November 9, 2008

RPG Blogging - An analysis

One thing that is often -not discussed- on RPG blogs is how much traffic they get, from what sources, and how they compare to other RPG blogs (in the network or not). It was discussed (in a way) over at the RPG Bloggers Google Group, but since I tend to think that is a bit buried - I've made it the topic today (not that I think this site is necessarily less buried, but I digress...). Although it is completely off topic from roleplaying games or Dungeons & Dragons, I think its sometimes important to discuss - hopefully you will too.

OK, first off I'll say that I am _not_ a "web-guru" or super-savy netphile like some others. Secondly, I also do not presume that The Core Mechanic is a "top blog" for RPG blogging. It is definitely not. I still consider myself to be in the "finding my voice" mode of blogging about this topic as well. All I know is my own blogs (this one and that one), the traffic they get, and how I compare my blog to others. So, my advice or "insights" (in quotes, mind you) may not be helpful to all of you, but it may be something of interest to some of you. Thus, if you care about the traffic your RPG blog may or may not get, then read on.

Where You Stand
Understanding where you blog sits, relative to other RPG blogs, is an important first step to measure your audience and the effectiveness of your 'voice' in blogging. There are, of course, a number of ways to make comparisons, and not all of them give you the same information. I metrics I look at (in order of priority) are
  1. Feedburner Subscriber Count,
  2. technorati rating,
  3. site rankings / blog catalog ratings, and 
  4. Google Analytics benchmarking
Many of these metrics are listed in the footer of my blog for others to see, but some bloggers prefer to not advertise them unless it 'looks good' or whatever.

Feedburner Subscriber Count
There a couple ways to count this - Feedburner stats being the most common. But many RSS feed aggregators (like Google Feed Reader), keep their own statistics as to how many subscribers a given blog has (I currenty have around 70). This information is not always public either. In terms of my own blog, I usually compare my subscriber count to that of the blogs I read. This usually puts me a the bottom of the list, but its not a competition, is it? For Feedburner, jump over to FeedCompare.com - here's an example of the output for four of the top RPG blogs that use Feedburner (click to make bigger).


FeedCompare is a very handy tool for satisfying your curiosities. But not every blog out there uses Feedburner, or if they do their subscriber stats are set to private making it difficult to figure out. Of course, subscribers are not everything. You may be more interested in how much of an impact your blogging is having on the rest of the community. To address that question, I use Technorati.

Technorati Rating
"Technorati collects, organizes, and distributes the global online conversation." -- from their website. It is basically a huge blogger network that indexes which blogs link back to which blogs, how many times, and on what topics. The end result is that highly "cited" blogs gain a Technorati authority ranking that is supposed to be a measure of ... well.. your authority on whatever your subject matter happens to be (roleplaying games in this case). The more other blogs link back to your blog, the better your Technorati rating. Also, the bump you get from each link back is a function of the other blog's rating. So, looking at the same blogs from the FeedCompare.com screenshot above, we see their Technorati rating are:
My own Technorati Authority is listed at the bottom of this page (as of this writing it is 34). You may be saying "So what!?", but from my point of view what is important about this data is the fact that Feedburner Subscriber Count does not correlate with Authority. For example, Dungeonmastering.com may have over 2,500 subscribers - but the blog does not carry with it the highest authority rating. In fact, Phil over at ChattyDM has the highest authority rating among the ''big fish" RPG blogs, but his subscriber level is on par with that of CriticalHits.com (around 700 subscribers). The take home message from this is that you can still have a big impact, even if you are not the biggest fish in the pond.

Site Rankings
But the analysis does not have to stop with FeedBurner or Technorati (although this is probably about 75% of the picture). By looking at blog site rankings using a number of different sources, you can improve your outlook on the community even more. Blog rankings sites come in two varieties: those that you sign up for and those that you do not sign up for.

In the first case, you can only assess the "rank" of other blogs based on whether they too subscribe to the same service. This is much like Feedburner, but instead of counting RSS/Atom subscribers these sites usually measure traffic - as in the number of visitors, pageviews, hits, etc that your site enjoys. Since some ranking services require you to actively participate - you are compared to a much smaller pool of blogs and thus your own rank is inflated. For example, in the footer section of my blog there are rankings listed for BlogCatalog (72.9), BlogTopSites (70), and BlogTrackerRank (634). BlogCatalog is somewhat like Technorati, except that it bases its ranking on traffic (not Authority), with a rating of 100 being the best for your genre of blogging. The other two sites are simply ranked traffic meters where a rating of 1 is the best.

