Recently a friend of mine approached me with a blog idea. He and I have known each other for six years and both enjoy writing as a hobby. We’ve read each others’ fiction works and played in one another’s games at the tabletop. Exchanging ideas and discussing the potential of new concepts is pretty normal for us, and in this situation I had a bit more experience. As a blogger myself, I could offer some perspective, but in this situation he wasn’t just asking for perspective – he was asking for a co-author.
He explained to me the concept of the blog and his vision for what he wanted to do. It was clear he’d been thinking about it for awhile, and this isn’t the first time he’s talked about blogging with me. From requests to write posts to coming up with concepts for new content, I was able to gather up the clues and come to a conclusion which I shared directly with him: “it sounds like you want to start your own blog.” He obviously has ideas and passion, and I know he wants to write and create – this seemed like the ideal solution.
My friend did not recoil immediately from the idea – he tentatively acknowledged that it is something he had considered. What made him uneasy about the idea is putting his work out there for everyone to read. The internet is a terrifying place sometimes – fandoms are notoriously angry, strangers use anonymity to say whatever they want, and platforms like YouTube or Twitch are infamous for how heated the comments can get. As writers, we often feel a strong emotional connection to the content we create. That article or work of fiction is a piece of ourselves – throwing it to the angry dudes on Reddit feels like throwing our infant child to a pack of ravenous wolves.
Now around the same time I had this conversation with my friend, I started a community event here on my own blog called Charming and Open. This was an opportunity for my followers, the folks I affectionately refer to as adventurers, to ask me questions and receive an honest answer from me. The very final question I received came from Athena, the excellent writer behind the blog AmbiGaming, and she asked me a question that connected quite directly to the conversation I’d had with my friend:
“What would you tell a new blogger who wanted to get into writing, but was afraid of what the reception of their articles would be like?”
How interesting that Athena posed this specific question to me when it was so fresh on my mind. How fortuitous that the timing worked out to where this was the last question of Charming and Open, scheduled to be answered on my last posting day of 2017. How wildly unexpected that this post, my last post of 2017, is also my 400th post on Adventure Rules. This is an excellent time for me to answer this question because it is the perfect time to talk about where Adventure Rules has been up until now, and to show you that 2018 is the perfect time for YOU to start your journey to that place and beyond.
Whatever knowledge and advice I share here is based entirely on my own experience with blogging. It’s the only experience I can really describe with any level of familiarity and authenticity. But I think that this advice, despite it’s specificity to blogging about video games and blogging for a specific purpose, can be generalized to anybody who wants to create content and share it with others. So let’s dive deep into this question, adventurers, and see what my blogging journey can teach you about article reception.
I started Adventure Rules with a specific goal in mind: I wanted to sharpen my skills as a writer and get into the habit of writing on a regular basis. The long-term goal being that these improved skills would enable me to finally finish a novel and push me towards becoming a published author. I chose video games as my topic solely because I felt like that would be the easiest thing to talk about on a consistent basis – my other passions, such as theater, would be more difficult to discuss since I didn’t get to engage with them directly as often.
Because my goal was primarily focused on how often I was writing, I didn’t necessarily care all that much if people liked my articles. One or two folks clicking “like” on the article or the link was good enough for me, just enough positive reception to drive me along in this writing exercise. It didn’t take much time at all for those circumstances to change, though. In fact, within my first month of blogging I tried to start a community event focused on people sharing my articles to draw more attention to the blog. I specifically state in that article that the purpose behind it is validation; if people are reading my articles and liking them then I know I’m making good progress towards my goals.
In those days I experimented a LOT with the formula of Adventure Rules in order to find what I felt worked and what I felt didn’t. If an article broke ten views then I felt like I could write more articles in that style – if it got one or zero, I felt I needed to write something else. When Adventure Rules began I had a segment premise called “Final Friday” where I would talk about Final Fantasy every Friday – by the end of the first month that concept was totally scrapped. Lots of early segments lasted for maybe a post or two before I decided to stop because I didn’t feel like I was getting enough views from people. No one was leaving negative feedback, but for me silence spoke volumes. Nothing frustrated me more than a like-to-view ratio where likes vastly outnumbered views. When a post had 6 or 7 likes but my clicks that day were only at 2 or 3, I determined that I would never revisit that type of article again.
