At some point, artists who are serious about their webcomics think about growing their readership. A great way to find new readers is to have them find you.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of ensuring search engines — think Google — find relevant content. For example, if your comic is about dogs, then you want people to find your site when they search for “dog comic,” but not for “dog food.”
Webcomics have a unique challenge in SEO. Best-practice advice from Google says, “don't embed important text inside images.” Apparently they didn’t count on word balloons.
Our friend and SEO expert Ashley Bryan agreed. Google isn’t likely to scan text in images any time soon. And if they did, how could they figure out which speech balloon belonged to what character, and in what order? It’s a computational mess.
“(Google) has filed patents for it. But in the foreseeable future, I don't think image text recognition will be used in search. So other means should be used to expose that content to Goole search.”
— Ashley Bryan
Tell a story
Alt attributes, which accompany HTML image elements, are great places to start. But you need more than the word “dog” to describe a six-panel page in which a cocker spaniel tries to rob a bank.
Likewise, “page 5” tells us little.
“Dog holding a gun” is descriptive, but doesn’t tell a story.
“Dog gun guns bank robbery heist” — that’s keyword stuffing, a blatant grab for attention that tells neither readers nor search engines anything valuable.
“Doug the Dog enters a bank, declares ‘this is a robbery!’ and the tellers all laugh.” Now we’re talking SEO. By describing the setting, the characters, and the events, we’re giving search engines and screen readers the essence of our conniving canine’s tale.
But telling stories in alt attributes is just a start.
Spell it out
What if search engines could read your comics’ text? They can — with some help.
A transcript is a written version of your comic image. They tell search engines and screen readers what’s happening per page.
If you’ve already written a script for your comic, then you’re one step ahead. If not, then don’t worry — it’s not hard. Just write what’s going on.
INT. DAY: bank lobby. People fill out forms or wait in line to talk to tellers. A bored security guard dozes in the corner.
Doug the Dog, carrying a pistol and wearing a ski mask modified to fit his muzzle, bursts in.
DOUG: “This is a robbery!”
Everyone stares at him. The security guard awakens with a start.
Everyone starts laughing.
Transcripts don’t state “this is panel three.” For SEO purposes, they just have to tell who’s doing what.
Version 1.1 of the Grawlix CMS supports transcripts, but requires artists to handle the formatting. Version 2.x will improve how artists can convey their story to search engines and screen readers.
Sure, transcripts require extra work. But making webcomics accessible to everyone — including search engines — is a great way to get discovered.
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