Facebook has quickly become manna from heaven — well, Palo Alto — for publishers.

But with the election season looming, it’s worth noting The Drudge Report. The Web 1.0 news aggregator is still a boon to mainstream publishers, sending millions of pageviews to sites including those of The New York Times, Bloomberg and The Washington Post.

It’s an uneasy situation, to say the least. Drudge, little more than a collection of links thrown up on a page, is described as conservative; founded in 1996 by the reclusive Matt Drudge, the site gained notoriety in 1998 when it broke the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. Drudge is like the loud-mouth, right-wing uncle who drinks too much at Thanksgiving and says things that make people uncomfortable. That’s perhaps why publishers including the Times, Bloomberg and the Washington Post didn’t respond or declined to comment on the referrals they get from Drudge. A dirty secret among publishers, even those with different ideological bents, is that Drudge is still good for a flood of traffic.

For conservative news site Independent Journal Review, Drudge is a welcome addition to Facebook, which accounts for the overwhelming majority of IJR’s traffic. The site gets huge traffic surges when it gets picked up by Drudge, Katie Steiner, head of programmatic sales and ad ops there, recently said at a Digiday event. “Drudge can still beat Facebook,” she said.

Data from Parse.ly show that Drudge has consistently hovered around the seventh-biggest referrer to its publisher network over the past several years, even as Facebook has ballooned as a traffic source. Today, Drudge stands ahead of Pinterest (0.75 percent) and LinkedIn (0.21 percent) and just barely behind its News Sites category, a collection of the top 100 biggest news website domains including CNN, ABC and Fox.

“In terms of volume of stories, I doubt it’s possible for the one page of Drudge to cover the amount stories that Facebook can — and arguably that would dilute its effectiveness,” said Clare Carr, marketing director at Parse.ly. “However, when it comes to the specific stories that do get published to Drudge, a quick survey shows that typically the referral traffic from Drudge will dwarf that of any other source, including Facebook. And, of course, as shown in the data, this means that overall it’s a powerful aggregate referral traffic source… just not one that can compete with the ‘book.’”

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Among individual publishers, news and political publishers see a disproportionate amount of traffic coming from Drudge, according to SimilarWeb data pulled for Intermarkets, Drudge’s ad sales firm.

Traffic from Drudge can be a double-edged sword. Commonly heard gripes from publishing executives is it comes in the form of spikes that are hard to foresee, so unlike Google and Facebook, it’s hard to optimize to. The traffic is short-term in nature, making it hard to turn into a sustained (valuable) audience, and it often brings with it toxic remarks that pollute the comments section. Simply put, it’s hard to have a Drudge strategy.

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The Chicago Sun-Times temporarily shut down its comments section last year after commenters on a crime story, many of whom saw the story on Drudge, got out of hand.

Drudge referrals are “an example of what can happen with a lot of polarized traffic coming in from outside the usual readership,” said Craig Newman, managing editor at the Chicago Sun-Times. “Very short-lived spikes. And unpredictable in nature — nothing to be planned for.”

Homepage courtesy of The Huffington Post.

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