It’s been all the rage in the Blaugust Discord as of the last day or so to discuss metrics – ad programs, affiliates, traffic, and the like. As someone who largely blogs for fun (and sometimes catharsis), metrics are, to me, a sort of validation – a serotonin hit that confirms that what I have to say is interesting, entertaining, enlightening, or otherwise worthwhile to someone else. And since I’ve been writing this blog for almost 5 years now, there has come to be…a lot of someone elses who’ve come by to take a look, which is admittedly not something I anticipated in February 2017 when I began writing here.
So while each of these topics could be a fleshed out post with short length, I’m going to smash them all together and discuss today!
Pillar Posts, for those not in the know, are posts that drive the vast majority of your traffic. Most of the time, it’s because the topic is evergreen and people in your domain of expertise have need for information on it. Sometimes, it can just be an entertaining post that catches people and hooks them. Sometimes, it can be a complete surprise as to what ends up working out to be a pillar post. Aywren has an excellent post on the topic up today, which you should take a look at! For my blog, here are my top posts of all time:
Of these, the top post was an interesting one, in that while these are all-time stats for the life of the blog, the top post is…about 40ish days old now! What I find works for me personally is posts that mix analysis, current in-game events, but are also timeless in a way. Decisions to step away or change your play – everyone in an MMO has had that at some time, so the top post being what it is makes sense. Comparison between the two MMO giants at present? Evergreen – WoW and FFXIV have been in a tug of war for years, and now that FFXIV seems to have the upper hand, I suspect that post will eventually be back on top – where it was for around two years prior to this point. MMO professions are always interesting to compare because games have such varying takes on them. One of the top results is my homepage, which is to be expected – it’s linked from my Twitch, my Twitter, and (I think but I haven’t used it in ages) my YouTube. Part of the reason I redid it fairly recently is because it still captures a lot of viewers, and I had Legion and Stormblood-era artwork on it, plus a poorly optimized and kinda shitty blog view on it!
I don’t write many guides, because frankly, it’s just not for me – I either want to do short, raid-leader style breakdowns or overly long stories that tie in to a guide, but having said that, my Torghast guide was an unexpected success – it drew the vast majority of its high view count (relative to my other posts) in around just a month’s time. If I were to think about why that is, I think it was simple enough – it was punchier than my normal writing style without being too short, it was informative and loaded with links, and it came at the point where a lot of casual players were struggling with Torghast – thus, it ended up pretty high on the list. There are also search engine optimization reasons for that, which I’ll discuss later.
The other thing I can say about pillar posts and my writing style is length. I write, probably, too many words about any given topic here, because I try to be short and sweet elsewhere in my life. By all measures, an 8,266 word post should be shunned into the Shadow Realm, but here in my little corner of the web, such a post generated nearly 10,000 views in 40 days. So…I guess if I were to offer advice, it would be simple – find your voice and if your voice is long-winded and goes on for a while, that’s fine – try it and refine it if it fails you in reaching your goals.
SEO, Or How You Get Your Posts In Front Of People
Early on, the vast majority of my views were from two places – my friends and other bloggers on WordPress.com. I won’t say WP.com’s discoverability tools are excellent or anything, but they work well enough – if you pop a search into the homepage, you can find a pretty good list of blogs, and if you read some posts, the suggestions from other sites will push you all around the various content hosted using WP.com.
What changed my discoverability was a mix of things.
Firstly, building a community is pretty integral to the process if you want people to read your writing – read their writing, comment, allow comments, and respond to comments when you think you can continue the conversation. I’m admittedly pretty bad about being a lurker most of the time, so I tend to read a lot of blogs but not comment too much, but I try to offset that by responding to almost every comment I get, and in the lifetime of my blog there have only been about 4 comments where I’ve just deleted them for trolling or incoherence. As a result, I’m near the top author of comments on my own blog, just off the back of responses. Building a community on other blogs or in other communities works too – if you start getting cross-linked or participate in blogging events (like Blaugust!) your site is out there more for people to find and check out.
