How Tyler Kamstra of RPGBOT.net Turned his Hobby Into a Profitable Digital Business

Published

Today on Publisher Profiles, I spoke with Tyler Kamstra, owner and founder of https://www.RPGBOT.net.

We talked about how he turned what began as simply creating a website for him to catalog Dungeons & Dragons information — into a profitable digital publishing business. We also discussed how he uses Reddit to engage and attract new visitors to his website, and also how he uses Patreon as a way to involve his most supportive readers into the content production process.

You can watch my interview with him below along with reading the interview transcript as well.

Read the full interview transcript below

Allen (00:00):

Hi guys. And welcome back to another episode of Zohak publisher profiles. Today, I talked to Tyler Hamstra owner and founder of RPG bot.net. We talked about how he turned his passion into a profitable digital business, how he uses Reddit to drive traffic and engagement to his website, and also how he uses Patrion as a feedback mechanism for his content production stay tuned for more.

Allen (00:30):

How did your journey as a digital publisher begin?

Tyler K. (00:37):

Well, I actually started RPG bot in 2013. Just basically I was I was taking notes on stuff of how Dungeons and dragons and I wanted to have it somewhere that I could access from work. Basically. I wanted to be able to check my notes while I was thinking about stuff at work. And it just kind of grew from there. I didn’t really start taking it seriously until probably 2018. Someone from Esau actually emailed me and said, Hey, how would, how would you feel about running ads on the site? And I figured, well, if I’m going to run ads on the site, then I should probably take this a little more seriously. So since then I’ve been writing more, I’ve been publishing more, I’ve been focusing more on social media and it’s gone really well so far.

Tyler K. (01:33):

Wow. Yeah. That’s awesome. And so like, you were, like you were saying you started this website just from taking notes on, on Dungeons and dragons from your own interest. I was going to ask like, did you, you know, research the niche beforehand, but it seems like this was an interest of yours and that’s kind of how you stumbled upon cataloging this somewhere where you can access it from work rather than offline. It seems that people who’ve had websites five, 10, 15 years plus might’ve been something where you just kind of found an opportunity based upon something you were already interested in. Is that kind of along those same lines? Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I’ve been, I’ve been playing D D for like 20 years, so a long time interest of mine there let’s see. So, so most of my content is on just how to build your character better, which is like a, a subject of heated discussion on the internet for basically as long as there’s been an internet. So at the time that I got started basically everyone that was doing the same thing was basically doing it in Google docs and forum posts, which is just an absolutely terrible way to catalog information. So, so I, I tried to essentially build a better mouse trap by putting it all in one place and just having a site dedicated to like, here’s everything you need, it’s all in one place. This is where you need to go and you’ll get everything you need. Right.

Allen (03:06):

Yeah. Awesome. And I’ll add a little caveat for people who are watching, who are like what’s DNB, Dungeons and dragons, and your website is RPG bot.net, which RPG stands for role-playing game, correct? Correct. Yeah. Okay. Awesome. So going back towards the, you said 2013 was when you started it, is that right? Yes. How long did it take you to start seeing traffic growth? What did that look like at the beginning?

Tyler K. (03:33):

It was pretty slow at first. I didn’t actually start tracking traffic numbers for a couple of years. Cause again, it was mostly, yeah, I was mostly writing for myself. Like I, I mostly just wanted the site to be somewhere that I could get to easily. And people started finding it kind of by accident spread by word of mouth just like the basically by chance.

Allen (04:02):

That’s awesome. Yeah. So I wasn’t asking, you know, what strategies did you use to grow your traffic in the beginning, but it seems like you were literally, it was just kind of like you were cataloging all this and then people started stumbling upon it. Is that kind of how it gained traction in the beginning?

Tyler K. (04:17):

Really? Over time I did start putting in more effort into building it. When I, when I started running ads, I really put some effort in search engine optimization. I’ve been promoting myself on Twitter and Facebook and Reddit. Yeah, if there’s a, if there is a dedicated community to whatever you’re writing about on Reddit, that’s always a great place to go, especially if you’re already part of that community. People always love to see more good content.

