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The TopWebComics.com poll

In the comments of the Google Penguin results for “webcomics”, there was an interesting discussion about TopWebComics.com. Reader DaveB (of Grrl Power Comic) noted the following:

To answer your question about why play the vote game on Top Web Comics, if you can get into the top 100 (meaning hitting their front page), it’s worth several thousand referrals a month. If you can get into the top 10 (which shows your banner – top 3 puts you above the fold on a monitor with reasonable resolution) then it’s worth (to me at least) 41K referrals a month. That’s second only to direct links, even beating google organic searches, and if you google “grrl power” I’m the top hit (yes, even if I turn off personal results, hah)

I’m still blown away that I’ve managed to get ranked that high, (I’m #1 at the moment even) though I do have to remind myself that it’s not a real measure of success – after all I’m not making a living off the comic… yet. 🙂 It’s still cool to see after spending 10 years reading webcomics, thinking “I should do one” and now seeing my little project anywhere on the same page as Girl Genius, Questionable Content, Flaky Pastry, Freefall, etc.

The reason that “truly successful” webcomics don’t rank as highly on TWC is simply, they are successful and they’re not trying to build their audience as aggressively as the comics that are up and coming, so they don’t provide vote incentives or even a link to TWC. If they did the top 20-30 comics would be a virtually static list starting with Penny Arcade, then PvP, The Oatmeal, XKCD, etc, and those guys just don’t care about an extra 40K hits a month. When you’re getting 5 million+, you probably wouldn’t even notice it.

I’ll probably look at this in-depth at some point. Still, I’m putting out there: how often do you, the readers at home, check out TopWebComics.com?

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on September 7, 2012, in The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Poll, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. Hah, I subscribed to that thread to see if anyone replied to my comment, didn’t expect this. Anyway I guess I should add for clarification, that’s all completely my own vaguely informed opinion, at least the speculation as to why the big comics don’t bother with TWC. I’m still super new to the webcomic scene, Grrl Power only just turned 2 after all, but I do get to talk shop with a lot of other creators. I do know that reddit has basically banned some comics from being posted in their webcomics subreddit because the venn diagram of readers of certain comics and redditors is so huge that those comics will automatically shoot to the top of the subreddits and knock everyone else to the second page. (XKCD, SMBC, etc) I don’t know if some of those massive comic have been similarly relegated over at TWC, or if they’ve asked to be removed to avoid the appearance of being bullies or something.

    I think TWC should more be thought of as “Top Web Comics that everyone doesn’t already know about, but take it with a grain of salt – Sites like this are useful but not necessarily indicative of actual popularity or traffic. Still, look through the top 100 or 200 cause there are some really great comics in there that haven’t quite garnered a large or fanatic enough audience to leverage our vote system yet. Dot com.” Maybe that domain was already taken though, who knows?

    • It might be a good measure of depth of popularity (how strongly the comic’s fans feel about it) and the creator’s motivation to promote the comic.

  2. We have a link to make voting convenient for people in our sidebar, but we’ve never provided any incentives. Although it would be beneficial to be ranked high on the list, we just don’t have the time or energy to lobby people for votes. If they like our comic and want to vote for it based solely on that, then great. But if they don’t like us enough to vote without being bribed, that’s fine too.

    Also, there has been a lot of speculation (or accusation, depending on how you look at it) that some creators use bots to get thousands of votes, rendering the ranking pretty meaningless. The creators of the comic “Shadowbinders” openly did this and wrote a lengthy blog post about it. (To be clear, I’m not accusing anyone in particular, and definitely not Dave; I know he has a large and active reader community.)

    So, as creators, we facilitate voting, but don’t put a lot of effort into getting votes. As a webcomic reader, I don’t use it at all.

    • After Shadowbinders posted that article, I did wonder if I had some avid fans running bots that throw out a few extra votes a day or something. I was surprised at how highly ranked I got given my traffic vs. some other more popular comics, but I was basing that popularity on my Google Analytics stats vs. their Project Wonderful stats. Turns out the two are not at all comparable. Now that I have some PW banners up I can do a better apples to apples comparison and my positioning on TWC made a lot more sense – at least before I started doing vote incentives. Now that I do, I can only put my ranking down to a core of very engaged fans, which seems reasonable given the crazy number of comments I get.

  3. It’s easy to remember and occasionally useful for discovery, so I’ll go and look at it every once in a while. That said, because the top 10 rarely reflect my tastes I use other portals to find comics that might be worth reading that just never crossed my radar.

    These days I mostly use a combo of surfing from comics I currently like (mostly Project Wonderful ads), inkoutbreak.com and then other people’s posts (either through twitter or sometimes through reddit or other popular hangouts.)

