Tips from Bjork and Lindsay
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Welcome to episode 152 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork chat with Food Blogger Pro member, Carrie Forrest, about 6 big mistakes that she made over her 9 years of blogging.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork talked with Stephanie Wise from Girl Versus Dough about stepping away from blogging and pivoting her focus. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Today’s podcast is extra special because we’re featuring a Food Blogger Pro member, Carrie from Clean Eating Kitchen!
Carrie has been blogging for nine years, and as you can imagine, she has learned a lot about her readers, the blogging industry, and herself in that time.
And that’s why she’s here today. Between learning the hard truth about what happens when you change your URLs to alienating her audience, she’s sharing the top 6 mistakes she made and how you can avoid making them yourself.
Thanks to our Reviewer of the Week, Karen from Seasonal Cravings! If you’d like to be featured, leave a review for us on iTunes and include your name and blog name in the review.
If you'd like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Bjork Ostrom: In this episode, I talk about the fact that there are two days remaining for Food Blogger Pro enrollment, and we talk to Carrie Forrest, a Food Blogger Prog member about her journey of blogging over the past nine years, and six epic mistakes that she made, and then fixed, and how she went about doing that.
Bjork Ostrom: Hey, there everybody, this is Bjork Ostrom, and if you listen in to this podcast in real time, you are aware of the fact that we are in the middle of enrollment season for Food Blogger Pro and you have two days left to sign up if you are interested in becoming a member of our site, Food Blogger Pro. It is a community of over 3000 people from around the world who are taking things that we talk about on this podcast and applying them in a real and meaningful way.
Bjork Ostrom: For those of you that listen to the podcast, you might think that, “Hey, this is kind of primarily what we do,” but the reality is that 90% of the time and energy and focus that we have as a team is on our members of Food Blogger Pro, so if you’re interested in signing up, all you have to do is go to foodbloggerpro.com
Bjork Ostrom: In the last podcast episode, I talked a lot about what’s involved with the membership and what you get from it, but the basic idea is, if you have gotten anything from this podcast, know that with a Food Blogger Pro membership, you will get so much more. There’s videos, there’s community, there is real time information on what’s happening in the blogging world, and all of this stuff is available to you right away when you sign up for a membership.
Bjork Ostrom: Enrollment closes Thursday night, and if you want to see a little countdown clock of how much time is left, you can just go to the home page to get a feel for that. If you do not listen to this podcast in real time, then it’s a waiting list season. We are in the middle of enrollment season. You can sign up for the waiting list and get notified when we do open again for enrollment.
Bjork Ostrom: We’re kind of like a college or university in that way. We don’t like to have enrollment open all the time, but we like to kind of have a class, so to speak, come in so we can welcome them in, we can have everybody come in and be a part of this certain class, and then we close it up again, so we’re not always having people trickle in, so we have a good rhythm for that.
Bjork Ostrom: Again, it’s foodbloggerpro.com, you can check that out, and I know that if you’ve gotten anything out of the podcast, you’ll also get a lot out of your membership.
Bjork Ostrom: For today’s interview, we are actually talking to a Food Blogger Pro member, Carrie Forrest, and she is going to be talking about her transition over the last nine years from evolving her blog and her brand, but also going through some hard things with her blog and her site, how she got through those things and what she learned in that process. She’s actually going to be sharing six mistakes that she’s made and then how she went about fixing those. The hope for this is that you can learn from that and protect yourself from making those mistakes in the future.
Bjork Ostrom: Let’s go ahead and jump into the interview. Carrie, welcome to the podcast.
Carrie Forrest: Thanks Bjork, it’s so fun to be here.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s been great, because we have exchanged emails and messages and things like that, but any time that I’m able to actually sit down virtually with somebody, or in person, it’s always a really great pleasure, and when I talk about emails and messages, we’ve exchanged those over the years, because you’ve been at this blogging thing for a while. Could you quickly tell your story and how you started your blog, and rewind the tape a little, because we’re going back almost nine years, right?
Carrie Forrest: I know! And, by the way, on Food Blogger Pro, I think it says I’m a senior member now.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, you’ve been upgraded! Nice!
Carrie Forrest: So that’s a good way to make me feel old.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome, right, yeah. There’s maybe more intentional ways that we can structure the naming for that, but for those that aren’t familiar, Food Blogger Pro, we have the forums, and in the forums, there’s a little title underneath every person that has to do with their membership status. I think it relates to activity on the forums, so congratulations on your senior status.
Carrie Forrest: Thanks! And can I tell a little story, Bjork, too?
Bjork Ostrom: Please, yeah. I would love that.
Carrie Forrest: Okay. So, yesterday, I was talking to a food blogger friend, and that’s unusual, first of all, to actually be talking, like, again, today, it’s unusual that you and I are actually talking like real people. I was talking on the phone with a food blogger friend, and I told her that I was coming on the podcast. I was like, “Oh my god, I have to tell you,” and she said, “No way! Bjork and Lindsey are like my best friends.” By the way, she’s never met you in person either, or Lindsey.
Bjork Ostrom: Isn’t that funny?
Carrie Forrest: And I said, “I feel like that, too,” and she said, “No! They’re my best friends! Lindsey is my BFF.”
Bjork Ostrom: My BFF not your BFF.
Carrie Forrest: Right, and then I said, “No, well Bjork is kind of like my brother, so that’s how I think of Bjork, so that would make Lindsey my sister-in-law.”
Bjork Ostrom: For sure, yeah, it’s nice that, even without us knowing that we’re actually connected in that way before starting this interview, so it’s good to have that context now.
