Building My Blog – June 2016



Welcome to my 24th monthly blog update, all about what I got up to behind the scenes of Charlotte’s Lively Kitchen in June 2016.

24th update? Yes, that means I’ve now been blogging for a whole 2 years! In some ways I still feel like a complete newbie, but I’m struggling to remember a time before I spent all day long thinking about cooking, photography and social media. I remember after having children wondering what on earth I did to fill my time before they arrived and it’s very much the same feeling I have about blogging.

This month I’m going to be talking about being a loser, my thoughts on Food Blogger Pro and switching from Lightroom to Photoshop for my photo editing.

Behind the scenes of Charlotte's Lively Kitchen including a review of Food Blogger Pro, switching from Lightroom to Photoshop and improving my Pinterest feed

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 June…

Being a loser

As you know I was recently announced as a finalist in two blogging awards – The BiBs (Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Awards) and The MAD (Mum & Dad) Blog Awards for best food blog. The ceremony for the BiBs was held at the Britmums live blogging conference a couple of weeks ago and as you can probably guess from the heading, I didn’t win. The award went to the brilliant Emily Leary from A Mummy Too, who had been a finalist in the past and is a very deserving winner – if you’re not familiar with her blog then go and take a look.

The MADs are held in September so I promise I’ll shut up about awards until then 🙂

Signing up to Food Blogger Pro

I mentioned last month that I’d signed up to Food Blogger Pro – a subscription site for food bloggers run by the highly successful couple behind the Pinch of Yum blog. I’ve previously resisted signing up for two reasons – it’s not cheap ($29 a month) and I’m quite independent, I like figuring things out for myself rather than following a set formula (no matter how tried and tested that formula is).

I realised that being stubborn was a bad reason not to try something that might make my blog better, so I signed up (they operate limited sign up windows meaning you cannot currently join, however you can add your email address and they’ll let you know next time they’re open).

What’s Food Blogger Pro all about?

Food Blogger Pro (FBP) is aimed at beginner to intermediate level food bloggers and is made up of two main parts – video tutorials teaching you about all the basics of food blogging and a forum where you can get help and support from the other members as well as Food Blogger Pro staff. There are also some smaller features such as a nutrition calculator where you input your ingredients and it creates a nice little nutritional information image to display on your post and a page of member discounts and special offers – I signed up for the 1000 free pins on Board Booster, although I haven’t actually tested it out yet.

food-blogger-pro-creatives

What did I think?

I think the most telling thing here is that I am now no longer a member. I think if I’d joined up when I was a newbie blogger I would have loved it, but with 2 years of experience behind me (and the fact I read up on blogging tips a lot) I didn’t feel I was getting a lot of value from it, certainly not enough to justify the $29 monthly fee.

