Peretti: Human Curation Beats SEO in the Social Web

By Erin Griffith , written on September 19, 2012

From The News Desk

The Huffington Post has taken plenty of flack for the way it games Google with its tricked-out, super search engine optimized pages. "Stories" on the news service like "What Time Does the Super Bowl Start?" come to mind.

Jonah Peretti, a co-founder of Huffington Post and CEO of Buzzfeed, said at PandoMonthly tonight in New York that he doesn't care about SEO anymore. He views it as a broken system that optimizes for robots, not humans. And the reason The Huffington Post did that is that it was built in a time when the social Web wasn't developed enough yet to support better, human-driven methods for distribution.

Twitter and Facebook are the front page for content now -- people don't go to homepages, content comes to them via social networks. "What's exciting to me now is that there are these social platforms like Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and StumbleUpon. That means you can create something for humans, not for robots, and still build something massive," he said.

It's a method that supports journalism, too. If someone writes an original investigative scoop, a human can identify the value in the story and share it. Google cannot, because a scoop is something that hasn't been written before, so its algorithm doesn't see it as credible. Google doesn't think it's a legit thing until 20 people aggregate it, he said.

"Media and content are human businesses, and it's a problem for humans to give so much power to Google, which is a robot," he said. Buzzfeed doesn't care about SEO at all, a philosophy that supports journalism as the company builds itself into a news outlet.

The rise of the social Web is good for top tier journalists and bad for second tier journalists, particularly at local newspapers. "Why would you read the second tier piece when the best one is being spread around the Web?" he asked.

Tech companies don't like to throw humans at a problem because they aren't scalable. A lot of companies in New York--Buzzfeed included--have succeeded precisely because they ignore investor pressure to "do things without reporters" or "have the community create the content." West Coast companies have built out amazing social media infrastructure, which enables companies like Buzzfeed to flourish using humans to create content and spread it across those infrastructures.

Buzzfeed is tech-enabled and takes technology seriously with data science group--but it is still a media and entertainment company first and foremost. With humans driving its content and distribution, It's quickly becoming one of the largest sites on the Internet. And that's making Web 2.0's SEO-driven algorithm approach look outdated.