Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Does size matter?
The Ancient Gaming Noob, Wilhelm2451, says about blog stats: "Comparing blog stats is like comparing penis size. My stats will look big to some people, and then a porn-star like Tobold will come along and make us all cry. Okay, do I get a prize or something for comparing Tobold to a porn-star? Is that a first?" Yeah, that *is* a first. I usually only get comments on having an oversized ego, not oversized parts of my anatomy. But apart from remarking that "adult" and mature language are two very different things, I have to say that his remark is a pertinent one: Do blog stats really matter all that much?
People usually assume that whenever I mention blog stats, it is to brag about mine. To my defense I have to say that I'm chronicling my blog stats since 2004, a year in which said visitor stats went up from practically zero to 1,400 visitors *a month*. I had a grand total of about 8,000 blog visits in the whole year of 2004. I have continued that blog visitors annual statistic every year on the 31st of December, and numbers have grown and then flattened out to about 1 million visits per year plus the same in RSS feed reads. I am certainly not denying that this is something that makes me proud, an achievement so to say. But I don't think that it makes my opinions more important or valid than those of any other blogger or commenter.
What it does do is to allow me to get my opinion heard by more people. With both good and bad results. Recently I read a comment from somebody somewhere complaining why I would put even my worst posts on VirginWorlds. Doh! I'm not putting my posts anywhere else than this blog, which does have an RSS feed for the convenience of those readers who can only access a feed reader, but not gaming sites, at work. That there are a range of sites from "MMO news" sites to blatant gold-selling fake MMO blogs who copy my content, is out of my control. I do not have link-sharing agreements with anyone, in fact as you can see I prefer linking to individual entries on other people's blogs instead of having a permanent side-bar with a blogroll. I am not trying to maximize my blog stats. But of course I wouldn't write my opinions down on a public blog if I didn't want people to read them, so I don't mind being copied, as it helps to spread my word.
I think the whole obsession with visitor numbers and blog stats is a relic from the dot.com boom. People think that if they could create a site attracting lots of visitors, they could monetize these visitor numbers by putting up advertising, and get rich quick. In practice that is not that easy. Google Ads apparently has specific clauses in their contracts that prohibit people from reporting how much money they make with their Google Adwords, but the few reports I read from people who posted their numbers anyway suggest that even a popular blog would only earn a handful of dollars per month. It isn't even as if I was completely against advertising, if a major game company would write me and offer me a fixed sum every month for putting up a banner ad promoting some big MMORPG, I would be tempted. But if you look at MMO blogs with Google Ads you'll quickly realize that nearly all the ads are for gold sellers or gold making guides. I'm not interested in promoting those. And I wasn't planning to put up Evony ads either, or to earn $5 a month for a banner ad to some website you never heard of. When was the last time you saw an ad on a website and were really interested, instead of annoyed or bored by it? The little serious advertising there is, is furthermore more and more not based on visitor numbers at all, but only offering "affiliate" deals, where the website only earns something when the ad leads directly to a sale. So I think getting rich from blogging, while still keeping some integrity, is a pipe dream.
And even in the context of getting the word out, visitor statistics aren't always what they seem. Google Analytics not only tells me how many visitors I have, but also informs me that over half of them just popped in due to having found one of my posts via a search engine. And the average time my visitors stay is just over 1 minute. Given my verbosity, that means that they haven't even read one of my posts.
In general I prefer to rather look at feedback received than visitor numbers. And as discussed previously, even that isn't really a good measure. Not everybody who reads a post of mine, likes it, and agrees, is going to leave a comment. I'm much more likely to get comments when people disagree. And certain posts, like asking simple questions, or making overly generalized outrageous statements like "Darkfall sucks!" will of course result in far more feedback than a detailed two page analysis of some aspect of game design.
Of course a blogger can dream of having some influence on game design. Maybe Blizzard adopts my idea of in-game databases and calls the NPC sage who tells people where to go to upgrade their gear "Tobold"? But of course we all know it doesn't work like that. The best one could possibly hope for is some game designer picking up an idea or concept from a blog post, and repeating that idea in some internal meeting in the game company, where it might get picked up, disected, digested, and ultimately finding its way into some game in a barely recognizable form. The funny thing is that there are consultants out there whose ideas aren't any better than those of many bloggers, but who not only will get paid for repeating those ideas to some game company, but also end up being more likely to have their ideas implemented. An idea you had to pay for is valued higher than one offered freely, regardless of the quality of the idea.
I don't even believe that visitor numbers or any other measurable stat reflect how much readers value the opinions of the blogger. Quantity and quality of the writing also has a huge influence on the success of a blog, not just whether the blog offers new or especially great ideas and opinions. And curiously being constantly outraging and insulting can also result in lots of net fame.
So in summary, while blog stats can be interesting, especially for the blogger himself, they don't really say all that much. In the end, the only person who really needs to be happy with the blog is the blogger himself. Stats, feedback, or even advertising revenue can help to motivate the blogger. But in the greater scheme of things we are talking about a tiny amount of net fame in an obscure corner of the internet here, not something which is really likely to make you rich and famous. The bloggers that keep writing are invariably those who have a personal need to express themselves.