What's in a Name?
Consider this; 2.5 billion people are known internet users worldwide, with more people adding to that number every day. It's a truly enormous pool of potential webcomic readers, but reaching them isn’t easy. Marketing strategies and networking help, but no single method is completely effective on its own. Part of the reason for this is the competition for attention, with over 22,000 competing webcomics monitored by The Webcomic List alone--and thousands more beyond that. All this free content means that for a webcomic to attract a large crowd, it needs to not only be appealing to its audience, it needs to be good at being noticed in the first place. Ads and banners can help with that, but nothing represents the identity of a story quite like its title. There are several things to consider when choosing a title for a webcomic.
The nature of a title, much like the cover of a book, is to give the audience some idea about what to expect. Naturally, the title won’t reveal everything, just like the proverbial book cover, but it should be enough to tell readers why they should be interested. One way to do this is to write a summary of the story in a few sentences and try to narrow it down bit by bit. Another way is to look for possible keywords—words that might appear often in the story and have relevance to the plot. A good title will give readers some impression of the story’s genre even without a visual aid—and when the title is combined with visuals, like a banner, it will become that much more effective.
Avoid Copycat Names
Before settling on a single name, do yourself a favor and look it up online. Given the aforementioned 22,000 webcomics and counting out there, it’s a safe bet somebody may have already claimed that title. If that turns out to be the case, choose something different, because copycat titles can be a major source of confusion and competition. The same goes for very similar titles. For example, how many Nuzlocke comics are on the internet? Even if each one were radically different, using the term “nuzlocke” in the title will make it seem less unique and potentially less interesting.
Use Mnemonic Devices
Even if the title does its job of attracting a crowd, a reader might forget the name entirely afterwards. This can be due to the name being overly long or complicated, hard to spell, or simply just too vague to connect with the story. It needs to be more “catchy”, but how is that determined? Catchiness really can’t be quantified, but literary and poetic conventions have shown certain tricks that tend to be effective.
- Alliteration: “Modest Medusa” “Kevin and Kell”
- Internal rhyme, including assonance, consonance, and sibilance: “Cucumber Quest”, “Gunnerkrigg Court”, “Girls with Slingshots”
- Puns and wordplay: “Brawl in the Family”, “Dumbing of Age”
- Ironic juxtaposition: “Cyanide and Happiness”, “Sweet Dreams are Made of Worms”
- Subversion of or connection to a familiar term: “Darths & Droids”, “Holy Bibble”
Depending on the genre, some of these devices might work better than others; puns, for example, are typically better used in comedies. Regardless, none of these are a guaranteed method of attracting readers, but they can help make the title easier to recall later.
Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a bit complicated and takes time to properly explain; for those not familiar with the concept, consider this a crash-course. SEO is the analysis and manipulation of browsers to yield more results leading to a particulate website or page. To put it simply, looking up a word on Google or some other search engine leads to a massive database that then pulls up the most-visited webpages prominently using that keyword. This is why sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, which have millions of users and immeasurable amounts of ever-increasing content, often appear on the front page. Using these keywords can also help a webcomic title appear on the front page of a search more often, and part of this comes from networking to a large variety of sites like The Webcomic List, TVtropes, and any number of webcomic forums so that the title is widespread. The more of the front page the webcomic gets when the title is typed into the browser bar, the better the title’s SEO is. Here are some things to keep in mind for webcomics specifically:
- Don’t overuse abbreviations: Unless the title itself is an abbreviation, try not to use them too often when referring to your webcomic. Abbreviations work great for popular series, but they’re less effective for indie work, especially since there’s almost always a similar or identical abbreviation already in existence somewhere.
- Be wary of single-word titles: They may be in vogue for books, movies, games, and television, but those are all very different mediums with different marketing strategies. Consider this: almost every real English word has an entry on Wikipedia, which means precious space on the front page will be taken up by one of the biggest websites in existence. Trendy though they may be, minimalistic titles can run the risk of drowning in a sea of content.
- Use mirror sites: It may be a lot of work and it might seem like you’re dividing your fanbase, but actually, cross-posting to multiple sites can increase the overall hits the webcomic gets, and nothing spreads via SEO faster than a title. Mirror sites are also handy to have in case the main site has problems or shuts down entirely.
- Cross-market with other webcomics: Networking is a great way to get a little free publicity. Not only does it spread the name even further, but it’s often mutually beneficial to both parties, as new readers will travel between linked comics, sometimes tying fandoms together.
- Track where your traffic is coming from: Using things like Google Analytics can be a great way to gain insight on where most of your traffic comes from and where other outlets are less effective. Keep a close eye on the “bounce” rate in particular. A high bounce rate means people have visited the website, but left without clicking anything. A low bounce rate, on the other hand, shows people came to stay. See where these kinds of visitors are coming from and use that information to determine what works and does not work about the way your comic is marketed from that outlet. This applies not only to titles, but ads, blogs, mirror sites, banners, various social networking, and many other marketing methods. For the serious content creator, it’s indispensable.
Pre-Marketing a Title
Before releasing a comic, especially if it’s meant to be a major project, it’s a good idea to start getting the title out before the actual webcomic is released. Not only does this help get the SEO started, but it can be a good way of gauging audience interest early on. Commonly, people release teaser art or summaries, but the title itself shouldn’t be taken for granted. Network early on, spreading the title as far as possible. By the time the webcomic itself is released, not only will more new readers know about it, but internet browsers will bring up more examples relevant to the webcomic when people search for terms associated with or similar to the title, even when the story is still in the early stages. The ads and banners will help, but unless the art is connected to a memorable name, it simply won’t be as effective.
The true test of a webcomic ultimately lies in the sum of its parts. A bad webcomic with a good title will still be bad, but a good webcomic with a bad title might never be noticed. It may not be the deciding factor of a comic’s quality, but a title is still the essential front door of a webcomic. It’s only as good as its ability to make people turn the knob and see what’s inside.