This week James Stables, Founder and Co-CEO of tech recommendation sites and The Ambient, discusses the meteoric rise of the business, unknown SEO problems, and the precarious nature of affiliate revenues.

In the news roundup it’s Peter vs. Esther in the battle of reader revenues. We discuss the Facebook Oversight Board’s teething troubles, several new launches, and City AM’s return to print. Chris wears out a new sound effect in the space of a single episode.

The full transcript is live here, but for now, here are the highlights:

How got started

The seed of the idea would be to do something around wearable tech deals. Me and Paul worked together, he came to me about doing it with him.

And then we looked at where we came from in tech journalism, and just thought, you know, deals weren’t the way to go. But there certainly was enough interest and growth in the wearable area to make a website about it. And essentially being an authority in the subject, that was very much our tagline in the very early days.

Early success

We thought all the other tech sites out there were talking about wearables as part of their general tech beat, but there was no one out there really testing them in a deep, meaningful way. And the idea of being an authority and being experts in this area in this segment, specifically, is what we wanted to do.

And it just really took off. We started in August 2014. By early 2015, we’re doing a million readers a month. And by 2016, we reached a high point of 4 million unique users. So it really was a rapid, rapid rise based on a sort of perfect storm of the right product at the right time.

The plot twist

So on the 2nd April 2019, everything has been going really well, we come into work and traffic on both sites is 50% or 60% down on what you would expect to be on the site at that time of day. Obviously, that’s the thing you don’t want to see.

We just sort of sit it out for a few days, and then it becomes clear that these people aren’t coming back. It’s just a complete SEO wipeout overnight. By the end of that year we were losing money to the point where we just couldn’t continue. We had to give notice on the office and pretty much all the staff had to be made redundant.

Bounce back

We really had to look at ourselves and what we were doing and really go back to that expertise and trust. What they call EAT now is one of the biggest currencies going in SEO – expertise, authority and trust. I think when the pandemic hit, Google upped the power of authority and expertise, trying to get good information out there.

At least we had this expertise and authority thing going for us and I think it just dialled up around March 2020 and that was a massive part of this sort of snowball effect of recovery. It wasn’t like we came into work in March 2020 and everything was just back to how it was in March 2019. But that dial up of authority and trust really effectively started that process of recovery.

Advice for independent publishers

If you’re a small publisher, I’d say you really have to use your niche, be great at what you do, and really, really drill down on that expertise. And just give Google a reason to list you amongst the big players, the incumbents and nationals… they’re all just so aggressive, SEO wise, with such huge teams.

We hold our own, because we’re doing this in depth, no stone uncovered and just doing those hard yards that they just don’t have the time to go into.

Key story:

News in brief:

  • New Scientist has been sold to Daily Mail publisher DMGT for £70 million. DMGT apparently made an unsolicited approach to buy the publisher and sealed the deal in just three weeks. They have guaranteed editorial independence, and promised no staff cuts.
  • Men’s lifestyle publication Mel magazine is launching three paid newsletters in the hopes of accruing 10,000 subscribers in the first six months. The first newsletter to launch will be Melanie, targeting the site’s 40% female readership. 
  • Google has said it will stop selling ads based on individuals’ browsing across multiple websites once they have phased out third-party cookies next year. The tech giant is pushing advertisers towards cohort-based targeting rather than cookie replacement identifiers. 
  • Free business newspaper City AM has topped 3 million monthly online readers for the first time – triple what it reached this time last year.. It is targeting an autumn return to print after its free distribution model was decimated by coronavirus lockdowns.
  • The Face magazine is launching a dedicated TikTok talent agency. They want to underline their position as ‘a leading force in the digital influencer sphere’.
  • ‘Voice of Black America’ magazine Ebony is relaunching as a digital title under new ownership this week after closing last year following financial difficulties.
  • A new online news service has launched in Wales. ‘The National’, from Newsquest, will be published online behind a paywall, but a ‘souvenir’ first edition print newspaper is being planned as well. Newsquest are publishers of The National in Scotland, which is pro-independence. 
  • Facebook’s Oversight Board is reportedly ‘frustrated’ with the binary nature of its decisions, highlighting the fact that there’s little room for nuance when it comes to content moderation en masse.

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