Not Seth Godin’s Best Advice

I love Seth Godin. Fantastic stuff. However, his recommendation today that “[i]f you like what you’re reading, click an ad to say thanks” — while good-hearted — is terribly misguided.

If every time you read a blog post or bit of online content you enjoyed you clicked on an ad to say thanks, the economics of the web would change immediately. You don’t have to buy anything (though it’s fine if you do). You just have to honor the writer by giving them a click.

He later expounded on what he meant, but the explanation shows that he either doesn’t understand online advertising or he just wasn’t thinking this through.

As a business, I love online advertising because it allows me to target a specific cost-per-action with very fine precision — something that just isn’t possible offline.  If I’m suddenly having to pay lots of uninterested clicks, though, I’ll immediately lower what I’m paying per click to get back to my cost-per-action target.

What’s the result for the publisher? Optimistically, he ends up making exactly as much as he was before because the advertisers simply drop their per-click prices to offset the high rate of worthless clicks. Pessimistically, he ends up making much less than before because advertisers get sick of the worthless clicks and stop advertising altogether.

Seth’s scenario in which the publisher makes more just doesn’t exist in the real world. Fake clicks aren’t good for anyone.

Hat tip: Patrick

Update – Since I wrote this last night, Seth has apologized:

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.


  • app

    August 23, 2008
    at 3:59 am

    I understand what he was trying to do, but I do agree with you that it’s not really a good idea.

    The problem is that there is no easy to use cash payment microdonation system in place that bloggers can take advantage of where a reader can easily donate a few cents to a blogger whenever they read something they like.

    It would be nice if readers could deposit an amount like $5 into an account and just click a button on a blog post to instantly and painlessly transfer a nickel or dime any time they liked what they read and that the blogger would receive cash for it.

    It needs to be something as easy to use for the reader as a digg button. One click and you are done, with nothing to fill out or external pages to load, or anything else.

    TipJoy comes close, but they don’t pay cash. It would be near perfect if they did.

    For those that have an account at, which does have a microdonation system in place for supporting freeware/donationware developers, I have placed a link to my donate page on some of my more software/programming related blogs. But it’s not a well known or widely used program, and it really wasn’t intended to support bloggers, and if everyone on the internet started rushing there to sign up, it’s likely to cause some serious issues on their site. But if you are already a member there, keep your eyes open for Cody on blogs you read. There are software developers with blogs out there, that are linking to their donate page.

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