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Business Insider Grows the Way of the Huffington Post

The two sites have plenty in common — from heavy aggregation to sensational headlines to fast-driving growth

Founded as a site focused on digital news in New York, Business Insider has the kind of growth and buzz that invite comparisons to the new media darling Huffington Post.

But that’s not necessarily all positive.

Business Insider's rising traffic and expanding verticals are the sunny side of the comparison. And the site recently raised $7 million.

But with a reputation for overly sensational headlines, a more-is-better aggregation policy, the less savory similarities between the sites start to pile up as well.

Business Insider has grown to an audience of 5.6 million uniques a month, according to Comscore (which doesn't include foreign readers). Quantcast shows almost 6 million unique readers per month in the United States, and 9 million globally. The site claims its internal numbers are even higher.

Also read: Business Insider Nabs $7M in Funding

While those numbers still pale in comparison to the 30-plus million uniques the Huffington Post lures monthly, it’s impressive considering the 1.7 million the site drew in January of 2010.

“He’s going after the business voice in a broad sense like Huffington Post did when we first launched it for general news,” Ken Lerer, manager of Lerer Ventures, said of Henry Blodget, Insider’s co-founder and editor-in-chief and once one of the hottest analysts on Wall Street. 

Lerer — an early investor in Insider and friend of Blodget– would know a thing or two about the HuffPost. He was CEO Arianna Huffington’s co-founder.

Lerer apparently has an affinity for divisive editorial directors: Huffington continues to grow her ardent fan base, but has always been a magnet for criticism given her political rebirths and canny self-promotion. Meanwhile, the SEC went so far as to expel Blodget, a  powerful analyst, from the securities industry for civil securities fraud. Needless to say, he remains somewhat controversial in the business community.

Business Insider has grown by going broad — leaving its tech and digital focus behind, targeting readers from all sectors of the professional world, and adding a series of verticals, from “Tech,” “Wall Street” and “Markets” to topics like “Lifestyle,” “Sports,” “Entertainment” and “Politics.”

Also read: Arianna Huffington: 'Go Ahead, Go On Strike — No One Will Notice'

Go to its home page and you will see a story on Goldman Sachs or the Groupon IPO, but you will also see prominently displayed pieces on the 2012 election or the NFL.

"Our target audience is anyone interested in business, the goings on of business, executives, anything that executives might be interested in,” Blodget told TheWrap. “The goal is to cover business and economics and focus on several different industries.”

Business Insider has also emphasized content other than standard articles — slideshows, videos, polls – that are easier to digest but also obvious traffic bait.

In fact, Blodget likes slide shows so much that he breaks news stories into slide-show-sized capsules. Readers who aren’t fans of the format can choose to “view on a single page.”

Blodget said thee years ago slideshows would “just get dissed instantly” because critics thought it was merely for page views. Now he sees more people coming around to his argument — they are more efficient purveyors of information.

So what’s his business model?

Insider claimed in March to have been "profitable" by $2,127 for fiscal year 2010, and announced a $7 million investment round in September led by Institutional Ventures Partners and RRE Ventures.

Blodget declined to disclose his operating costs but said the capital would be used to grow the company over the next several months. With 60 full-time employees — and revenue at $4.8 million last year — Blodget may need new sources of revenue, but he says his core business will remain advertising.

Also read: Arianna Huffington at TheGrill: Growth Not Waylaid by AOL Troubles

On Monday, 24/7 Wall Street, a Delaware-based financial news and opinion web site, listed Business Insider as the sixth most valuable news blog in America, valuing it at $45 million.

Like Huff Post, Business Insider has drawn the ire of many jounalists for its propensity to aggregate over-aggressively.

"One would hope readers and advertisers would eventually catch on to the kind of lazy lifting that would earn middle school students an F," wrote Reuters’ Ryan McCarthy in September. "But that hasn’t happened yet.”

“They are not good at clearly delineating who is really writing for them, and whose material is simply being scraped and grabbed from other sites,” Cynthia Rodgers, a long-time business reporter who now teaches at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, told TheWrap.

Perhaps that's because Blodget may not care.

“Every time there’s innovation in a field, some people say, ‘Hey, this is not the way we did it, so it must be bad,’” Blodget said. “At HuffPost, for example, they went through a phase where everyone was complaining constantly about how HuffPost was a ‘parasite’ because they linked out for their content. Then everyone realized, ‘Hey wait, HuffPost can send us a lot of traffic, so maybe we want them to link to us.’ And then the view of this linking changed."

While Blodget may be satisfied with his aggregation standards, Rodgers actually thinks it detracts from some of the site’s better reporting.

“I think they just need to be a lot more transparent,” she told TheWrap. “Their homepage is very confusing. It looks like an aggregation site — and that’s a mistake because some of that is really original content.”

Business Insider is also known for sensationalized headlines, like:  “The Most Important Economic Datapoint in the World is Coming Out Tomorrow.”

“What I wanted to do from the beginning was put fun back into business,” said Blodget. “I am the first to confess I love to read the New York Post. I like to read the Economist, too. So, hopefully, at our best, we combine elements of both.”

Thanks to its new infusion of cash, Blodget will be looking to add more staff, expand coverage into new fields and, eventually, add a premium service as well.

But his biggest challenge may not be managing the site’s critics, but managing the site itself.

“It’s always a question of, ‘Is one brand better than seven, or are seven brands better than one? How do they work together,’” Lerer said. “He’s going to have to come to grips with it and come down on one side of the fence or the other.

Blodget seems convinced he can do both. “One of the things you can do online that you can’t do in the physical world is be both broad and deep,” he said.

Funny, that's just what Arianna Huffington said when she announced the launch of two new verticals – HuffPost Celebrity and HuffPost Culture – over the summer.