Tag Archives: Pimp My Portal

Pimp My Portal Part 5: The Sting

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.


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i love two things in this world: taglines, and deadpan humour. And … oh, and physically fit young ladies with no moral compass. They’re pretty good too. But taglines and deadpan humour, in lieu of such ladies, are pretty darn good.

Cam girl

Slogans and deadpan humour: no match for a narcissistic young woman with a webcam, but still in the running.

By taglines, i’m talking about the punchy slogans and sayings which (often punnily) augment a product name. Ferinstance:

Randall’s Ski and Snowboard Shop: This Time, It’s Seasonal

Galaxy Scoops: In Space, No One Can Hear Ice Cream

That type of thing. The tagline for Spellirium, our upcoming post-apocalyptic adventure/word puzzle game, is

Spellirium: It’s the End of the Word as We Know It

(i thought this one was downright clever, thank you kindly.)

i wrote a tagline for ZombieGameWord, too:

ZombieGameWorld.com. Check your braaaaaains at the door.

Hilarious. i could write these things all day. Seriously. Someone give me a job writing taglines all day, and i’ll die happy. (And early. Possibly from something i caught from a young lady with no moral compass).

Erm … i’m getting sidetracked here. What am i doing? Coming up with taglines for young ladies with no moral compass?

Young Ladies with No Moral Compass: Guess Ho’s Coming to Dinner

No – wait. We were talking about ZombieGameWorld, weren’t we? Alright. Steady on.

Gimme Five

So i love taglines and deadpan humour, and i decided to combine them BOTH in my plan for Internet domination, which involves buying video testimonials from people on Fiverr.com. Many of the Fiverrers will shoot a testimonial by reading your script, which struck me as awesome. Not only are they gonna say nice things about the site, but i’m going to tell them which nice things they’re gonna say? For five bucks?? Unbelievable! Talk about having no moral compass.

Some camera guy

“You know what i think is great? Genocide.”

Uh … Line?

i got to work writing scripts for the Fiverr folks willing to shoot testimonials. i tailored each script to that person’s unique – ahem – talents, in the hope that their acting chops would be decent enough to get a few good jokes out of them. (i was to be somewhat disappointed, as you’ll see in the next few articles)

The scripts i wrote were all dead-pan and straight-laced. A crucial part of the ZombieGameWorld brand is that it assumes the zombie apocalypse is either going to happen, or has already happened. It’s never a question of “if” the walking dead are going to infest polite society – only a question of “when”, and “how many bullets am i gonna need”?

Fat zombie

Protip: the bigger the zombie, the larger the ammo requirement.

So these scripts all involved the actors mundanely discussing how the world’s changed now that the zombie apocalypse is upon us. The trouble is that i had each person end by saying the site name and tagline, “ZombieGameWorld.com: Check your braaaaains at the door.” When the “actors” say this line, it kind of breaks the immersion that they’ve built up throughout the video. It’s like ending each video with “JUST KIDDING! JAZZ HANDS! AH CHA CHA CHA CHA CHAAAAAA! *WIIINK!* BA-DUM CHING!” It’s more than a little obnoxious.

Bobby Bittman

Bobby Bittman has no place advertising zombie game portals.

The Punchline

My remedy to this was to find a Fiverr.com voiceover artist to record the tagline, which i then appended to each video. My intent was that the “sanctity” or honesty of the deadpan bit would remain intact, while the sting at the end would sort of let the audience off the hook. They do this in on-air ad spots all the time. There’s probably a term for it, but i don’t really run in those circles so i don’t know what it’s called.

The guy i found to record the tagline is named Eric Saint John, who’s entirely too talented to be giving his voice away for next-to-nothing. i can only imagine he’s using Fiverr as a promotional tool to drive brand awareness (much like i am!) And i think it worked. Not only am i profiling Eric St. John in this post – i’d definitely consider using him again for a longer-form production.

Here’s Eric’s gig that i bought on Fiverr:

Eric Saint John Fiverr gig

PROTIP: These are not actually Eric’s lips. i hope.