The videos

The videos are split into a number of categories…

  • Getting started – The technical stuff behind physically setting up a wordpress blog and other important features such as Google Analytics. This would have been so useful 2 years ago when I was starting out and in hindsight I may well have gone about things differently if I’d watched the videos back then. If you’re starting out or just switching to wordpress then I’m sure these would be useful.
  • Time management – I thought these were all just common sense and in my opinion would have worked much better as a written post than a video (good time management = not watching a 5 minute video when you can read the same information in 30 seconds 🙂 ).
  • Building traffic – These videos introduced ways to build traffic to your site (e.g. submission sites such as Foodgawker, and social media) and explained how to set them up/submit your content. They didn’t really cover how to then use them to grow your following. The videos also introduced the basics of SEO, but I found I got a lot more detail and practical advice from Howie from Hurry the Food Up’s book (The Complete SEO Guide for Food Bloggers – which I reviewed a few month’s ago).
  • Food photography – these videos covered a lot of the same content as has previously been covered in their Tasty Food Photography e-book which I bought when I first started out. Personally of all the sections I think this works really well as a video as Lindsay shows you what she’s doing as she goes along with some demo photoshoots. If you’re new to using a DSLR then it’s worth signing up for a month just for these videos – I’m sure you’d pay a lot more for similar content from some other online courses.
  • Social Media – This only covered Pinterest and Instagram which is a shame as I would have liked a section on Facebook. The tips and advice didn’t really suggest anything I’ve not read several times over in other places before.
  • Essential tools – This section covered Webmaster Tools (AKA Google Search Console – such a useful tool you really should figure out how to use it if you don’t already), Google Analytics, Google Alerts, FTP, URL shorteners, running giveaways, and Hot Jar – once again if you’re new to these things and want to know the basics of what they are and how to set them up then you might find this section useful.
  • Essential plugins – Only 5 (I have them all already and I forgot to write down what they were – oops!)
  • Generating income – I’d been really looking forward to this section as my blog is quickly turning into a business. Unfortunately for me it predominantly covered advertising and affiliates. I made a decision a long time ago not to have advertising on my site (due to its appearance, impact on page loading times, and the lack of control I had over the adverts) so much of the information was irrelevant to me. If you’re running advertising on your site and are looking for advice to optimise it then this would be more useful for you. There was only a brief mention about sponsored posts and working with brands which is the direction I’m currently taking my blog in.
  • Creating an ebook – once again, I felt this covered the basics but didn’t actually give me all the information I’d want to go off and set up an e-book. If I decided to do it I’d need to go and do a lot more reading up first.

The community/forum

The community seems lovely and welcoming, again if I was a newbie blogger I would have loved to have found a place to get to know other bloggers, ask questions and get any help I needed. However, as I’ve been around for a while I’ve already found some lovely blogging friends and a number of Facebook groups where I can get that sort of help. I had a couple of things I needed help with during my trial period and I found myself defaulting to the UK bloggers Facebook group rather than joining in with the FBP forum.

If you spend time going through all of the threads in the forum then you can pick up some really useful tips (probably more so for an experienced blogger than you would get from the video tutorials) but doing that is very time consuming and I decided that I’d be better off spending that time actually getting on with the long list of ideas I have already to make my blog better rather than adding to the list!

One great thing about the forums is that there are quite a few people asking for content for round up posts (some of which are also added to Buzzfeed). It’s a great opportunity to find new audiences for your recipes (and who knows whether one of those Buzzfeed posts could go viral) and also to build valuable backlinks to your site. I think this is the aspect I’ll miss the most as finding these opportunities is a tricky part of blogging and FBP made it much easier.

Conclusion

All in all, for me FBP just didn’t represent good value for money as I didn’t feel I would get a good level of return on my $29 on an ongoing basis. However, if you’re a newbie or have big gaps in your blogging knowledge in the areas covered by the videos then it is worthwhile signing up – you can always binge watch as much as you can in one month and then cancel once your month is up 🙂

Switching from Lightroom to Photoshop

I’m going to hand over to Jon for this section as it’s actually his work not mine (well he needs something to fill the 4 hour commute each day – editing images for my blog seemed just as good as watching box sets on Amazon Prime!):


For the past year we have been using Lightroom to edit photos, however recently I had a week off work and so took a look at Photoshop. I found it had three big advantages over Lightroom:

  1. There is a filter you can apply called a ‘high pass’ which really sharpens your photos.
  2. You can apply ‘layers’ to your photos, which brightens (or darkens) your photos in a more natural way than I’ve found I am able to achieve in Lightroom.
  3. You can easily create horizontal pins and add text to your photos.

I’ve created a couple of comparisons photos below, where the originally edited photo in Lightroom is on the left-hand-side. The photo on the right-hand-side has had a high pass filter applied in Photoshop and also had certain parts brightened.

I feel that the photos are so much sharper and look much better, to the extent that I have been going back through all our older posts and re-editing the photos in Photoshop. Finally, the image below shows an example of a horizontal pin that can be easily created in Photoshop.

