What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) is the unremitting practice of trying to increase your online traffic by making your website more relevant to search engines (but mostly Google).
Are Game Designers Using SEO?
Whether you’ve noticed it or not, SEO is there and it’s contributing in some fashion to your online visibility. It isn’t a switch you flip or a web design task you check off your to-do list. It’s a continual process of site enhancement that utilizes a whole suite of analytics tools. In fact, Entire jobs are dedicated to optimizing websites for search because the competition is tough and the rules are constantly changing. It’s also something I’m not seeing a lot of indie game designers talk about. This may be because they either feel overwhelmed by it, do not believe it will bring them any new business, or just simply don’t have enough knowledge to make an assessment. Very recently a group of independent game publishers conglomerated their marketing tips and tricks into a really helpful article packed with great thoughts and ideas and still none of them brought up SEO as an important part of a marketing strategy. This was a little odd to see (or not see) as it gives the impression most indie publishers rely almost exclusively on a social media presence and attending conventions to market their goods. Obviously, these methods are key to getting your stuff out in front of customers but it seems like most game designers may be missing out on opportunities by not investing a bit of time in SEO.
The truth is a small business barely has any time available to keep up with SEO, let alone sit down and learn how it works. And why compete in a space controlled by giants? Most probably feel that their measly “keywords” will ever amount enough to rank with the big players. But SEO can be worth the effort no matter how small your business is. It increases your chances to be discovered in the right places by the right people online. When you decided to design an RPG you knew there were giants out there to contend with, but you took up the task anyway. So don’t feel you can’t get in the SEO game with them as well. My goal here will be to drop some practical application on anyone who may be interested in this topic and wants to learn a bit about using it to their advantage. I’ll be applying my own knowledge to this blog and we’ll see how things go. I’m not going to waste a lot of time evangelizing the power of SEO either. If you’re here reading then you don’t need convincing.
I’ll stop here and also add that I am by no means an expert on how you should run and manage your business. There is no absolute way to do things and many people can be successful without SEO. I personally get irritated when people take their own experiences and turn them into a “how-to-succeed” formula. Every person, product, website, and goal is different and unique. I am not presumptuous enough to declare I have all the answers or even a fraction of them. The best thing to do is learn what you can and don’t be afraid to experiment. That’s what this series of blog posts will be about. Experimenting with SEO with an emphasis on indie tabletop role-playing game design.
Deconstructing A Google Search Query
So where to start? Let’s begin with the most basic of concepts. The Google search. I typed “What is a role-playing game?” into Google and took a look a the results or SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Why did I search with a question and not a single word or phrase? Because it’s how most people wanting to learn more about a particular topic will perform their searches. It is also because voice searching is on the rise and queries in the form of questions is the best thing to start optimizing for. Let’s take a look at the results.
click image to expand full query page
There’s a bit to unpack here. Search results are definitely not what they used to be, but that’s a good thing. There are more opportunities on this page than ever before. Please note that these results could change on a daily basis (which is why I nabbed a screens shot for reference). Searching this topic a week, month or year from now will very likely yield totally different results.
The first thing we have is the featured snippet. When someone asks a question, Google tries to present the most relevant answer right at the top. In this case, Google is referencing the Oxford English Dictionary for its featured snippet. Snippets are interesting in that there isn’t a particular thing you really do to make them happen. According to Google’s support page on snippets, Google “programmatically determines that a page contains a likely answer to the user’s question, and displays the result as a featured snippet.” That’s all there is to it. An algorithm decides if your explanation of a thing is worthy of snippet status. I’ll definitely explore this more in future posts because there are ways to try and land yourself a snippet, but for now, we’ll look at what else is on this page.
Next up we have three query results: Wikipedia, an article on Medium.com, and an entry on Technopedia. After that, we have the PAA or “People Also Ask” box, which is an accordion of related questions based on other popular queries surrounding the same topic. I hear some of them can expand forever. That’s dark magic if you ask me.
After the PAA is some relevant news stories and then a link to a YouTube video. After the YouTube link is another interesting result where a series of smaller links sit snuggly beneath it. These links are called “sitelinks” and if your site is optimized for them and Google thinks they’re relevant then your entry in the results might display them. In a future post, I’ll cover things you can do to encourage Google to add them.
To the right of the results is the Google Knowledge panel. They work very similar to snippets in that Google decides what is most relevant to display there. In this case, it’s another win for Wikipedia. However, Knowledge panels are also used to display information about local businesses and that is something a brick-and-mortar business owner can take advantage of. If you’re a local business and you have not created a Google My Business account so that your store’s data appears in the Google knowledge panel, then you are very likely missing out on some serious search conversion. People have come to expect legit businesses to show up on the right-hand side of their searches, complete with hours of business, contact info, address, and photos of the establishment. It’s free, easy, and takes very little time to get started. Every brick and mortar business owner should do this.
So that pretty much deconstructs the page. This post is pretty long so I’ll wrap it up here for now. One final thing I want to mention though is how curious it is that we see absolutely none of the major tabletop RPG publishers sitting on this page of results. No Wizards of the Coast, Modiphius, Fantasy Flight games or even Pelgrane Press have appeared to have made an attempt to cash in on this query. I really couldn’t tell you for certain why. I can only speculate that they either are not interested in incorporating this search as a strategy into their marketing plan or they may not be giving this level of SEO (or SEM) much thought. But looking at the results we do get, it doesn’t seem like it would be hard for someone else to move in and try to capitalize a bit on this search query.
In my next post on SEO, I’ll cover the basics of using Meta Tags and why your keywords are probably worthless. This only scratches the surface of SEO but it’s a great place to start and it helps Google start defining your content to weigh it for relevance. Thanks for reading and feel free to reach out to me on Twitter and ask me a question or let me know about your own experiences with search optimization.
Learn the basics of meta tags in part 2 of this series on SEO for indie game designers.