Building My Blog – February 2015


Welcome to my 8th monthly food blog traffic and income report, all about what I’ve been up to on My Recipe Book in February.

Food blog traffic and income report

As always I’ll share with you my experiences and hopefully pass on a few helpful tips, as well as the usual visitor and income numbers.

If you’ve not read one of my traffic and income reports before and want to know a bit more about why I write them, then take a look at my very first report.

My February

If you read last month’s report you’ll know that in January I saw a huge jump in site visits, from around 1,500 in December to over 12,000. This was achieved through getting the hang of Pinterest, improving my photography and posting more regularly. However, you’ll also know that I was worried February would be tougher. In January, I had the benefit of having a lot of older recipes to post on Pinterest and Foodgawker, whilst also having a bit of luck being featured on Recipechart.

The aim for February therefore was simple, to “keep it going”, to try to build on the momentum through hard work and publishing quality posts on a regular basis.

As I have largely followed the same approach as I did in January I don’t have a huge number of new tips to share, although there are a couple of titbits. Instead, this month of  “keeping it going” has given me a bit of space to think about my current challenges and what I’d like to achieve next.

My current blogging challenges

As usual I like to focus on three main challenges each month (although I sometimes add a couple of extras in on a whim!). My current challenges are…

Recipes, recipes, recipes

Let’s face it, without recipes a food blog isn’t really all that much use. Over Christmas I set myself the challenge of having 50 recipes on the website by Easter. So far I’ve published 40 as well as a number of “food fun” posts so I’m well on the way, but I’ve got to keep pushing to get up to 50 over the next month.

Being part of the blogging community

One thing that’s surprised me about blogging is how much I enjoy being part of the blogging community, and how supportive and friendly other bloggers have been. I love reading what other bloggers are up to, joining in with link-ups, chatting on social media and leaving comments. I’ve found that spending more time writing posts for the blog has meant that I have less time to do this, so I want to make a bit more time for it.

Improving my photography (again!)

I love writing my blog but at times I found the photography in particular quite stressful. North Wales is beautiful on a sunny day, unfortunately during Winter and Spring these can be few and far between with generally quite cloudy and dull weather (even the sunny days usually have clouds making the light inconsistent). The window of opportunity to use natural is therefore limited. My solution was to splash out on a specialist light (well actually I got Jon to get it for my birthday).

As well as taking away the stress of getting good light in North Wales it has the added benefit that I can take photos when the boys are in bed in the evening, which gives me more time to concentrate without them asking why I keep taking pictures of their food/asking to eat the food before I’ve finished/standing in front of the camera saying “cheese”.

However, I’ve found that I need to adjust how I set up and edit my pictures when using the artificial light. Over the coming month I’m going to be practicing, experimenting, and generally trying to get my photos up to the standard I’ve been getting with natural light but without the stress.

Lowel ego light setup

My new light in action

 

I also want to improve my phone photography and I’m determined to finish my #Make30Photos Instagram challenge which I started some time ago, so I will be spending a bit of time posting more there too.

Future Challenges

I’ve also been giving some thought as to what comes next. I’ll decide what my focus for the Spring is a bit nearer the time but I’ve started noting down some ideas, things that I know are going to be interesting and challenging for me…

  • Diversifying the source of my traffic, in particular researching SEO to try to bring more visits in from Google – being overly reliant on Pinterest is a worry, as they could change their business model at any time.
  • Building loyal readers – I really enjoy seeing people return to the site, as it means they probably enjoyed their previous visit. In particular I love receiving their comments (hint, hint!).
  • Sorting out my affiliate links – This isn’t something I have really pushed, although is an area I would like to explore more.
  • Sorting out my advertising – At the moment I have three ads on my site. I started using Gourmet Ads in February for two of the ad slots and continue to use Google Adsense for the other one. I would like to spend some time thinking about how to optimise advertising without them intruding too much onto my site.
  • Coding – I used to do coding as part of my job (albeit for data mining and statistical analysis rather than the web kind) and I find it very frustrating that I can’t make simple changes to my website without help.

What do you think? Is there anything you’d like to see me try so you can read about it here over the next few months?

