EPISODE 027: HOW NOT TO RUN YOUR BLOGGING BUSINESS WITH SARAH COOK
Blog Title: Sustainable Cooks
About Sarah: Sarah Cook is the founder of Sustainablecooks.com. Sustainable Cooks is all about sustainable food and balanced living.
Over the years she has made it her mission to help busy people and families find room in their lives for real food cooking. Sarah believes in meeting people where they are and encouraging baby steps to a healthier and more sustainable life. She hopes each post gives readers the confidence to think "hey, I can do that".
Sarah believes few things can't be fixed with delicious food, an authentic voice, and plenty of snark.
Notes from Episode #027: How Not To Run A Blog
Fun Fact about Sarah: Her husband used to be a “grip” in television. A grip works with lighting and electrical on set. He worked on a lot of reality shows when they were getting really popular and one of the sets he worked at was Hell’s Kitchen. He got to bring home things from the set when the season was over and one year he brought home a lot of chopsticks!
Sarah began her blogging journey in 2010. It was called “Frugal By Choice, Cheap By Necessity”. Red flag #1! You can’t have a long blog name. But back then blog’s were more like diary’s and her husband had just been laid off and she had left a job so they were in a season of having to be frugal.
In 2014, Sarah transitioned from blogger, to a self-hosted wordpress site, to rebranding. She had a lot of redirects! In 2017 she wanted to quit blogging altogether. Sarah found she wasn’t motivated and had no traffic so she was ready to throw in the towel.
Then she stumbled onto a Food Blogger Pro podcast. She heard the term “search engine optimization” for the first time. From there she got motivated to revamp her site (like getting a recipe card on the blog posts!) and following advice she learned from others on the podcast and other places she was eagerly learning from. Previously, Sarah had written all about herself and never thought about the audience on the other side. From that moment on, her site did a complete 180 and since then she has done 1000 little things to help her business both technically and in the voice she wrote with in sharing her recipes.
Sarah really learned to make the tools work for her that were all offered.
Then, one day, although Sarah knew she wasn’t a techy person, she got this great idea to change her permalink structure, by herself. Poorly. So right before Christmas, In the 4th quarter, Sarah was once again stressed and had broken all her most popular pins.
What Sarah did next was what turned the tide. She had an audit with Casey Markee in May of 2018. He gave her confidence to delete old things that didn’t reflect her brand and would never update for any reason. At that time, she had 3700 posts. So she began to delete a lot of unimportant content, then optimized what she was left with. Sarah’s type A personality found it freeing from deleting these older posts that would never help her. Looking at what she had left, it wasn’t as overwhelming and she began to create recipe cards for what was relevant. Casey instructed Sarah to no-index any content that she wanted to keep but wasn’t going to get ranking from Google on.
When thinking about old content and what you want to share, you should remember Google only gives you only so much crawl allowance every day/week/month and if Google is wasting your crawl allowance on old stuff that isn’t up to snuff, your new stuff isn’t going to get looked at.
Another reason her audit with Casey Markee was valuable was Sarah was able to receive technical help. When she originally created posts in the past, she included dates in the URL’s so she had redirects on them.
Sarah has found, in looking at her traffic, that her most popular posts are from Sundays when she shares her meal plan. She also finds that this is the day she can chat more in her posts because her die-hard readers are following along. She also gets the most affiliates on Sundays and sees the highest traffic so its a win. However, her Sunday posts are no-indexed. Then the rest of the week, she’s gearing her posts towards the Google audience, new readers, etc.
Back in 2010, blogs were more like a diary and everything was “I”. Now, her writing voice is a “we” instead of “me”. Sara has an avatar named May. She is “the one person you’re writing to.” This is most likely YOU two years ago. What do you wish you could’ve told May (yourself) two years ago. Is this going to help her life? Is this helpful? This helps Sarah keep focused on what she shares.
4 distinct audiences come from Google for Sarah’s blog. Her avatar is not going to be all of those people represented, and that’s ok. But the bulk of your content should at least be targeted and helpful to “May” in some way. Not everything is going to resonate with your entire audience but most of it should.
Sarah explains it this way: We all want to be Luke Skywalker. But as bloggers, we need to be Yoda. Our readers need to feel like they’re Luke Skywalkers. So all of our training and everything we do is to help our readers be the hero of their own story.
Sarah used to publish a post and then never thought to update it or improve on it. She was just on to the next thing. But now she’s thinking about how is this going to be fit in with other themes, other posts, how is this going to improve my readers lives better? Sarah learned the value of changing her mindset of ignoring old posts to improving on them, polishing them and republishing them. This is so important. Now many of those are top posts.
Sarah invested in competitive keyword search term programs. The free stuff works for a bit but eventually you need to invest in your blog. It helps you to figure out how to rank on Google. But remember! You can change the title of a post but don’t change the slug.
Getting a new site was a good investment. She did a whole rebrand and a site design. She at that time took pinterest course (Pinning perfect) that taught her a lot. She joined Facebook groups which was a lot of free help and is invaluable.
Where to invest first: Sarah’s recommendation is photography. You could have all the best key words but without good photos to stop someone from looking at another site and stopping at yours, your readers just won’t find you. It’s important to get out there though and put what you have up the best you know how to today. Understand that the photos you take today might make you unhappy 4 months from now but they were better than they were 4 mos ago. Just keep taking steps to improve.
For free help and one of the best things you can do is to type in the name of your recipe post in Google and look at the top 10 results on the first page. Ask yourself, what do they have in common? Do they have long titles? Do they have good meta descriptions? What questions are showing up in the People Also Ask box on Google for ideas of what to incorporate into your post so it's a natural ask and answer. This information allows you to anticipate what your audience might ask. Also, read through some of those top 10 posts. Specifically, read the comments at the bottom to see what people are commenting on about the recipe and then you can come up with some natural information to make your post relevant too.
Pack your teaser text at the top of your recipe posts with keywords.
Use H2 headings on the questions you sprinkle in your posts and answer them in regular text.
Anytime you publish a post, make a note to go back into old posts and link your new post 5x. 5 isn’t a magic number but pick an amount you want to accomplish and get them linked. You can get growth with this technique.
If you have older roundups you’ve done, go back and update the list with newer content. Make a new pin and then get it out into Pinterest.
Have a lot of grace for yourself. Food blogging is hard to do and it’s hard to do well.
Favorite quote: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
Helpful references from the episode: