024: How to Find Balance in Blogging with Ali Ebright from Gimme Some Oven

I am SO excited about this week’s episode because it goes over some really important things that I think all bloggers need to hear. This week, Bjork talked with Ali Ebright from Gimme Some Oven about finding balance in the busy world of blogging.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork interviewed Melissa Lanz from The Fresh 20. They talked about how it changed her business when she decided to hire people to help with the stuff she didn’t have time for. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

How to Find Balance in Blogging

We all know what it feels like to feel totally overwhelmed about all the things we “need” to do – and excel at – as bloggers. First it’s cooking, then web administration, and photography, then social media, Twitter parties, monetization, writing… and the list goes on!

But in today’s episode, Ali shares her best advice for bloggers – and it includes slowing down and taking some time for yourself.

In this grounding interview, Ali shares:

  • How she stumbled upon the idea for a blog & got started
  • What motivated her to keep blogging when she didn’t even know she could make money with a blog
  • Her tips for white photography
  • When she quit her job to be a blogger full-time, and how long she thinks she’ll be doing it
  • What she does to continue to grow her blog every day
  • How she uses the Google Keyword Planner to get post ideas
  • Why she surveys her readers every year
  • Her best advice for new and experienced bloggers

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Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode number 24 of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Hey, everybody. This is Bjork Ostrom. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast just in case you didn’t know what you’re listening to. Now, you do. I’m really excited today because we’re talking to Ali Ebright from Gimme Some Oven, and she’s going to be talking about … really, I see it as 2 different things. She’s going to be talking about the business world of blogging, and then she’s also going to be talking about the behind-the-scenes things that we don’t normally talk about, more of the personal element of blogging.

Both of those things are so important, and both of those topics that Ali brings up and talks about are so helpful, so I’m really excited to share this podcast with you today. Not only is she going to be sharing those success tips that helped her build Gimme Some Oven into a huge success, and she’s actually going to share about what that looks like in terms of stats and things like that, but also, she’s done a really good job of being intentional about caring for and being attentive to who she is as a person.

I think, sometimes, we can focus in on the business side of things so much, the number side, that we can forget the personal element. Ali has done this incredible job of balancing both of those, and she’s going to talk about what that’s been like through the years for her, and share some really insightful stuff. Without further ado, Ali, welcome to the podcast.

Ali Ebright: 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 Ebright: I am. I’m sitting in my loft with my dog right beside me.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Okay, so Henry is 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 Ebright: He love that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and seeing … it’s funny because usually, I record this from the office, where we are, but we’re in transition. We have a new studio space that Lindsay and I are working on, so it’s possible that if the mailman comes that Sage will bark. If she does, we’ll just imagine it as a virtual hello to Henry, so just pass that on one dog to another.

Ali Ebright: 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 back-story. I think it’s interesting for people to hear it, but I also think there is occasionally little nuggets of information that people can pull out, so I would love to hear, Ali, the story of Gimme Some Oven, and when you started that, and why you started that, and maybe bring it up in the SparkNotes version to where you are today.

Ali Ebright: 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 20’s. At the time, it was this 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 was … I just felt like I was constantly emailing recipes or writing them out on note cards, and 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: Yeah. Yeah.

Ali Ebright: Yeah. I remember one of my friends recommended her blog to me, and she had sworn that every single thing she made from it was awesome, and 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. Probably within about 2 or 3 weeks, just super impulsively, I decided to just start my little blog. I didn’t know what to name it, but I was on 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, for sure. If you’re going to ask anybody what to name something, a band is the place you should go, right? Like they’ve had that issue before, “What’s our name?”

Ali Ebright: Oh, man. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s funny.

Ali Ebright: They took it very seriously.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great.

Ali Ebright: Yeah. If it were up to me, it would’ve been called something super boring.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Great, great. 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. 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. You started this. Was it on WordPress that you started?

Ali Ebright: I did. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Ali Ebright: I thankfully was lucky enough to begin on WordPress, so I didn’t have to move over. Yeah. I was not lucky enough to know anything about photography, and so I …

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Ali Ebright: Go ahead.

