That is a picture of my post on the front page of Imgur.
That is another picture of another post
Now you see this?
Almost 150,000 views, hundreds of comments, all looking at me and my game. And best yet I didn’t have to spend anything to “boost my post” or convince some features editor to write about it, or pay an influencer. It was just me uploading some pictures and writing a little bit about my game.
This post explains how to do this.
Organic traffic is hard to come by these days. Algorithmic based feeds and paid advertising on Facebook and Twitter has made organic traffic almost impossible now. There are very few places left where a non-curated feed is still possible. imgur is one of those. For now... A few months ago I learned this strategy from a secret Google document that was being passed around by a couple top-tier games marketing people in private forums. This strategy was invented by Adrian Kaiser and his expert marketing team. It has worked for me at least 3 times earning me over 374,000 total views. I thought I would pay it forward and share it with the greater indie game community. I asked Adrian and thankfully he said it was ok to share this. So as a big thank you please follow him on Twitter and his associate who co-developed this strategy and wishlist his game (it comes out October 17th) as a big thank you So here goes...
The realities of imgur
Before I blow your mind with this strategy let me bring some reality here first. imgur is a top of the funnel marketing tactic. The best you can do is get people who don’t know you exist into people who are merely aware of your game. You are not going to sell 1,000,000 copies even If you stay on the front page of imgur for a week. imgur is just once piece in your overall marketing strategy. (If this doesn’t make sense or you have never heard of the marketing funnel, please read this article I wrote all about the funnel.) Understanding the funnel is the core to understanding how to do marketing.
imgur can only get someone from "Unaware" to interested. You need to figure out another marketing platform that will move them from interested down to actually buying your game. My choice is an email lists because it works the best, but other options are Steam wishlisting, Joining a Discord, following you on social media.
imgur is terrible for making people fall in love with you. For instance imgur has a way to follow other imgurians but nobody really uses it. (In fact you can only follow someone from the mobile device). You can’t upload a custom profile picture - you have to pick from a couple dozen pre-made icons. If someone likes your post you have no way to contact them again when your game is on sale. This all contributes to the fact that imgur is like the Groundhog Day of social media. Every day is like starting out with 0 following and nobody will remember you exist a day later.
Also, despite this strategy working for me any many others, I have had a lot of posts go nowhere. It still comes down to luck. There are a hundred little factors that could mean your post doesn’t go viral. I will discuss what to do if it doesn’t work. Just keep in mind this strategy is not a guarantee.
With that pre-amble over, let’s look at how to get your game to be on the front page of imgur.
Decide your post’s hook
The trick to a viral imgur post is to hit the right tone and subject matter for the imgur audience. You can’t just post a random game screenshot with the title of your game and expect it to go viral.
Your title screenshot and sometimes description have to work together to tell the story of why you are posting this to a giant community. You should come off as just a regular Joe or Jane who is trying your best against all odds. There should be a bit of wish fulfillment as if you are doing something that the audience wishes they could accomplish but you are the one trying and maybe possibly able to pull it off (side note you don’t have to actually pull it off but the effort is appreciated).
For instance the “I quit my job” posts are almost a cliche now but it was my best performing post because almost everyone reading it actually wants to quit their job and here you are actually doing it. They are thinking “That could be me!”
When trying to come up with the hook for your imgur post, think back on your own history. Making a game is so hard to do and you are much further than the average human being. So don’t be humble. Just by making some form of game you are extraordinary and worth posting something What have you overcome or done that most people have not accomplished?
Write your title
Creating an imgur post title like "Hey imgur, this is our new game called <your game name>" you will get called out for advertising so fast your post won’t even get a single positive vote.
Instead, use an emotional headline with some phrases that have worked in the past. Most importantly DON’T mention the name of your game.
Here are some successful examples of titles:
"I quit my full time job to work on this project"
"We worked over 3 years to realize our dream game"
"You're ship-wrecked! Farm, craft and explore a mysterious archipelago to find a way home."
"We merged Pokemon and Star Wars in this farming game"
Identify your call to action
The first question you must ask your self is "what do you want out of this post?"
