You have probably read a number of blogging “success” stories. People that started blogging casually then woke up one day to realise that they were earning more from their blog than their day jobs.
This is not one of those stories.
I started blogging with the objective of making a living from my food blog.
And I grew my blog from zero to 1 million monthly views in 8 months. 100% organic.
Hi there! I’m Nagi from RecipeTin Eats food blog!
As at the time of writing this, before I hit Publish, only 2 bloggers and 2 friends in this whole wide world know what my monthly traffic is. But while building the Food Bloggers Central (“FBC”) website, I decided it was time to open up. Because I want you to have confidence that I’m not just “talk”. That I do have real tips for you, things I figured out, or experimented with that worked (or that did not!) that got me to where I am today.
So here are the facts:
1. I walked away from a corporate career in finance to pursue my dream to make a living doing something I am truly passionate about. I have no background or experience in food (other than home cooking), photography, art, design, or anything remotely connected to food blogging. I am not a tech geek. I do not have a husband or partner working working behind the scenes to monetise, promote or work on tech stuff for my blog. I have never undertaken any activities on my blog to inflate my traffic (how??!!). If you are so inclined, you can read more about me here;
2. In May 2014, I created my blog (RecipeTin Eats), the first blog I have ever created or been in anyway associated with. At the same time, I picked up a DSLR camera for the first time. Before then, I only used point and shoot cameras for holiday snaps; and
3. 8 months later, in January 2015, my monthly views was 1 million. And if I lived anywhere other than in the 5th most expensive city in the world (Sydney, Australia) where the median house price is A$1.0m (US$1.3m), I can confidently say that I am making an independent living from my blog and related activities (photography, recipe development). (Update: As of January 2016,my monthly traffic is over 3 million)
I do not think by any stretch of the imagination that I am a “power blogger” or have “made it”. I am still small comparative to the many other successful bloggers out there. But I have managed to grow at a relatively fast pace and I have managed to monetise by blog quite successfully and the whole point of creating this website is to share my tips.
This is a long post because I’m not holding back and I’ve been busy! So I suggest you go make yourself a cup of coffee, then make yourself comfortable!
IN A NUTSHELL
Here’s an outline of what I cover in this post.
1. There is no success formula for growing a blog. You need to find what works for you.
2. My approach to blogging is different because I started blogging with the intention of making a living from my blog and because of my corporate background. Underlying this is my deep passion for food, cooking and sharing. I’m risking it all because I dream of making a living doing what I love.
3. Blog Growth Strategy – from the very beginning, I have had a very clear blog growth strategy. By stating my strategy, it keeps me very focussed and ensuring that everything I do is aimed at one of my 3 strategic objectives.
4. Top 7 Things I Did to Grow My Blog – I really wanted to make this a “top 10” list…but the ones I have covered below are the stand outs. And there are only 7. 🙂 Some you will have heard of. Some you probably haven’t……
1. THERE IS NO SUCCESS FORMULA
I wanted to say this first up because I don’t want you to invest hundreds of hours copying what I have done, thinking it’s a surefire way to increase your readership. Please don’t. Instead, use what I share as ideas or as a guide. But interpret it to make it work for you, your blog, your lifestyle, your readers. 🙂
Because there’s one thing I know for sure about blogging – there is no success formula.
And you don’t need me to tell you that it takes hard work. It annoys me when I read that – because I know that! But what you don’t read very often is this:
There is absolutely no denying that the growth I achieved is a combination of both. You can read more about that in this post – Lots of Hard Work and a Little Bit of Luck…..
2. INTENTION TO MAKE A LIVING
I started out blogging not just with a dream of blogging full time, but the intention of creating a blog that I could build into a full time equivalent source of income. And if I lived anywhere other than in the 5th most expensive city in the world (Sydney, Australia) where the median house price is A$1.0m (US$1.3m), I can confidently say that I achieved that in 8 months.
Because of this specific objective, my approach to blogging has been very much a “business” approach, influenced by my professional background as a former finance executive.
I also think another factor is that because I live in Australia, I have not been very influenced by the “blogging frenzy” that is sweeping America by storm and trying to copy what successful bloggers have done. I have very much created my own path (albeit I am sure there are some similarities).
As cold and businesslike as I may sound, my approach is not about only blogging “crowd pleasers” or selling my soul for the sake of making money. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
I couldn’t work the hours I do on my blog if I didn’t have a deep passion not only for cooking and food, but sharing and helping my readers about the food I love.
But I do blog with intention. Strategically. With the objective of growing and increasing readership.
3. MY BLOG GROWTH STRATEGY
Having a very clear growth strategy has been key to building my blog because it keeps me really focussed. It’s something that’s ingrained in me from all those years of business planning in corporate! Here is my three pronged approach to blog growth:
a) Attracting New Traffic;
b) Converting New Traffic into Long Term Readers; and
c) Keeping my Long Term Readers engaged.
