How Stonemaier Games leverages external forums to build search traffic on its path to $40M in revenue
Stonemaier Games, a tabletop gaming company, has achieved impressive growth, going from raising $4 million on Kickstarter to becoming a $40 million business. They credit their success to active engagement on social platforms like BoardGameGeek and a Y Combinator forum, which drive significant website traffic. They prioritize community building and relationships on social media over advertising. Their strong social media presence directs interested customers to search for their games, leading to substantial organic search traffic. This long-term approach of community-building and SEO has been key to their growth.
Stonemaier Games operates in a gaming niche that not everybody may be familiar with: tabletop gaming. Nonetheless, their website draws over 250k in traffic per month with its collection of original games developed by the company. (Source: Similarweb)
Founded in 2012 by Jamey Stegmaier, the first game Viticulture was a strategic board game about winemaking in Tuscany, with Kickstarter campaigns for their first eight game releases. The company eventually grew to focus on direct sales for pre-release, and subsequently distribution to allow the product to have a long tail. In May 2021, the company’s revenues had already exceeded $40 million.
How did they go from $4 million raised on Kickstarter, to a $40 million business? Let’s take a look.
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Engage actively on relevant external social platforms to raise awareness of your own.
Stegmaier mentions in an interview how he relies mainly on community building and relationships on social media, rather than advertising, to grow his audience.
We very rarely advertise, but I use social media quite a bit to build community and relationships in a variety of ways. On YouTube and Instagram I share my love of games with other designers and publishers. We have Facebook groups for each of our games (for fans to post questions, photos, stories, strategies, etc), as well as a company Facebook page that I use to share blog posts, announcements, and my weekly Facebook live chats. Jamey Stegmaier, Founder
The top referrer of traffic to their website is BoardGameGeek (30.3%), a social media platform specifically for tabletop games. Interestingly, the second place spot goes to a Y Combinator forum (10.6%), where they often post links to blog posts covering a variety of topics directly on their website, as seen in the screenshot below. In third place is referral program platform Sociable Labs (10.4%).
Below is a screenshot of their top 10 referrers for May 2022. It shows that the company has been experimenting with a variety of potential referral channels from various industries, not just Board and Card Games. It also shows that they only recently started trying out several new channels which have been performing well, such as BordSpelMania and The New York Times.
Their efforts are paying off in growing their owned media channels. On top of separate Facebook groups to serve the community around each game they release, they run a company Facebook page, Youtube, and Instagram. Below is a chart of their social media stats since 2015, showing consistent growth in their social channels, and particularly in their email list which is projected to exceed 50,000 subscribers by end 2022. (Source: Starterstory)
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Focus on product-based SEO to drive initial interest, encourage target audience to search for more.
Since their social media presence is strong, the company only needs to talk about their games on social media to spread the word. Once their audiences are already familiar with the games, they can search for the names of the games they want, to find more information. There are also synergies in their distribution method, which allows their games to get on shelves, prompting new potential customers to search up the game and discover the website.
Compared to average rates in the Board and Card Games category of websites, Stonemaier sees a much lower percentage of direct traffic (29.8% compared to the average of 76.3% in May 2022) - possibly because they lack the brand name that other larger game companies have. However, this is more than made up for in organic search, where Stonemaier enjoys a 52.9% rate of traffic as compared to the category average of 17.5%.
Almost all of its organic keywords are either names of the company (Stonemaier Games), its products (Wingspan, Viticulture World, Tapestry board game), or the founder himself (Jamey Stegmaier). The founder has also built his own personal brand through writing business and entrepreneurship articles, as well as doing interviews, many of which revolve around tips for launching a successful Kickstarter campaign, a topic on which he also wrote a book.
While Stonemaier may have started as a side hustle, Stegmaier has managed to bring it to a viable business, with his sights set on ensuring longevity instead of rapid and unsustainable growth. The focus on long-term community-building over short-term paid marketing has paid off.