Will clicking on all the ads help your favorite Web site?

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Sept. 28 2009 6:58 AM

Responsible Browsing

Will clicking on all the ads help your favorite Web site?

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Is choosing "view as a single page" unhelpful to your favorite site? It's not a secret why articles are broken into multiple pages: It generates more page views, which means more ads are served and a site's overall traffic numbers are more robust. But "viewing as a single page" isn't the end of the world. It's also important how long a visitor stays at the site, another element of engagement. Basically, a Web site offering up free ad-supported content wants to tell an advertiser that they have a committed and growing core audience—that readers/viewers like to hang around there, and they are not just a bunch of drive-by clickers. It also doesn't hurt if a site's audience has poor impulse control with their Platinum cards.

What about clicking on every ad on every page? First, let me salute this reader's diligence. Here is where I contradict myself: Keep those clicks coming! Despite all the nice talk of "engagement," the tyranny of the click has not been overthrown. Clicks often get compared to crack—in advertising publications. No matter how eloquently an agency spins the branding objectives of a campaign, the number of clicks is a graspable statistic that's impossible to ignore.

The best general to-click-or-not-to-click advice I found was from Internet marketer Seth Godin: "Ads are the new on-line tip jar." His method is simple: "If you like what you're reading, click an ad to say thanks." Godin was instantly taken to task by other Internet marketing-types for promoting irresponsible behavior: People will click on ads they don't care about and then advertisers who were flooded with false customers won't advertise anymore on the site in question! Maybe.

Several people had the very good suggestion of adding an actual tip jar to a site. (Perhaps the New York Times should give that a try.) Other dissenters held that linking to or tweeting or Facebooking a piece of content was ultimately more valuable. But I'm going to stand with Godin. If you want to support a site, the easiest way is to click an ad every now and then. Reward the site and the advertiser with a moment of your attention. You learn the name of Lexus' new hybrid, and the content stays free.

Michael Agger is an editor at The New Yorker. Follow him on Twitter.