Carrie Forrest: Okay.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. That’s the funny thing about, we were talking about podcasts a little bit, which, maybe we can hit here. The combination of podcasts and even just the written word and stories, even stories in Instagram, like literally the stories that people tell, I think it allows us to connect and interact and understand each other in a way that is impossible with Web Version 1, which was text and photos.
Bjork Ostrom: Hearing somebody talk, and then you meet them in person, it’s like, “Oh, that’s exactly how you talk in person, as well.” So, it’s this great privilege that we have as people that are content creators, that we can connect with people, and I love that you had that little back and forth, and honored to be related, and honored that your friend would consider us her good friend as well.
Carrie Forrest: Yeah, well, you and Lindsey have done such an amazing job of creating that feeling of community and I just give both of you major props for what you’ve created.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, thank you. Yeah, thanks that really means a lot. We don’t hear it in person a lot, so this isn’t quite in person, but about as close as it can get. Really meaningful, really appreciate it, and excited to hear about your story and know that there’s some connection points along the way with the Food Blogger Pro membership you had mentioned, but I know, if we go back to the beginning, you were blogging and creating content kind of in the early stages of blogs and social media, and things like that. Take us back to, it would have been 2009, right? Take us back to that point when you were thinking of starting a site. What was the idea behind it and what were you hoping to do?
Carrie Forrest: Right, and things were so different, because that was before Instagram, that was even before Facebook. I had started reading blogs. I was newly graduated from graduate school, actually, and I had gone into a job that, it just wasn’t the right fit, so I left that job after about nine months, and I had started an interest in nutrition. I had done more like business and nonprofit stuff before graduate school, and then I had planned to go into business, maybe entrepreneurship, but I don’t know. I didn’t really find the right fit.
Carrie Forrest: Then I had this new interest of nutrition, so I started reading blogs, and I was also newly married at the time, so this, again, is going back to two thousand and…Well, a few years before I started my blog is when I started reading blogs, and at that time, a blog really was very much like a journal. If you wrote a blog, people were writing daily updates, and we didn’t have good phones to take pictures. They were digital cameras, but the pictures were really awful. There wasn’t good editing software, so that’s kind of the context of when I started my blog.
Carrie Forrest: I named it lovehealthyliving.net, I got a few iterations, although I kind dragged all the old content in SEO from when I started in 2009, so I forwarded my domain. I guess that’s the right way to explain it.
Carrie Forrest: I just kind of started it as a way maybe to start to connect with other people, maybe to start to explore this interest in food and cooking, which I never had up to that point, and that’s just kind of how it started.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting to think back to those, it’s almost 10 years ago now, when people were first producing content online on their own websites, kind of in a blog fashion, where it really was this journal, where essentially, you would follow along with somebody, and the idea was, you’re kind of following along with their online journal.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s like, “Hey, here’s a little quick snapshot of what I ate today,” and maybe it’s a little bit about what was included with that, but you think about that and contrast it with how intentional people are to think about optimizing their posts to show up in search engines and getting really good photos for Pinterest, it’s a very, very different scene right now if you are blogging with the intent to grow and build and scale.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting to hear, kind of reading a bit about your story before starting this, it sounds like there was this interest from you in doing that, being intentional to build a thing, but then there kind of came this point, maybe four or five years in, where it sounds like you’re maybe a little burnt out, and you published this post where you said, “I’m done,” and then you were like, “Wait a minute, am I actually done,” and kind of went back and forth on that. Can you take us back to that burnout moment, or was it burnout? What was it that you experienced that made you want to kind of hang up the virtual cleats, if you will, and retire from blogging?
Carrie Forrest: Yeah, so, what happened was, I, from around 2010 to around 2014, I got immersed in a vegan lifestyle, and so I changed my blog from lovehealthyliving.net, it became carryonvegan.com
Carrie Forrest: And I really jumped into that lifestyle. That was kind of when veganism started to go mainstream, and I just jumped in with both feet, and decided, "Well, I’m gonna rename my blog this, and I’m just gonna document my whole transition to this lifestyle, and that’s when I started creating recipes, which I had never done up to that point. I would post pictures of food, but then to actually format it into a recipe, and that’s what people told me they wanted.
Carrie Forrest: I really built my blog and my business on that vegan platform, and it did really well, because, when you really niche yourself, I’ve realized later, that in some ways can be a very, very good strategy, because it’s just very clear what the blog is about.
Carrie Forrest: It was a successful strategy for me, and I had a recipe app. Instead of doing an ebook to sell, I had an app that was kind of the beginning of when food apps became popular or even a thing, and so I was able to sell that, so that was kind of a neat strategy, to have something to sell.
Bjork Ostrom: And really quickly on that, because I think we’ll be curious, was that something that you partnered with another company to do, and is that something you’re still doing? Would you do it again, or what was that experience like?
Carrie Forrest: Yeah, so I think that market kind of peaked, maybe, around 2015, especially when big companies started releasing free apps that are just really amazing. The way I did it, was I licensed a recipe app software, and then that company took maybe…I paid a fee, a licensing fee, and they took maybe 10% of sales, so that’s how that worked.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. That makes sense. So, talk to me about the point in 2014, December 2014, you published that post. It sounds like things had kind of been going well. You had this niche, you had some traction with it, but then you hit this point and you’re like, “Eh, I don’t know if this is something that I want to do.” Were you burnt out on not getting the traction you wished you had, was it just so much work, what was it at that point that made you feel like, “I don’t know if this is for me anymore”?
Carrie Forrest: Yeah, well, a lot happened. In 2012, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, so I had my thyroid removed and then I had a lot of issues adapting to life without a thyroid. You have a lot of fatigue and things like that, because you have to take a thyroid replacement hormone. Some people, turns out me, have a lot of issues, so I started having a lot of fatigue in 2012, so at that time, I had been following a vegan diet for about two years, I stuck with it. This was my community, this was my business, my life, and then certainly not going to bash a vegan diet or I’ve never done that, and I’m not doing that today, but I stuck with it.
