As of today the blog is 2-months old. The lessons I share below are from the perspective of someone non-technical starting a niche gaming blog with no established network or social media presence.
1. If You Build it No-one Will Come
Yup, every blog advice article is correct. Just writing content will not attract a single a visitor. If you have no links pointing to your site no one will stumble in and Google won’t serve up your brand new blog regardless of which SEO plugin you use.
Instead Google will make you angry. After writing my first review for an obscure game I checked google daily to see if someone could find me. Despite having the only actual review the big games sites displaying generic marketing copy were still beating me. When I finally did rank on the front page Google sent them to a completely unrelated article that had mentioned the game once. Google doesn’t know you’re “real” until a lot of time passes with steady updates, SEO and linking work.
2. Shouting into the Void is Crushing
Since you won’t have any natural visitors you have to either get on outreach right away or recruit some friends and family. Writing an article which no one reads feels like a colossal, ego crushing waste of time. A few people reading (and giving feedback) is fulfilling and useful. If shyness or anxiety or fear is holding you back from asking for readers then get over it. Making contact is why you’re blogging in the first place isn’t it?
My friends and family are not gamers but they added themselves to the mailing list and check in. My brother has dutifully read every article. Aside from invariably finding errors they provided the motivation I needed to get over the initial hump. I had an audience in mind and it elevated my writing.
3. Outreach is Fair
You get what you pay for, in this case effort being the currency. The least useful bit of outreach I did was list my site on a Blog directory. Two visitors have found my site through the listing.
Steam reviews fared better but required that I write a short partial review to draw in eyeballs before hopefully enticing them to my site with a more detailed article.
The most successful thing I did was a useful, original list – 39 games not available on any online store. I wanted to post something to reddit but knew the platform’s violent reaction to self promoting. Making something useful is not self promoting. Creating the list took a full day of googling and data entry. It was painful but resulted in by far the largest traffic spike.
4. All My Base are Belong to Them
What you’re really hoping for, with each article and outreach attempt, is that you’ll create fans. People who will visit you as part of their day without having to follow a link. The next best thing is subscribers.
Every subscriber I got after the initial rush of friends and family was some sort of eastern european bot. They’re easy to spot with user names like MarySmith8799, which makes sense when you’re infiltrating a big site that might have a few other MarySmith’s but stands out when half my subscribers share my last name. And their email address is always a completely unrelated name (with similarly high number suffix) hosted at a .ru or .pl.
The sad thing is you’ll be so desperate to see that subscriber count climb that you’ll have an urge to keep them around. Fight the urge. Delete them.
5. Don’t Get Greedy For Views
I had no readership goals when starting this site. I have hopes but no pressure to perform in any specific way. When I got my very first natural visitor I was ecstatic. When I did my first Steam review and hit 100 pageviews in a single day I felt like I had a real audience. A few dozen people reading your work is meaningless in online terms. But in real life, if you have never shared your writing before, it can feel like a massive penetrating magnifying glass.
For a few weeks I was having fun checking my stats. They never topped 200 views but, everything being relative, I felt good about what I was doing. Then came the reddit submission. It trended into the “rising” tab of Reddit’s /games forum and sent thousands of views my way.
When you run a blog a little graph with your daily traffic is always staring at you (and when it isn’t you’ll compulsively click on it anyway). Like any good graph it scales with the results. If you never cross 200 views then that is the high-point and all your columns look reasonable relative to each other. Throw in a single day with 2000 views and the graph has to accommodate, reducing every other day to a squished sliver.
From that moment on my site stats have bummed me out. Even previously great days, when I release a Steam review, look small and meaningless in comparison. I actively fight this feeling, as it’s not based on any reality, but it’s more frustrating than I expected.
6. Don’t Do Stupid Shit Once you Get Greedy for Views
With the odd pressure created by my reddit spike I no longer thought only of what content to write next. I started thinking of what would drive traffic. Historically there were two other traffic spikes I could replicate.
The second was an inadvertent piece of fan service. I wrote of my fond memories of Ogre, not knowing a re-release was imminent. The developers saw the piece, offered me a spot on the beta test and used it in their marketing. I had facebook traffic for the first time.
Feeling like I was finally asked to the prom I immediately accepted and played the beta which resulted in a “first glimpse” article. They used that in their marketing and I got another dump of traffic.
I felt two opposite pulls. My snarky side thought of actively seeking out bad games so I could (fairly) brutalize them. My canadian side thought of looking for games about to be released and providing positive 3rd party marketing masquerading as blog articles. By providing the content their outreach becomes my outreach.
What drove the least amount of traffic was well written, bland reviews of competent games with a score of 75.
I’m ignoring both impulses. It’s not just ethics. I believe that what I’m selling with a review website is integrity. Integrity takes a very long time to pay off. Years worth of effort can be derailed by one corrupt article. So as a business decision I placed integrity at the top of my decision making tree so it’s easy to ward off any future temptation.