Thursday, August 28, 2008

Declining Alexa Rank Among Notable Webcomics

Big name webcomics are sliding on Alexa, the web site traffic ranking service. This is of interest for many reasons, not least of which is that Wikipedia uses Alexa scores to decide what webcomic profiles will be kept and which deleted.

A random batch of familiar comics shows declines in 25 of 26 titles.

I have a theory about the cause. Inspecting the top 500 Alexa sites shows a subjective increase in sites from outside the English-speaking world -- Chinese search engines and the like. "Me-too" version of English sites are also climbing, such as Ebay France And Google Chile. I think these sites are probably causing an Alexa-wide decline for anyone who has been unable to add visitors at the same rate as these sites. Even outstanding performances by webcomic standards are not enough.

An obvious question is whether a surge in the number of comics is bleeding readers from the batch I sampled, or if readership is in decline, contrary to what I've reported. I gathered the data below, and you can see that most comics are doing well or very well, except with Alexa. I don't see a readership problem, I see a readership explosion. It's just not as big as a Google Chile explosion.

UNIQUES are unique visitors, monthly average, in thousands
TRAFFIC is total visitors per day, monthly average in thousands
ALEXA RANK is in thousands. LOWER IS BETTER. A change of -2K means the Alexa Rank worsened by approximately 2000.
For inclusion, I picked some comics I know well and comics I haven't studied before. Look for broad trends, remembering that any comic can have a bad month. Some titles are less than three years old, but some have been popular for 4 - 6 years.

I've heard a few people remark that they never expected to see xkcd overtake Penny Arcade, but now that xkcd and Cyanide and Happiness have both broken a million, the race is on for two million. I think it's doable; in fact, I expect to see five million achieved by someone in the next five years or so. Compared with traditional newspaper comic readership, webcomics are just scratching the surface.

Diesel Sweeties 
Uniques: 39K (+52%)
Traffic: 96K (-32%)
Alexa Rank: 34K  (-2K)

Least I Could Do 
Uniques: 52K (+24%) 
Traffic:  112K (+28%)
Alexa Rank 6K, down slightly

Girl Genius 
Uniques 25K (+39)
Traffic: 165K (+39%)
Alexa Rank: 21K (-4K)

Uniques: 47K (+10%)
Traffic: 301K  (-10%) 
Alexa Rank: 15 (-6)

Questionable Content
Uniques: 86K (+53%)
Traffic: 615K (+61%)
Alexa Rank: 5 (-2)

Uniques: 456K (99%)
Traffic: 1,355K (100%)
Alexa Rank: 3 (-1)

Penny Arcade 
Uniques: 180K (+3%)
Traffic: 778K (-13%)
Alexa Rank: 3 (-1)

Uniques: 27K (-14%)
Traffic: 164K (-12%)
Alexa Rank: 14K (-5K)

Uniques: 109K (+12%)
Traffic: 593K (-1%)
Alexa Rank: 4K (-2K)

Adventures of Dr. McNinja 
Uniques: 24K (+56%)  
Traffic: 110K (+72%)
Alexa Rank: 14K (-2K)

Something Positive 
Uniques: 24K (-15%)
Traffic: 176K (-34%)
Alexa Rank: 15K (-2K)

Dinosaur Comics 
Uniques: 36K (-1%)
Traffic: 139K (+49%)
Alexa Rank: 25K (-3K)

Uniques: 17K (-3%)
Traffic: 103K (+9%)
Alexa Rank: 27K (-2K)

Uniques: 25K (+22%)
Trafffic: 112K (+28%)
Alexa Rank: 27K (-4K)

Cyanide and Happiness  
Uniques: 256 (-20%)
Traffic: 1,019 (-11)
Alexa Rank: 2K (-1)

Mac Hall 
Uniques: 4K (+15%)
Traffic: 5K (-19K)
Alexa Rank: 170K (-46K)

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal 
Uniques: 43 (+54%)
Traffic: 156K (-14%)
Alexa Rank: 15K  (-6K)

General Protective Fault
Uniques: 4K (-23%)
Traffic: 58K (+108%)
Alexa Rank: 87K (+1)

Among comics I had to exclude due to incomplete data was another with an Alexa advance, of +5 ,"Girls with Slingshots" by Danielle Corsetto.