Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Webcomic Keyword Optimization

Keywords are important to comic site optimization, because there often isn't much text on the page for a search engine to analyze.

This is important, because over time, search engines generate a constant stream of new visitors, and potential readers. For free.

Now, by keywords, I don't mean the obsolete keyword tag in HTML. I mean the words you use in current tags, like title, description and ALT.

The term also refers to the management of words you use in the text you do have, since search engines pay extra attention to words in bold, words in h tags (which indicate the size of the text) and words highlighted  in links.

Contents Management Systems (CMS) vary in how easy it is to tinker with tags. My own experience is mostly with Synthasite, where tags are inserted in a page menu, which is easy and requires no coding skills. However, some CMS options allow tags to be changed for any numbers of pages at once, which is also attractive, and not yet available from Synthasite. Ease of keyword management is an important consideration when choosing a CMS for a comic.

Don't mistake me for an expert. I am a reporter who has done testing and experimentation, and am sharing what I have learned. I was recently reassured by a reader who works as a content optimization professional that what I have written so far is sound, but keep an open mind when using my guidance. In a way it is better that I am closer to a comicker trying to learn the ropes than a pro, because it helps me see things as many of us do: confusing, overwhelming, and in need of simplified explanation and straight talk.

The goal is to identify, select, optimize and test keyword suitable for your site.


Many of us will start out with nominations like "comic" or "webcomic." Even in a relatively small field, like webcomics, competition for such words places them out of reach for many of us. Instead, we use them to enhance the match value of some definite choice. I'll use my strip Scratchin Post as an example, and the description tag, which tells what is on the page. The credibility of the description tag is enhanced if it overlaps text on the page, of which my strip name is certain to be included. Entering "Scratchin Post Webcomic" as a keyword (keywords can be phrases or single words) is like adding those same words individually as well as together. Someone searching for "Scratchin Post Webcomic" will possibly get my site in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) because it is an exact, three-word match and overlaps my text content. Someone searching for "Scratchin Post" will get the value of those words being in the selected keyword.

If you don't make a list of potential keywords, and add to it and delete from it over the course of days, you are likely to return often to modify tags. Having a list is not just convenient, but is required for testing them before deployment.

The testing process is needed to see what the competition is for your choices. Some words, like "comic," are so fiercely competitive that you will  only use them as modifiers in phrase keywords. Others will turn out to be less competitive, and you will evaluate them based on the details of how they are competitive and who is using them.

First, you'll use a tool like GoRank's Keyword Popularity Analyzer. Like the majority of SEO tools, this one is free, but unlike the majority it requires sign-up. I provided my email and a password for instant access, with no downside yet.

This tool allows you to enter a word or phrase, and it tells you Google's top ten results for that choice. Ideally, you will pick targets likely to get you into the top seven search results, because that's how many typically appear on a desktop computer page with scrolling.

First, let's look at a successful keyword choice for Scratchin Post.

The URL for Scratchin Post is, which is very helpful to any search including those terms. Let's do a search with our tool and see what we learn:

Click to Enlarge. Column captions and their meanings are PR=PageRank; words=number of word matches; repeats may mean matches that are closely spaced; density means how much of the site's text is made up of the search words; title=their appearance in title tags; Link=their appearance in links; Alt=appearance in ALT tags; KW=Keyword tags (obsolete for Google but possibly used by other search engines); Desc=description tags; Bold=matches appearing as bold text; HTags= matches appearing as H tags (font size tags).

Here, we're in pretty decent shape. The first three results are the comic or pages from it. The fourth is a magazine that made a reprint arrangement with us. Next is where someone Stumbled it, followed by my Twitter profile. Next is a link from The Ephemerist blog, a blogcatalog mention, my other comic (which links to Scratchin Post), and my blog. Not all of these are direct links to the site, but they'll all get you there, so I would call this result quite satisfactory.

Now, let's evaluate a candidate keyword. Many people probably would like to see "webcomic," so let's do that.

As often happens with categorizing words, we find a couple of wikis at the top, including Webcomic Wiki, a rising competitor to the moribund Comixpedia. We also have some comics sites, and Google's browser, which was released with an accompanying comic about what makes it what it is.

Now, these results should duplicate what you get when you Google the same phrase, and they are very close: drops to last, and the browser is replaced by Webcomicnation.

But we also have all the data to the right. The PageRank tells us these are popular sites, or were when they were sold. Something in Google's algorithm is selecting results that are somehow balanced between popularity and search term, suggesting this keyword is more appropriate for future use.

For the majority of webcomics, "webcomic" as a stand-alone keyword is not going to produce results. Its value is as a supplementary word in a phrase, like Scratchin Post Comics webcomic.

Ideally, I'd next show you a report showing how combining two mediocre keyword candidates resulted in a winner. Ideally, I'd have time to fish around for hours, looking for the perfect case, but I don't.

Instead, I have a good result and a weak result to combine: Scratchin Post Comics webcomic. Not sure how often that search term gets used, but it has value both for itself and the words that make it up.

Scratchin Post is number one, though oddly, it's my subdomain (an issue for another day). It still works. All the rest are links that lead to Scratchin Post. I'd investigate this more if I was seriously considering using this term.

A nice feature of the GoRank tool is that it gives you a readout for every individual word in a search phrase, lower on their results page. This is helpful for figuring out various combinations.

At GoRank, you'll see other free tools, including a keyword density analyzer, a five-URL comparison tool and an ontology finder, a sort of thesaurus for Google. The last one is helpful for dreaming up keyword ideas.

This sums up how to identify good potential keywords for your site. Tomorrow we'll talk about selecting and optimizing keyword choices.