Bjork Ostrom: For the first year or 2 years when you’re starting, are you consistently posting, or is it like a hobby, “Okay. I’m going 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 Ebright: It was totally a hobby, and it was super nonscheduled. If anything, I was even completely in my world. I really wasn’t reading other blogs. I just stumbled upon the format and just really stayed in my own little cave for about 2 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 to some food.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Is that what you used when you first got started was a point-and-shoot?

Ali Ebright: Yeah, yeah. In fact, actually, for my very first blogpost, 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 Ebright: Yeah, so I like did the Craigslist swap, and swapped in like 2 old point-and-shoot cameras for like a really lower … 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.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure.

Ali Ebright: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: 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 Ebright: 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 enjoy the photography and just trying step it up and make photos actually look appetizing. I feel like it took like a year before I just even 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’s a little bit better. Meaning, that you’ve improved along the way. One of my favorite references quite often, but there’s a great Ira Glass quote, and we’ll put 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 those first … in that first year or 2 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 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 helped you take it to the next level?

Ali Ebright: Honestly, back in the day, I had a bunch of friends who are photographers, so I learned the old, old, old-fashioned way and would bake them cookies.

Bjork Ostrom: Asking people.

Ali Ebright: Yeah, to have them come over and like literally sit with me on a shoot or sit with me on Photoshop or whatever it was, and I feel like I … and that’s a way that I learn really easily, and later, through YouTube videos or reading blogposts about things. Honestly, 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 like 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.” A lot of it was like really just trying to get the bare basics of like an in-focus, like well-lit photo.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, absolutely.

Ali Ebright: The more I started like 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 like well-lit is so hard.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right.

Ali Ebright: It baffles 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 Ebright: Totally. I use 100% natural light for my blog, and I’ve experimented with some artificial lighting, but for me, I shoot mostly white-on-white backlit 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 I also have like a little tutorial. I can send you a link on my blog for using the little white balance eyedropper.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah.

Ali Ebright: I feel like that lighting-wise has also saved me many, many, many times.

Bjork Ostrom: Yup, so I want to go back here. You said, “White-on-white backlit.”

Ali Ebright: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you explain what that means?

Ali Ebright: Totally. I shoot on a white surface, which is just like a really cheap piece of white foam core from Hobby Lobby, which I get on sale at Hobby Lobby.

Bjork Ostrom: Nice. Yeah.

Ali Ebright: It’s really inexpensive, and then I almost always shoot in white dishes, so that … my hope is just the attention is drawn completely to the actual food itself, and then I shoot backlit, which means that the photo is right up next to a window, so the sun is shining toward the camera.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it, and so natural light for those?

Ali Ebright: Yeah, yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Do you ever use artificial light?

Ali Ebright: I’ve tried 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 my signature white-on-white style maybe. If I’m shooting like on a wood background or something, I found that to be a little more forgiving. For that, I have a couple Eaglelights, which actually your wife recommended me.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah.

Ali Ebright: Yeah, but other than that, no. 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: Yup, for sure. Other than its inconsistency, it’s a great, great source of light, so cool.

Ali Ebright: True. True.

Bjork Ostrom: A little bit of a road show, but 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, backlit, 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 Ebright: Yeah, totally.

Bjork Ostrom: Let’s go back. As we’re walking through your story, we’re in the 1 to 2-year range where you’re saying, “I still really enjoy this. I like working on it. It’s very much still a hobby.” At what point did that start to … did that flip switch, or was not an immediate switch? Did you say, “Hey, 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 Ebright: Yeah, totally. Honestly, like 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. Once I looked at my analytics, I realized pretty quickly that I had more traffic than I realize. Once I started monetizing with just some really simple Google AdSense ads, I realized that I was already pretty close to being able to pay … 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. 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 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 an early adopter of Pinterest before a lot of the bloggers hopped on it. 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 having a quarter life crisis.

