451: Staying True to Yourself as a Content Creator with Katie Higgins from Chocolate Covered Katie

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A blue photograph of someone standing behind a kitchen counter with a tablet and fruit on top of it and the title of Katie Higgins' episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Staying True to Yourself as a Content Creator' across the image.

This episode is sponsored by Clariti and CultivateWP.

Welcome to episode 451 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Katie Higgins from Chocolate Covered Katie.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Jessica Hylton Leckie. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Staying True to Yourself as a Content Creator

Katie first started creating content online in 2006 and has been making a living from her food blog, Chocolate Covered Katie for a long time. In her first podcast interview (!!!) Katie shares openly about navigating the online content creation space for almost 20 years and how she has stayed true to herself throughout that time.

Katie has been very intentional about running her business in a way that prioritizes doing the things she loves — creating recipes, SEO, photography, FOOD, and letting go of the things she doesn’t — video, sponsored content, Instagram.

She has a really refreshing perspective on what success looks like and how she navigates imposter syndrome in the industry. We’ve been longtime followers of Katie and enjoyed getting a peek behind the scenes of her brand!

A photograph of a stack of chocolate cups with a quote from Katie Higgins' episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast that reads, "I think one of the reasons I've been able to make this a career and stay around so long is because I write about what I really love."

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How she first started creating content on the internet (on Xanga!).
  • How she started monetizing her site.
  • How she has persevered through all of the iterations of what it looks like to publish content online.
  • Why she prioritizes the parts of food blogging she likes (i.e. SEO) and doesn’t worry about the things that she doesn’t (i.e. video).
  • How she balances SEO with creating content she loves.
  • What success looks like for her right now (and how she deals with imposter syndrome).
  • Why she is working to make the user experience better on her site.
  • Why she’s chosen not to do sponsored content for her blog or social media accounts.


Thank you to our sponsors!

This episode is sponsored by Clariti and CultivateWP.

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Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode!

Sign up for Clariti today to easily organize your blog content for maximum growth and receive access to their limited-time $45 Forever pricing, 50% off your first month, optimization ideas for your site content, and more!

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

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Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Clariti. You spend a lot of time on your blog content, from planning, to recipe testing, to writing, to promoting, but do you know if each of your posts are bringing you the most traffic they possibly can? With Clariti, you can see information about each and every post, which is automatically synced from WordPress, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console, so that you can make well-educated decisions about where your existing content may need a little attention. Think broken links, or broken images, no internal links, or missing alt text. You can also use information that Clariti pulls about sessions, page views, and users to fuel the creation of new content, because you’ll be able to see which types of posts are performing best for you. Get access to keyword ranking, click-through rate, impressions, and optimization data for all of your posts today with Clariti, listeners to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast get 50% off of their first month of Clariti after signing up. To sign up, simply go to Clariti.com/food. That’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food. Thanks again to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.

Emily Walker: Hey there, this is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team, and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. This week on the podcast, we are chatting with an OG food blogger, Katie Higgins from the blog, Chocolate Covered Katie. Katie first started creating content online in 2006, and has been making a living from her blog for a long time now. In this conversation, she shares a little bit more about how she started monetizing her site, and how she has persevered through all of the different iterations of what it looks like to publish content online. Through the years, she’s been really intentional about leaning into the parts of food blogging that she enjoys, like content creation, photography, and SEO, while letting things like video and sponsored content fall by the wayside.

She has a really amazing perspective on the privilege that it is to be able to make a living from doing something that you love, and she wants to protect the things that she loves at all costs. Katie also shares a little bit about how she’s struggled with imposter syndrome through the years, and what she’s currently working on with Chocolate Covered Katie to make her brand and her business stronger and better for her followers. It’s an awesome interview, we’ve been following Katie for a long time, and we’re thrilled to have her on the podcast, so I’ll just let Bjork take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Katie, welcome to the podcast.

Katie Higgins: Thank you so much, I’m really excited to be here. This is the first podcast I’ve ever done, so.

Bjork Ostrom: All right, here we go. First podcast you’ve ever done, but it’s not like you’re new to this world of creating content on the internet, you have been doing that for a really long time. You actually started in high school, is that right? Tell us about that.

Katie Higgins: So, I started right after high school, basically, it was around the time of MySpace and Xanga sites, and everybody was making those websites just for fun, and I never expected it to be a moneymaking thing at all, or a job, I was still trying to decide what I wanted to do. I was like, maybe I’ll go to veterinary school, maybe I’ll go to law school, I really had no idea. But I started this blog as… And originally it was a Xanga site.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s so awesome. I don’t think we’ve ever done an interview where somebody started as a Xanga site, I love it. My friends had Xangas, we all had this little network of, Lindsay had a Xanga, and it was essentially, how our friend group used it, was we would just post updates of what was happening in college-

Katie Higgins: Yes, exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: … and for some of us, we were still in high school. It was X-A-N-G-A, is that right? Xanga?

Katie Higgins: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Katie Higgins: Yeah, and mine was very embarrassing, I think it was blue background with lime green, at one point, text. So, it was one of those embarrassing websites that you’re glad you can’t find on the internet anymore.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally. So, when we were publishing, it was essentially these little updates, life updates, was it similar for you? Or at the time, was it still around this niche of food? Or did you find that you gravitated-

Katie Higgins: Absolutely life updates, yeah. So, my friends all had them, we kind of did life updates together, and only people I knew would comment on them. I think my grandmother found it at one point, which was very strange. So, I got a comment from her. But it was definitely not people I didn’t know. And the time that it changed was, there was a restaurant in… I was newly vegan, and there was a vegan restaurant in Philadelphia where I was going to college, that I posted about their cake. And somehow,, all of a sudden these people that I had no idea who they were, they started leaving comments on my Xanga. I’m guessing maybe the restaurant posted, reposted it, or something. But then I was like, oh, that’s really sweet, so I felt like I had to return the favor and post on their websites. And the internet was so small back then, that we just made a community, where they’d comment on mine, and then I felt like I should comment back on theirs, and we became really, like friends. From then on…

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting, it’s kind of like that was social media.

