Tips from Bjork and Lindsay
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Welcome to episode 175 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, we’re rewinding back to episode #24 with Ali Martin from Gimme Some Oven.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork talked about the ways that you can practice 1% infinity with your blog or business. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Every once in a while, we like to rewind back to a past episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, and this one is a good one. It’s one of our most popular episodes, and while a lot has changed since this episode aired in December 2015, a lot of what Ali talks about is as important as ever.
We’re so excited about this FBP Rewind episode because the advice that Ali gives in this interview is timeless. She talks about important self-care tips, following your passions, and how she grows her blog every day.
Thanks to our Reviewer of the Week, Bethany from Maloney Made! 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.
Alexa Peduzzi: In this episode, we rewind back to one of our most popular episodes ever, and we announce open enrollment for Food Blogger Pro.
Alexa Peduzzi: Now for the episode. To be completely honest with you, this is the Food Blogger Pro Podcast episode that I think about the most, the one that has made the biggest impact on my blog and the one I’ve listened to just multiple, multiple times. Yes, I’m talking about Episode 24 with Ali from Gimme Some Oven. It’s back from December of 2015, so quite a few things have changed. For instance, Ali is now married, and she’s currently living in Barcelona with her husband and two pups.
Alexa Peduzzi: That said, a lot of the lessons and advice that Ali shares in this episode are still as relevant today as they ever were. From the importance of self-care to following your passions, you’ll love revisiting this episode or listening to it for the very first time. Ready to rewind? Let’s jump in.
Bjork Ostrom: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. I’m really excited today because I have somebody on the podcast that is not only somebody that is an incredible blogger, food blogger, but somebody I’ve met in person, which is rare in this world that we live in, Ali Ebright from Gimme Some Oven. Ali, welcome to the podcast.
Ali Martin: Thank you so much. It’s great to be chatting.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s really fun. My question is are you calling in from your apartment, from your condo, or what would you call it?
Ali Martin: I am. I’m sitting in my loft with my dog right beside me.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Okay, so Henry’s next to you. It’s fun for me because we went and spoke at a conference, Chopped Con in Kansas City, and, after, you had some people over, and I was like, “Wow, this is the most incredible place ever.” It’s such a cool place, so it’s fun for me to envision you sitting there. I know Henry. If I was there, I would give him a little scratch on the head.
Ali Martin: He’d love that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s funny because, usually, I record these from the office where we are, but we’re in transition. We have a new studio space that Lindsay and I are working in, so it’s possible that, if the mailman comes, that Sage will bark and, if she does, we’ll just imagine it as kind of a virtual hello to Henry, so we’ll just kind of pass that on one dog to another.
Ali Martin: He may say hello right back, so we’ll see.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, okay. Okay, perfect. One of the things that I love doing when we get started with this is just hearing a little bit about the backstory. I think it’s interesting for people to hear it, but I also think there’s occasionally little nuggets of information that people can pull out, so I’d love to hear, Ali, the story of Gimme Some Oven and when you started that, and why you started that, and maybe kind of bring it up in the SparkNotes version to where you are today.
Ali Martin: Perfect. Yeah, I began the blog back in 2009. Back then, I think, like so many bloggers, it was just purely a hobby outlet for fun. I didn’t even really know what a blog was when I began, but I was teaching myself how to cook in my mid–20s and, at the time, it was the sort of thing where I was always bringing food, just experimenting all the time, bringing new recipes to parties and such. If something was good, everybody would always ask for the recipe afterwards, and I just felt like I was constantly emailing recipes or writing them out on note cards. Then I stumbled across the idea of a blog. I didn’t even really understand what they were, but Simply Recipes with Elise, who was on your show a couple weeks ago-
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Ali Martin: Yeah. I remember one of my friends recommended her blog to me, and she had sworn that every single thing she’d made from it was awesome. I checked it out and tried a few recipes but, more than anything, I just noticed the format which, at the time, was different than a static website, and so I decided … My brother-in-law happened to be a part-time web designer, and so he threw me up a site and, probably within about two or three weeks, just super impulsively, I decided to start my little blog. I didn’t know what to name it, but I was in a band at the time, and I asked the guys in the band, and they’re like, “Gimme Some Oven,” with the Gimme Some Lovin’ tie-in.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
Ali Martin: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: If you’re going to ask anybody what to name something, a band is the place you should go, right?
Ali Martin: Oh, man.
Bjork Ostrom: They’ve had issue before. What’s our name?
Ali Martin: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s funny.
Ali Martin: They took it very seriously.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great.
Ali Martin: Yeah. If it were up to me, it would have been called something super boring.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right, right. Fun to hear that tie-in with Elise, so if people haven’t heard that episode, I’d really encourage you to go back and listen to it. Elise talks about her story as well and also really interesting to hear her. She went through this phase where she was hit with a …. when Google did an update, and it impacted her traffic significantly, so for those that haven’t checked out that episode, be sure to go back and check it out, and fun to hear that tie-in for you.
Ali Martin: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: You started this. Was it on WordPress that you started?
Ali Martin: I did, yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay.
Ali Martin: I, thankfully, was lucky enough to begin on WordPress, so I didn’t have to move over, but yeah. I was not lucky enough to know anything about photography, and so I-
Bjork Ostrom: Okay.
