Building My Blog – January 2016

Welcome to my 19th monthly blog update, all about what I got up to behind the scenes of Charlotte’s Lively Kitchen in January 2016. This month I’m going to talk about experimenting with low-light photography (a.k.a. how to take decent pictures when you live in North Wales and the sun isn’t shining) and learning all about SEO.

Welcome to my 19th monthly blog update, all about what I got up to behind the scenes of Charlotte’s Lively Kitchen in January 2016. This month I'm going to talk about experimenting with low-light photography (a.k.a. how to take decent pictures when you live in North Wales and the sun isn't shining) and learning all about SEO.

A little bit of background…

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), and 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 January

Experimenting with low-light photography

Regular readers will know that for the most part I’ve tackled bad natural light by using my Lowel Ego lamp. Then a few weeks ago I came across a really great Facebook page which introduced me to another method. Corinna Gissemann is a professional food photographer who uses natural light for her pictures. The great thing about her Facebook page is that for each post, alongside the finished photograph, she shares a picture of her setup and the camera setting she used.

If you look at her setup you’ll see that she seems to surround the food with boards to direct the light exactly where she wants it, you’ll also see that she always uses ISO 100 (the lowest possible setting). If I did these two things my pictures would be a big black square.

Tips for better food photography

For more food photography advice take a look at the 13 tips for better food photography.

The secret to her photos being so beautifully lit is that she uses a shutter speed of 2-3 seconds which allows plenty of light into the camera. Unfortunately all of her posts are in German, but she includes enough information that it’s still easy to figure out what she’s done. I’m gutted she’s based in Germany as she runs food photography workshops and I’d absolutely love to go to one.

I’ve used this approach on a few of my recent pictures and I’ve been really happy with the results. It’s especially good if you don’t have any artificial light and natural light is thin on the ground, or if you want your picture to be relatively evenly lit (using my lamp I tend to have one very bright side and one much duller side (which I brighten as much as I can with reflectors). With such a long exposure it’s important that the camera is 100% still when you take the pictures or they’ll look horribly fuzzy. To achieve this I always use a tripod (or have the camera on a stable hard surface) and I have a remote control instead of clicking the button (yes, the tiniest wobble caused by clicking the camera button = blurry, blurry, blurry). If you don’t have a remote control then you can also use the timer on your camera. Here’s a few pictures from my recent posts where I’ve tried this approach.

My lamp still hasn’t been ditched, it’s invaluable at times when I have to have a fast shutter speed, such as my pouring and dipping shots.

Learning about SEO

If you’ve no idea what SEO is, it stands for search engine optimisation, and it’s basically about doing things to improve your chances of your posts being highly ranked on Google. About a month ago I was emailed by Howie from Hurry The Food Up who’s just published an e-book all about SEO for Food Bloggers, to ask if I’d fancy giving it a read. Hurry The Food Up was started at about the same time I started this blog but my monthly visitor numbers pale in comparison, and a lot of the reason for that is that they take their SEO very seriously. the-complete-seo-guide-for-food-blogger I’ve always had an awareness of SEO, especially with regard to how I write my posts, but I’ve never done a great deal with link building or keyword research. I think my problem was that a lot of the posts I’ve read about it are written by internet marketeers and SEO experts who are looking simply at ranking as high as possible on Google by any means necessary. This book is written by a food blogger (admittedly with a history in internet marketing) and so all the suggestions sit much more comfortably with me. It’s written both from the perspective of ranking well on Google, but also considers your reader experience and what’s morally right to do too.

What’s good about it?

The book covers the four key areas of SEO – structuring your blog, how to write your blog posts, keyword research, and link building.

  • It’s as untechnical as it can be so even if you’re new to SEO, it’ll still make sense.
  • Each tip is ranked according to how important it is, meaning you can focus your efforts on the areas that are going to make the biggest difference.
  • Howie uses his own blog as an example, you can see exactly what they did and what impact it had.
  • I’ve read so many posts that say things like “build links to your blog” without giving any indication of how to do it. This book goes into much more detail giving you practical things you can actually go out and do (…or sit indoors tapping on your computer as we bloggers do).

