Cheating for Hits (but Not Profit)

1500 hits in 24 hours. 24 comments just on the blog, and a TON of Twitter chatter.

That’s the result of yesterday’s Top 5 Magic writers post. Since didn’t exist until Monday, I’d say that’s a pretty solid start. All of those hits came from social media and word of mouth. The big sites would certainly shrug at 1500, but those of you running independent sites or blogs probably believe 1500 hits is a solid day. Back at the very start of when I ran SCG the first time, 1500 hits was a meh Featured article or a solid front-page submission without a face attached to it, and Star City had been around for five years at that point.

For starting from nothing, I consider it a success. The question then becomes why did it succeed and what can you (you being readers/writers/site runner-type peoples) learn from it? I chose to push this particular post because I knew it had a lot going for it. In fact, I intentionally added certain features to make it more interesting and viral so that I could get a bump early in my blog’s existence and drive audience generation.

Let’s unpack, shall we?

Lesson 1) Top X Lists Get You Hits.

This one is simple and it never fails. If you make a Top X article, people WILL click on it. You know how cats are with catnip? That’s what Top X lists are to humans. This is especially true if the topic is interesting or somewhat controversial and the reason for this is pretty simple – people want to see if they agree/disagree. A ranked list is the easiest way to do that. They might not ever know or care who you are, but if they agree with what you wrote you get a sage nod and they feel smarter, or if they heavily disagree they can say, “That guy’s an idiot,” and feel superior. It is, as they say, a win/win.

Now obviously if all of your content is lists on topics no one cares about, the audience will eventually get wise to your cheating, but if you run a cool, thoughtful list every other week or so? They’ll click on it. They can’t help themselves.

Lesson 2) Hey, You Made This Obvious Mistake!

This is a corporate presentation trick that works in writing as well. The thought goes something like this:

You are presenting a new widget/bobnob/website to a group of people for feedback and/or approval. This environment is designed for people to be critical and so they will be. If they can’t figure out what to critcize at first, they will actively look for something until they find it because not criticizing feels awkward. However, if you do something obviously wrong but generally inconsequential to what you are trying to present, people will criticize that thing, get it out of their systems, and then give you more legitimate feedback from that point forward.

The list yesterday presented a Top 5 and then added people on the rise as well as some disappointments. This gave me room to mention basically everybody in the entire Magic world if I wanted to. However, by leaving off a couple of big names that I knew people would expect to see and just not saying anything, it gave people an opening to quibble. To discuss. To have an opinion and express it back to me, creating a dialogue. That was exactly the point of writing the post in the first place.

Spagnolo said the comments he thought Gavin Verhey was overrated right now and I agree with him. I do, however, generally enjoy a Gavin article and when I was talking about the piece to people ahead of time, I told them the first person to be mentioned as missing was going to be Gavin. The second would likely be Gerry Thompson. Yes, these were the first two names that popped up as missing in Twitter replies. I love it when a plan comes together!

A Brief Aside on GerryT: I have more respect for Gerry and where he is at than almost anybody else out there. He ground his way through thousands of hours of playing and worked his ass off to turn himself into a good player. He’s also turned into a very passable and occasionally funny writer. He’s not a great writer by any means, but you can read his work without wanting to put a bullet in your head and you _have_ to read his stuff if you are playing competitive constructed formats because his content matters. He’s almost certainly one of the Top 5 most influential and most popular writers right now, but that wasn’t my 5.

Leaving him off certainly generated responses. That was the point.

Lesson 3) Networking Pays

I first posted the article link to Twitter around 9AM Eastern time (pay attention to the time – the East Coast is now waking up and Europe is in their afternoon). I had about 750 followers at that point, at least 100 of which are bots. (For those of you who are real, I thank you.) Over the first four hours the post generated 550ish hits. Then I decided to push it a bit and ask @misterorange a favor in RTing it to his 4000+ followers. Osyp also got it out to his 1500 or so and LSV, though he didn’t RT, talked about it on his stream with his 4k+. Flores and Chapin didn’t push it to their enormous audiences, but via networking, I still got it out to a much larger audience than I could have by myself. [Edit: I am TOTALLY wrong. Chapin did RT and I missed it. Sorry Patrick!]

At that point it was being discussed all over the place and took on a life of its own. At the end of all that, thanks to help from friends, it went from 0-1500. It might even get a few more from a link-through on StarkPo.

Without the second push later in the day from Evan (asked for at a strategic time when the US West Coast would now be awake), the ceiling probably would have been around 1K. By asking a friend for some help, I got an extra 50% hits. The comments are also really smart and interesting, (I obviously had nothing to do with this), but it’s a nice bonus.

Lesson 4) Have a Fucking Opinion

Way too many writers in the community right now are wishy-washy. “This might… it could… I think… it seems like…” Part of this stems from poor writing habits, but part of it is that writers have become unwilling to express strong opinions that… (wait for it) people might disagree with. Isn’t that what the internet is for? Thus publishing regular, interesting, opposing opinion pieces are an important part of building a thriving website with a diverse audience.

I view Magic writing very much like I view academia – there are an awful lot of smart people looking at the world from a ton of different angles. Magic is too big to have all of the information, so disagreements on findings are natural. Please DO disagree with your fellow writers – not just in forums – but in article/blog form. State your case, cite your sources, be somewhat polite, but absolutely positively write about your disagreements.

To put it another way, it’s fine to say, “I like Tom Lapille but I think his decklist is shit for these 15 reasons.” It is perhaps less fine to say, “Zac Hill** writes poetry about donkey fucking because he is a donkey fucker. Oh, and his Caw-Blade list is stupid.” And I don’t actually know what to think on things like, “I look forward to the day Jon Corpora realizes he is not a writer and pursues his true calling of directing and producing foot fetish porn.” I just wanted to throw that out there.

Russell Tassicker had a thing on Twitter last night trying to distinguish blogs from articles, saying something like Blogs express an opinion while articles are for providing information. Let me tell you from personal experience, this distinction is semantic bullshit. This is my personal blog. It’s on WordPress, therefore it has to be a blog, right? But I could write tech here, dispensing information. Would it then be a an article on my blog? Can you have one-off blogs on article websites? Once upon a time, before the monetization monster gobbled them up, Star City used to run deck techs and opinions and theory and whatever else all alongside each other. Were they secretly running a blog? Or did they simply have diverse content?

I wrote what I did yesterday because I wanted to provoke an opinion. I wanted people to think, to take a step back from just reading Magic articles and consider who they love and who they could leave behind. I even wanted to dole out a little criticism of the best writers out there, but I wanted to do it in a way that says “Dude, I’m a fan of your work, but you could certainly do better.” These were my honest opinions. They are out there for all to read. Love them, hate them, tell me to go fuck myself… that’s the prerogative. Just don’t be apathetic. Apathy never drove hits or created a passionate following and it never will.

[Note: I could have done better in every article I ever produced, whether I was on a deadline or not. Freaky perfectionist in me says I should have done better. Everything else said there were reasons I had to turn them in and move on. If what you did was good enough, then great. however, if you don’t know that you could have done better… you might have a problem.]

Lesson 5) Don’t Suck

Yeah, I can’t help you here. If your content sucks, if your opinions are poorly stated, badly justified, or just stupid then all the hooks in the world won’t get people to bother to read your work.

Work harder, do better, read more, pay attention… and don’t suck.

** Just so we’re clear, I love Zac Hill. Among his many redeeming qualities, he’s also an excellent sport.


One response to “Cheating for Hits (but Not Profit)

  1. Pingback: Good Titles, Bad Titles, and Hooking Your Fish | Mixed kNuts

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