Webcomics: Playing the Advertising Game

One of the most challenging tasks that lay ahead for both aspiring and established webcomics is getting the word out to your audience (or potential audience) that you exist. In the past, link exchanges, top links, banner exchanges and webrings were enough to bring a steady flow of visitors. These days however, the dynamics of the web have changed, and creators are forced to look into more commercial methods of marketing, namely advertising. But advertising can be expensive pursuit and what if you want to MAKE money with ads? Read on, and find out how to minimize your advertising costs, while maximizing the value of your own site’s ads.

Most webcomic artists are not marketers. We’re artists, and inherently we are all about our work rather than thinking about big picture stuff like marketing plans. However, successful webcomics have creators that are willing to grow and learn new skills to be lean, mean, business machines in addition to artbots. When it comes to advertising on a shoe string budget however, it pays to invest a little time in wrapping your brain around a few fundamentals of marketing.

Advertising your comic

There are two key points you need to consider and have solidly in place before you start spending any money on advertising. One is ‘website metrics’. This is more commonly known to internet folk as ‘website stats’. If you don’t have your own website, you can sign up for a free counter or preferably something more comprehensive like Google Analytics. The second thing you need to do is a little thing called ‘identifying your target market.’ Let’s talk about one at a time.

Website statistics are important because they tell you things about the visitors coming to your website. It measures how many, how many unique, how many stuck around, and where they all came from, where they went, and if they ever came back. When you start advertising this is important stuff to know so you can understand your ‘ROI’ or ‘return on investment‘. When each dollar is precious, you want to pull in the absolute most quality visitors for the buck, but the only way to know if you are getting that is to actually measure the numbers of people who arrive from which websites, how long they stay, and how many come back.

Some of these trackers can provide you with a LOT of information, but here’s the main stuff you want to look at as measurements ( for the basics anyway, we can get more involved later):

  1. Unique visitors: This tells you how many unique IPs visited.Think of these as individual people. This is more of a true measure of your readership, if you sort of average out this number over about a month.
  2. New visitors: These are new people who’ve never visited your site before. Most trackers use cookies to deterimine if someone is ‘new’ or ‘returning’. If you are doing a lot of advertising, you’ll notice ( or at least should notice) a spike in new visitors. If you stop advertising, this will drop. However, the goal is to turn New visitors into Returning visitors.
  3. Returning visitors: These are visitors who come back to your site. This is a good thing because it means that they like what they see and are or could become regular readers. You want as many new visitors to become returning visitors. The conversion rate between new visitors to returning visitors is something you want to keep an eye on over the weeks even after you stop advertising, because that will actually give you a measure of how many people are visiting your site and then sticking around.
  4. Referring URLs: When you are advertising, keep an eye on your referring sites. Sites which have a very high referral rate as a result of your advertising, take note of! It means they likely have a higher percentage of the target market you are looking for. Sites that you are advertising on, but are doing very poorly, you should check out. Is the ad placement proper? Is it working? If a site is under performing, you should make note of THAT and save your advertising dollars for the sites that do perform.

Something that measures all this stuff should be in place well before you start advertising (at least a few months), so you have a baseline to compare against once you do start to advertise. They also provide a lot of other useful information, but I’ll get into that in another article. This one is sort of bare bones basics.

Target your Audience

One mistake a lot of people make when they go to market something (well anything really) is the idea that you can attract anyone and everyone to whatever it is you want them to look at. While you might be able to scream ‘look at me!’ loud enough to turn people’s heads for a second, the reality is that most of them won’t care unless they are already interested in that type of thing. There are just too many marketing messages these days and people tune them out. This principle holds true for webcomics as much as it does for movies, books, cleaning products, or toenail polish. If you cast your net too wide, the message becomes watered down and you won’t get as many ‘quality visitors’ as if you specifically target and advertise directly to people who will already be interested in what you are selling. These people who are already predisposed towards liking your stuff are your ‘target market’.

So who makes up your target market? Well to answer that question you have to do two things. The first one is a little research. If you’ve had your comic for those few months, see what sort of people are already visiting your comic. You may want to do polls to find out how many girls vs boys read your comic, how old they are, what sorts of comics do they like. If your comic is of a fantasy genre, chances are the people who read your comic like fantasy genre comics. Your counter might collect information such as referers (where people came from), and country they live in. Visit links of referers and check out what got your comic a mention and what sort of people were interested. This gives you some very specific information about the types of people who are interested in your comic. It can tell you what other sorts of things they are into, this is important when you are looking for places to advertise.

