Friday, December 28, 2007

Gaming Project Wonderful: Fewer Ads, Bidding Nothing Makes You More Money

When Project Wonderful first came out and approached the webcomic communities, people thought the new "Infinite Auction" model would revolutionize advertising as we know it. Finally, everyone thought, people would get paid what they were worth! Of course, nobody realized what "they were worth" actually meant.

Make no mistake, Project Wonderful is a clever system, and it's certainly more entertaining (and easier) to become an advertiser on there than ever before. The problem is that (like most advertising media), Project Wonderful is working in the Advertiser's favor, so it's up to the publishers to do everything they can to make sure their properties make as much as they can. Fortunately, it's easy to be both, and there's only a few things that need to be done to get the best results possible, to beat Project Wonderful:
  1. Comb the Freebies. Sometimes bids go for $0.00 (as in absolutely free), and believe it or not, these things will allow you to use completely free advertising. By bidding on these, you force paying customers to pony up (which does at least a little good for the people offering the space, as even 1 cent of profit is better than making absolutely nothing), and/or you get some free airtime, which drives new traffic to the site and improves your own statistics (see below). Remember, you can only make a zero bid for two days at a time, and even if someone else already had a $0 bid on the slot, that just means that you can either force them to pay, or you'll get the spot once their two days runs out.

    The best way to do this is to use Firefox to access PW, search for a specific size ad, and target the ads with a $0.00 current bid and no minimum; then open up a huge number of tabs to bid on those zero-spaces once you've pulled out a good number to bid on. At least 25% of those will likely result in immediate high bids. Even if they're on lousy sites, it's exposure nontheless, and it's also an easy way to test out similar ads against each other (which allows you to E.A.T. on your ads prior to actually laying out some cash!)

  2. Don't Be Picky. Waiting for a publisher to accept your ad is a drag, and likewise, you're missing out on money from each and every ad you do accept, because you get credited every 30 minutes! Even if you like one ad over another, keep in mind that everyone else's bids drive up the price of the one getting the top slot right now, so being picky is in nobody's best interest.

    Why? Because EVERY BID BUILDS ON THE OTHERS. Here's a quick demonstration of a typical bidding scenario on a single ad space:

    • Bidder A is willing to pay $1 on the space, but nobody else wants it. Even though A could pay, it is an unconstested bid, so A gets the slot for free, and the publisher gets no money even though A is willing to pay $1.
    • Bidder B comes along with a $0.00 bid, since he's looking for free advertising. Suddenly there are more bidders than spaces available, so bidding begins to come into play. Even though B is freeloading, it's still an active bid, and so A is finally forced to pay (it's only a cent, sure, but that's better than nothing!).
    • Bidder C comes along and bids $0.05. Now A has to pay $0.06 in order to keep C from claiming the space.

    In other words, the only way you get A to actually pay $1 is if someone bids up to $0.90 on the same slot at the same time. This is great for advertisers because it ensures they never pay more than they want to, but the only way publishers (i.e. you) get to see these huge returns is if a bidding war actually starts. Also, it means you shouldn't discourage smaller bidders, because their presence forces bidding wars and gets higher-paying advertisers to shell out more money. Bidders will often pull out when they realize they're being outbid, which is a pain in the ass in and of itself when you're counting on certain bidders to keep your prices high, so don't help the process along unless there's something REALLY wrong with a higher-rated ad than you're comfortable with.

    The best way to encourage bidding wars is to keep the number of ads available at any given time down to begin with, and that means showing the largest ads you can for a given space. Larger ads pay better (Note how the Skyscraper ad on the blog tends to outperform the banner ads on Last Resort's front page, even though the blog receives only a fraction of the traffic), and the more spaces you have, the more people you need to even be interested in advertising there to make a single cent (once again, the ads only start paying off when you have more bidders than available slots!).

  3. Expect Logarithmic Returns on Traffic. Put bluntly, there are a lot of sites with very little traffic, and very few sites that get a lot of traffic. As you accrue more traffic, you should receive exponentially higher bids for that traffic because you are now competing with fewer and fewer sites that have the same level of traffic.

    This gets back to the initial problem again of furthering your exposure, but it also means that when you start to see an improvement in ads, it also means you're getting more/better traffic as well.
Keep in mind that Project Wonderful should not be your only source of income; while more consistent than donations, it can be incredibly hard to see worthwhile returns when starting out. The good news is that Project Wonderful can run alongside Google Adsense (Google's restrictions apply only to content-based ads; Project Wonderful doesn't care about content!) , and it can provide a new set of statistics for you to keep track of, giving you a better sense of where to put your ads (and also how to further improve your advertising gain!)