What’s not good about it?

Nothing really, it’s actually very, very good! I was a bit worried when Howie wrote and asked me to have a read because it’s always awkward to review something for someone you like just in case it’s rubbish, but this book is truly excellent. I’ve been busy testing some of the tips out over the past few weeks and been feeling more enthused about SEO than I have done in ages.

Who should buy it?

I’d recommend this book for anyone who hasn’t got the foggiest idea about where to start with getting their blog to rank on Google, or anyone that knows the ideas behind it but needs practical tips that they can actually go out and do. One thing I would say about Google is that you need to make sure your content is really good. If Google ranks you highly and lots of people click, only to decide that what you’re writing isn’t what they need, they’ll go back and click on something else. Google will soon realise what’s going on and knock you back down the rankings again.

Where can you buy it from?

If you head over to their website you can find out a bit more about it, as well as browse a few pages to see what it’s like and then snap it up if you like what you see (just so you know, this is an affiliate link so if you decide to buy it I’ll earn a bit of commission). As I said before, I’ve been busy trying out some of the tips from the book during February so make sure you pop back next month to see how it’s going 🙂

All the numbers


I was worried about how January was going to go as I’d had such a boost from Christmas in December but it turns out that I needn’t have been concerned as it was another record month with 56k visitors and 70k page views. Whilst I hadn’t expected 70k page views at the start of the month, Jon and I were both a little tense on the 31st knowing how close we were and seeing if it would just tick over.

Don’t forget you can find all of my old reports in my monthly reports index if you want to figure out what caused any of the changes in the past.

Site Visits - Charlottes Lively Kitchen

Charlottes Lively Kitchen – Visitors

Pageviews - Charlottes Lively Kitchen

Charlottes Lively Kitchen – Pageviews

And they came from…

  1. Google – 23,812 (+12%)
  2. Pinterest – 14,071 (+29%)
  3. Direct – 11,798 (+21%)
  4. Yummly – 1,296 (-6%)
  5. Foodgawker – 577 (+49%)
  6. UK Pinterest – 572 (+284%)
  7. Hurry The Food Up – 550 (+414% – featured my Banana & Almond Breakfast Smoothie)
  8. The Prize Finder – 290 (no visits in December – my The Juice Premium giveaway)
  9. Facebook Mobile –  249 (+171%)
  10. – 242 (+17%)

It’s lovely to see Facebook popping up this month as I know it’s not one of my strongest areas. This was predominantly driven by Vitamix featuring my Coconut, Banana, Chocolate Breakfast Smoothie on their page. I’d tagged them on Instagram and just from that they asked to feature the post on their social media and sent me a new cook book and some lovely Ball jars which I’m looking forward to using in some photographs soon.

Coconut banana chocolate smoothie 7

My coconut, banana & chocolate breakfast smoothie was shared by Vitamix


You can see that I had a nice growth in followers across most networks in January. This was really helped by running a giveaway where following on Twitter, Instagram and by email were all additional entry options, as well as visiting my Facebook page (which quite a few people decided to like while they were there). I keep pondering whether to remove Google+ from this chart, I’ve tried (sort of) to love it but I just can’t. I’m sure once you get settled in and find an active group of people to chat to then it’s great, but where are those people??? I’ve decided to leave it on here just because it makes the report more complete if I do and I don’t like to hide anything, but I very much doubt it’s going to move anywhere far from where it is now.

Followers - Charlottes Lively Kitchen Jan16Charlottes Lively Kitchen – Social Media Followers

Thanks for reading, if you’ve got any questions then I’m always happy to help xx

Brilliant blog posts on


  1. Hi Charlotte,
    Thanks for the thorough check of our ebook, I really appreciate it! And cool that you could use some of the tips and tricks in there 🙂
    Awesome facebook page of the German food photography professional! The photos are stunning! I need to check whether she lives in Berlin 😀

    • No problem, it’s a really good book. Just by doing one 5-minute thing you suggested I increased views on one post by 5x, if I can do that with a few more then I’ll be very happy!