Carrie Forrest: I just thought, "Well, I need to get even more strict with my diet, and I just wasn’t really sure what was going on looking back on it, I can see now, had a lot to do with what I went through, that kind of trauma and adapting, again, to life without a thyroid.
Carrie Forrest: It was around May 2014, then, when I just really said, “Well, I’ve got to make some changes with my diet and see if that can help,” and I mean, when I say changes to my diet, I mean not having that restriction of the vegan diet anymore, and I knew that this was not going to be what my audience wanted to hear.
Bjork Ostrom: So, essentially, you’ve built an audience, a following a business all around a certain diet, and then you are starting to realize in your personal life, maybe this isn’t the best fit for you from a lifestyle and health perspective, which is a really hard point to come to. It’s also hard because I think it’s one of the things that people fear in creating a niche is that their lifestyle changes and I think this needs to be acknowledged. We’re having conversations around business and decisions like that while fully realizing that, on such a deep scale, the processing through thyroid cancer, having your thyroid removed, all the things that come along with that.
Bjork Ostrom: Real and difficult, so I just want to acknowledge that and not get too far away from that before that’s fully acknowledged and talking about the business ramifications for that, which are very secondary. Acknowledge that, and, knowing that, that you’re both dealing with this personally but also dealing with this in your business, how did you process through that and make some of those hard decisions that went along with that?
Carrie Forrest: Well, yeah, it was really hard to separate the personal part and the professional part because, as a blogger, I’d never separated those, so I posted pictures when I was in the hospital going through the surgery and recovery, and I really relied on the community I had built, too. At that time, Instagram still wasn’t there, this is 2012, but there was Twitter and there were, of course, comments on my blog, so I was really interacting with my audience and the community I had built. The whole time I had been building this business, I had really come to rely on that community as my friends and really my community, everything that, that word encompasses, so yeah.
Carrie Forrest: Then when I was ready…I couldn’t just not tell my community that I was making this change to not being a strict vegan anymore, and I knew that there was going to be backlash. I guess I really know what to expect. I just knew it wasn’t going to be good, but I think it was mid-May 2014. I published a blog post, I had written it 20 times, just really making sure it read what I wanted it to say, and the title was, “Why I’m Not Vegan Anymore” and it was pretty crazy, the response. I think wrote to-
Bjork Ostrom: Crazy meaning negative, or difficult to deal with?
Carrie Forrest: Crazy negative. Yeah, so that day was probably the number one day of my views of all nine years of blogging, and it was so bad in a sense of how my audience reacted was, I think I told you this, male chimps suspended my account because so many people were unsubscribing at such a rapid rate. I’m laughing, but of course, at the time…
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, now that we are four years away from that.
Carrie Forrest: Yeah, it was pretty intense, and I think the…I mean, I completely alienated my audience. It’s not to say that I regret that decision, I think, maybe, looking back on it, I don’t know, maybe there could have been a more strategic way to do it, but I most definitely alienated my audience and then I’ve kind of been recovering ever since then.
Carrie Forrest: But then that point, fast forward to what you were asking me, that point in December of that year, I guess I just reached that point where I just kept watching my page views falling and falling and falling, and I had made some other mistakes that year with some links that got broken, and we can talk about that, but essentially, I saw my page views drop from the high, which was 85000 page views a month in 2014, 2013, 2014, and then it dropped to 20000 page views a month, and I just felt like I am never going to come out of this.
Carrie Forrest: I did publish a post, only for like five minutes, and then I unpublished it, but it pretty much just said, “I’ve decided not to stop blogging,” and as soon as I did, I just felt really bad and it didn’t feel right, so I took that post down, and I’ve pretty much been recovering ever since that point.
Bjork Ostrom: So, the post you published said, “I’ve decided to quit blogging,” and then you took that down five minutes after and said, “Actually, maybe not.”
Carrie Forrest: Correct.
Bjork Ostrom: Alright, got it. That brings us up to this point, a little context, and really interesting to hear your story, and I think interesting for people within a specific niche as well. One of the things that we often talk about is the importance of really owning a certain category, and at the same time, there’s this interesting balance where you have to be able to grow outside of that thing. You don’t have to, but one of the things to consider is will you be able to grow outside of that thing, and some of the most obvious examples are huge companies like Amazon, where they start with books and then the go into other categories, and now they do so many different things.
Bjork Ostrom: Or Zappos, which started with shoes, and then they go and build beyond that, but I like this analogy of starting with a niche. It’s like you have a motorcycle, where it goes super fast but there’s not much that you could carry with it, so then you need to expand, and maybe, from a motorcycle, you go to a two person car. It’s a little bigger niche, you can carry a bit more, and you kind of progress as you get that momentum early on, so it’s interesting to hear your story of doing that.
Bjork Ostrom: A little different in that, if you are vegan, there’s a lot that goes around that in terms of lifestyle decisions that people make, and also moral decisions people make, and feel passionate about those things, so I can imagine it being a very difficult change to make, and I pulled that post up, and not that it’s one that you want to spend a lot of time with, but it’s 534 comments on it, so obviously people had a lot to say about it.
Bjork Ostrom: But I think that context is a really good foundation to have this conversation about these six mistakes that you’ve made through the years, and then how you recovered from them, because I think people like to hear, “Hey, this went wrong,” and then, “Here’s what I did to right that wrong and steer the ship in the correct direction again.” Let’s go ahead and jump into some of those. The first thing that you had said was, "Changing focus and alienating your audience, and this is, I’m guessing, specifically around that switch to vegan.