After about a year of blogging, I determined that Adventure Rules needed to take a more journalistic approach. At this point I was thinking less of the blog as practice for my eventual career as a novelist; instead, I saw it as a potential jumping off point for a career in video game journalism. This conclusion had a lot to do with where I was at in real life – unemployed and repeatedly rejected by more traditional entry-level positions due to my unusual educational background – but it also had to do with reception of my blog posts. It seemed like my most successful posts were the things that “all” game writers write about – reviews and coverage of new announcements and whatnot. Those posts were the ones getting views, so I wanted to embrace that and try to create them more often.
Focusing on a more journalistic approach did some good things and some bad things for my blog. It helped me to achieve better focus and to eliminate some segments that were honestly completely irrelevant. While fanfiction is a perfectly respectable form of writing and many bloggers find success with it, for example, it was not working for Adventure Rules. Removing it gave me more time to focus on content that both I and my readers enjoyed more. My journalistic focus also led me to create my first guides, the type of article that that sees the most “success” on Adventure Rules when defined in terms of reach and views.
While trying to break into game journalism might have helped the blog itself, it didn’t help me as a content creator. Each post felt like there was a whole new level of pressure – not only did I have to worry about the reception from followers, but I also had to worry about the reception from potential employers. Every tiny Nintendo Direct or news update had to be covered ASAP, I constantly pushed myself to pump out new guides despite how long they took and how monotonous they felt, and even though I discovered that I hated writing reviews, I still wanted to keep them up because I felt like those were my best shot at getting a job in the industry.
What ultimately happened when my blog was focused on journalistic integrity was this: I stopped writing. I felt so much pressure about the reception of each piece that whenever I started an article, I couldn’t finish it. I was pushing myself to write long, technical pieces that I wasn’t enjoying and it sucked the life out of writing. So this blog that I originally started with the goal of writing more frequently had now driven me to stop almost completely.
Now it’s tempting to say that this is all because my prime focus shifted from personal goals to outside reception, but I think I can honestly look back and say that reception was important even in the beginning. It’s why I burned through so many segments, why I tried so hard to gather individual followings on different social media sites, why I felt defeated every time my views hit a valley – for the first year+ in the life of Adventure Rules, I cared too much about how people received my articles. It hit its zenith during the journalism phase but it was there all along.
FAST FORWARD TO NOW…
In the year 2017 I made the decision to rebuild Adventure Rules from the ground up. To return to my roots, if you will. I would once again blog with the sole intent of increasing the amount of time I spend on writing. I declared that to be my blog goal and I labeled that goal as “Consistency.” I set one other goal in 2017 and I labeled that goal “Community.” I had learned during my blogging tenure that I needed to be more engaged with other bloggers if I wanted my work to be successful. Networking has never been a skill I excel at – I’m antisocial by nature and shy about expressing my opinions. I had gotten to the point where I very rarely read posts by other bloggers and I absolutely 100% did NOT comment on their work. I felt that this needed to change in order for Adventure Rules to be successful. With these two new goals I began the year 2017.
For those of you who may not know, my current profession involves a lot of data analysis. While I would be lying if I said that any two days in my office are the same, it is not uncommon for me to spend a good chunk of my day crunching numbers and trying to determine what they mean. I put value in data – numbers don’t lie (unless there’s bad data entry AMIRIGHT?) and you can use the knowledge they reveal to honestly evaluate how a program is succeeding and failing. So to borrow a page from my professional life, I would like to take a moment not to tell you how my new goals redefined Adventure Rules, but rather to show you.
In the year 2016, Adventure Rules was viewed 8,529 times by 5,844 people. They left a total of 350 likes and 50 comments on my articles. Over 40% of the views in 2016 came from a series of guides on one video game – Fire Emblem Fates. That’s 3.5K views coming from maybe 7-8 articles when I wrote roughly 152 the whole year. That 152 articles also tells me that my like-to-post and comment-to-post ratios were pretty terrible. My posts averaged 2 likes, while I maybe got 1 comment on every 3rd post. Now 2016 was my first full year of blogging, so these numbers aren’t necessarily bad, but they tell a revealing story: most of my articles were not being interacted with directly. All that hard, “journalistic” work I was putting in was leaving me with little positive reception for the majority of my articles. Only a very small subset of articles carried me through the year.