Allen (04:49):

What strategies do you use now to grow traffic does, or if it’s not so much strategies, how you run your website now in terms of maybe content creation, how does that look different now compared to when you first started? Is there a difference?

Tyler K. (05:04):

Yeah. so in terms of in terms of driving growth Reddit has honestly been like my biggest like I don’t post on there super frequently cause we would get really tired of you spam your stuff a whole lot. Like every, every three or four months I’ll introduce myself to a new subreddit. And like I’ll, I’ll usually find that there’s already a huge audience, my readers there. But people who are new to the site and new to my work, I’m always very excited to see what I have in terms of content strategy. Basically what I’ve been doing has just kind of always worked for me, just write as much as I can, as fast as I can at good quality. And the, the stuff that I write is, is evergreen. So like you write it and it stays relevant unless the state of the changes. So I have, I have articles on my site that I haven’t touched in like five years that people still we read. Yeah.

Allen (06:06):

That’s fantastic. Yeah. And you so you mentioned Reddit, which I find interesting because a lot of we I’ve written about this in the past and a lot of publishers don’t realize how much traffic or, you know, interest in visitors, you can get to your site using forums like Reddit or Facebook groups, things like this. And I think it’s one of those things where a lot of times publishers they don’t realize that is some, it could be some low hanging fruit. I’ve seen a lot of people who put a lot of energy into Pinterest, which does work for, you know, maybe travel websites, food blogs, that’s where you see that more prevalent. But you know, with Reddit, do you engage in any other threads besides just introducing yourself? Are there any other kind of like tips or tricks you would tell people if they wanted to do something similarly for their own website?

Tyler K. (07:01):

Yeah. So, so first thing if you’re going to post on Reddit, read the sub Reddit rules that is, that is probably the easiest way to do things wrong is to skip the suburb rules, every suburb, and it has different rules. They’re all generally in the sidebar on the page. I’m actually a moderator on a couple of subreddits. And if you, if you don’t follow the rules, your post gets removed and then you’re not going to go anywhere. So read the Reddit roles try to engage with community beyond just posting advertisements for yourself, like be active in the discussion, be active on posts like get to know the content. It’s, it’s pretty difficult to like make a name for yourself with a username typically. So like don’t expect to figure out like, Oh, I I’ve seen this person in five or six places. They must be a big deal. It’s not really how Reddit works for the most part. But be an active participant in the community. Don’t just drive by advertise. No one likes that

Allen (08:05):

For sure. Judging by what you said a little earlier, it seems like you definitely wrote your own content in the beginning. And from, you know, I, I checked out your site and it seems like you have really extensive, you know, updates and content surrounding these games, like DND, other RPG games at current, do you outsource your articles at all? Do you have any writers that you’ve brought on to help you with content creation?

Tyler K. (08:31):

Oh that’s a fun question. So I’ve got over 500 articles on the site currently. Yeah, well, seven years. I actually just brought on my first contributing author in the past, like month or two which I’d never done before, a very close friend of mine. He’s written one article for the site and the response really fantastic. So I’m, I’m trying to convince him to writes more,

Allen (08:59):

How many articles or pieces of content did you publish on a monthly basis when you first started your website?

Tyler K. (09:07):

When I first started probably like a page every month or two, but like I said earlier it was kind of a, it, it took me a while to really start taking this seriously. Once once I decided that, like I wanted this to be a thing that I put a lot of time in I got into kind of a comfortable rhythm of one or two pages a week. Generally if I’m writing that quickly though, it’s going to be like shorter pages, like maybe one or two screens worth of text. But a lot of my articles are like 10,000 plus words, so yeah. Yeah. So they take a while to write

Allen (09:53):

Those. The skyscraper articles are our pillar articles, as some people refer to them. So they’re a doozy that’s, that is a very, very pink word count. But we, you know, publish a lot of people who are well versed in digital publishing know that the ROI on those types of articles can be very, very high.

