Figuring out what ads to place on your site is a challenge to any new webcartoonist. Even though your traffic probably isn’t great enough for you to quit your day job yet (it takes years even for the star performers), there’s no reason you can’t earn a few pennies for what you do.

And on the flip side, what about using networks to promote yourself? How would that work?

I don’t consider myself an expert on this topic, because others have made far more with ads than me! But I’ve dealt with it for a while, and here’s what I have been able to pick up.

Google Ads

Pros: They’re ads, on Google. Google is one of the world’s two most popular sites (only Facebook challenges it) and its search advertising system is generally quite efficient at matching people with what they search for and seem to want. Recent revisions to their privacy policy have civil rights advocates concerned, but those revisions are likely to make Google even more efficient at matching advertising to preference. Google Ads are by far the most widely used by websites, particularly small, scrappy sites who’d really love to hear about your webcomic.

Cons: Visual Google Ads can be, and often are, rejected without explanation. And however efficient Google’s ads may be, they are based on machine-read keywords, not human-read image files. Google Ads might remember that a user repeatedly searched for Harvey Pekar, yet not understand that this makes them no more likely—in fact, less likely—to appreciate the art stylings of Greg Land. So expect your slice-of-life story about collecting unemployment to share space with Peanuts and X-Men collections, unless you write an ad that doesn’t even mention it’s a comic.

Publishers can also be kicked out of Google Adsense with little warning and less ability to understand what their transgressions were. (Personal disclaimer: this happened to me.)

Microsoft adCenter

Pros: Essentially works the same as Google does, with better customer service, sending ads through the combined Bing, Microsoft and Yahoo networks.

Cons: Not as likely an earner, or eyeball-attracter, for niche publishers like 99% of all webcomics. Use in tandem with Google only if you have a lot of money to burn.

CPMStar

Pros: CPMStar has a Their payouts are prompt at the end of each month, and unlike Google’s, regular. (If your earnings owed are less than $100 at the end of a month, Google holds onto them until those earnings exceed $100. I know, I know, you’re hoping to earn more than that anyway, but every little bit helps, especially when you have multiple revenue streams.)

Cons: They are a game-focused network, so unless your site has some strong connection to gaming, you’re unlikely to be useful to them as a publisher, and they’re unlikely to be useful to you as a venue.

There are many networks like CPMStar, more specialized than Google and much harder to get into, about which I know less overall. Most of them adhere to traffic standards which put them out of range of the beginner. Their ads tend to be on the pricey side, too.

Project Wonderful

Pros: The approvals process, though longer than Google’s, is still very short (generally less than 4 business days), and while it theoretically can serve any market, the project was conceived by a cartoonist (Ryan North, author of Dinosaur Comics and the new Adventure Time comic-book series), and still has a heavy comics user base and following. Its auction-based system is a departure from Google’s, but easy to understand and use, giving advertisers a lot of control over where they spend their money, but still giving publishers the right to reject ads that go too far.

Cons: Project Wonderful doesn’t scale that well for publishers—only the very top tier are making a noteworthy daily income from them. For advertisers, it can do well, but it takes time-consuming vigilance to be sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

Cross-Promotional Networks

Pros: A cross-promotional network is an informal alliance among websites to each link prominently to each other’s content. I’ve been involved with one such network (Keenspot and ComicBox) and created two others: Teenbit, for comics about teenagers, and Love Shack, for mutually friendly creators whose humor shares a certain sensibility.

Cons: Most of the well-established networks are either generic “talent farms” that promote their brand at the expense of yours, or very choosy about who gets in them. It calls to mind the old Groucho Marx joke about not wanting to be part of an organization whose standards were low enough to accept him as a member.

If you go this route, you’re best off designing a network of your own, which requires social skills, a little coding savvy, and a lot of time. It has unquestionably paid off for me and my work, but don’t do it unless you can commit.

Conclusion: I should mention that I’ve worked with Ryan briefly, and consider him quite a stand-up guy. Regardless, I’d have to say that joining Project Wonderful as both advertiser and publisher makes a lot of sense for the beginning webcartoonist. Publishing Google Ads on your site (if they’ll let you!) is a good way to round out the income. Higher-end ad networks will probably be out of your reach for a while, but if you can find some friendly sites with similar themes or tastes to your own strip, see if you can help each other out! That’s not just good for your traffic. It’s good for your soul.