Ali Martin: Oh, go ahead.
Bjork Ostrom: For the first year or two years when you’re starting, are you consistently posting or is it kind of like a hobby like, “Hey, I’m going to do this every once in a while,” or were you like, “Hey, I’m all in, and I’m going to do this consistently”?
Ali Martin: It was totally a hobby, and it was super non-scheduled. If anything, I was even completely in my own world. I really wasn’t reading other blogs. I just kind of stumbled upon the format and just really stayed in my own little cave for about two years. I had no idea about Google Analytics. I had no idea that you could monetize a blog, so it was purely for fun just learning about writing, learning about how to cook at the time, and teaching myself photography because I knew nothing, starting out, about anything beyond pointing my little point-and-shoot at some food.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Is that what you used when you first got started was a point-and-shoot?
Ali Martin: Yeah, yeah. In fact, actually, for my very first blog post, I tried to take a picture of some bread, and it looked so horrific that it finally clicked for me that photography was actually a big part of this, and so like-
Bjork Ostrom: This is important, if I’m going to do a recipe, that it looks good.
Ali Martin: Yeah, so I did the Craigslist swap and swapped in two old point-and-shoots cameras for a really bottom-of-the-line DSLR and had a photographer friend come over and teach me how to use it and slowly worked my way up from there, but yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. In those early years, if you knew that … or you didn’t know, I guess, that it was something that could potentially grow into what is now a full-time job for you. What was your motivation in learning those things, trying to get better photos, trying to improve your writing, trying to get better recipes? Obviously, it was all internal, but where did that come from?
Ali Martin: Yeah. I think I just really enjoyed it, which I’m really thankful that I had those years where it was just purely for fun, and it just really, to me, felt like a genuinely creative outlet. I was learning how to cook at the time, but I found that I really enjoyed the photography and kind of just trying to step it up and make photos actually look appetizing. I feel like it took like a year before I just even kind of had any sort of peace about my photos. Now I look back on those and I’m like, “Oh, gosh, the lighting,” or whatever it may be.
Bjork Ostrom: Right, which is probably a good thing that you’re always looking back at your previous work and wishing it was a little bit better, meaning that you’ve improved along the way.
Ali Martin: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: I reference this quite often, but there’s a great Ira Glass quote, and we’ll put it in the show notes, and I don’t have it memorized, which I should, but he talks about the tension that exists for an artist in that first year or two years because you know what good work looks like, but you really … you’re not there yet, and there’s this tension in that you’re continuing to create art but you’re not creating art that you know is what you want it to be. It sounds kind of like that’s where things were with your photography. Curious, knowing that you wanted to improve your photography, where did you go to learn, and what were the things that you learned that really help you take it to the next level?
Ali Martin: Honestly, back in the day, I had a bunch of friends who were photographers, so I learned the old, old, old-fashioned way and would bake them cookies.
Bjork Ostrom: Asking people.
Ali Martin: Yeah, and have them come over and literally sit with me on a shoot or sit with me on Photoshop or whatever it was. That’s kind of a way that I learn really easily, and later through YouTube videos or reading blog posts about things but, honestly, kind of back in the day, I feel like there weren’t all that many super accessible tutorials online, so I learned a lot, and I just learned a lot through trial and error, like sitting there with an awesome spread in front of me and taking a bunch of pictures and pulling them up the next day on my computer and realizing, “Oh, my gosh, the light was completely off,” or, “I was so out of focus,” and so a lot of it was really just kind of trying to get the bare basics of an in-focus, well-lit photo.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, absolutely.
Ali Martin: The more I started looking around in magazines or on blogs or whatever, then I became a little more interested in the styling side of things, but initially just … Man, just taking a photo that’s well-lit is so hard.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right.
Ali Martin: It boggles my mind that it’s so hard.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you have any tips for people that are interested in … specific to lighting. Do you use natural light? Do you use artificial light? What is your process for that as long as we’re in the photography zone here?
Ali Martin: Totally. I use 100% natural light for my blog. I’ve experimented with some artificial lighting but, for me, I shoot mostly white-on-white back-lit photos, and I’m just super duper, duper picky about the kind of white and the kind of light in my photos. That said, my biggest tip to everyone is always tripod, tripod, tripod. I feel like my tripod has saved me in a number of low-light situations, especially when I had another job and didn’t have the perfect, ideal time of day to shoot. That, and then I also have a little tutorial I can send you a link on my blog for using the little white balance eye dropper.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, sure, yeah.
Ali Martin: I feel like that, lighting-wise, has also saved me many, many, many times.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, so I want to go back here. You said white-on-white back-lit. Can you explain what that means?
Ali Martin: Totally. I shoot on a white surface, which is just a really cheap piece of white foam core from Hobby Lobby, which I get on sale at Hobby Lobby.
Bjork Ostrom: Nice, yeah.
Ali Martin: It’s really inexpensive. Then I almost always shoot in white dishes so that … My hope is just that the attention is drawn completely to the actual food itself. Then I shoot back-lit, which means that the photo is right up next to a window so the sun’s shining toward the camera.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it, and so natural light for those.
Ali Martin: Yeah, yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you ever use artificial light?