Katie Higgins: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s like, you post something to a website, people comment on it, and then you check somebody else’s website and comment on that, and it’s like this early version of high friction in the sense that there’s not a feed, and you have to go to a website to check it. What I love about that is, I think that there’s something to be said about if you’re interested in building a thing, sometimes you should start with what are you naturally doing? And for you, it was like, it’s not like you had to be convinced to post content online, you were just doing it.

And you were doing it probably because you liked doing it, and so for us as creators in the world, I think a good place to start is to look at where do we find ourselves naturally going, and then experimenting a little bit, and saying, okay, if I post about this, what happens? It’s a little bit of a playground, and it sounds like when you posted food content on your Xanga, there was a little bit of a feedback loop that told you, hey, there’s some higher engagement, or interest in this type of content. Was that the first thing that opened the door to food as a potential subject?

Katie Higgins: Yeah, exactly. And when people ask me, how do I start a blog to make money? How do I do this full time? I never really know what to say because I did it not thinking that it was going to be a job. So, I did it because I loved it, and I didn’t make any money at all for the first, I don’t know, three or four years I think. And really, I was doing it, I wasn’t even posting about food, I don’t think I posted recipes for a while. But I’d comment on people’s sites, and they had recipes, so then I’d try their recipes, and I think that’s how it first started, was I would try other people’s recipes and take pictures of that. And then, maybe three or four years in a company called Food Buzz, they emailed me, and they said, would you like to put ads on your site?

And I thought it was spam, I was like, this is… I was going to delete it. But I saw, because I was friends with people who had blogs, I asked them about it, I was like, oh, did you get the spam message too? And they said, oh no, we’re making maybe $100 a year from these ads. And they were very not intrusive at the time. So, I looked on their site, and I was like, oh, okay, $100 a year is pretty nice, you can have a few jars of peanut butter for that. So, I put them on, and I think the first year I did probably make $100, and the second year I made a little bit more, and then I was sent a tax form, and I realized, oh, wow, this is actually making-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s official. When you get a tax form, that’s when you know it’s official.

Katie Higgins: Yeah. The government has found you. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So, was that still on your Xanga site?

Katie Higgins: No. So, I don’t remember when it was, maybe two years in, everybody else had these very clean Blogger sites, and I actually forgot about that until just now that I’m saying it. I switched over to Blogger first, and then I think a year after that, or two years after that, a lot of people were switching to WordPress, and I was like, oh, that’s even cleaner looking. And I like the clean minimalist type look. And Blogger’s fine, but the people I knew were using WordPress, and I was like, oh, I really like these features that it has, and it seemed really easy to use. So, I switched over to that, and I’ve been on WordPress ever since.

Bjork Ostrom: So, this was, just to understand the arc of it. The first time you published a blog post, let’s say it’s at Xanga, if we’re going all the way back to the arc of that, it’s 2007, 2008, is that right?

Katie Higgins: 2007, yeah. I think Xanga was either 2006 or 2007. Now, I’m dating myself, but yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And when I think back to our friend group, it’s kind around that same time. I think it was probably 2004 to 2008 is when they had those Xanga sites. Switched to Blogger, eventually switched to WordPress, you start to realize, oh, you can create $10 a month of income from putting these… And so you’re starting to get a little bit of a understanding that, hey, this can be a thing. At the same time, going to school, you’re studying, trying to figure out what’s next. At what point did it tip into, oh, actually this is actually something that I can create substantial, or create a career out of? Substantial income or a career?

Katie Higgins: Yeah. So, I started at Bryn Mawr, and then I transferred to SMU for reasons not related to the blog, but I was trying to do the blog and… The blog just for fun. I was trying to do the blog, and then also do college, and I was taking classes and things that I had no interest in, some of them. Some of the classes just because of requirements. And I’d be like, well, why am I taking architecture of the city, spending money on this class? And all I really wanted to do was make more content for the blog, which was now making a substantial amount of money.

And I didn’t think that it could be a career at that point, but I was also like, what if this is something that if I put more time and effort into it, it could become a career? But I didn’t have time because I was doing college classes, and I think I… It’s hard to even remember. I think I dropped out of college when I think I had one and a half years left. I eventually went and finished it online, because my mom was very sad that I didn’t have a degree.

Bjork Ostrom: Totally.

Katie Higgins: But yeah, you can always go back to college, that was my thinking.

Bjork Ostrom: And it’s different when you’re a student and you’re weighing the positives and negatives of, well, if I could spend an additional 30 to 40 hours a week building this thing, which is already creating income-

Katie Higgins: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: … the cost of college isn’t just the cost, it’s also the opportunity cost of not continuing to build a thing that already has some momentum. So, my understanding of your story, that continued to build, the site continued to get substantial amount of traffic. Talk about that stage, where you’ve dropped out of college, now you’re working on the site, and you have this exciting momentum, and multiple millions of page views, right? At some point it gets to that point where it’s this substantial amount of traffic that you’ve built. What was that like?

