Building My Blog – July 2016



Welcome to my 25th monthly blog update, all about what I got up to behind the scenes of Charlotte’s Lively Kitchen in July 2016.

Apologies that the post is a bit late this month. One of the reason I blog is that it is something I can fit around the boys and the summer holidays have meant that the balance between blogging and spending time with my family has shifted. We’ve been having a great summer with Daniel’s 6th birthday (keep an eye out for his cake over the next few days), a trip down to London and lots of days out, but it has meant that I’ve not had as much time on here as I usually do.

As you know (if you’re a regular reader) I’ve been slowly moving towards earning money from my blog so as the blog building has been a bit quiet, I thought I’d share some tips for getting started with sponsored posts instead.

building my blog july 2016

A little bit of background (skip this if you’re a regular reader, I say the same thing every month!)

For anybody that’s new to these updates and is wondering what on earth I’m going on about, I write these posts each month as a way to keep me focussed on building my blog (fear of sitting down to write the report and finding I have nothing to say is great for ensuring I keep trying new things). It is also to try and help other bloggers (or people thinking of getting started) to learn from what I’ve tried and to copy the good bits and avoid some of my mistakes. I also share all of my blog’s key stats so you can see how it’s going and decide whether my advice is worth listening to or not!

What I got up to in July…

I said in my report last month that my priority in July was to ensure that I fulfilled all of my paid work to a high standard and on time, and as a result I don’t have lots of new tips for you as I’ve not tried out many new blog building ideas. However, I realised that I’ve never really talked about paid work before as it’s something I’ve grown little by little with no one big thing to write about each month. I’ve now reached a stage where I have a few paid posts each month (I suspect I could have more but I’m limiting how much I take on at the moment as I don’t want to over-commit myself before Josh starts school) so I thought it might be useful to pull together all the things I’ve done to get started with paid posts on my blog.

Where to find sponsored posts

I’ve not yet reached the point where I want to go and pitch to companies to work with them, all of the companies I work with are actively looking for bloggers to work with and I’ve found them/they’ve found me through one of the following…

  • Most of my opportunities have come though my contact form, which you can get to from my main menu and PRs and companies use to email me directly about working with them. The important thing about having a contact form is that you need people to find you in the first place – I’ve found that the number of companies I’ve had contacting me increased significantly once I’d reached the top 100 of the Foodies 100 (as they publish a list of the top 100 blogs on their site so you’re much easier to find). I also have my blog listed on My Taste Top Food Blogs and Top 100 Food Blogs so companies can find me through those too.
  • Another place I’ve consistently found sponsored post opportunities is though the Flea Ents Bulletin Board Facebook group. It’s run by the people behind the Foodies 100 and they post a number of opportunities in there which you can apply for.
  • You can find opportunities though the #PRRequest hashtag on Twitter. There’s a very mixed bag on this hashtag as it’s used by a lot of people for a number of different reasons, but in amongst everything else there are companies searching for bloggers to work with. It’s how I discovered that Oven Pride were look for a food blogger to work with on a number of recipe videos, something that I’m now working with them on for the next few months.
  • I know some of the companies I’ve worked with come and read the comments and I’ve had a couple of instances where I’ve left a comment on a blog or social media post and then had the company come and approach me about working together.

I’m also registered with a number of other companies such as The Blogger Programme, Bloggers Required and Indahash, but I’ve not actually found any opportunities though those sites as yet.

I started working with Oven Pride after discovering they were looking for bloggers when they used the #PRRequest Hashtag

Have some examples of your work

Several people I’ve worked with have asked to see some examples of my previous work. If you’re just starting out then you won’t have any paid work to show them, so instead make sure you have some examples of what posts could be like on your blog to show them instead. For example, if you want companies to send you products to review then write reviews of products you’ve bought yourself so you can show them examples of what your reviews would be like and also have an idea of how popular they are amongst your readers.

When I was just getting started I also took some posts where I wrote a recipe in return for being provided with just ingredients. I decided quite early on that I wasn’t going to continue down this route as I was committing a lot of time and effort to them and not really getting anything in return for it all, but they are a great way to build up a portfolio of work to show other companies. Whilst I don’t take these opportunities any more, I don’t regret the ones I did take and would do it again if I was just starting out.