Ali Martin: I’ve tried it a few times, and I’ll do it more for if I’m shooting for other projects for clients or something that maybe aren’t kind of my signature white-on-white style maybe. If I’m shooting on a wood background or something, I’ve found that to be a little more forgiving. For that, I have a couple EGO lights which, actually, your wife recommended to me.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, sure, yeah. Yep.
Ali Martin: Yeah, but other than that, no, I just … I keep trying, and I just haven’t found something that I’m super comfortable with so, right now, me and the sunshine.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, for sure. Other than it’s inconsistency, it’s a great source of light, so cool.
Ali Martin: True, true.
Bjork Ostrom: I think it’s helpful for people to talk about that, and I know there’s a lot of people … We hear this on Food Blogger Pro and just from conversations that we have with people that really like your style of photography, and they say, “Hey, how can we do a similar style to that?” I think, like you said, even just recognizing it’s the white-on-white, so white board, white dishes, back-lit, and then I think an important piece that you mentioned that not a lot of people think about is time and energy and continual learning, which is often … The hardest piece is committing to it until you get to that point where you feel really good about it.
Ali Martin: Yeah, totally.
Bjork Ostrom: Let’s go back. As we were kind of walking through your story, we were kind of in the one- to two-year range where you were saying, “I still really enjoy this. I like working on it. It’s very much so a hobby.” At what point did that flip-switch, or was it not an immediate switch? Did you say, “Hey, you know, actually, oh, I can place ads on the site and create an income from that?” What did that process look like as you started to transition it into a source of income and start to think about the potential for it being a job?
Ali Martin: Yeah, totally. Honestly, the main switch that flipped for me was actually starting to read other blogs and meet some other bloggers. That’s when I finally woke up to the idea of monetization and, once I looked at my analytics, I realized pretty quickly that I had more traffic than I realized. Once I started monetizing with just some really simple Google AdSense ads, I realized that I was already pretty close to being able to almost pay my mortgage with what income my blog was earning, and so I decided to be more diligent about it and try and start posting a little more consistency and just see, A, if I enjoyed it and, B, what would actually happen if the blog would grow?
Ali Martin: Sure enough, as I was more consistent with it and just tried to … I finally got on social media. I was like the latest blogger ever with all these things. I finally got on Facebook and Twitter back in the day, and I was using Pinterest just for fun, so I was kind of an early adopter of Pinterest before a lot of the bloggers hopped on it, but yeah, I just started to see the blog growing and also reached a point, professionally in my other job, which I loved, but my other job was just working a lot of nights and weekends, and I was getting pretty burned out on that and wasn’t sure what to do and was just kind of having a quarter-life crisis.
Ali Martin: Finally, one day, I woke up and was like, “You know what? I could make it through the summer, at least, just living off of my blog and savings and whatever it maybe,” and so, pretty impulsively, within a few days, I decided to quit my job that I had had for seven years and just blog for the summer. I was planning on probably applying to law school or doing something totally different, but I thought I’d just kind of give it a try and sure enough … I don’t know. To me, it was like this huge sign, but maybe it was just serendipitous. Literally, the day that I stopped, I got my first sponsored content contract, which was brand-new at the time. It was working for Tablespoon, a blog with General Mills, and I just felt like all the angels were singing, and this was meant to be.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right, right, the stars have aligned, and the birds chirp over you as you walk down the street.
Ali Martin: Yeah, yeah. Totally. I think I posted on Facebook about it with a lot of exclamation marks, but anyway, so long story short, that just kind of began my kind of experiment with trying it full-time and, three and a half years later, I’m still at it, and a lot of that … I just love to learn, and I feel like the blogging industry is such ripe ground and overwhelming at times, as well, for just constant, constant, constant learning.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure.
Ali Martin: I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve really enjoy working for myself. I’ve really enjoyed developing an audience and continuing to hone the craft. That said, I still, for me, don’t feel like it’s probably going to be a lifelong career, so I feel like I’m kind of maybe one of those unique bloggers that’s kind of in the place of I love it and I’m enjoying as much of it as I can for now, but I also just kind of have this sense that it’s probably not something that will be a super long-term career field for me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and that’s one of the reasons … Obviously, you have a successful site, a hugely successful site, and I want to talk a little bit about that in terms of what that looks like and what numbers look like for you as you grew it through the years, but also I know just about you that this isn’t maybe necessarily something you want to do forever, and I’d love to dig into that and talk about that a little bit. I’m really interested to talk about where your blog is at right now and then also to dig in a little bit and talk about maybe why you feel like it’s not a forever thing for you.
Bjork Ostrom: First of all, if you’d be willing, can you share a little bit about, over the years, the traffic to your site, how that grew, maybe where it’s at today, and if you can pinpoint maybe some of the reasons why you think you were able to build traffic to your site through the years? The reason that I ask is because I think, number one, people like to know, right? People are just curious.
Ali Martin: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Number two, I think it’s helpful for people to hear kind of those trigger points like, “At this point, this happened, and I can attribute it back to XYZ,” if you can. Sometimes you can’t, but I’d be curious to know, as much as you’re comfortable.