Bjork Ostrom: You said even in doing that, Mail Chimps suspended your account, so what did you learn from that and how did you put the pieces back together to continue moving forward in a positive direction?
Carrie Forrest: Yeah, well, and I think, really, to kind of boil it down, I think you’re right when you were saying that you don’t want to be afraid of either getting into a niche, and you don’t want to be afraid of going outside your niche, maybe once you’ve mastered that niche.
Carrie Forrest: But then, you kind of have to ask that question when you’re gonna go into a niche, is it gonna be something that, if you expand out of it, that you’re going to alienate your audience, or is it gonna be kind of a natural evolution, and I think it’s really, still, a really great strategy to go into a niche. For folks thinking about starting a blog, to go into a niche.
Carrie Forrest: Let’s just say, specifically, around food. If you do gluten free, I think that’s a great niche. If you all of a sudden said, “I’m not gonna be gluten free anymore,” you are really going to alienate your audience, but if you said, “Well, I’ve mostly done gluten free baking, now I’m going to do dairy free and gluten free,” kind of expanding out of the niche.
Carrie Forrest: I don’t know, it’s probably not the best example, but if you think about your niche in the beginning, if you stray out of that niche, how is your audience going to react? I think, if you start with something that’s really, almost like, they say, “Never talk to people about nutrition, religion, or politics.” Those are really passionate topics for people, so just kind of want to talk about your niche.
Carrie Forrest: That’s kind of what I took away from that experience. I think, also, when you kind of, I think about the mistake I made, which was alienating my audience, I don’t think the mistake wasn’t necessarily me having to change my lifestyle. It wasn’t that mistake, but alienating my audience as opposed to maybe…
Carrie Forrest: I could have stuck with just doing vegan deserts. I still eat a ton of vegan food, but I also kind of have the personal thing of I have to be really authentic and be true, so there’s just a fine line, and you have to be careful. If you’re going to alienate an audience that you’ve really spent a lot of time building, then it’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna make it really, really hard.
Bjork Ostrom: Yup. Yup. And I think the interesting thing to think about is that it doesn’t necessarily mean that by expanding out of your niche that you are there for alienating your audience. I think that understanding of that is as it relates to your niche. There’s lots of different examples of people doing the land and expand, claiming a niche and going beyond that, but if that niche is passionate about a certain thing, whether that be, easy example is being those three things you listed, religion, nutrition, or what was the other thing you said? Politics.
Carrie Forrest: Politics.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure, so it’s like, you imagine politics trying to expand into a different niche, expanding beyond your core political beliefs. It doesn’t really look the same, it can’t really work that way. Some intentional thinking to go into that for sure, as people are continually evolving their brand, or for the people that are in the beginning stages when they are starting out.
Bjork Ostrom: This is a really ground level conversation, what did that conversation look like with Mail Chimp to get your account reactivated, and was that a difficult thing to get it back up and running?
Carrie Forrest: It was not, it was very easy. It was kind of like they must have some kind of fail safe measure where, if people are unsubscribing a faster rate than what they set in their algorithm, then it’s a sign like maybe my site had been hacked or something like that.
Carrie Forrest: In a way, it was protecting me, so I had to call them and just explain what happened and then they reactivated the account.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Cool.
Carrie Forrest: And, Bjork, I just wanted to say, too, as an example of expanding outside the niche, maybe this is a better example than before, but I’ve seen a lot of food bloggers expanding out into fashion, and I think that’s a really…that…there’s some education that has to happen, and maybe some ways to explain to the audience about what’s happening, but I’ve seen a lot of food bloggers do that really well, because a lot of food blog readers are women, and, not to be stereotypical, but we tend to have an interest in fashion, so it can be a good way to do that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I love that you called that out and mentioned that, because Lindsey, I was talking to her, this is probably a few months ago now, but she talked about how she’ll watch a story on Instagram, and somebody will talk about, this is a actual example for what happened for us, a steamer, I think that’s what it’s called, like if you have wrinkles in your clothes and you use this thing to get the wrinkles out.
Bjork Ostrom: This person was a food blogger, I think, and was like, “I really love this steamer that I use every morning,” and Lindsey bought it. It wasn’t a sponsored content thing, it was just her being like, “hey this is really great and I use this.”
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s a great example of it, where I think we understand as people that we are not our niche, and that might be a big part of who we are, but that doesn’t mean that, that’s all that we are. There are those things that are around it, those life things, that are really influential.
Bjork Ostrom: Another example is, Lindsey posted, this was maybe a couple months ago, but she posted about, she does these monthly updates every once in a while, and she’s like, “Hey, here’s some of the things in April,” I think it was, April Coffee Update is what she called it, that I’m really enjoying right now, and she had mentioned using Stitch Fix, which is, you get this box of clothes sent to you. She’s like, “I just have really enjoyed it,” again, it wasn’t sponsored or anything like that, but Stitch Fix reached out and they were like, “Hey, we would love to potentially work with you because we had some people that followed up after, and just by chance, mentioned, ‘I heard about this on Pinch of Yum.’”
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s another example, and a really good point that you make, that your niche doesn’t have to be expanding within the genre. It could be another genre that complements what you’re doing, so really good point.
Carrie Forrest: Yep.
Bjork Ostrom: So, the other thing, or the second thing that you mentioned, was this idea of broken links, and specifically, you talked about broken links related to Pinterest, and that was a mistake that was made, that then you went back and fixed. I think this is a really important one to point out, because a lot of times, people will have broken links and they don’t even know it, so could you talk a bit about what happened with this specific situation and how you went about fixing that?
