (exhibited in its recent sale to AOL) is based more on search engine optimization than on news or citizen journalism:

In addition to writing articles based on trending Google searches, The Huffington Post writes headlines like a popular one this week, “Watch: Christina Aguilera Totally Messes Up National Anthem.” It amasses often-searched phrases at the top of articles, like the 18 at the top of the one about Ms. Aguilera, including “Christina Aguilera National Anthem” and “Christina Aguilera Super Bowl.”

As a result of techniques like these, 35 percent of The Huffington Post’s visits in January came from search engines, compared to 20 percent for CNN.com, according to Hitwise, a Web analysis firm.

Mario Ruiz, a spokesman for The Huffington Post, said search engine optimization played a role on the site but declined to discuss how it was used.

Though traditional print journalists might roll their eyes at picking topics based on Google searches, the articles can actually be useful for readers. The problem, analysts say, is when Web sites publish articles just to get clicks, without offering any real payoff for readers.

This is an ongoing issue with online news providers: simply producing good journalistic content doesn’t get the same number of clicks as celebrity and gossip-laden stories. And as the article suggests, some search engines, such as Google, may fight back by reducing the rank or placement of pages or sites that rely heavily on popular keywords.

But aren’t these sorts of practice inevitable when making money on the Internet is based around page views and clicking on advertisements? The goal has to be simply getting the most viewers rather than providing the best or more complete or most useful content.

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