This is my car, circa 2011. I took this picture of it before driving it off the lot for the first time. Not long after, I wrote a post about it. It’s not gaming-related, but buying my first brand new car was an event worth celebrating however I wanted.
What happened after that was…unexpected.
Not long after posting, traffic to that post took off. So much so, that it’s still one of my most most popular posts. On one hand, it droves me nuts that this one off-topic post took off, while so many of the gaming posts that I care a lot more about are more deserving of the eyeballs in my opinion. However, it also served a teachable moment with regards to what the numbers can (and can’t) tell you.
I’ve tried my hardest to keep my focus off of the analytics behind my work as part of the In Third Person website. This blog is a passion project where I value journaling my experiences through gaming above all else. Essentially, this is a diary where I forgot to turn on the privacy settings. Maybe someday, I’ll put more emphasis on promoting the site or creating more reader-friendly content. For now, I enjoy continuing to write what I want, and anyone who happens to find value in my work is an added bonus.
Having said that, I like seeing the numbers go up, just like everyone else. I’ve been fortunate enough that even without actively working for an audience, the blog numbers have trended above my expectations for a long time. If anything, that just fuels me to continue working in a vacuum. Maybe I would be singing a different tune if I went 10 years averaging one visitor a day like I did when I first started. For now, I’ll continue to keep my head down, write what’s in my heart, and disregard the rest.
With the streaming side of In Third Person, my approach to evaluating the numbers is different because my goals are different. I’m actively building an audience, because streaming is a lot more fun when I’m not streaming alone. With that in mind, I put a lot more effort into analyzing my numbers and doing everything I can to improve my product in order to achieve the desired result.
It’s important to know how the numbers go up. I can’t speak for every blogger, but the vast majority of my traffic comes from search engines like Google. People type in a search term, dig weirdly deep into the results, and decide to click to this site. In a handful of cases, I’m actually on the first page.
While I wasn’t aiming to ride on the Hyundai Elantra content hype train, I inadvertently did. As it turns out, the Elantra I wrote about was also one that was picking up a ton of buzz thanks to its radical redesign. People were in a tizzy for more information about the car. So much so, they went to my video game website for that info in droves.
Obviously, in spite of the numbers, this isn’t a sign that I should quit my hobby and switch to writing about cars instead. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, either, as I wrote that post as a means of celebrating the 2nd biggest purchase I’ve ever made, next to my house. If any potential car buyers found value in my post, that’s fantastic! I just need to look at the numbers with some scrutiny to determine what’s important.
Regardless of how I value the numbers behind that car post, the power of search is undeniable. If you wanted, there are multiple ways in which you can try to tailor your content to work best for that system. You could try and write content about the most popular games in order to widen your potential reach. You could try and write about niche content, in order to provide readers with insight on a topic that the big websites have overlooked. You can try and write about gaming news the moment it breaks in order to catch that hype train.
While I think it’s important to add keywords to your work to maximize your content’s potential reach, I don’t ever want to make content for the primary purpose of exploiting Google. I won’t force myself to write posts about the hottest games if I have nothing to add to that discussion. I also won’t force myself to seek out under-served areas in hopes of filling in gaps. Having tried it before, it generally doesn’t work, and my heart isn’t in my output in the same way. With this being a passion project, I have the luxury of being able to make that judgment call to take my creativity above all else.
And to what end do I even need to raise them by? Getting IGN-level numbers to my site would be amazing, but am I willing to make more generalist content in their style that generates that type of response? No. Is there an opportunity for me to turn this into a career? I’m reluctant to close the door entirely, but it’s going to take a lot for a me to switch careers and give up my creative freedom.
Looking at my own numbers, the content that attracts the most visits are my guides. Whether I’m writing about frame data in fighting games, where in the pantheon of X-Men comics to start reading, or what board games to try, my guides are an evergreen source of traffic. In theory, I could maximize my numbers by focusing solely on guides, but I don’t want to write guides all the time. Sometimes I want to write reviews for super niche games. Sometimes I want to stick up for games that get beat up by the greater populace. Sometimes I want to tell you about the sketchy houses my wife and I once visited during one of our house-hunting adventures. Most of the time, I want to spill my thoughts and emotions out on the floor in a mess of letters, pictures, and videos, kind of like what I’m doing right now.
There are numerous methods of squeezing out the most numbers from streaming and social media as well. I will continue to do what I can to put on the best show possible, but I also have my limits with regards to how far I’ll go to boost those numbers. As soon as I start compromising my vision or doing stuff I don’t want to do in order to inflate my numbers, then that’s where I see myself drawing the line.
I don’t outright dismiss all of the numbers. In fact, there are some I value a lot and hope to push upwards over time. It’s up to me to determine which numbers are important, which numbers are a mirage, and what my expectations are for the content I’m making. When you find the balance of fulfilling your desire to be creative while also meeting whatever performance metrics you set for yourself, you’ll be in a good place.