Welcome to episode 337 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Ali Stafford from Alexandra’s Kitchen about how she’s grown her traffic by leaning into SEO and learning from industry experts.
Last week on the podcast, we revisited our episode with Isabel Orozco-Moore from Isabel Eats where she talks about finding a niche, delegating tasks, and more. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Shifting Your Mindset
We’re really excited to be chatting with Ali from Alexandra’s Kitchen in today’s episode! She’s a seasoned food blogger who has been sharing her recipes online since 2006.
But over the past few years, she has been shifting her mindset to focus on growing her traffic and leveling up her content strategy. In this episode, you’ll hear what changes she’s been implementing to focus on SEO, how she has strategically worked with consultants to grow her business, and more.
Whether you just launched your blog or you’ve been blogging for years, we know you will have a lot of great takeaways from this episode. Enjoy!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why Ali launched her blog
- How she has shifted her social media strategy over the years
- Why she has been focusing on diversifying her revenue streams
- How she started focusing more on SEO
- How she optimizes her meta descriptions
- How her traffic has been affected by algorithm changes
- How she has developed a consistent email marketing strategy
- What she updates when republishing old posts
- Her best tips for growing an email list
- Alexandra’s Kitchen
- The Definitive List of Ways to Create an Income From Your Food Blog
- Foodie Digital
- Yoast SEO Plugin
- Allea Grummert, the FBP Email Marketing Expert
- Matt Molen
- Nathan Barry’s Newsletter
- 334: Crafting the Perfect Pitch – How to Build and Nurture Strong Relationships with Brands with Chandice Probst
- Follow Ali on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube
- Check out the Food Blogger Pro YouTube channel (and subscribe while you’re there!)
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Transcript (click to expand):
Bjork Ostrom: Hello. Hello. This is Bjork Ostrom. And for those of you who have been following along with the podcast for years, and tune in maybe every week, maybe every month, maybe it’s every couple of months. But you know me and we’ve maybe connected, we’ve maybe emailed, maybe we’ve connected on the Food Blogger Pro forums. We have a relationship in some way. And for those of you who are new, welcome. Food Blogger Pro is a community of really food creators who are finding ways to create an income and oftentimes create a career by publishing content online. And it’s food content, it’s drink content, food recipe. This broad category of food creators. And we’ve been doing this for years, and we’ve seen incredible out of people do incredible things. And that could be people who are learning photography, or learning video, or learning SEO. Maybe people get into it and they get really excited about website development.
Bjork Ostrom: But at the core, what’s really exciting about what we do is, it’s people pursuing their passion, pursuing their interest, and figuring out ways to create an income around that. And we’re here to help you do that. And we talk to people who are doing that themselves, or sometimes we talk to people who are supporting people who are doing that. Consultants, people who have agencies, businesses that support food creators. Today we are talking with Ali Stafford from Alexandra’s Kitchen, and she’s going to be talking about her journey as a creator and a publisher. And she’s been at this for a really long time. Since 2006 she’s been thinking about and creating content online. And she’s had lots of different iterations as a food creator. And what’s fun about this conversation is she talks about how within the past few years, she looked to really level up some of the things that she was doing.
Bjork Ostrom: She talks about working with some of those consultants I mentioned who actually were a part of the Food Blogger Pro podcast interviews that we had done here, and the resulting impact that that had for her, whether it be email optimization or SEO optimization. And what I love about this story is she continues to just keep grinding. She shows up, she creates content, she figures out how to get better, and has been doing that for a really long time. So even if you are new, I think you can find inspiration from this. Even if you have been creating for a really long time, I think you can find inspiration from this interview. I know that I did for sure. So let’s go ahead and jump in and welcome Ali to the podcast. Ali, welcome to the podcast.
Ali Stafford: Thanks so much for having me. It’s so fun to be here and so fun to finally connect in real life. I was saying earlier, your voice is so familiar at this point.
Bjork Ostrom: I’ve had that as well with people that I’ve met. I listen to their podcast. The thing that I find interesting is, inevitably when I meet those people, it sounds a little bit different because every podcast I listen to is that 1.5 speed. Do you listen on normal speed, or do you listen sped up?
Ali Stafford: I actually do listen on normal speed.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay.
Ali Stafford: I like normal speed.
Bjork Ostrom: Which is good. Because then this will seem normal. Because occasionally I’ll meet people who I listen to their podcast and I’ll be like, “You sound so familiar and yet it sounds so strange.” And it’s because I’m used to listening them talk 150% faster than they usually do.
Ali Stafford: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: So we’re going to have a conversation here around your site, your experience, your business. You’ve been at this for a long time, and I think that’s one of the really inspiring things about your story. But before we do that, I’m curious to know about life as an introvert. I think I can relate to that a little bit. Sometimes people are surprised and they’re like, “Wait, you’re an introvert? You do a podcast.” But you’ve talked about this idea of, hey, your preference would not be getting on video. Your preference maybe would not be getting in front of the camera. And yet here we are doing a podcast. It is video. It is some element of live. What has that been like for you to push through that and say, “You know what, I know this needs to happen. I know I need to do it.” Is that forever a hard thing, or do you find that it gets easier over time, curious to know?
Ali Stafford: Yeah. It’s definitely gotten easier, but still the thought of speaking in front of people… My brother got married this summer and I had to give a toast and just the thought of speaking in front of people makes my hands clammy and my face red. And whether there’s an audience or not, if I’m just making a video with myself and my phone, I get the jitters. But I mean something that I really have learned over these last couple years is just that video is so important no matter what platform. Whether it’s Instagram, or Pinterest, or TikTok, or YouTube, or just your blog, if you want to video is very helpful for food. People really appreciate step-by-step videos. And it’s something that I’ve realized I have to do.