Ali Martin: Yeah, totally. I can’t remember traffic numbers kind of throughout the years, but I do know that some significant jumps happened when I did go full-time with the blog in 2012. I don’t know why. I was around a few other food bloggers, at the time, who were full-time, and they were posting like five to seven days a week, and so I kind of thought that was what full-time bloggers do, because I was doing two to three times a week before that, and so for probably a good year I posted four to five times a week, and that’s an-
Ali Martin: … year, I posted four to five times a week. And that’s an insane amount of content now.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s a lot of content. Now, then, anytime.
Ali Martin: I can’t imagine.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s incredible.
Ali Martin: Yeah, totally. But you know, it did make a difference and I feel like my blog jumped considerably in traffic at that time. That also happened to be around the time, I think, that Pinterest really started taking off. And Pinterest it’s still my highest traffic driver next to Google. And so yeah, I feel like once I started getting a little more serious about Pinterest and everything around that. Like trying to format my photos to make them very Pinterest friendly, to try and pin my content and other people’s content consistently. Pinterest has definitely made a big difference in my site over the years.
Bjork Ostrom: If you had a pie graph of Pinterest traffic, would it be 50% of your traffic? 75?
Ali Martin: I’d say right now it’s a little under 50. So my like 40, 45.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, and then like 30 to 40 from Google?
Ali Martin: Yeah about that.
Bjork Ostrom: And then all the other random places direct-
Ali Martin: All the other stuff.
Bjork Ostrom: Twitter, Facebook, things like that. Okay, great.
Ali Martin: Yeah, yeah, totally.
Bjork Ostrom: And if you could do a snapshot; so let’s say when you’re first getting started out, there’s always the 100 visitors a month, 1,000 visitors a month kind of grow. Do you remember at what point about, what traffic was like for you in maybe general income numbers? When you said, “Hey, I’m gonna make the jump here into full-time blogging.” Just as a reference point for other people who are maybe thinking about doing the same thing?
Ali Martin: Totally. For me, when I went full-time, I was making about $1,000 a mo. Which, my mortgage at the time was seven or $800. I live in the Midwest.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right, you and I both.
Ali Martin: But I’d also been used to living on a non-prof salary for a long time, so my expenses were really low, and continued to stay low for the next few years. But yeah, now it’s to the point where it’s just crazy to me, how things grow and it’s providing far more than I need for my bills. I think when I left my full-time job, my traffic was around five to 800,000 page views a month, and now it’s hovering just under nine million.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s crazy!
Ali Martin: Which is nuts!
Bjork Ostrom: It’s so incredible.
Ali Martin: I can’t even fathom that kind of a number. And you know it goes up and down and I just never know what the future will hold for something like that, but for right now it’s just been really fun to see it grow. And to be able to see a readership become much more consistent around it, and people really being able to recognize and rely on it. And yeah, just everything that comes with that.
Bjork Ostrom: So I’m curious to know. Was the growth from your site, was it something that was pretty consistent over time? And would you say that it continued to grow because of things that you were doing? Or were you trying to improve in small area? I’m guessing all of those are true, but would love to dig into a little bit more of your thought process as you’ve grown the blog. To connect for people who when they hear nine million, it’s an insane amount. It’s so much traffic to a website. And so for those who are just starting out, I think it can feel overwhelming. But when you connect the dots, and put those little pieces together, it might not be as overwhelming.
Bjork Ostrom: So do you feel like … I guess the question is this, what are the things that you continue to do each and every day that allows you to continue to grow your site?
Ali Martin: I feel like I … Probably the biggest thing that I learned years in, was to pay really, really, really close attention to what my readers liked, and what they wanted, and to ask them that regularly. Because there’s always a balance, and I’ve heard Lindsay talk about this as well, between trying to decide what posts are gonna be kinda guaranteed home runs. Like your fettuccine alfredo or something, chocolate chip cookies that you know everybody’s always looking for, versus maybe the more creative things or whatever it may be. And I’ve just found my personal style, I really love to cook super healthy, not a lot of meat. I don’t know, I really do love experimenting with funky ingredients or whatever it may be.
Ali Martin: But I’ve realized as a business woman as well that my readers especially, at least the people who come to my site, just seem really interested in easy recipes. Anything that’s 30 minutes or less, with just a few ingredients, and easy steps. They love chicken. They love chicken so much. Oh my gosh. Yeah, so much chicken. And they love slow cooker recipes, so a lot of it has been … My mom randomly is a cross stitch designer. Which is kind of a niched little job, but-
Bjork Ostrom: I’m so excited to hear how you tie this in.
Ali Martin: Well, because I remember she told me early on. She’s like … ’Cause I was like, “How do you choose what you design or whatever it is?” And she’s like, “Well I kinda have a choice. You find the things that you like that make sense to you and that you’re passionate about. But at the same time you find the things that your customers want.” And as I’ve paid more attention, it turns out I also love chicken. I love slow cooker recipes, I love easy. So it’s been trying to find that balance between what it is that people are searching for and a lot of that is through SEO research. I’m a big, big, big, big believer in the Google Keyword Tool; which is free online and it’s fantastic.
