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Aug 2015

Promoting Your Webcomic: Part 2 – Ads

Posted by / in Blog / 38 comments

There comes a point where you’re doing all the free and social things you can to promote your comic, but you still aren’t seeing the growth that you want.  Hopefully by this point you have some revenue that you can save up and put towards ads.  This is probably hard-earned funds though, so you want to use it effectively.  I’m going to share my experiences with various paid ads around the web.  This will again include my real numbers, because I feel that this is helpful and useful.  If comparing numbers makes you sad (or gloat-y), don’t look at the pictures, k?  Especially since I KNOW (and just fixed) that we had a double page-view counting error for a while. As always, I’ll be focusing on number of PEOPLE more than number of pageviews.

 

General Principles

  1. You want your ad to be eye catching, but not too obnoxious.  Simple motion GIFs work well.
  2. Show your strengths, but don’t exaggerate or use art different than what’s actually on your page.
  3. Be savvy about what link you choose to have the ad direct to. Latest page? Most visually appealing page? Good starting point for reading? You decide.
  4. Use Google Anayltics tricks to make it easy to evaluate the results of the ad, so you can be aware and get the best ROI for your dollars.
  5. Cost per click (cpc) of < $0.20 is pretty good.

 

I’ll go thru my experiences in order of what types of ads I used and discovered first, and end with other things I haven’t tried or don’t really recommend.

 

1. Top Webcomics.com:

I talked about Top Webcomics in my “free promotional tools” article in regards to getting a listing there, and trying to get higher up in their rankings, as well as participating in contests and things they do.  They ALSO sell adspace, providing a large potential market of readers for you to advertise to.

Some things about them:

  1. They sell their adspace by the day.
  2. They offer several different adspaces/sizes, including skyscrapers, banners, squares, and smaller spots.
  3. Cost ranges from like $3-$8 a day last I checked, depending on which spot/size you want.
  4. You set it up by email [email protected]
  5. GIFs are allowed but there is a size limit of ~1MB.

I actually first WON several FREE days of ads with TWC back in earlier 2014 by participating in the first of their contests.  (Adspace is one of their main prizes normally, so keep an eye out on their FB and Twitter accounts for when they’re running contests.  I think there is one going on right now, actually.)

TWC First Contest

This was obviously hecka sweet.  The contest was stressful, but it cost $0, and we got almost 800 new readers who read a bunch and stuck around. I had several days of of the square ad below up on their main page and ON EVERY VOTING PAGE.  So every time anyone voted for their favorite comic they saw my ad.

I’m sharing the ads themselves I used just so you can see everything that went into the numbers I saw in my analytics.

 

Since having adspace with them worked so well, we decided to purchase some more.  We tried out each of the 3 ads they offered at the time in order to compare and pick: Skyscraper, Leaderboard, and Square.

TWC Skyscraper

Not too shabby. At the time, a skyscraper ad cost $6.25 a day, so that gave us a cpc of $0.13, or $0.16 per new reader.  Low bounce rate, and they all read a significant amount that session, as well as coming back later to read more.

The Skyscraper ad I used.

The Skyscraper ad I used.

 

The Leaderboard ads.

Similar results.  $6.25 per day, $0.09 cpc, $0.17 per new user.  They didn’t stick around as long, but more of these were returning instead of new readers, so it makes sense that they would read less pages in one go.

Marching marching always marching...

Marching marching always marching…

 

TWC Square

Using the same square image as before, during our week of free ads, we bought 3 days of ads at $8.75 each (square was more coveted and thus more expensive).  That comes out to a cpc of $0.09, or $0.13 per new reader.  Just based on the math alone, the square ad was more successful, which makes sense since it is the most visible spot.  Not every user of TWC goes to the main page.  Many just show up to vote from links directly from the comics they’re reading.  The square ad is front and center when they do this.

Since this trial, we’ve purchased square ads a number of times, or, more accurately, tried to earn free adspace by participating in contests.  I continued to choose the square ad, and picked our update day closest to the beginning of the month, since that’s when TWC gets the most readers voting (rankings reset at the start of each month).

