Hate-reads and how for-profit sites work

FRIENDS!
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.

  1. You know now that you mention it, my most dedicated readers on my personal blog were my ex-boyfriend's family and friends. I have such a small readership that if you live in a small town, it wasn't too hard to trace the reader. People that didn't like me were on my blog like flies on…well. But my friends only clicked every once in awhile. Funny.

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  2. I think this is a great post, but I hope this doesn't mean we shouldn't call people out on their shit. I know for me I feel compelled to tell people when they're being racist jerks or homophobic or whatever. I know a lot of people claim to be unaware of the pain their actions cause, and though I don't hate-read, I've stopped reading sites that would have become hate-reads because of their harmful language, yet I always commented and said I was disappointed by X, Y, or Z. I guess I'm thinking more about personal blogs, and also I'm a teacher by trade so this is just in me. I will say, though, that one site I used to hate-read has become one of my favorites now, and I'm actually friends with the blogger, because I sent her an email calling her out and she responded really well and thanked me and wanted to get better at not being homophobic–hadn't even realized she was being that way. I know that's not a common scenario, and I know it's slightly different from what you're talking about here, but still, I think one comment saying "This is racist" or whatever is worth it, for me.

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    • Oh yes. I think you should always comment as to why you're going to stop reading, either publicly or directly. Because if they're numbers start dropping considerably, they'll know WHY and could theoretically change it.

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      • While I'm fully in support of this, I think direct contact is the way to go — otherwise, you dip into flouncing territory, which doesn't help your cause.

        I actually have a post related to this issue scheduled for next week!

        1 agrees
  3. This is why, as an ex-Offbeat Bride and a media business junkie, I love Offbeat Empire blog.

    This is like a 101 lesson in clickbait (whether online or TV remote). Thanks also for introducing me to the concept of attention economies. Geeking out right now :)

    3 agree
  4. what if you subscribe to the rss feed? do they get clicks from that?

    1 agrees
    • Essentially, yes. Lots of publishers (including me) monetize their RSS feeds with ads. Even if the feed isn't monetized, RSS subscriber numbers are another way of showing readership numbers, all of which are used to set ad rates.

      1 agrees
    • I 'think' RSS subscriptions do not show up as "pageviews," but it does show in their "stats" that they have X number of subscribers. Feel free to correct me though. :-)

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  5. One of my "resolutions" this year was to stop giving attention to content I hate or disagree with. No more hate reading or argument-making-linking. This came after writing online and realizing that I was happy for something to be spread even if the person linking to it disagreed with me. I don't want to give my nemeses that same satisfaction! Sometimes it is hard to curb the urge that says, "I am dying to show people this unbelievable, awful thing I just saw."

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    • Now it's gotten to the point that when I read something I really disagree with– even if I went into it not knowing that would be the case– I start wishing I had some way to demand my pageview back.

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    • that urge to show people awful things is the same one that makes you smell the milk to see if it's gone bad, and then say something "EUGGGH that's AWFUL… smell this!" to someone else. it's a weird human urge that we'll share awful things with everyone.
      I had to make a serious conscious effort to stop reading a webcomic I hated and it took me reminding myself that every time I wandered to the site to 'see what awful thing is happening now' I was PAYING the creator for the privilege and that wasn't something I was willing to do, but it is a very difficult urge to fight sometimes.

      people are weird.

      2 agree
  6. You know, I felt so bad for putting up an ad-blocker when one of my favourite sites runs on this revenue, but then I found out that they don't get anything (or incredibly little) from advertisers for Canadian views. I was really disappointed to find out that I couldn't support the site. Now, this article has me thinking that any "hate-reading" that I might want to start up wouldn't really support the site in the way that American views do. Not sure how I feel about this though.

    Out of curiosity, do Canadian/International views count towards ad revenue? I'm not sure if this has been addressed before.

    1 agrees
    • Absolutely they do. In fact my primary third-party ad provider on Home & Mama is a UK-based biz, so there are tons of non-US campaigns.

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  7. If you absolutely must do a referral link so that people can have the context of what you're talking about, if you feel you absolutely must talk about it, then you could use http://www.donotlink.com/.

    It let people see the content, but not actually give the site any hits. I have a friend who insists on this whenever talking about basically any Margaret Wente article ever since she basically epitomizes link-bait these days.

    0 agree

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