Everyone hates ads. There’s no getting around that. I hate ads, you hate ads, internet ads are lame. But if you’re reading this it’s because your webcomic site is getting some traffic, and you’re considering using Google Adsense to monetize it. There are two paths to take:
- Do: put up the ads
- Don’t: find some other way to monetize
This article is meant to discuss each choice, the motivations and circumstances behind them, and what an independent artist can expect from making such a choice. If you’ve browsed this website, you’ll know I’m a proponent of putting ads on your site. But it all depends, and there are some legitimate views on both sides of the fence. Given that I choose “do”, let’s start with “don’t”.
Don’t use Google Adsense on your comic website
There are a lot of good reasons why you should avoid ads. For one thing, they’re ugly. For another, most people nowadays use Adblocker, especially internet-savvy webcomic readers. The most extreme reason not to put ads on your site is that people can get offended by the content. The most legitimate reason as a comic creator to avoid using Adsense is that it might harm the growth rate of your following. Some people are so turned off by ads that they won’t like being on your website to begin with, and once they leave they might remember to never come back.
Some alternatives instead of launching Google Adsense on your comic site
There are always alternatives to making money through your comics. For starters, you can place a donation button, or “tip jar” at the end of each of your comics, and kindly as the viewer to donate. The link would take the user to your Paypal deposit portal. I don’t know how well that works for anyone else, but no has ever donated a penny to Things in Squares using this method.
Another thing you can do, of course, is sell merchandise. There are a lot of great comics that have found a loyal clientele in certain merchandise. Obviously, what you sell will depend on what your comic is all about. Nick of The Awkward Yeti had success selling plushies of his characters. This made sense because his characters are cute. Randall of XKCD sells lots of stuff, but especially successful are the complex posters that are extremely visually appealing and intellectually rewarding.
Publishing a book is another option that may bring you a bit of cash. Reza of Poorly Drawn Lines recently released his book, a collection of some of his best comics. Making a book might be a tough process, but it’d be a nice score if your followers wanted to buy it.
Patreon is a great option to earn some income every month. Especially if you have a loyal following and a smart way to present your case to your people on why they should give you money, this option might be the best alternative to Google Adsense out there. All it takes is the time to set up an account, establish milestones and rewards for your supporters, and voila–money in the bank.
Now I’m going to attack the naysayer arguments and tell you why you should put Adsense on your webcomic site.
Do use Google Adsense on your comic website
There is an unspoken assumption that an artist is not supposed to talk about money. You’re an artist, a visionary–you create ideas, but those ideas are spoiled if I smell even a hint of pragmatism. This. is. bullocks.
Especially in a world of the WWW, where free content is not only available, but expected by internet users, an artist should not be denigrated for employing means to an income. All of the above alternatives are legitimate, but maybe not every comic artist is interested in taking those routes. Asking for a donation might not be in the artist’s character. Selling merchandise is a business unto itself and maybe the artist is not interested in sales. Publishing a book is not at all lucrative if there’s no agent or publishing house or large, eager following. Patreon may not be something the artist wants to get involved in.
Placing Google Adsense units on a comics webpage is quick, easy, and it doesn’t demand much time or oversight.
Advice for how to use Adsense on a webcomic site
I have been using Adsense for over a year. Earning over a dollar a day used to be exciting. Now that threshold is around 5 dollars a day. The point is: revenue grows as your comic audience grows. Patience, and you’ll see.
There are a few things you should know that will help you speed up the process. These things have to do with optimizing Adsense use on your comics site. I will tell you about them each in turn, grouped thematically:
Positioning of ad units: “Above the fold”–Adsense likes to use this turn to refer to the portion of your webpage that is visible without scrolling. Getting an ad unit in this area is a good idea. Placing ad units after the comic has worked best for me.
Adapting for mobile: Only one Adsense ad can appear on the viewable portion of the mobile device at a time. I use two large boxes under my comics. One of these boxes is programmed with CSS to disappear when the screen width dips below a certain threshold. Note that over 80% of visitors to my comic website are using mobile devices to view my content.
Choosing ad unit sizes: I use a leaderboard banner above the fold, and two 360px boxes below the comic. I tried a responsive box unit that replaced these two larger boxes, but the performance on the 360px, even on iPhones where it overflows the screen width, is better than the responsive unit. I had a skyscraper alongside the comic image itself, but I felt this ad was far too intrusive and disrupted the reading experience.
Compensating for Adblock users: Many, many users employ Adblock, which finds the Google Adsense code and hides it. These users will not see your ads. I use this strategy to present Adblock users with placeholder text where the ad is stricken. This text is key. With it, you request that the user”whitelists” your domain, so that their Adblock does not run on your comics website. Use empathy; tell them you appreciate their visit.
Curating advertisers: Adsense does not let you decide which ads appear in the unit locations you define. You can, however, filter certain categories. By default, gambling and dating sites’ ads are blocked. You can create experiments and unblock these categories to see if they work for you.
The trick to using Google Adsense for comics sites
The nature of a comics site like mine is that users typically come to view a single comic before leaving. The more users who visit a website and leave without navigating to a second page on the domain, the higher the “bounce rate”. My bounce rate is below 3%, even with Reddit spikes. The design of your site is crucial to keep users clicking around. In general, the longer time on-page, the more clicks on ads.
The days I make the most money on Adsense are those days I have a comic that gets to the top of a subreddit on reddit.com. You need to learn how to post a comic to reddit. I use a specific strategy to bring people to my site. Users can view my comics on third party publisher sites, but to see the bonus panel, they must come here. A bonus panel link is included on every comics image I put out into the cyber world. This creates incentive to come. I fucking love making bonus panels, and they’re interactive for users–basically they’re just awesome.
You might not need Adsense at all
Deciding whether to use Adsense depends on your comic’s circumstances. You might already have a huge following, be established in the literary world, etc. In these cases, your site is more like your personal profile, your portfolio, and so ads would be intrusive not to the readers, but to you. Also, maybe you just don’t need the money. Or maybe your site gets enough traffic that you have high offers to puts native ads up, not Google Adsense. SMBC-comics uses Adsense. XKCD does not. If one day my comics sustain me through other channels, I’d like to think I would take Adsense ads down as well.
Using Google Adsense on a tumblr blog
If your main webcomic site is constructed on tumblr, keep in mind that your tumblr followers will receive your posts in their feed. Adsense ads do not appear in tumblr feeds. At the time of this post, I have 28,000 tumblr followers. I placed a single Adsense unit on my tumblr site, and it has made $0 in 7 months. Of course, if I only had the tumblr site, the ad unit would yield income. But I’d rather my readers not be prompted to follow my comics through tumblr exclusively when they visit my site.
I hope this post has been helpful.
Artists deserve to try to make a living. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
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