September 15th, 2008

Drudge Report: News Site That Sends Readers Away With Links Has Highest Engagement

by

There are two main reasons why news sites are reluctant to send readers away by linking to third-party content. First, you shouldn’t send people away or else they won’t come back to your site. Second, a page with links that sends people away has low engagement, which doesn’t serve advertisers well.

But if you actually look at the data, both of these assumptions are completely wrong.

Here’s a list of the top 30 news sites for May 2008, ranked by sessions per person (source: Nielsen Online):

And here’s a list of top news sites for June 2008, ranked by time per person (source: Nielsen Online):

What do you notice about the top site on both lists?

First, the top site has twice as many sessions per person. Second, the top site has nearly twice as much time spent per person. So users of this site find it indispensible, and they are highly engaged.

But the most important difference between the top site and all the other sites, is that this top site — Drudge — has nothing but LINKS.

That’s right folks. Drudge beats every original content news site by a two to one margin.

Drudge is also one of the largest news sites that isn’t built on an offline brand or a communications portal.

Still thinks sending people away with links is not a good strategy online?

Ask Google. They do pretty well.

Oh, and here’s a dirty little secret of sites like NYTimes.com — you would think their high quality, in-depth content would yield engagement numbers that could beat Drudge. But these metrics are averages of all site visitors, and the averages of the original content sites are being dragged down because many of the unique visitors come from sites like… Drudge and Google — and those visitors are not devoted users.

Drudge, on the other hand, is probably close to 100% devoted users.

What kind of users do you want your site to have?

And here’s another dirty little secret — Drudge is one of (if not the) largest referrer of traffic to most of the newspapers on these lists.

But all of these sites are content (pun intended) just to chase traffic from Drudge.

Here’s one last bit of data — from Drudge’s media kit:

Page view statistics
500 million page views monthly
1.95 billion ad impressions monthly
12 million unique visitors monthly
1.75 million daily unique visitors (weekday)
1 million daily unique visitors (weekend day)

Assuming 60% sell-through at $4 CPM… that’s $56 million annual revenue.

One guy. Linking.

Why was it again that your news site doesn’t link out?

UPDATE

Some commenters are taking issue with the data:

Drudge’s session numbers are worthless. Unlike every site on the list, Drudge has an artificially high auto-refresh rate of something under 3 minutes, I think it might even be as low as 2 minutes. The conclusions are fairly obvious– every person who leaves Drudge’s page open in a new tab, or leaves their desk for lunch created dozens or even hundreds of “new” sessions.

I find it ironic that most of these commenters came here from Techmeme, a site that has nothing but links and that auto-refreshes. Techmeme, like Drudge, is INDISPENSIBLE for its users, something any news site should want to claim. And Techmeme has found the key to unlokcing value for advertisiers (hint: it’s not display ads) — sponsorships in the form of content links, just like Techeme’s editorial content.

And really, what news site wouldn’t want to be open in a reader’s browser being refreshed all day, instead of hoping for drive-by referrals from aggregators?

Comments (80 Responses so far)

  1. too bad there can only be one Drudge.

    Or put another way, people only want one aggregator in any given category. So, there is only room for one dominant search engine (Google), one dominant technology leaderboard (Techmeme), or one dominant political link blog (Drudge).

  2. Hashim,

    Hmmm… are you advocating a mass media theory off the web, i.e. winner take all?

    Has any original content site ever tried also to be an aggregator?

    The wonderful thing about the web is that it’s always disrupting the status quo.

    And you don’t have to be the dominant aggregator to realize the economic value of content distribution.

  3. I’ve been writing about this ever since I started blogging.

    Here’s how I put it in 2005:

    “People come back to places that send them away.”

    http://bit.ly/26HqVh

    Lots of examples. Search engines. My.Yahoo.Com. RSS aggregators of all flavors. Blogs.