Finally, one day, I woke up and was like, “You know what? I could make it like through the summer at least like just living off of my blog, and savings, and whatever it may be.” Pretty impulsively, within a few days, I decided to quit my job that I had for 7 years and just blogged for the summer. I was planning on probably applying to law school or doing something totally different, but I thought I just give it a try. Sure enough like … and I don’t know. To me, it was like this huge sign, but maybe it was just serendipitous like literally, the day that I stopped, I got my first sponsor, a content contract, which was brand new at the time. I was working for Tablespoon, a blog with General Mills. I just felt like, “Oh, the angels were singing, and this was sent to me.”

Bjork Ostrom: Right. The stars have aligned, and yeah, the birds chirp over you as you walk down the street.

Ali Ebright: Totally. I think I posted on Facebook about it with a lot of exclamation marks. Anyway, so long story short, that just began my experiment with trying it full-time. 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 right ground and overwhelming at times as well for just like constant, constant, constant learning.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure.

Ali Ebright: I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve really enjoyed 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 maybe one of those bloggers that’s in the place of, “I love it, and I’m enjoying as much of it as I can for now,” but I also just have the 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 necessary something you want to do forever. 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 why you feel like it’s not a forever thing for you.

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 pin point maybe some of the reason why you think you’re able to build traffic to your site through the years. The reason that I ask is because I think, number 1, people like to know, right? People are just curious.

Ali Ebright: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Number 2, I think it’s helpful for people to hear those trigger points like, “At this point, this happened, and I can attribute it back to X, Y, Z,” if you can. Sometimes, you can’t, but I’d be curious to know. As much as you’re comfortable.

Ali Ebright: Yeah, totally. I can’t remember traffic numbers throughout the years, but I do know that some significant jobs happened 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 5 to 7 days a week, and so I thought that was like what full-time bloggers do because I was doing 2 or 3 times a week before that. For probably a good year, I posted 4 to 5 times a week, and that’s an insane amount of content now. I can’t imagine doing that.

Bjork Ostrom: A lot of content. Yeah, now than any time. It’s incredible.

Ali Ebright: Yeah. Totally, but it didn’t 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 is … it’s still my highest traffic driver next to Google. Yeah. I feel like once I’ve started like 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 Ebright: I’d say right now, it’s about … it’s a little under 50%, so maybe like 40%, 45%.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, and then like 30% to 40% from Google?

Ali Ebright: Yup, about that.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, and then all the other brand of places, direct, Twitter, Facebook, things like that?

Ali Ebright: All the other stuff. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, great.

Ali Ebright: Yeah, yeah. Totally.

Bjork Ostrom: If you could do like a Snapchat, so let’s say when you’re first getting started out, there’s always the hundred visitors a month, a thousand visitors a month kind of grow. Do you remember at what point about traffic was like for you and maybe general income numbers when you said, “Hey, I’m going to 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 Ebright: Totally. For me, when I went full-time, I was making about a thousand dollars a month which … my mortgage at the time was like $700 or $800. I live in the Midwest, which is awesome.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right. You and I both. Right.

Ali Ebright: I had also been used to living on a non-profit salary for a long time, so my expenses were really low and continued to stay low for the next few years. 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 500,000 to 800,000 page views a month. Now, it’s hovering just under 9,000,000.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s crazy.

Ali Ebright: Which is nuts. It’s just like …

Bjork Ostrom: It’s so incredible.

Ali Ebright: I can’t even fathom that kind of a number. It goes up and down, and I just … I never know what the future will hold for something like that, but for right now, it’s just been really fun to see … just to see it grow and to be able to see like a readership become much more consistent around it, and people really being able to recognize and rely on it. Yeah, just everything that comes with that.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m curious to know, was the … 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 areas? I’m guessing all of those are true, but I 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 9,000,000, 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. 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 Ebright: 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 going to be guaranteed homeruns like your Fettuccine Alfredo or something, chocolate chip cookies that you know everybody is always looking for versus maybe more like 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, and … I don’t know. I really do love experimenting with like just funky ingredients or whatever it may be, but I realized as a businesswoman as well that my readers … “my readers” especially, at least the people who come to my site seem really interested in easy recipes. Anything that’s like 30 minutes or less with just a few ingredients and like easy steps. They love chicken. They love chicken so much. Oh my gosh, I … yeah, so much chicken, and they love slow cooker recipes. A lot of it has been … My mom randomly is a cross-stitch designer, which is a niche little job, but I remember she …

Bjork Ostrom: I’m so excited to hear how you’d tie this in.

