• Huffington Post. Estimated unique monthly visitors: 110,000,000. According to Wikipedia, The Huffington Post was launched on May 9, 2005 as a commentary outlet, blog, and an alternative to news aggregators such as the Drudge Report. It was founded by Arianna Huffington, Andrew Breitbart, Kenneth Lerer, and Jonah Peretti. Prior to this, Arianna Huffington hosted the website Ariannaonline.com. Her first foray into the Internet was the website Resignation.com, which called for the resignation of President Bill Clinton and was a rallying place for conservatives opposing Clinton.An early Huffington Post strategy was crafting search engine optimized stories and headlines based around trending keywords, such as “What Time Is the Super Bowl?”In August 2006, Huffington Post raised a $5 million Series A round from SoftBank Capital and Greycroft. In December 2008, Huffington Post raised $25 million from Oak Investment Partners at a $100 million valuation and Fred Harman of Oak Investment Partners joined its board of directors. The money was to be used for technology, infrastructure, investigative journalism, and development of local versions. In June 2009, Eric Hippeau, co-managing partner of Softbank Capital, became CEO of HuffPost. In January 2011, the Huffington Post website received 35% of its traffic from web search engines, compared to 20% at CNN. This strategy appealed to AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, who tried to implement similar SEO-driven journalism practices at AOL at the time of its acquisition of Huffington Post. In March 2011, AOL acquired Huffington Post for US$315 million. As part of the deal, Arianna Huffington became president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post and existing AOL properties Engadget, TechCrunch, Moviefone, MapQuest, Black Voices, PopEater (now HuffPost Celebrity), AOL Music, AOL Latino (now HuffPost Voices), AutoBlog, Patch, and StyleList.

Takeaway lessons … Introduced something alternative to what existed, took on controversial topics, amalgamated with others for growth… Also focused on SEO and growth through keywords… It did in fact start as a blog!

  • TMZ. Estimated unique monthly visitors: 30,000,000. According to Wikipedia, TMZ (Thirty Mile Zone) is a tabloid news website that debuted on November 8, 2005. It was a collaboration between AOL and Telepictures Productions, a division of Warner Bros., until Time Warner divested AOL in 2009. The name TMZ stands for thirty-mile zone, the historic “studio zone” within a 30-mile (50 km) radius centered at the intersection of West Beverly Boulevard and North La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. TMZ’s managing editor is Harvey Levin, a lawyer-turned-journalist who was previously a legal expert for the Los Angeles television station KCBS-TV. The site claims that it does not pay for stories or interviews; however, Levin has admitted that TMZ does “sometimes pay sources for leads on stories”. A companion television series, TMZ on TV, debuted on September 10, 2007. Three months prior to the official launch of TMZ, America Online (AOL) had hinted that it was planning to launch a Hollywood and entertainment-centric news site that would be produced in conjunction with Telepictures Productions and had shown interest in launching a website featuring a focus mainly on celebrities. At the time of the launch, AOL confirmed that the site would primarily feature and consist of Hollywood gossip, including interviews, photos and video footage of celebrities and information pertaining to industry news on movies, television shows, etc. The site was described as “an effort to further feed the current American obsession with celebrities”. Mike Shields of MediaWeek.com wrote, “the site also boasts of an expansive collection of archived star photos and videos”, allowing fans to “trace changing hairlines and waistlines of their favorites performers over the years”.

  • Business Insider. Estimated unique monthly visitors: 25,000,000. According to Wikipedia, Business Insider is an American financial and business news website founded in 2009 and owned by the German publishing house Axel Springer. It operates 14 national editions and an international edition. Several national editions are published in local languages. Business Insider was launched in 2007 and is based in New York City. Founded by DoubleClick’s former CEO Kevin P. Ryan, Dwight Merriman, and Henry Blodget, the site began as a consolidation of industry vertical blogs, the first of them being Silicon Alley Insider (began May 16, 2007) and Clusterstock (started March 20, 2008). In addition to providing and analyzing business news, the site aggregates news stories on various subjects from around the web. It reported a profit for the first time ever in the 4th quarter of 2010. In June 2012, it had 5.4 million unique visitors. In 2015 Axel Springer SE acquired 88% of the stake in Business Insider Inc. for $343 million (€306 million).

  • Mashable. According to Wikipedia, Mashable is a global entertainment, culture, tech, science and social good digital media platform, news website and company founded by Pete Cashmore in 2005. Mashable was founded by Pete Cashmore while living in Aberdeen, Scotland, in July 2005. Early iterations of the site were a simple WordPress blog, with Cashmore as sole author. Fame came relatively quickly, with Time magazine noting Mashable as one of the 25 best blogs of 2009. As of November 2015, it had over 6,000,000 Twitter followers and over 3,200,000 fans on Facebook. In June 2016, it acquired YouTube channel CineFix from Whalerock Industries. In December 2017, Ziff Davis bought Mashable for $50 million, a price described by Recode as a “fire sale” price. Mashable had not been meeting its advertising targets, accumulating $4.2 million in losses in the quarter ending September 2017. After the sale, Mashable laid off 50 staffers, but preserved top management.

What are the lessons we can take away from the above? Let us know in the comments below. But as we study these companies more, which started as affiliate marketing blogs, we can surmise that you too can start your blog today and it can grow. It is infinitely more challenging today to get to these dizzying heights but it is quite possible. Remember to tell us what lessons we can take away from the above.