Home The Click Economy: Is There a Future?

The Click Economy: Is There a Future?

We’re currently living in the era of the click economy — but what does that mean?

The Click Economy means that companies of all sizes, in all industries, are competing for a single, specific user action: a click. That is to say, a user is clicking on a link to a page of your website (even if you baited them to do it).

How did clicks become so valuable?

How is this changing our economic and social landscapes? And what kind of future is in store for the click economy?

The answers are more complex than they may seem.

The Evolving Value of a Click

What is the true value of a click? Let’s dissect the question here. To the average end user, this is a practically meaningless action; it takes less than a second, and a click is something you do dozens to hundreds of times each day. Most of the time, you don’t buy anything significant. So, how is a click so valuable?

In the current era, a click can mean a number of things, such as:

  • The opportunity for a sale.

    A user who clicks on a link will have a chance to visit your website, review the products and services you’re selling, and possibly decide to make a purchase. Accordingly, clicks are the best way to grow an online business.

    Millions of businesses now operate with a familiar model; they know that 1 percent of people who visit the site make a purchase worth $100. Therefore, each visitor is worth, on average, $1. If you can spend $0.20 on marketing and advertising for each new click, on average, you’ll make a gross profit of $0.80 per clicking visitor.

  • Effective messaging.

    Even if you’re not interested in generating sales or building a business, clicks are a valuable opportunity for you to expose a new person to your messaging. If you’re a nonprofit organization looking for donations or if you’re a motivated individual trying to persuade the masses to a new way of thinking, clicks still matter.

  • Possible ad impression.

    You may also need clicks because of an alternative business model: advertising. Each person who clicks on a link to your site will see (and possibly click) the ads on your site. If your content is sufficiently compelling, this can generate an endless stream of revenue for you. Each clicking visitor may generate $1 of income for your business, and in sufficient quantities, this can turn into a powerful stream.

In any of these scenarios, the “click” is a measure of value and a measure of success. It’s both the driving economic force that facilitates the generation of revenue and the metric by which a company’s success can be measured.

Over the years, clicks have become more valuable.

  • Increasing forms of digital engagement.
    Users are becoming increasingly reliant on digital channels to learn new information, engage with each other, work, and communicate. In the late 1990s, the internet was something of a novelty. By the 2000s, it was common in workplaces around the world.By the mid-2010s, it was practically impossible to live your daily life without an internet connection.Because so much of our lives, from the news we read to the products we buy to the work we accomplish, depend on internet-based interactions, it was only natural for clicks to increase in importance.
  • Shifting systems of monetization.Clicks also benefitted from shifting forms of monetization. Newspapers, for example, once relied on paying subscribers to cover the expenses of writing and printing (in addition to printed ads).

    These days, most newspapers are mostly (or entirely) dependent on subsidization from online advertising – and online advertising only pays if people are clicking.

  • Competition.

    Taking advantage of the click economy can be a powerful move for any business. In a given industry, if your competitors are utilizing the power of click generation, you’ll have practically no choice but to join them.

    The competitive pressure has led to the transformation of countless industries — and a transformation of the economy at large.

The click economy — is it a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, the question is more complex than that.

Click Journalism

Let’s take a look at a valuable case study in the world of click economics: click journalism. Traditional newspapers have all but died out as the majority of the population have shifted to reading news online. This is only natural, since online content is both less expensive and more easily accessible.

To keep up, journalists have shifted to a click-based model; they write stories in an effort to get more traffic, which in turn, leads to higher advertising revenue and greater long-term sustainability.

There are a few issues with this, however, including:

  • Lower quality standards.For starters, we’ve seen a significant drop in the quality standards of major media outlets. In order to get more clicks, your stories have to be fast and sensational; you need to get your story circulating faster than your competitors, and you can’t wait around to fact-check it.

    Accordingly, many news stories end up getting published and shared with inaccurate or incomplete information.

  • Polarization.Most people don’t click on links because they seem to be even keeled and well-researched. They click links because they evoke a strong emotional reaction. It’s much more common for someone to click a headline that’s surprising, infuriating, or defeating than it is for someone to click a headline that’s neutral or unemotional.Over time, these polarized headlines have led to a more polarized culture; people are more likely to believe that politicians are either good or evil, that the world is in worse shape than it’s ever been before, and that the small actions of a single person across the country are significant enough to justifiably your day.
  • Market segmentation.As news outlets become specialized in attracting clicks in different ways, we also see heavy market segmentation. People seek out the news sources that provoke them in the ways they prefer, and news sources increasingly cater to those audiences.Over time, this leads to media outlets that are heavily biased, consistently producing the same types of stories with the same tone – regardless of what’s actually happening in the world.

The hyper-polarized world.

As an end result, we’ve ended up in a world that’s hyper-polarized, where it’s much harder to find the truth, and where 10 different people in the population will have 10 different versions of what’s going on, due to the disparities in the sources they’ve consulted.

These are just the problems with the click economy in the world of journalism. In the world of social media and big tech, we have to worry about user privacy. In other industries, we have to worry about stifled competition, distorted truth in advertising, and cheap tactics that lead to addictive user behaviors.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Where will the click economy go from here? Is the click economy going to provide the basis for the online economy forever — or will something eventually replace this system?

  • Competition and costs.The online world is surging with competition. Everyone is fighting for a piece of the pie in their industry, and the costs of advertising and marketing are going up. Eventually, enterprising business owners could be forced to find some new way to increase visibility and monetize user actions.
  • New devices and user behavior.We’re also seeing a shift in user behavior monetization with the development of new devices and new intended user interactions with tech. For example, subsidized devices like smart speakers and smart TVs often allow users to interact with technology in new ways that don’t require the conscious selection of a content option.

    Instead, user data is collected and analyzed to make intelligent recommendations; in the future, this could force companies to become a better fit for a consumer, rather than forcing them to inspire a reactionary click.

  • Ground-up demand.We’re already starting to see more user outrage about the consequences of a click economy and a polarized world. If enough consumers refuse to participate in the game, companies could be forced to change tactics.


The click economy isn’t necessarily a bad thing for either companies or consumers, but it’s a complicated consequence of our evolution into the digital age. There’s no denying that it’s had its share of negative effects on the economy and on our culture.

It remains to be seen how long the click economy will continue to flourish, but it’s likely only a matter of time before someone or something replaces it.

Image Credit: leandro alamino; pexels

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Timothy Carter
Chief Revenue Officer

Timothy Carter is the Chief Revenue Officer of the Seattle digital marketing agency SEO.co, DEV.co & Law.co. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO and digital marketing leading, building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams. When he's not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach -- preferably in Hawaii with a cup of Kona coffee. Follow him on Twitter @TimothyCarter

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