Carrie Forrest: Sure, Bjork, and you probably remember there used to be a WordPress version that, back in the day, it would not let you change your permalink. Thank goodness for that, but then, at a certain point, it must have been around 2014 or 2015, WordPress made it so you can change your permalink. When you’re in your blog post and you’re seeing what your link is going to look like, it used to just pull it from your post title, and you couldn’t change it, and afterwards, I didn’t even know if you could, if it would change. I don’t think it would ever change, you would have to actually manipulate it and know what you were doing.
Bjork Ostrom: For those that aren’t familiar, so in WordPress, you can obviously change the title of a post, and what will happen is, by default, the WordPress will grab that title and use it for the permalink or some people call it the URL, like what people type in to get there, and you can change that now, so you could, if you had chocolate chip cookies, you could change it to pinchofyum.com/gobblygook if you wanted to, but you want to be kind of intentional with that. You don’t want to just make up anything, but you can change, but the thing is, once you change it, this is probably what you were getting to, all of the old versions of that won’t automatically update, so you need to be really careful if you’re updating that.
Carrie Forrest: Exactly. There are now plugins that can help you and I think there have always been, but I was not that sophisticated. As an example, because I was blogging since the old days, so my permalink, say, for an example, would be, well now it’s Clean Eating Kitchen, it would be cleaneatingkitchen.com/dairyfreechiapuddingandwhatididonthedaythatiwenttothisrestaurantandateabanana…
Carrie Forrest: It was horrible, just the links were horrible, so then I got it in my head that, oh, well, I saw that on Google Analytics that a post was doing really well, but I could see that it was just so ugly, add all those random words in.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, clean up the links, make it nice and short.
Carrie Forrest: Yeah, so that’s what I did, and I did not have any kind of plug in to redirect or do anything, so I did this, I changed on probably my top 15 to 20 posts that were still driving a lot of traffic, I mean, the majority of traffic to my blog, and I think that’s what accounted for a lot of that big drop in page views back in 2014, and we’re talking thousands, and I didn’t even realize it.
Carrie Forrest: You asked me how it effected Pinterest is that all those blog posts, when they got published, they got pinned to Pinterest with that URL, and then when I changed it on my site, anytime anybody clicked those pins, it would be broken, so I finally did a plug in called Redirection, I know you mentioned one in Food Blogger Pro, but this one that I picked, I think it’s free and it’s just very, very simple and now, if I do change permalinks, which I’m really trying not to do, it automatically forwards the other one.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Carrie Forrest: And it actually, it’s cool, because it shows you, you can go in and it shows if there are any broken ones that you need to fix, and that’s when I saw. Oh my gosh, I actually got nauseated when I saw that it said…
Bjork Ostrom: Within that day, all of a sudden, there’s all of these people coming through that are being redirected to the correct post.
Carrie Forrest: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, and somehow, I think it picked up all the, I’m not sure, possibly, but it showed how many thousands were still broken, so I had to go in and fix it.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. For sure, I know the feeling, it’s happened to us as well. The plug in that we use is one called Pretty Links, and a lot of people use these types of plugins for, let’s say they have an affiliate link, and a lot of times, affiliate links are really long and look exactly like you described before, like weird characters in it, and just really don’t look good, so people use Pretty Link, or I think it’s Pretty Links, plural, or a plugin like you’re talking about, where they use that to clean things up, so it’d be pinchofyum.com/vacuum, and maybe if we were an affiliate for a vacuum, which we’re not, and that link was really long, we’d have a really clean, pretty link, that’s where it gets the name from, for that.
Bjork Ostrom: You can also use it for redirecting a broken URL to the correct URL, and it sounds like that’s exactly what you did, where you set that up, and then you can see, with a lot of these, the number of redirects that are actually happening with that. On Pretty Links, you go in and you can look and see, “Okay,” for this specific one that we have set up, I’m just pulling one up right now.
Bjork Ostrom: An example would be, we have a redirect for pinchofyum.com/facebook, which goes to Pinch of Yum’s Facebook account, and it’s a great way to manage some of those broken links.
Bjork Ostrom: The other thing that I feel like would be worth mentioning is this tool called Google Search Console, it used to be called Google Web Master Tools, and there’s actually a place within that, where you can go and look and see if you do have URLs that are broken, that people are coming to your site and it’s a 404 page, essentially an error that tells people that something is happening. You just go to Google Search Console and then this area called Crawl, and then you look at Crawl Errors, and it will list all of those.
Bjork Ostrom: Some of those might not be a big deal, but what you might notice is there might be some really important links that people are coming to your site and those are broken. After you made that change, it sounds like, pretty immediate, you were able to see an uptick in traffic again, is that right?
Carrie Forrest: Yes, but I know that Pinterest does not like when that happens. I think these links were broken for well over a year, so I think maybe it took a little while for Pinterest to forgive me. I wanted to say that I listened to the SEO Bootcamp recently, and I thought that was fantastic. Casey, specifically, mentioned that really, even when talking about Google SEO, it’s probably not a good idea to change these permalinks, or maybe that’s not the right word, but the URL.
Carrie Forrest: I mean, if it’s broken and you’re gonna break it, that’s really not a good idea, but just to make it look nicer is probably not a good idea, so I am not changing any old links anymore.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and the idea with that is, if you change a URL, so let’s say you have one post that is set up with gobblygook, pinchofyum.com/gobblygook, and you’re like, “Eh, I want this to be nice and clean to match the recipe, so I’m going to change it to pinchofyum.com/chocolate-chip-cookies,” when you do that, if you’re gonna do it right like we’re talking about, you want to set up a redirect.
Bjork Ostrom: A redirect means that somebody clicks on the gobblygook link and it redirects it to the new one that you’ve created. There’s a lot of people that say that, that redirect process is bad because, what’s happening is it’s introducing a jump, so it slows things down, you don’t get to the page as quick, and the idea is, from an SEO perspective, form search engine optimization, that as much as possible, you want to limit the number of jumps that somebody has to go through before they get to the original content. You want that to be as quick as possible with as few redirects as possible, really, really, really clean.