Katie Higgins: So, that is one of the reasons why I think I wasn’t as afraid to drop out of college, it wasn’t as much of a risk because the site was already making money. So, I was already making a good amount that I could live off of, and that’s why I said, if I wanted to go back to college, I could. But it was making an amount of money, and there were people who had, I remember seeing someone who said she had 700 page views a day. Whoa, that’s a crazy amount. And then, Pinterest hit the scene, I think around 2010 maybe. And back in the day of Pinterest starting, there weren’t that many people who were posting things on it.

And I didn’t even know about it, I didn’t have a Pinterest account, but someone started posting, or a bunch of people, just regular readers, started posting my recipes on Pinterest, and all of a sudden I was getting 20,000 page views just on one post from them. The cookie dough dip that I have was one of the first ones to go viral on Pinterest. And as I said, I didn’t even have a Pinterest account at that time, but it really took it to a whole different level. It was a lot of fun.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting to think back to that point, Pinch of Yum was in a similar place, where it’s like, didn’t have a Pinterest account, but benefited greatly from Pinterest. There was people who’d come and pin the content, and would come back to the site, and that being a really great thing.

Katie Higgins: And I’m forever grateful to those people.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally. So, one of the things I’d be interested to hear you reflect on, you’re in a similar camp to I would say us, and maybe a handful of other people, where you started publishing content in a world where… In a world that’s very different than 2024. The 2024 world of content publishing looks different for sure than 2010. But even six years ago, it looks different. Where, Pinterest maybe is a little bit different, in terms of a traffic source, it’s gone down, it’s maybe not quite as valuable, and search optimization is just a very different game than it was when we all started.

Katie Higgins: Oh, yeah, so much.

Bjork Ostrom: And yet, you’re still publishing content, you’re still showing up. How have you persevered through all the different iterations of what it looks like to publish content online? What has that looked like for you, I guess, is the question? Because I think it’s different for everybody.

Katie Higgins: Yeah. Every time there’s a change, Facebook goes through a change, I remember everybody got all upset when Facebook announced that they weren’t going to show people’s content to all of their followers anymore. We always cringe whenever social media goes through a change. Pinterest is still my main source of traffic, but I get a lot of people who are… There are a lot of people from the olden days, from the beginning. There are people who will say, oh, I followed you since your Blogger site, and I’m like, oh, thank you so much, I’m so sorry that you had to go through all of those lime green and whatever other colors I thought were a good idea at the time. Then Instagram came onto the scene, and for a while I was posting on Instagram every day, and then I realized that I’m really not getting that much traffic from Instagram, so. I’m not the kind of person who also puts herself out there, I really prefer to have the recipes be the main thing.

So, I see all accounts where the reels do really well if they’re in the reels, I’m just like, I don’t, as you can see from my video, I don’t really know video very well. So, that’s not… But I’ve had to learn in terms of advancing, every technology is always changing, and video is one thing that I’ve struggled to keep up with from everyone else. Search engine optimization is actually fun for me, because you do all the, research a keyword, and you find all the related images, and I think that’s a lot of fun. But yeah, video is something that I am struggling with.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think everybody has, it’s almost like when I think of sports analogies are always a little bit eye rolly, but I think of football, and I think of that as a team sport, and how different everybody’s skills are that play football, and yet they’re all football players. You have somebody who’s really good at kicking, and then you have somebody who’s 3% body fat, and 300 pounds, and they’re like this incredible defensive player, and then you have a quarterback… All of these different people, they’re all football players. And I think the same thing could apply to people who are content creators or publishers, where it’s like-

Katie Higgins: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: … we all have these very unique and different skills. And to contrast that, Lindsay loves creating content, video content, it’s one of the things that she really looks forward to, and enjoys, is what does it look like to come in with her friend Landon, who does video? They shoot two or three, four videos a day, and then edit those, and sharing those, and that’s a really fun thing for her. And if it was like, and now we’re going to do search optimization, keyword research, she’d be like, no, please, no, just soul sucking. And that is different for everybody, and so part of it is finding what is your expertise, what is the thing that you want to be an expert on, and what is the thing that is easiest for you to do? And it sounds like for you, one of those things is content creation in the world of search optimization. Is that true, or what do you feel like… What has been the throughline for you as a content creator in terms of things that you can develop expertise in, and you feel a pull towards?

Katie Higgins: I really liked the photography, which is funny because when I first started out, I knew nothing about photography, and I hated it, I always blamed my camera, because I’d see everybody else have these beautiful images, and mine were always dark, and I’d be like, oh, it’s the camera, or oh, it’s the lighting. And then I read my camera manual front to back, and I started to get better at photography. So, that is one of my favorites, but that’s also one of the reasons that I don’t like video, is that, A, I’m not very good at it yet, but B, if you have a crumb out of place or something in the video, or the colors are off, you can’t just go in and edit that, you have to reshoot the whole thing. But yeah, so I like the photography, I think one of the reasons that I’ve been able to make this a career and stay around so long is because I write about what I really love, which is… And I really just really love food.