  4. [...] Drudge Report: News Site That Sends Readers Away With Links Has Highest Engagement :: Publishing 2.0 – I remember having long discussions with a good friend over this whole thing – he was a big believer in that links should open to new browser windows – I was never to sure about it. [...]

  5. Sorry to burst your bubble, but Drudge’s session numbers are worthless. Unlike every site on the list, Drudge has an artificially high auto-refresh rate of something under 3 minutes, I think it might even be as low as 2 minutes. The conclusions are fairly obvious– every person who leaves Drudge’s page open in a new tab, or leaves their desk for lunch created dozens or even hundreds of “new” sessions.

    I take your point about Drudge’s site being a place people come back to, but when you don’t mention the refresh rate in your post, it loses its credibility.

  6. [...] Karp over at Publishing 2.0 recently commented on The Drudge Report’s relationship between linking to other sites and the [...]

  7. I am very keen on this idea and it’s one of the driving factors which led me to experimenting with a few news aggregator sites in different verticals (tech/gadget news, video game news, and ruby news).

    I think it’s a fine example of how people actually use the internet, ot at least want to use, the net. They want their information quick and easy. All you need is a decent headline to know if something’s pique’s your interest and the Drudge Report is a shining example of that.

    Can there only be one Drudge? Maybe. But I also think there’s room for Drudge-type sites on smaller, more target scales. Hooray for news!

  8. [...] News Site That Sends Readers Away With Links Has Highest Engagement: Drudge beats every original content news site by a two to one margin. Drudge is also one of the largest news sites that isn’t built on an offline brand or a communications portal. Still thinks sending people away with links is not a good strategy online? [...]

  9. Actually, a lot of people never “leave” the site. It’s all about the power of “right-click | Open in new window (or tab)”.

    I “go” under my own control, but keep the news site open to explore more links later.

    P.S. I hate the Flash content that has links, where I can’t use that right-click!

  10. [...] 1,75 unike lesere hver dag. Bloggen er en oppdatert lenkesamling til nyheter på andre nettsteder. Scott Karp på Publishing 2.0 har regnet det om i annonsekroner: Assuming 60% sell-through at $4 CPM… that’s $56 million [...]

  11. [...] as Scott Karp over at Publishing 2.0 points out, it makes complete sense: good linking improves engagement and ups your [...]

  12. Hashim is right in that “people only want one aggregator in any given category,” however every media outlet has an opportunity to define its own category whether it is the localized version of those cited, unique niches or to simply do it better that the current number one (Remember Slashdot was overtaken by Digg, Yahoo by Google).

  13. [...] Proof that news sites with external links are more engaging than those without. [...]

  14. [...] COMO É que se agarram os leitores? Fazendo links para o exterior do nosso site… [...]

  15. Interesting…can you put up these number as XLS. That way we could look if there is or isnt really a connection in statistical terms.

  16. Echoing what Erich said: The auto-refresh rate (about once every three minutes, I believe) throws a wrench into comparisons with other sites that don’t auto-refresh. Some advertisers and outsiders may be impressed by Drudge’s high pv/visit numbers, but those are inflated by people who keep their Drudge window open while visiting links in other tabs.

    Ian Lamont
    The Industry Standard

  17. Erich/Ian,

    What news site wouldn’t want to be open in a reader’s browser being refreshed all day?

    Imagine if Drudge actually commented on the links, and let readers comment — you know, like Digg.

    On the other hand, maybe it renders invalid the assumption that time spent, etc. is any meaningful measure of “engagement”

    However you slice it, Drudge is INDISPENSABLE to its users — something every news site should want to claim

  18. And, you know, I find it deeply ironic that most of the people trying to invalidate the claim of this post came here from Techmeme — a site that has nothing but links and auto-refreshes, which people check obsessively all day long. I believe Gabe is doing quite well with sponsorships.