And when you realize how easy that can be, it's just wonderful.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How to get 75.49% More Readers without Changing (much of) Anything

Finally, Google Analytics shows off its usefulness. Having so much raw data at your fingertips can only be so beneficial if you know how to use it, and whether you average 6 hits a day (like this blog's index page), or 600, it's still fairly obvious when you have a nice 'spike' in your stats.

And of course, if there was a simple, quick fix to getting stats, readers, money, etc., people would have figured it out well before now. There is, however, a pretty simple process to finding quick fixes, because the more things you try to do for a stat boost, the sooner you have to stumble across SOMETHING that works. And yes, it couldn't be much simpler:
  1. Experiment. Do something new; it doesn't have to necessarily be something new to the comic. Add some commentary to older pages. Get some new advertising. Go post in a few places you haven't been before.
  2. Analyze. Using Google Analytics (or whatever other metrics you have), by the next day you can already tell if your brilliant plan is working or not.
  3. Tinker! If it's working, do it more! If it's not, stop and/or find a new way of doing it.
Yes, even your comic has to E.A.T. sometime. Google Analytics couldn't make it easier; because you can tell where your referral links are coming from, it's trivial to trace down which links are being the most effective, or if a source is just sending you a lot of hits that immediately bounce, so you can weed out the ones that just give you a lot of noise from the ones that give you new, genuinely interested fans.

You now have an awesome way to measure the performance of whatever experiments you do, and as long as you're learning something (anything, really) each time you try something new, the better the results get.

And for those wondering: the 75.49% spike is from a well-timed post made to the Furrtive Livejournal Community. You guys are awesome. :)

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas (and don't forget to check in for next week's bonus!)

Been getting busy for the new year, which apparently includes not only making sure enough comic pages get made in time to make sure they don't conflict with the school year, but also some special detours to help people find out about Last Resort.

I have plans to show up at Furry Weekend Atlanta in February (hopefully with a table of some kind, but either way I plan on being there!), along with MomoCon in March, and a few dedicated fans are even trying to talk me into AnthroCon (up in Pittsburgh!) for the summer months. Plans for other conventions are in the works, but these are the ones on my mind right now.

Of course, in order to make these worthwhile, there ought to be merchandise to sell and things for me to do there as well... I plan on offering some commissions, but I'm always open to ideas.

The ads from Project Wonderful are... well... a little maddening to keep track of all the time. They ought to start paying off soon, though.

In the meantime, we have plenty more Last Resort to bring you, so don't forget to say hello in the site's forums (Hosted at the Clockwork Mansion) and to check in on Wednesday (Boxing Day) for the second bonus update!

See you again soon!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Break Panels Revealed: 5 Times When You Just HAVE TO Break out of the Box (Literally!)

There are lots of little tricks that good Comic Artists do in order to keep their readers in thrall and show off their wonderful (HA!) artistic skills. One of these worth pointing out -- and one I happen to use often -- is the notorious Break Panel.

What is a Break Panel? I've got an example of one at the top of this entry. In the simplest explanation I can think of, It's a Panel with something in it that "Breaks" out through the usual panel border/gutter.

Why use Break Panels? Well, there's lots of reasons that make sense:
  1. You Want to Emphasize Certain Parts of Your Characters. We all like certain parts of our drawings, and if you just don't feel like clipping off a certain amount of hair from the shot, you shouldn't have to. This is usually good as a minor break, where there's just a few bits of the character that need saving, but you shouldn't just draw in random chunks of hair or crown to justify doing a break panel. This reason is meant for continuity's sake , so those certain parts that need emphasis (for plot or characterization reasons) remain in shot and (more importantly) in the reader's mind.
  2. There's a certain emotion needed from the panel. This is the excuse rationale for our example; Jigsaw's mouth is agape (presumably from seeing Slick), and it simply helps emphasize the jaw if it's breaking more than just the laws of cartoon physics. The shocked expression continues through in the hairs poking out of the panel as well,
  3. You're Foreshortening. Let's face it, it's easier to foreshorten a single character than an entire background. As long as you do this sparingly, it works, and it helps further emphasize whatever is in the foreground as well.
  4. You're doing 'Tight Paneling'. I hope you have a good reason for doing tight paneling, but if you've already consigned yourself to a 'crowded' effect for whatever other reasons you've already got in mind, you're probably cutting off bits left and right in order to fit everything in. Break Panels allow you further crowd things in without sacrificing the artwork.
  5. You misjudged on the gutters and/or panel sizes. It happens. It's better to provide some continuity of an image than to randomly cut off a few fingers.
Like any tool in your visual arsenal, be sure to only use it when it needs it -- overusing any particular element reduces the impact of that element. Every other panel doesn't need to be broken, just like you don't always need super-close-ups of people's eyeballs and you don't always have to draw women's chests with inflatable cleavage.