    I think the original comment is great though. I’ve been wondering what is the value in terms of impressions/traffic on these sites. The thing that makes me curious is if one comic is getting that many clicks, are these sites themselves simply existing to draw ad revenues? A sidebar topic, but one I wanted to understand.

    • If they throw 40K hits a month out to the guys in the top 10, I can only assume they get a few million hits a month overall themselves, and that’s got to be decent add money. Plus I’ve bought a few banners on their sidebar at $45 for 300K views, and there’s usually a waiting list to get the slot 30 deep. I don’t know if they’re living in houses made of gold bricks and Lamborghinis, but they’re definitely making a few bucks off the site.

  4. From what i’ve seen of topwebcomics it’s more of a contest of who can get the most traffic to the site and in return you get to leech it’s seo. It’s kinda a feedback loop, I pondered just crashing into it a few times but didn’t seem worth it. Good for small comics, advertisements need to be reworked on that site as the que is way to long (i.e make them more expensive or ad more supply/demand).

    *This is comparing to us not 99% of sites around* 40k hits really isn’t a lot, the entire network gets 15m a month so in the grand scheme the sites only as good as the sites linking it. Just like any other aggregation network.

    I’d highly recommend http://comicrank.com/ for at least size metrics since that uses tracking. topwebcomics should do something like that and weight votes against size so it keeps the larger comics from flooding the site but it also needa a dedicated audience to vote. It reminds me of comicnix where we won the tournament just by pointing a link at them when it really made no sense as later on in the contest we were the only one’s linking them.

    In the end most top voting things/contests unless held by a 3rd party are mostly gimmics to get more traffic to a site.

    • Soooo… that means you voted for the last option, right? 😉

    • Comicrank.com seems to be dead. I mean the site is still there and plugging away in an automated fashion, but there’s no response if you try and contact them, which I’ve done several times when I tried to get my comic posted there. The most recent admin activity I can see on the page is a post from 2008 so who knows what happened? If you have some way to contact them I’d love to know about it but as far as I can tell the admins up and died in a bus crash or something.

      And when I’m getting a million hits a month I won’t actively promote myself on TWC either. Well maybe a million uniques. I get a fraction of that and I almost feel bad that I’m able to stay in the top 10 with a single vote incentive each month. And then I commute to work every day and I feel less bad, cause I’m a looooong way from making a living off thing thing.

      • ya i did email them awhile ago never got a response :\

        Mostly I just don’t like things like topwebcomics as I could actively game it very easily and just treat it like a marketing exercise. The entry bar is so low on doing webcomics it’s pretty hard to get an organized review system in place as it’s hills and hills of garbage with a few dozen entities of actual value.

        • Yeah I think the best webcomic discovery tools out there are http://www.justthefirstframe.com/ which doesn’t rank or do anything like that, it just… unsurprisingly, shows the first frame of a comic. It’s always a massive timesink when I go there cause I find 5 new comics I want to read. It’s a fun idea but it’s no traffic driver.

          The other one is inkoutbreak.com. I think it’s a great idea because while you can objectively measure a webcomic’s quality to some degree, in the end, all that matters is that you like it. I immensely enjoy some webcomics that are severely lacking one facet or the other, but the great thing about webcomics is that low barrier to entry. Anyone can engage in worldbuilding, and however poorly proportioned or colored that world may be, it might still strike a cord with you because it’s the exact weird combination of elements that you’d never see in anything that has an editor. Inkoutbreak (as far as I know) has an algorithm like amazon’s recommendation system. It will recommend comics based on your likes, and other people who have similar likes. The more you like the better its recommendations. A personalized top webcomics list if you will, which is obviously better than a listing of comics by traffic numbers.

          • right, inkoutbreakout is a better path but I’ve looked into it and if we really wanted to use it I could just brute force 3-4 comics to their top list leave the network and leech inbounds. (I don’t because I’m not really a dick in that sense) The internal algorthim is based on traffic sent as well. I believe I could ban all other comics, connect roomie/claire together for a few days and get a few thousand internal click credits. and than just let roomie’s ad run across the entire network (i.e whoever doesn’t specifically choose what comics show in the side banner).

            It’s a tad more complicated but it’s still gamable.

  5. I’ve been reading webcomics for about 4 years now, and honestly I’ve never used (or barely even head of) any of these sites. My main source for discovering new webcomics, aside from friends’ recommendations and links on the pages of comics I read? TVTropes.com. I got my start by scanning their lists of fantasy and sci-fi webcomics, searching out the ones that sounded even vaguely interesting, and bookmarking those that had neat artwork. I’ve also picked up some great recommendations from io9.com. But I tend to avoid sites that rank webcomics or try to list them, because frankly, all such sites I’ve visited have been poorly designed and generally unhelpful.