  19. Thank you for finding and sharing the numbers to support this basic, but very important, concept.

    The newsPAPER industry has retained the ad-based revenue model from its print business. Journalists are aware of page view goals needed to support that model. It is afraid to lose ground in the one metric most clearly tied to revenue.

    Although some in the industry are aware of other ways to measure engagement, it is very difficult to convince them of the high value of becoming a place where people (repeatedly) visit only to walk away.

  20. Scott,

    No matter what Nielsen Online says, DailyKos is NOT a news site!

    How did it make the list of new sites? My guess is they wanted something left-wing to top Fox News.

  21. I don’t think publishers are reluctant to link out anymore. They haven’t embraced it fully yet, but I don’t find publishers doubt the wisdom.

    @Scott, to your question “Has any original content site ever tried also to be an aggregator?”

    There are a bunch who are starting to, not yet at Google News scale but with small steps in narrow verticals: http://corp.daylife.com/partners.php – and not only that, they even brand their links: http://upendra.shardanand.com/2008/09/07/branding-your-rivals/

    As far as becoming aggregators at scale.. stay tuned.

  22. It’s an interesting point to make. What’s the next link farm on the list? Maybe temper the – Drudge has been around since the beginning of the internet and has built a loyal following – argument by averaging one or two other linkers to make the case.

    If a smallish news pub with little brand (hell, even a big pub with some brand) came to you an asked, would you suggest blowing up editorial completely and just push a link farm?

  23. [...] Drudge Report: News Site That Sends Readers Away With Links Has Highest Engagement http://publishing2.com/2008/09/15/drudge-report-news-site-that-sends-readers-away-with-links-has-hig… « el?z? | következ? » Molnár, Emil — 2008. 09. 16. [...]

  24. Good post, but your express your opinion in such a abosulte manner, it devalues your credibility of the story.

    I also agree with the commenter on drudge report is left running in the backgroud, but still a good post and a great observation to share.

    Something to definately keep in mind as far as business models go. Thanks again.

  25. [...] Drudge Report: News Site That Sends Readers Away With Links Has Highest Engagement [...]

  26. This is cool and all, but who will Drudge Report link to if there is no longer any original content from credible sources? You’re comparing apples to oranges, in a sense.

  27. Steve,

    You’re suggesting a false choice. Why can’t news sites be a destination for original content AND links?

  28. [...] properitært forsøger at få gæsterne til at blive ved at smække døren foran dem. Beviset er denne historie (på en anden [...]

  29. @Scott: “Why can’t news sites be a destination for original content AND links?”

    Because they perform two essentially different functions. One is a destination, one is a starting point. You’re simply not going to get the same behaviour.

    People go to a story page on some news content site after having found the link on some aggregator or portal. They do not hang around on the news site’s front page, refreshing the page and hoping for new links.

    And while outbound links on the story page may well be useful, they’re not going to hang out on that page hoping for new links on the story either. That’s a job for aggregators.

    Drudge is an aggregator. It links out to original content on news sites. I agree with Steve, you’re comparing apples to oranges. News sites will not achieve the same levels of engagement, as measured by time-on-site and sessions-per-person, as a result of linking out. People just don’t use those sites the same way.

    There are still valid reasons why news sites should link out, of course. But this isn’t one of them.

  30. [...] Karp writes a fascinating post on how Drudge Report (a site that links out a lot) has a higher reader engagement level than other [...]

  31. I’m not disputing your central premise, nor did I come here from Techmeme (you’re in my RSS reader). I just wanted to point out that the specific “sessions per user” data is invalid because of Drudge’s auto-refresh.

    I am a long time admirer of Drudge and consider his site to be one of my all-time favorites. But his session trick, and it’s hard to really characterize it as anything else, even though if you ask him he says it’s because the site updates so frequently that he wants to make sure people have a recent version, means that that specific metric is skewed.

    A site which is very similar in approach if not layout is RealClearPolitics.com. It updates less frequently and isn’t seen as “the place”, but the emphasis on links is the same. Note the disparity in sessions.