Ali Stafford: So I’ve done it a little bit where I mostly do not go in front of the camera still. I’m often in Instagram stories just doing step by step with my overhead. I have a tripod that is mounted to my wall. I just pull it down, strap in my phone and I do videos that way. I use those same videos for YouTube. I just flip them around and put them on YouTube. It’s 4K videos, so it’s good quality. And occasionally I will jump in and speak to people really only if I feel it’s necessary to give them… Just to explain why I’m doing something so that I don’t get one million DMs like, “Why didn’t you do it this way?”
Ali Stafford: It’s just easier if I jump in and say, “Well, this is how it is.” And then also the thing that I have realized over the years because I’ve hid for so many years behind the camera is that if I do jump in, people are like, “Oh, it’s so nice to see you. It’s so nice to see you.” So it’s a way to connect on a different level that you can’t when you’re just showing your hands and pans videos.
Bjork Ostrom: Uh-huh. One of the things I think that’s so interesting about that is, as I think about your story, you had mentioned this before we hit record. But starting your site years and years ago, you’ve been at this for a while. Maybe before, I would say 99% of the people who are creating content online. So you said it was 2006, is that right?
Ali Stafford: Yeah. 2006. Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And so when you… Just out of curiosity, did you start on WordPress or were you on like a BlogSpot or like a-
Ali Stafford: BlogSpot.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Yeah. When did you switch to WordPress? Do you remember?
Ali Stafford: I forget when I switched to WordPress, and I switched so many times over the years. Actually, I think it was just BlogSpot to WordPress. I don’t remember. Maybe five years after that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. Which is kind of Pinch of Yum started on Tumblr, and I think it was two to three years after we switched to WordPress. And obviously, there’s a lot of different platforms now that are really awesome. I was just thinking about this the other day. But WordPress is still, especially for food and recipe sites, just the place where you need to be, because there’s such a great search CMS.
Bjork Ostrom: But I’m curious to know, have you had to adopt a certain mindset in regards to reinventing yourself and starting at zero in a lot of ways. I think of this when we circle around this idea of like, “Man, for Pinch of Yum do we do TikTok? How do we do that? What does that look like?” It feels like this new platform, are we going to know what to do? Or is everybody going to look at us and be like, “Wait, nobody invited you to the party.” But I feel like when you’ve been creating for a long period of time there’s… And the way that the internet cycles, it’s relatively short in terms of the lifespan of things. And so you have these reinventions that have to happen along the way. Do you feel like that’s been true for you, and would you be able to stake along the way where those checkpoints would’ve been for your journey?
Ali Stafford: Yeah. I mean I feel like I was very late with all of the social media trends in particular. So I remember a friend was like, “We really need to have a Facebook page for your blog.” And I was like, “Why? Why do I need to do that?” And then of course I realized, I feel like years after I should have started it. It was such a good way to, again, build community and get people to your blog. So I started a Facebook page and I remember really focusing on that. And then it wasn’t growing and I was like, “What’s happening?” And it was like, “Oh, because everybody is already on Instagram.” And then I was late to get to Instagram. And I actually have only recently just started doing TikTok as well. And I felt the same way. I was a little bit like, I never did Snapchat and I was happy when Snapchat didn’t really go anywhere.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah.
Ali Stafford: But I-
Bjork Ostrom: You feel justified in not putting in the effort to do the thing because it’s like, “Hey, that actually didn’t end up being significant in the way that a lot of people thought it might be for a platform like yours.”
Ali Stafford: Right. And I was a little bit hoping that would be true with TikTok, but it doesn’t seem to be. I do feel like a little bit old for TikTok, but Instagram announced recently that reels is what is going to be important, and going to be what they’re going to favor, exactly. I don’t know. I didn’t really totally pay attention. I just know that I should be doing reels. And I was like, “Well, if I’m going to be making reels, I may as well be throwing it on TikTok at and see what happens.” And it really is also just a lesson in being willing to adapt.
Ali Stafford: With reels, some of them, you get some engagement and some of them you don’t. Same thing with TikTok, every so often nobody will view and then somehow they blow up. And you just have to try things. I mean not everyone you put out there is going to be a home run. And it’s like with everything. You have to test, test, test. One thing is going to work and then you glean something from that, and you put that into the next one. But, in terms of…
Bjork Ostrom: I’m interested to…
Ali Stafford: I’m sorry, go ahead.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I’m interested to hear, in regards to that, do you feel like you’ve always had that mindset of being nimble and willing to test, experiment? Or do you feel like you’ve had to develop that over time to say, “You know what, if I’m going to continue to create over 15 years, I need to be comfortable being new at something, and that needs to be an okay thing.”
Ali Stafford: I would say that was not how I’ve always been. I think I was really stuck for a long time, I think maybe especially because I started blogging so long. Even though I didn’t really, again, care. I was just publishing posts and putting them out there, and I often didn’t know if people had commented. I didn’t check. It was just almost like a personal journal, and like a record of recipes. But over time I feel like… And so I feel like actually that was almost a detriment in some ways, because I just was stuck in this, you blog, you put it out, you blog, you put it out. And I was late to adopt all the changes. And I would say it would be in the last couple of years where I’ve… Again, I think things have changed so quickly.
Ali Stafford: I mean I feel like one of the biggest changes is seeing how like Pinterest for years was driving traffic to food blogs, and all of a sudden it’s not anymore. And that I would say is maybe one of the biggest… Was one of one point that I could pinpoint that was like, “Okay. You really need to… You have to be nimble. You can’t rely on Pinterest. You can’t rely on just two of your blog posts to drive traffic.” You talk about that egg carton analogy a lot. You have to be diversified in your traffic and just what you’re doing to… I mean, I suppose it also…
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Create revenue or…
Ali Stafford: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. And for those who aren’t familiar, there’s a blog post on this, and talk about it in the podcast occasionally. But the egg carton method essentially is just this visualization of, you have an egg carton and you have all of these different places where you could create revenue for your business. So there’s ads, there’s affiliate, there’s… You can write, you could freelance, there’s sponsor content. And thinking about all those pieces. And sometimes I think we get stuck in this idea of thinking about, “Hey, I want to create a full-time income from my website. And in order to do that, I need to make enough from ads.” And so I know that I get, whatever, $20 per 1,000 page views. And so in order to get there, I need to make sure that I have the equivalent of whatever full-time salary would be for that person.