Secondly, optimizing your metadata is pretty critical. For several years, I was a knowledgebase writer at a huge software firm, and the skills I learned on that job actually make optimizing for discoverability pretty straightforward – a lucky coincidence. For me, what that translates to is a mix of good tagging, smart usage of terms in the body of the post, and a title that usually catches. Some general best practices I have writing about WoW, for example: every post I try to include both “World of Warcraft” and “WoW” in the text of the post, I try to put at least one reference to “Blizzard” in each post on the game, and my default tags for any WoW post start with 4 basic ones: “wow, warcraft, world of warcraft, *current expansion name*.” If it’s specific to patch content, I try to also include the patch version number, the version number with the word “patch” in front of it, and if the patch has a marketing name, like 9.1’s “Chains of Domination” then that gets in the tags too.
Why are these things critical? Well, on WP.com, those tags and text help you get found with the in-site search and get your post positioned to be linked at the bottom of posts on the same topics from other writers, but feeding search engines helps you get discovered even more. My top 3 referrers of all time look like this:
So yeah, by orders of magnitude, search engine results have netted me the majority of my visitors. Thanks to the Blaugust Discord, I was able to use SearchEngineReports.net to see what ranking my site had against various keywords, and the results surprised me (with how good they were). Here’s that report when I ran it last weekend:
For World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, and FFXIV as an acronym, I am in the top 100 results! That is…crazy, because it wasn’t necessarily something I set out on actively or thought to do – just a leftover practice from writing content for employees to find easily. The only performance I didn’t do as well at here is “wow” but at the same time, to be top 1,200 on such a vague and widely used word/acronym is pretty good.
Now, all of this assumes that you want people to find your blog and read it, and I think that assumes an extrinsic motivation, which, if I am being fair, I definitely have mixed into the reasons I write. If you write solely for your own benefit, or to carefully cultivate a following of people by dipping a toe in with comments and links to other bloggers, then you can just do the opposite of all of this – no tagging, vague titles, little clarity in the early portions of your text as to what you’re writing about, and the like – but I am, perhaps, not the person to ask for advice on trying to be undiscovered! (that sounds like a brag, doesn’t it? oof.)
Traffic And How To Gauge It
Blog traffic is always such an interesting topic to me, because the indicator of success is wildly different based on how niche your topic is and whether or not you’re even trying to draw in a wide audience.
For me, I write about what are effectively the top 2 MMOs by player count, with sprinkles of tech news and wrestling, so I have a pretty broad set of topics and would thus hope for a pretty large audience. Over time, my growth has charted higher than I expected, by like…a lot. You can get mired down into looking at day-by-day viewcounts and results, but for me at this point, nearly 5 years deep, something I find more helpful is to look at macro-level trends – on a monthly basis, where am I at? You can see things ebb and flow at the monthly level a lot better, and for cyclical topics like MMOs with content cycles, you can follow that and see where your main games are through your traffic – once you establish an audience, that is.
Here is my monthly traffic with some circles I’ll call out in the next paragraph:
So over time, from March 2019 through to August 2021, you can see a trajectory of (mostly) growth. At the annual level, stats all rolled up, the consistent trend is growth, so I tend not to worry about dips in traffic as much as I would have starting out, especially because I can tie dips to events in the games I write about, or a lack of new content.
In this chart for example, you’ll notice a spike starting in July 2019 and into August 2019. That comes down pretty much solely to new content in both games I write about – WoW’s patch 8.2 had just launched alongside Shadowbringers, and this was a point where I wrote more FFXIV posts including some lore posts, which drew new viewers in. January 2020 is the next big circle, and that was a spike on the back of WoW patch 8.3. While I didn’t circle it, summer of 2020 was a growth period because I was a first-wave beta invitee for Shadowlands, which then was sustained by patch 5.3 in FFXIV, and that continued a stats climb into the fall and through to November with the launch of Shadowlands, which was my largest single day until last month.
