278: Lessons from a Veteran Food Blogger – How to Overcome a 60% Dip in Traffic with Carrie Forrest

Listen to this episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast using the player above or check it out on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

An image of an office and the title of Carrie Forrest's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Lessons from a Veteran Food Blogger.'

Welcome to episode 278 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Carrie Forrest about some of the SEO enhancement she has made to her blog this year.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Sherry Walling from Zen Founder about how entrepreneurs can care for their mental wellbeing. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

How to Overcome a 60% Dip in Traffic 

Do you know which of your posts are performing the best? Do you know which ones aren’t getting any search traffic?

That’s what Carrie is back on the podcast to talk about today!

Carrie has been blogging for over 10 years, and in that time, she has published a lot of content. But not all content performs equally.

As the result of an SEO audit after she experienced a large dip in traffic, Carrie decided to refresh and delete nearly 2/3 of the content on her site. Through that process of learning about the health of her site as a whole, Carrie now has a better understanding of how her content performs and how her content supports the mission of her blog.

A quote from Carrie Forrest’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'Every piece of content on my blog needs to earn its keep.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How one of her recipes went viral, but not in a good way
  • How Google updates can affect site traffic
  • Why Carrie deleted 2/3 of her content
  • What noindexing means
  • Why you should optimize your category pages
  • Why Carrie decided to build her audience on YouTube

Resources:

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

Learn more about joining the Food Blogger Pro community at foodbloggerpro.com/membership

Transcript (click to expand):

Alexa Peduzzi: Hello, hello, and welcome to this episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast. My name is Alexa, and I’m part of The Food Blogger Pro team. We are all just so happy and excited that you decided to tune into the episode today. So, today is a continuation of our series of revisiting some bloggers that we interviewed in the past. Today, we are interviewing Carrie Forrest from Clean Eating Kitchen, and we’re going to be talking to her about a lot of things. She’s been blogging for over 10 years, so she has built up quite the reserve of knowledge, when it comes to building and growing a food blog.

Alexa Peduzzi: But as you probably know, not all content on a food blog performs equally. As a result of an SEO audit, after she experienced a large dip in traffic, Carrie actually decided to refresh and delete nearly, wait for it, two thirds of the content on her site. Through that process of learning about the health of her site as a whole, Carrie now understands how her content performs, and how her content supports the mission of her blog. It’s a really fun episode. We’re really excited to talk to her again. So without any further do, Bjork, take it away.

Alexa Peduzzi: (singing)

Bjork Ostrom: Carrie, welcome back to the podcast.

Carrie Forrest: Hi, Bjork. I am so excited to be back.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. We’ve been doing a few catch-up episodes, talking to people who have been on the podcast before, revisiting those stories, and catching people up over what’s been happening over the past few years. We had an interview back, and I think it was 2018, where you shared some things that you were learning. I think we titled it Six Mistakes to Talk Through, and it’s helpful to hear about not only the things that are going really well, and we’re going to talk about some of those things today and did on that podcast, but also, “Hey, here are some of the things that I learned.” So, that’s a great episode that I would encourage people to go back and check out, but, we’re going to do some catch-up today. Before we get to that point, can you let people know your story? You’ve been at this for a while we’ve been connected both through Food Blogger Pro and random emails here and there for a while. But, for those who aren’t familiar with you and what you do, what’s your background and what’s your story with your blog?

Carrie Forrest: Yes, thank you. As I’d mentioned, I’m so excited to be back. When I was on the podcast, the first time I got so many great emails and people connecting with me, and I just loved that so much, because I think most of us bloggers feel like, often we feel disconnected from the community. So, to have the chance to connect with other bloggers, almost like on a one-on-one basis, people always find something to connect to, and then to have those emails and make new friendships, it just feels really good.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Isn’t it true that part of what we have to figure out as creators is how to sustainably do the thing we’re doing? Part of that isn’t the tactics, it’s not the tips, it’s not the tricks. It’s relationships with people who get what we’re doing, or friendships, or acquaintances of people who also have a blog. It’s such an important piece of the puzzle, and I’m glad that you said that, because I resonate with that, and I think it’s worth pointing out.

Carrie Forrest: Yeah. It’s almost the best part of the job, of the career. I think we’re going to talk about… I’ve had some real ups and downs these last few years. Even just recently, I had an incident where, it was silly and I can tell you about it. It’s almost laughable when I tell this story.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Let’s do it.

Carrie Forrest: Okay. Just to let everybody know, my blog is called Clean Eating Kitchen, and I have been blogging since 2009. My blog has had a few names, but that’s my name and I’m sticking with it.

Bjork Ostrom: Great.

Carrie Forrest: Cleaneatingkitchen.com. And I’m Cleaneatingcarrie on Instagram, if anyone wants to connect with me there. So, I’ve had a health journey, I’ve had some ups and downs with my health too. So, I blog gluten-free and dairy-free recipes, and I just really focus on making it easy and quick. So, that’s my blogging story. Then what happened recently is, it was summertime, it was really hot, and I had heard about making frozen grapes. Making frozen grapes means putting grapes in the freezer, granted. That’s not really a complicated recipe. But, I don’t know. I had never heard about doing that. I think my sister told me about it. So, I wrote a blog post with a recipe, with a recipe card, how to make frozen grapes, and then I posted it in some Facebook groups.