Bjork Ostrom: So you play the numbers game. You’re like, “I need to get here from a traffic perspective.” But what you’re saying is, “Hey, you need to think about diversifying and saying, ”Okay. Maybe it’s not just ads, maybe it’s also thinking about video in certain places or email.“” Which we’re going to talk about in a little bit. So was there a specific point that you can look back on where you can say, “Hey, you had been doing this. It’s one off, a little bit here and there, haven’t been taking it super seriously.” It sounds like maybe something has changed where Pinterest traffic changed a little bit. And then you’re like, “Oh, maybe I need to take this more seriously.” Or what was that moment, and then what did you do out of that?
Ali Stafford: Yeah. I mean I would say, so a couple years ago, and I mean this will changed everything, was focusing on SEO, and Leanne from Foodie Digital reached out to me. This was before her company was even a thing. And she was like, “What are some…” And people reach out. I’m sure you get people all the time.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Ali Stafford: People reach out all the time. I have this thing. I expected to hang up the phone for the conversation and just be like, “Well, that was fine. But I’m fine with my blogging, I’ve gotten responsibilities under control.” And she was like, “Well, as a thank you for your time, here are seven things you can do for your posts that could potentially improve.” And I was like, “Okay. Sure.”
Ali Stafford: And I had never done anything like this. I had never changed a title of a blog post. I didn’t care about the meta description or anything. And it was one post in particular, a post I don’t even care about. I never looked at data. I never looked at analytics. I hate that kind of stuff. But she did, and she was an instant pot, soft-boiled egg post. And she was like, “People are searching for what the time is in the… How long you should cook them.” And so I put that in the meta description and boom, within a month that post started performing better. And I was like, “Oh wow. I didn’t realize that I could do this, that this was…” It was like, “There’s so much I can do with my existing content.”
Ali Stafford: So working with them changed everything because I also realized that my site was in a terrible shape just from broken links, unnecessary plugins, all that kind of stuff. So they got my site structurally sound, and then they also helped me figure out I was not strategic at all with my posts. I would go back to old posts that maybe barely anybody was viewing and would try to tidy them up because it was a post that I personally liked. But they were like, “You need to focus on these top 10 or 15 or 20 posts, get those in better shape.” So that was a huge change for me. And I feel like lots of bloggers figured out that SEO was important years ago. And I feel like I was late to the game with that. But I would say the last two years working with them has been the biggest change in my-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s almost like… So finish that last thought change in your…
Ali Stafford: Well, I would say change in my growth. I mean I had been really steady in my page views and I was actually fine with it because I didn’t think there was actually much I could do. And then when I saw with just little tweaks that I could actually really grow my traffic significantly, it opened up my world.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome. Do you know, you’re not a data person so maybe you wouldn’t know, but percentage-wise or number wise what that looks like once you did start to work with somebody who was strategic-minded in terms of the content?
Ali Stafford: Yeah. No. I think my page views when I started working with Foodie Digital, they were somewhere around 500,000 a month. Something like that. I mean also the pandemic year got really crazy. But…
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. It’s hard to parse that out. Yeah.
Ali Stafford: Yeah. I feel like a year after, I remember my organic traffic had something… I want to say like doubled in the time working for them, and working with them. And then I mean the pandemic year, my page views were, it was off the charts because it was bread and everything. And then they came back down and leveled.
Bjork Ostrom: Which is like that’s all that anybody was doing, everybody was just like, “What do we do? Let’s just bake bread.”
Ali Stafford: Yeah. Totally.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Ali Stafford: And then it leveled, and then they were steady for a while. I mean it was good. It was over a million a month. And then this past summer the Google algorithm update in June and July knocked two of my bread posts out of featured snippets. So it’s come down a bit. It’s recovering a little bit, I’m still not back up to where I would like to be, but that’s fine.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. And thanks for sharing that. And it’s awesome as well. What a testament to your work, and the things that you’re putting out to the world, and just in general but also a gift to people during a global pandemic. So what were some of those things that you actually did? So you mentioned a few of those, starting to think about the meta description. So for those who aren’t familiar, can you explain meta description, and some of the changes that you made? What is that and what did you change within the meta descriptions of your post?
Ali Stafford: Sure. Yeah. So I think most people use like the Yoast SEO plugin, so that’s what I use. And so it was just the title. So often the title of what I had in the Yoast… Or first of all, sometimes I didn’t even put a title in there. So that was one thing. Just making sure every post had a title. Second, making sure the title matched the recipe title and the post tittle, so there was consistency. So often I would have them be all three different things. And then making sure the description were what people were… Again, back to the instant pot, soft-boiled egg example, people are searching how long to cook it. And it was for perfect soft-boiled eggs, three minutes at high pressure, that’s it. So they can see that right there. Answering questions that people… And you can’t do it for every post, every post it’s not going to be. But being like, “These are going to be flaky, buttery biscuits.” Like a holiday staple. Just give them a little nugget that’s going to entice them to click through.
Bjork Ostrom: So that makes sense. We actually just went through the process. This will be another podcast episode that we do coming up in the future. We’ll figure out when it is. But we actually… So TinyBit is our parent company. That’s the company over Pinch of Yum, Food Blogger Pro, Clariti, WP Tasty, and Nutrifox. And usually what we’ve done is started companies, but we’re also starting to look at acquiring companies. And one of the companies that we… Brands, websites that we recently acquired was a site called Curbly. My good friend, Bruno, who started InfluenceKit, had that as a content site. He sold that we bought it.