Ali Martin: If you ever find yourself … Like whenever I find myself just having recipe development block and can’t decide what to make, sometimes if I happen to have a package of spaghetti lying around, I’ll go into the Google Keyword Planner and just type in spaghetti and see what comes up. And it turns out, tons of people might be searching for spaghetti carbonara or whatever it may be, and I’ll find things and be like, “Okay, at least according to Google, people are looking for these things.” So, trying to meet a need that I can see statistically, is already there. But again, also trying to just ask my readers regularly what it is that they want and like, and what they want to see, and finding ways to help them. ’Cause I feel like a lot of times as artists or creatives, it’s easy to get into “This is what I want.” But my number one goal is I just really wanna help people get dinner on the table. So whatever it is that they need, I’m game.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. So I know that there’s gonna be a lot of people right now that are thinking they have their pen ready to take notes on this. Can you talk about the Google Keyword Tool a little bit more? Exactly how that works, what it is? You mentioned it’s a free resource. How people could start to use that and any tips that you’d have for people specifically around that?
Ali Martin: Yes, totally. I think it’s so cool, and I just think it’s so cool that it’s free. So I’m a big … I always encourage bloggers to check it out. So basically, if you Google, Google Keyword Tool, it’s the first thing that pops up and it’s part of AdWords. And you go in, and I can’t remember. I can send you some time, like a step-by-step. There’s one button that you click over to find the basic, the actual specific keyword search results. And so you can type in spaghetti carbonara or something. Or spaghetti maybe, and see all the different things that pop up. And what I tell people to look for, is something that has low competition. There’s either low, medium or high. And low competition means that there aren’t too many other sites that meet that specific search query. But then look for medium to high numbers.
Ali Martin: So it might be that 2,000 people a day look for this one recipe, or maybe 100,000. You’re probably not gonna score highest on the 100,000, so you might not necessarily go for the top one. But if you can find something within the range or what it is that you’re looking to make that’s kind of a mid-range number, low competition, almost always, I’ve just had really great success with that. And there’ve been a couple kinda of fun experiments where one day I was on there and I happened that baked ziti had super high test results. So it was low and it had high numbers of people searching for it. Baked ziti and chicken alfredo, I saw that day were both hot. So almost as a joke to Google, I was like, “Well I’m gonna make chicken alfredo baked ziti and just see what happens.” And it went through the roof!
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. It was alike a keyword combo.
Ali Martin: And that’s doesn’t always happen.
Ali Martin: But I was like, “Who knows, let’s just try it.” And there’ve been a few recipes of mine that I’ve just … When I can’t decide what to make that day, I’ll just hop on Keyword Planner and find something. And again, with my blog that’s a lot of what my readers are looking for. They tend to like a lot more of the classic recipes, so I try and lighten those up. Or just make it easier to handle and it’s worked really well for my site.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great, and a huge tip. Correct if I’m wrong here, but the Keyword Tool traditionally would be used for people that are looking to purchase ad words. But it’s a nice workaround in that you can see for Google AdWords, their paid product, the competition that exists for those, and get a good read on how often people search for those, and what that competition is like. Which I think is so cool, and a great takeaway.
Ali Martin: Yeah exactly, it’s awesome!
Bjork Ostrom: It’s a way to see essentially, how popular a term is. Which is really interesting.
Bjork Ostrom: So the other piece that you mentioned with that, with kind of connecting with your readers, was hearing feedback from them. Do you get that from comments, from emails? Do you have a process where you check in with people, or a survey? Anything like that? What does that look like?
Ali Martin: Yeah. I definitely do an annual survey on my site which I’ve kinda learned over the years what questions to ask and what questions not to ask with that-
Bjork Ostrom: And can you tell what those are? What you would ask and what you wouldn’t ask?
Ali Martin: Yeah. I feel like I used to offer a lot of vague, “Do you wanna see more slow cooker recipes, or chicken, or whatever.” And the answers were usually like, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, like I just need more chicken recipes. Sure.
Ali Martin: Exactly. Honestly the best question I’ve learned to ask is an open ended question, ask people what their favorite thing about the site is, and their least favorite thing about the site. And I just threw that out there one year just randomly out of curiosity. And people responded the most to that one. I think maybe because they thought it was required on the survey, and it actually wasn’t. But I got some great information out of it. With regards to recipes, with regards to being able to navigate the site easily, emails, everything.
Bjork Ostrom: What was the number one takeaway from that if you had one?
Ali Martin: Man, tryin’ to remember this past year. Well one thing is, you actually get to hear a lot of positive comments from people. Which sounds silly, but so often it’s just bloggers who comment on other blogs. And it was so affirming to hear actually readers say, “Yeah, I make your five ingredient chicken chili once a week for my family.” And just to hear directly about some of the specific recipes or some of the stories that I share what it is that’s actually connecting with people. It was just strangely really helpful. I realized I hadn’t hear that much direct feedback from readers in a long time.
Ali Martin: But as well as … Gosh I’m tryin’ to think about some of the negatives. I think for sure ads are just a consistent balancing struggle; like how many you have, how many you don’t have. At the time, I was working on redesigning my ad, I’m sorry, my mobile site. And we were trying to find a way that ads would work better on there and so we ended up rearranging them a little bit after that. But yeah, I think just in general, it’s just always so helpful to hear directly from the people who you’re wanting to serve. Because so often it’s just easy to take your feedback from other bloggers or friends you know. And so anytime you can actually get in there and hear directly from people, is just invaluable.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. And a huge takeaway for people. So two really specific questions about that. Do you send out an email, or do you do a blog post to let people know about that survey, and then what software do you use for the survey?
