Thursday, June 19, 2008

Refining My Opinions About Ads

Coming from a family of scientists has made me comfortable with changing my conclusions when new evidence appears. I have long been an internet ad skeptic, wary of the degrading effect of ads for non-dairy toppings on the artistic integrity of my comics site.

It happens that just as I was winding down my affiliation with EntreCard (see previous post), I was testing Project Wonderful. I figured I owed it to myself and to my readers to understand the pros and cons.

I have a few dozen ads out, and am hosting ads on this site, plainly visible on your right. It's going well.

I have become a fan of button ads, the size you see here. I almost always click buttons for comics I do not recognize. As for the effect on site aesthetics, they are more like sprinkles on a cookie than a desert tray of competing, fancy banners.

There seems to be a very big demand for low traffic comics willing to host button ads. Low-traffic sites, perhaps because they are mostly accessed by explorer types, have better click-through rates than top sites. If you read this paragraph and add buttons to your site, let me know, and I'll advertise my comics there.

One surprise is that after hours of searching and identifying places I might place ads, I ran low on options. Project Wonderful seems to be growing quickly -- many friends have joined in the last few weeks, which tells me something. Still, it's smaller than I expected in terms of total members by a few tens of thousand, and is still heavily dominated by comics and gaming.

When we launch a web comic, we tend to start out overly optimistic. That's because to understand web comics really well, you have to do a web comic. Then you discover challenges you didn't expect. For example, my comic Li'l Nyet does very well among people over 50, because they remember the historical figures who make guest appearances, and they get a nostalgia blast that someone who only knows Stalin from history books doesn't get. I have to figure out a strategy for reaching these potential readers, just as I had to figure out a strategy for reaching Russian readers.

As for Project Wonderful, some of their internal links and page names are confusing and counter-intuitive, but the site's GUI is mostly excellent. I would like to view my ads' performance on the same page where I view its details, instead of clicking to a separate page for dozens of ads. (This is especially annoying given that I get an "Are you sure you want to send a form again?" dialogue box every single time I order a back page, but to be fair, I haven't ruled out a browser defect yet.) 

I've seen a lot of sites that are ingenious but don't deliver on the either the business model or promises to customers. Assuming Project Wonderful is or will be running in the black, the site is a work of internet ingenuity. I'm having fun with it, I'm adding readers to my comic sites and the cost of ads seems unbelievably cheap to someone coming from mainstream business, where a yellow pages ad can cost thousands/month. I also enjoy supporting my friends and acquaintances by running ads on their sites.

Eventually, I'll have used every tool in the box, and will be able to speak clearly about how different promotional strategies work or don't work. For now, I still have wide-eyed enthusiasm for my latest discovery. I recognize this, and will report back once I've served a full hitch.