A few of the recipes I created in return for ingredients when I was getting started

Make sure you do a great job

This probably goes without saying but I always strive to do the best I possibly can on all sponsored posts to the point where I’ve gone back and retaken pictures or remade videos just to ensure they are as good as possible. I also make an extra special effort to promote the posts as widely as possible using photo submission sites, linkys and boosting posts on social media to ensure they are seen by my followers (because you know how unpredictable Facebook can be for deciding whether to show your posts to people!).

I’m now in a position where because PRs/companies have been happy with the work I’ve done I’ve had them come back to me for more work which is fantastic.

Know what you have to offer

There are a lot of food bloggers out there so it’s important to understand why you think a company should pay you to work with them – quite simply, what do they get out of it?

As I mentioned before, I currently only work with companies that are looking for bloggers to work with (this point is even more important if you’re pitching to companies that don’t usually work with bloggers) so I don’t need to convince them to work with a blogger, just that I’m the one they want to choose ahead of everyone else.

The great thing about blogs is that every one is different and each one has something different to offer a company. In order to get a company to want to work with you over and above all the other bloggers out there you need to know what makes you stand out. For me I’d say my biggest selling points are…

  • My photography – Not only will the post look good on my blog, but the photographs are also of a high enough standard to be shared on their websites or social media.
  • I rank well on Google – some people have a much bigger social media following than me, but within a week or so of them publishing a post visits will die down and that post will get minimal visits from then on. The fact that I rank well on Google means that there’s a chance that their post will rank well and therefore visits will go on and on giving the company ongoing promotion.
  • I promote my posts as widely as possible – using Pinterest group boards to get more views on my pins, submitting the recipes to food photosharing sites such as Foodgawker and participating in linkys which grow interaction and social sharing.

Don’t forget to pay your tax

If you’re earning ANY money from your blog no matter how small you need to ensure you’ re registered as self employed. There’s lot’s of information over on the HMRC website so I’d suggest you head over there and have a read.

Tell the world that your posts are sponsored

The official guidance on this is vague which is unhelpful, I’d much prefer it was clearer with a definite set of rules rather than being open to interpretation as then I could know I was definitely doing the right thing. I’d recommend you have a read up of the ASA regulations and make your own mind up on how to declare sponsored content, but I thought I’d share what I do.

Personally I prefer to know up front if a post I’m reading is sponsored by a company or not, on that basis if I’ve been paid to publish a post on my blog then I’ll state it’s sponsored and who by right at the start. I also ensure that this is included in the post excerpt so it’s clear it’s sponsored in my RSS feed and emails.

For social media posts, if I’m being paid specifically to post on social media then I’ll used the #sponsored, #sp or #ad hashtags. If I’m promoting a sponsored post on social media that I’ll use these hashtags where the company is tagged, shown in images or I’m using a hashtag they’ve requested. My theory is that if the company is clear in a social media post then that post could be seen as advertising the company without the reader needing to click through to my blog and see that it’s actually paid for. If the company isn’t clear in the social media post then the company isn’t actually getting any promotion from that social media post so I don’t declare it with a hashtag, as they then click though to the blog post they’ll then see the company mentioned and it clearly declared as sponsored.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 20.26.44

An example of how I declare a post is sponsored

Understand follow v no follow links

Whenever I do sponsored posts I always use “no follow” links. If you’re unfamiliar with the difference between the two it’s all down to what Google sees…

When you add a link to your site Google sees it as a little thumbs up for the page you’ve linked too. The more links a page has to it the more Google thinks people are recommending it and so the higher it puts it in the search results. If you use a no follow link then Google basically ignores that link and so the page you’re linking to doesn’t get a boost in its rankings from the fact you’ve linked to it.

Google doesn’t want people boosting their position in search results by simply buying links from other sites so they recommend that all paid for links are changed to no follow. If Google find that you’ve taken payment for a post and not changed the links to no follow they could penalise your site meaning that you stop appearing in search results. Given that Google is by far my highest source of visitors I’ve no desire to get penalised so I always ensure that the links are no follow.

There are a few ways to change your links to no follow. The way I do it is to go into my text editor and add the words rel=”nofollow” after the URL of the page I’m linking to.

