Beating the status quo

[Updated: Upending a finely tuned machine: It’s pretty clear that this post and the one before were seen by practitioners of click advertising as just plain stupid. If you read them the way they read them, that interpretation is entirely possible, and I apologize. My intent was to point out that we’re creating a culture of surfers who just don’t click on ads, which has far-reaching effects for our medium. For those that saw some other intent, I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better next time.]

My last post about ads as tips led to a firestorm in my inbox, so a few thoughts:

1. I’m not suggesting click fraud, far from it. Just as you’re more likely to go to a restaurant that advertised in a magazine you like, you’re more likely to click on an ad that lives on a relevant page you liked. Click fraud is a whole different game (primarily because the clicker benefits).

2. Much more important than that is thinking about the status quo:

The way that text ads work is this: you pay by the click. Then, after someone clicks, you get a chance on the page they land on to sell them something (a product, a service, signing up for a free newsletter, whatever).

The goal of the marketer is to have no one click on the ad EXCEPT for people who intend to buy. In fact, clever marketers try to sneak in ads that are unappealing enough that only the truly motivated will actually click.

And so, given the status quo, you beat it by getting fewer clicks and converting the ones you do get.


What if it became common for popular pages to generate lots of clicks? What if some of those clickers were less motivated?

Well, under the original status quo (TV thinking) this is good, because you got a chance to immerse someone in an entire page you designed. In other words, a chance to convert mild interest into big interest.

Under the current status quo  (click thinking) this is bad, because you paid for a window shopper.

My point was that if everyone started clicking, clickthrough rates would go up. For a while, there’d be an imbalance, and sites would make too much and advertisers would pay too much.

But then, advertisers would use the landing pages to start converting. They’d adjust to the new status quo, to seeing a stream of happy clickers who came through because they liked the page they were on. And they’d get better at converting those folks (something that doesn’t happen now, because only the hardcore click through). Do you see the benefit? If more people convert, the budget goes up. The spend can increase because converting mild interest (which they don’t see now in a rare-click world) into sales is profitable.

I think the most robust ad environment for the web is one in which more surfers give permission to more marketers to make their case. And one way to get that permission is to have a culture in which surfers agree to "pay" attention in exchange for great content.

Who wins?

Surfers, who get more great content and might actually learn about something they want to invest in.

Content providers, who get more money in the short run and in the long run, as more ads convert more people.

Advertisers, who can begin to reach the unreachable non-clickers.

The irony is not lost on me. The people who so desperately interrupt everyone all the time are now squealing because I’m recommending that more people pay attention to their offers.