And here’s a video of him in action on another person’s order (along with some tips for aspiring voice over actors):



Here’s what i asked him to do:

Eric Saint John Fiverr request

Eric did not deliver what i wanted, but he delivered exactly what i asked for! He did one take in the Dracula voice i was describing, which helped me to realize i wasn’t actually thinking of that voice. i still don’t know how to describe the voice in my head or where it came from. But Eric gave me exactly what i requested. He’s like a machine. It’s scary.

Here’s the boatload of takes he delivered for five bucks:

[display_podcast]

UPDATE: As fate would have it, i was queuing up old movie trailers to watch with my daughters, and when i hit the trailer for Little Monsters with Howie Mandel, i realized the trailer guy in THAT clip has the voice i was trying to describe to Eric:



Anyone know whose voice that guy’s doing? i’m a stickler for trivia.

The Final Cut

In the end, i decided to use Eric’s slightly radio-guy-esque second take. i fooled around with the ZombieGameWorld logo to give it a little more spunk, and grabbed a sound effect from my collection to tie it all together. This is what i ended up with:



Pretty decent for five bucks! And now i’ve got a good-looking, good-sounding tagline that i can add to all of the videos i order on Fiverr.com.

The Numbers

Now let’s take a look at how the marketing effort is going.

The World’s Most Meager Marketing Budget

Original investment: $100

Spent:

  • ZombieGameWorld tagline voiceover – $5

Remaining: $95

Game Portal Balance Sheet

(includes ZombieGameWorld.com and WordGameWorld.com)

[TABLE=3]

Traffic

(period spanning March 1 2010 – February 22 2011)

WordGameWorld: 5604 Visits, 5.39 Pages/Visit, 3.00% Bounce Rate, 3:49 Avg. Time on Site
ZombieGameWorld: 3121 Visits, 3.85 Pages/Visit, 30.99% Bounce Rate, 5:17 Avg. Time on Site

Prepare Ye the Way

The ZombieGameWorld tagline isn’t meant to be a standalone piece, so i didn’t post it to many video sites – and therefore, i can’t report on whether or not it brought any traffic to the portals. In the next article, I’ll add the tagline to the end of a bona fide Fiverr testimonial and upload it live to the world, to see how the World’s Most Meager Marketing Budget stacks up against my earlier efforts.

Stick with me, for it involves bewbz. (Talk about young ladies with no moral compass.)

Pimp My Portal

Pimp My Portal Part 4: Fun with Fiverr

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.


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Five Dollars

Five dollars and a dream.

(Note to my international readers: Wikipedia informs me that that is a portrait of Sir Wilfred Laurier, our seventh Prime Minister – NOT a kookaburra.)

Most Places

What would you do for five dollars? My grandfather told me that when he was a little boy, five dollars would have bought a year’s supply of candy. In the Wild West, it would have bought a house. (Or a horse …? Grandpa had a speech impediment.) In the Wild West of the Internatz, five bucks spent most places will buy you a hardy handshake and a kick in the ass.

*Most* places.

Section Two: The World’s Most Meager Marketing Budget

Then there’s Fiverr.com. This is one of those sites where, when you sign up, you must answer one simple question. On Twitter, it’s “What are you doing right now?” On Facebook, it’s “What’s your social insurance number and bank PIN?” On Fiverr, it’s “what would you do for five bucks?”

Here’s how it works: you sign up for Fiverr and post a “gig”. A gig fills in the blank in this statement:

I will ___________ for five dollars.

Fiverr.com

There are gigs ranging from people who will watch a movie and send you a review for five bucks, to people who will help you decide what to eat for dinner for five bucks, to people who will send you bendy straws in the shapes of shrimps for five bucks. Really. i didn’t make any of these up. Simply by telling you about Fiverr, i’ve lost you. i guarantee you’re going to spend the next 10-15 minutes or more looking through various gigs on the site and cackling like a hyena.

Go ahead. i’ll wait.