Let’s look at 2017 (as of the writing of this article, anyway). Adventure Rules was viewed 20,272 times by 12,526 different people. I received 1416 likes on my posts and 732 comments. My Fire Emblem Fates series still made up 33% of those views – compare that to my coverage of Breath of the Wild, a more popular game that came out this year rather than last, which came in at a WHOPPING 4% of my views. Compare it to my big community events like the Blogger Blitz or Charming and Open, events which brought many bloggers together and yet barely make up 5.5% and 3.3% of my views, respectively. Looking at strictly viewership, it seems like this year was “worse” than the last, as some of my biggest and most time-consuming ventures bore the least amount of fruit from a search engine standpoint.
But let’s look at different data to see this from a different angle. In 2017 I had roughly 166 posts, which honestly was a bit surprising for me – what this tells me is that my goal of “consistency” really came true. I didn’t necessarily write more often so much as the same amount of writing was spread over a consistent basis, rather than writing constantly for one month and then skipping the next entirely. It’s interesting. Anyway, the real point here is the change in likes and comments. Compared to 2 likes per post in 2016, in 2017 I’m looking at 8.5 likes per post. And compared to 1 comment per every 3 posts in 2016, in 2017 I averaged 4.4 comments per post. So while the efforts I made this year did not drastically change my viewership numbers in terms of their source, it did change how much my viewers interacted with the blog. I went from a blog that folks visited once for a guide and then never returned to, to a blog with an active following that keeps up with my posts regularly and comments on the content I create.
Too much data? No worries, it’s over now. I show the data, though, for two reasons. One is to show you that if you’re really worried about numbers, persistence is key. I spent a whole year fighting tooth and nail to get 8000 hits – the next year, those articles I wrote the previous year took off and I ended up with 20000 hits. I am not the smallest blog out there but by no means am I the biggest one either. If you’re a new blogger or thinking about being one, I hope this can encourage you – growth is achievable. Getting your voice out there can happen. It just takes patience.
The second reason I show this data is because my 2016 versus my 2017 is a living, breathing example of the true secret to getting a positive reception for your blog. It does not matter how good you are. It doesn’t matter if your content is relatable or relevant or a revelation. To get attention, you have to give attention. If you try to post in a vacuum, just shouting out whatever thoughts you have without ever directly engaging another person, you are not going to get the positive reception you are searching for. But if you read articles by other bloggers who are discussing things you are interested in, if you give them a “like” and a “follow” to show your support and you leave thoughtful and interesting comments on your work, that person will be in your corner. They’ll want to know what kind of content YOU create. Maybe they won’t be interested but in all likelihood if you’ve made a genuine connection, they will be.
Adventure Rules was special to me in 2017 in a way that it never was in 2016. And that is because I stopped thinking so much about myself and my “career” and my “journalistic quality” and paid attention to other people. When those people paid attention back, I discovered that the blogging community is the whole reason to stay engaged in this hobby in the first place.
So, potential blogger, here is my advice to you concerning your fear about the reception of your articles: whatever type of reception you want, give that reception to other bloggers when you begin creating content. I gave others silence and I received silence in return. That silence for me was deafening, and as painful as if my viewers had told me that all of my articles were garbage. But I did nothing to earn the positive praise I craved. There’s a saying, “you reap what you sow.” If you want to reap positivity, sow positivity. The year I made Adventure Rules about community is the year that my blog became truly special – not because it increased my views (it did, barely) or optimized my search engine potential (it didn’t) but because it made me an active part of a group of people who support each other and share in this amazing hobby together.
2017 is coming to an end, adventurers. 2018 is a new year. It could very well be the year that you create your blog and begin telling YOUR story, whatever that story may be. If fear of a negative reception is the only thing stopping you, then get out there and show your support and encouragement to other bloggers. There’s another saying, “the rising tide lifts all boats.” Putting positivity out in the world can only be beneficial to you. So get out there and create your content, yes, but engage with the content created by others as well. Together you’ll form a community that is worth being a part of, a community where everyone’s story is told and every blogger is welcomed with open arms.
Thanks for reading, adventurers. I’ll see you in 2018. And when I do, I hope it is as an eager reader of the content that you’ve created.