Allen (10:14):

How long would it take you to create something like that? If there was a publisher out there who’s like, you know, maybe I want to give a, give it a go at writing longer form content. Do you have any tips around that?

Tyler K. (10:28):

Let’s see. So, so my, I like the term skyscraper article. I’ve never heard that. Yeah, my, so my super long articles like that take from like six hours up to like 24 hours, depending on exactly how long it is. So it’s definitely a time investment. Probably the most important piece of advice I can give is just format it. Well. knowing how you’re going to format the article will save you a ton of time in the long in the long-term. If you need to go back and reformat your article, like five or six hours into writing it, you’re going to lose a lot of time just doing that. It’s like give yourself an outline. If you do a lot of articles that are kind of the same format basically build a template that you’re going to reuse and try to stick to it as much as possible. All of that’s going to save you a lot of time and effort. Plus if you have people reading multiple of your articles, they’ll already know exactly where everything is and they can scroll to exactly what they want to see.

Allen (11:32):

Yeah, no, that’s, that’s really, really good advice. And you mentioned some in the beginning, you published maybe like one article a month. I’m sure that’s increased. I mean, now are you just trying to pump out as much content as possible? What is your kind of, I guess, monthly content creation look

Tyler K. (11:49):

Let’s see. So so I’m trying to get back onto a regular cadence. I let’s see so I had a, I had a two week long vacation a couple months ago and spend most of it writing. So I, you know, I published four articles a week for all of September and most of October, which was a lot of fun, but hard to keep up. So at this point I’m doing about two articles a week. I have a small patriotic following and patron on people will get to see, get to see article previews before they go live for everybody else. So I do Monday I’ll post links to work in progress articles, and then I try to do an article every Wednesday and every Friday.

Allen (12:33):

Wow. That’s interesting. I you know, I’ve talked to a lot of publishers in the past year and a half. I’ve been with Zohak, but I’ve never come across one that that’s had a Patrion, which I find really interesting. It’s, it’s pretty smart. How did that come about and was that something you advertised on the website itself? Did you go again into forums and try to garner interest that way? Could you tell me a little bit about that?

Tyler K. (12:59):

Yeah, so, so Patrion is a great way to build a small dedicated community. My patronage is pretty small. I’ve got ground like 60 subscribers, so it’s not like this. Isn’t some huge enterprise. I do advertise it a little bit on my website, but it’s like one tiny little icon way down on the corner. Mostly I wanted, let’s see, I started the patron because people kept asking me to start one, honestly. Oh, that’s really cool. Yeah. So it, it’s nice to know that I already had a ready audience when I started it. Mostly I just use it to get early feedback on my articles posting the work in progress links. Every Monday is great. Cause if there’s anything super broken and my Patrion followers will let me know. A lot of them will frequently point out like errors, typos, broken links, things like that, stuff that you generally want to get fixed before you,

Allen (13:57):

That’s a really interesting feeding that feedback loop that you’ve created there where it’s like, you know, like you said, it’s not a huge enterprise, but still 60 subscribers on patron. That’s a pretty decent chunk from like compared to what I’ve seen in, I, I follow you tubers and stuff that have Patrion and smaller content creators. And the fact that you are getting that benefit of having them be in that community, but also then getting an additional benefit of, you know, kind of having them, you know, flesh out and work with your writing a little bit. If there’s areas that’s very, very that’s cool.

Tyler K. (14:29):

That’s great. Yeah. Enjoy it a lot

Allen (14:32):

In the beginning. Did you monetize at all? You said, was it 2018? You started monetizing. Is that when you got into Zoe? Did you do anything before that?

Tyler K. (14:42):

Not a thing. Yeah. Yeah. So I went straight to Esau and haven’t left. Yeah, my, my regional account manager with egoic emailed me and said, Hey your numbers look good. Comparable sites are doing well with our platform. Would you give it a try? So I, I thought it would be fun. Give it a try. I’d never done it before. And honestly I really enjoy it. I get to put way more time into my favorite hobby. Yeah, it’s been fantastic. I’ve loved every minute.

