In the past few years
has grown to become one the UK’s largest gadget sites, and we recently interviewed founder Stuart Miles to talk about his experiences in online publishing…
How did you put Lint on the map?
It sounds like a real cheese-ball story but I started Pocket-lint with £14.95 in 2003. We’ve organically grown it from there.
In our first month in February 2003, we got around 100 unique visitors. Now we’re up to around the 800,000 mark, which is fantastic for us.
We’re focused on being very consumer friendly but still on giving out good information. There are lots of sites out there that do very well by offering readers 1,000 word-plus reviews.
So the principle behind our review section is that we offer a quick review with a quick, easy verdict for people that are short of time. Then if you want a bit more, there is a 500-1,000 word review for people to get a longer story.
We also have a very good news service as well – a lot of our competitors do one or the other, but few of them do both.
How are you faring compared to the big media competition?
I’d like to think that we’re winning. We’re beating the likes of Stuff and, depending on what stats you look at, T3. They both have big teams on the web side and the magazine side to generate copy for them.
One thing I heard recently was that Engadget, the big American gadget blog, had 21 people covering CES at the start of January, which is quite a lot. We had one full member of staff out there and two freelancers doing work on the side for us, as well as two people in the office back here. And we still managed to beat them to the story!
What kind of approach have you taken to scaling up the business? How big a challenge is recruitment?
The thing we struggle with most as a small publisher is scaleability. If I was to go out and get five more members of staff, I would really have to plan and work towards that. I have to make sure everyone I employ brings in their return on investment.
We don’t say to our journalists that they have to write a certain amount of stories per day, but you have to be careful about who you employ and how you work because the budgets are a lot tighter.
But what I’ve found as we’ve grown is that investing in people makes sense. We’ve only just started doing some SEO and PPC stuff, so we’ve got where we are organically.
We’ve got some budget together and are looking to push it to the next level. It’s the logical step to start looking at SEO more closely. I passionately believe in Pocket-lint and we’re looking for ways to make more people aware that we have a great product.
As you’re looking more closely at your SEO, how does Google compare to Google News as a source of traffic? Do you see Google’s dominance as a risk? Do you find Google News traffic difficult to predict?
Our search engine traffic is probably about 60% – not just Google but Yahoo and so on. About 25% to 30% is from direct links and about 10% is from referrals.
Google versus Google News is about half and half. We don’t do amazingly well on Google News, and I think that is partly because we syndicate content out to people. We syndicate news out to Yahoo and provide our best stories of the day to Sky, which is a great endorsement for us. But I think we get penalised for doing that.
Sometimes you look at Google News and see you’ve done really well on a story, and another time you think you’ve written something amazing but it doesn’t appear or is right down at the bottom.
How has Adsense worked out for you as the site has grown?
Adsense is very good for a small publisher – to start with.
What we found when we started was we would go to an ad agency and they would say ‘we want to work with you but you’re not big enough’. It leaves you in a Catch 22 where you have a site that you believe in but you can’t grow it because you don’t have any money to grow it.
I have a friend that has invested loads of money in a website and it is sort of doing OK, but he can’t get any advertising.
Five years on, Adsense is one of many revenue streams that we have. We don’t have any display ads through Google and we use Monetise for our site-specific advertising.
What’s your position on user reviews? Why are journalists better than customers at providing information on products?
We offer the chance for readers to write reviews and we still publish them if they disagree with our reviews. They’re good because they are about personal experience.
However, if I review a product, I don’t get to keep the product – so it doesn’t matter to me whether it is good or bad. I haven’t spent £500 on it so don’t have to justify to myself that it was worth the money.
If you’re an honest journalist and not affected by all the PR schmoozing and other stuff that goes on, then you’re reviews are unbiased.
User generated reviews have a big place on the internet. They have to be constructive and useful. But there is that doubt about whether the person writing the review is working for that company.
I know quite a few PR people will go around Amazon and Play and write positive reviews about their products in the hope that will sway a couple more people to buy it.
One of my founding beliefs with Pocket-lint is that I trade in trust. If I tell you something is fantastic and you go out and buy it but it turns out to be a turkey, I’ve lost you as a reader. We have to be very careful not to damage that trust.
How are you looking to develop the website itself this year?
My short term goal is to get over the 1m unique visitor mark and we’re on track for that. We’re concentrating on improving the site every day.
We have widget plans which will display highlights from each section of the site on your Apple dashboard and iGoogle page and things like that. It’s about staying one step ahead and listening to what your users want.
Are you worried widgets might take traffic away from your site?
The widgets will offer headlines only. But yes, there is that thing that people have noticed with RSS feeds – the risks of including your entire content in feeds.
There are lots of sites that do that, so you have to make the site feature-packed enough and offer more than a feed.
For example, you can download our pages as PDFs that are specifically designed to be printed as an A4 page. I hate that when I print something from a website and sixteen pages later on your printer you have the story.
What’s your exit strategy?
At the moment, I don’t really have one. It really helps when you work on something and you really love it. I want the site to be bigger and everyone in the UK to know about it. I’m enjoying it and the graphs are pointing upwards, so it’s fun.
If I’m running out of steam in three years’ time, I might look at getting some backing to keep it going or selling it, to bring in more oomph. It really comes down to the scaleability again.