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Seth Godin is Wrong — Here are the Right ways to leave an Online tip.

I love Seth Godin. Seth is brilliant. Seth is my marketing hero. I’ve got all his books. I buy them as soon as I can, without regard to the content or the title. Sorry. I’m a Godin addict. And I’m Hoping that one day he’ll come out with a movie so I can be first […]

I love Seth Godin. Seth is brilliant. Seth is my marketing hero. I’ve got all his books. I buy them as soon as I can, without regard to the content or the title.

Sorry. I’m a Godin addict.

And I’m Hoping that one day he’ll come out with a movie so I can be first in line at the theater. Or a TV Show, so I can Tivo it every day. Maybe a live “marketing concert”? I’ll be there!

But today…today, Seth has got it all wrong.

Seth says that “Ads are the new online tip jar” and that you should click on them to say THANKS for the great content.

I couldn’t disagree more strongly, and here’s why.

Ads are usually sold based on a few different pricing models. The first is CPM or “Cost Per Thousand” impressions, commonly used for banner ads. What the advertiser is paying for is to have people see his ad, and nothing more. He doesn’t pay for clicks, but tries to optimize his ad to get as many clicks as possible.

Does the publisher earn money each time someone clicks a CPM ad? No. But the advertiser will be lead to believe that there is good amount of traffic coming from that ad, and may be mislead into buying more ad impression because of it.

Another common way to sell ads is “per click”. Google Adwords is a Pay Per Click advertising system, and its “Adsense” advertising network puts those Adwords ads on millions of websites. Each time someone clicks, the advertiser is charged for the click, and Google collects the money. Then, Google shares some of that revenue with the publisher.

There are other advertising models, too.

So what’s the problem with treating ads as an online tip jar?

It’s because the tip you are leaving is being paid by someone else!

You, the reader, are tipping with the ADVERTISER’s wallet, and that’s not right.

If you want to leave tip, do it. But use your own cash. Here are five ways to show your appreciation and leave an online tip.

1) On my website, and on thousands of others, there’s a link at the bottom of every post, and in the sidebar that literally says “Buy me a cup of coffee”. It’s a link to pay $2 (or more) via Paypal, quite literally as a “tip”. If you want to say Thanks for the article (including this one), just click that link.

Bingo. Tip left. Appreciation received.

2) Show your appreciation by sending traffic to the page and website you like. You can do that by using tools such as Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Twitter, your own blog, and all the other Web2 sites you post to.

Look below just about any blog post on any blog. You’ll see links to the social bookmarketing and media sites there, just as there are on this page, below.

I’m showing a little love to Seth here (despite the fact that I disagree STRONGLY with his opinion) by linking to Seth’s blog, and telling YOU about it. He’ll get traffic. And you know what…SOME of that traffic might be perfectly targeted to the ads on his site, and Seth might get some clicks on his ads.

What’s the difference? The difference is that the clicks he gets will be legitimate — from people who honestly are interested in what the ad says.

3) Along those same lines, another way you can leave a tip is simply by leaving a meaningful comment. You can appreciate someone’s blog post — whether you agree or disagree with it — by leaving a MEANINGFUL comment that continues the conversation going on at that site.

Why is that a TIP?

Because search engines like new content. If Google sees your blog post today, and comes back tomorrow to find more content there, then Google knows it’s a site that is RELEVANT to the topic on that page, and will rank it higher as a result.

4) If the website is selling something — Seth has all of his books for sale on his site — buy what he’s selling. If you like what he’s got on his blog, chances are VERY high that you’ll also like what is in his products.

See the links on the right side of my blog, under the “Resources” header? Those are my products. After reading this, you might think I’m a fairly smart guy. And if you do, I’m thinking you might want to learn more from me. That’s what those links are for.

See how that works?

Here’s the last one…

5) Do you want to show even more appreciation to the author for a post or site? Then buy an ad of your own on that site. Yes, it can be expensive if you’re buying hundreds of thousands of impressions. But you can start small — with Adsense maybe — and hope that someone will click your ad indiscriminantly, as Seth suggests.

Then you can feel fulfilled.

Okay, do you get the idea? Do you see the difference? Tip with your own money.

Seth is brilliant, but Seth is wrong on this one.

Now…What did you think about what I just said? Oh, you like it? Then how about buying me a cup of coffee??

To Your Success,

–Mark Widawer

p.s. Thanks to Jeff Walker for letting me know about Seth’s post.

28 replies on “Seth Godin is Wrong — Here are the Right ways to leave an Online tip.”

Where would I put this code, for example? I understand I can stick it on a page using Dreamweaver and upload it to a an existing.

But does the page I put it on have to have relevant content to your link for it to be a “tip”?

Won’t I be penalized if I stick an irrelevant link on my page?

How does one guard against being put as a link on a page with 100s of other links where someone wants to do you a favor by adding your link to their site, but they add 200 others, also?


Missed your seminar today, Sorry. Wanted to ask a live question. Replay?


As both a publisher and an advertiser I agree with you on this one. Seth says that “If every time you read a blog post or bit of online content you enjoyed you clicked on an ad to say thanks, the economics of the web would change immediately” – too right they would, but not in the way he thinks.

As an advertiser, my conversion rate is going to plummet, so my willingness to pay for ads is going to go down (I cna only spend so much per sales on advertising). If you assume that I make the same number of sales (on the basis that none of Seth’s tippers will buy anyway) then the amount of money to be shared with the publishers will stay the same. So his dream of lining the publishers pockets (at the expense of the advertisers) so they produce more great content is seriously flawed.