Mini-Strawberry-Pavlova

If you have any questions about Lightroom then please leave them in the comments and I will try to answer them.


Sorting out my Pinterest boards

I realised that my Pinterest boards had gotten a bit unexciting – pretty much just my own recipes and lots and lots of group boards. It was essentially all about me me me and given all the other ways you can follow my blog there was nothing really there to encourage people to follow me on Pinterest too.

My only non-me me me board full of inspiring food photography has however been doing well, getting more repins and followers just to that specific board. I decided therefore to make my Pinterest feed more beautiful with boards featuring gorgeous food photography along lots of different themes. Now every time I’m stuck for photographic inspiration or have no idea what to cook for dinner I sit and browse my own feed for a while. The boards are roughly themed along the lines of the events in my Food Calendar, so if you’re ever stuck for recipe inspiration for a particular event then make sure you head over and take a look.

The switch seems to be working with my Pinterest followers growing well (I suspect that it’ll be my most popular social network within the next couple of months).

All the numbers…

All quite flat again this month.

Charlottes Lively Kitchen - Site Visits Jun16

Charlottes Lively Kitchen – Visitors

Charlottes Lively Kitchen - Pageviews Jun16

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 – 35,386 (-0.2%)
  2. Direct – 11,042 (-1%)
  3. Pinterest – 10,228 (-14%)
  4. Facebook Mobile – 993 (+162%)
  5. Tumblr – 888 (+1%)
  6. Yummly – 784 (-46%)
  7. Buzzfeed – 624 (no visits in May for comparison)
  8. UK Pinterest – 413 (-21%)
  9. Foodgawker – 391 (-50%)
  10. Bing – 325 (+3%)

Everything is kind of flat again in terms of visitors, however there were a couple of things that made me smile. The first was the appearance of Buzzfeed where my Strawberry, Maple and Pistachio Overnight Oats (so yummy and easy to make, you really should try them!) were featured in a round-up which has proven to be popular. It’s also nice to see Bing making an appearance this month. Both Bing and Yahoo have been creeping up over the past few months and whilst they’re nowhere near Google in terms of the number of visitors they bring, it’s nice to see that they’re ranking my posts too.

Strawberry-maple-and-pistachio-overnight-oats-11

My Strawberry, Maple & Pistachio Overnight Oats were featured on Buzzfeed

One massive disappointment this month was Yummly. This has been a steady source of visitors for months and all of a sudden visits from there have halved (and are showing no signs of recovery in July so far). I’ve seen other bloggers who write similar reports doing really well from Yummly recently so I’m not too sure why I’m seeing opposite results. That said, it’s still well inside my top 10 in terms of visitors and takes so little effort to submit posts there’s no way I’m giving up on it!

Followers

As I mentioned before Pinterest is still growing well and I suspect it’ll overtake Instagram as my most popular network before long.

Charlottes Lively Kitchen - Followers Jun16

Charlottes Lively Kitchen – Social Media Followers

My plans for July

I’ve got several sponsored posts in the pipeline and those are by far my biggest priority – as I move the generating an income from my blog I want to ensure that I give everyone I work with my best possible standard of work and good value for money.


Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

8 Comments:

  1. Once again, I’ve found this insight into your blog to be a fascinating read. I find online courses and tutorials a lovely idea, but I end up never reading them. I paid for the Food Blogger’s Makelight course with Emily Quinton, and almost a month in, I’ve not opened a single one of the emails. I think I’m not one for distance learning. I’d rather pay 3 times the price and have a live course on something. x

    • Charlotte Oates

      I signed up to the free Makelight Instagram course and the emails are all flagged in my inbox for me to look at sometime (I signed up a couple of months ago). I’d love to have more time for those things but I always find cooking, writing and taking the pictures I need take priority.

