This series documents my adventures in ultra low-budget, grass roots marketing attempts to drive traffic to my game portal sites, with the hopes of breaking even at $33 a month. For other articles in the series, visit the Pimp My Portal special feature page.
While i’m not an angry man, i do think that all people who call themselves “SEO Experts” or “Social Media Gurus” should be thrown down a deep hole with itchy things at the bottom. One of the fatal flaws in my plan that one of these so-called experts might be quick to point out is that a site needs integrated social media hooks , and that it needs to move through the Customer Engagement Cycle in order to stop talking now or you’re going in the itchy hole.
Wordpress, the blog platform on which my game portals are built, makes it very easy to add all kinds of social media widgets and doo-dads, thanks to its robust plugin support. The advantage of choosing a platform as popular as WordPress is that developers are constantly writing new add-ons for it, and often give them away for free.
That’s “free”, as in “free deer”
WordGameWorld.com and ZombieGameWorld.com both have a number of plugins that aim to increase retention/stickiness (the qualities of a site that keep people there, and keep them coming back) and engagement (the ability of visitors to have their say and to impact on the site). The sites have 5-star (or skull) ratings systems for all the games, a comments system beneath each game, a social media bar that enables visitors to talk mention the games through their favourite social media sites (Digg, Sphinn, Delicious, Facebook, Mixx, Google Bookmarks and Blogplay). ZombieGameWorld.com has a Facebook “Like” button and a “Who’s Online” widget on its front page.
Skulls looked cooler and read better at 10x10px than brains did.
Of course, none of these toys are of any use if no one’s on the site. (Also, what the Hell is a “Sphinn”?)
Both portals have similar cross-promotional/social media hooks: they both have a Twitter account (@wordgameworld with 6 followers and @zombiegameworld with 83 followers respectively). Both sites have a Facebook fan page as well (WordGameWorld on Facebook with 10 Likes and ZombieGameWorld.com on Facebook at 13 Likes) Whenever a new game is added to either site, a message like this appears on the portal’s Twitter and Facebook accounts:
The ZombieGameWorld site itself has a Flash Twitter flipper that displays the most recent Tweets. They’re delivered by a bluebird-assisted zombie named Formerly Earl Peterson, who acts as the site’s spokeszombie and an ambassador from the community of the living dead:
Formerly Earl Peterson: perpetually floating at the top of ZombieGameWorld.com so you don’t have to.
ZombieGameWorld has many more Twitter followers, because i tried to exploit accounts with auto follow-back scripts. i searched Twitter for users with “zombie” or “undead” in their usernames, or who had mentioned zombies or had and apparent interest in them, and followed them. Admittedly, i felt a smidge skeevy doing this, but the tactic was a moderate success, as it increased followers of the account.
“Engagement”, however, is non-existent when you use this technique. i asked the @zombieGameWorld Twitter followers a question last week, and no one responded. This suggests one or more of the following:
- Followers don’t care about ZombieGameWorld
- Followers aren’t very active on Twitter
- Followers are all spammy robots
The other Twitter technique i used was to sign up for Google Alerts for the terms “zombie” and “undead”. Google will email you whenever it crawls a new web site with your desired keywords in it. As a result, you wind up with a lot of late-breaking zombie news that may be of interest to zombie fans, like who’s been cast to star in the upcoming film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The plan was to tweet the most interesting zombie news every day, to give Twitter users more incentive to follow the account. Unfortunately, when i tried to outsource this task to both my wife and one of my interns, it was like pulling teeth to get them to do it. Now my wife and my intern have no teeth, and i have no zombie news updates. I think it’s a great idea in theory, and it really doesn’t take very long to do, but it’s difficult for me to convince people to do it.
Uh … yeah. So could you just put that new pyramid over there? Ssssuper.
My friend Mani Saint-Victor, who had suggested my earlier Quora question-answering strategy, offered me another suggestion that was very interesting: he said that once every week, i should try to kickstart one of those Twitter hash tag games that people seem to enjoy.