Carrie Forrest: For some reason, I don’t know… Okay 2020, let’s just agree, has been very intense, there’s a lot of intense emotions happening. So for some reason, people were offended. I’m not talking about other bloggers, I’m talking about the general public. This post took off, and it almost went viral on Facebook, but not in a good way. It was like people were writing, “Did the internet just tell me how to freeze grapes?” It was insane. Somebody left a rude comment on my blog, actually left a comment. Maybe in a less intense time I wouldn’t have been frustrated, but I was just like, “Oh my gosh!”

Bjork Ostrom: It’s so hard. It’s so hard to process through that stuff. Yes, totally.

Carrie Forrest: Yeah. I’ve got a lot meaner things sent to me, but first… Of course, this wasn’t a big deal, but I don’t know, I was just a bad day. So, I reached out to the blogging community and just said, “I am having a really bad day.” There were literally, maybe 20, 30 people reaching out and saying, “Been there, it’s hard. You just have to let it go. It’s more about them. It’s not about you.” Then, a lot of people even left comments on my blog, “Wow. I didn’t know how to freeze grapes. Thanks for sharing.”

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Point being, it’s less about the thing, and the thing could be many different variations of that, that for whatever reason caused people to get frustrated, or angry, or lash out. But you have this, in some ways safety net, of people who can relate. I think what I hear you saying is that, that doesn’t necessarily naturally exist for us in this world because, naturally what we’re doing is, we’re solopreneurs, or maybe we have a small team of people that we work with, and we are kind of siloed in the work that we’re doing. It’s different than if you had a restaurant, and you had 10 employees who are also helping to make the meals, and working the front desk. It’s like, then if you have a rude customer, which inevitably you’ll have, you have this group that absorbs it, even if it’s directed at one person.

Bjork Ostrom: But as creators online, a lot of times we don’t have that, and especially in a year that is a really difficult year in many different ways. To be able to have that community is so important. I think even, my guess is, even just in you sharing that story, there will be people who will benefit from knowing that they’re not alone in that, that that’s a common thing that people feel.

Carrie Forrest: Yes. It made it so much better just to express how I was feeling and to have other bloggers know what that was like, and to say, “Come on. You can get through this. It’s okay we’ve been there, and keep doing what you’re doing.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, that’s awesome and love that short story that you share. I know that people will appreciate it as well. So you’d said, “Hey, it’s been some ups and downs over the past few years since we last checked in,” I think the truth is, that exists for everybody. Anybody we’ve ever interviewed, it would exist for me if somebody interviews me. But, not everybody’s willing to share that stuff, which I think it’s so great that you say, “Hey, there’s been ups, there’s been downs, but let’s talk about…” Well, my philosophy is usually starting with the things that are less positive, or harder, or the downs, and then transitioning to some of the positives. So, would you be okay with that in terms of an order to go through things?

Carrie Forrest: Yeah, sure.

Bjork Ostrom: Great. One of the things you had talked about was this big Google update, and the impact that, that had on your site. Can you talk about when that happened, and then share a little bit from your understanding of Google updates, how they work, and how they can impact sites?

Carrie Forrest: Yeah. So, I’ll just go back and say, when we last talked in, I think it was early 2018, it may have even been before that, but I was not super into keyword research and SEO type stuff. It was just a concept I was not that familiar with. But then, I really started getting into it. So, I was starting to keyword research all my recipes, and then I maybe started putting more keywords into my blog posts. So, if I was writing about chocolate muffins, I would be sure to use that keyword, and maybe use different iterations in it. It started to feel very empowering because, I did start getting a lot more search traffic from Google.

Carrie Forrest: So a lot of us, we all know that Pinterest traffic has been up and down, Instagram, who knows what kind of traffic are you going to get from Instagram. So, a lot of us really little rely on Google search traffic, and it was so empowering. So, I would say starting around, it was really early 2019, I could see my search traffic going up. Then, I finally hit 100,000 monthly page views, that took me a long time to reach that point. I was starting to get a nice monthly ad income. So, 2019 was really the first year where I was seeing everything start to come together.

Carrie Forrest: Also, something really fun happened was, I randomly got an email from a book agent who said, “Would you be interested in writing an Instant Pot book?” No brainer. Yes. That ended up working out. I ended up writing an Instant Pot authorized cookbook, which was great because, I had support from the company, and of course Instant Pot has been hot. So, I ended up writing two books for this publisher in 2019. My blog traffic was, I think my height was maybe around 350,000 page views.

Carrie Forrest: Then, I think it was September, 2019, and then again in November… It wasn’t really till November 2019, when I started to see a huge drop off from Google, and realizing that it had been a core update, and that my site had been hit. When I say hit, I mean, overnight… Well really, maybe it wasn’t overnight, but to me it felt overnight, but pretty much November 10th, 2019, my traffic was two thirds gone.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m sure it’s a date and a time that you remember.