Everything I do is aimed at one of those objectives. In most cases, they fit into all three.
My growth strategy is very simple, but having this clear in my mind means that I am very focussed on why I do things and what to do.
At this stage, it is worth noting that I did not include “connecting” with other bloggers in the list. That’s not to say that I don’t – I do. I love meeting new people, and “networking” is how I learn new things. But I do not make it a daily task to comment on X blogs each day. I don’t “suck up” to power bloggers nor try to create a blogging “tribe”.
That just isn’t my style. I’m all about doing what comes naturally. I follow blogs that inspire me. I support my friends. And it’s the blogging philosophy that underlies what I share here on FBC.
4. TOP 7 THINGS I DID TO GROW MY BLOG
So here’s the list you were waiting for. These are the top 7 things I did that I believe contributed to the traffic growth I achieved.
1. Strong Pitch and/or Creative Recipes
Did you think I’d have photography as #1? The reason I don’t is because the photos of some of the popular recipes on my blog aren’t the best!
There is no doubt in my mind that having a strong pitch and/or creative and unique recipes are the reason that I was able to drawn in large amounts of new traffic from early on. The key similarities between all my most popular recipes from the early days that gave me my traffic boost are:
- they are easy;
- they have a strong selling point – e.g. popular take out made at home; and/OR
- look good – think stretchy cheese, cute bites; and/OR
- are something a little different.
Not all of them are amazingly original or creative. Don’t think you need to come up with a ground breaking new recipe! But all my early recipes that “went viral” are either unique/creative or have a strong selling point which I emphasise (or in a few cases, both).
NOTE: Something I am very conscious of is staying away from main stream “popular potential” recipes. Quinoa, cauliflower crust pizza, one pot pastas, buffalo anything, Mexican anything. Or if I do something in that “space”, I try to do something different. Why? Because the blogosphere is saturated with recipes in that space. Why compete with the power bloggers? Stand out by doing something different.
If you want to read more on this topic, I’ve written up two posts:
– “Sell” Your Recipes: think about why you love the recipe you’re sharing. And emphasise that point!
– Creative Recipes and Food With A “Pitch”: looking at the common characteristics and the strength of the “selling point”of the most popular recipes on my blog.
The 2nd key thing is photography. It goes without saying that good photos = standing out on social media + increased engagement on your blog.
I invested an enormous amount of time to learn food photography – fast. I took 22,000 photos in 2 months (that’s an average of 350 per day). I read books, took online courses and was thirsty for more. I spent hours everyday in the early months practising, practising, practising.
Those first few months were the most frustrating. Because there are so many resources “out there”, so full of endless “tips” – but I didn’t want tips! I wanted someone to just TELL me what to do!
So it took thousands of hours of practice to “figure things out” for myself. It is so satisfying when little things “click”. Every week, I noticed my photos getting better and better. Every week, I learnt at least one new thing about photography – whether self taught or read somewhere, or a tips from a pro.
Most people can’t afford the time investment that I spent on learning food photography. I am really focussed on creating resources here in FBC that are truly practical to try to teach you how to to step up your food photos. Not just endless tips and fluffy words about “hard work” and lots of practice. Actual “how to” guides. So tune into FBC so you don’t miss out on any tips!
UPDATE: My book, The Food Photography Book, is now available! This is the book I wish I had when I started out where I reveal all the ground breaking secret tips that I figured out that made all the difference. Learn more here, including truly remarkable “before and after” examples!
3. Reducing Bounce Rate (i.e. increasing page views per reader)
I increased page views on my blog by 25% by focussing on this.
Being so new to the “blogosphere”, and also living in Australia though most of my readership is US (which means sponsored post opportunities through ad networks are limited), the fastest way for me to start monetising my blog was through ads. And the amount of revenue you generate from ads is heavily dependent on page views.
And I figured the easiest way to immediately increase page views was to put in some effort to increase the number of page views per visitor. So invest around as much time increasing / maintaining the average page views per visitor as I do attracting new readers to my blog.
Back in September 2014 when I first starting putting ads on my blog, I devoted a good chunk of time to experimenting and exploring how I could increase the average page views per reader. Within a few days, I increased my blog page views by 25% by increasing the average page views from 1.2 pages per reader to 1.5 pages. To put that into perspective, if you are getting 100,000 page views a month, it would increase to 125,000 without increasing the number of people visiting your blog.
I started to write more about this topic here and it got lengthy so I’ll refer you to a post I specifically wrote on this topic: 5 Things I Did To Increase Page Views by 25% (Almost Overnight)
4. Casting a “wide net”
I used to spend an enormous amount of time trying to discover new ways to promote my content. Things I tried included endless recipe sharing sites, joining Facebook groups, trying to “connect” with other bloggers, countless hours trying to increase my reach on Pinterest…
I am exhausted thinking thinking about it!
