Focus on Growth
The harsh truth is that not all good servers end up growing. While the focus on making a quality server helps setup the framework and infrastructure for growth, without having a focus on growth there will be no growth.
There are two parts to growth – attracting new visitors and growing your community.
A visitor is fine, but the server has to be appealing enough to get the visitor to come back several times and eventually to become a part of your community. The real challenge when talking about growth is this ability to retain users. The way to improve your conversion rate is to make the server easy to use, exciting , fun and inviting.
Ease of use means making the user invest less time in reading and understanding your gamemode, and spending more time playing and enjoying the server. Replacing signs with holograms, shops with villagers, or even replacing arena signs with a portal that does the job for you will drastically improve the amount of new players participating. The truth is that people dislike thinking; they want to be put straight into the action.
Making the server exciting and fun means giving the player the time of his life. While some servers do this with a focus on PVP and constant action, others do it by giving the player a platform for exploration and cooperation with friends. Look for ways to improve not just the way the player interacts with the community but also making a better experience. When adding a feature make sure it has standing for your type of server (adding features such as pvp stats or economic incentive to pvp may be counterproductive for a server such as skyblock, although different types of servers exist).
Having a quality server and working on advertisement should go hand in hand. A good server that retains the population cannot grow without an effective advertisement campaign, as the general public won’t know about your server. On the other hand, a poor quality server can grow with a large advertising campaign, although usually it fails to attract the community, which in turn severely punishes the ROI and leads to many ambivalent players. The success of a server is usually measured by how many players are online at once - perhaps a better way would be to measure how many players are online at once out of all of the players that ever joined the server. You can have 100,000 unique players join and have a very active server with thousands of players online or you can have 100,000 unique players join yet fail to even hit 50 during the day’s peak. I have witnessed both types of servers; the difference is in the quality of the server. So while you can make a temporarily inflated player count, the real challenge is to retain your user base and to build your community by making your players happy.
Still, the importance of advertisement shouldn’t be downplayed. Even if you have a unique and attractive server it will still be difficult to attract new users.Unfortunately advertisement is hard to get for free and is one of the things the owner himself has to do. I will focus on free advertisement.
I wouldn’t write this post on a Minecraft server list if I didn’t believe it provided value for content creators. It’s practically one of the most efficient forms of advertisement in terms of time spent by the server owner. I recommend adding your server to as many lists as you can at once. You may be interested in focusing on providing voting for smaller lists as it may be more effective, but don’t underestimate the power of large lists. You can also use this websites bumping feature to appear on the first page without being a large server.
Another way is to post on forums and give your community a good (or pretty) banner that displays your server ip. If you become an upstanding and known member of a minecraft forum it will drive organic traffic from people that read your content. This takes a long time but it works.
Support youtubers that join your server. When my server was hitting 250 players I got an unexpected visit from large youtubers – turns out one of my dedicated community members was spamming their twitch chat with my server. They joined, liked it and ended up making a series on my server – it ended up increasing my traffic drastically and for free. When you are smaller this kind of organic approach probably won’t work – you may be interested in contacting youtubers you like by yourself.
Perhaps the most important system of free advertisement is one you cannot really control – word of mouth. The only way to improve this is to provide an amazing experience for your players.
Finally we get to social media. If you have the time, spend 5 minutes every day updating Twitter and Facebook. With your community following your social media you get free organic traffic as well as the ability to advertise your server to the players that love it the most.
Starting a server is not for everyone. It requires a huge amount of effort and time to succeed. However, if you are reading this you probably are motivated to start your own server – please take all of this information into consideration, in particular the threat of demotivation. If you can don’t start the server alone, start with someone that shares your passion and possibly even someone you know in real life (I did). Although the initial push is hard it is ridiculously fun to share your dream server with the rest of your world.