I see a lot of people on TikTok go viral doing the, what do you call it, clickbait, and that is just not something that I want to do, but I also think they might get a hit, they might get a few hits, they might become famous for a little while, but I think people understand that they might try a clickbait recipe, I’ve seen the one for garlic, where it’s like, shake this garlic for 30 seconds and the skins will fall off. And it got 10 million views, I was one of them, I tried it, and it does not work at all. So, that guy doesn’t have credibility anymore, whoever it is, even if he has 10 million views. Whereas, what I want to do is make recipes that people will try it, and then they’ll be like, oh, this is really good, and they’ll know that they can come back to my site and have a good experience again and again, not just a clickbait type experience.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So much of it is about trust, and it’s like, it’s really easy in the world of content creation to see something that maybe is viral, that you could have, that you could cash in on, a quick hit. But some of the trust type content feels like it’s a little bit of a slower burn, it takes more time, like it should with building trust. But, like you said, what that results in is somebody being like, hey, I’ve followed you for 10 years, and I keep coming back… And there also is, in the world of publishing, direct traffic. It’s people who type in-

Katie Higgins: And word of mouth.

Bjork Ostrom: … your website, word of mouth, bookmarking, people still bookmark stuff, and that’s-

Katie Higgins: Like the app on their phone.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s all a part of what we’re doing is, in audience development, building a following is also making sure that there’s people who trust what you do. So, I think that’s such an important thing to point out.

Katie Higgins: Yeah, I know you guys are a very trusted brand too, when people see your recipes, they know this will turn out-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure.

Katie Higgins: … people actually test their recipes, they’re not just doing a… And I’ve done the two ingredient this, three ingredient that, I try not to do it very often because I feel weird putting out something that’s not actually a recipe. But if it’s something fun, like, I have three ingredient coffee truffles that have some other variations that can make them different. Those are fun, that’s not just, here’s this one ingredient… I don’t want to say anything, and throw anybody under the bus, so I’m not going to say anything. But you know the difference between clickbait and a recipe you’ve actually tried.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, totally. And you can have a really good simple recipe, like two or three ingredients, but it needs to be something that you’ve tested and-

Katie Higgins: And something that not everybody knows.

Bjork Ostrom: … you care about what it os. Yeah. Yep. So, you talked about really enjoying SEO, like researching, coming up with a plan, but also, really focusing on content that you love. And it feels like a lot of times people think of that as binary, it’s one or the other. You’re either doing search optimization and you’re finding a piece of content that you can potentially rank for, but maybe you’re not super excited about it, or you do inspired content, that maybe doesn’t have a lot of search opportunity, but you’re doing it because you love it. So, what does that look like for you? How do you balance those two things knowing that both of those things are important for you?

Katie Higgins: I think I do a lot where it’s not going to rank for anything, and I know that, and I’m like, oh, well, that’s okay, the photos will be fun, it’ll be fun to write, people will see that I really love this recipe. I’m trying to think of one in particular, I can’t at the moment. Well, the coffee truffles, that, for whatever reason, that’s on my mind. That’s not really getting me any traffic, but they were really cute. You put the knife through them, and they’re pretty. So, stuff like that I will do, cakes, I really like doing. I’m working on a vegan coconut cake that, it doesn’t seem to get much traffic, that search term, but cakes are really fun to photograph.

And then, I’ll do things like, I wasn’t really excited about yogurt dip when I first did it, but I saw that it had a lot of… I actually didn’t get anything on that, so I think I’m number 30 or something, when you Google that, so it doesn’t matter anyway. But once I started doing… The actual research is fun for me. So, it doesn’t even matter if it’s a recipe that I’m not all that interested in, just the research part itself is fun for me no matter what it is.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Even if it’s not something where you’re trying to find the ultimate SEO play, it’s still fun to look into it to understand it, and you might come out of it and say, hey, I did some research on this, I realized there’s not a huge search opportunity for it, and yet I’m still going to do it because I like it-

Katie Higgins: I’ve done that too.

Bjork Ostrom: … and it’s interesting. Yeah. So, what does that process look like? What are the tools that you use, and what have you found to be most helpful in the research and analysis stage?

Katie Higgins: Honestly, I know there are tools that you can buy, like SEM Rush or Semrush, I have not done any of that stuff. I will literally just take a term of something I thought of, like protein banana bread, and I will put it into Google, I will see what the Google says are the common search terms, and then I will see what the common image search terms keywords are, at the top of the image search. And then, I’ll add all those to a post draft, and I’ll see which ones of those will fit naturally into my post, and just go from there. And sometimes it works, like protein banana bread, I’m getting a lot of traffic from, and like I mentioned, the yogurt dip, I’m not getting any traffic from that, but I still like doing the pictures so. And it tasted good, so I found a new fun recipe that I like.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. So, basic idea is, you say, hey, I have this idea for a certain recipe, and I’m going to use Google to refine it, not only maybe the actual name of it, but also what content should be included in that recipe, by seeing what additional information Google surfaces when you search for it, is that more or less?

Katie Higgins: Right. Yeah. And it gives you a starting off point for what you want to say about it too. I used to write a lot more personal, which was fun for me, but a lot of times I’m just making recipes just for content creation, not for a party, or I made this for my mom’s birthday. That is not always the case anymore. So, a lot of times my recipe blog posts will literally just be, here are the ingredients, here’s how to make it, here are the common questions… There’s no personal story. It’s really sad to me, because I loved doing the personal stories, but also, a lot of times people will write in, and they get all mad about the personal stories, which I’m just like, there are cookbooks that exist for this, if you want just a cookbook, no ads, free recipes. So, that’s frustrating for me because I liked the personal stories, but I know…

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s interesting, we’re coming into, I think, an interesting time with generative AI, content that can potentially produce some of those things, and it almost feels like there is a case to be made for story to exist, as a competitive advantage, like story connection, I think a little bit of that trust. But it’s hard when you’re trying to balance this search optimization world, where I think a lot of people have been coached on, what are the alternatives to banana bread? H2 header, and then you put in alternatives to banana bread. Because it works, that’s the hard part with it. But then, as we’re entering into this stage of some information potentially being available via generative AI search on Google, it’ll be interesting to see. I don’t think we know the answer yet, but I think there’s maybe a case to be made about the value of story coming back.