Are you back? Alright. Let’s continue.

Spending the Monays

As a buyer, when you order a gig on Fiverr, your money gets put in escrow with the site until the seller finishes the gig to your satisfaction. When the gig gets delivered, you can leave positive or negative feedback, much like on eBay. If you don’t like the result or the person is taking too long to complete your gig, there’s a resolution system that helps you get your money back. Fiverr pockets a dollar, and the seller pockets the remaining four.

Please keep that in mind as you read this next series of posts, friends: the seller makes four dollars for completing a gig.

Toonies

Fiverrers earn the equivalent of these two Canadian toonies. (that hairy fellow on the front is the Queen)

Where on Earth Am I Going to Get Five Dollars?

i had spent twenty dollars on ZombieGameWorld.com, and that master strategy had netted me five visitors. i could see a lot more value in Fiverr – especially in the people who would shoot a video testimonial for your site, from your script, and sometimes POST IT TO THEIR OWN YOUTUBE ACCOUNT. (i’m glad that’s the extent of it … i was about to go into underlined font there)

When i first saw Fiverr a few years ago, i had a good laugh like you just did, and then pretty much forgot about it like any other crazy thing i’ve seen on the Internatz, like cats that look like Hitler and erotic fiction featuring Roy Orbison wrapped in cling film. But Fiverr kinda stuck in the back of my mind, and i would visit it every half a year or so to see what was going on.

“I will make a video of myself punching my boyfriend in the face and saying whatever you want me to.”



Meanwhile, over in Mochiland, my two weekend game jam games Two By Two and Bloat. were raking in the bucks at the rate of an Antarctic fry cook at a seasonal luau. It took nearly 1.5 years for me to earn my first hundred dollars in MochiAds rev share, which i promptly blew on a cocaine-fueled celebration party that ran me $5000 into the red.

Cocaine Bear

It’s true.

A year and a half after that, the games had pulled in another cool hunny dollas, around the time i was thinking very hard about how to promote ZombieGameWorld.com without spending any actual money.

Mochi 100 dollars

Hmm. $100 in Mochimedia ad rev share isn’t real money. i wonder how many Meetup groups i could sponsor with that? Or …

… OR ….

Lightbulb

Somewhere in the back of my brain, it clicked. Fiverr.com. By my math, one hundred dollars would buy me no fewer than TWENTY Fiverr gigs. Video is all the rage with search engines, i’ve heard, and while i slowly work out a “real” video strategy for the site that’ll eat up a lot more of my precious time here on Earth, what’s the harm in dropping some fun-money to go fishing on Fiverr to see what i could get?

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

So that, friends, is exactly what i did. i scoured Fiverr for the craziest, most inventive, and most worth-WAY-more-than-five-bucks-even-if-it’s-terrible gigs i could discover. My original plan was to spend $70 on video testimonials and the remaining $30 on people who “guarnateed” xty thousand hits to my YouTube video. i figured i could pay someone on Fiverr to make the video, and then pay someone on Fiverr to promote the video.

As it turned out, it was so much fun buying video gigs that to date, i’ve spent $80 on video/audio stuff, and $5 on “other” (get excited for that one – it’s awesome). i have $15 remaining in my budget, but that might jump back up to $25 because two sellers are “Very Late” on their delivery – that’s the point at which Fiverr allows you to cancel a gig order if you’re tired of waiting.

What Are They Thinking??

What sort of quality do you get when you purchase gigs on Fiverr? Terrible quality, that’s what. You have to figure that anyone who’d shoot a whole video ranging anywhere from 15 seconds to two minutes (!!) for four dollars, isn’t going to put primo effort into it. Mostly, you get bored attention-seeking Americans with no sense of lighting, sound quality, timing, intonation, speed, diction, or the ability to deliver content sincerely without blatantly obviously reading a script propped up next to their webcams. When they flub a line, they leave it in. When they hit a word they don’t know, they guess at the pronunciation, and often, the video you get is their first attempt at going through the material. And very occasionally, you get some real kooks.