I can not believe Seth Godin said that. An online tip jar? Boy is that sending the wrong message. There already is enough click fraud with telling people that it is some how OK just to click.

Mark, you did a good job of summarizing what readers can do to legitimately tip if they like some one’s content.

[I am still shaking my head]


John Deck

I agree.

What on earth was Seth Godin thinking?

Disappointing that he has this so fundamentally out of whack. But notice that I don’t praise him while I say this either. He just has it plain wrong. Which means that Seth is human just like the rest of us.

He also doesn’t Twitter. Now that really is a crime.


I actually lost my Adsence account because a few friends of mine were “trying to show appreciation” for one of my sites. Instead of leaving a tip, that could quite easily result in getting your favorite publisher banned from Adsence, just tell someone else about the site. Once you get banned, you don’t get unbanned. I found out the “appeals process” is just a formality. So, if you click an ad you should at least be interested enough to consider purchasing if the price is right.

Mark, thank you for speaking truth to power! Seth is a giant in the marketing world and his words carry a lot of weight. I too think he’s brilliant, but when brilliant people are wrong, they sure can be wrong.
It’s good to know there’s someone like you awake out there who remember that great people like Seth Godin are still human beings, and who refuses to become a “yes-man”.

Hi Mark,
I couldn’t agree more! I’m sure Seth, as wise as he is, would not have made that comment should he have put himself in the advertiser’s shoes! (I know he probably already is..!) Its a nice thought though, to leave a small ‘tip’ as you say, by having a ‘tip’ link down the bottom! Ingenious idea!

Good on ya.


Everyone agrees Seth is wrong suggesting that visitors click on ads so that publishers fatten their wallets while the advertiser thinks he is doing something right! But he is a marketing genius…once again he stirs up the soup and the Internet is abuzz with HIS comment! Right or wrong he will benefit from this.

Enjoyed your article and you were right not to let Seth’s comment go unchallenged. I hope we can all find a way of showing appreciation for a good website without making some unsuspecting publisher pay for it! Heavens, if you targeted your ads on a website because you knew it was popular because it contained good articles you could go bankrupt with all that tipping! 🙂

Mark, your right on with this one. Seth is running a freemium site so I can see how he could easily get distracted by monetization. The best way to run a free site like his is to provide premium paid-for services. Just a few of his thousands of users would then monetize his efforts without distorting the economics of advertising.

Hi Mark,

Excellent response to Godin’s post. I’ve been in online advertising since the late 90s and for a marketing guru like Seth Godin, that was an irresponsible post with a follow up that shows he doesn’t get it. I saw your post on Shawn Collins’ blog, and I posted a video response as well

To quote another post, I wonder what Google will think of Squidoo if everyone showed their appreciation for the site by clicking the adsense ads?

Michael Buecheles last blog post..Seth Godin Advocates Click Fraud? Wha?

You and Jeff Walker were wise to catch this and nip it in the bud. None of us want to run afoul of Google!

I’m not familiar with Seth Godin, but I do know what it is like to “rush” through a post. No doubt a seasoned marketer to be on a first name basis with you, he probably was making a flip comment and had no idea of the storm he was creating.

Pegs last blog post..Aug 22, Work From Home Safely

Mark, you’re absolutely right here. Seth’s idea is like saying that when you’re out with some friends at a pub and the barmaid has spoiled you and you want to thank her, you should just take your friend’s wallet and leave her a tip. ‘Show your appreciation’.

Great post, I have especially liked suggestion number 3 – It’s the most common and most simple one for anyone, not just people who has blogs, participate on web 2.0 sites, has extra money etc. – Just leave meaningful comments. It’s a start.

Some good points raised by you– and excellent suggestions on how readers can reward content creators for great content.
However, I get the feeling that the underlying presumption is that Seth Godin is referring to pay per click ads [such as those displayed by the Google Adsense program], which does not seem to the case. I read the post by Mr.Godin and there is no explicit reference to the type of advertising.
If you take out the cost model for the advertising, then may be — just may be– there is merit to what Mr.Godin says. Afterall, publishers have often explicitly requested their readers to “visit” their sponsors/ advertisers since ages, and note that this is deemed quite acceptable in a non Pay Per Click advertising model.
I’m not suggesting that Mr.Godin is correct in this instance, but I just feel there is possibly another side to it.

Hi Mark,

Enjoyed the read and am looking forward to hearing more. I like your “buy me a cup of coffee” idea (or whoever had the idea – first I’ve seen it).

A little bit of devil’s advocate though: consumers (in this case, readers) will do whatever they want. The system currently allows them to “tip” by clicking an ad. Shaming the consumers to not frivolously click ads is not the road to progress. Progress is made through ongoing exploitation and continuous improvement. Let them break it – that’s the catalyst for better things to come.

Jamie Voorhies

How about CPD (cost per duration) as a viable alternative to CPC, CPA, CPM? We’ve developed a widget which allows anyone to sponsor your content. This can be used in the exact same way as Seth is talking about. If you’d like to tip a site then upload an image and set an amount. Your sponsor runs for 30-days and there is no click-fraud with our system. Everyone wins. The publisher gets an alternative revenue stream and the sponsor receives promotion, unlimited impressions, and possible click-thrus for 30-days. Great thread!

Interesting… yeah the idea of clicking ads just to tip a webmaster is kinda weird… is that the kind of suggestion that might get the attention of Google? Especially since it probably goes against their adsense terms of service some how (I might be wrong)

Either way, great discussion and great ideas on how to provide an avenue for ‘tipping’

Lukes last blog post..Brad Pitt Internet Risk – Watch Out!

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