Katie Higgins: Yeah, I think you’re right. Even on Instagram, I found that… And I hate it because I really am shy, and I don’t like being the center of attention. But I found that in Instagram stories, if I make the first story a picture or a video with my face in it, it will get 10 times the engagement, and I think that’s just the algorithm being like, oh, person, let’s show that to more people. And as I said, I hate it, but it works, and so… And that’s another reason I don’t do as many personal stories in the blog post, is I don’t want Google to be like, oh, this is not relevant to chocolate banana bread because it’s talking about someone’s birthday. And it’s sad, but if you want to be a successful… This is my job, so there’s some balance. I want it to be successful-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure.

Katie Higgins: … but I also don’t want to be irrelevant.

Bjork Ostrom: It can’t just be based on what you feel like doing, it’s like what’s working, and responding based on what you see.

Katie Higgins: Yeah. But I don’t even, honestly, I don’t even know if I do the H2 header… I keep hearing people say H2 headers. I have always done H3 headers because… And it works for me, so whenever I see people saying certain things, I’m like, oh, should I be doing that? And then, I just remind myself what I’m doing is working for me, so don’t change anything as long as it’s working.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. Before we continue, let’s take a moment to hear from our sponsors.

This episode is sponsored by CultivateWP, specifically a new offering they have called Cultivate Go. So, CultivateWP, the agency or the company, focuses on designing and developing food blogs, and it was founded by Bill Erickson who’s this incredible WordPress developer, we know him, because as I’ll share, we’ve worked with him, and Dwayne Smith, who’s this incredible designer. And Bill developed a version of Pinch of Yum before we had our own internal team, and it was one of the fastest growing versions of the site that we’ve had. So, as you know in this industry, word spreads quickly about people who do good work, and Bill and Dwayne have really filled their calendar over the past few years with doing these custom websites for some of the biggest food sites on the web. You can see the list on their website. And they would create these fully custom designs, but they would cost literally multiple tens of thousands of dollars.

And that makes a lot of sense if you’re a site that gets multiple millions of page views, but what they realized is there’s a lot of really successful sites who need the best technology in the world to power them, but can’t justify spending multiple tens of thousands of dollars. So, that’s why they launched Cultivate Go. It’s a semi-custom theme design, and white glove site setup. So, you choose one of the core themes, they have multiple options, and then their team customizes the logo, the brand colors, the topography, so it matches your brand exactly. And then, they set it up on a staging environment, where you can test it out, get a feel for it, and can launch your site within just one week.

And the cost is only $5,000. And here’s the thing, you have the exact same features, functionality, and support as the themes that cost up to 10 times as much as a Cultivate Go theme. So, that means your Cultivate Go site can compete on an even technological playing field with the biggest food sites in the world. If you’re interested in checking it out, go to FoodBloggerPro.com/go, or you could just search Cultivate Go in Google. Thanks so much to CultivateWP for sponsoring this episode.

What else would you say is in that category? What are the things that are working for you, when you look at what you’re doing, on a day-to-day basis, week to week, year to year, what are the variables that you consider to be like, hey, this is something that’s working?

Katie Higgins: Oh, there’s a puppy,

Bjork Ostrom: There’s Sage. Yeah.

Katie Higgins: Aw.

Bjork Ostrom: For those who aren’t watching live, Lindsay just did a dog drop-off, our dog, Sage, is spending the afternoon with me at the office so she just snuck into the video.

Katie Higgins: Yeah, so things that are working, just in general, I get imposter syndrome all the time, like when I look at you guys, when I look at a lot of the other bloggers that I’ve grown up… Contemporaries, who I feel like, oh my gosh, they are way ahead of me in terms of their knowledge, in terms of their skills, especially with video, but other things as well. And then I just remind myself, okay, I’ve not been on Oprah, I’ve not been on The Today Show, but I’m making enough money to have this be my living, and to do something that I love, and whether or not I become the most famous blogger, that’s never what I wanted. So, right now, I’m able to do what I love, and I don’t have to change anything to do that, and that makes me really happy. And that reminds me, I guess it grounds me, it reminds me that even if I don’t have the most skills… I don’t have to have the best skills overnight either. It’s fun to just learn new things every day.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep, I love that. There’s two things that I think of as it relates to that. One is this idea, it’s what we’ve named our company, TinyBit, but this idea of incremental improvement, and what does it look like to think strategically about showing up every day and saying, what are the things I’m interested in? What are the things that I want to learn? And spending time doing that, there’s incredible value beyond just financial, but a lot of times it can be financial, in moving in a direction that is the direction that you want to go. Like, I want to learn about this, I want to get better at this, and so I think that’s awesome to hear you talk about that. The other thing that I can relate to, and I think this is true for everybody, always looking at somebody else and being like, oh… It’s like this idea of compare and despair.

And I think it’s human nature to do that, and we all do it, no matter what industry we’re in, no matter, it could be a stay-at-Home dad looking at another stay at home dad, and be like, oh my gosh, how does he do that so well? Or a business owner, or blogger, publisher, Instagrammer. But one of the things that I’ve been doing that’s been super helpful is I wrote down what I’m calling Vivid Vision, there’s actually a book called Vivid Vision, but I haven’t read it, I just borrowed the title of it. And created what’s important to me, what is the game that I’m playing? Documented that, and every morning and night, I have a nightly and morning routine that I try and do. It’s not every night or morning that happens. But one of the steps is review my Vivid Vision. And it has to do with the things that are most important to me.