Crackers

Yes – crackers.

On the flip side, it’s five bucks. And it’s to promote a zombie video game site. i can’t imagine a more perfect pairing than shoddy free-to-play zombie Flash games built by 14-year-olds, and dull Yanks with no acting talent woodenly reading zombie scripts from their computer monitors. Two great tastes that taste great together.

Is This Making Anyone Else Uncomfortable?

There’s also a strangely seedy underbelly to Fiverr.com. Here are people who, for five bucks, will shoot an obviously phony but glowing testimonial on any skeevy product or service that foots the bill. i’ve looked up sample videos for the people hosting testimonial gigs, and i’ve found them saying stuff like

i’ve tried other diet pills before, but they all made me vomit cheese curds out my nostrils. THIS diet pill helped me drop 95 pounds in a week, and i’ve never felt better!

and

other SAT prep courses made me flunk out of high school and get thrown in prison. But with THIS prep course, not only did i pass with flying colours, but i scored FOUR scholarships to YALE! Thanks, ABC Prep Course. *WINK*

What … what sort of person does that? For four dollars? i know a lot of people were hit hard by the recent recession, but come on. Letting someone put his man-stick into your lady-crevice has to be less degrading than this, right? And at least when you’re done, the act isn’t broadcast to an International audience. (Unless he’s into that, and pays extra.)

(… but not four dollars extra.)

Sketch Comedy

The other kind of grody thing on Fiverr are sellers who make videos using their very young children. i’m not sure how i feel about that. i have young kids of my own, and i don’t know that it’s fair for me to pimp them out to … well, i was gonna say “the highest bidder”, but it’s not even the highest bidder, is it? It’s the FOUR DOLLAR bidder. i dunno. That said, i WOULD use my daughters to pimp out ZombieGameWorld, cuz that’s just family bidness.

So what you get are odd people oddly taping testimonials for odd reasons, and earning an odd amount of money at it. But it’s not all odd. They are few and far between, but there are some absolutely top-notch hilarious pieces of content that have come out of my Fiverr experiment.

And So Our Course is Set

For this next run of articles, i am going to discuss the Fiverr gigs that i purchased with Mochi’s $100 in funnymunny. i’ll show you what i asked the sellers to do, what i got in return, and how i tried to hammer that into a usable piece of content to promote my game portal – the idea behind it being that search loves video.

Missouri

(and Missouri loves company)

These upcoming articles will feature bikinis, puppets, kids, rednecks, beefcake models, and the most bizarre assortment of oddballs five dollars will buy. By the time we’re through, if you haven’t spent your own five bucks on Fiverr just to see what’ll happen, you clearly don’t understand the value of a dollar.

For real: this Fiverr experiment is the most fun i’ve had on the Internet since i discovered decorative needlepoint porn. The day i began this experiment, i was grinning from ear to ear, and couldn’t WAIT to bore my friends with the details. Five dollars can’t buy much in this day and age. It certainly can’t buy a horse (or a house?), but it CAN buy a person dressed up as a horse, freestyle rapping about your website that features cats with Hitler moustaches.

And there’s something so right about that.

Pimp My Portal

Pimp My Portal Part 3: Reach Out and Tweet Someone

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.


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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.

Free Deer

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.

Ratings

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:

ZombieGameWorld tweet

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:

ZombieGameWorld Twitter flipper

Formerly Earl Peterson: perpetually floating at the top of ZombieGameWorld.com so you don’t have to.

FUN LINK: Learn how you can build a Flash Twitter widget for your own failed website!

Twechniques

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:

  1. Followers don’t care about ZombieGameWorld
  2. Followers aren’t very active on Twitter
  3. 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.

Pyramids

Uh … yeah. So could you just put that new pyramid over there? Ssssuper.

Manuel Labour

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.

Twitter Hash Tag Game

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:

I Saw Mommy Fisting Santa Claus

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:

Zombies With Jobs

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!”)

#beatingADeadHorse

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.