Carrie Forrest: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: So, there’s a lot to unpack there, and a lot of different pieces that I’d love to dig into. The first is this idea of a core update. Can you talk about, for those who aren’t familiar with how that works and what the rhythms of that are, what a core update is?

Carrie Forrest: Okay. Well, this is my understanding that, Google I guess, constantly make shifts to its algorithm, which is how your blog appears in the search results, and how everybody else’s blog or website is shifted around, whether you’re on the first page or whether you’re on the second page. So, that can happen daily day to day, but then maybe every three to four months, Google I guess, presses go on some kind of a bigger change. So, maybe they’re instituting some bigger change to how they’re organizing their search results. That’s my understanding. So apparently, November 9th, 2019, there was one. They happen, again, like several times a year, but looking back on it, from my research, webinars and things I’ve listened to, this November 2019 core update had to do, or it penalized websites that perhaps had been over-optimized.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Carrie Forrest: So, all those keywords that I had put in, and not that that’s a bad thing to put your keywords into a blog post, but I had done some other things that I thought was correct. For instance, I had used my headings incorrectly.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about what some of those are, because I’m sure when you say that, a lot of people will be like, “Oh, what, what is that?” My guess is, when you say in using your headings, were you putting a keyword in a lot of the headings as opposed to naturally just saying like, “Here’s how to make this recipe. Here’s how to make this chocolate chip cookie recipe,” and doing that in multiple different instances? What were the different things that you changed, that you were doing before that you’re no longer doing?

Carrie Forrest: So, that was a big one. Maybe having an H2 heading throughout the blog post that said, banana, chocolate banana recipe, chocolate banana ingredients, other chocolate banana recipes. Whereas now… So, I did end up doing a full SEO audit with Casey, from Media Wyse, who’s I think he’s The Food Blogger Pro SEO expert, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Carrie Forrest: So, some of this stuff I’ve learned from him. But now, my blog posts is much more natural. So, I do still use headings, because headings are great for, they help break up your blog posts, they make it easier for the reader to flow through and find what they’re looking for, but they already know that it’s a chocolate banana muffin recipe from the title. They don’t need to see it throughout the post.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Yeah. The point being that, when you’re you’re writing your content, you want to write it in a way where you’re writing in a technically SEO sound way. So, you’re taking into consideration things that are important for an SEO perspective, but also writing for humans first. That’s what I hear you saying is, making that change or shifting a little bit, to have that focus on the person who’s reading the article, and making sure that if you put it in front of somebody, it wouldn’t seem robotic or mechanical for them to continually read chocolate chip cookie recipe, or whatever the recipe would be, over and over and over in the titles. But instead saying, “Hey, this is a section on frequently asked questions.” It’s not frequently asked questions about chocolate chip cookie recipe. Were there other things that you shifted or changed after this update? Whether that be advice that Casey gave in the audit, or insight that you got from doing additional research, anything else that would be worth pointing out that would be good considerations for other creators?

Carrie Forrest: Yes, absolutely. I have pretty much been working on the technical SEO part of my website for the better part of nine months now, and I have done a huge amount of changes. So, because I had been blogging so long, I had a lot of posts. I think I had over 1,000 posts, and a lot of them were worthless. The reason I can say that is because, you can go into your Google search console, and you can pull a report for the last three months of your search results, and you can sort by your your clicks. I think that’s how they say it. You can sort by like small to large. You can see that I had hundreds of posts that have had no clicks from search traffic. So in essence, that means Google is… They’re nowhere near the front page on Google, nobody’s clicking on them. Maybe they’re useful to me from a personal perspective, maybe they’re pictures of a vacation five years ago, but I did end up deleting about two thirds of my content.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s an interesting tactic I’ve heard a lot of people talk about, and I think it’s worth pointing out, and also a scary one for people to think about. Like, “Hey, it feels like you have this work that you’ve done, you have this valuable…” Content is viewed as a form of value, but when you looked at it, it’s like, “Maybe it isn’t valuable. Just because I did it, doesn’t mean that it’s something that I should keep.” It’s maybe similar to a photograph. Just because you take 100 photographs, doesn’t mean that you publish all of those photographs with the blog post. Just because you have 1,000 blog posts, doesn’t mean that every one of those should be kept. So, what did that experience look like? Was it scary for you to delete two thirds of your content?

Carrie Forrest: I think it felt good, and there was there was a mind shift maybe. I think over the last few years, my view about my blog has really shifted, and I wish it had happened earlier, where I now look at my blog, less of my personal journal and my personal journey, but more of a resource for my readers. So, the way I look at my blog now is, every piece of content on my blog, needs to earn its keep. The way it earns its keep is that, I’m re-shooting old photos, I’m going through and making sure the links are valid, they’re not going to broken pages, I’m linking to reputable sources, because I do have health articles on my site. So, I’m making sure I’m linking to government authorized sites, not questionable sources.