  2. Hi Charlotte,

    Thanks for this, it’s interesting reading and nice to hear of someone who signed up to Food Blogger Pro. I’ve always suspected I wouldn’t get much from it and have always been cynical about their motives, for instance why they’re transparent about Pinch of Yum’s income, but completely opaque about FBP, despite the fact the two websites are like siamese twins, enmeshed with each other.

    Eventually I realised that Food Blogger Pro is simply a monetisation branch of Pinch of Yum, with PoY being the carrot. You only need to do the maths to work it out, $29 a month x 2000 subscribers?

    Pinch of Yum is an amazing food blog, to my mind it’s one of the most sleek examples in existence, and it operates as the ultimate advert for a course which says “how to make money in blogging”. The income reports on Pinch of Yum are simply adverts for Food Blogger Pro, they’re blog posts which say “pay $29 a month and you can also earn like this”, which is why FBP is promoted repeatedly throughout the income reports, because the income report is the hook and FBP the sales proposition.

    But my opinion is that they shouldn’t do the income reports at all. Bjork gives some great advice on building a blog, especially when I was a beginner, but in terms of revealing actual income, I don’t like the way in which websites like Pinch of Yum turn the conversation about blogging into one about money. Money really isn’t a good reason to get into blogging and if sites like Pinch of Yum advertise the fact you can earn a huge income from food blogging it induces people to start blogging to earn an income, rather than because they want to have an independent voice on the internet, or because they want to develop skills or passions that are important to them.

    That’s just my experience. I think that blogging is great as a tool for personal development, I’ve found that blogging has given me new skills, passions and directions in life, which feel more important than just chasing some dollar signs. And just like you, I’ve avoided ad networks and affiliate programs, I’ve always felt an aversion to them. So my thoughts are that it’s better to develop as a person, than to develop the bank balance. Maybe I’m just turning into a hippy

    As for Photoshop vs Lightroom, I’ve found that the sharpening abilities of lightroom to be just as good as Photoshop, but just done in a slightly different way

    • Charlotte Oates

      Reasons for blogging is an interesting one! You certainly need to be passionate about your blog as it takes a lot of work. Like you the thing I enjoy most about it is both the pleasure and challenge of learning new skills and also (for me) the fact there is so much to understand. I do enjoy reading income reports to gain tips and understand what is achievable, but I also try to balance any potential opportunities against what I feel comfortable doing.

      Personally I’m not against FBP as it is a great resource for beginners and it is no hassle to leave, those joining up just need to understand very few bloggers are even a fraction as successful (financially) as POY. For me I didn’t join up when it first started as I wanted to try to learn things for myself as I went along, but for others I’m sure they would rather not make as many mistakes as I did!

      In our experience we have found Photoshop more intuitive to use for sharpening and brightening, we like the way the layering works. However, I suspect that we are not maximising the potential of Lightroom.

  3. I really enjoyed your post and thought it was a really interesting read. I joined food blogger pro as a newbie and while it was quite helpful I stopped because of the cost and because I have found so much of the info elsewhere for free as food bloggers are so generous with their help and advise. There were a few videos I would have liked to have liked to watch but as always time is in short supply and as you say in your comment above you have to prioritise. I would love to know your work flow in lightroom and photoshop. I have both but my editing routine is all here and there and different everytime I do it. I would love to stream line.

    • Charlotte Oates

      It seems you opinion of FBP is very similar to mine. It’s amazing just how much information is out there for free if you’re happy to search around for it.

      I’ll pass your request for Photoshop/Lightroom workflow to Jon (as he’s doing most of my editing on the train at the moment) although I think his approach is very much fiddle around with different options until it looks right!

  4. Fascinating stuff and love your honesty about the subscription. Well done on your fab numbers and Pinterest is a brilliant search engine and traffic driver. V x

    • Charlotte Oates

      Thanks Vicki, the subscription isn’t cheap so it was important to me to make it clear what people could get out of it to help them decide if it’s worth the money.

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