Are You a Web Tipper?

In response to yesterday’s post about declining newspaper circulation, there was a reader comment that surprised me:

I think The N.Y. Times and Washington Post websites are great (although I don’t pay for “Times Select” but I do think that their site has the best presentation, appearance-wise). I always try and remember to click on the ad banners once in a while to try and keep the sites free or at least much of the content free. Opening the ads in another tab on Firefox is not so disruptive. Or click and minimize.

What surprises me is the part about this person clicking on the site’s ads. It’s as if he’s dropping a dollar in the guitar case of a subway musician, hoping it will help bring the musician back tomorrow — although in this case, there’s no person taking note of his generosity, as minor as it may be. (We’ve touched on similar issues here and here and here.)

It made me wonder if this commenter is a lone rider or if lots of people click on the ads for sites they want to support. Do you do this? Such behavior is the opposite of click fraud but I don’t have a clever name for it.

Most display ads are probably run on a cost-per-thousand basis, but advertisers can obviously use the click-through rate to judge their effectiveness. (You may have noticed that our site is now running display ads; I wonder if the commenter above and others are doing their web tipping on this site too.) The big issues here are a) how well old media like the Times and the Post can be supported by advertising as they migrate to the web and b) how effective advertising is in general, a huge question that we are hoping to address in our writing someday.


I do this sometimes, but mostly for smaller/personal websites, and more seldomly for larger sites such as The New York Times.

In the short run, I guess this is a good thing, but now that I think about it, I doubt that it's a good thing in the long run. If people just click the banner-ads but never read the site they're linked to and never buy something from them, they will recognize a lower return from their ads. As a result online advertisers will be less willing to pay for ads and, thus, pay less per click-through.


Perhaps you could call it micropatronage?

One of the sites up my sleeve enables blog readers to pledge a penny for each article the blogger publishes (copyleft).

Just as there is a long tail of art, so there is a long tail of patrons.

I'm working (unpatronised) on a foundation for such micropatronage:


I "tip" quite often, but mostly on blogs. Especially the homeless blogger.


I've done it a few times but don't tell the PPC advertisers... don't want a good thing to go away. :)


A lot of advertising is done on a click through rate basis (Google AdSense for example)

It is not the opposite of click fraud at all, it *is* click fraud, just perpurtrated by the user rather than the website. This is assuming of course the user is just clicking on the Ad with no intention of looking at the resulting page/purchasing the product. In this case you are pretending to look at the Ad when really not, so it is fraudulent.

Assuming that click through rate is a factor in advertising costs, and the Advertisers have sufficently advanced tracking mechanisms (i.e. can see click through rate to purchase) then clicking on an Ad like this would not really "tip" the website, but would be neutral as the advertisers would be willing to pay less per click, so the website would get exactly the same revenue.


The commenter was me, but I have no idea how much revenue these ads actually generate because I don't have my own website. My guess would be about a penny a click. (Does it make a difference if you actually buy something from an advertiser?) I guess the economics of the Internet are in flux as companies figure out how effective internet advertising actually is.

And yes, I started "tipping" here as soon as I noticed the ads. Can they tell the difference?
"Click fraud" would come from one or two computers, but clicks from many different computers would be seen as legit, right?

I assume that you guys aren't just providing this blog as a public service. I assume that at least part of your motivation is monetary. Perhaps you hope that readers of the blog will buy your book (I bought the book first, not knowing you had a blog or wrote articles for the NY Times and I found the blog from the link via your recent Times article.)

I may be an unusual case, but I do not consider myself to be particularly motivated by ads. At least, they won't motivate me to buy something I don't really want, but they may make me aware of the availability of something I want. I think that Internet ads are probably at least as effective as ads in other media.



Surely clicktip as a verb describes this quite well?

And yes, I do try to remember to click on ads. I must admit though that I do use an advert blocker on my work PC to make it look less like I'm just reading blogs when I should be working...


I went to a presentation here in Ann Arbor from google that primarily covered their AdSense program. Ever since then I always try a little bit harder to click on some of their ads, because I like all of the free services they offer.

My habits are pretty much spot on with simonjp. If I really appreciate a sites service I will click on their ads, of course thats providing they are too intrusive (flashing windows, loud noises etc...)



That google presentation I covered also went over the way they measure the success of an ad and the way in which google is compensated and businesses are charged, so I figured I'd chip in my two cents, via the AdSense guys.

Right now advertisers pay for their position on a page. AdSense runs a mini auction every time you do a search to decide what ad gets placed where based on the rate of click through that it has had in the past with that particular search. Currently google there is no way to gauge click-through to purchase rate for these people, but since the launch of Google Checkout, they are coming closer. That is the next evolution in advertising, following the consumer from click to checkout.

So for right now, clicking on an ad from AdSense or AdWords (almost every blogger out there) will put cash in everybody's pocket. And who knows, maybe I really will stumble onto something interesting there.



Clicktip may describe the action, but it does not describe the motivation.

The point is, the reader wants to compensate the publishing author.

Note 'WANTS TO'.

This is critical.

There may be little expense on the part of the reader aside from a decision cost and a mechanical/time cost, but there has been some expenditure of work, and possibly, they've even viewed the ad in the process.

This is the inverse of the Salon approach where YOU MUST watch an ad in order to read the article (or pay money).

It is also the opposite of micropayments: 'You must pay a penny to read this'.

This is why micropatronage as a term may be better: 'If you WANT TO incentivise the author to publish more great articles like this then feel free to pledge a penny that will be paid to them when they publish another article'.

Micropatronage with intermediary advertisers providing the exchange rate between attention and hard currency could work, but I'm not so sure...



I do this sometimes. I generally try and click on an ad I will actually read so that I'm not defrauding anyone - but I guess in the process I read several ads to pick an ad and then all those little advertisers get their impressions on me for free.:) I figure I'm shifting some of the advertising pull to smaller blogs/websites rather than the larger standards. Freakonomics - I'd click on your ads:)


Nevertheless, I should emphasise that I think ClickTip is a catchy term and will likely catch on.


I think the desire to compensate the publishing author is implied in the "tipping" part. I agree it's catchy...


I do this all the time. Ad revenue is usually the sole source of revenue for a lot of small websites. If I like the site, I try and offer support by clicking on a link.

To be fair, I've purchased products before that were advertised through some one's website. Not often, but it has happened.

I've always suspected that this practice of clicktipping was widespread and supporting a bubble in online advertising revenue. A scary thought considering the fortunes being amassed based on web ads.




i don't typically clicktip, but i do on certain websites, like its a charity site where sponsors put up money for each page visit. i try to visit the ads just to be supportive.

Johnny Huh

I'll click a link from time to time if the mood strikes me and the ad is something that I might actually be interested in. Mostly on friend's blogs though but I have not purchased anything from any of the clickthroughs, yet.


Call it click guilt. I know I'm getting all of this stuff for free and I feel guilty about that, so I'll do something to make my conscience feel better.


Clickfraud or not, it can easily *devalue* the ad. If an advertiser is paying per-click, then I want my "conversions" to be high. Conversions can mean a click, but they more often mean a sale.

If I see my clicks going up, but my conversions staying put, my advertisement is costing me more for the same outcome. Therefore, the ad has been devalued and I'm less likely to advertise. You're hurting the process for momentary guilt-relief.


I'd click if the ad was:
- in context
- small and styled
- didn't interfere with the text
- it didn't look like cr@p
- I didn't feel mislead into clicking it, thinking it was a normal site link.

If I feel mislead or tricked into clicking a line, I'll ad-block the ads on the site with Firefox.