The Click Clique, Ad Blockers, and the Future of the Internet

I’ll tell you a secret. I have never intentionally clicked on an internet ad. Not once in my whole life. I know that probably seems strange to you given the fact that I write for a site that makes the entirety of its income from ad revenue. But it’s the truth. I don’t watch television or listen to the radio because of ads. I hate ads with a passion.

I’ll tell you another secret. Because I have never clicked on an ad, I feel no obligation to allow them to insert their ugly tackiness, usually complete with blaring auto-play audio, into my internet experience. I block them. I feel somewhat conflicted about blocking them though, because I know that if everyone else did what I do, I wouldn’t be able to make a living writing free blog content.

But I’ll tell you another secret (I’m full of them today). I’ve started doing an informal survey, and I’ve noted that no one in my friend group clicks on ads. Most all of them have the same testimony I have: they have not once intentionally clicked on an internet ad.

So my question has been: just who clicks on ads? Who is making Google the gobs of money they share with my employer who then shares with me? Well, it turns out less than 6% of the internet population clicks on 50% of the ads. Oddly enough, they are people between 25 and 44 years old who make less than $40,000 a year, according to one study. Here are a few other things about the click clique:

. . . Heavy clickers represent just 6% of the online population yet account for 50% of all display ad clicks. While many online media companies use click-through rate as an ad negotiation currency, the study shows that heavy clickers are not representative of the general public. In fact, heavy clickers skew towards Internet users between the ages of 25-44 and households with an income under $40,000. Heavy clickers behave very differently online than the typical Internet user, and while they spend four times more time online than non-clickers, their spending does not proportionately reflect this very heavy Internet usage. Heavy clickers are also relatively more likely to visit auctions, gambling, and career services sites — a markedly different surfing pattern than non-clickers.

Did you catch that last part: the click clique visits career services sites. So they’re mostly jobless? Are they the people who “MAKE 2-3,000 DOLLARS A MONTH WORKING FROM HOME WITH NOTHING BUT A COMPUTER AND YOU CAN TOO IF YOU CLICK HERE AND FIND OUT MORE QUICK AND EASY!!!!!!!!!”? The click clique may be made up of people 25 to 44 years of age, but that doesn’t mean that most of the people in that age group are more likely to click on internet ads. In fact, from what I can tell, most people in that age group don’t click. What does this mean?

I think I know what it means, but it’s not pretty. It means that a large portion of these clickers are probably getting paid to click on ads. That hypothesis is definitely supported by the fact that the click clique don’t actually spend more money on the internet. If you’ve ever run a Facebook ad, surely you’ve noticed the anomalies. I’ve run a couple Facebook ad campaigns myself, but never again. I ended up getting a large number of likes (and even a few shares) from people who have definitely not clicked through to my content. Say I post an original article. People from a bunch of third-world countries, many of whom don’t even have English-language profiles, will “like” my post. Maybe I end up with 300 total likes in a day. Then I go to check the analytics: 5 people actually clicked through to read the article. And they would have clicked through anyway, more than likely.

So why would a bunch of poor people in other countries “like” a post they certainly didn’t (and perhaps can’t) read? They’re getting paid to click.

You may be wondering at this point why would anyone pay people to click on ads and like posts. Because advertising is lucrative, but it is only lucrative as long as the people buying ads think it will generate revenue for them. And most ad-buyers measure campaign success by clicks and impressions, because they pay per click.

But clicks don’t mean a lick. They really don’t:

. . . In a study of search ads bought by eBay, the most frequent Internet users—who see the vast majority of ads; and spend the most money online—weren’t any more likely to buy stuff from eBay after seeing search ads. The study concluded that paid-search spending was ironically concentrated on the very people who were going to buy stuff on eBay, anyway. “More frequent users whose purchasing behavior is not influenced by ads account for most of the advertising expenses, resulting in average returns that are negative,” the researchers concluded.

Did you catch that? More clicks just means more money paid in advertising, but it isn’t actually panning out in many sales that wouldn’t be happening anyway. It’s bad, people. I honestly would not be surprised at all if Google and Facebook are actually hiring third party firms (call them “marketing consultants”) who (without Google and Facebook’s knowledge, of course) are paying destitute people cents on the dollar to click on ads, so Google and Facebook can sell the effectiveness of their advertising to potential customers.

But ad blockers, which some have blamed for accelerating the demise of a “free” internet, may be doing little more than destroying the internet ad empires that don’t actually do anyone any good. Honestly, I can’t imagine the world would be a worse place if ads of all kinds disappeared altogether.

There’s at least one way in which the world would be better. Content would actually have to be good. As it is, millions of fluff websites post useless content with barely more value than “Lorem ipsum” placeholder text, all so they have a chance to collect some ad revenue. In a voluntary or subscription model, your material has to be good. Because if it isn’t, you’re not going to be able to rely on the racy picture of the busty blonde who just found out a weird new rule in [insert your location here]. Ever notice that Wikipedia has no ads? Yet it survives on donations. How? It provides a great service. And if that’s the future of the internet, sign me up.