Carrie Forrest: So, it didn’t… I would say for people who are thinking about maybe deleting content, there are ways to do it where, you can index posts so they actually are still on your site, but Google doesn’t have to crawl that page. Anyways, there are ways to do that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah. I think that’s great, and it’s an important shift. I love that idea about every post having to earn its keep. Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean it should stay there. I think about that, and it’s easy for us to think about that in many other categories of our life. If you buy stuff and you have it at home, it’s sitting on a shelf, it doesn’t mean just because you bought it, you’re going to keep it there forever. Eventually, it might not be functional, you might not need it, and so you transition it out, donate it, sell it, whatever it might be.

Bjork Ostrom: Content I think works in the same way where, at some point it did have a function, it did have a purpose. But, either that has degraded over time, there’s not as much purpose for it, or maybe it never fully realized the purpose that you had originally intended for it. So, when you went through this process of realizing two thirds of your content wasn’t making it’s, what was the phrase you used? It wasn’t earning its keep?

Carrie Forrest: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: That concept? Did you just go in and say like, “Okay, if something has no clicks in Google search console,” so you go into Google search console, and you sort to see the content that has very few or maybe no clicks from a search engine, all of that content, do you go in and just say, “Go into WordPress, click delete,” and then that’s it? Are you redirecting those somewhere, or are you just letting those go to a 404?

Carrie Forrest: I think you do need to be strategic about it, and I would probably consult an expert like Casey or somebody.

Bjork Ostrom: Good disclaimer.

Carrie Forrest: Yes. For me, first I did it in phases. So first, no indexed, and then eventually I ended up deleting. Even when I’m decluttering my house, I’ll put stuff in a paper bag and it’ll go in the garage, and it’ll sit there for a few weeks.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. There’s a great Seinfeld bit, where he talks about the garage being one step away from the garbage.

Carrie Forrest: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s like the journey of stuff in our lives, and how we get it, and we come home and we set it on the shelf, in the place of honor, and then it goes in the cupboard. Then, once it goes into the cupboard, eventually it will go to the garage, in the garage as opposed to garbage.

Carrie Forrest: Yes, I love that.

Bjork Ostrom: But, it’s similar what I hear you saying with your content. You no index it, which for those who aren’t familiar with no indexing, essentially what that means is, it still exists on your site, it’s still there, but when the Google bot, like literally a bot or a crawler or a spider, spider crawling on your site, when it comes, it’s like a stop sign for that bot to say, “Hey no, I don’t want you to go here, go somewhere else.”

Bjork Ostrom: So, you’re intentionally saying to Google, “Not only do I not want this to show up on a search result, but I don’t want you to crawl this. I don’t want you to look at it.” It’s not a guarantee that that will happen. Like many things with Google, there’s no guarantees. But, it’s a really strong suggestion to the crawler for a search engine, primarily Google, we’ll talk about Google, to stop and no index that.

Bjork Ostrom: So essentially, all of that site in the first phase for you, it still existed on your site. It was still there. People could read it, if they bookmarked it, they could get there, but it was cleaning it up from a search perspective. So, you were selecting a small group of content, one third of your content, that was the best content. You just want to make sure that you shine a light on it. And two thirds, which was not earning its keep, you’re saying no index. But then eventually, you went ahead and just said delete. When you deleted it, were you 404-ing or redirecting at that point?

Carrie Forrest: I was 404-ing because, I felt like if it really wasn’t getting any search traffic, which all those posts, none of them were getting search traffic. If there were a few that maybe they were similar enough to another recipe that was getting search traffic, I would redirect it. It just can be very tedious. There are some… I have a subscription to Ahrefs, and I’m sure there are free ways to do this, I think maybe Majestic.com. But, you can take a link of a blog post and you can put it into one of these checkers, and you can see if there are other websites pointing to it. So, I didn’t want to lose a bunch of backlinks.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. The value of that, which I think is a great little tip for people is to say, “Hey, maybe there is… Maybe I’m not getting a lot of search traffic right now, but maybe for some reason, this piece of content has a lot of quality backlinks.” Maybe it’s from an authoritative site or another blog, and want to make sure that either you keep those by redirecting, or maybe it would be a consideration to keep that post up, and maybe do an update on it or something like that. But important to point out, if you are doing a redirect, a redirect should be to something very, very similar to the piece of content that it was before, you shouldn’t just have one recipe in a certain category like frozen grapes, and then redirect to chocolate chip cookies. That’s an incorrect use of a redirect.

Bjork Ostrom: So, it would make sense that all or the majority of your content that you would delete, would just be a straight 404. Because, if there’s not a highly aligned landing place for that, then you probably don’t want to do a 301 redirect. And, if there aren’t any backlinks to that piece of content anyways, there isn’t really a reason to do that 301 redirect. So, you had mentioned Ahrefs as the tool that you’re using, you put in the URL, and it shows you, from Ahrefs database, here are the places where we’re seeing backlinks, if at all. So, the check it sounds like for you was, number one, am I getting search traffic from this? You said you looked at three months of history for that. Is that right?

