I can’t believe it, but I’ve made it through my first full quarter as a food blogger, and boy has it been a journey! I officially started this blog in mid-march as a hobby at first but it has turned into much more than that.
Before I get into my first quarter, let me go into the background of building this site, because it’s taken me some time to get this thing going.
I’ve wanted to start a cooking blog and share recipes for years, 2014 being the year that I finally decided that I was going to do something about it. I purchased my domain, made my logo and bought my theme back in September of 2014. So why didn’t I go live? Well, for a few reasons. After I got my web server configured, WordPress configured, and theme skinned to my liking, a month had passed. Finally, I was ready to get going, so I shot for a November launch.
Then, I began shooting on the weekends and building a backlog of recipes, but I wasn’t happy with them. I didn’t feel the quality of my photos were up to par. I also felt that I needed to have a backlog of 20+ recipes to go live. Great this is going to be fun! Launch moved to January.
When January came I still wasn’t happy with the quality of my shots. I was shooting with my old canon XTi and I was getting the best I could out of it, but I was holding myself to a standard I couldn’t deliver with the tools I had. Then I read an amazing book: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It talks about being iterative and not coming out of the gate with a full “product”, but rather to have an MVP (Minimal Viable Product). After getting feedback from your users you can optimize and grow from there.
It was a fresh of breath air because I was getting overwhelmed and felt like I was never going to get this blog launched with everything I wanted to get done. Then my wife made me an apron.
Welp, Time to get this thing going! I finally announced my sites launch with only 3 recipes posted on my blog and got started!
March and April
With the 1st quarter of the year behind me and not much to show for other than finally getting my site up, it was time to start pushing. I had began reaching out to friends that were also blogging and getting some pointers on how to get my blog going.
I spent countless hours reading about building an email lists from Amy Porterfield, listening simple passive income podcasts from Patt Flynn, and how to use social media natively by Gary Vanderchuck. I got lots of great information and definitely was ready to move forward, so my first plan of attack was Instagram.
I learned how to grow my Instagram following by posting, using popular hashtags and liking hundreds of photos a day in those hashtags. I was getting about 50 followers a day and maybe 10-20 visitors a day to my site from Instagram.
I then set aside a budget for Facebook. I began boosting posts for about 5 bucks and getting anywhere from 500-2000 paid reach for those boosts.
By the end of April I had close to 2000 followers on Instagram and 400 fans on Facebook. I hadn’t even figured out how to use Pinterest yet.
About 2 weeks into April, I was already seeing a small trickle of traffic and was getting pretty pumped. My recipes were getting shared and liked, and I was pretty amazed at the feedback (however little it was) I was receiving.
Everything was going good and great, and then my camera died; it straight up would not turn on anymore. So immediately started scrambling and trying to figure out what I was going to do. Fortunately, I have good friends and family that were willing to lend me equipment.
Little did I know this was a blessing in disguise. I was able to finally get better quality shots, and had seen enough recipes from other food bloggers out there to get a better idea of how I should stage and light my shots.
After I got a loaner camera and lens, the very first recipe I posted with the new camera was shot and posted. I had heard from a few blogs about foodgawker, so I decided to give it a shot. First photo upload and it was approved! Traffic start coming through and it was like Christmas day to me!
Tip: I learned from Neil Patel that it never hurts to ask other bloggers to share your posts. I sent a few emails to other bloggers letting them know about a recipe that I thought their readers would like, I even sent a pin to Pinch of Yum through Pinterest and they shared it! Every bit helps to grow your community!
It wasn’t much but it was a start for 2 months. To be quite honest, I thought my site wasn’t going to get much exposure outside of friends and family at this point.
The month of May was a huge win for me! I had become blogger friends with some people in various niches and we would exchange what’s working for us. I gt a great tip from Michelle at Blackberrybabe.com that she had begun using imgur to get traffic going to her blog. We both at the time didn’t want to touch reddit with a stick. I have lurked reddit for years, but didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of commenting and posting links to try to get traffic, however successful that may be. It just seemed like more trouble than it’s worth. Well I was wrong.
Slowing Things Down With IG
Speaking of more trouble than it’s worth: my Instagram strategy. Even though my strategy was organically growing my followers, the click-through rate on Instagram is minimal. It’s a great community and I still am active there, but in May I decided that it was time to pull back from liking the plethora of photos manually. It was taking way too much time out of my day that I could focus on the blog, or more importantly, my family. From an IT point of view I was having a hard time coming to terms with manually doing something that could be easily coded into an app. After doing some research I have found a great side called Instamacro that automates exactly what I was doing manually, liking photos on dense hashtags that are relevant to your IG profile. It works great and have a great experience with them!
Using Imgur and Reddit to get traffic
I decided to post my chili recipe on imgur like Michelle had suggested. My strategy was to post all the images on how to create the chili, with instructions in the description, then in the last photo leave a link to the “source” with would be my original recipe post on my site. I guess people really like chili because it immediately got attention on imgur and traffic began coming through.
At this point I thought that was good enough. Then I saw someone posted my chili recipe to r/food. It didn’t get a ton of upvotes, but someone had mentioned to cross post on to r/slowcooking. So I beat the poster to the punch and posted to r/slowcooking. Within an hour it was at the top of the subreddit and began showing up and the front page. By the end of Reddit flurry I had received almost 1000 visitors to my site, and was ecstatic! I was now using imgur,reddit,foodgawker and expanded to using tastespotting to generate the majority of traffic to my site.
