Welcome to our final article of 2011, my twice-yearly State of the Stew rundown on our stats, milestones, and so forth for the past year. We do one of these in December and one in May (the site’s birthday), and while they don’t make for scintillating read or appeal to everyone, I’m a big believer in marking milestones, I enjoy reading these kinds of posts when other sites run them, and I think they’re useful to the Stew as an entity.
As of today, Gnome Stew has been running for over three-and-a-half years — we launched on May 12, 2008. Today marks our fourth year-end State of the Stew and our third full calendar year of stats.
- 4,030+ registered users, 100% growth (2010: 1,990+, 2009: 1,560+, 2008: 625+)
- 3,940+ RSS and email subscribers, 6% growth (2010: 3,700+, 2009: 2,940+, 2008: 1,230+)
- Nearly 156,000 unique visitors (33% loss) and 314,000 total visits (26% loss) (2010: 233,000 unique, 423,000 total; 2009: 182,000 unique, 345,000 total; 2008: 188,000 unique, 316,000 total)
- …of those 156,000, over 81,000 visited more than once (2010: 193,000 of 233,000; 2009: 164,000 of 182,000; 2008: 128,000 of 188,000)
- Over 583,000 pageviews, 21% loss (2010: 734,000, 2009: 680,000, 2008: 619,000)
- The gnomes have posted about 256 articles (1,075+ total; we posted around 260 in 2010, 300 in 2009, and 260 in 2008)
- …which have attracted more than 3,100 comments (13,900 total; about 3,000 in 2010, 4,800 in 2009, and 3,000 in 2008)
My Take: Ouch
First big year-end losses: This is the first time we’ve ended the year with losses, and they’re telling losses: unique visits, total visits, and pageviews are all down. Those are three huge barometers of a site’s success, and they tell me that we’re doing something wrong — I just don’t know what.
It’s not a drop in articles (256 this year vs. 260 last year) or reader engagement (3,100 comments vs. 3,000) or users (up a staggering 100%), so what is it? One other data point: comment volume went down in 2010 compared to 2009 (by 38%), and stayed flat with that number this year; that tells me that whatever we’re doing wrong, it’s likely that at least some of it began in 2010 and continued into 2011.
Not all bad news: Not everything went down: We doubled the number of registered members (and that’s not artificially raised by obvious spam registrations; I checked), which is fantastic, and the number of subscribers went up slightly. We get some single-visit members, of course: contests attract folks who may never come back, as does the urge to post a single comment and move on; that’s not a bad thing in my book. But even that can’t explain how we doubled our membership while losing so big in visits and views.
A huge archive of GMing material: The Stew remains the second-largest repository of game mastering content online. To the best of my knowledge, Johnn Four’s excellent Roleplaying Tips site (online since 1999) takes the number one spot, and my previous GMing blog, Treasure Tables, lands at number three (with over 750 GMing articles). Despite the terrible stats for this year, that still feels pretty damned good — this site is intended to be a free resource for GMs of all experience levels, and I believe it succeeds well at that.
Our milestones in 2011 were actually pretty awesome:
- Gnome Stew won the silver Ennie Award for Best Blog: Thanks to you, our readers, the Stew won our second GenCon EN World RPG Award (ENnie) in 2011. As in 2010, we lost out to an excellent site — this year, it was Critical Hits. This feels just as amazing this year as it did in 2010, and we thank everyone who helped us win.
- We moved to a VPS: As of January 9, 2011, Gnome Stew has been hosted on a virtual private server (VPS), where previously it had been on my shared webhosting account. We made this move because we got so much traffic that it was dragging the site down, and asked readers to help pay for it by using the Amazon and DriveThruRPG links in the sidebar. On both fronts, this move was a huge success: The site runs smoothly, with no performance issues, and the cost — about $400/year — has been covered by Amazon and advertising revenue. Thank you to everyone who has helped out with this!
- Our millionth visitor: 2011 also marked our millionth unique visitor. A million people have read Gnome Stew since its inception — my mind still boggles at that.
- We published our second book: One the heels of our 2010 release, Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters, we published Masks: 1,000 Memoranble NPCs to Inspire Game Masters in 2011. Publishing books for GMs is part of our ongoing mission to help GMs have more fun at the gaming table, and we appreciate the preorders and subsequent orders that have helped this book gain momentum and sell well. Even after two books, being a publisher and publishing GMing books still doesn’t feel entirely real to me.
Gnome Stew wouldn’t exist without you, our readers. We’d probably still be writing GMing content somewhere — it’s in our blood — but not as regularly, and not with the focus that knowing people will actually read it brings to the table. We write the Stew for you.
Many, many thanks to everyone who has read, commented on, shared, and used Gnome Stew. You are, as you always have been, awesome.
The Elephant in the Room
The thing that’s nice, though sometimes also unpleasant, about numbers is that they don’t lie. I’m not an expert in statistics, or even remotely a math guy, but even I know that a website that sees the dip in visitors and pageviews we saw from from December 2010 to December 2011 is doing something wrong.
In May 2011, I posted site stats for the preceding year and noted that we had losses instead of growth in key areas. We posed an open question to readers then — “What are we doing wrong?” — and the biggest common complaint was that our posting had dropped off; we weren’t hitting every weekday, our target, nearly as often as we needed to be.
We listened to that feedback, generated our ideas for improving the state of the Stew, held conference calls, and believed that we were back in a good groove. Even though we posted the same number of articles in the latter half of 2011 as 2010, they were more regularly spaced and we hit that every-weekday target virtually every week. We also made other improvements behind the scenes.
At this point, I’m honestly at a loss what to do. I love this site, I love writing GMing advice, and I love sharing that advice with our readers. Although I speak only for myself, I know the other gnomes feel the same way — it’s why we’re here and why Gnome Stew exists. We want to keep the Stew vital, keep it growing, and keep helping GMs.
I’m writing this article today, on 12/31; it wasn’t queued up in advance. And honestly, it’s depressing the hell out of me. This wasn’t how I expected to end the year.
We had two killer milestones in 2011, but the site is clearly not as healthy as it needs to be nor on a healthy path — and I don’t know why. If I’m missing writing on the wall, be it subtle or blindingly obvious, please let me know what you think it is. If you’re not comfortable doing that publicly, that’s no problem — just drop me a line (martin gnomestew com).
Thank you again for reading, and I’ll see you in 2012.