What Pocketables Looks like on mobile today

example of a mobile-unfriendly site that writes about mobile devices

As I’ve been receiving a lot more email about this than I’d ever have imagined after a month and a half of Pocketables being the Paul Show, I thought I’d give a little update on what’s going on with the site and authors. Some of this you know from previous posts, some will probably be new to you. If we all disappear, you’ll know what happened.

This post is all over the place, from search engine optimization, to how a blog gets income streams, to everything you didn’t know about the underbelly of blogging, I’ll warn you – I’m trying to write on about two hours of uninterrupted sleep. This is probably freakishly boring.

I’ll also point out this is written very impersonally. We’ve got some great people on the site and involved in the back end, I’d rather not mix facts and feelings at the moment. So please don’t feel I’m looking at the people who read the site as Income Stream A and the editors as Content Generator B and the people at Crowdgather as Problem Creator C.

I’m letting you know what’s going on, has been going on, and hopefully will be going on.

A bit of history (from Paul’s perspective):

Pocketables and GoodAndEVO started a long time ago in a galaxy far far away by Jenn Lee. She eventually went to work for a company called Crowdgather and the websites came along as part of the deal. GoodAndEVO could have survived and flourished on a couple of banner ads alone most likely with the amount of traffic it had.

I started with G&E as an unpaid contributor who was just annoyed that the root articles out there for the HTC EVO 4G were all over the place. I wrote root and software articles for a few months before being asked to write a couple of pieces a day for a salary. Cool, beer money. This worked out well as I was an insomniac who had a lot of free time between 11pm and about 5am. I was writing for a site that, man, the traffic stats now astound me.

Also, I was not the one who insisted we have “for your HTC EVO 4G” in every article title… that was how you did SEO back then. I realize that it looked and looks atrocious. Not my call. Someone pays you beer money you put five words in a headline and suck it up.

The site suffered greatly during Google’s Panda and Penguin SEO update (partly due to the above SEO,) we also found that we had a bunch of well-SEOd scraper sites mirroring our content without consent and making us look like copycats. We fought and changed the site around and went after the scraper sites and all sorts of fun stuff behind the scenes.

Pocketables and GoodAndEVO merged because G&E was going to slowly tank. There was nothing diving headfirst into death with it, but imagine you were a member of KyoceraFlipFans.com or something and they wrote about neat things you could do with punch cards… eventually a site about a single device dies when that device fades from glory. The upstairs realized that. Pocketables was also fading somewhat, but I wasn’t writing for them at the time and can’t really comment on it.

I started going to SEO meetups in Nashville and talking with people who are in the search engine industry to fix some of the problems we had. CG/Pocketables wouldn’t/couldn’t pay a couple thousand bucks to fix the site to an SEO guy I referred, and I ended up more or less paying for some advice on my own. I’d worked for a top 40 entertainment dotcom back in the day so I still had several web and SEO contacts.

John ran the site as editor in chief, correcting my horrendous and constant misspellings and style breaks along with wrangling the other authors. Jenn left Crowdgather, Grahm Skee stepped up as the author’s Crowdgather contact, eventually he left too and we got a new contact.

BTW Congrats to Grahm on his second kiddo who was born a few days ago.

Pocketables maintenance and upkeep was inhoused to a Crowdgather server farm, and as I understand it the workers have repeatedly had issues with fixing the problems we have. Which considering I run a couple of WordPress sites I’ve offered to fix over and over again, in several emails, again and again. Problem is, we’re small fries and for some reason they’re control freaks. Seriously, it’s WordPress – move us to a site where I have access and 80% of the problems are fixed in an hour and a half.

We expected that hour and a half fix before the last Google SEO update that made Mobile Friendliness the top ranking when searching on mobile. It didn’t happen. If you’re not mobile friendly you lose. Judging by visitor stats, we lost.

We were big fries back in the day, but as things happened such as when we couldn’t update our SEO pack, or when the site was down for days due to a CG DDoS attack, or when we’re writing about mobile devices and Pocketables looks like absolute garbage on a mobile device (the theme is stuck and can’t be changed,) or when we have a malfunctioning script on the main page just randomly posting a picture of some headphones I reviewed a long time ago, or when our advertising network is popping up fake virus warnings, we’ve lost.

Google was most of our traffic. You’ll find most sites Google is most of the traffic out there for sites like us. The site’s bloated (image compression is not working, javascript is huge, minification needs to happen,) shot, doesn’t pass Google’s mobile friendly test, contains flash content last time I looked, and now exists in this weird state of why should Crowdgather continue running it?

That’s a question we’ve been wondering about for a while. Not due to the content, the readers, or the editors, but it’s a bucket with bullet holes in it that the authors are trying to fill up with shot glasses and someone keeps shooting the bucket. We ask for the bucket to be fixed and are told the bucket has a ticket in, and then a month later that the bucket can’t be fixed. It’s time for a new bucket.