The idea is that someone starts out with usually a jokey concept and adds the hash (#) symbol to it to unite a group of tweets under one banner, making it easier to search Twitter by hash tag to see all of the results. Then that person’s followers riff on the idea. The hash tag spreads to that user’s followers, and to their followers, and to their followers, like hilarious and consequence-free AIDS.
i first started to believe the idea might have legs last Christmas, when one of the people i followed chimed in on the hash tag #sadChristmasSongs. People were tweeting stuff like “Do You Fear What I Fear?” and “Angels We Have Heard Are High”. The best one i could come up with was (Jesus forgive me) “I Saw Mommy Fisting Santa Claus”. Of course, i was reluctant to post that using my Untold Entertainment account – this is a site of utmost moral integrity (AIDS jokes notwithstanding). I figured it might be alright to tweet it from the @zombiegameworld account. And so i did.
And what happened? Why, it looks like there was a modest but noticeable traffic spike that day:
Apparently it’s not how Santa squeezes into that tiny chimney that people are interested in…
Notice how i’m using the Google Analytics annotation feature to mark spikes and lulls – it’s very useful when you’re looking back through your traffic history.
The Game Is Afoot
The first Twitter game i started from the @zombiegameworld account was a huge success. i went with #zombiesWithJobs. Some examples:
- Air Traffic Controller Zombie: “plaaaaaaaanes!” #zombiesWithJobs
- Road Crew Zombie: “water maaaaaaaains!” #zombiesWithJobs
- Investment Banker Zombie: “capital gaaaaaaaaaains!” #zombiesWithJobs
The Twitterverse seemed to like it, because it was relatively amusing and very simple to jump in. You didn’t need to be a comic genius to rhyme something with “brains”. There were maybe thirty-odd Twitterers who picked up the thread (i haven’t been keeping tight records of my results, but i’m going to start). Here’s how it affected my traffic:
The #zombiesWithJobs stunt boosted my flagging traffic to a ZombieGameWorld.com all-time daily high of 102 visitors, before traffic completely tanked over Christmas. People were too busy fisting Santa Claus to play zombie games, i suppose. (That, or the site needs a better retention strategy. But that’s not as fun as the fisting explanation. “Ho ho hOOOHHH!”)
Later Twitter games proved less successful. i tried #movieRemakesForKids:
- Dude Where’s My Bigwheel #movieRemakesForKids
- S-E-X in the City #movieRemakesForKids
- Before the Devil Knows You’re On a Farm with Other Doggies #movieRemakesForKids
i tried the ill-advised #mexicanMovies:
- Last Xango in Paris #mexicanMovies
- Look Who’s Taco-ing #mexicanMovies
- Star Juarez #mexicanMovies (that was the best one, and i didn’t even come up with it)
As i wrote this article, i tried to get something going with the less hammy #coverSongsThatAreBetterThanTheOriginals, and #shakespeareMovies:
- Dude, Whither Mine Carriage? #shakespeareMovies
- The Bee Movie or Not The Bee Movie #shakespeareMovies
- Dr. Nay #shakespeareMovies
Both have gone nowhere.
There Goes the Science
It’s very difficult to collect empirical data on this strategy, because there are too many variables. Was #zombiesWithJobs more successful because it came from a zombie-related account and was about zombies? Or was it just easy and amusing enough? Maybe the time of day or day of the week factored into its popularity? Maybe by the time i tried kick-starting my fourth hash tag, all of my followers were tired of me and didn’t want to participate? Maybe the content of the last three was just too lame to catch anyone’s interest? It’s hard to say for sure.
You’ve failed me, Sid the Science Kid. Take a hike.
One thing is for certain, though: any website that causes you to break out the champagne when it hits 102 visitors is NOT earning enough money to pay for that champagne.
This article brings you up to speed on the grass roots effort i’ve put forth to drive more traffic to my game portals, before i decided to pony up a little cash to see what i could scare up. The next series of articles will focus on my attempts to spin straw into gold – or, rather, to turn the World’s Most Meager Marketing Budget of $100 into a landslide of traffic for the site. Come on back!