The New York Times yesterday ran an article entitled How Drudge Has Stayed on Top. If you can't read it because it's behind NYT's new and silly paywall, don't worry. I'll tell you all about it.
In breathless terms, The Times discusses how amazing it is that The Drudge Report has remained at the top of the media food chain (and, incidentally, is bigger online than the Times itself).
The Times cites (but, tellingly, does not link to) a Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism report stating that Drudge drives double the traffic as all of Facebook to the top news sites in the country.
This doesn't surprise me. I check Drudge before my first cup of coffee in the morning (or what, for me, passes as morning). I check The Drudge Report last, before I get ready for bed. I probably check it at least once an hour during the day.
I am not alone. 15 percent of all the traffic going to the Washington Post arrives there via Drudge. I can't tell you how many times I've talked to officials in DC and the discussion turns to what they read on Drudge. Not only is the site an information site, it's rapidly become the first-responder information site, far more so than, say, the cable news providers.
Many people claim the Drudge Report has conservative lean, but I would tend to somewhat disagree (although Drudge protege, Andrew Breitbart, is almost insanely conservative). My impression of the Drudge Report is that his editorial slant is for the juicy headline. He seems to have revolutionized media with is personal interpretation of that old saw, "if it bleeds, it leads".
So what makes The Drudge Report so overwhelmingly successful? And what lessons can other media take from those characteristics? What follows are five lessons Matt Drudge can teach the rest of us.
1. Make it blazingly fast
Although there have been a rare few times when the site took a little while to load, The Drudge Report is almost always a rocket-fast load. You're never making a time investment to check Drudge, so many news junkies like me feel confident that a single quick click will result in instant chewy, newsy goodness.
2. Make it instantly digestible
While we're on the topic of instant, it's possible to see what's happening the world over, in a single glance. That's why I find the site so valuable. At any time of the day (less so on weekends, sadly), I can feed my jones for "what's going on in the world" with a quick Drudge fix.
Of course, that doesn't mean I'm done quickly. While I can absorb all the headlines instantly, I can often get sucked in for an hour or more (especially during my morning reading), when I use The Drudge Report as a jumping off point for fascinating article after fascinating article.
3. Make it timelessly trustworthy
Did you ever go out to a restaurant that claims to be open until 9pm, but closed at 8:15 because it was a slow night? Didn't that almost immediately erode your trust in the restaurant? I'll bet it did. And I'll bet you thought twice before going back on another evening. The restaurant had lost your trust.
Web sites lose readers' trust as well. Every time a site redesigns, puts up a wall, adds a registration layer, moves things around, and otherwise gets in the way of the expected user experience, readers leave. Many sites never had a perfect formula to begin with, so they keep tinkering, hoping to find what works.
Somehow, Matt Drudge stumbled on the perfect formula early on. He has no registration feature. He doesn't try to trap readers on his page. He doesn't do regular redesigns and move things around.
Plus, he provides one other excellent, and completely predictable service. When there's something HUGE breaking, he puts an ugly flashing light graphic at the top of his page.
To me, that means I can take a quick glance and trust that if something's really, REALLY important, there would be a flashing light graphic and I'll know to pay more attention. If there's something important, but less world-shattering, he'll make the headline red. He always has, and we trust that he always will.
Because he hasn't changed that format for years and years, I (and all the rest of us) have learned to trust that Matt will tell us when we really need to pay attention.
4. Make it always informative
There is always something interesting on The Drudge Report. Always. No matter when you check the page, there's something to read. Some days, Drudge keeps his headlines on the important topics of the day. But on slow news days, Drudge knows we need our fix, so he'll dig up a bunch of interesting, but less major news items. No matter what, there's something there to read.
That leads me to the fifth lesson Matt Drudge can teach the rest of us...
5. Make it completely irresistible
Much noise has been made of Drudge's hyperbolic headlines, but you gotta give the guy this: they're often completely irresistible. Who can resist clicking "NYT: IMF Head Arrested in New York, Accused of Sexual Attack... Developing..." or "HUCKATEASE: WILL HE OR WON'T HE?" or even "DISNEY settles suit after woman claimed she was fondled by Donald Duck..."?
My point is that while you could accuse Drudge of editorializing in headlines like "FAIL 'N' BAIL: US Middle East peace envoy to resign...", the fact is they are like catnip to us news hounds.
Add up those five elements, instant access, quick to digest, trustworthy, informative, and juicy, and you've got the formula for a site that came from nowhere and now sends everyone everywhere -- and we love it.