Anyway, enough of that and on to the couple of (hopefully helpful) things I learnt in February…

Adding images to my RSS feed

Unlike last month, this hasn’t been a tip-filled post. However, I wanted to share one new plug-in that I discovered to add an image to my RSS feed.

When setting up my RSS feed, I had two options…

  1. Include the entire post with all images in the feed
  2. Include only a short excerpt

I chose to include only an excerpt. For the simple reason that I wanted people to click through to the site so I could see that they’d visited and what they were reading.

Unfortunately the way my site is set up, if you choose to publish an excerpt, no image appears in the RSS feed. I don’t know about you, but personally I’m much more likely to click on a post in my feed if there’s an image attached, especially for recipes where you need to see just how yummy the food looks.

Here’s what my RSS feed looked like before in Bloglovin…

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 20.53.54

I now use the RSS image feed plugin so that an image will appear.

I hope you’ll agree that they now look a lot more tempting.

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 20.53.41

Making my emails less spammy

As you know from my previous reports (and the fact that if you’ve got this far down the page you’ve probably seen it!) I have a popup that encourages people to sign up to my mailing list. Since introducing the popup in January I’ve seen an increase in my subscribers (yay!). However, when I looked at my Mail Poet stats I was also finding that for each new subscriber there was another person that had given their email address but then not clicked on the confirmation email.

In essence I was getting people to sign up but then failing to convert them into actual subscribers.

I decided that there were two possible causes…

  1. People got the email but didn’t get around to clicking the link
  2. People weren’t getting the email (most likely it was going into their spam folder)

Whilst I’m sure there are instances where (1) happens, I’d be very surprised that it would be as high as 50%. So I decided to investigate whether my email was being seen as spam and what I could do about it.

I had a look at the Mail Poet website and it recommended trying this mail tester. You send an email to the address supplied and a couple of minutes later you can access a report on the mail you sent. In my case I entered the email address into my subscription box to see what happened.

The report came back and I got a score of about 5 out of 10 (I can’t remember exactly) which was pretty poor. It suggested that there would be a number of mail systems that would see my emails as spam. The great thing is that it then came up with a list of things that could be fixed.

I then fixed as many as I could (I won’t bore you with the technical details but let me know if you’re interested) and increased my score to 8.4. Almost immediately the ratio of new subscribers to unconfirmed subscribers dropped 🙂 .

It only takes a few minutes to check and I’d thoroughly recommend giving it a go as there’s no point in going to all the trouble to convince people to subscribe only to find that they’re not getting your emails.

Blog Income and Visitor Numbers

Despite being a shorter month, February has seen a 13% increase in the number of site visitors, with on average 500 people visiting each day.

Food Traffic Sources February

My Recipe Book – Number of Visits

Food Traffic Page Views February

My Recipe Book – Total Pageviews

The top ten visitor sources were…

Food Traffic Monthly Comparison February

 

My Recipe Book – Monthly Comparison

Comparing to last month, you can see that I have had growth in Pinterest, Direct and Google. Tastespotting and Yummly have largely stayed the same, whilst I have seen a reduction in Foodgawker (no recipe on the top row this time round 🙁 ) and Other (due to being featured on Recipechart in January).

One aspect I am going to read up on in March is search engine optimisation. I have seen some growth in Google, but it accounts for less than 10% of my overall traffic which, when I compare myself to other bloggers, is a significantly lower proportion than they achieve. Possibly I just need to be patient, but I would like to check I’m not doing anything wrong. Does anyone have any tips?

Followers

February saw another increase in followers on Twitter and Pinterest. The email subscription pop-up box introduced at the start of January has also been beneficial, with an additional 62 subscribers this month.

Food Traffic Followers February

Blog Income

My total income in February was £21.30.

  • Gourmet Ads – £16.79 ($25.06)
  • Google Adsense – £4.51

As I said before, I treated myself to a new photography light which cost £141.60. Technically the light was a birthday present so wasn’t really “my” expense, but I want to give you as clear a picture as I can of the costs involved in running my blog so I decided to include it here.