The other side of site ranking services use annoymous rankings that do not require your active participation. This includes Google PageRank (I'm at a 2) and other services suchs as Alexa (my rank is #1,121,720.... heh). These services can be a bit depressing - but keep in mind that they are comparing your blog against the rest of the internet.

Benchmarking
If you do not use Google Analytics on your own blog, then install it right now. Once it is installed, it is one of the most powerful tools you can use to compare your site against the rest of the community. How? By 'benchmarking' it.

Benchmarking is a report that is built into Google Analytics. As the guru's as Google explain benchmarking:
"Learn how your website's statistics compare against industry verticals. Use benchmarking data to gain broader context for your site and identify additional opportunities to improve your site's metrics."
In essence, you can compare your blog to all the other Games-->Roleplaying sites out there that are of a "similar size and depth" to your own. And yes, Google does include a benchmarking category for roleplaying games, which is nice. I've included a screenshot from my own Analytics page for reference.
Summary
While I don't think that I've had any big grandious insights in this post - I do hope that this has helped some of the RPG bloggers out there get a handle on where they stand, and how they can measure the effectiveness or impact of their own blog. This of course only really matters if you care about that sort of thing; as there are many excellent blogs out there that are churning out amazing material and it is clear they have no care if anyone is listening. To those bloggers I say "GAME ON!" and I bow to your better egos.

And now for the usual push about the upcoming anthology....

Nominate your favorite blog post from any RPG blog to The 2008 Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs! Also, if you fill out our survey - you can win a free copy of the Anthology! For more information, please visit the Open Game Table working group.

6 comments:

  1. I too use the same the benchmarking criteria to check the "impact" of my own site.

    Currently I am embattled with Google and their pagerank, as I fear that Google believes most of my content belongs in the "supplemental results." Which seems to have something to do about how Wordpress is set up (basically looks like tons of duplicate content).

    My old domain under wordpress.com has a PR of 4! It had attained this in less than three months, yet my new site has no PR (N/A). But, I haven't even had it a month. Maybe Google hasn't fully indexed my site yet.

    I see myself as more of a niche RPG Blog, anyways. So I am not out to achieve the same successes as ChattyDM or Gnome Stew, but I would like Google to see the site for what it is, and not regulate it to the backwaters of the internet.

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  2. I'm the niche niche niche of the niche in the cabinet thrown in the stream by gangsters along with a corpse, and I happen to be hiding in the corpse and flipping off nonexistent people, of RPG blogs.

    *insert "Feels Good Man" frog here*

    But as long as I help at least one guy out and get some people running some Eden games, I'm happy. There's already two that I know of.

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  3. or those going from blogger or wordpress to their own hosted site remember that a: you need to build all your back links again as they no longer point to your new blog so dont count for your PR and b: you no longer have the main wordpress/blogger site feeding your PR juice so thats going to be a big hit.

    I've still to get a hit from Google since moving over from a subdomain of my personal blog. In fact if you do go searching form y blog on Google I believe the only page you'll actually find as a main result is Page 2 of my blog. Not even my front page! :(

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  4. Hey all! Thanks for stopping by!

    I've thought about securing thecoremechanic.com - but I'm not sure that my traffic warrants it at this point. I have no idea what effect it would have on my pagerank - but my impressions are that it should not affect my subscriber list (since if I made the change, I would likely stay on blogspot service).

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  5. Okay, this will probably come across as bitter and very tongue-in-cheek, but... I've always found it somewhat counter-productive to obsess over these sort of things. I also happen to believe that most of the 'top' blogs with an RPG subject matter are completely unreadable tripe anyway, so perhaps that has something to do with it. I'm not going to name names, but some quite clearly care more about the number of hits or the amount of subscribers they have than establishing any sort of quality control on their writing.

    I so love it when they do 'tip' posts; the 'dos and don'ts of RPG blogging', as if every blog out there should be a clone of their formula....

    "Put everything under a cut so you'll have more content on your main page and get more clicks."

    "Put your sidebar over here, make sure it includes this and that in this particular order."

    "Never stray from your topic! Blogdrift is evil! We'll break this rule ourselves half a dozen times each week, but just ignore it. We are your RPG blogging authority, after all."

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  6. @arcona - You have to remember that most of the sites that give the blogging tips or top ten lists are ones that are trying to make money. Both of those kinds of post are the one that people Digg or Stumbleupon and so they get a lot of hits from them.

    Yes it's not really what you might want to read but it makes them money.

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