  32. I always enjoy reading the Drudge report.

  33. Tim,

    But why can’t an original content news site ALSO be an aggregator? Why can’t they put a link feature on their front page that people will want to refresh.

    Or perhaps the better question is how can news sites afford NOT to get into the aggregation business, since that’s where all the economic value is on the web?

    Newspapers were aggregators in print — that was the business model. Online, they think they are in the content business, which is why they only get 10 cents on the dollar in online revenue. They need to get into the aggregation business again.

  34. [...] drudge report: news site that sends readers away with links has highest engagement – publishing 2.0 (tags: news www drudge statistics publishing strategy newspapers links media via:mento.info) [...]

  35. Drudge is Walmart (retail/distributor).
    News Sites are the Nestles and 3Ms (manufacturers).

    So no, you can’t compare Drudge to News Sites. Drudge is in a completely different business.

    And news sites can’t just suddenly go into the aggregator business. Wouldn’t it be weird if Nestle suddenly opened a store and sold Post-It notes and other competitors’ products? And manufacturers can’t all open stand alone stores cuz no one has time to visit them all (same as news sites).

    Stores in malls are the same way. The mall is the aggregator and the stores are the news sites. Separate businesses.

    In essence, people spend more time in the mall than in any particular store.

    Tycoon Dreamer
    http://tycoondreams.com

  36. [...] post on Drudge beating all other news sites on engagement was an aha for many, which is interesting because the lesson of Drudge has been around for a [...]

  37. [...] An interesting post on Scott Karp’s Publishing 2.0 site explores the power of linking in an important way. Basically, Scott finds that the Drudge Report, which is full of links, does better on many metrics than more traditional news sites. His conclusion is that by sending people away, a site guarantees that they will come back. [...]

  38. [...] – he’s a bit of an evangelist on the benefits of linking. And he has a new blog post up on the top news sites (by sessions and time per person) – at the top of both lists is drudgereport.com, a news aggregator that exists solely by linking [...]

  39. [...] conversation started this week by Scott Karp and carried forward by Terry Heaton has me thinking about why news organizations are so skittish [...]

  40. [...] got something decent to say. Most of his entries deserve a star in anyone’s Google Reader. Drudge Report: News Site That Sends Readers Away With Links Has Highest Engagement and Why Every News Site Should Put a Continuously Updated News Aggregation on the Homepage add to [...]

  41. So many slow uptakers and fence sitters and walled garden sites have to (a small degree and in a perverse way) been practicing a form of send send them away for years.

  42. @Scott “Newspapers were aggregators in print — that was the business model.”

    How do you figure that? You mean that newspapers just contained references to other materials that you should go read, without any actual content (which is what the news aggregators we’re talking about do)? or do you mean that it bundled a bunch of different stuff into a package? Don’t conflate two different meanings of the word “aggregation”.

  43. [...] on the lookout for new and interesting ideas I can work with. Today I ran across this post on reader engagement and linking out. The article, interestingly enough, touched on something I’ve been thinking about [...]

  44. DrudgeReport is one of the few sites I type into the address bar on a daily basis…

  45. This is an amazing report, an eye opener, that debunks the wonderful minds that bring you Web 1.0 thinking every single day.

    Connectivity on a global scale breeds transparency and sharing. What part of sharing do people not understand.

    If you provide a valuable link which turns into a new resource of information, then you the referrer become a valued friend as well as a must read!

    dean

  46. [...] current discussion about Drudge vs. NY Times particularly resonated with me as I had a similar passage in my paper for this summer’s [...]

  47. [...] September 18, 2008 at 3:40 am (Uncategorized) (web 2.0) http://publishing2.com/2008/09/15/drudge-report-news-site-that-sends-readers-away-with-links-has-hig… [...]

  48. It’s certainly food for thought.

  49. [...] September 17, 2008 · No Comments How the Drudge Report keeps people engaged by sending them away [...]