Carrie Forrest: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So you go three months of history, no search traffic, do another check on Ahrefs, are there any backlinks here? If not, then at that point, did you move into, “Okay, I feel comfortable deleting this,” or were there other checks that you did like, “Hey, is this getting a ton of traffic on Pinterest? Maybe there’s somebody, 1,000 people who’ve bookmarked it, and they’re just coming as a direct traffic.” Was there any last check that you did, just to see if there’s general trickle of traffic, or at that point, did you feel comfortable enough to say, “You know what, I’m just deleting this.”

Carrie Forrest: I personally felt comfortable deleting, but I think that that is a good thing to do, is to consider whether you’re getting… For instance, you have a popular pin even from three years ago that is still sending traffic, and I’m not exactly sure how to figure that out, but I do know that I did delete one post that was getting Pinterest traffic. Then when I did my SEO audit with Casey, he said, “Why did you delete that? That’s getting Pinterest traffic.” I said, “Whoops. Oh, well.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yep, lesson learned. Go ahead.

Carrie Forrest: I was going to say, one other consideration that I did also make was, just whether that post was something that I felt like updating.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally.

Carrie Forrest: Is it even a recipe that I want to make again, or it fits into my site anymore?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I love that. That question is less of tactic, and more of almost branding or just your relationship to the content. If it’s something that you’re not excited about, you don’t feel like it’s a good fit, you wouldn’t want to spend time remaking and rephotographing, great. That’s another consideration is, what does it look from an energy perspective, for us to have a lot of energy around the content that we’re creating, and the work that we’re doing? So, I think that’s wise, and makes a lot of sense.

Bjork Ostrom: So, on the Marie Kondo Konmari method, does this spark joy, and is this helping my business side of things, was there anything else that you did from a cleanup perspective with your site, as you were looking to correct some of the issues that maybe were tied into that Google update impact?

Carrie Forrest: Well, I’m also optimizing my category pages now. I will just say to other bloggers listening that, I do recommend that SEO audit. I think it was really great to have a personalized approach. But, I was able to do a lot of this work by listening to podcasts about SEO, and listening to Food Blogger Pro Podcasts and other things, where you can really learn about SEO. So, you don’t have to do an audit. If you can afford it, I think it is worth the money. But if you can’t, you don’t have to. But still, it’s wise to pay attention to SEO.

Carrie Forrest: Optimizing these category pages is something that I’m still working on, and it’s really simple. It is just going into WordPress, and for my categories, my theme allows me to make a custom description for a category page, and that would be like dessert recipes, smoothie recipes. So, I can go in and write a little description, these are… Actually, I’m doing keyword research. So, I’ll go into a keyword research tool, and of course, smoothie recipes that is going to be very competitive, but a category page can actually be appear on Google like a regular blog posts.

Carrie Forrest: So, I would love to have my smoothie recipes page showing up on Google when somebody searches for smoothies. But I’ve had to say, dairy-free smoothies. That’s a little bit easier search term, it’s not as competitive. So, I can optimize that category page, I can give it a special heading. I was able to do this in my theme, so everybody has to figure out how their website works. But, I’m able to do that. I’m able to… So, a category of course pulls up all the recipes that have been tagged or marked in that category, and then I can even highlight a few at the top, “Don’t miss these chocolate smoothies, chocolate cherry smoothie.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. One of the things I love about that is, the shift in viewing the value that we’re creating from just individual pieces of content, to the organization of that content. I think of a parallel to Spotify. Spotify is great for pulling up and finding an individual song, but it’s also a great place to go and find playlists that put together a bunch of different songs. I think for a long time ourselves included, bloggers have thought about songwriting, they’ve thought about blog posts, and haven’t thought as much about playlists or category pages in the example that you’re saying. So in WordPress, you can create any category, and you can put any individual poster page into that category, and that will allow you to then have essentially a recipe playlist that you can refer back to, and like you said, potentially rank for.

Bjork Ostrom: So, you probably wouldn’t, or I suppose you would, but one of the things that people could do is create a blog post that they try to rank for just smoothie, dairy-free smoothie in general. But what this allows you to do is, maybe you have 30 different categories, 40 different categories, and each one of those is optimized by some custom content, almost like you would on a poster page, along with the programmatic adding of all of the different pieces of recipe, or all the different pieces of content and the recipes you have, in that general category. So, in your approach to doing that, did you go back and revisit your categories? Did you update those? Did you change them? Or was it more of saying, “I’m going to keep the categories I have, but just start to actually pay attention to these category pages and update those.”

Carrie Forrest: Yeah. So, I had had… Since I’ve been blogging so long, I think I had maybe 70 to 80 to 90 categories. So, I have been slowly going through. I think another thing to think about, because I know with blogging these days, there’s just so many things to do.

Bjork Ostrom: You could be doing everything always. It never ends.

Carrie Forrest: Yeah. So, I keep reminding myself, this is a marathon, not a sprint. So I’m thinking… I’ve been blogging 10 years, I want to be blogging 20 years from now. Honestly, 30 years from now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love it so much. But, I’m thinking that, the little things that I’m doing on a daily basis, or even a weekly basis, just little tweaks, maybe optimizing one category a week, that’s going to benefit me 20 years down the line, hopefully. So, I’m just handling it a little bit at a time, doing what I can. Just also to go back, when my traffic was hit by 60%, essentially last year, my revenue was hit that much. Then of course, with 2020 being so crazy, I’ve had a fraction of the sponsored posts, literally like probably 5% revenue in sponsored posts compared to last year, this year.