And some of them are like, I’m fully present with Lindsay, Lena, and Solvi. Like, okay, that’s part of how I’m playing the game. Or another one is, I’m eating generally healthy unprocessed food 90% of the time. Okay, that’s something that’s important to me. Or I’m generally not stressed as it relates to work. Okay, what does that look like, and how do I fold that in? And all of those things are to a great degree within my control, and that’s the game that I’m playing. So, you don’t have to give specific examples, but maybe you have some, for you, when you look at what’s important to you, what are some of those things that help you stay grounded? It sounds like learning the things that you want to learn is one of them. What are some of the other things?

Katie Higgins: Yeah, so similarly to you, a lot of them are things that I can control. So, for a while I was posting on Instagram every single day because I heard that that makes the algorithm like you better, and I would see other people who are posting multiple times a day, and I really, after I think a year and a half of doing that, I just burned out, and I just took off an entire month, and I was like, you know what? If I am not the best person on Instagram, I don’t have the most followers on Instagram… I have things outside of this blog that I want to do, that I want to… Like, family and friends.

And I’d be sitting somewhere at a place with friends, and I would have to stop and be like, oh, I have to do my Instagram now because it’s 1:00. And at some point, it is your job that you have to take time away from your friends to do your job, but it shouldn’t be all the time. So, family and friends ground me, and just things like… Yeah, is that… I’m trying to remember, sorry.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, no, that’s great. It’s like, when you think of the game that you’re playing, like, in service of… And I think for anybody listening, the goal in this part of the conversation is just to help other people think about what is the game that they’re playing, and I think sometimes you can gather insight by hearing the game that other people are playing. And by that it’s like, what are the things that are important to you? And it sounds like one of those things is to have flexibility and autonomy a little bit.

Katie Higgins: Work like balance.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, balance, to say, you what? I could grow faster, I could have more followers, I could be bigger, but that’s not as important as balance, margin… And that’s an example. And for some people that’s not true, they do want to do everything they can to grow and scale and have more followers. But I think what’s important is for somebody like you, who hasn’t said that’s the most important thing, that we don’t look at them and be like, whoever that person is, that that’s not who we’re comparing ourselves against, because it’s like-

Katie Higgins: Right, absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: … Oh, we’re playing different games.

Katie Higgins: To me, that’s not my main goal, to be famous, my main goal is to have fun with my blog. And the things that I have fun with are the photos, they’re not so much the videos, but I’m interested in learning more. I love learning. But I haven’t gone to a film studio, I haven’t hired anybody to do that stuff for me, because that’s not fun for me. Learning it myself is more fun and more fulfilling than something like buying followers, or… I’ve seen people over the years who become famous overnight, and then you learn that they paid for publicity, that kind of stuff. Which, I’m not judging anybody, they’re not taking away from me and my job, and me having fun, but for me, that wouldn’t be fulfilling because it took me a long time to slowly gain followers on certain things.

And it’s exciting for me to see the numbers go up, and be like, oh, this is because people really resonated with that recipe. And just to find which recipes people are interested in, that’s fun for me, sometimes it’s frustrating, because they’re not as interested in certain recipes that I’m interested in, or if you post something with pumpkin, people will always be excited. I really love sweet potato, but I feel like sweet potato pies, sweet potato pudding, those things don’t do as well. So, it’s like you said, it’s a balance between I’ll throw one in there every year, but I do also really… It’s fun when people are excited about your recipe, because then you get excited about it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s that fine line between this is something that I think will be really great, and this is something that I know other people will think is really great. And part of it comes back to what you were talking about before, which is like, this is a job, and so you have to figure out what are the things that potentially will get more traffic or engagement. How do you make that decision between, hey, I know this is going to do well, pumpkin as example, even though I might not be super inspired to create it? Do you have, hey, every other post is going to be an inspired post, versus an optimized for traffic post? Do you have any framework with that?

Katie Higgins: I think it’s something like that. But there’s also things where I’m not that excited about it in the beginning, like pumpkin smoothie, I was like, okay, that’s very basic, you just take pumpkin and a few other ingredients, it’s not something you have to bake, it’s probably something that’ll come out well the first time. So, it’s not really that creative. But then I actually started to do it, and I loved the photos, that was fun, I was sprinkling grain crackers on the video, and that was fun. And anything with whipped cream always looks good in photos. So, then I started to have fun with that too. And I think I dragged my feet for two or three years, which I do a lot, I’ll see something that I’m like, oh, that could be really lucrative, but I’m not really interested to try it.

So, pumpkin smoothie was one of those things, where I saw it a few years ago, I’m like, oh, I don’t have one of those, I should. Anyway, when I finally did it, people were excited about it, and as I said, it might not even be a recipe that I was initially excited about, but then when I see other people getting excited about it, that’s fun.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm. That’s great.

Katie Higgins: And it is exciting.

Bjork Ostrom: So, when you look at your site right now, obviously we have our websites, and like we talked about in the beginning, that was kind of the main thing for a long period of time, and then you start to develop these other platforms, so they come into the mix. When you look at your business of publishing content, what would you consider to be the most important things for you right now? If you had to create a list of it’s one, two, and three, these are the most important elements for me right now within my business, what would those be?