  50. [...] 500 millones de páginas vistas al mes, 12 millones de visitantes únicos al mes, 1,75 millones visitantes únicos diarios durante la semana y un millón, durante el fin de semana. Éstas son las últimas estadísticas del Drudge Report, recogidas por Publishing2.0. Este blog reflexiona sobre la importancia de los links que permiten al Drudge Report ingresar 56 millones de dólares al año, según Publishing2.0. [...]

  51. [...] Scott Karp analyzes the data that shows DrudgeReport.com has the highest reader engagement of Nielsen Online’s top 30 news sites during May 2008. [...]

  52. [...] Drudge Report: News Site That Sends Readers Away With Links Has Highest Engagement. More proof of the power of the link. Scott has a part two, too: Why Every News Site Should Put a Continuously Updated News Aggregation on the Homepage. [...]

  53. [...] site completely made out of links and advertising, and explains how linking to others offers the highest engagement – go have a [...]

  54. [...] notazione viene da Scott Karp, che su Publishing 2.0 pubblica due classifiche (vedi sotto) che sottolineano  questo inatteso piazzamento di un sito [...]

  55. [...] Further to my post the other day about SEO Blackholes, here’s an interesting study regarding the value of linking out. [...]

  56. [...] Drudge to the Top Intel 6 core Xeon Mix Music from the [...]

  57. [...] Newspapers need to be dragged kicking and screaming, but Drudge knows it and Google knows it. Aggregation works. An outstanding way to build audience is by sending people away. [...]

  58. The Drudge Report does not “beat other content news sites” because it is not a content news site. It is an aggregator of news, a mere portal to the content. This difference aside, I am troubled by web site traffic statistics, which indicate that news-aggregation sites are singlehandedly selecting the stories that we read.

    Previously, newspapers were the publishers of content and the aggregators of news. Now, sites like the Drudge Report assemble the day’s news.

    So, a newspaper’s value is no longer in its thoughtful presentation of information, but rather in its individual stories. With this emphasis on the story, journalists are motivated to write sensationalized content, so their work is linked to from another site.

    Is it fair then to criticize journalists for writing sensationalized stories, when these are the only stories that will be read? The portals to news content may further diminish the quality of news because when people visit the Drudge Report, they’re seeing only the selections of one individual. If we encourage news content sites to become more like the Drudge Report, then objective and thoughtful reporting may eventually become extinct.

    Instead, I urge people to think about the news they may not be seeing when they access their news through such portals. I even encourage readers to occasionally visit news-content sites directly, where they can read a presentation of the news that was carefully gathered by a team of experienced journalists.

  59. [...] Ja, schon klar, dass bei den Onlineablegern der Offlineverleger in Bezug auf Artikel die Maxime gilt: Im Text keine Links! Und wenn, dann bitte nur intern, auf das eigene Angebot. Das ist nicht nur eine Beleidigung der Intelligenz der Leser, also dieser gewollten Klicklieferanten, es ist mitunter exakt diese Handhabe, die potentiell mehr Klicks verhindert. [...]

  60. [...] Karp writes a fascinating post on how Drudge Report (a site that links out a lot) has a higher reader engagement level than other [...]

  61. [...] Drudge Report: News Site That Sends Readers Away With Links Has Highest Engagement – Publishing 2.0 – [...]

  62. [...] fine, so Drudge gets lots of traffic for links, but we’re not Drudge, so it won’t work for our news site, right? Wrong. Here’s a [...]

  63. As long as a site is USEFUL people will come back, no matter if it tries to keep people indoor or lets them out again. Our experience is very simple: When links to other sites help people, we add them to an article.
    We can not provide all information on a topic. When other sites give our users more info or a different perspective, it helps them. Our users would find the other sites anyhow. But with our little service they feel better and… come back :-)

  64. [...] Karp stirred a few things up when he noted on the 15th that the Drudge Report beats out the New York Times and all other news sites for reader [...]

