Wow. Just over a year ago, I took over as PSLS’ Editor-in-Chief, and I still find it hard to believe. 2013 has been truly fantastic, and we owe it all to you.
One of my first big promises was increased transparency – as a site that claims to offer unbiased critical analysis of the videogames industry, we believe it’s important to be open an honest about how we run things, and how games journalism is developing. We added a note to reviews when the publisher gave us a copy, we detail any expenses they might cover, we talked about press releases, about how titles are constructed, about the very fabric of reality. We made enemies, burned bridges, and called out most of our peers. Today’s Editor’s Letter is less incendiary, but still important to our pledge of transparency.
We’re a site that is technically a business. While I don’t like thinking about it, we have to gain enough traffic to bring in enough ad money to keep things going, and to survive another year. That’s why how much traffic we get, where we get it from, and where it goes should be public. We don’t want traffic to dictate our editorial decisions, our writing styles or our views on the industry, so we’re publishing it all here to let you know what happens behind the scenes. As a side note, this is also the first time the rest of PSLS staff will find out these figures, because, again, I didn’t want traffic-acquisition to dominate their minds.
So, first, to put it all in perspective, here’s a quick rundown of 2012’s figures:
- Pageviews (the number of webpages viewed): 14,888,449
- Visits (the number of times people visited PSLS): 8,763,187
- Unique Visitors (the number of different people that visited PSLS): 5,282,040
As for 2013:
- Pageviews: 26,098,115
- Visits: 16,726,653
- Unique Visitors: 9,975,410 (so close to 10 million!)
Thanks to you, we almost doubled in size over the course of a year. That’s insane.
I am incredibly grateful to every PSLS staff member past and present who helped contribute to that number, with countless news posts, incredible scoops, bizarre sing-alongs with their wife, podcasts, editorials, interviews and so much more.
But none of this would be possible without you. Thanks for every article you clicked on, every post you commented on, every story you shared on Twitter, put on a forum or submitted to Reddit. Thank you for every tip you sent us, thank you for all the feedback, for all the kind words, for all the harsh words. Thank you if you told your friends about us, if you follow Friday’d us, if you retweeted us. Thank you for everything.
So where does most of our audience come from? Unsurprisingly, the United States of America, which brought in 8,951,134 visits. That compares to 1,718,086 from the UK, and 1,250,106 from Canada. And one from North Korea.
In fact, pretty much the entire world decided to visit PSLS at one time or another in 2013, with all the countries that visited us highlighted in blue:
(Feel free to ask me in the comments for specific regional data)
New York was our biggest city, drawing in 450,907 visits, while my home town of London came in at 387,597 and Los Angeles was 3rd at 225,592.
What this means: The US is our biggest audience, and as we serve ads there, each visit is a lot more valuable than one from, say, Chad. So the logical course of action would be to focus on entirely US-centric posts. While we certainly will never forget our US roots, one of my favorite posts of the year was about gaming in Peru, and over 2014 I hope to be able to celebrate the breadth of the PlayStation nation with similar posts.
But those are just fun stats, what’s probably more interesting is what you visited, and how. Let’s have a look at our biggest articles of the year, which may surprise you (they certainly surprised me):
- Grand Theft Auto V Cheats For PS3 – Spawn Planes, Helicopters, Cars, Boosts and More – 642,906 Pageviews
- Grand Theft Auto V Radio Station Soundtrack – Full List of Musicians, DJs, Hosts and More, Broken Down by Stations – 274,085 Pageviews
- The PlayStation 4 Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Paid PS+ Online, Hardware, Games, News and More – 205,531 Pageviews
- Sony Turned Down Pitch For Eye Toy Kama Sutra Game – 174,366 Pageviews
- Watch Dogs Release Date Delayed From November 2013 to Spring 2014 – 141,985 Pageviews
Perhaps it’s not too surprising that the first correct cheat codes for the biggest game of the year drew in a huge number of visits, or that something involving sex titillated readers, but it is still interesting to see that no huge news stories made it that high, with the PS4’s reveal, E3 or launch not making the top 10.
What this means: If we were to run this site purely for traffic, the logical thing to do would be to stop posting 20+ news stories a day, most of which don’t break even, and instead focus on tons of cheats and guides. While we certainly aim to do more guides, don’t worry, our focus will always be on breaking news, and in-depth commentary.
Now as to where the visits all came from:
- Google – 8,193,948 Visits
- Direct – 3,338,383 Visits
- N4G – 1,576,152 Visits
- RSS – 335,859 Visits
- Reddit – 266,607 Visits
Total number of traffic sources: 8,069
What this means: As you can see, Google is the big daddy, without it we’d be dead. But it’s a fickle beast, randomly shoving us to the top of the page for one story, and then burying us with our own scoops. It’s something where, because a lot of sites engage in nefarious link enchanging, we are constantly fighting a losing battle for search placement. It’s also why some sites have carefully worded, but ultimately misleading, titles, designed to include optimum keywords.
It’s also great to see Reddit finally in our top 5 – for years, we were never submitted there, with our painstakingly written scoops copied by other sites and Reddited. Randomly, from about the middle of the year, we’ve been embraced by the Reddit community, and it is truly heartwarming. (Now all we need is NeoGAF to unban us, instead of plagiarizing our stories word for word). But this is yet another example of how arbitrary games journalism is. We changed nothing, yet suddenly we’re on Reddit. That’s awesome, but the problem is it could change tomorrow. Equally, there are plenty of great sites out there that are suffering from the problem we had, and it’s a shame that there a few venues for smaller startups to get noticed (a topic I hope to explore in the future).
What’s reassuring to see is that traffic is coming from a wide variety of sources. All to often, I have seen sites rely heavily on one aggregate, and die rapidly the second that traffic source dries up. I am petrified of our traffic sources drying up, so the more diffuse the traffic sources are, the better.
*All traffic stats are from Google Analytics, as it doesn’t track everyone, some figures may be slightly higher.
Now for something bad
Unfortunately, not all the news is happy. Over 60% of our audience used adblockers, most of whom never even visited the site without it, so even if we radically cut down on ads, it wouldn’t help. The rise in adblocker usage has essentially wiped out what our traffic gains could have given us. Sadly, this is an issue that will only get significantly worse in 2014, especially as most adblock users still believe it doesn’t impact sites as they never clicked ads before… when site ads are more like billboards and simply pay for being displayed.
The Best Laid Plans…
Essentially, the point of this Editor’s Letter is to give you an idea of what’s always going through my head. We’ll strive for quality, aim to break the biggest stories, hope to give the most honest criticism. But none of it seems to have that much impact on traffic, it is mostly arbitrary. Google sometimes puts a post at the top for no logical reason, and that can change our fortunes overnight. Or we can research something for months, create something we’re incredibly proud of, and Google will decide to hide it behind a million links.
I guess that’s why the best thing is to not think about the traffic, or the constant need to keep our head above the water, or the rapidly rising number of adblockers, or the hackers.
Instead, as a thank you for supporting us this far, we’re going to focus on trying to make this site the best it can be. I can’t wait to show you what we have planned for 2014, and hope you join us on the journey.