This one-off expense meant that I made a loss of £120.30.

I should probably be disappointed that I’ve gone from a profit to a loss but I’m not because…

  1. My income has almost doubled from £11.13 in January
  2. I really wanted that light!

Plan for Next Month

I know I’ve talked about this before, but just to remind you. My three main aims for March are…

  • Publish a total of 50 recipes on the site.
  • Spend more time engaging with other bloggers, reading the blogs I enjoy, taking the time to comment, and chatting more on social media.
  • Learn how to use my new light

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this, and hope to see you back here next month to read March’s food blog traffic and income report.


Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com


 

25 Comments:

  1. Wow, you really amaze me, Charlotte! You have such a great strategy. I just write and post pretty much where and when and also want to improve my photography, but you… you are something else, lady! I really want to know how you improved your food photography. Your photos are stunning!

    • I love your pictures! I keep thinking about writing a post about photography but I’ve only really got better at it over the past couple of months so I feel like I need a lot more experience first. However, perhaps a few things that I focussed on to change might make a good post.

      I used to have quite a strategically minded job so I’m channelling it into the blog instead. I don’t want my brain to go too rusty in case I ever decide it’s time to get back to work.

      • Seriously Charlotte, you went from ‘point and shoot’ type photos to cookbook material in a matter of weeks. That is pretty impressive!

  2. i love reading these every month! Congrats on maintaining your page views since the last month!
    I feel your pain with the lighting, try living in Scotland! We get 5 hours of sunlight during the winter and even when it’s there it’s hidden behind a thick layer of clouds! Hurray on it nearly being spring!

    • Thanks Laura. I definitely get the sense that most people struggle with the useless winter light in the UK. I’m so glad I bought the artificial one. It’s taking a bit of getting used to but just knowing its there if the natural light is bad takes a lot of my photography stress away.

  3. That’s really interesting about the mailout list email, i’m going to try it now… good work on the progress this month, I’m sure the light will pay for itself in no time..

    • Thanks James. Sadly I think it’ll take a while for a few sidebar ads to pay for the light but you never know!

  4. Wow this is so interesting, I still count myself as a newbie as my blog has only been live since September and I have soooooo much to learn (and the more I learn, the more I realise I need to learn!!!!). I definitely have no grip on Pinterest at all, and reading this post has made me think I need to get one, and start actually taking & posting photo’s too. Thanks for sharing this! x

    • I know exactly how you feel. There’s always so much more to learn, but that’s one of the things I enjoy about it!

      I’d definitly recommend taking time to take your own pictures. I find it makes blogs feel a lot more personal. It also gives you something to attract people’s attention on places like Pinterest.

  5. Wow thank you for being so transparent it is so useful for me putting together s strategy for my blog (although not food) to think about where my growth numbers will be. I’m not really active on Pinterest so this is something I need to give some thought too. Great post x

    • Thanks Laura. I’d definitely recommend being more active on pinterest, it’s made a huge difference to my blog.

  6. Ooh thanks for sharing, the one thing i can’t get the hang of is using analytics and seeing where things come from!x

    • Is there anything in particular you’d like to know about analytics? I’ve been thinking about writing a post but I’m not sure what people would find useful.

  7. Congratulations on your great increase in traffic! Thanks for sharing all this information and tips. They are really helpful. It looks like we both started blogging in the same month but I haven’t had the numbers you have! I think I need to do some work in pinterest, and improve my photos. I’ve been thinking about starting a link party too. Does it take a lot of time. I don’t have much to spare with 2 pre-schoolers at home!

    • Thanks Karen. Pinterest has had a huge benefit in terms of visitors. Its definitely worth spending a bit of time figuring it out.

      Setting up the linky is only as time consuming as writing any other post. Inlinkz in really straightforward to use. The most time consuming thing is taking the time to read, tweet, pin and comment on every post (if that’s what you decide to do). However, I probably would have read most if them anyway so it’s not too much extra for me. It also takes a bit of time to spread the word at the beginning. I really enjoy doing mine, I love seeing what people come up with. I think you need to be enthusiastic about the theme you choose to make it work.
      If you do it and it’s in anyway related to food then I’ll come and join in.

