Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

As Traffic Booms, Is HuffPo Ready to Make Some Real Dough?

For the past few months, the Huffington Post has been on a bit of a tear–both in terms of traffic gains and in its hiring of some big talent for key positions.

Now, those execs are focusing on using that consumer momentum to achieve what has eluded the Huffington Post thus far: Making some serious bank from the privately held news and media site.

How to help marketers to better understand the site and, therefore, spur this significant monetization will be his main focus at the Huffington Post, said Greg Coleman to BoomTown in an interview over the weekend.

Coleman–a former Yahoo (YHOO) advertising exec, as well as one for Time Warner (TWX) online unit AOL–was named president and chief revenue officer a month ago by Huffington Post’s new CEO, Eric Hippeau.

Hippeau, who was himself just appointed in June, is another well-known online media exec and has been a big investor and board member of the Huffington Post. (You can read a thorough interview by Staci Kramer with Hippeau on paidContent.)

“It’s important for advertisers to know how big we have gotten, while also highlighting this amazing audience of influencers we have gathered,” said Coleman, in his first media chitchat since taking on the job. “I think it is the beginning of a tipping point.”

Well, of course, Coleman would say that, as the guy looking to drum up interest among marketers in spending their money on the Huffington Post.

But stats seem to indicate that consumers are increasingly liking what the Huffington Post is creating, because it is starting to surpass some well-known media icons on the Web in traffic.

While more of this increase is going to be due to a socialization of the news–the Huffington Post has an aggressive deployment of Facebook Connect called HuffPost Social News–the growth is more about building a brand people trust and seek out.

According to recent reports from both comScore (SCOR) and Nielsen Online, for example, the site just became larger than several online brands of big media companies, such as the Washington Post (WPO), in terms of unique monthly visitors.

In its September report, Nielsen clocked the Huffington Post at 9.47 million uniques, up 26 percent, while the Post site was at 9.2 million–a drop of 30 percent.

According to the Nielsen, the Huffington Post is within spitting distance of USA Today’s Web site (9.9 million), a Gannett (GCI) property.

And, it is bigger than Hearst Newspapers Digital (7.9 million) and the BBC (7.2 million).

For September, comScore has the Huffington Post (at 6.83 million) besting the Post (6.77 million)–as well as WSJ.com (6.7 million), a unit of Dow Jones, which is owned by News Corp. (NWS).

(The Wall Street Journal site, to be fair, makes a chunk of its revenue from subscription fees, rather than relying solely on advertising from traffic like the Huffington Post. And full disclosure: Dow Jones owns this site.)

In any case, big traffic is key for most news sites, and internal numbers from Google (GOOG) Analytics that Huffington Post execs cite are higher, as is typical for most sites, pegging traffic at about 27 million monthly uniques with more than two million reader comments per month.

Huffington Post co-founder and blogging icon Arianna Huffington attributes the recent boost in traffic to the site’s proclivity to “start conversations” that interest readers, such as her recent suggestion that Vice President Joe Biden should resign.

“We are aiming to go beyond just facts, to create a narrative,” said Huffington, who thinks the speed of news helps attract visitors to the site. “We think bringing journalism to a new level is exactly what people are looking for.”

Perhaps. But, even if traffic increases continue to bear her theories out, she and others have said that the Huffington Post still has not been regularly profitable despite doubling annual revenue–mostly in advertising–to what some estimate to be about $8 million in 2009.

While the site is aiming to invest rather than focus too hard on showing profits, Coleman said he would like to make revenue seven times larger in the next years, building on the performance of the site to vaunt past old media giants online.

“This kind of thing is a milestone for the marketing community,” he said. “Our goal is to be the top Internet newspaper, and this points out that we are on our way.”

To do that, he will have to spend some of the $37 million in funding that the Huffington Post has raised from venture investors.

While the edit side is using the money to expand the number of news categories, Coleman said his focus will be on building a higher caliber team of sales and marketing execs with deeper relationships to big clients.

“Unlike selling an auto page on Yahoo (YHOO), our site has a more complex sales process that takes some time for people to understand,” said Coleman. “But once they get it, it should be an easier sale.”

Until then, check out the video of the entire interview I did at the seventh D: All Things Digital conference with Huffington and Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth in which they talk about the future of journalism and more:

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