What to charge for sponsored posts

What to charge for sponsored posts seems to always be a popular topic amongst bloggers. I think it’s something that’s actually pretty tricky to work out as every blog is different and the amount of time each blogger will spend on a post will vary, as will the quality of the output and what the company will get out of working with you.

When I’m working out how much to charge for sponsored posts I look at the amount of time I expect it to take (developing the recipe, photographing, writing it up and promoting it) and then multiply it by my hourly rate. I then add costs (ingredients or special equipment required specifically for the post). Finally, I add in a premium for the fact it’s being published on my blog/social media. There are a number of reasons that people want to work with me but one of the key ones is the fact that I have a decent number of social media followers and the fact that I can attract a good level of visitors to my posts. This happens not because of that post but because of the time and effort I’ve put into building it up my social media followers, subscribers and Google rankings in the past. This time is essentially unpaid so I add a premium onto my sponsored posts rate to cover some of this time. This premium also covers investment I’ve made into equipment such as my photography equipment and props, the running costs of my blog and computer software.

I don’t have advertising on my blog and therefore I don’t get any return for simple pageviews. However, it’s worth considering whether you can get additional income for sponsored posts and then discounting this from the fee you’re charging.

All the numbers…

After three very flat months it was nice to see a little increase to what was my second best ever month 🙂

CLK visitors July 2016

Charlottes Lively Kitchen – Visitors

CLK page views July 2016

Charlottes Lively Kitchen – Pageviews

If you’re looking at these graphs and wondering what caused any changes in the past you can find all my old reports in my monthly reports index.

So where did all of these visitors come from…

  1. Google – 40,797 (+15%)
  2. Pinterest – 11,655 (+14%)
  3. Direct – 11,430 (+4%)
  4. People – 1,026 (+354%)
  5. Yummly – 653 (-17%)
  6. UK Pinterest – 525 (+27%)
  7. Bing – 495 (+52%)
  8. Facebook Mobile – 447 (-50%)
  9. Tumblr – 441 (-50%)
  10. MSN – 335 (+50%)

My Cheese Stuffed Burgers were featured on People at the end of June (which then led to more visits in July) and I think my Peppercorn Sauce was featured on MSN (I didn’t find it on there, but that’s what everyone from there was looking at) which gave me a boost this month, but the biggest boost actually came from increases in Google and Pinterest. I’ve had a couple of recipes start to rank well on Google which has led to a 15% increase in visitors from there – hopefully a sign that all the effort we’ve been putting into SEO over the past few months is starting to pay off.

Yummly is still looking very sad with another big drop (and signs for August so far aren’t great from there either) 🙁

Homemade-Stuffed-Cheese-Burgers-11

My cheese stuffed burgers were featured on People.com

Followers

Last month I predicted that it wouldn’t be long before Pinterest became my most popular social network. I hadn’t expected it to happen so soon, but this month it’s just overtaken Instagram.

In addition to the Instagram/Pinterest switch, I did reach a couple of social media milestones this month which is always a good moment, hitting 1000 followers on Facebook and reaching over 2000 email subscribers. The email subscribers milestone was a bit bitter-sweet though as reaching the 2k mark has meant that I now have to pay for my email plugin, which had previously been free.

CLK followers July 2016

Charlottes Lively Kitchen – Social Media Followers

My plans for August

As I said before, my main plan is to enjoy the summer holidays with my boys, ensure I meet all of my paid work commitments, and try and share a few bits and pieces on here too.

Seeing as August is likely to be another quiet month for blog building next month’s report will be similar to this one – going into something I’ve done but not really covered in these reports before. If there’s any particular topics you’d especially like me to talk about then please let me know in the comments.


Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

31 Comments:

  1. Once again and brilliantly informative post packed with useful information for us newbies. I really enjoy reading these posts as well as the rest of your fabulous blog

  2. Another great read Charlotte. Thanks for giving me an insight into how things work, I had a vague idea about Google no follow links so it’s great to find out the details. I joined the Flea Ents Facebook group the other month and I’ve just applied for a sponsored post. I’m not sure whether I fit their criteria so fingers crossed, your post couldn’t be better timed. Sarah x

  3. I appreciate this post Charlotte, I have been thinking going forward on and off whether I should begin writing sponsored or recipe development blog posts as a way of earning income and this has indeed given me some food for thought and I appreciate your honestly and openness in sharing. Though I have not yet gone down that path, I am open to the idea – so if you have any further recommendations or referrals mostly in Wales, please do not hesitate to let me know via e mail. Thank you so much in advance Shaheen

    • Where abouts in Wales are you Shaheen? I’m up in the North not far from the English border.