Bjork Ostrom: And one of the things that we’re right in the middle of is going through and doing a lot of these things that you’re saying, which is we’re looking at the content and saying, “All right. Does this content have a good meta description?” And the site has a lot of content on it, but what we’re realizing is, you have to take some time to write a good meta description. And to your point, it has to be enticing. It has to have, maybe, a matching key. And the reason is, because if somebody searches like instant pot… What did you say it was? Instant pot-
Ali Stafford: Soft-boiled eggs.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So instant pot, soft-boiled eggs. And if you have that term in the meta description, it’s a small little thing, but it will bold that phrase. And so all of these little things play into search optimization. And so you make that change, you optimize it. It’s not always going to include the meta subscription, but it’s usually going to default to trying to do that. And so we’re in the middle of thinking about that in this new space, which is like home DIY. And it’s a really important thing. And all of these things, aren’t going to necessarily double your traffic, but cumulatively they’re multipliers that result in best practice that have an impact on traffic and the performance of different pieces of content. And it’s like that content is pretty similar to what it was before, but you’re making these small tweaks and adjustments. What were some of the other things that you remember changing that had an impact?
Ali Stafford: Well, with certain blog posts in particular, again, I wouldn’t answer the questions that people would ask. So the questions might be answered in the comments like, “Can you make this ahead? Can you freeze it?” But it wasn’t in the post itself. So making sure all of that important information is in the post itself, adding H2s to answer those, can you freeze this? Everybody wants to know if you can freeze it. So making sure you-
Bjork Ostrom: Uh-huh. Yeah. Right. Whatever it is. Yeah.
Ali Stafford: … can answer. Yeah. Everybody wants to know if you can make it ahead of time. I get a lot of questions with bread like, “Can you use whole wheat flour in this?” Anticipating those questions, but really calling it out in the post. And I did also have a lot of… Again, originally my blog was mostly a personal journal, so I had a lot of personal stories. And you don’t have to take those stories out, but you can rearrange the post so that the important stuff is first, and maybe the story is at the end. Or looking back, I do go back, and I’m like, “Nobody needs to know about this story. This one isn’t important to me.”
Ali Stafford: Some stories are important and I keep them. I have a Thanksgiving in Vermont post that I will never change, and it won’t be SEO friendly, but I don’t care because it’s important to me. But in terms of… Yeah. I mean another change in mind shift in regard to SEO is going through the effort and making all of these changes is more important than putting out a new blog post. Over time, getting these posts to do better is probably more important than cranking out another random post that might never rank for whatever-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. We were talking with an SEO consultant, and when we were talking to them they said, “They’ve never seen…” It was a pretty strong statement I think about it a lot. And I don’t know if it’s 100% all the time true. But he said, “He’s never seen a situation where the ROI…” Which businessy term. “Your return on your time invested is greater for new content versus old content that you enhance, improve.” And I think there’s a lot of variables that go into that. So it’s not true all the time, but…
Ali Stafford: Sure.
Bjork Ostrom: …to your point aligns with that. Has that shifted how you create content, whether enhancing old content or publishing new content?
Ali Stafford: It has. Yeah. I mean there have been times over, I would say, the last couple of years when things are busy. And normally prior to working with Foodie Digital, I would’ve just been like, “I’ve got to get out this blog post.” Where I am like, “I’m not going to do that. I’m going to spend the little bit of time I have repairing these old posts or tweaking these little things.” Or not even doing that, but just focusing on my newsletter and just, maybe, staying consistent with getting my newsletter out and just putting some of those old posts in the newsletter. Because, yeah, I never thought that I would…
Ali Stafford: I really for so many years was in the mindset of like, “I’ve just got to get out another blog post.” And it’s actually really nice in some ways to have had that change and mind shift because it’s a lot of work to put out a new blog post. And if it’s not really going to do anything in the long run, why do it. But it’s nice because you can, I mean actually I feel like I’m finally a little bit working smarter not harder.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Which is a really good feeling when you feel like, “Hey, I’ve locked this in, I’m working the same amount but maybe getting a little bit more or reward or return for that time spent.” One of the things that you had mentioned was Google algorithm change.
Ali Stafford: Oh, yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Things shifting a little bit. Can you talk a little bit about what happened there and what that was like for you to go through that? I’m guessing there’s a tactical business side of it, but there’s also this emotional side of it that ties into it.
Ali Stafford: Well, totally. Yeah. And I think, and probably for so many bloggers too, it was really fun seeing these off the charts traffic during the pandemic, even if it didn’t necessarily equate to a ton more money because RPMs were down.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Ad revenue. Yeah.
Ali Stafford: Yeah. It’s still fun. You’re like, “Wow. This many people are on my site every day. That’s cool.” And then even though you knew it was going to happen. The traffic would come down, but you watch it slowly, slowly… And then it leveled. And that was a really good feeling. It felt really great actually to see it level and being, “Okay. We’re back to normal.” But yeah, that was a little… It was hard. So the two posts that I got knocked out of, it was one for focaccia and one for sourdough. And there two of my biggest drivers of traffic and it was a little bit crushing because you’re like, “Oh, well I did work hard on those posts.”
Ali Stafford: At the same time, it’s again the same thing. You can’t rely… It was a lesson. And not that I have relied, I wasn’t relying on those two for all of my traffic. But you can’t rely on just two posts for your income or… And two, I mean something that I always think about, and whenever I’m asked… So I have four kids and whenever I’m at a baby shower, people are like, “Well, what advice do you have for the new mom?”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You have four kids. What are the answers?
Ali Stafford: Yeah. The new parents. I’m like, “Well, don’t ever be too happy about any phase child is in, and don’t ever be too sad.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Totally.
