This is part two of a three part series on RPG Blogging Tools, if you haven’t read part 1, “Intro, Hosting, & Platform,” I suggest you begin the journey there.
We have a host, chose our platform, and now we need to get the word out about this fantastic blog with fresh and exciting content for the RPG community. Where do we start? I am going to tell you the number one best tip to driving traffic to your site is NEW & ORIGINAL CONTENT. Role-players (you DID want to be an RPG Blogger, didn’t you) are going to be your primary, if not exclusive, audience. So you will need to produce content that your target audience, role-players, will find useful, engaging and want to read. However, you can narrow your (already very narrow) target demographic such as horror role-players, or even go further, like Call of Cthulhu role-players.
I am not going to delve into writing tips at this point, because I want to cover the more technical aspects of how you can help your blog reach its audience.
Many aggregates cater to the blogosphere, and the more places you have your site, the more opportunities potential readers will have of coming across your blog. Blog aggregates usually require you to create a profile and place a line of script into the header of your site to be able to submit and verify your blog to the aggregate.
As an RPG Blogger, the best aggregate you can belong to is the RPG Bloggers Network. This is a fantastic aggregate dedicated to bloggers just like you and me. It was conceived by two of the biggest names in the genre, Dave of Critical-Hits.com and Phil of ChattyDM.net. This should be one of the first networks you join, and you can find out the details on their application to join page. The RPGBN also has a Google Group that I highly recommend joining, as it provides a means to discuss upcoming events and talk shop.
RPGLife also has a blog aggregator that you can submit your blog to, but I have personally not taken this opportunity. However, do let my personal feelings keep you from getting your name out there. I do recommend you use excerpts for your feeds so that interested readers will have to click through to your site to get the full story (which is done by default on RPGBN).
Some other aggregates of note include Technorati, MyBlogLog, BlogCatalog, and BlogTopSites. Technorati has a feature called Authority that is calculated by the number of other Technorati listed blogs that link to you. So an excellent way to increase your Authority is to comment on and collaborate with other listed blogs.
A word of warning about commenting: do not just hit-n-run sites posting half-ass comments to get your name to show up. You should only comment if you have something of substance to add. I would hate to think that my suggestions here spawned a new generation of spammers.
Cross-blog readership is essentially the goal of the RPGBN, but I am talking about more direct measures. Jonathan of The Core Mechanic kicked off the very successful RPG Blog Carnival, which has rolled its way through five blogs at the time of this writing. The RPG Blog Carnival is hosted by a different blog every month, which announces the topic for participants to blog about. Participating blogs submit their posts to the hosting blog which collects all the URLs and puts them into one final post. It is a great method to earn recognition as well as feed your fingers something to type about.
There are also other collaborations between blogs, publishers, and other sites that happen often. Many are announced on the RPGBN’s Google Group, such as the Cthulhu and Pathfinder mini-carnivals that have been hosted by the Atomic Array. Trask of LivingDice organized the 2008 Blogger Bloodbath. Jonathan from The Core Mechanic is just wrapping up nominations for what will no doubt prove to be another successful venture in the Open Game Table: The 2008 Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs. It is too late to submit now, but if it is as good as I think it will be, you can start working on writing excellent posts now to submit for next year’s edition.
You can also contact blogs you like to read and see if they will participate in a link exchange with you. It is as simple as adding a link to their site in your blogroll and they reciprocate. I am very hesitant about doing this, because I do not want to make the other blogger feel obligated to do so (or be crushed with rejection). I have been told I am silly for being so reluctant, but I suspect you should wait until you have a few quality posts under your belt. I would also look into using a CommentLuv plug-in (if available on your platform) and registering with their site, as rewards other bloggers for posting on your site by placing a line after their comment with a link to their most recent post.
You don’t have to wait for opportunities like these to happen; you can create them. If you have an idea for a good collaboration, don’t hesitate to pitch it, because I know other bloggers are looking something to write about too.
I include a large number of services and sites in my definition of social networks. Social networks can be anything from Web 2.0 communities like Facebook or MySpace (ugh!), to forums like RPGSite or EnWorld, and even social bookmarking sites like Digg or StumbleUpon.
How do you go about taking advantage of these fine places and making them work for you? Well you need to go out and create accounts at all the sites you will want to use. You can simply post excerpts of your articles to your MySpace blog and Facebook wall. If you create art, I also recommend creating a DeviantArt account and maintaining a gallery there. I have also been looking into Twitter for a while, thinking of a unique way I could leverage it. You can find an exhaustive list of social networks on Wikipedia.
There are literally hundreds of forums dedicated to RPGs out there. Some local, some dedicated to systems or publishers, and many general communities. Search for ones that fit your topics, create an account, and put a banner or a simple text link to your blog in your signature. After that, jump into topics you have something of substance to add to, and begin plugging away. Again, I caution you to not become a shameless plug machine for your blog, actually contribute useful posts! A few of the bigger forums include RPGsite, EnWorld, Wizards Community, and RPGnet.