Zombies With Jobs

Chirp. Chirp.

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.

Sid the Science Kid

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!

Pimp My Portal

Pimp My Portal Part 2: Rotten to the Quora

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.


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If you want to promote something on the cheap, you gotta get crafty.

i had launched two game portals seven months apart, and was hard at work on a third – or, rather, one of my interns was. i was actually reclining in my chair with my feet propped up on his back as he slavishly added games one-by-one to the site. The first portal, WordGameWorld.com, was averaging about 10-15 visitors a day, with most visitors reaching the site using the search query “free Flash word games oops i meant porn”.

Pictures of naked ladies playing word games

Mmm … I’m feeling lucky?

The story over at the second portal, ZombieGameWorld.com, was even more bleak. Despite there being a wealth of zombie games and a much keener interest from the development community (at least five new zombie Flash games are released every week), the site was lurching along at a very zombie-like pace, drawing about half the traffic of WordGameWorld.com:

ZombieGameWorld traffic

Shoot it! Shoot it in the head!

My Internatz pal Manuel Saint Victor (@marveloper), who carefully studies emerging social media sites, gave me a few suggestions on potentially boosting my traffic.

From where Mani stands, by the time a site is as popular as Facebook, it takes money to get noticed. Perhaps a better strategy is to catch the wave before it crests, by using social media tools before they blow up. Naturally, this takes a fair amount of predictive reasoning and dice-rolling … trails that Mani has blazed before me, so i happily decided to try to profit from his pioneering.

Section One: Handy Mani

Quora

Truly questions for the ages.

Mani’s first idea was to create a profile on the website Quora.com. Quora is almost exactly like Yahoo Answers, except it’s slower to load, it has a few more social media gimmicks, and the members seems a little more “with it” than Yahoo’s soccer moms and Ku Klux Klan members. Mani suggested that i position myself as an expert on zombie culture by answering Quora members’ zombie-related questions. Presumably, the Quora members will be so impressed by my dissertations on undead lore that they’ll click my profile link to find out who i am, increasing traffic to the portal. That, or search engine spiders will crawl Quora and mark up ZombieGameWorld.com‘s page ranking because a “respectable” site links there.

i answered a number of questions on Quora in character as Formerly Earl Peterson, ZombieGameWorld.com’s spokeszombie (who can be seen in the Twitter flipper at the top of the site):

Formerly Earl Peterson

Formerly Early Peterson, tweetin’ it up

This all seemed like a fine strategy, but there’s one flaw: much like Wikipedia, Quora appears to be policed by Nazi-like admins. And by “Nazi-like”, i’m not necessarily implying that they kill Jews, but i returned to Quora to write this article only to find that all of my answers had been collapsed – hidden within some sort of “click to view answer” JSON voodoo. A message from one of the Quora gestapo explained why:

Hello,

One of the rules of Quora is that everyone uses his or her real full name. Do you mind changing your name to reflect that?

If this is a mistake and you are already using your real name, just reply to this message letting us know that.

You can change your name here:
Edit Profile Name

And you can find more details here:
Do I have to use my real name on Quora? Can businesses or organizations have a user account?

Thanks!

Hmm. i’d be hard-pressed to convince them that “Formerly” was my given name. i had already created both an Untold Entertainment account and a Word Game World account (ghost written using the pseudonym “Anna Graham” … ME SO CLEVER!!). i replied politely and honestly, so as not to incite the admin’s nerd rage:

Hi, Admin. i was hoping that i could answer in character as Formerly Earl Peterson, spokeszombie. It’s not unlike the Dame Edna idea – i’m trying to create a rich, interesting character, rather than just breaking Quora rules by answering questions as “John Fakename” or whatever. i’m using my full, real name (Ryan Henson Creighton) on my UntoldEnt account.

I’ll update this post later to let you know how the controversy plays out. In all likelihood i’m not allowed to have multiple accounts either, and this blog article has just alerted the Quora police to my additional rule-breaking. Can i please hide in your attic?