Ali Stafford: Don’t ever be too sad because one minute they’re sleeping through the night three days in a row and you think you’ve got bedtime figured out, and then there next they don’t sleep for two weeks-
Bjork Ostrom: It’s so relatable. Yeah.
Ali Stafford: … and vice one minute they’re eating everything, and then the next minute they’re not eating anything. So you can’t be too happy or too sad about anything. And I feel like it’s totally the same with blogging. One minute, some of your posts are driving traffic one minute they’re not. Sometimes Pinterest is driving traffic, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes Google web stories work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes Amazon Affiliates is great, sometimes it’s not. Again, it changes so quickly, I mean even within app, like within Instagram. All of a sudden everybody has to do reels. You don’t have to, you don’t have to do anything. But if you want to continue, you do have to adapt and not get too worked up about any of the changes.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. Those two things I think are so essential. The ability to adapt, to let go of something that was working when it doesn’t work anymore. And then within that, to start doing something that you think might work that you’re maybe not good at. And I think that’s something… Personally, I remember having this conversation with Lindsay a couple years ago, as I felt like we were moving into a new phase of our business, which is, I feel like I was good at a handful of different things. And now for me what the reflection was, it was like, now I have to become good at something that I’ve never really had experience with, which my reflection at that point is, I need to be thinking about what is it like to have a team and to build the team, and to recruit, and to set up the company.
Bjork Ostrom: And previously it was like, I really loved the tactical things of whether it be Google Analytics or ad optimization, and having to let those things go. And something that I felt like I was interested in and good at in favor of something that I didn’t really know much about and had to start over. And I think there’s something really true about that. Whether you are business building and looking to expand a team or as a creator, just wanting to continue to get reach, and in front of people. You’re always having to evolve your skills and abilities. A lot of it carries over, but some of it is brand new, and you have to learn it, and go along the way. Are there any things where you draw the line and say, “You know what, I just don’t do that. It could be an opportunity, and I know that is not going to be a fit for me.”?
Ali Stafford: I’m trying to think. I feel like I don’t. And I could, I’ve never gotten into the habit of posting five times on Instagram. I know the more you post kind of… I just can’t. I don’t know. I think for Instagram, it’s an interesting space. It’s it does seem to be, of all the social media platforms, the most personal. It’s the one that I connect with the most people through DMs or stories. And I guess the post itself. But yeah, I just haven’t… But that doesn’t… I don’t know. I could get there one day. I don’t know. I can’t think of anything that I would draw the line in.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And how about on the opposite side? What are the things that you are like, “Hey, this is what I do, and I have found success with this, and I’m going to go deep here.”?
Ali Stafford: Yeah. I think the things that I’ve focused on the past two years, again, as I already said, the SEO, and then my newsletter. Just being consistent with my newsletter. And I said this earlier, but I use two people that you featured here. I have to give them shoutouts.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, please.
Ali Stafford: Allea Grummert, she helped me create my welcome, and what she calls her nurture sequence. So when somebody signs up, they get an email three days in a row, just gives you an overview of Alexandra’s Kitchen. And then they get an email every Wednesday for 10 weeks. And still I want to build that out. And it’s been so nice to have that happening in the background. I know that for new people coming, they’re getting an email from me once a week, if not twice.
Ali Stafford: And then Matt Molen helped to me create what he calls these quick start guides to entice people to sign up for your newsletter. So for me, one was on yeast bread baking and one was on sourdough bread baking, and it really helped grow my email list. And he gives you a framework that you can use again and again. And I basically used it this spring. I did a farm share newsletter. So for people who sign up for CSAs, I just did this thing. And I did it in real-time. I didn’t have it ahead of time, but every Tuesday people got a farm share newsletter. So being consistent, really trying to show up. And I don’t do it exactly on the same day, but I try, either they’ll get my Wednesday newsletter, and then I try to send a newsletter out either Saturday or Sunday morning.
Ali Stafford: And I’ve just found that being really sticking to that, really being, this is something you have to do, it helps. When you don’t send an email for a long time a lot, I feel like you get a lot of unsubscribes the soon as you send an email because people are like, “Where have you been?” And they’re like, “I don’t need this.” So yeah, I think email is really important. I follow the guy from ConvertKit, Nathan Barry, I get his newsletter and he just posted something from… I forget the guy’s name. But email is kind of the thing that’s the most consistent, it’s the thing you can control. You’re not at the whim of some algorithm change. If you post consistently, if you get… Sorry. If you send consistently, if you get rid of the people who are not. I’m very good about dumping my cold subscribers, people who don’t open and up an email for whatever ConvertKit says, I just delete them. I know you can reengage them, but I don’t.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Idea being, if somebody is not opening, is not engaging, then you clean up your email list by removing them. Not only is it helpful, because then you’re not paying for these extra subscribers, but also your email address has a higher open rate, in general it’s a healthier list. It’s just like email list hygiene.
Ali Stafford: Yeah, totally. Exactly. And it does make a difference, I really find. And resend, like if I send out a newsletter and ConvertKit gives you that option to resend to unopens. And every time I said a newsletter, I mean a ton of people unsubscribe. And it’s great. I’ve to changed my mentality with that too. You don’t want the people… If they don’t want to be there, there’s no point in them being there. So-
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Totally. One of the things that I love about some of these elements that you’ve talked about is, at this point where you said, “Hey, you know what, I want to start thinking about this, maybe, more intentionally.” Is that a fair way to assess it? Where you’re like, “Hey, I want to think strategically about this, or how can I grow it.” That you started to think about a phrase that I’ve been thinking about a lot, which is who not how. And so, okay, great. You want to improve SEO and be strategic about that. One way to do that would be figuring out, thinking, “How do I do this?” And you’re not a Google analytics person, and that’s not what you like to do. And so you could bend your own self to fit in that box, or you could say, “Who is somebody that loves that, and how do you bring them in to partner with you?”