If you just said “Exposure!” … Boo.
Just making people aware of your game is useless and a waste of a good post. There are so many games out there and so much time before your next release just hoping that a bunch of people will remember who you are is a terrible idea. Exposure is like building a sandcastle while the tide is coming in. When you get to the front page you must convert the traffic into followers on another platform.
Basic copywriting 101 rules apply here
You must tell people what you want them to do. Now don’t go overboard and list every single social media platform you are on. Instead, pick your primary platform and tell them a reason why that is the best one.
But here is the tricky part. imgur hates any form of marketing. Every post will have a comment from the buy-an-ad-guy. He is a guy who comes on to say “BUY AN AD” and then down vote your post.
Here is an example of buy an ad guy. Look at that, he even made a little image to express how much he hates advertising. You will see this guy a lot, don't worry though.
There are a couple tricks to getting your CTA in without raising the ire of Buy-An-Ad-guy. However, it depends on your strategy so stay tuned.
At this point just decide what action you want the viewer to take.
Write your description
Every post has a bit of text to accompany each image. There are actually two options depending on your hook and your game.
Option 1: One image wonder
If your game is remarkable from a single screenshot or video, use this strategy. You have to be really honest with yourself on this one. Your art has to be so good it gets 100s of retweets when you post it on Twitter. Or the gameplay mechanic has to be super unique. Or it has to be some sort of hilarious physics based game. Basically it has to make people stop scrolling just to look at it.
If your game has those qualities, you can get away with Option 1. With this strategy you play the mysterious stranger. Upload your video, trailer, screenshot. Add a great thumb-stopping-headline (that I mentioned above) but don’t add a description.
Writing a Call To Action for Option 1
If you have a great looking game, the readers will be super curious and start asking "Cool, what is the name of this game?" and then you can come back with your call to action "Hey thanks! You can wishlist <your_game_name> on Steam -> URL".
The benefit of this strategy is you don’t come off as an “advertisement” because your call to action is given only when someone asks for it. People on imgur often read other comments so they are sure to see it.
Examples of Option 1-style posts:
- Got special butterfly jumps working in my game
- I've been making my RPG for 7+ years!!... here are some of the character portraits I've done :)
- We created an ultra realistic Attic map for our Small Toy soldier game!
- Turn-based racing game that is also golf?
Option 2: Story mode
If you don’t have a game that is uniquely-stand-out-impressive you can still succeed on imgur (in fact this is the only way I have found success here.) You just need to show more personality and spunk. You are going to be focusing on impressing folks with your writing or with the depth of your game play. Note pixel art games (even if pretty) don’t always do well on imgur because the art is much smaller and harder to see when just scrolling through. But a good story can fix that (that is the case with my games).
With the story mode strategy you post lots of images in an album.
Each image helps to contribute to your story. The images you pick don’t all have to be from your game. You can post pictures of where you work on your game, or photos from your childhood where you are doing something gaming related (imgur catnip). Note though that the first image of your story will be the thumbnail people see on imgur so it should really be a great looking image.
Writing a Call To Action for Option 2
You have to make the CTA all about imgur. So for instance on my post about quitting my job I wrote a CTA that said. “I need your help now. I want to keep myself accountable so I setup a "check-in." Every month I am going to send out what I got done, what I struggled with, and how I stayed motivated.
Join my mailing list. <LINK>”
That got me almost 500 new email subscribers overnight. Note that I said it is about them helping me and not that I was advertising and nobody said anything about it being an ad.
Here are some other ideas for low-key CTAs:
- “Hey our game is about solving super difficult puzzles. We are going to post a puzzle every week and people setup a Discord to solve the puzzles together. Here is a link to our discord”
- “If you liked our art, I am showing people how I did it by sending out a tutorial every month, join my mailing list to get notified of my next art tutorial is posted.“
There is one other alternative where you just post a link to your Steam page to say “wishlist it” that is effective but you have to time it just right. Don’t put your Steam link CTA until you make it to “Most Viral” I will get into that in the section about timing.