      I’ll definitely keep sharing if I find more places to get opportunities as I find them. As Josh gets settled at nursery I hope I’ll have a bit more time to look out for more.

      • I live in the Welsh Valleys in Caerphilly area, but I frequent most of South Wales )(Cardiff), South East Wales and Swansea area. Many Cardiff Welsh bloggers I know, have gone done the food restaurant review route and got picked up, but I’ve deliberately avoided that as I don’t want to be a pretentious food critic, I am more open to recipe creation ideas and trying new products, though I would never say no to an invitation to eat out – not happened yet though 🙂 Keep smiling and thank you.

  4. Hi, I really enjoyed reading your post, I like your straightforward frank approach and your generosity in sharing your experiences. I have now subscribed to your blog and am looking forward t reading your next report. Thank you!

  5. Hi Charlotte. I’ve just started reading your blog and will be going through your previous building blog posts as they’re great reading for a fairly new blogger. This might be a really stupid question, sorry, but I’m a busy mum too and I find I end up blogging a lot of meals I cook for dinner, so I then don’t have much time to photograph and the light is usually terrible. I know I should be photographing during the day but I’m really worried about waste – some food will heat up later for dinner, but some won’t. Do you find you end up with waste or am I missing some obvious solution to this? Would appreciate your thoughts 🙂

    • Like you I try and save/re-heat as much as I can, but unfortunately I do find that some food goes to waste. I used to worry about it more but now I simply treat it as the cost of making the recipe. I also sometimes end up eating some very unusual lunches to get the food eaten rather than throwing it away! I know some bloggers that take a different approach whereby they make their food at the normal time and try and get the pictures taken as quickly as possible before handing them out to their family for dinner. I found this approach quite stressful as I like to take my time over the pictures but it seems to work for them. Depending on how quickly you can take your pictures then this approach can work well, most people recommend using natural light for pictures but there are things you can do to still take good pictures in lower light… using specialist photography lamps (I have a Lowel Ego lamp which I use if the light is terrible), setting a really slow shutter speed on your camera (the longer the shutter is open then more light is let in and the brighter your pictures look, you need a tripod and remote for this approach though otherwise your pictures will end up blurry), taking your photographs in RAW (this allows a lot more to be done in editing where you can then brighten them up).
      I hope this helps and good luck with your blog x

  6. I found out about your blog mid-August when looking for a cake recipe for my partners birthday. Your cherry marzipan cake was brilliant as he loves both these ingredients! I doubled the quantities using a big square cake tin and cooked it longer. Great success, everyone loved it even his best friend who used to run a restaurant. I shall definitely use it again, thanks a lot.

  7. Another fab Building My Blog – thank you! I really enjoyed reading this…I’ve done a few sponsored things and would very much like to do more…I really enjoy the challenge of meeting a brief and I love writing about a brand/product. What really caught my eye in this, though, is that you have hit 2000 subscribers – that’s fab! Have you written about how you achieved that in any of your previous posts? If not I’d love to know more about that in a future Building My Blog 🙂 Eb x

    • I was pleasantly surprised when I realised that I’d hit 2000 too! There are two key things I’ve done to grow my subscribers… 1) The subscription popup – you can find details of which one in this report. I know that popups get a bit of a bad press and I was unsure I wanted one, but it made such a noticeable difference to signups it had to stay. I’ve ensured it looks right on all devices, is easily closed and only appears once a month so hopefully isn’t too annoying for regular visitors. One v. important thing to note is that I was reading today that Google are thinking of dropping sites with popups down the mobile search rankings so I may well have to get rid of mine as Google is too important to me (I need to read up a bit more first). 2) Adding email subscription as an entry option for giveaways – you’ll find some people unsubscribe as soon as it closes or never open the emails, but inbetween those you find some brilliant new subscribers too.

