Friday, September 11, 2009

Readers Vs. Visitors

 Here are the pros and cons of comic visitors versus comic readers. The difference, of course, is readers are dedicated to reading your strip and return frequently, while visitors come for a variety of reasons and may never return:

  Pros of Visitors:

  • More visitors pumps up your ranking in places like Alexa and when approaching potential advertisers
  • Some visitors become readers
  • Some visitors don't become readers, but they may study your strip and discuss it with others, or review it, or reference it
  • It's the most commonly understood metric, so people are used to it
  • Most people are familiar with Google Analytics, which is centered around visitor counts

  Cons of Visitors:

  There really is no "con" to a visitor, but as measurement tools "visitors" and "unique visitors" have some downsides. Let's take a look:

  • The number can be distorted by various innocent activities, like running an ad campaign, receiving a prominent review, or being linked on the home page of a major comic
  • Such distortion can cause over-estimates when ordering merchandise or developing a business plan
  • Visitor count can be easily swollen by click fraud, fooling you into thinking some comics are more popular than they are, and making you alter a sound approach based on fake information
  • Many visitor measuring tools are not adjusted for known errors
  • Some visitor measuring tools do not report their methodology, or use sources that are redundant with other tools, calling their value into question for comparative purposes
  • Many visitor-measuring tools do not become accurate until a site reaches significant size
  • People often use "visitors" and "unique visitors" interchangeably, diminishing their clarity

    Pros of Readers:
  • Readers are your loyalists. You are part of their life, and some become part of yours by sharing insightful comments about your strip
  • Readers share valuable data, like favorite characters and story lines, that might often come as unexpected
  • Readers send you caring emails when you are stricken ill or have an accident
  • Readers can be measured much more accurately than visitors (see my post on ComicRank)
  • Trends in reader quantity are often more meaningful than trends in visitor quantity. It's the difference between hitting the broad side of the barn, or the target.)
  • Using readership measurement tools grants you access to developing new tools that I, as a cartoonist, think are pretty neat -- though not all of them are ready yet. Still, the pipeline contains some innovative services.
  • Services like ComicRank, which are purely devoted to readers, are much easier to sift through than Google Analytics, to name one -- and I'm pretty skilled with GA. I am not aware of other dedicated Reader Measurement services, so I keep mentioning CR, but if I locate any I will report them. Please don't mistake my excitement about what CR offers for bias just because they have been open with me and I use their product myself. I have an open mind about anyone else who comes along.
  • As a measurement, readers is much more resistant to click fraud than visitors.
  • You can choose to display your reader count publicly, or keep it private if you wish. Most people elect to go public, glomming a juicy link and some promo for their site.
  • The specifics are a bit challenging for me, so I won't try to sum them up, but at least in the case of CR the site has been smartly designed so that you need not fear impact on page-loading speed or server failure. The site has had years of development and testing and investment in problem prevention.
  • Readers help squelch SEO disinformation loudmouths, like the prominent webcartoonist who recently gave an interview and declared them "bullshit." Obviously, anything that has been hard-wired into the construction of websites by the people who run the internet has a purpose. From there, it descends from useful techniques to nonsense. Having your own data puts these people's opinions in perspective, leaving only the foolish to plan a comics business around such pseudo-advice.

    Cons of Readers:

  There aren't really any cons of readers, but as a measurement tool, there are a few things worth noting:
  • Because counts of actual readers weed out random visitors, robots, and people who clicked on an ad but don't return, the total number is lower. You are trading quantity for quality. Some people might not like seeing their accustomed metric decline, even though it's hardly an either-or choice. Both can be used.
  • Trends take a few weeks to fully emerge. If you do something to annoy your readers, you won't see immediate reactions from a tool like ComicRank.
  • Creators have varying attitudes about readers. For many, readers are valued and respected. For some, readers are saps to be conned out of their spending money via up-selling, hype and outright lies about being associated with a popular comic. Sometimes you see discussion of the so-called "super-fan," who spends a lot of money on your merchandise. Comics businesses I respect distinguish between such people, who are often hoping to trade money for access to a creator they admire, and customers who respect the comic creator's heavy work schedule and refrain from emotional blackmail. 
  • You should still track your visitors, of course

  A list like this could go on and on, and I have probably left out some good ideas, but I hope some people find it helpful.

  It bothers me that a lot of people are caught up in the webcomic dream bubble, in which they enjoy all the plums of being a "webcomics creator" without subjecting themselves to critical analyses, including business plans and self-measurement. There's an awful lot of strutting going on, and meanwhile a lot of people are really profoundly ignorant and even express their ignorance in angry print tirades. People fight over stupid stuff, and supposed role models dish out threats and insults like buckets of ziti.

  After I wrote that I wasn't going to be active in the webcomics "scene" it was amazing how quickly my email shifted from all sorts of people to people who are serious, often currently unknown, but likely to become well-known tomorrow. You should know that there is a loose community of mature, professional-minded people out there, that we speak constantly, and that others like us are welcome to join in, at least as far as I am concerned.

  Just get yourself through basic training, don't go slack-jawed over braggarts and phonies, and don't automatically expect there to be chemistry or a group to join. Pay close attention to what the people who think are doing. Listen to criticism, and don't request it if what you really want is to be told you are the next superstar. Be a top writer and artist, or team up. Have fun. Don't believe the hype. Improve. Remember that access to good business secrets is typically earned, not shared. And so on.