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What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?
Choosing an Effective Title for Your Webcomic

by Sarah Driffill

 

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.

 

Summarization

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.

 

Sarah (aka melaredblu) is the creator of the webcomic Princess Chroma.

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14 Comments

  1. Fantastic advice, Sarah! All very true. I hadn’t really thought of the ramifications of having a one-word title in regards to SEO. That makes sense. Coincidentally, our least “successful” webcomic had a one-word title (Praesidium…granted we barely promoted it), whereas our most “successful” webcomic had (what I felt like) was our best title (My Girlfriend’s Dog), which followed a lot of your advice.

    And yes, starting to get the word out about your comic ahead of time can be pretty helpful. But then it’s a matter of actually launching your comic at the time you say you will. Which for us…has been tough, lol.

  2. Hey, this is the same article from WP! Haha, it is a good article though.

    My comic has a definite problem with the title. one search for Kyria reveals a religious site and my comic in the same page, though they have nothing in common besides name. I’ve pretty much tried convincing myself of different things concerning my bad choice of name and now I’ve accepted that it’s okay. If Gaia and Aeria can have rather common/common-sounding world names, I think I can live with my comic’s title.

    I’m just glad I didn’t go with Tales of/Song of/The Adventures of the Mercenaries or something like that. Those are naming conventions I can do without.

  3. Essential reading, Sarah. Thank you for this.
    Good points all, and I had no idea how SEO worked.
    Plus, you spell things out so clearly.
    I wonder about putting the title out before the comic (cart before the horse?).
    Don’t you run the risk of alienating readers who’ve heard about this fabulous comic, gone there, and found no comic at all? I know with so many comics out there that if I find one that doesn’t have content, I’ll just drop it and go on to another one.

    • I think the unspoken part is that you always include “Coming soon” or better yet, a release date: “Coming September 1st”. And make sure you have pages go up on that date. This is similar to advice I’ve seen for releasing Web Apps.

      • Yes, that’s the idea. Pushing the name is also partly for SEO purposes, so that the webcomic will be easier to find once it’s up. I also recommend posting more than one page right off the bat once the comic gets started so people do in fact have something to read beside the cover page, especially if it’s a major project and you want lots of readers. Either way, though, the idea is to get people’s attention by letting them know, “hey, this is going to be a thing and here’s what we’re calling it”.

  4. Great article, right now I’m working on a project that I have nicknamed Meat Girl. Some people have told me that the name is great and ask why don’t I keep it but then they follow up and ask if it’s related to Super Meat Boy. Which is pretty much why I am not sticking with the name because I know people may mistake it for being related to the game. Also what if the developers of Super Meat Boy decide to make a sequel or spinoff called Super Meat Girl?

    Naming is definitely hard though!

  5. It’s definitely something to consider, the marketability of the name, and you give a lot of brilliant points about how etymology and context can work in a title’s favor. It’s something I wish I’d considered further, or at least from a perspective beyond my own. “Ruby Nation” isn’t a name that’s immediately descriptive of my comic, especially since the symbolic meaning of Nation (subjective ideals, socially constructed communities, clashes of ideologies) can’t really come across in a single title.

    Then again, there are cases where a story’s quality can overcome its name. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, anyone?

  6. Very insight article. I always try to pick a title that encompasses the feeling of the story AND sounds cool. Unfortunately, when I named Vatican Assassins, I had no idea there was a conspiracy theory with the same name. And then I found another graphic novel with the same name…that takes place on the moon. Infuriating! I’m going to make sure to do a google search the next time I need a title for something.

  7. Nice article, many good points.

    I wasn’t sure what to name my comic, but after some thinking I thought “Consolers” could be a good idea – this was intended as the in-comic term for companies making game consoles, taken from “(game) console”, so I thought it would be a good name for this kind of game webcomic. However, people might also confuse it for “consoling” someone (if you haven’t read my explanation you probably wouldn’t know what a “consoler” is) and the biggest problem right now would be that the search results for “Consolers” already is filled with a music album Consolers of the Lonely, haha. So part of me kinda wishes I called it something else, but I can’t really think of anything better, and it seems a bt late to change now.

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