New Product and Game Review Site ‘Armdog Reviews’
It’s been quite a busy last month or so. The family and I finally made our long-delayed moved to Texas. It’s something that’s been in the works since late February, and we made the leap a couple of weeks ago. It was a bit of a trial though; the movers were late, ran out of room on their truck, and the check engine light came on in my car during the drive. But we made it! And it sure was a memorable journey. We were so proud of the kids, they were really easy going about the entire thing, just rolling with everything. We’ve been away from Texas for about a decade, so it’s been great to be back home again.
Even prior to the move, I’ve been staying pretty busy outside of work. Although I haven’t sketched much, I did the children’s book thing, started a YouTube channel, updated some older art photos, learned how to make pizza from scratch, and made a new website! The new site is not a replacement for this one at all. It’s actually the result of two things I’ve wanted to experiment with for quite a while; I’ve been interested in how these less expensive hosted WordPress.org sites work, and wanted to figure out a better way to write reviews and use affiliate links. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been happy with WordPress.com’s support and all the Jetpack stuff they provide. But their hosting is definitely more expensive. And on the review side, I’ve written a few sporadic ones here, but product reviews don’t really fit with the more artwork-focused content Amdall Gallery typically has. I’ve long thought it might be a good idea to split those things up.
The new site is called Armdog Reviews, based on a funny mispronunciation of my last name. The focus is on games, gadgets, and various other items that I’ve used and have opinions on. Here’s a link, embed, and a few screen captures:
I ended up going with Bluehost as the hosting provider and it’s been solid so far. It’s a bit more challenging than using WordPress.com though, as you’re sort of on your own if something doesn’t work right. I’ve gotten a fair amount of experience with CSS and plugins through WordPress.com fortunately, so I’ve been able to navigate any hiccups pretty well via experience and some Googling. It’s been fun to try something totally fresh! I’ve occasionally had an impulse to completely overhaul Amdall Gallery, but I’m always stopped by the fact that I am pretty happy with the way it looks already. But with a new site I could design it in a totally different way and try some new plugins. The biggest downside I’ve found so far is being disconnected from the WordPress Reader, which is one of my favorite content discovery tools.
I tried to set the website up in a logical and easy-to-follow way. The home page shows the most recent posts in the main categories (games, gear, food, and kids) along with a short list of the “best all time” reviewed items. Clicking on the category tabs shows a full list of all reviewed items in that category. The reviews themselves have a summary at the top, with scores across 4-5 categories (depending on the item), followed by a narrative discussion, then information from the manufacturer. Although some of the reviews I’ve written on Amdall Gallery have been pretty long, I wanted to keep them to no more than a few paragraphs. I felt like much more than that might be overkill and not really useful.
I mentioned “affiliate links” before – if you’re not familiar with them, affiliate programs are basically incentives from retailers for sending potential customers their way. With Amazon for example, if you click on a link from Armdog Reviews and end up buying something (not even necessarily the item you clicked), then I could get a commission from it. It’s typically very small, like a 10 cents or something. But I figured if I’m already writing reviews, I might as well put links to the products. And if I’m putting links to the products, I might as well join some of these programs. It doesn’t impact the price of items though, and it definitely doesn’t impact my reviews – for example you can see how I roasted a phone stand and a Fossil watch. Aside from Amazon, I also enrolled in the programs for Fanatical and CDKeys, both of which are video game retailers.
Another thing that’s driving my desire to write reviews for my own site is the current state of Amazon reviews. I lean on them pretty heavily to figure out what to buy. But I’ve found that so many seem to be either fake or incentivized/paid reviews. There are tons of articles out there on this, but it’s apparently become very common. In fact, recently I purchased a few different style USB cables and every single one included a piece of paper offering me a gift card for writing a five star review on Amazon. So, rather than funneling reviews into Amazon that will just get buried in fake reviews, I thought I try curating my own! I suppose we’ll see how that initiative goes, but at least I’m having fun doing it.
Anyhow, that’s the new site! I hope it helps a few people here and there looking for practical feedback on various things. Although I did bring most of my art supplies, we haven’t gotten our own place yet, so I haven’t settled into a drawing rhythm that works for me. But I really hope to get back to portrait drawing soon.
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