The second thing is doing a little guess work and thinking about your comic in specific and the sorts of people who would want to read it. There are a few things you can assume in terms of target market for webcomics in general. Webcomics, as a rule, tend to appeal to people age 12-30. Unless the comic is extremely targeted at younger children, or older people, most webcomic readers fall into that age group. In north america generally the comic readership is male dominated unless a comic is specifically geared towards women. Certain genres tend to have a higher female readership than the standard, for example romance or boylove comics tend to be often aimed towards females rather than males. However, action adventure comics generally have a higher percentage of male readers. If your comic is particularly violent, graphic, or adult, your target is going to be 19+, which will remove some advertising options, particularly from places like project wonderful. Generally if you have an M or R rated site, you don’t advertise on G rated comics. Its honestly not the audience you are looking for, and some comics don’t appreciate it. Etiquette is somewhat important between comics these days.

Generally if you have a comic that can be placed into a genre, people who like other things in that genre will have a greater chance of liking your stuff. You should seek out places where those sorts of people gather as well as other entertainment that fits in that media that already has large followings. Forums, facebook pages, and other social media works well for this. As does things such as fan art, or link exchanges with like comics.

You may also be able to guess other sorts of things and other specific products or entertainment those who share similar interests with you and the sorts of things your comic is reminiscent of. For example, if your comic has vampires in it, you can probably assume people who like horror may like your comic. Specific examples of other entertainment might be fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Anne Rice, Twilight, White Wolf’s World of Darkness RPGs, and Dracula fans might also enjoy your comic. If your comic is fantasy based you might be able to assume people who liked Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or the Final Fantasy series of video games might like your comic. Think also about yourself, about the sorts of things you are into, that inspire you to do your comic, and may find audiences in stuff you are already involved with. Its always easier get people who know you personally to check your stuff out.

By advertising primarily to people who are already predisposed towards liking what you have to offer, you get a better chance of conversion of visitors who are inclined to click on your ad from a ‘visitor’ to a ‘reader’. Remember, the goal of all this is to gain a readership, and that means that people have to like your stuff enough to come back and check on it. If they already like that sort of thing, the chances of this conversion happening are much, much higher.

Getting your message to your target

Back in the day, it was a lot easier to get your message in front of people without it being too expensive. Today its a little more of a challenge. As a result, where you spend your efforts and money needs to be carefully considered in terms of ROI. That can include time as well as money. Today there are better tools for getting your message to your targets in many cases. Facebook has one of the most robust set of targeting tools for advertisements out there aside from perhaps Google Ads, but facebook is more personal. Project Wonderful also has some capability to target by selecting comics similar to your own to advertise on.

There are free options, such as doing fan art for comics that are similar to yours, getting involved in forums or other social groups that have a common interest that your comic shares onto (such as if you have a sci-fi comic you are involved in sci-fi websites) and making sure you put your comic and your signature and profile. It should be noted that spamming boards or any other social media is considered bad form and not only makes you look like an asshat, can get you banned and potentally alienate readers from ever checking you out strictly on bad behavior. Link exchanges with like comics are one of your best tools, as links are often permanent and raise your own page’s google rank. A link exchange is also a little like an endorsement, and a lot of people will check a comic out that someone they like essentially recommends.

Its also advised to advertise and try to exchange with comics larger than you because they have a larger fan base, but not necessarily the largest in the community. Often times, when a comic has reached a certain size the author will not entertain link exchanges or social exchanges. While fan art or paid advertising remains viable options for these sites, certain exchanges are not just due to the volume of requests the person probably gets. You can try, but don’t hang your hopes on getting an exchange. Some of the biggest comics, such as Penny Arcade, will not do them for fear of knocking servers out. Don’t even bother.

While targeting people who may already be into webcomics is a good idea, such as by advertising on webcomic sites, don’t forget that there are a lot of people out there who may not yet read webcomics, but might still be interested in your subject matter. Look for innovative places to advertise and to look at

Final Note: Be Personable

As a final thought, as you embark on flogging your work to the world, its important to keep in mind that in today’s climate on the web, everything is about being personable. Its all about being friends with the world. Genuine enthusiasm for your fans and for your work will help to propel you a lot further than being an asshole. While controversy can work in your favor, and everyone likes to gawk at a train wreak, its not the sort of attention you want over the long term. Be smart about your image you project. Be personable and polite, excited and enthusiastic. If you can get excited about your own work, and share that with the world, people won’t be able to help getting enthusiastic about your work too. And enthusiastic people share things they are passionate about to their friends. And there is nothing that beats word of mouth advertising. A personal recommendation is the highest compliment a person can give for a product, and a zealot fan can be your best ally in getting the word out about your comic.

Good luck!

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