    Also, I’m bewildered by the apparent popularity of gaming webcomics. I’m a gamer, but I don’t find gaming comics funny. Penny Arcade does nothing for me. *shrug* Oh well. Give me more Gunnerkrigg Court and Lackadaisy, and I’ll be fine.

    Also also, Just the First Frame actually does look helpful, although I notice the frame it actually shows is the latest frame, not the first one. Still can prove a big timesink for me.

    • There are enough gamers on the Internet that a gaming comic can be complete shite and still collect a million pageviews. (insert Ctrl+Alt+Del joke here)

      I’d like to see someone come along and try to outdo Penny Arcade, take their success as an invitation rather than a warning.

  6. I randomly head over to TWC every few months or so and scan over the top 200 comics. I found SMBC that way when I was first started reading webcomics, and much later on discovered Digger while perusing the rankings.

    It seems issue is being taken with the name of the site, more than it’s function. It’s pretty obvious that the comics on it arn’t the “top webcomics”- which is excatly why I go check it now and again. As DaveB pointed out, it’s a worthwhile way for unknown comics to attract readers.

  7. I’m on the outs with TopWebComics. I paid good money to advertise my comic there withe advertisement program they have running. They approved my ad, took my money, and then never displayed the ad. I contacted them several times and even spoke up on their forum, but nobody ever replied. I don’t get why it happened, because other webcomic authors are able to advertise on the site just fine. But just the fact that they won’t even respond to me make me never really want to go back there again.

  8. Thom P. of Shadowbinders here.

    Ha! Ironically we pulled the article a few months after publishing it because I think all we did was inadvertently teach people to *cheat better*.

    (For those wondering what the hubbub was, we speculated that TWC might be something you could easily game, and we enlisted help to test the theory. We were able to crack the top 10 within a week or so. Then posted a step by step ‘how-to’ online.)

    The intention was to show people who were worried about their numbers that those numbers didn’t always mean what they think they meant. If they did, the Top 10 would be filled with the likes of The Oatmeal, Penny Arcade, xkcd, Homestuck, Questionable Content, PvP, etc.

    In webcomics, numbers only mean so much. I’ve seen comics with relatively low traffic become more critically acclaimed and/or more financially viable for their creators than “larger” comics.

    While it’s understandable that comics with a dedicated fan following can work their way into the Top 10 if creators really push for it, we also noticed a definite increase in comics with very small readerships making their way into the Top 10. Some of these comics were lucky to get 1,000 pageviews a day, yet they often had more daily votes than that. Math did not add up.

    Now, what I found to be interesting was that the traffic boost in the Top 10 was decent, but not crazy. You might pick up a few thousand page views a day, sure, but — as said before — to bigger comics, it’s simply not worth the effort to stay in the Top 10.

    Recently, Thunt over at Goblins (who’d been in the #1 spot as long as I can remember) announced he was “dropping out” to make room for smaller comics. I think that’s mighty decent of him, but I also think he knows the traffic he’s picking up is peanuts, relatively speaking of course.

    My personal feeling is that the days of these webcomics portal type things are rapidly waning. They were handy a half a decade ago, but are losing their luster.

    This isn’t meant to be another knock at TWC by any means, but it is what it is — a topsite. There are thousands of them out there, and they exist solely to generate ad revenue for the site owner. We were pretty disappointed with the results the last time we paid for advertising on the site, so I had to stop and wonder how much of the traffic was legit, and how much was from people coming in to vote for their favorite comics (or themselves!). Or — worst case scenario — how much was coming from a bot. (In fact, I know of at least one programmer who sells a bot that works for TWC and I’d linked to him in that article.)

    So it’s a good way to get some attention, but I do think there are better ways to build a lasting readership. It’s a big, big internet and people are just as likely to find your comic by stumbling upon it on Google or a friend’s recommendation as they are going to some voting site.

    Just my opinion, of course. YMMV.

  9. Speaking of ComicRank: R.I.P. ComicRank (there’s a message up today that the site is done)

  10. I rarely bother with it since I assume it’s largely populated with whoever has a userbase willing to put together vote bots or put up sufficient numbers of cheesecake vote incentives, which isn’t usually a good indicator of comic quality. There’s a number of sites like that out there too, so there’s enough of it being diluted that it isn’t a good gauge of what’s out there.

    I’m far more likely to sift through a web comic’s Links section and just daisy chain off those until I find something I like, or a decent site that has a conglomeration of comics on display in a nice format. Most recently I’ve found InkOutbreak like that and that’s given me a fair number of comics to munch on.

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