      • Thanks for all this super helpful info. Working on improving my number of subscribers is a key thing I want to work on this autumn 🙂 Still not sure about popups myself – I generally find them a little bit annoying as a reader (though, I like how much work you’ve put into maying yours un-annoying!) but I can imagine they make quite a difference to your numbers as a blogger…one to think about! Eb x

        • I’ve realise in blogging that it’s all about finding a balance you’re comfortable with and looking at the benefit v impact. I’m glad you think my pop up isn’t too annoying 🙂 I’m not really a huge fan of them, but the difference it made to subscriber numbers made me decide that it’s still worthwhile having. If however it starts to impact on my Google ranking then it’ll be going in an instant and I’ll have to look for another solution to getting people to subscribe.

          Good luck with growing your list… oh, and I spotted your new Foodies ranking today, you must be pleased 🙂

          • Oh my goodness I hadn’t spotted it – I must have looked at my site like a million times today, as you do, and didn’t notice!! Thanks for pointing it out I am OVER THE MOON! I literally just checked it yesterday and was disappointed to see that I had gone down in August, but this has just made my day! I thought it would take a lot longer to get into the top 250….

            Oh wow, I’ve just checked to see what number you are……EIGHT!?! Wow – now, you must be seriously chuffed – that’s AWESOME!!! Well done!!! Right, I shall stop getting over excited all over your comments and go and get some work done 🙂 Eb x

          • I thought you’d be pleased 🙂 I’m not surprised you’re up there at all, you work so hard on your blog and it seems to be going from strength to strength. I’m still at the point of expecting them to realise an error with mine and pop me back down a bit, I’ll get excited if I’m still somewhere up there in a month or so.

  8. Really great advise here. Im new to blogging and there is so much to learn.It’s nice when someone who finds success shares their tips. I will definetly be putting your tips to work on my blog.#brillblogposts

    • Thanks Becci. I’m so glad to be able to share my successes with you all as I start writing these posts in my first month of blogging when I only had a handful of visitors (me, my mum and some spam I think!). I hope you find the tips useful, if there’s ever anything you’d like to know more about just let me know.

  9. Saved this post for when I finally decide to start making something proper of my blog! I’ve looked at a ton of ‘monetising your blog’ and even read through two ‘blogging for dummies’ books, and they’re all wishy washy and mostly useless! Thanks again for being so clear, direct, and helpful! 😀

    • Thanks Martin. I hope the tips are useful when you finally start to monetise, if you need any advice when that time comes then just let me know.

  10. Fab post and I love the look of your blog. Your photos are superb and as for your stats well. A blogger can dream! #brillblogposts

    • Thanks Rach. I’m so glad you like the photos as I’ve put a lot of time into improving them, it’s always great to hear it’s been worth the effort.

  11. Thanks Charlotte, that’s really helpful. I shall add this to my ever growing list of ‘Things to do in September’ – though I’m very doubtful all the things on that list will get done before 2017!! I find it so frustrating how little time there is to do all the things I want to on my blog – there’s so many lovely things I could be doing and so little time!!! Interesting what you say about Google, though – maybe I should hold off for a few months anyway… Xx

    • Glad I’m not the only one with a ridiculously long to-do list. I just about managed to keep on top of the urgent tasks, I can’t remember the last time I ticked something off my should-do-at-some-point list.

  12. Such a useful post Charlotte, I’m bookmarking this so I can come bake to it when I have a bit more time to work through your recommendations. I’ve not hit the dizzying height of being in the top 100 of foodies 100 yet, but when my blog’s SEO score reached a certain point I found I had several companies contact me for sponsored posts. I’m relieved that we’ve inerpreted the google guidelines regarding follow and no-follow links the same as yourself because I’ve sadly had to turn down a number of sponsored posts because they were wanting follow links rather than no-follow! I’d much rather play ball by the rules, rather than taking a nice pay cheque or two only to find that my ranking suffers further down the line.
    Looking forard to next months post
    Angela x

    • It’s disappointing to have to turn down posts because of follow links but like you I’m just not prepared to take the risk. I’ve had a couple that have asked for follow links and non-disclosure that it’s a sponsored post (so Google won’t notice that there’s a paid follow link) who then try and convince that I’m wrong about my interpretation of the rules. I steer well clear of these companies.

      Still plenty of time to get in the the top 100, I think they’re in the middle of some changes at the moment so hopefully that’ll work to your advantage.

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