Last week I explained (through the absence of pictures) my plan for an online comic. One that did get made, though it died soon after (did I mention I do not have exhaustive financial resources? I did? Just checking…). There were two initial problems with the previous iteration, beyond a lack of money:
-A misunderstanding of how the internet works
When I first published that comic, it was hosted on a Yahoo page. You probably are old enough to not know what I’m talking about. But that’s not nearly as bad as not remembering what these ‘site groupings’ were called: it has been that long since it was there.
What I’m describing is this:
At the turn of the century, most people were not venturing into the open space of the internet. Or, they were not exclusively doing so. They typically started from specific websites. One many may actually remember was America Online®, a Time Warner™ company (unless you didn’t live in the United States, then you were so fortunate). It was the largest in the States at the time (though shrinking), but it wasn’t the only hosting site on the internet.
The one my site was hosted by was Yahoo Geocities. Geocities seemed to get more traffic from the internet at the time (it’s how I found it), and a lot of comic sites and artists used it to some degree. So I planted my site there to see what people thought.
The problem was the nature of the internet. Obviously, someone needs to know you’re there to come looking for your site. And given that much of this was driven by either word-of-mouth or advertising, not telling anyone that your site exists didn’t help my cause.
Now there were ways to get incidental traffic (basically, people just looking for a comic page to read). You only got hits from this for a short time after you posted something new to your page, like when the new comic came out. The only other free method was to list your site on a ‘top online comic whatever’ website, and like Geocities, your site would bob up a little when you updated so everyone could give it a look before it disappeared again.
DISCLAIMER: I want everyone to understand that I was not an expert on any of this, certainly not on getting stuff done for free. There were probably a lot of hacks to get boosted on these sites (there were a few I remember seeing that were not only worse than mine, they actually managed to have less content than me, and they were still ranked higher!), so I am certain there were methods I missed.
But like today, this is not my vocation, so I wasn’t invested as heavily as I could’ve been, and when I tried to make it my occupation, I had my own curiosity as an obstacle.
Considering I coded my site with CSS and in HTML 4.0 when maybe one browser allowed CSS to work and none fully supported HTML 4.0, I was basically creating a webpage for a reality that didn’t yet exist. I even tested Dreamweaver (hated it; I then preferred just writing the CSS code myself), so I knew about some of the tools. I just didn’t understand getting the eyeballs.
Which led to a second mistake:
-People don’t look for random sites on the open internet
When was the last time you just typed in a word or phrase at the top of your browser to see if it found a site? It’s probably been a while since now that’s how you start a search, instead of the browser just assuming you knew where you were going. When I started using the internet, you could still put in IP addresses and find a website (because there were that few. A few sites that existed then may retain their original IP address, like Apple.com is still 188.8.131.52, but most can only be found with DNS), and this made it more interesting to see what was out there. But when I started, I mostly had the internet at work and was using it for that, so I didn’t explore. My boss mostly showed me what you could do.
Once I was employed by CAW, I could get the internet at home, and even registered a domain for my online comic. Though this proved to be worse than using Geocities.
With both my trouble was traffic: as in I had none. I have more traffic on my blog today with no advertising than I did then with it! (I do advertise today, just very limited.)
So, I ran a few ads in a few places, and it helped.
I’m not sure if it’s the difference in scale or scope, but I don’t remember spending much more than I do today. I do remember it being largely useless, since most places I placed ads didn’t seem to generate any traffic.
I tried to run ads on the ‘top online comic whatever’ site, and while it could be targeted, I think that was almost a fault. You could specify ads to appear by genre, and while you could target a specific genre and lock up all the ad space, there was probably a reason you could (that is, nobody was looking at it). Targeting broadly didn’t help, since you were competing with too many other people willing to ‘spend’ more than you. I say ‘spend’ more because, in some instances, you didn’t necessarily have to ‘spend’ anything to get ad placements. Just by having a popular site, you would be in the top 10-20, so you’re featured more prominently, and as your site got more traffic, it would give more traffic (people would come back and look at other stuff), so the site would incentivise your traffic coming back and making their ‘top whatever’ site more prominent still.
To be fair, most of the sites I competed against, even in whatever genre I had my site had years of comics to read. I remember going through one, starting at the beginning, and taking a couple weeks to get to the current page (And they updated 2-3 times a week!). I think I updated weekly, and I struggled to put anything out once I reached a certain point (drawing like that sucked the fun out of drawing, so I didn’t want to anymore).
I can’t say that this whole endeavor was a bad idea. I think my approach was deeply flawed and relied too heavily on people ‘accidentally’ finding my site. Oh well.
If you notice, the actual ‘website’ is the more recent iteration. I had another that was the starting point then, but I can’t get it to display correctly, even on my older computer (I think I’m missing some things it needs). If I do, I’ll add it to the end of this blog.
Now, it’s time to address the 800lb. gorilla in the room. Next week, I talk about me.
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