“We appeal to human beings, not GoogleBots” - Buzzfeed UK editor Luke Lewis on why it favours social over SEO

By Ishbel Macleod | PR and social media consultant

March 25, 2014 | 4 min read

Having launched in the UK just over a year ago Buzzfeed UK is currently racking up over 20 million unique viewers: but the site still has ambitious growth plans. Luke Lewis, editor of Buzzfeed UK, discusses content, social and why politics is an area to be explored.

Buzzfeed is "unique" amongst publishers, in that it doesn’t really focus on SEO, with social taking the main stage, according to Lewis.

“We appeal to human beings, we don’t appeal to GoogleBots.

“It’s one of the things that made me want to work here: we start of thinking ‘how can we cover this subject in a way that will get people sharing it on social media?’,” he told The Drum.

Ahead of his keynote speech on 'The Art and Science of Social Sharing' at Media Trust's spring conference later this week, Lewis said that the primary director of traffic to the Buzzfeed website is Facebook.

“That’s why our headlines tend to be more conversational, a bit more emotive.

“Most journalists want to get all the keywords in the headline and end up getting a stilted robotic effect: we don’t do that,” he added.

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Buzzfeed is perhaps best known for its use of ‘listicles’, with lists, quizzes and picture-based news taking the spotlight.

However, Lewis stressed that this is not all Buzzfeed is involved in, pointing out the appointment of political editor Jim Waterson.

One of the most widely shared Buzzfeed UK stories was a political article by Waterson, showing politicians in wellies in the wake of the flooding in Somerset, according to Lewis.

“It was really entertaining, an image-led article. It wasn’t snarky, and it wasn’t partisan, it was just a really fun list. That proved to us that there is a definite hunger for political content that’s fun and entertaining. We are going to do more than that, but that’s not all we want to do. We want to break stories and get scoops.”

Lewis is not one to back away from big thinking when it comes to Buzzfeed, having contacted the US office before any plans to open in the UK were revealed, because he “assumed it would be part of their thinking. I thought it might be their next step because it was logical".

Using Photoshop, he designed how he thought a UK version of Buzzfeed would look like, and sent it off to the Buzzfeed’s offices. “They seemed to like it!” he said.

Having grown from three members of staff when it launched to an editorial team of 20 – with plans to add another ten before the year is out – Lewis revealed that he was confident about the UK launch, adding that it is growing at a "sensible" rate.

“We’re following the great trajectory that they’ve been on in the US, which is about building up an audience initially through content that is really fun, entertaining and sharable.”

A key skill at Buzzfeed is being "completely immersed" in social media, with writers expected to have a few ideas from social media sites such as Twitter and Tumblr by the time they come in in the morning.

“Buzzfeed articles are about things that are talking points, not just things that are in the news. Quite often, you’ll have a conversation in the pub and come up with lots of ideas just from that. You don’t need a formal brainstorm.”

Lewis believes the only goal writers for Buzzfeed should have is to create content that will be shared.

Luke Lewis, UK editor at Buzzfeed, is speaking at Media Trust's spring conference this Thursday on Content: Create, Connect, Change.


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