Ali Martin: I was super low-tech and I just did it in a blog post, and I used Google Surveys and just put it right there within the post.
Bjork Ostrom: Perfect. Yeah, low-technology is good tech.
Ali Martin: Yeah. Free.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah exactly. Cool. I think that’s super helpful and that last five, 10 minutes or whatever, some huge takeaways for people. And those things, while it’s easy to understand, it’s the stuff that a lot of people maybe don’t implement, or don’t think of that have really have a huge impact on moving you towards success. Whatever that looks like with your blog. So that’s great, huge takeaway and thanks for sharing that.
Bjork Ostrom: So Ali I’m curious here. You know you said you’ve worked on your site here for five years. You’ve grown it to the point where it’s insane amount of traffic, you have nine million people. It’s able to be your full-time job and then some. Where I’m guess it’s at the point where three or four years ago you never would have imagined that you could have been doing what you’re doing. And creating an income from a food blog. It’s like, “What? What does that mean?” And yet, there’s this piece of you that says "Hey, this might not always be what I’m gonna do. And you’re pretty open about that. Can you share more about why that is and what your though process is with that?
Ali Martin: Yeah totally, and my sweet readers. I feel like I’ve always been pretty open about that with them as well. Just kind of the ups and downs of tryin’ to figure out what it is I wanna do with my life. I’m 32 and still can’t seem to quite figure it out. And they’ve always been very gracious and very encouraging along the way. But you know, I don’t know.
Ali Martin: I feel like I’ve always … I feel so tremendously grateful for the blog, and I think like so many bloggers, I’m just acutely aware of the fact that none of this is possible without readers. And that this is just something that I can look at all the things that I’ve done, but I feel like there has been a lot of luck involved, and there has been just a lot of tremendous … I feel like so many bloggers have been so giving. So many other readers have been so giving. And it’s just a gift that I really treasure, but I also just kind of always wanna hold it with open hands if there’s something else in life that comes along that I feel like I might be a little more drawn to do or called to do, and whatever that may be. And I think I’m still figuring that out.
Ali Martin: I think for me … I’ve struggled with a lot over the years because I’m totally guilty of being one of those all or nothing type of people. And I’m like, “Should I quit? Should I keep doing this? Should I do this until I’m 60?” It’s just … And I’m like “This is like.” We’re millennials, we’re meant to have a bunch of different careers in our lives probably. But I think for me lately, what I’ve landed upon, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about it this past year. Just tryin’ to live a little more in the gray in a lot of spaces in life. But even with-
Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that?
Ali Martin: Well, not necessarily just being like all or nothing I guess. Like trying to live in the in-between. And with blogging, I love it. I mean I completely love it. And any questions that I’ve ever had about whether or not this would be a long term career for me, is not really based on how much I enjoy it. I think I’m one of those people that just loves a lot of things in life, like so many people. And for me, I don’t know, I think I just the one part of this job that I really miss, is being able to around people and being able to serve people directly.
Ali Martin: Before this, I worked in a non-prof type job. And I’ve done some of that volunteering on the side. And I’ve realized just even lately, that for example, I work with an organization here in Kansas City called New Roots For Refugees. And especially amidst all the refugee stuff that’s in the media right now, it’s just been really apparently to me just how much I treasure those mornings that I teach english. I’ve worked with ESL tutoring for a little while with some people. And I just love it.
Ali Martin: And I realized, and I’ve kind of been like, “Should I got back into non-prof? Should I keep blogging or whatever?” And I’m like, how about both? Instead of I feel like I’ve struggled a little bit with the pressure with blogging, to just keep growing, and growing, and growing, and growing. And I really enjoy that, and I enjoy all of the learning that comes with that, but at the same time, I’m really content with where my blog is right now. And I’m really grateful, and I wanna keep it up and do well. But I don’t feel this huge tug to try and make it become my entire life. So anyway, sorry, I’m not speaking clearly.
Bjork Ostrom: No, it’s absolutely true and it makes total sense what you’re saying, and I think it’s important for people to hear because I think it can apply to anybody. Where they’re at the point where they’re really happy with where their site is at or whatever their thing is that they’re building. I think that it’s important to hear from you that you’ve built this thing. It’s a very successful thing by the world’s standards of what success is in terms of a business. And yet there is always this tension of this balancing of what does it look like to grow something and build something, and to continue to grow and to continue to build. While at the same time balancing that with-
Bjork Ostrom: While at the same time, balancing that with this other side, which is … it’s not anti-growth but it’s a different type of growth. Growth in relationships and it’s growth in connection and it’s impact in a different way. So this ties into, I think what you were saying, and I’ll love to hear more about it. So I was reading about one of your kind of recap life posts and you talk about this term, tikkun olam, which I’m familiar with and it means to mend the world, and what I hear you talking about, I think, maybe it’s not an under-tone maybe it’s the actual tone, of you kind of struggling with this desire to mend the world while also, in this other zone, building a really successful blog.
Bjork Ostrom: For those that are in the midst of it, that are working hard at creating their thing, whether it’s a food related website or a blog, that also feel this desire to tikkun olam, to mend the world, to have an impact, can you speak in specific terms, and I think you were getting there, how you can do that and how those things can happen?