In case the Quora admins delete my accounts before and erase my efforts from existence, here’s a sample question and answer that i wrote as Formerly Earl Peterson:

Q: Which city in the United States is most suitable for the post-apocalypse?

A: As a zombie myself, I can tell you that we prefer places with wide-open countryside, without a lot of roots to trip over or stairs to climb. When I catch zombie pals of mine discussing the next best place to apocalypize, I always suggest Saskatchewan.

– Formerly Earl Peterson

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan: despite the low population count, it’s a bona fide zombie paradise.

note: Signing your name to an answer is also against Quora policy. And i ultimately suggested a Canadian town rather than an American one, thereby failing to adequately answer the question. What have we learned from all this? When it comes to Quora, i am a bona fide rule-breaking rebel BADASS.

Rebel

Me, on Quora.

Reaping What i Sowed

Let’s take a look at the traffic bounty that Quora brought in:

Quora results

The two week span from January 1 (when i first posted my Quora answers) to January 17 comprises the sum total of Quora traffic. It completely drops off from there. i’m not sure when the admins gimped my account, and how that affected traffic.

As you can see, there was a 40% bounce rate, which means that 2 people hit the site and left almost immediately. The remaining 3 people hung around and hit a couple of pages, but only stayed on the site for three minutes, so they likely didn’t play any games. My linked Adsense data tells me they didn’t click on any ads either.

Again, these numbers are so tiny that it’s not a good idea to draw too many conclusions. The only thing i can guess is that 5 people who are interested enough in zombies to post or read a zombie question on Quora, were curious enough about my site to click on the link. But when they got to the site, the content didn’t grip them.

And if there’s one thing i know about zombies, it’s that they gotta grip people if they want to be successful. At eating brains.

What Else You Got?

The next article in the series covers another of Mani’s ideas. I’m warning you ahead of time, dear readers, that Santa Claus himself may get severely injured (and/or pleasured) in that one, so try not to read it out loud to your kids.

Pimp My Portal

Pimp My Portal Part 1: Gay Nerds in the Windy City

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.


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Word Game World

A going concern.

If no one knows about your website, how do you change that? i knew that blog technologies like WordPress are beloved of Google and other search engines, and that blog content gets indexed hungrily by search spiders. i also knew that people like playing games. i thought that just by virtue of the fact that i had a game portal containing tons of free word games, people who were searching for free word games would naturally come across my portal.

Erroneous assumption #1: people are searching for free word games.

Erroneous assumption #2: people who like word games play them online.

Erroneous assumption #3: my free word games site, WordGameWorld.com, would somehow magically float to the top of Google’s search results, ahead of all the other web sites that offered free word games.

Word Game World on Google

Reality check: searching “word games” in Google doesn’t turn up WordGameWorld.com within the first TEN pages, let alone the main page. It’s effectively invisible.

i originally built WordGameWorld.com because i was working on a revolutionary word game called Spellirium. i thought that by building a site packed with other people’s word games, i’d see a number of brilliant benefits:

  1. i’d find and capture the audience appropriate to my game
  2. i’d own the portal’s advertising inventory, so i could drive that audience to my game for free (without having to pay advertising costs on another site)
  3. in adding word games to the site in a curated fashion, i’d become very well-apprised of the best and worst that word games have to offer, which would inform my design decisions on Spellirium

The fatal flaw in my plan was this: i had a developing product (Spellirium) that i wanted to drive quality traffic to. To do that, i began developing a second product that i needed to drive quality traffic to, in order to forward that quality traffic to my first developing product.

Chicken and egg

Chicken, meet egg.

So what’s the solution? Develop a third product and repeat the mistake? No. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and i must be some sort of friggin’ idiot or something.