February 2021 was a huge dip in my stats, which I’ve attributed to a few things – no new content worth discussing in either FFXIV or WoW, but also, the very end of January 2021 is when I finally upgraded to a paid WP.com plan, gaining a custom domain, and while my old wordpress.com one still redirects to this site, I think it may have broken some things at that time. It was still down to a pre-hype level of traffic, so I didn’t worry about it too much. By the end of February, posts about Blizzconline 2021 and the Endwalker reveal for FFXIV both helped bring traffic back and riding the wave of 9.1 news, the 9.0.5 patch cycle and its disappointment, and then discussing more about Mythic Plus all led to additional traffic coming in. This was further spiked with the FFXIV Fan Fest Around The World, which was a big search event because of Endwalker news but also the touching moment at the end where Masayoshi Soken revealed his previous cancer diagnosis and broke YoshiP (also, Lahee). June and July were both pretty big spikes, with July absolutely towering over all prior months (although August is on track to match it!). The end of June brought WoW’s patch 9.1 and my posts about how I would or would not engage with it, and then we all remember July – content was in a wide range in WoW from great to disappointing, there was the content creator exodus to FFXIV, the Activision-Blizzard lawsuit, and then all the fallout and additional reporting on that.
So following the monthly trend and analyzing what happened when helps keep me sane, because I like it when people enjoy my content and are happy to come back for more and it overcomes my urge to change my style or throw in different posts to the norm just because of dips if I can attribute the dip to something meaningful and convince myself to stay the course. At the same time, you want to move up even higher in your viewpoint to see what the overall trend is – if you have a bad month and it gets to you, you just need to see that the needle is moving higher on a yearly basis:
This kind of view is cool (and really personally satisfying in my stats!) because it tells me a lot – I’m finding an audience who views multiple posts, I’ve consistently had 2-3x view count growth year-over-year, even on the back of a similar number of posts. Part of having a longer-lived blog is that your back catalog gets hits a lot as time goes on – my post about the initial impressions I had of Shadowbringers is over two years old now but continues to ratchet up in views – but what I find fulfilling is that even in this growth trend, newer posts find their way into my top posts, with usually 1-2 new posts every year getting up in the rankings.
While this section was at least partially a flex (I am very proud of how well my site has done and the growth trajectory it remains on, such that I seem likely to end this year at 3x last year’s already-record view count), it segues very nicely into my last topic for today…
WordAds, Ad Networks, and Making Money On Your Writing
In writing and scenarios where I have control, I’m a pretty upfront person, so I’m not going to go too hard on innuendo or ballparking you here. I’m going to share the actual numbers on WordAds I’ve gotten in the 6 months I’ve been on the program, the actual revenue, and discuss what my future plans are for potential monetization on the blog.
Firstly, I’m not big on ads in general – I don’t like them and I have both an ad-blocker and a script blocker running on my browser at all times (thanks, I guess, Wowhead). However, I ultimately decided when upgrading my plan in January to enable WordAds monetization because wp.com was already serving ads anyways, and because I also find their ad serving to be fine. 4 ads per page, sprinkled in, with no word-link ads, annoying banners, or the like. If they’re going to put ads on the page no matter what, I might as well get something for it, right?
In terms of the monetary reward, it isn’t all that high compared to doing your own advertising. My average CPM (what I get per 1,000 ads) has varied from $0.18 to $0.57 on a monthly average, with my highest day being an $0.89 CPM. My minimal research into ad networks has told me that this is low-end but generally still good – my high days get close to matching what a good day would be on AdSense directly, or a more boutique ad network. If my blog were sniffing million-view years, I could probably get closer to a $1.00 CPM (which would be a sweet spot). If my growth continues on the current trajectory, I could maybe get there in another year or two, which is a pretty cool thought!