  8. Really enjoyed reading this Charlotte, and well done on growing your blog as much as you have so far. I can’t believe how much of a jump in traffic you’ve seen because of Pinterest, amazing! Best of luck with those fifty recipes. Can’t wait to see your March report 🙂

    • Thanks Renee. I’m still busy writing the recipes but I’ve got a busy couple of weekends coming up which will make it a bit more of a challenge.

  9. I love this!! Thanks for sharing! I really struggle with the dull light here in the UK so I shall be looking into getting the light box. Your photos are beautiful 🙂

    • Thanks Charlie. I’ve found that the box makes a huge difference on dull days. There are still times where I find that nothing compares to natural light but I’m using the box most of the time now.

  10. Hi Charlotte thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us! It’s a really helpful series. I am new to blogging just 3 months in and I totally love it! Like you I set goals for myself. Right now I am really concentrating on building up quality content. I am blessed with beautiful natural light most of the time here in Spain but still want/need to improve my photography as very often my photos are not accepted by foodgawker which makes me so mad..lol Do you have the SEO by Yoast plugin? I’ve found that to really help take the guesswork out of the whole SEO thing. I love linky parties are there any particular ones that you would recommend linking up at?

    • Thanks Krystal. I do use the Yoast plugin but I won’t completely change everything just for SEO, I’ll just make small changes to make it as SEO’d as I can without forcing it in.

      I’ve just had a quick look at your pictures. I suspect that perhaps they’re a little too dark for Food Gawker. Food Gawker tend to like everything on the bright side so I tend to set the brightness that I like for an image and push it up a bit more before submitting.

      I’m a big fan of linkys too. The main one I’d recommend is mine 🙂 which is a monthly linkup http://charlotteslivelykitchen.com/food-year-linkup-mar15/ I’d also really recommend Brilliant Blog Posts and Tasty Tuesdays on honestmum.com as there’s a huge range of posts linked up and I’ll usually get quite a few comments from them (although I think you need something quite attention grabbing to stand out as there’s so many).

      • Thanks a lot Charlotte! I will go check out those linky parties. As for Foodgawker I’ve started doing just what you said. Edit the photos to their ‘tastes’ Make them brighter and I also notice they don’t like tight composition.

  11. Nice post ! however you can do much better (in term of income) with your traffic for example your adsense placement is not the best (you should have one 468×60 or 728×90 in the header) and maybe 300×300 inside the posts)
    -Better optin form on the sidebar (the current one can’t be seen) and another oone on the end of your posts (also its better to use a third party autoresponder than wysija exp:
    getresponse.com offer a free trial of 1k subs , aweber.com too .

    “being overly reliant on Pinterest is a worry, as they could change their business model at any time.” trust me you should worry about google more that Pinterest , big G change its algorithm like evry few months , so relying on social media traffic is your best bet (for now at least) especially that your blog is less than 1 year old .

    whish you the best luck with your journey 🙂

    • Thanks Hain.

      You’re completely right about the advertising revenue. I know I could do a lot better with more obviously placed ads but I’ve chosen not to go down that route. When people come to my site I want the first thing they see to be my recipes, not an ad. It’s a very personal choice and I know the impact it will have on income, but it’s one I’m happy with.

      I’m interested in your comment about wysija. I’ve been very happy with it, what’s your reason for suggesting a switch to an alternative?

      I’m currently hoping that Google change their algorithm in my favour as I don’t do too well from them at the moment! You’re completely right, to be honest I want my visitor sources to be as diverse as possible so that I can weather any changes anyone makes. I think it’s natural to be most concerned at changes in your biggest visitor source, if that changed to google then they would become no. 1 on my worry list.

      I’ve just had a look at your site and there’s some posts I’m definitely going to come and have a proper look through when I’ve a little more time.

      Thanks again for your comment.

    • Charlotte Oates

      After dismissing the idea of having an advert in my header I’ve been looking at other food blogs and noticed that almost all that have advertising have one at the top of the screen so I’m going to give it a try and see if it’s worthwhile! Thanks again for the advice.

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