Additional tips for story mode:
- DON'T write your posts in imgur. Work in Google docs or Word then copy the text in as a last step. Imgur is notoriously buggy and prone to crashes. I have lost hours of work because I was working in browser and it crashed forcing me to rewrite my post.
- DON'T try to write and launch your imgur post in the same day. Allot a couple hours to write a quality post and do it a couple days before you actually hit the submit button. Just keep your post as hidden until you are ready to launch.
- DO get your post down to 10 images or fewer. On the desktop version of imgur your post gets truncated with a “More button” after 10 images. I don’t have numbers but I have a feeling a huge portion of your readers will move on to another post instead of clicking “more”. If you are having trouble editing it down to 10, I sometimes collage the similar images and upload it as a single image
- DO: Switch between desktop and mobile. The imgur UX is a bit confusing sometimes. The mobile and desktop versions of the site are slightly different. So if you can’t seem to figure out how to do something, try switching to the other platform and see if you can find it. For instance you can only create a multi image album from the desktop version of the site.
- DON'T bother with adding tags while you are writing your post. imgur again is terrible about saving that stuff so I usually add tags just before I hit the “post” button but more on that later.
- DON'T just copy your press release into imgur and add some random screenshots. The tone of press releases always trigger “buy an ad” guy.
- DON'T list your game’s major features: like this “Featuring 100 levels, customizable characters, and dual wielding.” That will trigger the “BUY AN ADD” guy too. Instead, pick one feature and write a whole imgur story about why that feature is cool, what inspired you to add it, what were some problems with the feature.
- DON'T combine several story “hooks” into a single post. For example don’t do the “I quit my job” angle and the “What inspired me to make this game” in a single post. It muddles your message. Just like high-school English lass you need a central thesis and every image should contribute to that thesis.
Examples of Option 2-style posts:
- Four years of working on a game about a talking cat later...
- Zelda to Chrono Trigger: The history of gaming's favorite castle
- I thought I made a hard game and then speedrunners totally destroyed it. Here is what that feels like.
How to pick images to post
The First image in your album is the most important because it is the one that will appear on everyone’s feed and will invite them to click on it.
Tips for your photos:
- Don’t post selfies. imgur has this really weird hang up on selfies they actually only allow you to post a selfie on Christmas Day without downvotes. I didn’t realize this and put a photo of myself shot through a mirror and got some minor grumbling about it
- Also don’t think you are sneaky by adding a watermark to your images. The imgur audience will most definitely call that out as advertising.
Tips for Videos
- Use a 10-14 seconds teaser video (mp4) including as much in-game-footage as possible to show what your project is about.
- Increase the speed of your videos a tiny bit and it will appear to move more fluidly.
- Important: Your first frame must be the most interesting one because most mobile users see only the first frame.
- Also make sure your video doesn’t start with a black screen because your headline image will be black.
- Don’t worry about converting videos to gifs because imgur will store them as videos anyway.
I would also recommend watching Thomas Reisenegger's (@Olima) GDC 2019 talk PRsuccess.gif Get your game across in 5 seconds. Unfortunately the video is behind the GDC Vault paywall. BUT you can download the slides without having full access by clicking here
How to pick your tags
imgur always seems to delete my tags when I come back to a draft version of my post. So I don’t typically add my tags until I am about to hit publish. But while you are writing your post, start thinking about them.
Tags are how imgur will classify your content and it is how users will find yours. Now the most important one is definitely “Gaming” because there is always the “Gaming” section pinned to the front page of imgur.
Also check the front page for the main categories such as Awesome, Creativity, Funny. Also check the posts I linked to in this article for additional tag inspiration.
Now the timing and sequence of your launch is very important. Super duper important. I am not kidding here. Read this half of the article very carefully. It was not until I followed these step that I started making it to the front page.
Getting you imgur post to the front page is like launching a multi stage rocket. It is like running a nation wide presidential campaign where you have to attract super delegates and do well in the Iowa caucuses in the lead up to Super Tuesday. It is a carefully orchestrated event so please don’t skip these steps or think you can wing it.