Exploiting StumbleUpon (though I have found I could only submit 11 pages from any domain), Digg, and other social bookmarking sites will probably yield one of the most significant and immediate increases to your traffic; second only to the RPGBN. At least this has been the case with my experience. Sign up for accounts and begin bookmarking your articles. While you’re at it, don’t forget to bookmark other bloggers’ articles you find interesting. We are a close knit community, and I like to promote my colleagues’ work as well.
Search Engine Optimization, possibly the darkest art of the World Wide Web. What exactly is SEO? Wikipedia defines SEO as “the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results. Usually, the earlier a site is presented in the search results, or the higher it “ranks,” the more searchers will visit that site.”
Keywords, content, and juicing your pagerank are common methods of optimizing your site. Most methods revolve around Google as the primary search engine. Reducing duplicate content, duplicate title tags, and URL errors are other methods of improving your site.
Bloggers who are conscious of their pagerank need to be aware of how their chosen blog platform produces content pages. An unmodified WordPress blog will create the same content for archive, category, tag, and search pages that also reside on your main pages. Google sometimes sees this as a negative thing and will then put your site into “supplementary search results” which is a bad thing, because no one will see it. Google pagerank is also uses the number of external sites that link to your site in its algorithm, so the more people talk about your blog, the higher your PR will soar.
Google Webmaster Tools can help you identify and fix problems with your site. You will need to create a sitemap for your blog and place some code in the header to verify that you own it in order to use the tools. I also used a robots.txt at the root of my site to keep Google’s spiders from seeing duplicate content.
Other than waving a dead chicken around your head three times and throwing salt over your left shoulder, creating relevant content and remembering to give your pages good titles and meta tags should keep your site optimized for search engines. Don’t forget to submit your site’s URL to be indexed by Google!
This is not about placing ads on your blog to make money (I’ll leave that topic to someone who actually makes money with their blog); it is about spending money to drive traffic to your site. This is an area I have yet to breach, because I am happy with my current readership and its rate of growth. But there may come a time you have some dollars (or pounds, rupees, or gold) burning a hole in your wallet and you want to pay for some advertisement.
I would first try the free method of banner exchange with friendly sites (something I think I might look into in the near future). The next step would be to purchase ads on Google (AdWords or Adsense) or other search engines. Finally, you can find sites that offer paid advertising directly on their pages. This will require some research on how much traffic they receive, how often your ad is displayed, and how much it costs.
I will note a couple of things about earning money on your site with advertisement. I am also aware that RPG Now as well as Amazon offer affiliate programs that allow you to earn discounts or credit. Also, once you have established a significant amount of traffic to your blog, advertisers may even approach you directly. This has yet to happen with me, and I tend to shy away from cluttering my interface with advertisements, but it would be nice if the blog actually paid for itself. As with all things of this nature, there is a trade-off.
Even if your goal is not to topple the likes of Critical-hits.com or ChattyDM.net from the top of the RPG Blogging ranks, you will still want to gauge the success of your site. And if that is your goal, then you most definitely will want to use some of the following tools to monitor and analyze your traffic. That and it is just plain cool to know that someone in Siberian Russia is reading your blog. Здравствуйте!
Your hosting company should have traffic monitoring tools, but I like to compare the stats of several analyses to get a better picture of what is happening.
I’ve already covered Google’s Webmaster Tools as an excellent method to whip your site into shape for search engine optimization, but they also have an excellent traffic examination tool called Google Analytics. I’ve been working with for about two months now, and I don’t even know all the cool things you can do with it, but you can see where your traffic is coming from and where visitors are spending their time. You can also check your Google pagerank at prchecker.com (also available in Webmaster Tools).
Aggregates & Other Sites
Many of the blog aggregates have a built-in ranking system which will let you know how well your blog does compared to the other blogs listed on their network. Tony from RPG Centric pointed out BlogPatrol to the RPGBN, which offers a simple tracking system for blogs.
You may also choose to redirect your feed through Feedburner to use their feed analysis. However, it can sometimes be a pain in the ass to get Feedburner to work properly; I still intermittent delays in posting to my feed reader. Ed Healy from Atomic Array let the RPGBN know about this video on owning your feed.
Most of the blogware out there also have built-in stat pages or have stat plug-ins available. Read the available documentation on your platform or search the plug-in directory (or the web) for what you need. Some useful stats to look for are your sites traffic (unique visitors, hits, spiders), most visited blog page, most commented post, search engine search phrases, and referring sites.
In the end, the best measurement of how successful your blog is whether or not it makes you happy. If you find yourself frustrated by chasing impossible numbers, perhaps blogging is not for you. I believe the numbers will come as long as you provide consistent, enjoyable content. Remember, you probably won’t be getting paid to do this, so it should be FUN to blog, not a JOB.
Again, I welcome my fellow bloggers to comment on their experiences, preferences, and tips on blog promotion and measurement. Stay tuned for the final chapter in my three part RPG Blogging Tools series entitled “Writing Tips and Sample Setup.”