Now, you might ask why I went with WordAds at all, given that wp.com is skimming off the top in addition to charging me for hosting. The answer is simple – laziness. At this point in time, my blog remains a hobby – I enjoy writing for it, it connects me to a lot of people, and it’s something I can point to as a genuine achievement that I’ve pulled off. Because of that, the simple toggle to opt-in and toggle to run ads is around the level of involvement I want to have – I’m not negotiating with ad networks, trying to shoehorn in affiliate links, or anything else of the sort. I just turn it on, and collect some money.
How much money, though? Well, it’s actually not that bad, given the combination of low-ish CPM rates and good-for-a-blog traffic:
The monthly trajectory has kept in-line with the blog’s growth, more or less – more views generally nets me higher CPM and better advertisers (going from 4 Duck Duck Go ads per page to a mix of Amazon product ads), and of course more views also means more ads served, which means higher revenue. For the year at present, I’ve earned $77.92 off the blog. By the end of August, I fully expect I’ll have enough in the tank for my first actual payout (at $100) and that means it will have paid for the annual wp.com premium plan, at least. By the end of the year, on current trajectory, I’ll probably get 1-2 more payouts, which means I could actually buy games to play and discuss for the blog specifically, or simply hold on to it to pay for more hosting. I’ve been getting some feelers about moving to other networks, but to be honest, I haven’t researched it much, and I am always skeptical of cold-emails advising me of opportunities to make money (which is, I think, a valid feeling to have in 2021!).
Long-term, I’ve debated doing Amazon affiliates, since what would be most likely to happen is that I would link to some tech stuff like hardware from my Sidenote series, which I write often-enough that I could keep with requirements and not batter my readership over the head with affiliate links and calls to purchase. It’s the same reason I don’t whitelist-beg readers to allow ads – if I am going to keep my writing voice intact, a big part of that is not being an annoying shill asking you to buy things, click links, or the like. If you want to whitelist my site, cool – if not, also cool, because I generally have very few sites whitelisted, and I am loathe to really push hard on affiliate marketing because it just doesn’t feel good to do unless it makes sense organically – if I am going to link to a piece of hardware anyways, easy enough. On the other hand, my average posts about WoW and FFXIV kind of already assume you’re playing those games, so linking to a purchase page for them doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
If anything, what I want to say here is twofold – even just basic, set and forget ads that aren’t obnoxious can make your blog a decent amount of fun money (assuming you have a reader base to build on), but don’t count on any of those myriad posts advising about how you can start a blog today and be on the path to financial independence – it takes a lot of time to build up to even be able to buy a dinner off the back of ad revenue, much less anything more than that. Secondly, I think that any attempt at monetization has to remain true to you and in-line with your authorial voice and the kind of person you are. If I roll out an affiliate program or anything of the sort by the end of the year (and that does seem more likely as I look at it more), it is something that I want to ensure fits with me as a person and my blog as built to this point.
The Best Blogging Advice I Can Give
All of this is advanced blogging stuff though, and assumes you’re already writing and engaged. If you want to write a blog, what can I say? Start now – write some posts, feel things out, don’t overcommit to an idea or a voice but let things evolve naturally. I started in February 2017 writing guide posts, talent build breakdowns, and theorycrafting for WoW – and I was super-bad at all of those. I let myself evolve and change to become a news guy, a hot take machine, and then an analyst – and my modern writing style is at some intersection of all of those things, but with a few years of experience under my belt that informs the way I approach a given topic. All of that came by doing – I rarely sit and have deep thoughts about “my writing voice” or whatever, but instead let it flow onto the virtual page, see how people like it and how I like it, and readjust.
Ultimately, I would distill it to this: I write for me, about what is on my mind about the topics I cover here. The fact that it finds an audience is a happy coincidence, and one that I think a lot of people would be surprised by – because everyone has some angle or twist they can offer that will hook someone else. That’s been the best part of blogging for me – I just write about the things I love, and that has built a following I would never have dared to imagine, one that is (for now, at least) still growing!