Let’s say you’ve got your webcomic going, and it’s been going on long enough that you’re starting to get into a regular groove with it. You’ve blocked out enough time to regularly sit down and draw out the comic itself as well as get it set up to post and whatever other general site management you have to do. You’ve even built up a bit of a buffer, so your update schedule isn’t totally screwed if an emergency comes up, and you can’t work on the comic one night like your normally do.

So you’re going along, updating the webcomic regularly, answering fan questions through email and on message boards and social media. Your audience is growing slowly and organically, but then you realize you don’t know how. Sure, you post notices on all your social media every time you update the comic, and you always mention it in your monthly mailing list, so the word is clearly getting out there, but you don’t know what’s working and what’s just a waste of your time.

Now you could go back through you logs, and check to see which web site domains refer people to your site. The problem with that is A) those only mention the high level domain, not necessarily the site or subsite, and more importantly, 2) many server managers turn off that tracking capability at their end, so you wind up with a big question mark instead of anything resembling useful data.

This is where tags come. By adding some tags to the links you send out into the world, you can use them to more accurately track where people are coming to your site from. It’s fairly common with larger media sites, but I don’t think I’ve yet seen a webcomic creator use them.

The idea is simple. You add a tag to an existing URL, and it will go to the same page, but the tag will act like a label. So you can set up two URLs that point to the same page, but if they have different tags on them, you can post them to different places and determine which is clicked more often.

The first part of URL with the “www” is the domain; this is your main website. The various words after each slash are directories on your website; just like folders on your computer. The part of the URL that ends with “.html” or “.php” or something like that is the specific page. The tags then follow that after a question mark.

Take a look at Facebook. After you log in, click on the Facebook icon in the upper left; it actually points to https://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo. That’s still the home page, but the “ref=logo” means that the referring link you clicked to get there was the logo. Now click on the “Home” link in the upper right; it points to https://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn. You still get the home page but now the referring link is the Top Navigation, Main Navigation. Facebook can now tell how you got back to the home page regardless of where you were in the site.

It requires some set up with your analytics platform to ensure these are read properly, but why not start using ref=em, ref=fb, ref=ad, and so on to figure out if readers are coming from email, Facebook, advertising, or anywhere else? You could well find that, if no one ever clicks on the links from your advertising, for example, it might be a waste of your time and money!