Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Patrick Hess and I am the creator of Bar Games 101, a website about a wide variety of games to play with your friends and family.
We feature articles about classic bar games like pool, darts, shuffleboard, and foosball, as well as many other games that are fun to play at home or while traveling, including board games, cards, and dice games, backyard games, and traditional tabletop games.
Our blog posts aim to explain how to play and get better at these games, mostly for beginners, while also helping our audience discover new games to check out and the best gear to use.
As our library of game-focused content expands, traffic is increasing as well, with over 200K monthly unique visitors and revenue over $4,000 for the month of August.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Back in 2016, I was researching some ideas for a new online side project with low start-up costs. The goal was actually pretty simple: to develop a website about a fun topic that could, eventually, earn some passive income and help pay the bills.
I’ve built several websites over the years and use content marketing and SEO to boost sales and generate leads in my day job. So, I wanted to apply this same skill-set to a completely different field.
I have a legal background and currently, work as a business development executive within the industrial sector. Needless to say, I was looking for something on the lighter side.
Using one of my favorite SEO tools called Ahrefs as well as the basic Google keyword planner and Google trends, I started brainstorming some topics and doing keyword research. I wanted to find a niche that was broad and interesting (or at least that I had a bonafide interest in), but not overly competitive.
- A broad website or blog niche allows for several related sub-niches, more topics to write about over the long-term, and more potential traffic for different types of monetization (i.e. display ads, affiliate revenue)
- But if I picked a competitive niche like fitness or gadgets, it would be harder to start ranking.
- Yet, if I picked something based on the search metrics alone, but was not genuinely enthusiastic about the subject matter, I knew I would eventually lose motivation.
I had recently played shuffleboard, one of my favorite games, in a bar. As this was already fresh in my mind, I started researching the subject matter and related topics like pool and darts. And I quickly realized there were several ‘long-tail’ keywords in these game categories with decent search volume and relatively low competition.
I learned a lot about these niche selection and keyword research techniques from sites like Niche Pursuits and Authority Hacker, plus more sites mentioned below.
Based on the number of topics to write about and estimated traffic from solid blog posts that would hopefully rank well, it seemed like an authority website model about the overarching theme of “classic bar games” had strong potential.
Plus, I’ve always loved a good bar game.
I grew up with a pool table in the family room (my Dad was, and still is, an avid player). My brother and I played countless games of pool against each other and with our friends during our childhood. I also enjoyed many darts matches (even played in a few leagues) and games of foosball and shuffleboard in bars over the years.
And, most importantly, it sounded like a fun project to work on in my spare time. So I decided to run with it and build a website.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I started by focusing on my favorite classic bar games that I would enjoy writing about. Then I came up with a list of topics that covered different aspects of the pool, darts, shuffleboard, and foosball.
If you’re doing research for a web project, don’t forget about “offline” sources. I find some of the best information in textbooks and manuals.
These were basically “how-to” guides that would teach a beginner how to play classic games like 8-ball, 9-ball and cutthroat pool; cricket and 01 darts; other dart games like around the world, killer and shanghai; the rules of knock-off shuffleboard; and a summary of tips on how to play and get better at foosball.
Although I generally knew how to play these games, I still needed to do a lot of research to get the rules right, and then communicate this information and advice in a useful and digestible format. I also came up with a complete list of all the bar games I could think of, and then drafted an outline for a very long post on the subject.
Next, I found a WordPress theme and design I liked and set up a self-hosted WordPress blog with a simple category structure. Then it was just a matter of writing and publishing the first round of articles.
At this point, I wasn’t even thinking about monetization for the website. I’ve learned from a couple of earlier (failed) projects not to get ahead of myself.
I just wanted to create something that could stand on its own as a useful online resource about classic bar games.
Then, if that resource started to get some traction, I would start thinking about how to monetize it.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The first step for this project was picking a domain name. I liked Bar Games 101 because it conveyed the original purpose of the website: to teach people how to play classic bar games. I already had a hosting account with Siteground, so I simply registered the domain with them and installed WordPress.
