Thursday, August 20, 2009

ComicRank Reviewed

Last year, I spent time joining a variety of webcomics-related sites to see which ones I liked and didn't like.

One was ComicRank is a free service started by a fellow named Steve from the U.K. It is a readership tracking service, as opposed to the visitor-tracking services most of us use every day.

Before writing a piece about my impressions, I signed up a few of my sites. We all know tracking visitors and tracking readers are two different goals, but long-time followers of this blog know I have offered some ways to estimate readers based on visitors and other techniques.

This created a problem: my techniques and the ComicRank techniques gave different results. I couldn't proceed with a post if I could not reconcile my findings.

ComicRank's creator, Steve H., spent hours with me outlining his system, listening to my theories and trying to figure out why we weren't matching up. In the end, we were defeated. One of us was wrong, and while both of us wanted to find and fix the problem, we were stumped. We finally agreed to set it aside.

This spring, the answer revealed itself. There is a phenomenon on the internet called the Google Canonical Problem, which results in two URLs, such as and, being considered different sites unless Google is told otherwise. There has long been a fix on the server side, but if it isn't implemented, the problem persists. Recently, there have been strides to resolve the problem comprehensively, but we needn't discuss that today. Unfixed, it has implications for the accuracy of Google Analytics.

When I discovered and remedied a Canonical-type problem with the host I was then using (by switching hosts), the discrepancy between my data and ComicRank's data went away.

I don't know much about Steve personally, but I can say he wracked his brains over the issue and was careful not to jump to his conclusions. He is a sound thinker and a smart guy. When I was able to write him and tell him I had reconciled our data (not perfectly, since mine is rougher, but close enough), he was pleased.

Now has undergone a big upgrade, and I heartily recommend you take a look.
I am currently testing it in the new "private" mode, which keeps your results out of public view, since I tried the public mode last year.

The site is simple to operate, and Steve is eager for constructive comments to help him improve anything that is confusing.

Like some other data-gathering sites, ComicRank requires a code button on any page you want counted. It's quite unobtrusive: you can view mine on Lil Nyet, bottom right of the page.
If your web site is statically generated, you'll probably want to put the ComicRank code tag on every page, starting with recent pages. This, of course, is a chore. If your site is dynamically generated, you can order the tag to appear on your entire archive quite easily. If you need help and are not sure where to turn, drop me a line and I'll suggest some people. (I just need to check on their availability first.)

A really neat feature is that you can also add a code button for your RSS feed if you have one. It's a separate code, which you generate at the site. Installation instructions are at the site.

Other improvements of note:
  • The user panel has been re-designed and is much easier to operate
  • You can also track your comic on mirror sites, if you have any
  • The statistics system has been overhauled, based on observations from version one, and should be even more accurate and stable
When we were exchanging frequent letters last year, Steve explained a lot of the ways the site works, kindly trusting me to be discrete. (I'm sure you understand.) This knowledge allowed me to bring my own thoughts to the table, and I came away impressed. He has given the service plenty of thought.

Remember, should you choose to try ComicRank, it counts READERS while analytics counts VISITORS. It does this by using a proprietary algorithm to measure visitors who act like readers, as compared to visitors who wander in and don't come back. It's quite sophisticated, and while wrinkles like people who use high security settings on their browsers can distort the results a bit, it gives you the potential of a reliable trend, for free.

Should you choose private or public settings? I suggest you start with private so that the system can start counting your readers before you consider switching to public. That way it has time to get an accurate count (allow 3-4 weeks for it to get rolling). Switching to public exposes your data to the world, but it also gives you some publicity and a link to your site. All public titles now get to display their banner.

I originally wanted to write about ComicRank last year, but I'm glad I waited. It appears to be one of the most practical, helpful and original online comics sites to appear in ages. If you like it, you might want to pass on your thanks to Steve, as he deserves it.

Remember, it takes at least 3-4 weeks for your reader count to start getting quite accurate. I am interested in your impressions, so please consider bookmarking this page and returning with comments next month. I hope you find the site useful.