As far as Break Panels go, each panel draws attention to itself, which means it also draws attention away from the other panels. It's a great way to bring more attention to your page's MVP (Most Valuable Panel), but they can't all be all-stars.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Last Resort Bonus Updates: The Gift that keeps on giving!

Thanks to a certain generous individual, we have another 2 bonus updates coming your way, just in time for Christmas!

...what? It's not "Holidays" now 'cause Hanukkah was a few weeks ago...

Either way, remember to check back this upcoming Wednesday and the Wednesday after that. :)

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An Admission

Somewhere in between trying to glean some sort of clue from CopyBlogger, following GapingVoid, combing my stats on Google Analytics and trying to figure out how to make more than a few pennies a day on Project Wonderful, it hits me that I have no clue what I'm doing. This is a little more significant than it sounds, especially considering that I'm admitting it on a blog where I claim to talk about how to make a comic bigger, better, and God forbid, profitable.

The truth is, whether I care to admit it or not, is that if I had a clue what I was doing and wasn't merely just parroting what I've heard several times over from Blog A and Convention B, I might be doing a little better than I am now. The keyword is "might", as I have a better understanding for the amount of time one has to invest in a webcomic before people actually start reading, but at the same time I know this is a certain level of arrogance. It takes time, sure, but that doesn't mean there aren't short-circuits to the process. However naive I may be about my own chances of success, I know that merely "doing it for myself first" and other suicide notes of the starving artist are not enough.

The approach of the blog has been a little different than that of the comic, and perhaps that's a mistake. Reading my random thoughts aimed for someone who knows less than I do isn't interesting to the average reader of Last Resort, and believe me, I can tell. Just because I can figure out how to somehow make my blog read more like something I find on one of those "how to blog" blogs because I somehow think that because I like reading the things, that regurgitating it with a focus on webcomics somehow makes it more special doesn't necessarily mean it WORKS.

Sure, the idea is pretty straightforward — show how to run a webcomic with some of the tricks that bloggers have used for a while, sound halfway intelligent, and get some ancillary karma out of the deal — but the truth is that while I'm still learning a lot of this, anyone who already wants to think like this is either already going to the source or doing it better, and anyone who doesn't know better probably doesn't even know where to find this.

So . . . maybe it's time to change things up a little. I don't think I'll totally hold my tongue about stuff that sounds like good ideas, but I might hold my tongue on some of it, at least until I get the blogger-jargon taste out of my mouth for a couple days first.

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Project Wonderful, Google Analytics, and Experimenting with the Website

Been busy on a lot of things (not the least of which is end-of-semester prep) along with trying to figure out what else is good to do for the website. Consider this a random-dump post versus anything else.
  • Google Analytics is still in the "Well it's interesting, bot how useful is it?" category. It's one thing to know you have X% of a bounce rate, but another to understand how much any given change can reduce that rate. And while Funneling and Goals are nice, on a non-defined page that isn't really selling anything (except perhaps either donations and/or Project Wonderful ads), it's only so useful.
  • Speaking of Project Wonderful, I'm trying out some new ads by these folk, in order to take a little pressure off of the donation meter. I receive (almost) as big a percentage off of these as I do from donations, even though the current amount is still just pocket change.
  • Cast Images are coming soon (while comic pages are still needing to be done, cast images are surprisingly quick to do) ; I intend on posting them in packs of 4 at a time, due to the large number of characters we have so far (there's at least 20 'main' characters right off the bat . . . Not as many of them are visible at any given point, but that's still a huge amount of people compared to most other webcomics). In the meantime, for those looking to get a sneak preview, already-completed images are showing up at DeviantArt before they end up here. They're just the images through; the text to go with these images will arrive when they show up on the website.
Until next time, folks!

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Tweaks for the Site!

Trying a few new tweaks to the site. Those who've been coming earlier in the week may have seen a few of the changes; namely, We've added an introduction to the "What is" box for new readers to help get them up to speed, along with some commentary in the Casting Call arc (i.e. the first few comics) in order to improve the place. That, and I can post new text up much faster than working on cast pictures, which take almost as long as comic pages.

Hope you enjoy it!

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