To help guide you along this process I made this graph based on the data from two different posts of the game Bloom: Memories by @studiofawn. It charts the number of upvotes recieved on every hour after the post went live. The green line charts this post that went to the front page of imgur. The white line is for a post that was live for 3 hours but did not get past "Popular." I don't have a link because @studiofawn ended up deleting that post due to poor performance.
As you can see there are specific jumps in the graph that pertain to the pages your post gets assigned to. Also note that some posts just don't have the special "juice" to move up. They just linger there after about 3 hours.
Part I: Pushing the launch button (but only at the right time)
Timing is everything. People read imgur in bed as they procrastinate getting up to go to work and during lunch as they try to mask the loneliness of eating their cold tuna salad by themselves in the company break room.
There is a magical moment on planet Earth when people are eating lunch in Western Europe and waking up on the East Coast. You should try to get your post live during that window. So post within an hour of 7AM EST on Weekdays. I cannot stress how missing this window will make your post go nowhere. If you are off by just a couple hours a post that could have could have gone to the front page will get buried.
Based on where I live I have to make my post at 5am local time. I actually set an alarm, get up add my tags and have it published to imgur by 4:44 AM. Remember how I told you to write your post a day or two ahead of time. This is why.
Note in the following section I will show you hour by hour what you should be doing. “T” = time because i am just copying what NASA does when they launch a rocket.
Part II: Hit publish (T + 0 hours)
When you are ready, click the “Share to community” Button and confirm you are going to post it:
Your post is now live. Your day is just beginning and will center around watching this number tick up. It is the number of upvotes and it is the barometer of how your imgur post is doing.
Part III Get into Popular (T+1 hours)
When you push publish, your post goes into the “new” section of imgur. At this point your upvotes are coming in pretty slow. Maybe one every ten to twenty minutes. The folks upvoting right now are imgur diehards who browse this list. You might be a bit afraid that it seems dead. Don’t be.
Your goal at this stage is to get 50-100 up votes so you can get on the “Popular” Tab.
However, you likely won’t get to 50 without help. So you need to call in favors from friends and family and most importantly your super fans. Here is who to ask
Your super fans
To reach my super fans I send an update to my mailing list and explain to them exactly what I am doing and why it helps. Again you need a strong call to action explaining what to do. Don’t just say “check out my post.” Instead Say “Click this link and if you think it is good, push the upvote button. Doing this helps spread the word and get more people to play my gems.”
Friends and Family
I got my wife to do it. I told my friends. I told former coworkers. I told my childhood next door neighbor. All you need is 50-100 votes. You probably know 50 people right? I would go ahead and tell them what you are up to a day or two ahead of time because you want them to act right away. Like say “hey tomorrow I am going to send you something first thing in the morning. Please do it as soon as you get it is that important super early.”
Your fellow game devs
I always tell my favorite game dev forums and Discords about my posts. My local IGDA chapter has its own Discord. So I post it there. I also DM my favorite twitter friends and tell them what to do.
Going from new to popular is the hardest and most time consuming part of this strategy. You need to scrounge for every single upvote at this point. This is super important. I know it seems like it won’t scale but you are trying to get the rocket from sitting on the launch pad to 100 feet in the air. You need every booster you can.
Also don’t add your call to action to your post yet. The people who looking at your post at this stage are typically imgur super users and are the ones most likely to police the “no marketing” culture. Your post is too delicate at this point to survive their downvotes so be on your best behavior.
At just about 2 hours if I see the upvotes are coming in pretty steadily i like to post a link to it on Reddit. You can do it earlier but I like to wait to make sure that the post is getting good traction before I bother doing Reddit. That is because if I do pull the post because it isn't performing I don't have to also pull it from Reddit. This isn't a hard and fast rule though and is worthy of experimenting with.
For reference, here is the corresponding Reddit post I created for my best performing imgur post.
At around 3 hours after publishing it, a good imgur post will have around 50 to 100 upvotes. If you hit this magic number your post will appear on the popular tab of imgur. You have achieved the first major hurdle.
However if it has been 3 hours since you made your post public and you still have fewer than 50 votes, your post is not going to make it past the &ld