TWC Monthly

Each time getting about 50 new readers a day of ads, and slowly building up more and more returning readers.

I haven’t bought any ads from TWC lately, because I’ve mostly tapped that well, I feel, and have been focusing on other ad opportunities lately.  But there are large audiences available, for competitive prices.  I’d heartily recommend it, especially if you can win some for free :D

 

2. Project Wonderful:

Project Wonderful is a simple and effective way to advertise on specific sites around the web that publish thru them, which luckily for us happens to be a lot of webcomics.  A couple of basic notes about them:

  1. They sell adspace on a bidding system.  You bid a $/day amount for an ad spot you want, and as long as your bid is winning, you get that spot, being charge by the minute at the current $/day rate (basically).
  2. You’re only charged the minimum amount (up to your bid) that it takes to win the auction.  If someone outbids you, you immediately lose the spot and stop paying for it.
  3. You can set maximum $ per bid, and maximum amount you’re willing to spend to hold on to the spot.  Theoretically you could bid $500/day, and hold that spot for an hour and pay your maximum amount of $25.  Upon reaching your maximum set you would stop spending money.
  4. Also, you have to upload funds to a PW account, so if you just run out of funds you lose the bid and stop getting charged.
  5. You can host ads with PW as well, and make some money that you can then use to BUY ads on other sites.
  6. Publishers get to decide whether or not they will accept motion gif ads. Some do, some don’t.
  7. You can control which geographical market your ad is targeting, and bid different amounts for each zone.

Because it’s a bidding system, some low value/undesirable adspots may even be free, so you can find and take up those spots without paying a dime.  I don’t personally think that’s worth it, because they’re free for a reason.  To me, the best strategy is to target your ads to a good couple of sites that are similar to yours and have a decent readership (PW provides numbers based on how many eyes see their adboxes).  Make sure to pick one that has good visibility (publishers get to place them, and sometimes they’re in horrible spots).  Bid enough to win it at first, to figure out what the cpc and etc will be.  If it’s good (< $0.20, IMO), you’ve found a winner to bid on whenever you have the funds.

I’ll share two targeted sites that I found successful, and one I didn’t.

PW Derelict

I picked the comic Derelict because it was a post-apocalyptic comic I enjoyed, the ad spot was visible right above/below the comic page, and the comic got a fair amount of traffic without the bidding be too expensive.  Testing it out, I got TONS of new readers who read a lot and really stuck around.  I no longer have the exact numbers for cpc and etc to go with this particular campaign, but I normally spend $2-5 dollars a day to hold on to this ad, and average a cpc of $0.13 or so.  They no longer host PW ads, but I purchased ad space there quite frequently.

 

PW BlastWave

Similarly, Gone With the Blastwave, another post-apocalyptic comic, is a recurring favorite of mine to bid on.  The skyscraper ad is right next to the comic and very visible.  I normally again, spend $2-5 a day and average an even lower cpc from $0.06 to $0.10.  Even today when I use it I’ll get new readers, as well as bringing back people who may have read some previously.

 

PW Mabinogi

I’m always looking for new sites to try bidding on.  But they don’t always work.  This one had good placement and numbers, but wasn’t thematically close enough to The Demon Archives.  So while the price wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t drawing many people in, and they didn’t stay and read very much.

On each of these sites, I used GIFs when gifs were allowed and single frames where it wasn’t.

In summary, Project Wonderful is a good place to start when you have a small revenue flow.  I saved up Patreon money and stuck it into my PW account.  Many people I know publish ads thru PW and use what money they earn to buy new ads.  It can be very effective at growing your audience for a small amount of money.  The best part is that it doesn’t cost much up front, as you can literally spend pennies a day on cheap ads, or a couple dollars here and there for a day of ads somewhere.