Bjork Ostrom: Maybe same thing with email. It’s not figuring out, “How do I do this? What are the specific things I need to do?” Going through a bunch of articles, whatever it might be. You’re saying, “Who? Who do I bring in to help with this?” And it feels like those have unlocked some cool things. Are there other ways that you’re thinking about doing that? And to what extent are you just partnering with somebody and then saying, “Hey, you can take it and run.” Versus partnering with somebody, maybe learning along the way, and then adopting that system as your own to run off of?
Ali Stafford: Yeah. I have not really gotten to the point where I’ve totally… Actually I think the only place I’ve done that is with Google web stories, but I’ve slowed down with that. There was at the start of the year, so I had a virtual assistant and she was wonderful, Asia Birg. She’s still helping me with other things, but we’ve slowed down on the Google web stories because they just weren’t working for me. And we gave it a go. And the good thing is if they start, the trend comes, people are like, “Okay. You’ve got to do them again.” She knows how to do it, and I have tons of video that she can use. But that was very freeing. I was like, “I don’t know how to do this, and I don’t ever want to learn how to do this. And I’m so happy to have somebody else do this for me.”
Ali Stafford: Because I probably do do too many things. I edit, I do the video all myself, and I… They’re very simple videos. They’re not high… They’re good quality, but I’m not adding music or lots of effects. But I don’t. I mean, again, I don’t think that should deter people from doing video. I think if you haven’t started doing video, you should give it a go. There are lots of easy… I use InShot to edit and it’s easy. I’ve totally gotten off that, I’ve-
Bjork Ostrom: No, that’s good. It’s actually something that would be helpful to talk about. InShot it’s an app. So it’s an app that you use on your phone, is that right?
Ali Stafford: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. And the other thing that I love about what you’re saying with video that I think is freeing for a lot of people, especially people who maybe would prefer not to be in front of the camera, would be that it doesn’t have to be you performing, or it doesn’t have to be you saying funny jokes, or thinking about things off the cuff. The purpose is to help people get the thing they want to get. And if what they want to get is a successful sourdough, and you can put together a video that helps explain that, that’s going to be a win. And maybe it’s just a video of you mixing in yeast at some point in a specific way. And it could be 15 seconds. It doesn’t have to be long either.
Ali Stafford: No, absolutely. And actually it’s funny. And I hadn’t even read some of the comments on some of my videos that I had put on YouTube. I just posted them with a recipe, and I was reading some of them recently. I think I got a notification, and somebody was like, “Thank you for not starting this sourdough tutorial with 10 minutes of explanation.”
Bjork Ostrom: Preamble. Yeah.
Ali Stafford: Yeah. And I actually get that a lot. And again, some people follow you to people for the entertainment, and that’s great. But I do get a lot of comments. People are very appreciative that it’s quick and to the point, and they learn something. I think as long as you’re being useful or if you’re entertaining. I’m not funny. I don’t ever try to be funny. So that’s not my thing. But I know if I’m giving people useful information, I know if I’m not wasting their time, they’ll come back, and they’ll be appreciative of it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s great. So what do you feel like the things that you are you’re doing right now that are the most impactful? The things that you know, “Hey, if I spend my time doing this…” We talked about that a little bit before, the ROI and your time, and refining what those things are. You have four kids, you have a successful site, being pulled in a lot of different directions. You have limited time. What are you spending that time on? And has that shifted in terms of prioritization of those tasks and things you’re doing?
Ali Stafford: Yeah. I feel like whenever I am feeling pressed for time, and especially around the holidays and I’m starting to feel it now, I focus more on the blog as opposed to social media. So there are times where I feel like I spend so much time on Instagram stories. And that drives no traffic to the blog. It’s just for community and engaging with people. So focusing on the blog, giving people around the holidays… They’re planning Thanksgiving. So just being as helpful as possible with Thanksgiving, providing Thanksgiving content. Being consistent with my newsletter, and relevant information in regard to Thanksgiving and planning for the holidays and gift guides, and things like that. That’s my focus between now, and I’d say the end of the year. I really try to… With Foodie Digital, I repair two posts a month, that’s it? And that’s enough. That’s plenty. In terms of what I…
Bjork Ostrom: When you…
Ali Stafford: Go ahead.
Bjork Ostrom: And real quick on that because I think I’d like to double click on that tech term. Because I think a lot of people will hear that and they’ll be a little bit curious. Can you talk about what you do when you talk about repairing or updating a post? What actually happens within that process?
Ali Stafford: Yeah. So a lot of it goes back to, again, making sure the title… Sometimes it’s a totally new title. Like a more descriptive title. And something that I always think of is, I have this post called Ronnie Hollingsworth’s most excellent squash pie. Nobody is searching for Ronnie Hollingsworth’s excellent squash pie. They’re searching for maybe a roasted butternut squash pie, something like that. So changing the title. And this isn’t actually a post I’ve prepared, I’m just saying it as an example. But making the post roasted butternut squash pie as opposed to Ronnie Hollingsworth’s excellent squash pie.
Ali Stafford: Title, and the recipe card, the meta description. So those are the basics. Maybe updating the photos if they’re really old, or if there aren’t enough. Maybe adding a video, adding the relevant H2s. And maybe above the first image, always having a description of like, “So what are people searching for?” Making sure when people are getting to the site, they know in three sentences. Because unless you are a dedicated reader of my blog, and you search Google and you come across, your chances are, you are not going to read the post. You’re going to… You want to know what it is, and then you’re going to jump to the recipe. So making sure at the very top there are two sentences that just succinctly sum up what the recipe is. Those are the big things.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. That makes sense. So really focusing in on the blog as opposed to a lot of time on social, when time is limited. Making sure that you’re continuing to update content. Making sure that you’re continuing to push out the newsletter. What does the newsletter do for you? What do you see as the return on that traffic engagement? Are you working with sponsors?