Other than the domain registration and hosting costs, which were minimal, the only other upfront costs to launch this project was to hire a graphic designer for the logo and to find a premium WordPress theme to build out the site.
I sort of know my way around Photoshop, but my skills are very limited, so it was a huge help to find a talented graphic designer on Upwork. She created a great set of logos using the color scheme I wanted. For the theme, while I’ve used several premium WordPress themes and frameworks in the past (including Genesis, Divi, etc.), this time I discovered GeneratePress. It’s lightweight, well-documented and supported, and easy to customize; perfect for my needs with this project.
Total costs to get the website up and running, including the graphic design, were about $200, plus all the time it took me to write the first round of articles and design the website. I quickly set-up a couple of social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest) and then hit publish on all the articles.
Admittedly, I did a very poor job of getting the word out for this site. In fact, I did virtually zero outreach: no link building, no advertising, no networking whatsoever. I just built the site and then hoped that it would start seeing some organic search traffic based on the quality of the articles, search volume, and overall interest in my chosen bar game topics and keywords. After working all day and with family responsibilities, plus some other projects I was working on, I just didn’t have the time or energy to promote the site. So, no big surprise here, it took quite some time to generate traffic to the site.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Several months after publishing the first set of articles and creating a “resource” about classic bar games, the website eventually started seeing a couple hundred visitors per day. We even earned a little affiliate revenue from a post about finding the best electronic dartboard. But I was running out of topic ideas to write about within the original category structure, and traffic plateaued. Momentum was fading quickly.
Luckily, I revisited my original list of bar games and realized that there are way more games that the site could and should cover than just the standard mix of pool and darts.
The idea to expand the scope of games on the site might seem pretty obvious, but it took me a while to see the potential of appealing to a much broader audience.
From that point on, I started researching tons of new game ideas and outsourcing articles to a handpicked group of writers. Researching new games, assessing potential search volume/competition, and either writing or outsourcing articles on a regular basis have been a very effective strategy for increasing organic search traffic, and earning new and repeat visitors to the site.
For example, a few of the most popular articles on the site include long, in-depth posts about a unique mix of games, including the best 2 player card games, the best single player card games, how to play dominoes, axe throwing 101, the best dice games to play at the bar, how to play horseshoes, and how to find the best cornhole boards.
We also have several posts about new board games, as well as games like air hockey, skeeball, beer pong, flip cup, bar trivia, bocce, polish horseshoes, adult card games, backgammon, ring-toss games, different versions of monopoly, bachelor party games, and many more.
Discovering and learning about these new and traditional games is now a critical part of the job; not a bad gig!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Currently, the website sees over 200,000 monthly visitors and gets well over 300,000 monthly views. From that traffic, the site now earns an average of $3500 per month based on advertising revenue from Mediavine and affiliate sales (primarily from Amazon Associates).
As you can see from the screenshot below, traffic really picked up in 2019 over the last few months (the spikes represent an uptick in weekend search volume due to the nature of the site) and is growing monthly.
(Analytics for the last 30 days… July 14 – August 14, 2019)
I believe the increase in traffic is due to the fact that the site has aged a little and has earned more authority in Google, as well as my commitment to researching new games and publishing consistently.
Back in November of 2018, the site exceeded 25,000 monthly sessions. At that point, I applied to Mediavine, an ad management program that works with publishers in several different blog verticals. This brought in a whole new stream of passive revenue for the site. If you have a blog that gets decent traffic (at least 25K monthly sessions) and want to monetize with ads, I highly recommend applying to Mediavine. They are very supportive of their publishers and offer access to a large community of knowledgeable site builders and content creators.
I now reinvest some of the revenue back into the site for content creation and a couple of premium plugins. Currently, my total monthly expenses are around $350.
One of my goals over the next couple of months is to clean up the site and consolidate articles to focus on improving the overall quality and time spent on the site. I have also started to work on my conversion optimization rate (CRO . . . just learned that one) for the top affiliate posts.
In addition to optimizing existing posts, I also look forward to publishing new guides about a bunch of different games, including vintage board games, traditional pub games like “shut-the-box”, and ancient international games like Mancala.
Also, one of the…