Think SEO doesn’t pay? Think again. The Huffington Post, a news and political opinion site not even six years old, was recently purchased by AOL for $315 million. And that big payday has been attributed mostly to the Post’s success in search engine optimization.

“The Huffington Post’s skill at using these tactics [SEO] to increase readership and revenue was one of the ways it made itself worth $315 million to AOL, which acquired it this week,” reports the New York Times, which goes on to note “35 percent of The Huffington Post’s visits in January came from search engines, compared to 20 percent for”

The Times article explores the potential problems with sites like the Huffingston Post, often criticized of over-using SEO. Does the site success at modern journalism, or is it just churning out low-quality articles to get search traffic? And how much does it matter, if money’s being made?

Good SEO vs Bad SEO
“You’re not really crossing the line if you’re creating content for the sake of disseminating information, like HuffPo,” Vivek Wadhwa, visiting scholar at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, told the Times. “The problem is these other players producing content based on what people click on.”

For example, perhaps, take Demand Media, a company often derided as a “content farm”, and that raised $151 million in a public offering last month. But last month also saw chief Google engineer Matt Cutts state he was working on changing Google to de-emphasize that kind of content.

“One piece of advice I give to S.E.O. masters is, don’t chase after Google’s algorithm, chase after your best interpretation of what users want, because that’s what Google’s chasing after,” said Cutts.

The Ultimate Goal
“The ultimate prize for most Web publishers is loyal readers who go directly to their site, without passing through a search engine,” the article continues. “They are more likely to visit on a regular basis and stick around.”

“Search is, in my mind, yesterday’s story,” Forbes Chief Product Officer Lewis Dvorkin said in the article. “You’re finding that today’s audience is much more interested in the filter of their colleagues and friends who they trust than an algorithm produced by someone else.”

The Huffington Post founders may disupte that claim. The question is, will their success prove to be a model, or an exception?

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