 

3. Comic Rocket:

Comic Rocket is a great comic reader site.  Basically, register your comic, it crawls your archive and allows people to subscribe and be reminded when there are new comics to read.  It doesn’t rehost the content, so you’re getting all the traffic to your site.  It’s good to register your comic with them (free), because even doing just that you’ll get some new readers.  Some things about advertising with them:

  1. They only have 2 sizes: 160×600 or 728×90.
  2. If you’re advertising your comic (that you have registered with them), the price is 100,000 impressions for only $25, or $50 if you choose to target any specific genres.  Remember, impressions are defined as people SEEING an ad, not clicking on it.
  3. While you can target genres, you can’t target specific comics.
  4. You set it all up via their automatic forms and pay with paypal.
  5. You have to do a minimum buy of 100,000 impressions, so a minimum buy in of $25 or $50.
  6. Your ad will be on a rotation of other ads, but will run until the number of impressions you paid for runs out.

My ad (shown below) ran a couple weeks, and directed readers towards the latest page at the time, which is why you see several different referral paths. The light blue line shows new readers, and ticks up on the 16th of September, right when I purchased the ad.

Comic Rocket

The ad definitely worked, bringing in about 300 new readers, for a cpc of about $0.16.  So good, but not as good as I’d been getting with my targeted ads on PW.  But these are good solid readers who have stuck around, subscribed with Comic Rocket (I have ~130 subscribers there right now) and keep coming back to read.  It is just a larger up front investment, but one that I’m probably going to try again soon one of these days.

EDIT: I believe Comic Rocket has closed up its ad network? I’ll confirm and update this post when I confirm.

 

4. Hiveworks:

Hiveworks Comics is a comic collective and business.  Their comics are pretty popular and command large audiences.  They also run their own ad services.  Some basics:

  1. Their advertising info page is out of date, confusing, and mostly wrong.
  2. To set up an ad, you email their CEO at [email protected] (edited, the email listed on the site was out of date and wrong too XD )
  3. There is a minimum $250 up front buy in (apparently it is now a $1000 minimum!), which gets you 250,000 impressions (at the current rate of 1000 per $2, it now only gets you 500K impressions, despite the increased price).
  4. You CAN target which comic and adspot you want, just specify this in the email.
  5. Motion GIFs are allowed, but you need to keep the filesizes low. ~250 KB or less.

I chose an excellent (and very popular) post-apocalyptic comic, Stand Still, Stay Silent, to run an ad on.  It did so well that I just finished up a second round of ads.

Hiveworks

Each bid ran about a week before my total number of impressions ran out.  These are definitely more expensive ads.  Not only with the upfront cost of $250 each bid, but at the cpc level.  It’s hard to measure the exact cpc (since I can’t tell how many of those sessions are clicks on the ad or just returning visitors who initially visited from the ad), so I’ll estimate it by assuming that all of the readers were new (which is true).  $500 for ~1250 new readers is $0.40 per new reader clicking though.  That’s WELL above my recommended “good price” cpc, but I chose to do it twice because of the LARGE volume of new readers I got with each campaign.

Add to that, that these readers tend to read a large number of pages and then stick around for updates AND leave comments, and I am satisfied with the ads.  I don’t know if I’m going to set up another bid anytime soon, as it IS very expensive, and I can grow slower but cheaper with other options, but, it’s still an option.  Setting up the ads is often the most difficult part, as the emails back and forth aren’t always the most professional or informational/helpful.  I’ve had a couple of mistakes as well where the specific URL I requested for the image was not included until I emailed and reminded them about it.  But, if you have a large amount to advertise and want to get a large number of new readers quickly, Hiveworks ads can do that.

 

5. Other Options:

So, that’s it for things that I’ve tried.  I know that there are also ads available via Facebook and Twitter, but I have never tried these.  I know from personal experience that Facebook ads tend to accumulate a lot of spam, as fake accounts and like-bots and etc are a big problem over there.  Also, I’d rather spend money to direct traffic TO MY SITE than to my social media accounts.  If they get to my site and enjoy the comic, they can easily find my social accounts.  But getting them to my accounts requires them to then click MORE links in order to even see my comic and get interested.

I also haven’t tried Google Adwords much, as it was too complicated for me to figure out, especially compared to these options I’ve explained above.

EDIT: I’ve since learned how to use adwords better.  Still complicated, so I’ll probably make a Part 3 at some point.

