Hate-reads and how for-profit sites work

By on Sep 10th

FRIENDS! © by SodanieChea, used under Creative Commons license.

A recent comment on an Empire blog post reminded me how few people understand about how most money is made on the internet. Here's the simple rundown of how online advertising works:

  1. A site has traffic
  2. A site sells ads
  3. The more traffic a site has, the more it can charge for those ads

Let's say you don't like an ad-supported website. I mean, REALLY dislike it so much that you feel compelled to regularly read it. (This is often called hate-reading.) Here's what NOT to do:

  1. Read that website, giving it your valuable pageviews (…which they can then use to sell more ads)
  2. Post shitty comments on that website, giving it even MORE of your pageviews and clicks (…which they can then use to sell MORE ads)
  3. Write about and/or link to that website, giving it additional attention, pageviews, and clicks (…which they can use to sell EVEN MORE ads)

In an attention economy, ANY attention is a form of currency. This is why trainwreck reality TV shows exist. The producers know everyone loves to bitch about awful shows and awful people, so they make shows about people everyone hates, so that there can be as much bitching as possible. Trust that the producers of that awful new show that just came on are laughing all the way to the bank over how people are saying their show is the sign of the coming apocalypse. "That's awesome! Keep talking! We'll keep cashing the checks!"

As I wrote on Offbeat Bride in the post, Why you should ignore trainwreck wedding reality shows:

To understand these shows, you need to understand the concept of trainwreck media, which is best summed with this line recently used to advertise a new daytime reality show: "Love them or hate them, you WILL be talking about them." That's what television producers count on, because they make their living selling advertising. They don't care if people watch because they love the show or hate the show — all that matters is the eyeballs. It's the same reason some bloggers write contrarian posts that are just BEGGING to be argued with: when you go argue, you're providing eyeballs. And eyeballs sell ads.

There are many web publishers who are pretty cynical about this eyeball phenomenon. I've written about why that's not really my game over here, but that doesn't change the fact that ultimately I sell ads based on pageviews, and so even if I don't cynically pander to hate-readers, I still benefit from them reading.

It's one of the things that's always baffled me about websites that are all about hating on lifestyle and fashion bloggers. Honestly, if you're a struggling low-traffic blogger, the best thing you could possibly hope for is to be targeted by one of these sites — traffic goes through the roof because suddenly every one has to come look at how much you supposedly suck.

Your feelings might get hurt a little in the process, but then you have all these pageviews you can monetize! It's part of why Regretsy worked: sure, they made fun of ugly stuff on Etsy… but the sellers of that ugly stuff reported that someone always ended up buying the ugly stuff. Hate-reading drives traffic, and traffic drives sales.

This is one more reason why hate-reading is such an epic waste of time: not only are you making yourself miserable by reading a site that makes you unhappy (as my friend Helen Jane describes it, you're "flank-biting"), but you're actually helping the thing you hate be more successful.

My best advice for how to deal with a website you hate:

  1. Never read it
  2. Never comment on it
  3. Avoid talking about it

In other words, you should really stop hate-reading because it HURTS YOU… but if that logic isn't working for you, you should stop hate-reading because your eyeballs are HELPING someone you hate.