Bjork Ostrom: So, it’s not something that you just want to set up all the time and go and update all of your content, just so it’s nice and clean. Moving forward, you want to be aware of that and create really intentional URLs, but if you’re going back in time, you want to be really careful about how you handle those.
Bjork Ostrom: So, really good takeaway, and for people who are looking at that, make sure you set up Google Search Console. There’s a lot of great information in there, and the Crawl Errors is one of those that you can be sure to check out.
Bjork Ostrom: The third mistake that you talked about making is this idea of photography and styling, specifically not giving that as much attention and effort as you should, so could you talk about what that mistake was about and how you went about making sure that you fixed that?
Carrie Forrest: Sure, and I’ll say that I’m still in the process, but I think some of my lack of focus on photography and styling comes from my having this background of being a journal style blogger from back in the day, where there was some part of being authentic, where you just snapped a picture and you just put it up, and that’s just what everybody was doing, as opposed to really making it look so beautiful. This is a skill and a mindset that I have had to have reinforced and reinforced and pay people, coaches, to tell me, and have people leave mean comments, like, “Your green smoothie looks like baby poo.”
Bjork Ostrom: It’s part of it. You’re paying your dues.
Carrie Forrest: This is something that I’m still learning and practicing every day. I did eventually, I should have done it years ago, but I did by Lindsey’s Tasty Food Photography Ebook, just amazing and it’s not overwhelming, because my camera is still, it’s just an alien to me in some ways. I am finally shooting in manual, but I’m almost nine years in on this thing.
Carrie Forrest: It’s definitely a mental switch for me, and the styling part, that’s kind of unique to me, too, having garnishes. Recently, I was working with someone who’s kind of given me some constructive criticism on my photography, and I showed her a picture that I’d done recently, like last week, and she said, “Well, you know, if you could make it look a little more like this is how it looked on your counter before you’re ready to serve it as opposed to a still life.”
Carrie Forrest: I was like, “oh my god, I’ve been styling it like a painting.” That is a mistake that I haven’t put the effort in learning how to do it, and practicing it. It’s almost like you have to do it a little every day.
Bjork Ostrom: From the courses that you took and some of the coaching you did, maybe even from Tasty Food Photography, any of those avenues, what do you feel like are the most important, the one or two things that you’ve taken away that have made the biggest difference when it comes to photography?
Carrie Forrest: Practice and then the second one, which was kind of hard for me, was to develop my own style, and then it feels authentic, so I don’t feel like, I don’t know, like I’m faking it. Like, “Oh, yeah, this is how it looked. This is how I served it,” because my food’s never gonna look like that when I serve it. It’s always gonna look like a baby poo green smoothie, but if I want it to look pretty and not to look like that, I have to make an effort, but then, finding my own style.
Carrie Forrest: A few ways that I have done that is going through the food gawker gallery. I think you push a heart, and creating a gallery of pictures that jump out at me. What is about those pictures, exactly? Going down to is it a light background or is it a dark background? Is there a flower or not a flower? The little tiny things. Do you use a spoon or do you leave out the spoon? Is it an antique spoon or is it a wood handled spoon, really starting to develop my own aesthetic, and that’s not the way that my brain works.
Carrie Forrest: To me, I’m just like, “I’m just gonna grab whatever I actually use to eat my smoothie,” versus making it look a certain way.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, Lindsey talks about this idea of creating a private Pinterest board and not going in and, well…going into Pinterest with the sole intent to find inspiration. What are the things, if you feel like you’re trying to find your style, what are the styles that you appreciate, and then making a note in the description area of what you appreciate about those things.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s almost teaching yourself what you like. Not that you then take that and replicate exactly what that is, because the purpose is to create your own style, and to allow yourself to develop individually while finding the certain components, the little pieces, like you said, maybe it’s a certain spoon or maybe it’s an angle, or maybe it’s the colors that are used, and letting that inform, then, your creative process, which I think is great.
Bjork Ostrom: The other thing that I think is so important to point out is this idea of practice and time. I think we don’t give ourselves enough time to become good at something, to become truly good at something. I think we want to be really good really quick, and with something like photography, I think, because we are all, in a way, photographers, we have a phone in our pocket that can take photographs, that can look good, we all feel like we should be able to do it, but in order to really build it as a craft, it takes a lot of time, and it’s like a musical instrument. We’re not gonna pick up the saxophone and expect to play it really well.
Bjork Ostrom: Even within a year of practicing an hour or two a day, you’re still not gonna be great at the saxophone. It’s gonna take a long time to get to the point where you can play confidently, and the same is true with photography, so I love that you bring up that practice point, because that’s so true for any of the skills that we’re trying to develop.
Carrie Forrest: Yeah, and I think the analogy to a musical instrument is perfect.
Bjork Ostrom: And I did play saxophone in high school, in case you were wondering. The next thing that you listed here is this idea of evergreen content, specifically, not having enough recipes on your site. That’s one of the things that I think for this niche or industry or genre of recipe content, that we kind of take for granted, is that we are creating content that, in a lot of ways, will be evergreen, and it sounds like, in the earlier stages, or one of the mistakes that you had made, was not really leaning into that enough, so can you talk about that?
Carrie Forrest: Yeah, and I really made this mistake even after I hit that low point in 2014, so I got a little gun shy, I have to say. I was nervous about…I still had a vegan audience, then I was trying to build a new audience, but then I was a little nervous. Those remaining readers, who I still had, what if I posted a non-vegan recipe? What I did instead was I kind of went back to the journal style blog posts, which was the what I ate Wednesday, the, I don’t know.
