Lauren Collins has a great piece in this week’s New Yorker on the outsized success of the Daily Mail, which has built the biggest online audience of any newspaper in the world. There’s a section about 80 percent into the story on their web strategy:
The site evolved on the fly. “We just decided to go hell-for-leather for ratings,” someone who was involved in the launch told me. “Anything relating to climate change, American politics, Muslims — we just chased the numbers very ruthlessly.” Traffic, at home and abroad, began to climb. By the summer of 2007, Mail Online’s traffic had risen a hundred and sixty-two per cent, to make it the U.K.’s second-largest newspaper Web site. The Drudge Report started linking to some of its stories. In 2010, it became the U.K.’s biggest newspaper Web site.
[Mail Online editor Martin Clarke] and his staff built the site by instinct. “I didn’t look at that many Web sites for design ideas,” he told me. Formally, they stuck with what they knew, developing a publishing system that allows them to put together the home page with the glue-pot flexibility of a newspaper, rather than having to slot stories into a template. The home page is hectic, with hundreds of stories competing for the reader’s attention. It is unusually long—literally, like a scroll—as are its headlines. (Both tactics help to bolster its search-engine rankings.) It uses far more pictures, and in larger sizes, than its competitors. “The site breaks all so-called ‘usability rules,'” Clarke said. “It’s user-friendly for normal people, not for Internet fanatics.”
Clarke also responds to criticisms of the Mail’s aggregation practices.