Katie Higgins: Well, right now I’m really working hard, and I do not have a technology background, I wish that I did, but I used to be very technologically illiterate and I’m learning a lot every day. But my site, even for me, is sometimes frustrating with the amount of ads, and the way that it’s jumpy, and the user experience is just not where I want it to be. And I get very frustrated when I get a lot of comments about that, because I’m like, behind the scenes, I’m feeling frustrated too, so I don’t really know what to tell you guys. And you don’t always tell people because they don’t want the giant long version of everything you’re doing and why.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, here’s the reasons from an industry perspective why this is happening, yeah.

Katie Higgins: Exactly. But that’s one of the things that I really want to work on. And I’ve talked with my ad network about that, and we go back and forth, but that is one of the huge things that I want to fix. And if I knew how to fix it, I would. But there’s a lot of moving parts with that, and it’s not all about… Because people are like, oh, you’re making all this money, and that’s why you have the ads. What they don’t understand is sometimes fewer ads actually make more money because people want to stay on your site.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Katie Higgins: Sometimes with my own site, I’m just like, oh, it’s too much ads, and I understand people’s frustration, but I am working on it, I am trying to. So, that’s a big thing that I’m trying to work on, and fix right now, make the user experience better.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think a lot of people could relate to that. There’s always this balance of what does it look like to be smart about the potential to optimize for income with your site, while also being smart about user experience. And there’s this constant balancing act of, you could go all the way to having no ads or you could go all way to having-

Katie Higgins: Yeah, which I’ve thought about, not no ads, because what people don’t understand is that it takes a lot to run a big website, hosting costs are, just alone are a lot, and then ingredient testing, everything is a lot more money than people understand… Than some people understand, some people do understand it. And I get so many nice comments from people who are like, oh, we want to support you, which just makes me really happy. But yeah, I have thought about taking fewer ads, I also try to rely on what my ad network says, and their advice, because I know that they also want the site to do well and have the best user experience. So, as I said, I have to rely on them for fixing certain things because there are certain things I don’t know how to do.

But it is something that I would rather have a site that people want to go to and make less money. Still have money to have a comfortable living, but it’s not my goal in life to be super famous and super rich, I just want to do something that I love and continue to be able to do it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. So, there’s your site, obviously that’s an important piece. What about, you talked about Pinterest being a really important source of traffic, is that something that you are intentionally looking at being active on Pinterest, or is it still these people who are coming to your site, pinning, and getting traffic from that? How does Pinterest play into it for you?

Katie Higgins: It’s actually really funny, someone from Pinterest contacted me last year, might have contacted you guys as well, for a Pinterest program, and I got to talk to her once a month. And the one thing that she told me, first off, was she was like, I’m surprised at how much you don’t pin. She said, there are people who are doing hundreds of pins a day, and they’ve automated it, and I’ll do one or two pins a day. But I’m still getting a ton of traffic from them, I think because people rein stuff, because people are pinning stuff to begin with. I get traffic from old pins, I get a lot of traffic from very old recipes that people put on Pinterest originally. And I’ll be embarrassed by that, because I’m like, oh, I don’t even remember that recipe. And then I go to that post from 2010, and really needs to be updated. But yeah, so Pinterest is something that I also feel like I should work on, but I’m definitely not going to do hundreds of pins a day, I just, it’s the work-life balance thing again.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, one of the things that’s interesting about Pinterest, for anybody who’s on an ad network like Mediavine or Raptive, the traffic from Pinterest is really valuable traffic. If you look, you can go into a dashboard and see RPM from traffic source, and Pinterest is almost always the highest in terms of the amount that ad networks are willing to pay, and so, for those of us who are considering, where do we try and source traffic from? Obviously, people talk about search a lot, but if you had half the amount of traffic from Pinterest as you did Google, you could potentially still make the same amount because it’s such valuable traffic, for whatever reason. I don’t know if the buyer intent is different with Pinterest traffic, or what it is, but that’d be something for anybody who does have an ad network to go in and look at, and think strategically about, because there are some cool opportunities to try and be strategic with increasing Pinterest traffic, because that traffic is apparently valuable traffic.

Katie Higgins: I actually didn’t know that. I’m very bad with analytics, especially since Google Analytics went away, and I didn’t bother to learn the new one.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, GA4. Yeah.

Katie Higgins: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. How about platforms like Instagram? So, you have over 500,000 followers on Instagram, what does that represent for you within your business? Is it a place to drive traffic to your website? Do you work with sponsors? Is that something that you do? Talk a little bit about that.

Katie Higgins: I rarely work with sponsors, I did a few posts, or… Well, I rarely work with sponsors, years ago I would do more sponsored posts, but I found that sponsored brands in the food industry don’t have as much money to spend to make it even worth all the effort, and they have a specific idea of how they want their stuff to go. So, they’ll say, oh, we want you to post on Friday, which to me is not a very good day to post. Then I’ll try to talk them out of it, and they’ll be like, no, we really want you to do this, we really want our product in the picture in the front. And I’m like, I don’t think that’s going to do very well.

So, I just like having more control than having a brand tell me what they think is best, which, it might be best for their audience in a different platform, but I know what works well with my audience, and I’m just like, I don’t think this kind of picture is going to do really well with my audience, but if you let me do this, if you give me more creative control, I can get you… I’ve actually thought about it, and I’ve never done it, but I’ve thought about literally saying to brands that I think will do really well, like a product that I really love, hey, if I can get you this many new signups or whatever they’re looking for, people buy your product, what is that worth to you?

