This post is part of a 3-part series:
- How To Start Your Food Blog
- How To Grow Your Food Blog (the post you're currently reading)
- How To Monetize Your Food Blog
How To Grow A Food Blog
Now that your food blog is up and running, how do you grow your food blog? How do you get the world's eyeballs on those tantalizing recipes you're whipping up in the kitchen?
This is a HUGE topic with SO many potential rabbit trails. But I (Brett) don't want to get you stuck going down those rabbit trails. I want you to focus.
I'm a big believer in focus. Scattered light can light a room, but the same amount of focused light concentrated in a laser can cut through diamonds! That's the power of focus. And that's what it takes to grow a food blog... laser-like focus on what produces results.
4 Keys To Growing Your Food Blog
I want to distill all of the overwhelming information out there on the web into 4 key areas:
- Recipe submission sites
1. Learn How To Optimize Your Food Blog For SEO
As I write this, we're exploring hiring a virtual assistant to go back through Faith's old posts to optimize them for SEO. You don't want to do that! You want to write SEO optimized posts from the start!
Here's why: Over the lifetime of The Conscientious Eater, 46% of all traffic has come from Google.
And get this... 13% of all traffic has come from one post - Homemade Oat Milk - that Faith wrote back on Halloween 2014, right after she started this blog!
Go ahead and Google "Homemade Oat Milk" and you'll see why. Faith's post on how to make Homemade Oat Milk is usually #1 out of 6,720,000 results!
That post, currently with over 150,000 pageviews at a $10 RPM* is worth $1,500. That value will continue to grow as people keep searching "Homemade Oat Milk" every day!
*RPM is Revenue Per 1,000 pageviews. I explain RPM in the How We 5x'd Our Blog Income In 3 Months post.
You want to create as many posts like that as possible from the start!
UPDATE 03/2020: We ended up losing our #1 ranking for Homemade Oat Milk because we didn't pay enough attention to page load speed for that page.
Because the was an old post, the images weren't optimized with Short Pixel, so the file sizes were huge, so the page took a long time to load. In Google's algorithm updates, they started penalizing pages with slow load times and we got dinged pretty bad!
We bought a one-time package with Short Pixel to optimize all of our images across the site. Their "Glossy" optimization is the best combo of quality of image and size of image.
Should I put ads on my site at the start?
I recommend that you don't put any ads on your site until you average 833 sessions per day. Faith hit this mark a little over a year after she started blogging. (I'll explain why 833 sessions per day is an important threshold in a moment.)
Why not? Ads slow down your site, which hurts your SEO and annoys the users that you want to keep coming back to your site.
What if I need to make back the money ASAP? OK, fine. Sign up for an AdSense account (it's free!) and put one sidebar ad at the bottom of your sidebar and use Q2W3 Fixed Widget to make it sticky. This was by far our best performing ad type on the site when we managed them on our own.
And turn on in-content ads for desktop and mobile because about 80% of views are mobile now!
What would you recommend I do instead of advertising? Sign up for Amazon Associates (it's also free!) and put their affiliate links in your recipe posts. You get paid a commission when someone buys anything on Amazon in the 24 hours after they click on one of your links. AND this doesn't slow down you site at all or annoy users.
Speaking of page speed... keep your plugin use to a minimum! If you're just starting out, there will be a lot you don't know and you will need some plugins to do certain tasks for you, but keep them to a minimum. Always Google, "Will [X plugin] slowdown my site?"
UPDATE 08/2020 One plugin you will want to install that will actually help with you page load speed is WP Rocket which dropped our homepage load speed from 4.5 seconds to a blazing 1.7 seconds!!! (we do our speed testing on Pingdom)
Don't use Shareaholic! Use Social Warfare! You'll likely want some convenient sharing buttons. Shareaholic is very bulky and will slow down your site. We tested it using Pingdom and it really does.
So, we switched to speedy Social Warfare and went for the Pro option. It didn't slow down our site at all! For less than $2.50/month you get Pinterest Share buttons on top of your images and a customizable Pinterest description field that will help your Pinterest SEO. That alone will pay for itself from the traffic it will bring! You can also control what pages the share links are on and where they are on each page. For example, it wouldn't look good to have them on the top of our Shop page. We've been very pleased with Social Warfare and would recommend it in a heartbeat!
Why do you recommend waiting until I average 833 sessions per day to put ads on my site? 833 sessions per day * 30 days = 25,000 sessions. 25,000 sessions is how many sessions you need to apply to MediaVine. MediaVine is How We 5X'd Our Blog Income In 3 Months. They will manage your ads way better than you will. Trust me.
So How Do I Optimize My Recipe Posts For SEO?
This is still way too big of a topic to cover in this post, so here's what I'd recommend... sign up for Food Blogger Pro. They have a whole video course that will cover the basics of SEO optimization.
(I'll be recommending Food Blogger Pro throughout this post because I can't think of a better way to get your food blog started on a great foot.)
2. Continually Improve Your Food Photography
Let me show you some of Faith's before and after shots from going through the Food Photography course on Food Blogger Pro!
Before and After: Golden Milk Chia Seed Pudding Recipe
Before and After: 5 Ingredient Date Sweetened Chickpea Cookie Dough
Isn't that amazing! Well done Faith!