Um …

ZombieGameWorld logo

It appears that i must be some sort of friggin’ idiot or something, because that’s exactly what i did. Around Hallowe’en in 2010, we launched ZombieGameWorld.com to zero fanfare. … what was i thinking? Misguided as i may have been, this was my thought process:

  1. Word games are not the most popular genre on the Internatz, and the people who play them may not play them in the browser.
  2. The people who DO play free games in the browser are young and male, and may well be active or aspiring game developers themselves.
  3. Young males like games that are violent or have tits in them, so i should choose content that matches their tastes.
  4. i can’t stand the results when amateur Flash game artists draw tits, so it had to be violence.
  5. Snag: Untold Entertainment has a company policy against violent video games.
  6. Fortunatly, the company’s third tenet provides a loophole:

Untold Entertainment stands on these principles:


3. Non-violence in gaming (barring the presence of zombies)

Aha! We have a winner.

Flash game tits

Badly drawn Flash tits: driving nice companies to violence since 1997.

Schlock and Awe

Whereas WordGameWorld.com was a curated site, meaning we hand-picked only the best word games to include, i figured that zombie audiences were a different breed. Zombie fans have learned to live with low-budget b-movie schlock for decades, and if there’s one arm of the game industry ecosystem that screamed “low budget b-movie schlock”, it was free-to-play web-based Flash games. So i decided that ZombieGameWorld.com would not be curated – we’d just throw any old piece of crap on there.

Gnome N Zombies

Case in point: play Gnome N Zombies at ZombieGameWorld.com (or better yet, don’t)

i derived the whole concept of having multiple niche game portals from some interesting market behaviour i’d observed in the Flash game scene: Developer “JimmyJo” created a game called “AwesomeForce”. It came and went, as most Flash games do. And then JimmyJo developed “AwesomeForce 2”, which was a slight improvement over its predecessor. Curious players went back and played AwesomeForce 1 just to compare. No skin off their noses – the game is free to play. JimmyJo kept developing sequels. By the time he developed AwesomeForce 7, he found that the collective gameplays on his entire AwesomeForce series were boosted each time he released a sequel.

Look Who's Talking Now

Who doesn’t love a sequel?

i wondered if it was possible to get the sequel/franchise boost from game portals? Maybe players who came across WordGameWorld.com wouldn’t dig it, but we’d have a series of badges pointing him to ZombieGameWorld.com, TowerDefenseGameWorld.com, and a number of others. And if there’s one thing i know about improving site rankings, its that sites get more search love they more they link to other quality sites, and are linked to by other quality sites.

So that’s where my head was at. Here’s how it played out:

WordGameWorld.com traffic

Abysmal traffic on WordGameWorld.com. Not zero, but abysmal. The site debuted in March 2010, nearly a year ago, and was promoted on this blog and through the Spellirium newsletters that i sent out detailing progress on the game. Here’s the kind of scratch i was making through my portals via Google Adsense:

Adsense Stats

The decimal means pennies, right?

i won’t pretend i know how to interpret all these stats … all i knew is that i wouldn’t be earning my $20k advertising revenue to start sponsoring games any time soon. i wasn’t even close to earning the $33 a month to cover hosting! My portal strategy was creating a net loss, and i had to DO something about it. What interested me was that it appeared that i was actually making respectable money from the scant players i did have, and that if i were to scale traffic up (even to the numbers i pull on UntoldEntertaiment.com), i could see a few hundred bucks of revenue a month – more than enough to cover hosting, and perhaps even enough to start sponsoring some games.

A Penny Saved is a Penny Wasted

Conventional marketing wisdom says the solution is this: scrape together a $10k marketing budget and start advertising. But if you were me, would you spend $10k on a few sites that are earning you 25 cents a day?

Just as i was very reluctant to spend a lot of time and money building a Flash game that may not break even on sponsorships and ads, i similarly didn’t want to blow a lot of cash promoting a site when my perceived risk of squandering that cash was so high. Instead, i decided to brainstorm some low-cost, grass roots marketing plans.

The first of these plans was hatched by my wife: advertising on Meetup.com.

Meetup

Meetup.com: where chihuahuas gaze longingly skyward.