Ali Martin: Yeah, I mean for me like … oh gosh that’s the stuff that like makes my heart beat fast, any sort of social justice type stuff. It’s what I talk about with my friends all the time. It’s what I think about all the time and it’s in some ways, like in the morning when I wake up, those are kind of the articles in the news that I want to read, and I think I struggled for many years with just kind of this guilt of … I did feel content and I have felt for a few years like really grateful with where my business has been and I feel the industry as a whole it’s just so fast paced and always moving forward, and you’ve got to be like on it with the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing.
Ali Martin: It was hard to kind of find my place in that, but I feel like for me, and I think maybe just because I hadn’t really seen it modeled with other people, this felt like a new idea, but for me kind of what I’ve settled upon, that feels right for me for the time being is to move blogging back a little more part-time, and to instead of making it an all or nothing thing, I’m either going to change careers or whatever it maybe. For 2016, I’m really looking for ward to, I’m going to try and really discipline myself to be a Monday through Thursday Blogger and then on Friday have some longterm volunteer partnerships with a few non-profs in town, where I feel like I can serve. I know so many bloggers are in full-time jobs, so many people are transitioning to full-time blogging and there’s just so much to do, but I’ve always been such a believer, and I feel like the blogs that I’m drawn to reading are the blogs where people are following their passions in life.
Ali Martin: Even if that means, whatever it may be, if that’s volunteering, if that’s learning a new skill, it that’s traveling, whatever it may be, that you find the time to prioritize that, because I feel like … And when you asked earlier about things that I feel like have made a difference in growing my clog over the years, I feel like also once I started paying attention to more diligently telling stories, and instead of just being like, “This chicken alfredo’s awesome, you should make it.” But being like, “Hey, I served it at this party and this is what we talked about,” and trying to live a life that’s really true to who you are, and a life that you’re excited about, and inevitably it’s just win-win. It makes you more motivated, and inspired, and healthy. It gives you more interesting things to say on your blog. It’s probably going to give you more interesting inspiration for recipes.
Ali Martin: Just finding to time to prioritize, even if it’s just a little time. Doing the things that mean a lot to you and make you come alive … I feel like whenever people ask me my favorite blogs, I’m like it’s so and so, because they love this, or so and so, because they and their kids do these fun things together. It’s the stories behind it, much more than maybe the photography or the food, or whatever it may be.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s an interesting niche that we are in. And I see we, primarily as you and Lindsay, because I’m not producing a lot of the content for Pinch of Yum, that’s all credit due to Lindsay. But it’s interesting because the main subject, technically, is a recipe or food, but there’s this secondary, and a lot of times a realistically more important element, which is, like you said story and connection. I think there’s a disconnect, or it feels like that sometimes, because usually people think about, “Well, it’s just a recipe, people just want to know how to cook something.” Which is true sometimes, and there are sites dedicated to recipes and to food, and to really efficiently finding really good recipes.
Bjork Ostrom: But then there’s this also weird place where we live, where it’s like people know about you and they know about relationships that you’re in, or your dog Henry, or our dog Sage, and listen to this podcast and have a little bit of a back story of who we are. And, there’s an important piece in just telling your story I think, but there’s also, and I say this in the most non-business-y term possible, there’s also a competitive advantage with telling your story, in that, nobody else has your story and nobody else has experiences what you experience, and I think that’s such a valuable take away for people, knowing that their story is so important.
Bjork Ostrom: I think it’s so cool what you said about the idea of leaning into your passions as a way to have stories to tell through your site. Am I paraphrasing too much, or is that?
Ali Martin: Yeah, no, that’s perfect. And I think you’re completely right about business wise, I mean the world is flooded with food bloggers right now, which I think is a fantastic thing, I love that there’s so many food blogs out there. However, there are a million chocolate chip recipes, or chocolate chip cookie recipes out there now, and so your recipe might make yours somewhat original, but more than anything it’s going to be the stories behind it. When I see so many bloggers just trying to haul and crank out, and produce as many recipes as possible or as many posts as possible, that’s cool, but on the one hand I feel what will build reader loyalty, you might get the one offs from Pinterest who come for some of those recipes, but if you really want to keep people coming back to your site, I think it is that think about vulnerability and being able to just share who you are, and to make it a conversation, to be able to interact with your readers and get to know come of them.
Ali Martin: I don’t know, I think that’s what so cool about blogs and I hope that we don’t lose that.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure, that’s awesome. I really appreciate your honesty and openness in talking about what that transition looks like for you, I think it’s a huge takeaway for people. Not only people who are in it and working really hard to build their site, but also people that are at the point where they’re like, “Hey, I’m maintaining this. I’m at a point where I feel pretty good about it. What’s next? What does it look like? Do I continue just to double down, and try and grow as much as possible, or do I find ways that I can lead into my passion?” Which I think is really cool.
Bjork Ostrom: We’re not gonna end 100% there, but we’re going to start transitioning out. I want to know, Ali, what you would recommend for people that are in those early stages of their blog, if they’re just getting started, what would you recommend to those people, and pretend maybe that you’re sitting at a coffee shop right now, having a conversation with them. What would you tell them, what would your advice be to those that are in that early stage, kinda quarter one, of building this thing, whatever it is? Might be a food blog, might be a food related website, what would your advice be to them?