Ali Ebright: Because I remember she told me early on. She’s like … because I was like, “How do you choose what you design or whatever it is?” She’s like, “Well, you have a choice like you find the things that you like that are … make sense to you and that you’re passionate about, but at the same time, you find the things that your customers want.” As I’ve paid more attention and 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. 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, excuse me, 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.

I’ll find things and be like, “Okay. At least according to Google, people are looking for these things,” and 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 because I feel like a lot of times, as artists or creative, it’s easy to get into like, “This is what I want, but my number 1 goal is I just really want to help people get dinner on the table.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure.

Ali Ebright: Whatever it is that they need, I’m game.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. I know that there’s going to 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?

Ali Ebright: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Exactly, how that works, what it is, and 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 Ebright: 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. Basically, if you Google “Google keyword tool,” it’s the first thing that pops up, and it’s part of AdWords. You go in and … I can’t remember. I can send you some tips like step by step, but there’s 1 button that you click over to find like 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.

What I tell people to look for is something that has low competition. There’s either low, medium, or high. Low competition means that there aren’t too many other sites that actually meet that specific search query, but then look for like medium to high numbers. It might be that like 2,000 people a day look for this one recipe or maybe 100,000. You’re probably not going to score highest on the hundred thousands, so you might not necessarily go for like the top one, but if you can find something within the range of what it is that you’re looking to make that’s a mid-range number, low competition, almost always, I’ve just had really great success with that.

I’ve even … there have been a couple like fun experiments where … like one day, I was on there, and I happen to notice that baked ziti had super high like 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 just like almost as like a joke to Google, I was like, “Well, I’m going to make chicken Alfredo baked ziti, and just see what happens,” and it went through the roof.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. It was like a keyword combo.

Ali Ebright: That doesn’t always happen. Yeah, but I was like, “Who knows? Let’s just try it.” There have been a few recipes in mind that like I’ve just … when I can’t decide what to make that day, I’ll just hop on Keyword Planner and find something. Again, with my blog, that’s a lot of what my readers are looking for. They tend to like a lot more 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 me if I’m wrong here, but the keyword tool traditionally would be used for people that are looking to purchase AdWords, but it’s a nice work around in that you can see for Google AdWords, right, their paid product, the competition that exist 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 Ebright: Yeah, exactly. It’s awesome.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s a way to see essentially like how popular a term is which is really interesting.

Ali Ebright: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: The other piece that you mentioned with that, with 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 Ebright: Yeah, yeah. I definitely do an annual survey on my site, which I’ve learned over the years what questions to ask and what questions not to ask with that.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you tell what those are, what you would ask and what you wouldn’t ask?

Ali Ebright: Yeah. I feel like I used to offer a lot of just like vague, “Do you want to see more like slow cooker recipes, or chicken, or whatever?” The answers were usually like, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”

Bjork Ostrom: Chicken. Yeah, like I’d see more chicken recipes right there.

Ali Ebright: Yeah, 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 lease favorite thing about the site. 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 like being able to navigate the site easily, emails, everything.

Bjork Ostrom: What was the number 1 takeaway from that if you had one?

Ali Ebright: Man, I’m trying to remember this past year. 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 actual readers say, “Yeah, I make your 5-ingredient chicken chili once a week for my family,” and just to hear directly about like 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 heard that much like direct feedback from readers in a long time, but as well as … gosh, I’m trying 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 my … let’s see. I was working on redesigning my ad or … sorry, my mobile site, and we were trying to find a way the ads would work better on there, and so we ended up rearranging them a little bit after that. Yeah. I think just in general, it’s just always so helpful to hear it 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 it directly from people, it’s just invaluable.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. That’s great and a huge takeaway for people. Two really specific questions about that. Do you send out an email, or do you do a blogpost to let people know about that survey, and then what software do you use for the survey?

