Mailbag: How many people read my comic?
This was originally posted in the forum, but I’d like to bring it out front to open it up to a wider discussion.
Q: I’m curious as to what the best way of determining how many readers on one’s comic website. I have Google Analytics enabled on my page and my web host provides its own statistics, but is there a certain way to define how many “readers” I have? I’d like to find a specific number or average of people who return each update to read.
The short answer: No.
Look for the statistic “unique readers.” That’s the best estimate you’re going to get. And it’s just that. An estimate.
It’s hard to tell who is actually accessing a Web page.
• At the simplest level, you have the case of two people (or an entire family) who may share a computer.
• Proxy servers make the tracking even more difficult. These servers stand as intermediaries between user’s computers and outside servers. That’s great for protecting a user’s privacy. But it’s not-so-good for stat-keeping.
• Had enough? We haven’t even touched dynamically assigned ISP addresses!
• Web caches? More tech that’s great for a user, but not-so-hot from a stats standpoint. If I visit a page in the morning, and then someone else visits that page later in the day on the same Web server, that server’s cache may be used to serve the file — and no record is made on the server that holds the actual site.
You have two metrics, and they both have pros and cons
Visits / Sessions
(From Wikipedia) A visit or session is defined as a series of page requests or, in the case of tags, image requests from the same uniquely identified client. A unique client is commonly identified by an IP address or a unique ID that is placed in the browser cookie. A visit is considered ended when no requests have been recorded in some number of elapsed minutes. A 30 minute limit (“time out”) is used by many analytics tools but can, in some tools, be changed to another number of minutes. Analytics data collectors and analysis tools have no reliable way of knowing if a visitor has looked at other sites between page views; a visit is considered one visit as long as the events (page views, clicks, whatever is being recorded) are 30 minutes or less closer together. Note that a visit can consist of one page view, or thousands. A unique visit’s session can also be extended if the time between page loads indicates that a visitor has been viewing the pages continuously.
Visitors / Unique visitors
(From Wikipedia) A visitor or “unique visitor” is the uniquely identified client that is generating page views or hits within a defined time period (e.g. day, week or month). A uniquely identified client is usually a combination of a machine (one’s desktop computer at work for example) and a browser (Firefox on that machine). The identification is usually via a persistent cookie that has been placed on the computer by the site page code. An older method, used in log file analysis, is the unique combination of the computer’s IP address and the User Agent (browser) information provided to the web server by the browser. It is important to understand that the “Visitor” is not the same as the human being sitting at the computer at the time of the visit, since an individual human can use different computers or, on the same computer, can use different browsers, and will be seen as a different visitor in each circumstance. Increasingly, but still somewhat rarely, visitors are uniquely identified by Flash LSO’s (Local Shared Object), which are less susceptible to privacy enforcement.
You can get an idea — using analytics such as Google Analytics or the metrics you can get through WordPress and/or your Web host. But to get the actual number is next to impossible.
But the bigger question is: Why is this important to you?
It shouldn’t be. Not really. Analytics are useful for tracking trends — like a steady increase in overall traffic or a steady decrease. You can even tell where traffic is coming from — which, to me, is a far more important metric to track.
But to get the actual number? That’s wasted time.
That’s because success in comics isn’t only about Web traffic. It’s about Community Building and optimizing revenue streams, merchandising wisely, and a lot of other factors. If it was about simply directing traffic to your site, anybody could be successful. But it’s not. It’s about cultivating a readership that wants to support what you’re doing.
Could a webcartoonist generating 1000 daily pageviews make quit-your-day-job money? Sure, but those readers would have to have an almost religious level of dedication. Likewise, a webcartoonist generating 100,000 daily pageviews — if his or her readership isn’t invested — could face a much bigger challenge.
Let me put it in perspective for you. I’ve done a daily comic strip since 2000. I just totaled it up for an unrelated topic:
All told, that’s 1,471 Greystone Inn comic strips, 2,923 Evil Incs, 410 Courting Disasters and 95 Phables. (And 162 Tales from the Con comics, which I write but don’t draw.) And counting.
I crossed the 1,000-daily-pageviews benchmark when I was doing Greystone Inn — somewhere around 2001 or 2002.
I quit my day job.
I see it all the time. Traffic does not necessarily equal success. Lower-traffic-and-high-community beats high-traffic-with-low-community every time.
You’re misdirecting your attention, if you’re looking for a magic number of readers that’s going to spell success.
And all that time you spend concentrating on the wrong things is going to keep you that far away from your real goals.