Carrie Forrest: So, one way, one thing that I just want to point out to other small or even medium sized bloggers is, you really have to keep an eye on your expenses. So, that means that you end up doing everything or most of everything. So, that’s just another reason to be kind to yourself, and not overwhelm yourself, and just take it a little bit at a time. So, that’s how I’m handling categories, just a little bit at a time. I have redirected some of the old categories that don’t make sense, but I still have a lot of categories. From my understanding, it’s not a bad thing to have a lot of categories.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So I’m curious to know, as you started to make these changes, as you started to no index and then delete content, maybe make some of these updates to the category pages, you had mentioned this, 2020 being a really weird year, especially like March, April, May, as it relates to traffic for a lot of sites, the recipe sites at least potentially saw an uptick in traffic. That’s not across the board. I have a friend who has a dress for success blog, and he was like, “Our traffic went in half. Suddenly, nobody needs to dress for success anymore.” But for some recipe sites, saw an uptick in traffic during that time, but then ad rates went down, and as you mentioned, brands are pressing pause on sponsored content or at least were for a period of time.

Bjork Ostrom: What did that look though, from as much as you can understand, to start to recover from that update? Is that something that you still feel like you’re in the middle of? Do you feel like you’re making traction and starting to gain some of that back? I’d be curious to have a real-time update of where that’s at, being that it’s maybe about a year out now.

Carrie Forrest: So, I’m literally on the side of the mountain climb with my fingernails, up the side, back up the mountain, and I have a lot of other close blogger content contacts who are in the same situation. I have not had a bounce back. I did not do my SEO audit with Casey until literally, I think three months ago. So, it’s been almost a year since that falling off the side of the mountain, and then I was actually hit again in January, January of 2020. So, there was another update in January, and then the next one was in May.

Carrie Forrest: So, it was November 19, 2019, January 2019, just my traffic, just horrible. I lost almost all my rankings. All my recipes are not on the front page of Google anymore. So unfortunately, when the lockdown happened and there was a lot more interest in cooking, none of my recipes are really showing up in the beginning, on the first page. So, I didn’t really get a lot of benefit, maybe a little bit like on Facebook and Pinterest.

Carrie Forrest: Then, there was another update in may of 2020, but by that time I had done some changes, but I didn’t really get a boost. So, you and I are talking at the end of September, and I think there may be an update happening or there’s one happening. It should be any day now really, from what I’ve heard, because it’s been almost over four months. But no, my traffic is a little bit back, but it’s still way, way down.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s one of the realities of this industry. One of the first podcast episodes we did, way back in October of 2015, was with at Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes. She came out and talked about what it was like to have a drop in 70% of her traffic for Simply Recipes. It’s like it’s a reality of Google, it’s the reality of Facebook changing, Pinterest changing. I think to your point, one of the things that’s so important to remember is, control the things you can control. Part of that is like, “Okay, something happened, I had this drop off. How do I recover from that? What are the things I can do to improve?” The other part like you said is, as a business owner, how do I then control expenses connected to my business, so as to suddenly not be operating at a loss. So, if you had a team of five people, and suddenly 60% of your income went away, do you have enough savings? Do you have enough ability to be agile and to cut expenses, to be willing to do stuff on your own, if you need to?

Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s a really good reminder to us as business owners, to make sure that we’re doing whatever we can, to set ourself up for success when those changes do come, because inevitably they will. That’s something we’re starting to do with all of our businesses is saying like, “Hey, how do we have six months of expenses saved up within each business? So when something changes, not if, but when something changes that we have some buffer there to get us through that.” So, I think that’s really good reminder as well.

Bjork Ostrom: On that piece, one last question, is there any mindset that you’ve adopted or any way that you’re viewing this, to not let yourself become too discouraged? Because I know for myself, if I’ve gone through the process of getting some traction, having momentum, building something, and then it shifts and changes and that’s taken away, it can become really discouraging, and it’s hard to feel like you’re redoing work to get back to where you were. Do you have any advice for people or insight, into how you can have as positive a relationship with that work, as possible?

Carrie Forrest: Yes. So it’s okay to cry.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes.

Carrie Forrest: It’s okay to be angry. I think it’s important to reach out to the community. There are few Facebook groups that I rely upon. Of course, Food Blogger Pro is a big part of my support network, there’s also a Facebook group, Food Bloggers Central, and then I’m part of the Mediavine Publishers Group. I go in there and I just, I’m really honest. Again, like with the frozen grapes thing, “I’m having a really bad day. I’m feeling really discouraged.” I think ultimately, when it comes down to it, I try to find just a feeling of gratitude, and also understanding, Google doesn’t owe me anything. I haven’t paid Google any money, I don’t pay Pinterest or Instagram. So, whatever exposure that I get, I’m just grateful for that. I’m grateful that I was able to cut my expenses. I didn’t have to shut down my blog, and try to find a job doing something else. I never want to work in an office again. I love working from home, and I love getting messages from readers of my blog, not fellow bloggers, I love that too, but readers who say, “I love this recipe or you’ve inspired me to cook or to do whatever.”