Ali Ebright: I was super low-tech, and I just did it in a blogpost, and I used Google Surveys, and just put it right there within the post.

Bjork Ostrom: Perfect. Yeah. Low-tech is good tech.

Ali Ebright: Yeah, free.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, exactly. Cool. I think that’s super helpful, and that last 5, 10 minutes or whatever, some huge takeaways for people. In those things, while they seem … it’s easy to understand. It’s the stuff that a lot of people maybe don’t implement or don’t think of that can really have a huge impact on moving you towards success, whatever that looks like with your blog, so that’s great. A huge takeaway, and thanks for sharing that.

Ali Ebright: Yeah, totally.

Bjork Ostrom: Ali, I’m curious here. You said you’ve worked on your site here for 5 years. You’ve grown it to the point where it’s insane amount of traffic. You have 9,000,000 people. It’s able to be your full-time job and then some where … I’m guessing it’s at the point where 3 or 4 years ago, you never would’ve 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?” Yet, there’s this piece of you that says, “Hey, this might not always be what I’m going to do,” and you’re pretty open about that. Can you cheer more about why that is and what your thought process is with that?

Ali Ebright: Yeah, totally. My sweet readers, I feel like I’ve always been pretty open about that with them as well, just the ups and downs of trying to figure out what it is I want to do with my life. I’m 32 and still can’t seem to quite figure it out. They’ve always been very gracious and very encouraging along the way. I don’t know. I feel like I’ve always … I feel so tremendously grateful for the blog and just … I think like so many bloggers.

I’m just acutely aware 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 like it’s just … it’s a gift that I really treasure, but I also just always want to 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.

I think I’m still figuring that out. I think for me, what I’ve … I’ve struggled with a lot over the years because I’m totally guilty of being like 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?” like it’s just … and I’m like, “This is like … we’re millennials. We’re like meant to have a bunch of different careers in our lives probably.” I think for me, lately, what I’ve landed upon, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about it this past year and trying to live more in the gray and a lot of spaces in life, but even with …

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that?

Ali Ebright: Not necessarily just like being all-or-nothing I guess like trying to live in the in-between. With blogging, I feel like … I love it like … I completely love it. In any questions I’ve ever had about whether or not this is will 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 be around people and being able to like serve people directly.

Before this, I worked in a non-profit type job, and I’ve done some of that volunteering on the side. I’ve realized just even lately that like, 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 … I don’t know. It’s been really apparent to me just how much I treasure those mornings I teach English. I’ve worked with ESL tutoring for a little while with some people, and I just love it. I’ve realized and I’ve been like, “Should I go back into non-profit? Should I keep blogging or whatever?” I’m like, “How about both?”

I feel like I’ve struggled a little bit with the pressure with blogging to just keep growing, and growing, and growing, and growing. I really enjoy that and I enjoy all the learning that comes with that, but at the same time, I’m really content with where my blog is right now. I’m really grateful, and I want to keep it up and do well, but I don’t feel this huge tug to like just try and make it become my entire life or whatever. Anyway, sorry, I’m not speaking clearly, but …

Bjork Ostrom: No. No, it’s actually 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 whether 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 this other side which is … it’s not anti-growth, but it’s a different type of growth. It’s growth in relationships, and it’s growth in connection, and it’s impact in a different way.

Ali Ebright: Totally.

Bjork Ostrom: This ties in to, I think, what you’re saying, and I’d love to hear more about it, so I was reading about one of your recap life posts, and you talked about this term “Tikkun Olam,” which I’m familiar with, and it means to mend the world. What I hear you talking about I think there’s … maybe it’s not an undertone. Maybe it’s the actual tone of you struggling with this desire to mend the world while also in this other zone, building a really successful blog. 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’re getting there, how you can do that and how those things can happen?