Ali Stafford: Yeah. I’m not working with sponsors. I do find that it always, whenever I send out a newsletter I get a bump in traffic. So even if I look at the numbers of how many people clicked through to the site, it’s a much bigger jump for whatever reason. Maybe they on two pages or something once they get there. But I always see a bump in traffic every time I send a newsletter. So it’s really just that. And for the purpose of staying consistent, there was a period when… I guess also there was a period I was doing the virtual classes during the pandemic. And so letting people know about a virtual class, but now I’m not doing those right now, so it’s really just getting people to the blog.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Were those classes that you would charge for, and what was that like?
Ali Stafford: It was really fun. It was great. I loved it. It was more… I did charge them. I was donating all of the money, basically for… So it wasn’t part of my… I wasn’t doing it for the money. It was just during the pandemic to engage people and have something to do. It just got to be, when the world opened up, and I just all of my kids were in activities, it was so stressful trying to figure out. I’m home trying to teach a class, and like , how are my kids going to get to sports?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Great. You can only do so much. What did you do that through? Was it through, just like Zoom or?
Ali Stafford: It was through Airsubs. You had Tamas on. Yeah. He was wonderful. Yeah. It was great. I would like to do it again on a more spontaneous basis. And that’s how I actually started. It was a very spontaneous thing. Then it became very consistent twice a month, and then the world opened up, and I was totally overwhelmed.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. That makes sense. And that’s a great example of why it’s beneficial to have an email list, is because if you are doing something like that, one of the greatest ways to get people to sign up for it would be by sending them an email, they know who you are, they’re familiar, they’ve had touchpoints. We’ve noticed the same thing as we’ve been launching Clariti, which is the newest startup that we’ve been working on. It’s an email list. That’s what’s been really helpful. Email list and podcasts. That’s what we’ve used to build off of. So anything that you’ve learned in regards to building an email list, knowing that that… It seems like the focus is, if I’m able to pull them out are like, SEO optimizations, best practices, proactive improvements for older content, and email list building, and consistency as two themes. Anything that you’d be able to pull out from your experience in building your email list, that’s been really helpful that you’d advise other people to do as well?
Ali Stafford: I would say a couple things. So one thing I learned at Matt Molen, he was really funny. He was like, “People don’t read anymore, so you have to be…” I would write something and then he would restructure it. Almost like H2. Some bigger text to break up the email, or use bullet points. And it was very effective. I think there’s a time and a place for it. I think on those quick start guys where it’s like this bread course, that kind of writing is very effective. And then I would also say though, every so often I’ll write a really personal post where it’s looks almost just like a blog post, but without any pictures. Just maybe one picture at the top. And people really actually respond. When you put your heart into something, it really is amazing, people will write and respond in a heartfelt way. They appreciate it when it’s not just… So I think it’s a time and a place, depending on what you’re doing. But I think making that distinction, and then structuring your post to, yeah, what’s going to…
Bjork Ostrom: There’s something about stylistic writing and the type of writing it is. If you’re trying to communicate dry information, I think there’s something to be said about structuring it in a way to most easily communicate it, which includes H2s, bullet points, short paragraph. To your point, if you’re telling a really personal story, people are going to be engaged in that in a way where they’re may be not looking to, “How do I get what I need as quickly as possible by breezing through this?” But saying, “How do I engage with this story?” I almost see a difference in story versus CTA information, like next steps, which I think I’ve never really thought about that until you pointed that out. But I think it’s a really powerful point that writing in media can look different depending on what you’re trying to communicate.
Ali Stafford: Totally. Yeah. And I think the other thing that’s nice about the newsletter format is that you don’t have to worry about SEO. You can just write your post. Sorry. Your email newsletter, how you want, and you’re not worried if you’re getting the Yoast green light. I know you’re not actually supposed to think about that. But you’re not worried about… You just write it how you would want to write it. And people, they’re either reading on their phone, or they’re reading in their inbox. And they don’t care about SEO. They want something nice to read. I mean, sometimes. Again, sometimes they just want the information. But that is something I found that’s nice about the newsletter. So I can write something heartfelt maybe there, and then push people to the SEO-written blog post.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s interesting because I think it’s not either or. And I think sometimes as creators, we think, “Oh, you either have to just focus on SEO, and optimize, and figure out Pinterest and social media.” Or you are in the camp of personal stories, and you’re including that. And I think it’s both and.
Ali Stafford: Totally.
Bjork Ostrom: Lindsay does on Pinch of Yum she’ll occasionally do a like coffee… She calls them coffee date posts.
Ali Stafford: Yeah. No. I love those. Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: But it’s essentially just like… It’s like an update on, here’s what she’s up to, or we’ve been up to. And for a small subset of people, it’s like, “I’m really interested to hear what you’ve been up to.” But it’s not going to rank well, and it also probably wouldn’t be great to put a ton of that information in a recipe post, but you can do both of those things.
Ali Stafford: Yeah. Totally.
Bjork Ostrom: And I think it’s important, yeah, point that you bring up and a good reminder that it doesn’t have to be a hard line, which is great.
Ali Stafford: Yeah. Totally.
Bjork Ostrom: I’m curious to know, if everything were to go away. So at that one in 2006 where you’re like, “I’m going to start a blog.” You actually didn’t start a blog, but then today you thought, “Oh, maybe I should start a blog. I should start a website and publish content.” What are the things that you would do right away that you think would have the most impact?
Ali Stafford: Well, I think I would do research. I think for so many years I didn’t do research. I just was like, “This is my hobby. This is my side thing. I don’t care.” And I think it was a defense mechanism in some ways. I think I was afraid to really dive in, that I was… Not even just from a monetarily. I don’t think I even care… I think I worried a little bit, I’m like, “What if I try this, and nobody reads my blog, and nobody comes.” It’s easier for me to just pretend like I don’t care about it. “So who cares if people come?” But deep down, I think I always did care about it, and I wish that… I think as soon as, again, I started doing… I think there was a period where I was like, “My blog isn’t growing.”