Carrie Forrest: I have a little, in my notes application or whatever you call it, the notes app, if I get a nice message or a nice comment that really touches me, I copied and paste it.

Bjork Ostrom: What a great routine to have.

Carrie Forrest: Yeah. It has been a really hard year, which all of us understand this. For so many reasons, it’s been hard, and then to have your business feel like it’s been decimated. So yeah, just feeling… Then, I just love blogging. Then, we’re going to talk a little bit about video and YouTube too, and that’s added a little twist, that’s helping keep me excited.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. That was going to be… You beat me to the transition because, I feel like it’s helpful sometimes to introduce another area to learn and to be new at, and to explore. But also, it’s a little bit of diversification and it’s saying, “Okay, there’s the reality of search traffic, earning ad income on my blog,” but there’s other areas as content creators that we can be aware of and focus on, and be intentional with from a business building perspective. It sounds like for you, recently, one of those areas has been YouTube. So, when did you decide to start creating video? Was that a hard thing to get up and running?

Carrie Forrest: I started seeing bloggers on YouTube about two years ago, I would say. I noticed that they were bloggers, they were smallish bloggers, I consider myself a small blogger, small to medium size. I noticed that they were really growing an audience through YouTube. It’s a really great place to build almost a separate audience. It can be a separate audience from maybe your blog readers, or your Instagram viewers. I think there’s some overlap between Instagram and YouTube audience. But, it can be a very effective way, and it can be a great way to drive traffic to your blog. Because, if you’re making a recipe, you don’t have to put the recipe in the description. You can put the link to your blog. So, you can actually drive traffic to your website from YouTube.

Carrie Forrest: Because video is such a different connection than somebody reading your blog, but if they’re watching you make something in your kitchen, they can really connect to you in a much faster way than if they’re reading a recipe on your website. I noticed that with myself, I started getting drawn in to different channels. I will say that, I never really got into the hands and pans type videos. Video was very overwhelming to me, and then to try to make… Photography is overwhelming to me. I just do the best that I can, and try to improve a little bit over time. But, I never really did the fancy lighting, and getting those beautiful bite shots and stuff like that.

Carrie Forrest: With the YouTube, I’m talking more about an actual cooking style show, where I’m on camera, or there’s a talent on camera so to speak, a blogger is speaking to the camera, and then actually making the food right there on camera. So, I started thinking about that. It just seemed intriguing to build an audience that way, and start to diversify maybe outside of search traffic. So, I’ve been just playing with that. It’s been a huge learning curve, especially-

Bjork Ostrom: What are the things that you’ve learned that have been most helpful as you’ve gotten into it? Sometimes they refer to them as the unlocks, what are the things you’re like, “Oh gosh, this was super helpful or super interesting.” Knowing that you’re in the early stages, sometimes it’s best to ask that question to people, when those revelations or new learnings are as new as possible.

Carrie Forrest: Well, I think I thought all the photography or the videography I guess, had to be really gorgeous and beautiful, like a hands and pans type video. I thought it just had to be perfect. But actually, it’s more about… I guess the audio needs to be really great, so I do use a Lavalier mic, as opposed to… You can even shoot a YouTube cooking channel with your iPhone, but maybe you’re really not going to get great audio. So, having a separate mic, or plugging in a mic to your iPhone and running it, and hooking it onto your shirt, I think is important. Because the audio… It’s okay if the video is not perfect, but the audio needs to be great. I think also, this is kind of obvious, but making videos that people want to watch.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s a good reminder.

Carrie Forrest: Well, because there’s a temptation as a food blogger, “Well, I’m just going to find some recipes on my site, like Instant Pot rice.”

Bjork Ostrom: Not super interesting, yeah.

Carrie Forrest: Yeah. I’m still working on that. It is interesting because, you can have a strategy on YouTube where, almost like a blog where you can do keyword research, and try to find recipes that people will find through YouTube as a search engine. But again, maybe balancing that with some videos where you’re really appealing to an audience.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Yeah. I think it’s a different type of skill in that, suddenly what you’re trying to do is keep people entertained and engaged as long as possible, as well as having success with creating a piece of content. So, you kind of become an entertainer as well, or entertainer educator I would say, as well as needing to have a quality product, in the case of doing recipes. Was there any level of intimidation for you with stepping in front of the camera? You are somebody who’s genuine and authentic, and I would assume that’s one of your super powers in some of your videos, is being able to connect with people on that level. But, it’s also scary to press record and then step in front of a camera and start talking. How did you go about doing that?

Carrie Forrest: I don’t know why, because I am one of the most introverted people. I think it is actually easier for me, and maybe this would be comforting to other bloggers who are thinking about doing YouTube, for me, it is a million times easier to talk to a camera than to talk to a person.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, sure.