Ali Ebright: Yeah. For me, like, oh gosh, that’s the stuff that like makes my heart beat fast any sort of social justice type stuff like I … 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 the articles in the news that I want to read, and I think I struggled for many years with just 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 like the industry as a whole, it’s just so fast-paced, and always moving forward, and like you got to be like on it with the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, and it was hard to find my place in that.

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, 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 like I’m either going to change careers or I’m … whatever it may be.

For 2016, I’m really looking forward to … I’m going to try and really discipline myself to be a Monday-through-Thursday blogger, and then on Friday, have some kind of long-term volunteer partnerships with the few non-profits in town that where I feel like I can serve, but for people like … and 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 just always been such a believer, and I feel like the blogs that I’m drawn reading are the blogs where people are like following their passions in life.

Even if that means whatever it may be, if that’s volunteering, if that’s learning a new skill, if that’s travelling, whatever it may be that you find the time to prioritize that because it just … I feel like … and when you asked earlier about things that I feel like have made a difference in growing my blog 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 sauce, 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’s excited about, and inevitably, it’s just going to like … I just feel like it’s win, win, win, 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. Just finding the 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 just get like … I feel like whenever people ask me my favorite blogs, I’m like, “Oh, 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: Right. It’s an interesting niche that we are in, and I say “we” primarily as like you and Lindsay because I’m not producing a lot of the content for Pinch of Yum like 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, 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 would think about, “Well, it’s just a recipe. People just a want to know how to cook something,” which is true sometimes, right?

Ali Ebright: Totally.

Bjork Ostrom: There are sites dedicated to recipes and to food, and to really efficiently finding really good recipes, but then there’s this also weird place where we live where it’s like you … 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 background of who we are. 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 takeaway for people knowing that their story is so important. I think it’s so cool what you said about the idea of leaning into your passion as a way to have stories to tell through your site. Am I paraphrasing too much, or is that okay?

Ali Ebright: Yeah, no. That’s perfect, and I think you’re completely right about like business-wise. The world is flooded with food bloggers right now, which I think is a fantastic thing. I love that there are so many food bloggers 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 like haul, and crank out, and just produce as many recipes as possible or as many posts as possible, that’s cool, but on the one hand, I feel like what will build reader royalty … you might get the one-offs from Pinterest to come for some of those recipes, but if you really want to keep people coming back to your site, I think it is that thing 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 some of them. I don’t know. I think that’s what so cool about blogs, and I hope that we don’t lose that for sure.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. That’s awesome.

Ali Ebright: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: 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 that are in it and really working 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? Where do I find ways that I can lead into my passion which I think is really cool?”

We’re not going to 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, quarter 1 of building this thing, whatever it is? It might be a food blog. It might be a food-related website. What would your advice be to them?

Ali Ebright: Yeah, totally. Oh gosh, so much advice. I feel like professionally and like from a blog standpoint, really being able to … there are just so many things that are on food bloggers’ plates nowadays like from photography to writing to social media, and marketing, and all the tech stuff behind the scenes, and it is a lot. I feel like there is this myth out there that bloggers are supposed to be able to do everything well and without a doubt. 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 it on those. If photography is your gig, then have fun with it and learn a lot about it, and really experiment, and try and take great photos, and seek input from other people about how to do that even better. But maybe photography is not your gig like I know some bloggers and food bloggers who just love writing.

I love looking at blogs where you can definitely see people’s passion and their passion within developing content, and so whatever that is for you, figure out what it is, and really … yeah, enjoy it. Enjoy it as much as you can.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Get into that. For sure.

Ali Ebright: Yeah, and try not to beat yourself up about not being perfect, about everything else. On that note, I’d say almost all the advice that I want to give to bloggers nowadays is more just on a 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 like high achievers and like … just about every blogger I know is a self-starter and highly motivated, but it really does … it concerns me that especially in these brand new early years of this industry that I look around and so many friends who I adore … to be honest, I think a lot of bloggers this is an industry that’s definitely prone to workaholism, and I’ve been super guilty of that at different times of my career as a blogger.

