Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Qualitative Audience Data for Webcomics

Dear Readers: I baffled myself while writing the article I intended to post next. I wanted to link to the article below, but couldn't find it -- because I had forgotten to publish it. So, here it is. It may look technical at first glance, but if you actually open a window to your Google Analytics and do the easy moves I describe, you might see a little magic. Also, tomorrow's article, which is still being edited but looks promising, will be more useful if you have walked through this one. It will be much more reader-friendly, too, I think.

It may not show, but I put a lot of effort into keeping posts as short as possible, clear and understandable. Sometimes the subject material makes it challenging, as do competing demands on my time, but I do care about providing something of value to you and realize your time is precious as well. Set aside time when you are not rushed for this piece, and you'll enjoy it more.

What if you could easily arrange your Google Analytics data so that your best referral sources "popped" off the page? And what can you do with such data?

Truth is, there's about 500 ways to do that, but many are geared toward ecommerce sites, not content sites, and use goals and others things that have mixed value for me.

So try this open. Open you GA, and set if for a desired time period or the 30 day default.

Now let's see if I can remember how I did this!

Change the toggle so that instead of 10 results you see 100 or more.
Spot the four gray, square buttons in upper right, and click the one called COMPARISON, on the right end.
Leave the roll bar in the first column set to VISITS. Change the one on the right to PAGES/VISIT.

Now, if your comic is like our title, Lil Nyet , you get traffic from many sites, and some of those sites have a lot of serious readers who read as many as 250 pages in a visit (at which point they rest for a year, since that's roughly our annual output on that title). Actually, while there are several a day who read at least 100 pages, there are lots who read 20 or 50.

I like these people because they are reading the whole comic, or large chunks, and they're bright enough to get it or they fake it well.

Let's look at this data before we make changes for other results. Don't touch that dial.

These results are from near the top of my results. The ones in red are not bad sources, they are very good. They are just greatly outcompeted by the green ones. The big green one did 424% better than the average referrer to our site. The ones in red were still positive, and sent more than zero people, they are just below average. If any of them represented paid referrers, like advertisements, then I'd flag them for a closer look.

Certainly, I want to take note of my top performers as I make advertising decisions, thank people for links and look for similar sources.

Next, a simple change will bring order. Change the left roll bar to PAGES/VISIT, and now you see everything in descending order.

My top three referrers for pages/visit are not the top three for traffic volume. The top three for pages/visit are 8, 16 and 52 on a recent day for volume.

For most sites, visits are the goal. They are a goal for me too, but only one, and not the most important.

Like Cinderella's prince (but better looking), I am in search of particular people, which I call our audience. Our audience is the people who plunge into the comic and seem to like it enough to stay for 45 or 60 minutes. The economic viability of our comic as a stand alone item will be measured by these people and their ability to extend the qualities that drew them to the comic, on to the items in our store (which will be appearing one day in the future).

This is called qualitative audience analysis. Its cousin, quantitative analysis, is volume based, and qualitative is, as you have guessed, quality based.

Some aspects of a quality audience are obvious: they like the comic, and that might extend to merchandise buys, links or telling friends. But it's often easier to define a quality audience by what they are not.

They are not there because they had their arm twisted, or a more subtle version of same, like clicking on an ad, reading two pages, and splitting. This is trickier, because it's out of my terrain, but I'd say they are not there for incentives as much, though sometimes incentives like wallpaper are part of the experience and attract quality visitors. One of the most important is, they are not there because they are following a crowd. A huge slice of humanity reads bad comics because someone else does, and they copy them without considering their options. This kind of popularity is a mile wide and inch deep, though some comics will count them as valued traffic.

This is because comics vary. Some rely on churn, and have substantially different readers every twelve months, whereas I am partial to long term commitments and the idea of the comic achieving ritual status in the reader's life.

I can't say whether a comic with 20,000 low quality readers (the people are not low quality, just their reading and loyalty habits compared to their peers) will do better than a comic with 10,000 devoted readers, or the reverse, but having visited plenty of forums associated with particular comics, I'd rather have the devoted group. I may make less money, but I'll be happier. And I think that if other issues are handled right, I should do as well and maybe better.

Such comparisons, which make it sound like a contest when we all know no two comics are alike, bug me, and please forgive me for going there. I think the point has been made.