Carrie Forrest: So, there’s nobody in the room, it’s just the camera. So, if there were maybe, if I invited five people over, my friends, I wouldn’t be nervous. If I had to go do a cooking demo at a grocery store, I would be full of anxiety. I wouldn’t sleep, I’d be studying. But for some reason, the camera is not that scary. Maybe it is, it’s a little. I do sweat a little bit, and I don’t like watching. I don’t know, it’s hard, but it’s not as hard as you would think it would be.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. I think more than anything, I remember this with the podcast, I remember it with recording a course on Food Blogger Pro, the first time I think is often the worst time. The more exposure that you can have to it, the more natural it’ll become. So, whatever the medium is for people, whether that be video, podcasts, writing, pressing publish on a blog post, I think repeat exposure to those things that you want to be good at, and continually do more of, can be a really beneficial thing as well.

Bjork Ostrom: So, we’re coming up here to the top of the hour here for this conversation that we’re having, but I want to make sure, it’s kind of a last question, we occasionally like to ask this. If everything was to go away, if you were to start over again, if you were to start today, Carrie, what would that look like for you, knowing what you know now, or you still have all your knowledge, insight, wisdom that you gained over the last 10 plus years? What would you do now, knowing what you know, if you had to start over?

Carrie Forrest: I think I really like the idea of thinking about where I want to be in five years, and then just building on that. When I started my blog, I never thought about the future. I never thought about what my goals were with the blog. I just enjoyed the process. Now, when I think about, “What am I really building? I’m putting my whole life into this. This is my career now. I don’t see myself really having another career, so I’m all in on this. What am I actually doing? What is it going to be like? In the blink of an eye, we’re going to be 20 years from now. So, what am I actually trying to build?”

Carrie Forrest: For me, I really want to build a resource for women who are struggling with chronic illness. So then, that really dictates, what does that mean I should do today? What does that mean? Do I need another blog post to fill in the gap somewhere, or do I need to make a YouTube channel or a YouTube video, or do I need to… That really helps point me to what I need to do next.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think that, it’s almost like it’s mission, it’s vision, it’s purpose. When you step back, and I think a lot of what we do is, we’re in the forest and we’re marching forward on a path, and this is an analogy that has been used with, we’re going through the process of doing this thing called EOS for our team, and they talk about this as the visionary. There has to be a vision where every once in a while, you stop and you climb a tree and you’re like, “Where am I going?” If you don’t do that, you can potentially just create this path and go around in circles. If you don’t occasionally climb up and look and say, “Hey, I want to be there. Let’s have the decisions I’m making today inform the path and the direction, or the direction that I want to go, inform the path that I’m creating, and the progress that I’m making on a day-to-day basis.”

Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s a really good reminder, not only for me, but for people who are maybe caught up in the chaos of the day to day or the week to week, to be able to step back and say, “What’s the why?” Start with the why of what you’re doing, and the purpose behind it, and let that inform where you go from there. I feel like it’s a great note to, to wrap up on as well. But before we do, for those who do want to connect with you, you talked about how important those personal connections are. What would that look like, Carrie? What’s the best way to follow along with what you’re up to, and to reach out to you?

Carrie Forrest: I would say that, you can email me, because I respond to all emails. One thing that I’m also passionate about, that I haven’t really pursued is an idea of mentorship. Because, I do feel like I’m a veteran food blogger now, and I just love getting messages from people who are starting out, and maybe they’re struggling with this idea of vision, or setting a goal. To me, that’s how I feel I can give back, is maybe giving encouragement, especially on a one-on-one basis. So, I have a contact form on my website, Cleaneatingkitchen.com, and I love to get emails, and I’ll respond, and ask away.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. That’s great. Carrie, so good to connect again. Thanks for sharing your story in such a genuine and authentic way. I think it will be both inspiring for people to hear it. I think there’s also reassurance that comes along with the storytelling. I feel like there’s probably a level of, you talk about what your mission and vision is for five years, I think in having this conversation, hopefully will be able to help in the pursuit of that mission and that vision. So, thanks so much for coming on, Carrie. We really appreciate it.

Carrie Forrest: Thanks Bjork.

Carrie Forrest: (singing).

Alexa Peduzzi: That’s a wrap for this episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Thanks again for tuning in today. We hope you enjoyed this episode, this interview with Carrie. If you have any questions or thoughts, or you want to access some of the resources that Carrie mentioned today, you can find them all at Foodbloggerpro.com/278. That URL will take you directly to our show notes for this episode. We’d love to chat about your takeaways, and your thoughts about this episode.

Alexa Peduzzi: As always, Food Blogger Pro is open for enrollment right now. You can learn more about joining this incredible community of nearly 2,000 bloggers at Foodbloggerpro.com/membership. Every Food Blogger Pro member gets access to hundreds and hundreds of lesson videos, and exclusive deals, a community forum, and so much more. It’s just an incredible community of people. During a time when connection is just even more important than it usually is, it’s so great to have a community like this to lean back on, to collaborate with, and to troubleshoot with. It’s a wonderful, wonderful community. So, that does it for us this week. We’ll see you again next time, and until then, make it a great week.

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