Why Drudge Report Remains the Best-Designed News Website of All Time

The web is a relatively new place in the broader scope of what we would consider modern history. However, there are a few sites that have been able to establish a legacy even in the rapid evolvement of the interwebs. At the top of the list is the Drudge Report.

Founded by Matt Drudge in 1996, the site had its humble beginnings as a weekly subscriber-based eMail dispatch, until it broke its big first story, solidifying itself in the world of news media. From the always insightful Wikipedia:

The Drudge Report is an American news aggregation website. Run by Matt Drudge with the help of Charles Hurt, the site consists mainly of links to stories from the United States and international mainstream media about politics, entertainment, and current events; it also has links to many columnists. Viewpoints expressed on the website are often considered conservative. Occasionally, Drudge authors new stories himself, based on tips.

The Drudge Report originated in 1996 as a weekly subscriber-based eMail dispatch. It was the first news source to break the Monica Lewinsky scandal to the public, after Newsweek decided not to publish the story.

Ok, that’s all well and good, but why on earth would you consider a site with an obviously outdated look and feel as one of the “best designed” news sites of all time?

I’ve received a number of puzzling looks throughout the years as I’ve told individuals that Drudge Report is one of the best-designed sites in existence—and surely of the news industry.

The fundamental divide comes down to a misunderstanding of what design is. In recent years, many have come to equate good design with glossy buttons, pretty sliders, and a nice color palette. While these things can encompass good design, they aren’t design itself.

Design is rather the overall core functionality and usability. We say a car is well-designed not based upon the paint color, but upon its performance and features. I’m not one to often quote Steve Jobs, but he was right when he said “design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

So long as we’re standing on the firm footing of what design is and what it is not, Drudge remains one of the best-designed websites of all time. But for those still skeptical, here’s a few of the core reasons why the site’s timeless design is one of the best around.

Timelessness

Everything on the web seems to change ten times faster than in other mediums—web design trends especially.

It seems once a month we’re being sold the new “style” that you must implement if you’re to keep up with the times. Whether it’s a slider, big “hero” front page images, video backgrounds, giant buttons, or crazy web typography; the new trends are endless.

Drudge on the other hand, remains unchanged, built with archaic HTML tables and inline styles the likes of which any modern web developer would cringe. What’s more? It’s not even responsive.

Yet, even some of today’s “well designed” news sites pale in comparison when it comes to usability, engagement, and content—three things that are signs of a good design. Not to mention the site’s traffic which averages around a jaw-dropping 16 million monthly unique visitors.

As it turns out, I’m not alone in my sentiments:

The Drudge Report usually leads with a “font size=+7” ALL CAPS headline in Arial. Sometimes it’s italicized. Sometimes, for something big big, he’ll cap it off with the infamous siren.

After that you have three columns. Some headlines are sentence case, some are ALL CAPS. Some have photos, some are just a plain text headline. Sometimes more controversial or sensational headlines are colored red. There’s usually a big ad at the top and a few other ads sprinkled among the columns.

Stories aren’t grouped or organized except probably more interesting ones up top. And that’s it. Your eye darts all over the place looking around for something that looks interesting. The design encourages wandering and random discovery.

The site feels like a chaotic newsroom with the cutting room floor exposed. I think that’s part of the excitement — and good design.

Brand Recognition

Drudge Report Site Design
DrudgeReport.com site design.

Say just one word: “Drudge” and just about everyone knows what you’re talking about. Even before the phrase “Google it” became mainstream, the question “did you see that story on Drudge?” wasn’t uncommon around the watercooler.

Beyond the name, however, is the reputation the site has developed since its existence to be among the first to break stories. It’s not uncommon for news reporters themselves to check Drudge frequently to see which stories are breaking so they can keep up with the curve. Some reporters have even referred to the site as the “tip sheet” they visit often throughout the day to stay on top of world events.

The actual layout and design of the site itself is one of its chief branding elements. It’s utterly and helplessly unique. There’s no other like it. The design breaks every design and development convention in existence. And in this case, happens to be part of it mass appeal and recognizability.

Engagement

Ok, that’s all wonderful that Drudge gets so much traffic, but what does that prove? One of the biggest tests of whether a website’s design is successful is the amount of engagement it receives from users.

How long do the users explore the site? What actions do they take? What’s the bounce rate? How likely are they to return? These are all questions to take into account.

What’s stunning, again beyond the sheer amount of traffic, is the engagement of users.

That’s right. The average user spends 37 minutes on the site as opposed to the 2.5 minutes common for most sites. Here’s more from Vocativ on the raw data:

Drudge itself attracts 2 million unique visitors per day, driving more than 600 million pageviews per month, according to Quantcast, but because it’s a page of links, a large chunk of those users go straight on through to his top recommendations. Drudge sent 62 million readers to CBS Local sites between January and July (that’s like directing the entire population of Italy to one website) and 64 million visitors to CNN, according to data from SimilarWeb. Drudge was the number one traffic referrer to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and a host of other outlets, outside of social media and search referrals. Drudge also accounted for 52 percent of all referral traffic to the Associated Press last year, according to a report from SimilarWeb (caveat: that report was produced in partnership with Intermarkets, Drudge’s longtime ad agency, and SimilarWeb only uses a sample of traffic, albeit sizeable).

Visitors typically spend 37 minutes browsing Drudge, versus an industry average of just 2.5 minutes, and its bounce rate—the percentage of visitors who leave the site after viewing a single page—is 43 percent, versus the wider average of 64 percent, according to SimilarWeb.

Conclusion

As I touched on earlier, I’ve received a number of dumbfounded responses throughout the years that I would say a site many consider to be “ugly” to be one of the best-designed sites of all time. Some have agreed, others not so much.

What do you think? Is Drudge one of the best-designed sites around? If not, what do you think is the best-designed site of all time and why? I would love to hear your thoughts!

By

Thomas is a Graphic Designer, Web Developer, and founder of Rightly Designed. For over a decade, he’s had the privilege of working with a wide variety of individuals and organizations, spanning from traditional publishing houses to numerous independent professionals.