BUT, if someone has had success paying for other types of ads, I would LOVE to hear them.  I know that The Web Comic List site offers ads, and that some people have had success there.  But I haven’t tried it and can’t speak to its efficacy.  If anyone has tried these or any other ad service and has hard numbers to share, please let me know.

 

TL;DR

There are places to buy ads.  They cost monies.  Some are more effective than others.  Be smart about your analytics so you can figure out which work best for you as you try different things.

Read Part 3, with updated tips!

  • Melissa J Massey

    I need to learn how to set up analytics for my ads so I can figure out what works and what doesn’t work better. I’ve been having such a hard time getting readers to the site lately that I’m really considering doing some strategic advertising.

    Great blog post as every, Dan! Thanks for including the analytics screen shots. They are very helpful!

    • Same here, regarding setting up analytics to track PW. Heck, I need to update my ads, too.
      Thank you, Daniel. Yet another GREAT article everyone should read.

    • Did you read the google analytics tricks post I wrote up? I go thru how to set it up. If that’s still confusing I can walk you thru it :D

  • All of that is well within their business rights to do, but it does make it harder for the small creators to advertise on those sites, yes. Good business for those sites part of Hiveworks, which I can’t fault them for.

  • Man, everytime I read one of these advertisement articles, I’m thinking to myself ‘I really need to step up my ad game’… as in, start advertising at all :|

    • After 3 years in this industry, I just finished running my first ad…and I did mine with TopWebcomics and don’t have a negative thing to say about the whole experience. Great prices, super easy staff to work with and an overall great experience.

  • Sure thing.

    Definitely, that’s why my advice is to try and evaluate your ROI at each place.

    Last I read, you couldn’t purchase ads on tapastic directly, as they used adwords or something.

    Patreon was the best source of small income for me. Even a couple bucks a month there can be enough to start a PW test campaign.

  • Yeah, I am surprised that Hiveworks goes that high for a minimum, but like Daniel said it’s within their rights as a business. If they want to target Mercedes owners of webcomics, that’s fine, they just won’t be getting my advertising dollars.

  • Pingback: Promoting Your Webcomic: Part 1 - Free Options -()

  • guitarfan29

    Have you tried http://www.thewebcomiclist.com/advertise/ ?

    The costs are as follows:

    30,000 impressions – $30
    Minimum of 9 calendar days in rotation

    75,000 impressions – $60
    Minimum of 23 calendar days in rotation

    150,000 impressions – $100
    Minimum of 45 calendar days in rotation

    Also, I noticed Top Webcomics.com doesn’t offer that nice square ad as an option anymore, unless I am missing something.

    • Do you have adblock installed? Because when they don’t have a comic buying a spot they give it to google, and then I can’t see them either (referring to TWC).

      I haven’t tried TWCL, mostly because they site seems so…trashy? Like, old, and poorly moderated, and full of bots and stuff. I should probably try it at least once though, and see for myself how the data is.

      • guitarfan29

        I have adblocker installed, but of course it’s disabled for this site, i see all the other ads listed for sale, but not the big square, which yes, seems to be a google ad at the moment.

        • The 300×250 IS the bigger square I used, actually :)

          • guitarfan29

            Oh, ya know what it is? I was only seeing the 190×174 squares below, that are lumped together and didn’t want those. On the actual sales page, you only see 300×250 with “GSq” listed below it and no example (maybe because they don’t have someone running an odd on it at the moment?). It’s kind of sloppy how they set it up, but maybe that’s why I was unable to find it/confused.

          • Yeah that “Gsq” I think means “Google square”, and no one has the spot at present.

          • guitarfan29

            Not exactly the clearest most well thought out sales page….but glad that’s cleared up! :)

          • guitarfan29

            Did you get this square exclusively? Or was this with the shared with another comics ad square thing they mention on their sales page?

          • I have had it exclusively by luck on days when no one else had bought it, and I have shared it with others or with crappy google ads. It’s always been rather successful and worth it, especially since I normally get these adspots on TWC from participating in contests.

          • guitarfan29

            We would likely just be paying, it seems like getting it exclusive is an option, im guessing they charge even more than 8$ and change per day for that though.