Within a month I had increased traffic by roughly 40% (give or take due to referrer spam). Not bad.
Oh yeah, see that t.co referral source? Got a recipe randomly tweeted by a youtuber. How cool is that?!
— Lindsay DeFranco (@LinzDeFranco) May 18, 2015
Another good month. Why? I was going through my email in the morning while drinking coffee and getting ready for work and received an email from a writer from buzzfeed. They wanted to post my Chili on a one of their upcoming roundups. I was getting a recipe posted on Buzzfeed! How in the crap did this happen? I had only been live for less than 3 months! My assumption is from the reddit post that got popular, foodgawker, or possibly because I regularly share buzzfeed posts.
Getting the hang of social media
I’m finally getting acclimated to using social media from a business standpoint. My Facebook and Instagram accounts have grown steadily, Pinterest is finally making sense to me. I still can’t quite get steady traffic to my site from these outlets yet. Still working on getting that figured out.
Get that paper boo boo.
It was at this point that I realized it was also time to start trying to monetize my site. I knew it wouldn’t be much at first, but as a single income family, every bit helps! I had already become an affiliate for amazon, and decided to shoot for ad sense. I was contacted by a few other ad networks and a network that sets bloggers up with sponsored posts. Not only that but because I had wrote a sponsored post that had performed so well, they promoted it on Facebook for 2 weeks, which generated a good amount of traffic too! It’s been a crazy month.
Getting connected with blogger groups
I recently was led to some great food and dad blogger groups that have helped me tremendously! I never imagined that a group of strangers all in the same field of work would be so willing to help one another out! Not only have I learned a lot from these groups, but it’s helped generate a good amount of traffic to my site! Thanks to these groups, late in the month I got a huge spike in traffic from StumbleUpon for my Carne Asada recipe that was shared in one of my food blogger groups.
So I don’t have much to show for my first 3 months, but I have income! I didn’t think I would actually say that after only doing this for the short time that I have done this, so here we go
Social Fabric: $125
Google Adsense: $11.13
Amazon Affiliates: $10.91
Numus Ad Network: $5.11
ProGrids Ad Network: $0.75
Total Income: $152.90
Azure VM Hosting: $120
Facebook Ads: $160
Total Expense: $570
Net Profit: -417.10
Not expecting profit at this point in time, like I said, the fact that I had any income is pretty awesome at this point in the game!
As I was writing this post and running the numbers on my analytics, I started to realized that my bounce rate was unusually low for the type of site I run. Food blogs normally see high bounce rates until they gain a loyal following due to the fact that most visitors are on your site to look at the one recipe they are searching for. I first thought “awesome people are clicking through to additional pages”, but then started wondering if maybe that was too good to be true.
Sure enough, I glanced through the source code on my site, and my Google Analytics script had been implemented twice, because I had originally copy/pasted manually, but then started using the Google Analytics plugin. I overlooked the fact that this plug will automatically embed the code for you. After I fixed this issue, my page views dropped by 50% and bounce rate was more realistic in the 70% range. A little deflating knowing that my page views haven’t been as high as I had originally thought, but I’d say for 3 months in they’re still pretty good!
Goals For The Next 3 Months
So I had some year end goals that I had naively set as I went through this that I demolished. It’s been years since I’ve ran a website and A LOT has change. I thought having 100 users a day visiting my site was a lot. Well that came and went. So, taking what I’ve learned from the lean method, I figured it’d be better set goals with shorter deadlines. Here’s what I plan to achieve by the end of September:
Get 30k Monthly Page Views
I don’t know if this can be done by September, but I definitely want to try. I did the math and if I can average 500 users daily with 2 page views each, it should come out to about 30k pageviews in a month. This is going to be a bonus if this can happen, but it won’t break my heart if it doesn’t.
In order to achieve this goal this is what I’m planning for this quarter:
Increase My Social Media Followers
This should help drive traffic, and build a loyal following, It’s going to be challenge, but I hope to get there!
Facebook: 1500 Instagram: 5000 Twitter: 500 Pinterest: 500
3 Posts a week
I’ve been really trying to get this going for the last month, but life sometimes get’s in the way, my plan is by adding one more post a week, I should increase page views, but we’ll see!
Step up my photography
This might be the most important step. You can see more successful sites have top-notch food photos. Mine aren’t bad, but they aren’t great either. My plan is to get lighting, and focus on creating photos that really pop!
Open up user submissions
I really want to get other dads (and moms too!) involved in sharing what they cook for their families! My recipe supports this feature so I’d really like to try it out and test how this can build my following and increase traffic!
Keep in Touch
Well, I hope to come back in September and report some great results and share anything I’ve learned along the way. I want to use this series to not only share my results, but also open a discussion for any food bloggers out there to share their stories or ask questions! Feel free to tweet me @dadwithapan or leave a comment on this post!
If you’re interested in keeping up to date with my journey sign up for my Food Blogging Newsletter, I’ll be sending out updates on this series, as well and sharing any tips I’ve found useful during my road to success!