Ali Stafford: I knew people were reading, and people were commenting, but I would see other blogs just who started after me, and I could tell they were just killing it. And I once again started working with an SEO company like Putty Digital. And once I started enlisting experts like Allea Grummert, Matt Molen. Once I started listening to podcasts and joining things like Food Blogger Pro, and actually doing research, it worked. It’s not woo-woo. So I think if I were starting now, I would do a ton of research before I started. And yeah, I think I would, I don’t know, I think tried to… I always knew food was a passion. That wasn’t an issue. I worked in restaurants after college. I thought I wanted to open up a restaurant, but I just wished I had really gone after it earlier.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s…
Ali Stafford: So I think if you’re passionate, you should go after it.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting when you talk about protecting yourself or wanting to not get too invested into it in case it didn’t work out. I think it’s really relatable in the sense that, I can see in myself that, occasionally where I say or will think to myself, if… I think how it manifests for me is, if I become invested in the success of this, and it’s not successful, will that then make me not feel good, and not wanting to not feel good is what I’m ultimately trying to avoid. And so when you say that I can relate to that. And there’s something about just saying, “Hey, you know what, I’m going to go for this.” And there is a chance that it doesn’t lead to success in the way that you want. But you don’t know really how you handle that or what it’s like to process through that until you engage in it.
Bjork Ostrom: Inevitably you’ll get better at the things that you are scared of experiencing if you experience those and figure out how to work through them. But I appreciate you sharing that and can find myself relating to that as well, and I’m sure a lot of other people do as well. We’ve shared a lot, we’ve covered a lot, and I know that a lot of people will be interested in following with your story. We’ll talk a little bit, obviously, about your site in the intro, and do a little shoutout for that. But Ali, can you share with folks where they can find you, where they can follow along. And then maybe as a sendoff, one last piece of advice that you’d give to anybody who is listening?
Ali Stafford: Oh, sure. Yeah. So my blog is Alexandra’s Kitchen and you can get there by Alexandracooks.com or Alexandraskitchen.com. Instagram in the social media platform that I’m most active on. I’m @Alexandracooks. And okay, my advice, I don’t know. I guess, again, back to just don’t get… Ride out all the waves you can because things are changing, and they’re changing faster than ever. And if you’re passionate about it, just keep at it, and focus on what you can control. Don’t worry too much about these things you can’t control.
Bjork Ostrom: I love that. My parents introduced this concept to me. This was years ago. I was in college, I think at some point. I think my mom had been reading a book. But she talked about sphere of influence and the sphere of concern. Yeah. Are you familiar with this concept? And when your sphere of concern gets bigger than your sphere of influence, that’s a problem.
Ali Stafford: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: And it feels like that’s so relatable to the world that we live in, because I think sometimes we are more concerned, or if you imagine a circle, the circle of what we’re concerned with is bigger than the circle of what we can actually influence. And what I hear you saying is, try and shrink that concern circle so it fits within the influence circle. Yeah.
Ali Stafford: Yeah, exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: I love that.
Ali Stafford: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. Ali, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate it. Really great to connect. And I know folks will get a lot out of it, so thank you.
Ali Stafford: Thanks so much for having me. It’s such an honor, truly.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Thanks. Another big thank you to Ali for coming on. As always, you can check out the show notes for the podcast. We talk a lot about show notes. What is that? And what does that actually mean? And why is it helpful? Essentially show notes are just the links. It’s the recap. It’s a link to the actual podcast. So an example would be, like today if I go to foodbloggerpro.com/podcast, that’s where we have all of the different podcasts. And I can click on the most recent episode, which is December 7th. So obviously I’m recording this in the future. So what I’m looking at is going to be old by the time that this podcast comes out. But it’s all about the pitching.
Bjork Ostrom: So for those of you who follow along each week you know that we had Chandice on and she talked about crafting the perfect pitch and how you can do that. And when you scroll through there’s this section called resources, and it’s all of the different places that she referenced or potentially that I referenced on the podcast. And it’s a fun way to dig a little bit deeper on the podcast, and see the different places that somebody is mentioning something. So if you’re at your computer or if you’re on your phone and you’re sitting down, maybe what you can do is pull up foodbloggerpro.com/podcast. You can click on this podcast. That would probably be the easiest one, and you can scroll through and see, what do the show notes actually offer? You can click and you can see it adds another element to just audio, and gives you some more context around the things we’re talking about.
Bjork Ostrom: So in that episode with Chandice, we talk about Marco Polo. She talks about how that’s a app that she uses. I talk about Growth University. She talks about Mediavine, and we talk about InfluenceKit. So there’s all of these different links that are shared there that make it easier for you to say, “Hey, I heard this on the podcast. I just want to go and check that out.” You can click to check that out. The other thing that we do with the podcast is we include a transcript. And some people actually like to just read the podcast. So maybe you’re not somebody who learns through listening, you learn through reading. You can go and read through the back and forth transcript that we have. And there’s a handful of people who actually prefer to consume the podcast in that way. So just wanted to point that out as a resource that’s available. And again, that’s free, so you can just check it out on foodbloggerpro.com/podcast.
Bjork Ostrom: Thanks so much for tuning in. We appreciate you, and we couldn’t do this you. And we hope that over these next couple weeks that you get time to reset, and hang out with family and friends. And the hope for this podcast as always is that we help you get a tiny bit better every day forever. So as you are doing that, maybe it’s casually setting things up around the house or getting ready to have family or friends over. My hope is that this podcast in the background can be helping you get a tiny bit better. Thanks so much for tuning in, making it a great week. Thanks.