          • Yeah I’ve never specifically asked for exclusivity, but you can look at their calendar of ads already purchased and maybe pick a day that doesn’t have any other ads bought already? Or just email them and ask them what their prices for exclusive are. It may be that you have to pay for multiple adspots to fill the day.

          • guitarfan29

            We will likely have the budget to advertise on topwebcomics all month long with the coveted square ad on a regular basis (while having $ for other sites and networks). It sounds like it will be worth it. We just need to find someone who can make great gif ads!

          • I recommend you test a couple different spots. The small squares for $15 a week are a pretty good deal too.

          • guitarfan29

            I’ll keep that in mind, we have the resources to run these on a regular basis along with other networks and PW.

          • guitarfan29

            Is it true that they now require 1000$ upfront? And is it only guaranteeing the same amount of impressions they gave at 250? That price seems kind of insane.

          • Yup, $1000 minimum buy in, and the amount of impressions has changed as well. It used to be $1 per 1K, now it’s $2 per 1K.

            And yeah, it’s certainly not a price feasible for independent comic creators, but their model doesn’t really CARE? They’re just charging mre because they can to make more money for their business. Which I can respect. But yeah I don’t buy ads from them anymore.

          • guitarfan29

            I was ok at 250 minimum buy in, for the 1$ at 1k, and even that felt steep, but this is just wacky. I guess I just sit here and go, who the hell is buying these ads at such prices?

          • From what I can see, it often just goes to Google Adsense, or they self promote other HW comics. I dunno.

            I similarly did the $250 buy in twice, which is how I gathered this data on how well the ads can do. But not anymore :/

          • guitarfan29

            Ya, kinda seems like they are shooting themselves in the foot a bit. I was willing to go in at 250, maybe even 500 (for the previous amount of impressions given) but there is no way im dropping a grand on 500k impressions not when PW and topwebcomics gives you far more for your buck.

          • My thoughts precisely. I think they’re banking on big spenders who want a LOT of impressions and ads served to people in a very short time. HW DOES have a large ad network, if that’s your angle. Most comic creators though, are ok with slow, more cost effective growth strategies :)

          • guitarfan29

            Well, I was going to be one of those customers as I very much am trying to build that fast i would spend 500 tops at any one time though, but 1000$ for half the impressions previously given is just an insult, and not worth it. Ya I had calculated it to 2 or more CPM, that’s pretty bad. Whoever is running the show there is doing a pretty piss poor job as they would get a lot more business by being even modestly more reasonable.

          • guitarfan29

            I also have to ask, with comic rocket, given that it went a couple weeks, did you buy one or two 25$ ad runs, or did you do the targeted 50? I am just curious if one 25$ run gave you two weeks worth of impressions thereabouts.

          • I THINK last I heard they were actually in the process of dismantling their ad network? I’ll have to check. That site is how you set up the ads though, so if it’s down, you just physically can’t do it, so don’t worry about it working halfway and gobbling your money or anything.

            I did the targeted $50, IIRC.

          • guitarfan29

            So this is now one more place we can’t advertise eh? Why are they doing that you think?

          • My understanding was they were having difficulties keeping it financially viable or something, but is part of why I’m checking.

            Sadly, Project Wonderful and trying to make Google Adsense work are some of the only good options left :/

          • guitarfan29

            I suppose PW still has enough comics, that if one has some real money to spend, you can still blow through it all on there.

  • guitarfan29

    I would be interested in seeing the part 3 dedicated to adwords, which I know hiveworks offers as a lower cost solution for their network (though they use it a bit differently than might be typical).

    • I talk a bit about my experience with adwords in my linked Part 3 above, but yeah, I need to give them another whirl before writing something more in depth for them. I know there are many Adwords tutorials out there, albeit not many geared towards webcomics. My main take away so far is that it’s generally out of most independent creators’ budgets, but definitely can effectively target markets you can’t reach otherwise.

      • guitarfan29

        I would greatly appreciate having that as a resource for sure, both for hiveworks and for more webcomic centric purposes, obviously. Thanks for doing the hard work and writing this up too, it’s very hard to find this information at this kind of level for our industry.