Carrie Forrest: “Oh, you know, now it’s summer. Here’s some pictures from around where I live,” and those posts, I think, are fun, and I like to read them from other bloggers, but they’re not really posts that you can…you can’t put a pretty title on it and put it on Pinterest, and get thousands of hits. So, they’re good for every now and then, but you can’t really build your food blog on those types of photos or those types of posts.
Carrie Forrest: I think I have made that mistake, and thinking a bit more strategically about having more recipes, really good quality recipes on my site and then having even the other posts that can be considered evergreen, which, they don’t just have to be recipes. They can be health articles. In my case, they can be those roundup posts, I think those count as an evergreen content, or even a how to, like, how to cook a squash in a crock pot could be an evergreen piece of content that’s not necessarily complicated, extensive recipe.
Bjork Ostrom: I thought about this a couple times and I wonder what this would look like, and it could be in this niche, but maybe not necessarily, but creating massively valuable pieces of content, but putting a ton of time into it, and maybe, it’s like spending two weeks on one, single piece of content and building it as the ultimate, authoritative piece of content for that specific thing. I don’t have a good example.
Bjork Ostrom: Well, I feel that a good example is, there is a, he’s a SEO guy, and he has a site called Back Linko. His name is Brian Dean, and he has really minimal amount of content, I don’t know how much it is, but maybe it’s, I’m just making this up, but 50 blog posts or something like that, but they all rank really, really well for specific keywords because they’re so well done.
Bjork Ostrom: His strategy has been to create really awesome pieces of content, spend a ton of time on them, and just letting those be evergreen pieces of content that he continuously goes back, maintains and updates. I think there is space for that in this niche as well. I thought about that even with Pinch of Yum, where I don’t think we give enough time and attention to older pieces of content, maintaining those pieces of content as evergreen, because I think we so often get caught in the create new, create new, create new mindset, which is good, but also, there’s this mindset of optimize old, optimize old, optimize old.
Bjork Ostrom: With recipes, we can do that, so it’s interesting to hear you talk about that. Like you said, it doesn’t have to be just recipes that are evergreen content, but being intentional to think about what are the pieces of content that I can go back to, that I can maintain, that can be a pillar of my business? Is that something that you are intentional, thinking about now as you create content?
Carrie Forrest: Yes, I agree with you, and I think, also, this idea of updating the old content. You can still do that and not necessarily republish it, so it comes up to the front page, because a lot of my old stuff, I don’t necessarily want that.
Carrie Forrest: For instance, I’ve been exploring, because, I didn’t say this, but I ended up getting a master’s degree in public health nutrition, so I kind of have a balance between recipes and health information, and kind of my journey on my site. I’ve been exploring this whole area of CBD oil, which is kind of a really hot topic in the health industry these days.
Carrie Forrest: I have a post that was published maybe six weeks ago, and still, as I’m continuing to learn, I’m going back and I’m even fleshing it out more, so it’s probably around 1500, maybe 2000 words now, and I’m just continuing to add little pieces to it, but not republishing it, because I do link to it quite a bit on Facebook and Instagram and stuff like that, and it is doing pretty well with SEO, so I just want to make sure it still stays nice and current.
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, that’s great. So, we are coming to the end here, we have two more, and would love to hit each one of these. The fifth thing that you had mentioned, one of these mistakes that you had made that you are now starting to correct is not having something to sell. Can you talk about why that was a mistake and what happened as you started to change that?
Carrie Forrest: Right, and I think this goes back to a concept that you have talked about, Bjork, about how an egg carton with 12 slots for 12 eggs, and I think this is just kind of a reinforcement of that. I feel like 12 is too many for me, so I shoot for about five, but for many years, I had my blog and my app, so that was two, and those did well for me, but then, when I did stop selling the app because it was a vegan food app, so when I switched my focus, I shut down the app.
Carrie Forrest: Then, for three and a half years, I just had my blog ad revenue, and I feel like it’s not enough unless you are just a blockbuster page views blogger, it is important to think of other sources of revenue. That could even be…I guess I’ve had sponsored posts, and that would count as one. That’s definitely a good revenue source, and then there’s the ad traffic, but you kind of have to challenge yourself, I think, to think about eBooks, which I think are still relevant, cookbooks, just really pushing yourself to develop those other sources of revenue.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. And for you, what do you think about when you think of adding those products? Is that something that you have done or are looking at doing here in 2018?
Carrie Forrest: I have done and I’m continuing to think about it.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Cool.
Carrie Forrest: In 2018, I do really think that the eBooks, one thing that I’m interested is self-publishing a print to order book.
Bjork Ostrom: For those that aren’t familiar, can you talk about what print to order is?
Carrie Forrest: So, that would be, it’s self-publishing, I would work with somebody who she will design it for me, I upload it to Amazon. I’m not really sure of the process, but then it’s a hard copy book, but it doesn’t get printed until someone orders it on Amazon.
Bjork Ostrom: Right, so idea being that one of the issues, usually, with any print copy or print book is that you have to order a bunch of copies, so you have 1000, 2000, 10000 copies of a book sitting in your garage and you need to make sure, or Amazon’s shelves, and you need to make sure that those get off the shelves, but in this case, there’s a little higher cost, but any time that somebody orders it, then what happens is they actually go and print it, so it’s kind of a one off solution, so you don’t have to worry about any inventory. There’s a company, I forget the name of it, but they were acquired by Amazon, so now Amazon does that, so love that idea.
Carrie Forrest: Yeah, I think it’s called Crate Space or something like that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that sounds right. I’m not super familiar with it. Cool, alright, so last thing that you talk about here, Carrie, is having a growth mindset, and not having a growth mindset, and not going outside of your community to expand your audience. Why was that a mistake and how did you go about fixing that?
