Monday, September 8, 2008

An Inside Guide to Smart Ad Purchases on Project Wonderful

Last week I reported that Project Wonderful counts traffic to ad hosting sites via the code you install when you host an ad.

Now, take notice of what PW actually counts.  They count ad displays. They do not count clicks on ads.

Only pages carrying a PW ad are counted. If your site has pages that receive traffic, but do not host ads, they will not be counted by PW.

A page with two PW ad boxes (not ads -- boxes) will count be counted twice, once for each ad report PW generates, and so on. The extras will be divided among the reports PW provides for each ad box, and more ads will not register as higher traffic.

A comic that has an ad campaign going will have more traffic than if it did not. Don't interpret pumped-up numbers as indicative of success. The number you want to track is your "direct" traffic from Google Analytics. Those are your loyal readers, and a steady gain is to be desired above all else. People talk about "uniques," but the "directs" are the ones that matter.

Lately I am seeing more and more blogs signing up for PW, and the diversification can only help. I have to sound a cautionary note about some blogs, however, because many of them use EntreCard. I gave EntreCard a serious test run this spring, and went from positive to unenthusiastic on it. Compressed to the fewest possible words, EC rewards people with advertising in exchange for dashing through lots of blogs and clicking the EC widget, thereby pushing up traffic for those blogs. But it is very poor traffic, with a low retention rate. An interesting comic will pick up a few readers with EC, but the time investment is enormous for low return, especially compared to other approaches.

When sizing up blogs for advertising, it pays to look for the EntreCard widget (above, though the top portion is typically replaced with a user-provided image). A blog that has been active for a substantial period, has perhaps 100 - 200 readers, and carries the widget is probably displaying mostly EntreCard traffic, which is not traffic that is likely to click on your ad.

Though some high-traffic blogs and some quality webcomics carry the widget, a disproportionate amount of EC blogs are failed blogs that won't quit, and are using EC and its affiliates to pump up traffic. Some will improve and take off, but many lack the polish, design and other attributes -- not to mention content -- needed to find an audience.

This is important to know because it will influence where you place ads that will succeed. Again: not all EntreCard users are low quality. But EC distorts the market by keeping blogs on life support that should be allowed to die. There are even a fair share of blogs that exist only to collect EC traffic, in the form of credits, which sell for about a penny each. People in developing nations use it to supplement their income, where a blog with a pretty girl and a few flirty entries a week can add to the household wealth.

All this brings us back around to Project Wonderful. If you are sizing up a site as a place for an ad, check their traffic and compare it to the number of ad boxes on the page in question. (An ad box is a gang of ads, where one click on the "Project Wonderful" text allows you the option of selecting all of them. They are not to be confused with individual ads. An ad box might include one ad, or even twenty. Ads within an ad box are always the same size. A box cannot include a button and a square.)

PW gives you a graph that shows page views compared to traffic for every ad host. If the two lines are running close, people are not dipping into the archives very much, and most of the action is on the home page. If that site is showing 600 for traffic on PW, and there is a banner ad up top, a square on the left side and six buttons on the right - for a total of three ad boxes - divide 600 by three to get a realistic traffic estimate.

Most people know this, but among new PW participants there are some who don't know. For whatever reason, some ad hosts choose to set a minimum bid on their space. Those bids are often unrealistically high. Any time you see a minimum and nobody is biting, leave. Anything higher than a penny per 100 visitors is too high.

One reason setting minimums is a mistake is because they often drive off ads that would have been able to develop into regulars if given the chance. Low bids allow ads time to be noticed repeatedly and develop viewer curiosity. Some will click on the ad and sample the comic, and if the ad remains, it may become a regular gateway to the comic, until the reader becomes attached enough to bookmark it. I often see ads start poorly, but given a chance, they can turn into performers.

Occasionally a site carrying Google ads will add PW and set a high minimum. This is because Google ads cost more and they don't want to annoy their advertisers.

Some sites with high value ad space have probably noticed that if the site averages $1.80, by setting a $2 floor, they can still keep the space filled and squeeze out an extra 10% before commissions. Setting floors is not always irrational, but it's not usually the best approach.

A smart place for comics to advertise is on comics blogs. Their readers care about comics and want to know what's knew. There is a list of such blog on the lower right column. A points to consider: these same readers see a lot of comics ads. You need your best ad for a sustained period to reap maximum gains.

Finally, before you rush off and throw money at this particular webcomics blog, try to focus on the ones that have the best display position. My display position is so-so, because I am using an ancient template and each time I go to improve it bad things happen that force me to retreat. Blogs that do a lot of reviews are good choices.

Finally, why not bookmark The Webcomic Blog List? It's the same as the list below with more detail, and I keep it up-to-date personally. The list of comics at the bottom may make you curious. It's my way of updating when I have no update: I swap a few out, and add a few more. Send me your link to the site, and I'll happily add your comic to the list for a lengthy, perhaps indefinite, stay.

Good luck with promoting your comic on Project Wonderful. If I can clarify anything, or you have useful comments, please take a moment to get in touch.

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