Meetup is a lot like the Events feature on Facebook, except that it costs its organizers money. For about $75 a year, you can host your own Meetup group to schedule real-life shindigs in your area. My wife belongs to a number of Mommy Meet-up groups, which women use to arrange playdates for their kids. She mentioned that Meetup groups are sometimes sponsored by companies, whose ads appear in the Meetup groups’ sidebars. Barrier to entry, she suggested, could be as low as $20, which goes a decent way towards paying for a Meetup group’s annual fee.

In order to maximize my WordGameWorld.com ad’s exposure, i started looking for large groups, where the participants may be interested in playing word games. i settled on an online dating service geared toward nerds of every stripe. The company runs groups for gay nerds, green/eco-nerds, and straight-up classic nerd nerds. Their customers are looking to meet people while playing board games and programming Arduino microcontrollers, so they can presumably go home with each other after the event and bump nerd uglies. (with the lights off, one would hope)

Kitty Sanchez

(Did we already try hair up/glasses on?)

This nerd dating company has many outfits across America. The one i targeted was the 700-member-strong Chicago group. i emailed the group’s organizers and made my bid: $20 toward the group’s annual fee in exchange for running a WordGameWorld.com badge on the group page sidebar.

Some weeks later, i received a phone call from the company head to work out some technical difficulties with the ad. During that call, she explained to me that her company was actually a very large organization, and that the Meetup groups represented a small fraction of their enterprise. She also alluded to the fact that she had many more opportunities for advertisers to get involved.

To my mind, all this translated to “your 20 bucks is paltry – can we gouge you for more?” i did my best, in business-to-business speak, to explain that i was running a tiny little shop, that i was just dipping my toe in the paid marketing waters for the very first time, and that i needed to keep costs low. i don’t think i went into detail about my quest to break even on a $33 monthly hosting charge … i wanted to appear lowly, but not pathetic. i left her with some non-committal responses on her request to take more of my money, and off we went.

Her email response was chipper, but disappointing (emphasis mine):

Hey Ryan,

So nice to talk with you earlier and hope we can find some ways to partner more in the future.

We’ll apply the $20 to a term of two months, beginning from the date we posted your logo on November 11 and ending January 11, 2011. Let us know if you’d like to continue after that or sponsor additional groups that we run in Chicago and Minneapolis.

Thanks and happy Friday!

Yeah … ssssssssuper. Happy Friday indeed.

Darth Nooooo

A Fool and His Money

Lessons learned:

  1. Make sure you know what you’re buying before you spend the money.
  2. You can’t afford to advertise on the front page of the New York Times, so scale down your ambitions.
  3. Once you scale down your ambitions small enough – say, to $20 – you apparently still can’t afford to advertise, because the world contains no shortage of people who will take your money: as much of it as they can, as often as they can.

i learned this same lesson when i tried to license a well-known song from a famous band for my Spellirium game trailer and couldn’t afford the $65000 license fee, and then scaled my ambitions down to license a song from a Victoria BC-based band that plays subways and Vancouver Island cultural festivals and i STILL couldn’t afford them.

The ad ran for a month on the nerd dating Meetup group, yielding these results:

Word Game World Traffic Sources

Sample: November 1 2010-January 1 2011 – 1119 visits

That’s right: only four nerds – gay, green, or otherwise – visited the site from the Meetup group. i could have seen a better result if i had paid five people four bucks apiece to play a single lousy game on the site. The group is around 700 nerds, so that means my ad is enticing 0.5% of them to click on my ad. Conversely, if i post a link in an article on this blog, i get about a 15% click-through rate (thank you, btw!).

(Notice that my advertising strategy is technically out-performing my “free” cross-promotional strategy from zombiegameworld.com, but when the numbers are this tiny, you can’t really hang your hat on them.)

Friends, if you want to do something on the cheap, you’ve got to be crafty about it.

Macrame Owl

The next entries in the Pimp My Portal feature are about getting crafty. They’re about how i tried to get away with spending the least money possible to get the biggest bang for my buck, all in the name of trying to break even at $33/month. Stick with me … it’s going to be fun!

Pimp My Portal