  65. BU COMM stated:

    “So, a newspaper’s value is no longer in its thoughtful presentation of information, but rather in its individual stories. With this emphasis on the story, journalists are motivated to write sensationalized content, so their work is linked to from another site.”

    This is all about transparency and objectivity. You mean to tell us that the NY Time, Fox, and other news agencies do NOT have their own agendas?

    You mean all the Sarah Palin fawning going on over at Fox is just my imagination running wild?

    Let’s get something straight. A newspaper’s value is no longer in print it is online. And as every paper in America is quickly realizing, they NO longer hold the keys to the vault.

    If you can’t stomach what Drudge and other sites are doing in “shaping” our reading habits then consider all the American newspapers that have lied to the American public for the past 100+ years.

    Get used to the world of reporting and information as you knew it is gone-

  66. [...] Drudge Report: News Site That Sends Readers Away With Links Has Highest EngagementWhich certainly shows proof from a list of top 30 news sites for May 2008, it looks like Drudge has [...]

  67. Drudge makes millions off the work of other reporters and editors. Without the news outlets you trash he’d have maybe one article per month on his site that he’s written. He’s using their work without paying them to make millions in profit as a news organization in his own right.

    Second, his numbers obviously are whacked. A few weeks ago he posted at the top right column of his page a thanks and the number of visits — the monthly visits to his site were MORE THAN DOUBLE the entire population in the United States and the yearly figure was just shy of the entire population on the planet.

  68. Hey Caroline,

    Would you be complaining if you owned the site? The point is that you may not like his tactics but you are talking about it. You are reading it. And you are adding to the global discussion.

    What newspaper allowed that kind of instant access? Now newspapers have sites but often they mismanage or outright lie about their comments as in the case of the SF Chronicle “incident.”

    Whether his numbers are whacked or not, the site is big time and for that he has you and everyone else commenting to thank.

  69. [...] puts the Post way out ahead of many other news sites — while many have begun to recognize the value of aggregation and links, most have been slow to [...]

  70. [...] 500 millones de páginas vistas al mes, 12 millones de visitantes únicos al mes, 1,75 millones visitantes únicos diarios durante la semana y un millón, durante el fin de semana. Éstas son las últimas estadísticas del Drudge Report, recogidas por Publishing2.0. Este blog reflexiona sobre la importancia de los links que permiten al Drudge Report ingresar 56 millones de dólares al año, según Publishing2.0. [...]

  71. [...] Scott Karp / Publishing 2.0 Bookmark and Share: sociallist_a5daf4ed_url = ‘http://www.victorgodot.com/blog/?p=86′; [...]

  72. [...] our options to posts and the sidebar. Great sites link out lots, and as Publishing 2.0 reported in September, sites that sends readers away with links have the highest [...]

  73. What I detect here is envy , jealousy, and covetessness.

    You critics wallow in your own misery wishing you had dreamed up the same format.

  74. [...] But once they do, there’s a good chance that they are going to love it. Just like web users have been deeply engaged with news aggregation for years. [...]

  75. [...] not, I think the data in this Publishing 2.0 article a few months ago (which I just came across from this article) will show you [...]

  76. [...] it’s due. Attribute information you get from elsewhere. Even better, link to original source. Research shows that links out of your site can help build traffic. (It also helps search engines find [...]

  77. [...] Embed links in every story running longer than 12 inches (don’t worry, they’ll come back.) Do more public service and explanatory journalism. Offer tutorials and crash courses for cub [...]

  78. [...] become dynamic information hubs, while significantly boosting their traffic, user retention and the frequency of visits from regular [...]

  79. sherrithornhill

    Well I'm going to be unafraid to add links to my articles and give it a try!

  80. sherrithornhill

    Well I'm going to be unafraid to add links to my articles and give it a try!

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