Carrie Forrest: Yeah, and I think it’s different from a growth mindset. It’s really an idea about growing your audience and how you get exposed to new people. It just seemed to be so much easier back in the day. I’m not sure why, I guess because we were all really communicating only on blogs, without social media, it was really, there was just one way to connect with people, and that was on blogs. It was kind of easy to just…
Carrie Forrest: Somebody would mention, “Oh yeah, I read this blog,” and then we used to have the side bar would be other blogs I read, and you’d list your 30 favorite blogs and it was kind of really simple to expand your audience. Now, that is, I find that’s really, it’s much, much more difficult to really think about how can I authentically present myself to another blogger where she will then introduce me to her audience, and there are ways to do that, that is really authentic.
Carrie Forrest: Even just saying, “Let’s do an interview with you,” like a written interview with my blog or she’ll put it on her blog, and then I’ll offer her something in return. I have a podcast, so maybe I’ll interview her on my podcast, and then expose her work to my audience. You really have to be deliberate.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and I think, another thing related to that, that I thought about is this idea that people aren’t where I am. Sometimes I think, hey, everybody hangs out on the internet in the same way that I do, but the reality is, everybody has their own way that they operate online, and in different online communities, and for some people, they live within the community of Reddit.
Bjork Ostrom: Some people live within the community of Snapchat or Instagram or YouTube, or some people only do email. If you think of how narrow, this is speaking to myself, if you think of how narrow I am in the way that I’m connecting with and reaching people, there’s a ton of opportunity that I’m missing in all of those different places, not only in the avenue that we are reaching people, but also in the other communities. Like you said, this idea of connecting with and partnering with other people to help get exposure in other places is so massively valuable.
Bjork Ostrom: And there’s billions of people in the world, and the 99.9999% of them don’t have any idea what I’m doing or what we’re up to, so as much as possible, I think it’s so valuable to think about strategically reaching those people and connecting with those people, which is great.
Bjork Ostrom: And I’m glad that you were able to do that by coming on the podcast Carrie and having these conversations. One of the things you had actually mentioned was that you do have a podcast. Could you talk a little about what that is and what that journey’s been like?
Carrie Forrest: Yeah, so that’s one, I guess, strategic way that I thought about building my audience, and it’s interesting because iTunes and the other podcast networks, it has a search function, so you can go in there and type whatever you wanted. I’ve even gone in there and typed my personality type in my Meyer’s-Briggs INFJ, and I found a podcast just for that.
Carrie Forrest: Now, if I were to try to find blogs, you know how that is. You go into Google and if I just type that in, I would just get two bazillion returns, so it’s kind of cool that there’s almost an index or a directory when you do a podcast, so that was one of the ways that I was thinking about growing my audience.
Carrie Forrest: I called it Clean Eating for Women to make it kind of a niche, my blog is Clean Eating Kitchen, so it’s a little even more niche, and I’ve been able to interview people, and we talk about diet and health and supplements and things like that, but related to women.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. And, it’s great to have anybody that does a podcast on a podcast, because it’s always a little easier when you’re somebody that does a podcast, so it works out really well. Carrie, really fun to connect, really great to have this conversation with you and so appreciate you sharing some of these things that you’ve gone through on your blogging journey. If people want to follow along with you and what you’re up to, where can they connect with you?
Carrie Forrest: Well, probably my blog is, as I mentioned cleaneatingkitchen.com, I do love Instagram and I’m Clean Eating Carrie on Instagram.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome, and you’re a Food Blogger Pro member, so we’ll see you on the Food Blogger Pro forums, which is so fun, and when this podcast comes out, we’ll be in the middle of a Food Blogger Pro enrollment season, so for anybody that’s interested, we’ll talk about it at the beginning of this podcast, but would love to have you on as a member of Food Blogger Pro.
Bjork Ostrom: Carrie, so fun to connect and thanks so much for coming on the podcast.
Carrie Forrest: Thank you, Bjork.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey, hey, beautiful listeners. Alexa here bringing you the review of the week. This one comes from Karen from the wonderful blog seasonalcravings.com
Alexa Peduzzi: It says, “I started listening to Lindsey and Bjork’s podcast this week while on vacation, and I am learning so much. I listen to them while I take my morning run, and I find that my run goes so much quicker.” Thanks for that.
Alexa Peduzzi: "I like that they are focused on the essentials of success, since it’s so easy to get caught up in the details when doing any creative project. I find myself more focused and determined to make my food blog worth. Thanks so much and keep them coming. I love hearing about how to schedule my day to stay focused and get the most done before my kids get home at 3 PM.
Alexa Peduzzi: Thank you so much, Karen, we really appreciate it, and thank you all for listening today. I hope that you really enjoyed Carrie’s episode. I love when we feature members from the Food Blogger Pro community on the podcast, because the community is made up of so many amazing, wonderful people who I learn from every single day.
Alexa Peduzzi: If you are interested in joining Food Blogger Pro, I just wanted to remind you that enrollment is closing this Thursday, May 31. You only have a few more days to join, depending on when you listen to this, and enrollment won’t be open for another few months.
Alexa Peduzzi: If you’re still trying to decide whether or not you want to become a member, I say just jump into it. We have a 60-day money back guarantee so that you can try it out for a few weeks before really diving in and determining whether or not Food Blogger Pro is right for you.
Alexa Peduzzi: Not too many people take us up on that offer, but it’s there in case you need it, so you can try Food Blogger Pro risk free, but I really, really believe that you’re going to love it. So, with that, signing off today. Thank you guys, again, for listening, and from all of us here at FBP HQ, make it a great week.
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