But casting a “wide net” is what led to a handful of things paying off. You never, ever know what will take off and where. Sometimes, it’s just about a particular pin being seen by a “power pinner” at the right time which can lead to a recipe going viral almost overnight. Or landing on the front page of Yummly with the right recipe at the right time (for me, it happened to be Pumpkin Soup – I know, so boring – during October, when America was going pumpkin-mad!).
My point here is that you’ll see many suggestions here on FBC about different ways to promote your content. Other than just Food Gawker and TasteSpotting which are the two better known recipe sharing sites (though I’ve got some drafts in mind that is going to challenge your mindset about these two being the “best” out there!). And by trying them out, you’ll find out which ones you get the best traction from.
5. A True Source For Recipes
One of my 3 Blog Growth “Prongs” is is keeping my long term readers engaged and encouraging return visitors (not just via mail list subscription). So I have been extremely focussed on building a portfolio of recipes in 3 key categories that readers can browse for inspiration: easy dinners, party food and breakfast/brunch.
Categories I have not focussed on include: sweets, drinks and sides. That way, when readers click on the Dinners, Party Food and Brunch menus, there are plenty of recipes to choose from. As opposed to having many categories and less recipes in each.
No one can do it all, even if you’ve been blogging for years (except Simply Recipes who I think has 700+ recipes on her site!!). So select your niche, and do them well. That doesn’t mean I never blog sweets. It just means that’s not where my focus is.
This is a fairly unique “key tip” (I think). I’ve certainly never read it before. I stumbled on it accidentally when I first started out. I wanted to create a free cookbook as incentive to sign up to my mail list. And I wanted that cookbook to have a specific “theme” (which was “15 Minute Meals”). So I blogged lots of 15 Minute Meals in those early days, then I used those same recipes to create my first free cookbook.
And the evidence that this works? I’ve been really humbled and honoured to hear from readers (and friends!) that they actually now just come to my blog for easy dinner ideas instead of recipes sites they used to use. I truly believe that this is a key reason why almost 25% of my page views each month are return visitors. I figure if they didn’t see my blog as an actual source for recipes, they wouldn’t keep my blog bookmarked as a source for recipes.
PS Just throwing it out there….there are a lot of blogs with many “meals” on them….not many focussed just on smoothies or cocktails, hmm….??
6. My focus is always on my greatest asset – my readers
The greatest asset of every business are their clients and customers. Not their cranes, intellectual property, real estate or whatever their business activity is.
I apply this philosophy to my blog. So no matter what I am working on for my blog, I am always thinking about my readers. For example:
Is the way I have my recipes organised easy for my readers to browse when they need dinner ideas? Nope, it can be improved.
- Not all readers open every email I send them for new posts. What are the most popular types of recipes? They must enjoy those, I’ll do more of them.
- If I use this Opt In plug in, will it annoy my readers? Yes, it will because it annoys me. OK, so I’ll invest in Opt In Monster so I can control when it appears.
- A brand wants to work with me and it’s a product that my readers will love (my favourite Australian wine brand that’s also sold overseas). Should I take the money they are offering me or should I accept the products they are offering for me to giveaway to readers that has a retail value of more than double what they are offering me in cash?
- Easter is coming up! I don’t have enough recipes on my blog to do Easter menus. But I’ll help my readers out by giving them some ideas by doing a round up from my favourite blogs!
- What freebies can I give my readers?
7. I Just Keep My Head Down….
My last tip is this….I don’t get caught up in “cliques” or blogging politics. Politics, what politics? 🙂 I am sure it exists. I am well aware who the “power bloggers” are. I am well aware that blogging is (ultimately) no different to office politics or the school playground.
I just choose not to participate.
That’s very different from connecting with and “cyber-socialising” with people. And following and commenting on blogs I truly admire – which I do ( but even then, not obsessively).
But I do not get caught up in blogger politics, I don’t “suck up” to power bloggers, nor do I have a clique or exclusive group of any kind. Who has the time? 🙂
This is also the philosophy that underpins Food Bloggers Central. When I started blogging, it was like starting a new school. I was that kid in the corner of the playground, eating lunch by myself. I have since made some awesome blogging friends (you know who you are! ❤︎ ). But I wanted to create a place that anyone could come to and a group that anyone can join to connect with other bloggers, make friends, ask for help – and have fun!!
PS If you haven’t already, join the Food Bloggers Central Facebook Group! It’s really active so you can chat with other bloggers, ask for help and do shout outs to participate in recipe round ups!
So there you have it, in a nutshell! I have so much more to share with you, and honestly, the hardest thing about writing this post was making sure I didn’t ramble on for even longer than I already have!
Food Bloggers Central is where I will share more details on tips for everything I have done and do on my blog to grow it and get it to where it is today.