Ali Martin: Yeah, totally. Oh gosh, so much advice. I feel like professionally and from a blog standpoint, there are just so many things that are on food bloggers plates nowadays, like photography, to writing, to social media and marketing, and all the tech stuff behind the scenes, and it is a lot, and I feel like there is kind of this myth out there that bloggers are supposed to be able to do everything well, and without a doubt, I mean like I feel like you need to be proficient at least a little bit in most things, but also go easy on yourself, find some of the things that really speak to you and that you enjoy, and hone in on those. If photography’s your gig, then have fun with it, and learn a lot about it, and really experiment and try to take great photos, and seek input from people about how to do that even better. But maybe photography’s not your gig, I know some bloggers and food bloggers who love writing.
Ali Martin: I don’t know. I love looking at blogs where you can definitely see people’s passion and their passion within developing content. So, whatever that is for you, figure out what it is and really enjoy it. Enjoy it as much as you can, and try not to beat yourself up about not being perfect about everything else. But, kind of on that note, I’d say almost all the advice I want to give to bloggers nowadays, is more just on self care and healthy living note. I feel like this is an industry that’s so new, and it’s definitely an industry that attracts high achievers. Just about every blogger I know is a self-starter, and highly motivated. But it really does concern me that especially in these brand new, early years of this industry, I look around and so many friends who I adore … To be honest, I think a lot of bloggers would tell you, this is an industry that’s definitely prone to workaholism, and I’ve been super guilty of that at different times in my career as a blogger, and I don’t know, I just want it to last and I want people to last.
Ali Martin: So, just really being able to take the time to care for yourself and have healthy boundaries with how much you work. Making sure that you invite feedback about that, specifically from people who care about you, and making sure that you’re not just living a life talking only with other bloggers or whatever it is, make sure that you have a full life outside of blogging that can keep you grounded, because it is super easy to get sucked in and spend all of your days on Facebook or Twitter, learning this or that, and kind of letting the blog become your social circle.
Ali Martin: So anyway, I’d say that, but even on the self care side, just being sure to be gentle with yourself, because this is an industry where we’re looking at each other’s work all day long, which is rare. There’s really not too many industries where you’re sitting there looking kind of at your quote, unquote, competition all day long. It can be hard, and I know so many bloggers that just really struggle with confidence and it always seems like somebody out there’s a step ahead of you in something, but being able to be gentle with yourself … I think bloggers can always use an extra pat on the back, and so being sure to do that for one another, and just really encouraging each other to make this industry and one another as strong, and healthy, and long lasting as we can be.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome, yeah, and so true. You see that so often where, if anything, people can feel comfortable in knowing that it’s a universal thing, but you see it so often where you see other people’s work and it’s so easy to feel like, ugh, I’m either behind or not good enough, and it can drain on you. So to be able to disconnect from that, one of my favorite things is hanging out with friends that could care less about what we do, and it’s so refreshing. They just don’t have-
Ali Martin: My friends are good for that.
Bjork Ostrom: I mean they’ll maybe ask about it, but it’s not like they’re super into it or super interested, and it’s so refreshing. It’s so nice.
Ali Martin: Yeah, and also to take time off. I think that’s hugely important as well.
Bjork Ostrom: Take time away, and have it truly be time away, where you’re not secretly checking in.
Ali Martin: Yes, exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: Which is easier said than done, but so important. Ali, I feel like we could talk for hours and hours, but we should probably wrap up, I want to be respectful of your time. I know that people will get a lot out of this, so I really appreciate you coming out to the podcast today. Real quick, where can people find you, where can people connect with you, Ali?
Ali Martin: Yeah, gimmesomeoven.com, g-i-m-m-e. Yeah, there’s the website, and same thing on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, all of social media.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool.
Ali Martin: You know.
Bjork Ostrom: How it goes, for sure. Well, Ali, thanks for coming on the podcast today, really appreciate it, appreciate your friendship, and I know people will get a lot out of it, so thanks.
Ali Martin: Oh man, thank you. And I just want to say, thank you so much for everything that you and Lindsay are doing for this community, it’s just invaluable, and the heart with which you guys do it is also super apparent, and we’re all the better for it.
Bjork Ostrom: Well, thanks.
Ali Martin: So thanks for all you do.
Bjork Ostrom: We’re humbled and honored to be able to do what we do, and we get to meet incredible people along the way, so this is a case study in that. Thanks, Ali.
Ali Martin: Alright, thanks.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, bye.
Alexa Peduzzi: And that does it for our FBP rewind episode this week. We hope you enjoyed revisiting Ali’s interview. I just think all of the things that she talks about are so timely, so important, and I just love her philosophy of following your passion, and doing what makes you happy. So, like I said, I hope you enjoyed this episode, and I’m also here to give you a reviewer of the week, and this one comes from Bethany, from the unbelievable gorgeous blog Maloney Made, you guys need to go check out her photography, it is just breathtakingly beautiful, but her review says, “I need a ten star option. This is a gold mine for any blogger or even just business owner, they’re literally handing you the guide book on how to get your blog to where it needs to be. I love everyone on the team, so helpful and easy to listen to. Thank you for all of your hard work.”
Alexa Peduzzi: Thanks for tuning in. We appreciate you guys so much, and until next time, make it a great week.
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