Project Wonderful – A reflection

Project Wonderful is an online advertising network that is easy to navigate and features a relatively easy sign-up process.

I’ve been playing with Project Wonderful on and off for two years to promote awareness of my webfiction/online novel as it was serialized.  Let me tell you the BLUF (bottom line up front) right now.

It is NOT for everyone. 

 

So what kind of ad space is available on Project Wonderful?

A look at the tag cloud of most popular tags reveals that the biggest self-identified categories really are for webcomics, following usually by gaming.   Further browsing in the “Books and Writing”  category show a few traffic stars but these tend to be specific genres — primarily horror or LGBT fiction.

One of the real weaknesses of Project Wonderful is that their network is skewed heavily towards webcomics that have little in common with the majority of stuff we read/write that is featured on the major fiction directories.  I have little faith that the readers of Homestuck or Penny Arcade will like sitting down for a long-form novel.  Most of the demographic likes more interaction and is more likely to hang out on Deviantart or Tumblr than Twitter and Blogs.

More or less it’s like trying to mix people who like books with video games. There is overlap in those two demographics, but in reality the types of folks who like these kinds of hobbies are usually quite different.

That said – since I bothered to waste my coffee money these past few years on trying nearly anything I could think of, I’ll talk a bit about an approach to using Project Wonderful and then my experiences.

There are essentially four major approaches I took with Project Wonderful

1) HIGH TRAFFIC OR BUST:   This is best described as looking for some of the most heavily traffic-ed sites, paying money to have an ad run there,  and hope you can capture a decent number of people who are bored or curious enough to click through  to your site.  The chances that the visitors of high traffic sites have  interests in common with visitors of your fiction may be small.   So make sure you look carefully at Google Analytics  to confirm whether the visitors you see coming through PW’s reporting graphic really do end up spending time on your site. (Look at average time spent on site.)    If they are jumping away quickly, drop the high-traffic site as soon as you can and move on to the other approaches.

2) SIZE DOESN’T MATTER – PICKING GENRES DOES:   You are writing a fantasy story, pick fantasy stories or those sites that have tags that work well with your own story focus.  Look for sites that have moderate traffic or comments.

3) STICKING WITH FICTION: Pick book/other fiction sites to advertise on (presumably where readers are) and while your starting traffic numbers may be low, watch your click through rate and then turn to Google analytics to explore retention of readers.

3) THE CAMPAIGN: Do random advertising campaigns across a large number of sites that are unified by some specific search trait. Easiest way to get free advertising as you control the average bid price over time. This can actually combine any of the above three types of sites, but I find the cheapest.  Project Wonderful allows free advertising at times and this is the best method to do that under.

What kind of experiences did I have with Project Wonderful? 

First off, you need to understand that even if I was able to persuade a reader that going from game/video/comics to text wasn’t jarring enough, I had to convince them that maybe they’d even like the kind of story I had.

It’s very obvious that the story I have is fantasy with fairy-tale leanings set in a semi-Victorian setting.  This mesh of genres is already somewhat incompatible with the network.

HIGH TRAFFIC SITES: Most of the high traffic sites in the network are adult themed or video-game themed. I skipped those and attempted one or two slice of life comics. Due to the budget constraints I had and the likely lack of audience overlap, saw very few click-thrus. I would not repeat random sites again for this kind of story simply based on high traffic.

GENRE SEARCHES:   PW allows you to search for keywords or categories for types of sites.  Using their tag cloud feature or “keywords” in their site search, I searched for sites that put fantasy, drama, fairy tale, and romance in their tags.

I experimented with advertising on sites that I liked and thought appeared to have a demographic that liked fantasy or romantic drama. In my first few months, I tried rotating ads in at Red String, Amya, and The Phoenix Requiem .  After two of those sites withdrew ads or stopped updating, I tried a second batch more heavy on fantasy with long plot lines.  I tried a bunch, but only saw some moderate success with “Dominic Deegan.”  By success –  I mean people told me specifically that they followed the ad trail back from those sites and secondly, the metric using Google Analytics confirmed that the click-thru rate PW reported was in the same order of magnitude AND that people were spending time on the site looking around and reading.

Phoenix Requiem was a lucky find.  After the artist concluded the story, all traffic collapsed.  There has been no other story in that Victorian/paranormal/romance niche since, much to my chagrin.

Speaking of collapses,  had some spectacular failures too with some “romance webcomics” but blame myself for not understanding that many of the comics that are classified as romance (aside from the sex-based ones) are for a more youthful reader.  Novels are already a tough sell for the youth market, but serializing that novel would probably drive those who like more immediate gratification crazy.

OTHER ONLINE FICTION SITES:   I advertised on any serial fictions I could find.  Fair warning to you all, however on this practice.  Most are plagued by low traffic numbers — with several more established ones getting up to several hundred unique visitors a day.  Many do not advertise elsewhere so the likelihood they funnel new readers to you will not be based on advertising through the web but their author’s social media engagement and more importantly, their influence.

However, the good part about advertising on these sites is that I got a very good click-thru rate and visitors spent a considerably longer length of time on site (i.e., engagement).

Still, for the impressions received, this strategy was costly and returns quickly diminished. I began to see that visitors who followed through were often not new (again thanks to Google).  As a result, I have given up on many of the existing sites for the cost-benefits started to really go downhill.

CAMPAIGNS:  I set up random campaigns based on sites that had keywords I wanted. This included “magic,” “fantasy,” “romance,” and occasionally “Victorian.”   The goal of this campaign was to spend very little and spread ads out to places I never reach to see if I could lure in bored people.  This yielded 30-100 visitors a day depending on the amount I was willing to bid on average for each site.  The reader retention rate was fairly low.  However, due to a few situations where people do sit and read for 40-60 minutes at a time, I haven’t given up wholly on the campaign, so long as the price is right.

CONCLUSIONS:
Project Wonderful has had diminishing returns over time for me.  However, I think it has been good for raising some awareness of my site in the first six months of use.    Its effectiveness for me now is fairly limited.
The main reason is that there simply is an incompatibility between what I have to market and the current visitors that are part of those sites.

Whether I use it in the future depends on if Project Wonderful changes.  Over the past two years it appears that the network has increasingly gravitated towards webcomics and games.  Few writing or reading blogs of influence currently exist on the network and unless that changes, PW will become increasingly ineffective for driving readers to online fiction.

Happy to consult with any of you on keywords, strategies, and the like if you are thinking about trying it out.

And if you hear of any new blog networks, let me know 🙂

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