Allen (15:14):

That’s awesome. I’m glad to hear that you enjoy our, enjoy our product. Are there any monetization strategies you want to try in the future since these, you know, you have a you have a pretty big audience on RPG, but so I’m just curious. Is there anything you want, you want to try in the future?

Tyler K. (15:36):

Yeah. doing, let’s see. So, so ad revenue is my, definitely my biggest revenue stream at the moment. I’ve written a couple of Dungeons and dragons eBooks. Those are, yeah. I published two in the year before I started doing ads on RPG bots. So like it kind of stepped up and that’s gone. Great. let’s see. I kind of want to start doing like affiliate links and stuff. But the problem is I try to encourage people to buy Dungeons and dragons stuff from your local game store and your local game stories and going to have an online affiliate program. So if I do that, it’s like, I’m probably going to have to go through Amazon or something like that, which means I’m taking money out of the the hobby that I’m trying to support. So it’s, I haven’t found a way to do that without without bypassing the friendly local game store, which I really don’t want to do. So I’m still trying to figure out what to do there.

Allen (16:38):

Yeah, no, that’s interesting. You mentioned that and yeah, that’s pretty cool that you’re taking that into consideration. I feel like a lot of people might just be like, okay, no, I want that money, you know, but yeah, you’re, you’re really trying to support the sellers of the game. That’s brought you all this traffic and being able to, you know, make something that you’re passionate about into something that can help you fund that passion. Right. So that’s really cool. How do you measure and evaluate, like what’s worked for your website and what hasn’t, you did mention eBooks and a few different things outside of display ads and you definitely pump out a lot of content. Is there things that have worked haven’t and like, how do you tell between the two

Tyler K. (17:32):

That’s really good question. So, so comparing the eBooks to to my website that’s kind of an apples and oranges comparison, like the, for sure. So I published the eBooks on DMS Guild, which is run by a drive-through RPG. So it it’s like purpose-built judges and dragons ebook platform essentially. So, so in terms of success there, like the, the, the range is pretty small, but I did really well Harris I’m really happy with that. But there’s a reason I’m spending more time on, on RPG than I am on DND scaled. So, so with RPG bot, a lot of the way I measure success is just page views. Like how, how many people are looking at what I’m writing, what are they interested in? Like if I, if I need to choose between article a and article B, I’ll try to find something similar and say, okay what are people more interested in reading right now? What’s timely. What are things, what are people thinking about? What haven’t I updated in a while? And generally it’s pretty easy to predict, like, what are people thinking now, like Dungeons and dragons there? Just as an example, there’s a new source book coming out in two weeks. So all the community is chattering about that. Everyone wants to know what’s going to be in it. Everyone’s going to look for more content related to that. So basically the next couple of months, that’s pretty much all I’m going to be writing about.

Allen (19:08):

Do you use any like analytics tools to measure the page views of which types of content people prefer over others?

Tyler K. (19:19):

The ease of big data analytics honestly, is really, really good. If, if you spend a few minutes and figure out how the filters work in there, I use the different bar charts and all that. Sorry, I guess there were line charts anyway. If I’ve used the different charts, use the different pages, figure out how the filters work. You can really get a lot of really granular data out of that, which is really, really helpful.

Allen (19:44):

Looking back on, you know, your journey since 2013. Are there any things you would have done differently?

Tyler K. (19:54):

Things I would’ve done differently. I probably would’ve started with with a content management system like WordPress.

Allen (20:02):

You didn’t, you didn’t use a CMS back then?

Tyler K. (20:04):

Nope, I still don’t. Yeah. Yeah. The whole site is it’s built on mostly raw HTML. I’m a software developer in my day job, so you can do that. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So I have the luxury of knowing how to do all those things. And that’s honestly, it’s been a great learning platform as a software developer. Like I’ve, I’ve practiced a lot of important skills and learned a lot of really useful stuff there. I had to teach myself search engine optimization because I couldn’t just like turn on a plugin or anything. So I learned a lot about like semantic HTML and the importance of meta-tags and things like that. Deep stuff, which most content creators probably never need to worry about. So I, I learned a lot of those things but it also means that if I ever, if I’m writing an article, I’m not just like typing into WordPress I’m, I’m writing HTML, which takes time for sure.