Two and a half years ago in order to get a handle on what Pocketables was facing SEO-wise I set up a website on my own, not going to advertise it as I’m trying to stay classy here, running a setup similar to Pocketables but with mostly different content (it’s about baby tech.) The results were that it’s grown organically simply by not being broken, passing mobile friendliness, etc.

At 8% of the size of Pocketables, just not putting fresh content on a broken website, it’s profitable. This month, it’s diaper money. It’s cost $30 to run over two years. Last month it made more than I made here. That’s… not a ringing endorsement for here. I’m happy to take it and buy diapers though.

More recent history

There were some other issues. Over the past few months we’ve had significantly less content posting on the site. This is for a variety of reasons – one of them being I was prepping for baby #2, and as I understand it John had to go hang with the Pope or some such. Aaron writes every couple of months.

A few months back we couldn’t get one of our old writers back on board due to corporate not wanting to pay them or risk something (what, I don’t know). We lost a couple of editors a while back due to reasons… that’s all I’ll say on them. And it’s hard to get new editors on a sinking ship that won’t pay them.

Someone at Crowdgather forgot to renew GoodandEVO.com, we lost a third of our traffic. All our G&E.com links for years are dead. Hundreds of hours worth of work lost, and not getting recovered evidently because as far as we know, nobody’s contacted the new owners of GoodAndEVO.com (Mitsubishi Car Sales evidently,) to get it back.

I switched mostly to writing pieces that will pay for themselves while I work on making some of the larger projects complete and deal with having baby brain. There’ve been a lot of product reviews. Sorry. I wanted to make sure that the site would make some money while we all went and did our lives’ things. They’re real reviews, nobody’s paid me for them, if you buy something some money goes into the Crowdgather tank. If someone wants to pay me to sell out, seriously, now would be a good time ;)

So you know, insidious little blogging secret here, if you click on a tagged review link that goes to Amazon and then buy something else, a site gets referral commission. It gives us the ability to say Product X is a piece of crap, person clicks Product X link and goes to Amazon, they end up purchasing Y, referral commission.  You can go to any review I’ve written, click it, then go buy anything else, bam.

So basically we lost about 70% of the new content we publish over the past three or so months meaning there’s less outgoing expense, increased Amazon income, but also a dip in page views. Le sigh…  guess what people look at when looking at performance of a web site?

So I was contacted to see what we could do about it.

The last week

I got really annoyed when I got an email which I read as “let’s talk about what you all are doing wrong,” and that’s how I interpreted this. That was probably an incorrect reaction. Hackles did not need to be raised.

I once again shot out the list of problems, this time I asked how much to just purchase Pocketables outright so I could move it somewhere and let it, if it died, at least it died because nobody likes reading what we’re writing. I’d be fine with the world telling us they’re done.

It seems these days who doesn’t run an Android blog? I’m pretty sure my cat currently runs The Meowtorola Blog and my littlest just registered a case review blog based on which cases are best to gum. What I’m not fine with is trying as hard as I can and getting taken down because of technical garbage I could fix in an hour or three.

I talked to someone at Crowdgather/Playur, outlined the issues as they think we’re worth salvaging, it seems like something might actually happen now to move Pocketables off of this death spiral server and over to something that doesn’t take months to update.

Examples:

Scenario to update WordPress and a plugin currently: contact our rep, have them put in ticket, ticket gets picked up as low priority sometime a few weeks from now. Update got installed, we suddenly find something broken horribly (one time it was 3000 spam comments) and another emergency ticket gets put in, it gets fixed, I spend two hours deleting spam from the site.

Scenario on any other WordPress install in the world: someone with admin rights logs in, sees a number showing updates are available, clicks a check box, presses “install updates”, done. Thirty seconds later you’ve got a working system. Bam. A trusted editor could do it and spot that a plugin didn’t reactivate.

Unfortunately after fighting the dying system for the last year, it might be too late.

So where are we at?

This is the second time I’ve spoken to people higher up directly. The last time was a different set and it just got dropped. I outlined several changes that needed to happen on *any* CG-owned WordPress site to stop the death spirals. I’ve offered to purchase the site off of ’em so I can fix it. They’re investigating if there’s any reason that Pocketables has to remain on the server it’s on as it’s obviously killing us.

I think something will happen this time. At least I hope so.

That said, John, our editor in chief and posting powerhouse, is freakishly busy these days (and there are compelling reasons to not write until some unmentioned issues with CG are ironed out.) Aaron writes on his schedule. It’s become me writing about inexpensive gadgets as there’s really not much interesting action in the root world these days and I have a new baby brain.

And that’s where we’re at. Standing at either the end of Pocketables and GoodAndEVO, or a new beginning.

Whatever the case, it’s been interesting. I got a small stipend (covered about half of the trip,) three years in a row to go to CES, which counts as my only business travel in my life. I’ve got companies sending me really interesting stuff. And as a side effect I’ve made a diaper-money producing website in the process and met a lot of great and enthusiastic Android and gadget fans.

Hopefully we’ll go forward and get the band back together, but if not, it’s been a fun ride and I’ve really enjoyed my time.