I don’t know. I just want it to last, and I want people to last, and so just really being able to like 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 you know that you’re not just living a life talking only with other bloggers or whatever it is like 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 letting the blog become your social circle.

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 at your “competition” all day long, and it can be hard. I know so many bloggers that just really struggle with confidence and like it’s just … it always seems like somebody out there is a step ahead of you in something, but being able to be gentle with yourself, and I think bloggers can always use just 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 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, “Uh, I’m either behind or not good enough,” and it can drain on you. To be able to disconnect from that, one of my favorite things is hang out with friends that could care less about what we do.

Ali Ebright: Totally.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s so refreshing. They just don’t have …

Ali Ebright: My friends are good for that.

Bjork Ostrom: They’ll maybe ask about it, but it’s not like they’re super into it or super interested, and it’s so refreshing and so nice, so I think it’s …

Ali Ebright: Yeah, and also, to take time off. I think that’s hugely important as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Take time away and have a truly good time away where you’re not secretly checking in and …

Ali Ebright: Yeah, exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Which is easier said than done, but so important.

Ali Ebright: Totally.

Bjork Ostrom: 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 on to the podcast today. Real quick, where can people find you? Where can people connect with you, Ali?

Ali Ebright: 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: All of them. Cool. How it goes for sure.

Ali Ebright: Yup.

Bjork Ostrom: Ali, thanks for coming on the podcast today. I really appreciate it. I appreciate your friendship, and I know people will get a lot out of it, so thanks.

Ali Ebright: Oh, man, thank you. 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 what you guys do it is also super apparent and just … all the better for it, so thanks for all you do.

Bjork Ostrom: Thanks. Yeah. 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 like a case study in that.

Ali Ebright: Awesome.

Bjork Ostrom: Thanks, Ali.

Ali Ebright: All right. Thanks.

Bjork Ostrom: Yup. Bye. That’s a wrap for episode number 24. Ali, again, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. We really, really appreciate it. Hey, as a matter of fact, Ali is one of the people that has contributed to this free eBook that we offer called “The Number 1 Thing.” You can download that by going to foodbloggerpro.com/one. You can actually use the number “1” or you can spell it out, O-N-E.

We talked to over 30 food bloggers, and we said, “Hey, what’s the number 1 thing that you’re going to be focusing on in the New Year? We’re really interested to know. Where are you going to be focusing? Is it social media? Is it video? Is it personal time to really recharge like we talked about today with Ali?” All of those things compiled together into 1 free eBook for you. If you’re interested in checking that out, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/one. We actually have a list there of all the different bloggers that contributed, and you can download that there.

Thanks so much for tuning in to the podcast this week. We really appreciate you guys wherever you are whether washing the dishes, going for a run, in the car, at the gym. It’s such a cool thing that we can have this kind of one-way conversation. Hopefully, someday it will be a two-way conversation, but we really appreciate you tuning into the podcast today. We’re going to be back here same time, same place next week. Thanks, guys.

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  1. I loved this episode! Ali is very relatable, and I have been reading her blog for a couple years now. I love the food, photography and her recipes, of course. But I do love the stories and life bits most of all.

    I also found it SO interesting that she is at a point where she is not intentionally growing the blog, but “leaning in” to other things. I can totally relate to that too, even though my traffic and blog size is minuscule compared to hers. 🙂 With a 3 year old son and a new daughter due any day now, I know I am about to enter a season where I am not able to spend tons of time in digital world. Finding balance is tough, but it is so important!

    Thanks for sharing all those insights with us Ali!

  2. Ali is wrong regarding the AdSense competition score. “Low” means there is a low competition among ADVERTISERS (who pay to buy ads off google), and not a low number of websites competing for the particular keyword. The lower the competition, the less money you’re likely to get for your google ads.

  3. I just tried the AdSense search and I can’t find the button shes referring to. Would you be able to include some more detailed steps?