Allen (21:08):

But having that kind of control is the, you know, you’re a software developer and, you know, that’s probably a benefit to you to be able to have that kind of granular control on the backend as well.

Tyler K. (21:18):

Yeah, yeah. In a lot of ways. W one of the things I’m really proud about is my my white house speed scores are consistently above 90, which is really hard to do. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. So my, my entire site basically deploys this just raw HTML. So like it, my server costs are dead cheap. Everything’s just crazy fast. Yeah, so, so I spend a lot of time upfront, but the payoff is pretty great.

Allen (21:51):

If you could tell your old self or yourself back in 2013, a piece of advice with what you know now, what would you, what would you say?

Tyler K. (22:06):

That’s hard to say, like, things have worked out pretty well for me at the timing. Yeah.

Allen (22:12):

You know, I I’ve had, I had one of the person who asked that question to say, well, we haven’t really had any failures. And I’m like, that’s a good thing. I’m not trying to harvest, you know, some kind of mistake or anything if things have gone well, that’s great. And you know, I’m glad to hear that, honestly.

Tyler K. (22:28):

Yeah. probably just advertising myself more earlier, honestly. If I had a, if I had put in more time to build a following earlier in the lifespan of the site like who knows where I’d be now, I’m, I’m doing really well now, and I’m really happy with where I am, but I mean, my audience could be bigger.

Allen (22:51):

Fair enough. Fair enough. Do you use any other, you know outside of forums like Reddit to, to build your audience besides on the website, are there any other strategies you use?

Tyler K. (23:07):

Not yet. I’ve been I’ve been considering a few other ways to do that. Dungeons and dragons, podcasts are pretty big and podcast advertising is really effective these days. That’s something I’ve been considering. Obviously just your basic social media, Twitter and Facebook are working pretty well. Really active community on Twitter. Yeah. I think podcast advertising is probably where I’m going to go next. But I haven’t gotten any further than that.

Allen (23:37):

And my last question to you is what’s a piece of advice you think is most important for publishers to remember for a sustained growth.

Tyler K. (23:46):

That that’s kind of hard to say. Since I haven’t done this multiple times, I can’t say what works and what doesn’t. I have an advantage in that I’m writing about a hobby that’s been around since the early seventies and has stuck around and steadily grown. And right now a tabletop RPGs are more popular as a hobby than they’ve ever been. So yeah, I, I’m very fortunate in that my, like my built-in community is continuing to grow and it’s just a question of like how many people in that community can I get to look at my content? So, so it, it, if I had to give a piece of advice, I’d say pick something that’s been around for a long time and that’s not going to go away. And then just try and distinguish yourself within that market. That’s awesome. Well thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. For those watching or listening your websites, rpg.net. Do you have any social channels you’d like to give a shout out to Twitter, Facebook, things like that, or where can people find you? Yeah. RPG bot.net is the place to start. If you want to follow me on Twitter, Twitter, I’m at RPG bot, D O T N E T because RPG bot was taken.

Tyler K. (25:13):

Someone took it website and Twitter. Well, Tyler, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. I really appreciate it. And I’ll talk to you soon. All right. Thanks, Alan. You have a great day. You too. Take it easy.

Allen (25:33):

Thank you so much for watching today’s video. If you guys liked my interview with Tyler, go ahead and give it a big thumbs up down below. Hit that big red subscribe button. If you haven’t already for great content that we upload on a weekly basis. And also I will link a card to my interview. Last week was Tyler Benedict owner and founder of bike, rumor.com. And I will see you guys next Tuesday.

 

By Allen Longstreet

Allen is a published author and accomplished digital marketer. The author of two separate novels, Allen is a developing marketer with a deep understanding of the online publishing landscape. Allen currently serves as Ezoic's head of content and works directly with publishers and industry partners to bring emerging news and stories to Ezoic publishers.

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