  2. This was so useful – thank you for sharing. I really need to improve my photography – would love to go on a course! Your low light photos have come our brilliantly. x

    • Thanks Vicky. You’ve got some lovely pictures on your site, especially the ones from your trip around Asia (that looked amazing by the way!). Where abouts are you based, I’ve heard about a really great photography course in London (although sadly I live too far away to attend).

  3. This is such an interesting post Charlotte, with so many great tips about photography when the light is poor (gosh any suggestions on that front is welcome living her in Yorkshire) – how I wished I could read German 😉 , though as you say in your post there seems to be enough clues if the snap shot image in your post is anything to go by. I shall have to play with my camera setting a bit more and see if I can adjust the paramaters (though I’m still working with a semi decent point & shoot camera).
    I need to get my head around SEO even more so Howie’s e-book sounds a great idea, I shall certainly be having a look.
    Finally, well done Charlotte on your continued growth – amazing!
    Angela x

    • Thanks Angela. I’d definitely recommend Howie’s book especially if you haven’t got much of a clue about it all. To really do it properly it takes quite a bit of time, but there’s plenty of quick things you can do to help improve you ranking, especially with regard to how you set up your posts.

  4. Wow so much usefulness in here, this month. Thank you! Really interested in the low light photography…fascinating! And great results. Love her FB page. I too love seeing behind the scenes. I have had so much trouble with light this year. I started blogging in May and so light was no problem – took loads of photos all through the summer, then suddenly the light went and I could no longer take photos of things I had made at dinner time – I was gutted! Since then we have had some very odd lunches 🙂 Really want to buy myself some artificial lighting for next year…would you recommend the lowel ego system? I think I have seen a two lamp system advertised too, which I guess might help with the shadows. Though now I’ve read about low light photography I may give that a go too 🙂 Thanks for the SEO book tip too – will check that out. And congratulations on all your fab stats! Eb x

    • Charlotte Oates

      I started in July and had a similar shock when we got to the winter. I really like the Lowel Ego, I know quite a few people use two together so you can light from 2 angles and control the light much better (and they’ll photograph at night when it’s completely dark). I think you can buy a two lamp pack but I’ve not seen it in the UK. I’d prefer to have two, I think the reason I’ve been experimenting with not using it is that sometimes it can be too bright on one side and dull on the other. I’d be lost without it though as something like a pour shot cannot be done with the slow shutter speeds. I’ve also found it useful when photographing things in glass jars as the window creates too many strange reflections, the plain lamp is much easier to control.

      We eat weird and wonderful meals at strange times of day too, I think it’s quite common in the food blogging world 🙂

  5. Congrats on your monthly figures Charlotte, I look forward to having a read of your blog building, very inspiring and thanks for sharing.
    The lighting tips for photos are invaluable so I’m looking forward to implementing them. The problem I’ve found since I’ve been trying out different photo images is saving them for my website in a small enough size that will load quickly enough without compromising the quality of the photo. I know it might seem a basic question but what’s the best way to optimise your photos so they upload quickly & still keep the quality?
    So glad you’ve featured the SEO book, I’ve downloaded it & I’ll start working my way through it, thanks for the recommendation x

    • Charlotte Oates

      Thanks Sarah, I hope you find the book useful. Howie has set up a Facebook group for anyone that has extra questions, if you want to join then let me know and I’ll dig out a link.

      With my photos I exported the pictures from Lightroom at different quality levels, uploaded them all into a post and checked it in the preview. I then went with the smallest size where there was no noticeable drop off in quality. I also set the image size to be the dimensions I want to use on the blog.

      • Thanks for the advice Charlotte, that’s what I do at the moment & I’ll think I’ll stick to that for awhile. The blog speed isn’t at the top of my list now after reading the book.

        So pleased I downloaded the book, I can’t believe how many things I haven’t done but I didn’t really have any plans when I first started out blogging. Would be great if you could forward me the link to Howie’s Facebook group so I can join.
        Thanks Sarah x

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