Better photography means more people will be drawn to your recipes, which means more pageviews, which means more money!
When Faith was starting The Conscientious Eater she bought this Canon EOS Rebel SL1 Digital SLR with 18-55mm STM Lens and spent a lot of time figuring out how to take the amazing shots she takes in manual mode. She's since added a few accessories - another lens, a tripod, and a tethering cable.
If you're wanting to get your food photos pinned and virally re-pinned (see #3 - Get Freakishly Good At Pinterest) you will need to continually improve your food photography game.
If you're wanting to get your food photos approved by recipe submission sites (see #4 - Share Your Recipes On Traffic Generating Sites) you need to continually improve your food photography game.
3. Get Freakishly Good At Pinterest
Update June 2022: Pinterest has made a lot of changes to their platform to try to keep people on their platform rather than sending people off of their platform to other sites. With that, the golden age of Pinterest driving a lot of traffic to websites is likely over.
Want to know what Faith's second most viewed post is? Healthy Cookie Dough Overnight Oats.
Here's why: The pin below has been repinned over 115,000 times resulting in 104,000 pageviews! At a $10 RPM, that post is worth $1,040. And that will keep growing as people keep virally pinning and repinning!
Pinterest is easily the #2 driver of traffic to most food blogs. And it makes sense. People are looking for inspiration when they cook and Pinterest is the perfect place to find that through their visual search engine.
1 out of every 5 people that have come to The Conscientious Eater came from Pinterest!
Here's a look at our traffic and their sources since the start:
Here's how to get freakishly good at Pinterest.
- Continually improve your photography so that you can take pictures that people just have to pin and click on!
- Learn how to use Pinterest as a food blogger on Food Blogger Pro's Pinterest course.
- Use Canva (free or $13/mo for paid) or PicMonkey ($6/mo) - photo editing tools to help you easily create attention grabbing pins that can go viral.
- Use Tailwind ($10/mo) - a Pinterest scheduling tool.
4. Submit Your Recipes To Food Submission Sites
What happened on the days below when traffic spiked on The Conscientious Eater back in early 2016?
5 times, Faith's recipes got accepted to FindingVegan.com resulting in an extra 900 - 2,500 pageviews! Here are those all-stars:
January 3, 2016 - 2 Ingredient Banana Oatmeal Pancakes
March 4, 2016 - Vegan Carrot Cake Cupcakes With Cashew Frosting
March 12, 2016 - Vegan Toasted Chocolate Chunk Brownies
April 1, 2016 - Homemade Vegan Twix Bars
April 11, 2016 - Lemon Avocado Chickpea Mash
What happened after that? Why didn't Faith keep getting spikes in traffic? Well...
She stopped submitting her recipes. We don't want that to happen to you, so make submitting your hand-crafted recipes to recipe submission sites a part of your workflow.
Here's how: 18 Recipe Submission Sites - Submit The Fast Way
Recipe submission sites don't automatically keep people coming to your site. They're more useful for traffic spikes. BUT the quality of your site and content will determine how many keep coming back!
Update June 2022: It doesn't seem like Finding Vegan is being kept up any more. The only site we are submitting recipes to now is Foodgawker.
What's Shouldn't I Focus On?
Did you notice what's not included in the 4 Keys To Growing Your Food Blog?
Facebook, Instagram, (now Pinterest) etc etc etc.
This may come as a surprise to you, but those haven't been great drivers of traffic, even with The Conscientious Eater's 41,000+ Instagram followers!
As you can see below, Instagram has only driven 3.6% of total lifetime traffic and Facebook has only driven a paltry 1.2%...
You'll hear different advice on this from different food bloggers. Some say find a way to do it ALL! Others say pick one platform and nail it.
My recommendation is that if you really enjoy being on a certain platform, go for it. If you don't really care to have a food blogging presence on social media***, don't worry about it!
***The exception is Pinterest which I consider to be more of a visual search engine than social media.
If you're not super-active on certain platforms, don't feel pressure to start just to gain a little more traffic. You'll probably hate being on it and your time would be better spent working on something else. Remember, FOCUS!
Where Faith's Instagram account really helps is through sponsored content, which is where brands pay Faith to advertise for them on her Instagram account. It's a great partnership because Faith loves the products that she does sponsored content for and she gets paid to tell her followers about them!
You can learn more about how to do sponsored content on, you guessed it, Food Blogger Pro! That's where we got our Sponsored Content 101.
Food Blogger Pro
I've obviously mentioned Food Blogger Pro a TON in this post... and for good reason. We knew so little about How To Monetize A Food Blog before going through their courses.
Access to all of their courses is only
$29/mo (now $35/mo). We blazed through them all in 2 months, then cancelled. That $58 (now $70) spent will probably be worth $5,800 ($7,000) over the lifetime of The Conscientious Eater, if not more. This small investment in your education will go a LONG WAY.
Pro Tip: Set the video speed to 1.5x to 2x and focus only on the videos... don't multitask.
We'll probably restart our subscription in the future for a month at a time, because they are continually adding new content.
Click on the image below to sign up for Food Blogger Pro!
How To Monetize Your Food Blog
(How We 5X'd Our Food Blog Income in 3 Months!)