Because there are products that I’m just so excited about, and I really know other people will be excited about as well, but in terms of doing sponsored posts, I see so many people saying, oh, I love this product, and then the next week they’re saying that about another thing. That I’m just like, you know what? I make enough money with ads, that I don’t have the energy, I don’t have the interest, it’s not fun for me… Sponsored posts are just not fun because I don’t have the creativity, so I just prefer not to do them.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. The creative control piece, I think for anybody who’s done sponsored content would really be able to relate, it just feels so different when you’re co-creating, and trying to co-craft what the brand will look like, because it’s your brand, it’s their brand, and it’s really hard to navigate that. And I think there are those companies or brands that do have a budget, and a substantial budget, but what’s hard to find is the brand that has a budget that feels like it justifies you doing-

Katie Higgins: Right. Yeah, I should have said that. There are brands that will come to me… So many. There was a detox tea company that came to me once, and wanted to give me $20,000 to promote their detox tea, and I was like, well, that’s not something I want to do.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Katie Higgins: A big lobbying firm, that I’m not going to mention the product, but they wanted to give me a substantial amount of money to say that sugar does not make you fat, it’s not exercising.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Katie Higgins: And I was like, so you want me to say that sugar is a health food? No amount of money you could give me would be something that I would take for that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s funny. That’s great. So, if I were to recap, your focus really is on how do I create content that’s, for you, inspiring, but also for your audience, helpful, those are the two considerations. In the process of doing that, doing some light search research, by using Google itself, and saying, okay, what exists already? Where are the opportunities to create additional content around that? And your social platforms, you really look at those as either places to engage with your audience, or as much as possible, drive traffic back to your site with monetization, through ads being the main focus. Is that more or less how you think about things?

Katie Higgins: Yeah, I think the most important thing that I want is for people to see food as fun, and get excited about it, and have a healthy relationship with it. Because I have seen too much people think that they can’t have dessert, or that some food is bad, a certain food like peanut butter or chocolate, and I get really excited when people get excited about the things that I get excited about.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. And I think it’s fun to hear you talk because I think that’s one of the main motivators for Lindsay too. When I hear her reflect on creating content, it’s, I have this thing, I’m excited about it, I want to share it with people, and the most meaningful thing that happens from that is hearing from people who interacted with that thing that you created and it was equally as fun or exciting or inspiring for them. And that feels like a really good place to create content out of, because you can always access that. And then, how you monetize that, in order to allow that to be a career, is, that’s kind of another question that goes along with it.

But as long as the source of it is pure like that, that can be sustaining through a lot of different iterations and changes and algorithm updates, because you’ll always in some way be able to access those people that you can put your content in front of and then they can look at it and say, hey, this was helpful for me, this was fun for me, this was exciting for me.

Katie Higgins: I think people in general, in this day and age, what we have a lack of is people who are genuine. Especially… This is, politics, it’s leaders, it’s food bloggers, anybody online, TikTok, and just the fact that people can see that I am genuinely excited about something, I think people want genuine. I want genuine. I resonate with genuine, so… I like your recipes for that reason, you can tell that Lindsay hasn’t sold out. There’s a need for that, because people really like when someone is genuine and not just trying to shill a product.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. All credit to Lindsay for those, by the way. It’s nice that you include me, but I deserve no credit, she’s the source of all of those, and the Pinch of Yum team, and they do such a great job with it. So, what would your advice be, because we’re closing out, you’ve been able to sustain a career in content creation for a really long time, and there are people who listen to this and they’re at all different stages. They’re at the early stages, maybe it’s the first year, first month of them starting to think about what does it look like for me to create content? Or some people who have been doing it for a decade, decade plus, and maybe they’re processing burnout, or maybe they’re trying to figure out how to stay inspired. So, for you, speaking broadly to people who are content creators, what would your advice be for listeners?

Katie Higgins: My advice is to take a step back and look at is what you’re doing making you happy? And if it is, keep doing it, even if it’s not making you a ton of money at this point, maybe it will someday, and even if it doesn’t, it’s still making you happy, so that’s what’s important. And if it’s something that’s not making you happy, then really take a look at, do I really want to keep doing this? Or do I want to change, either not do it at all, or change and do… Like, what I did with sponsored posts. I took a step back, or just Instagram in general, the same thing, posting every day, and I was like, this is not making me happy, I don’t care if it’s going to get me a lot of followers, happiness is also really important, and I’m so much happier now, whether or not I have… I haven’t grown as many Instagram followers this past year, but I’m happier for it in other areas, so that’s important too.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. Katie, thanks so much for coming on, really fun to connect after all these years.

Katie Higgins: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: For anybody who wants to follow along with you, and what you’re up to, where’s the… Obviously it can be everywhere, but where would you point people to-

Katie Higgins: Yeah, Chocolate Covered Katie, it’s really easy to remember, it was my middle school email address, and it’s served me well, so.

Bjork Ostrom: Love it, that’s so awesome. Lindsay and I often joke about how we have these middle school, or really early on usernames that we create, that stay with us in different forms.

Katie Higgins: Oh yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: For Lindsay and I, it’s like-

Katie Higgins: AIM.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah, exactly. It shows up in passwords, and all of these different versions of these things that we’ve had 20, 25 years ago. So, that’s awesome, Chocolate Covered Katie around the web, we’ll link to that, and include it in the show notes. Katie, thanks so much for coming on today.

Katie Higgins: Thank you so much. As I said, I’m seriously fangirling right now because I’ve followed you guys forever, so.

Bjork Ostrom: Well, likewise.

Katie Higgins: Thank you so much.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, this was fun. Thank you.

Emily Walker: Hey there, this is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team, and thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Since we have just kicked off a new month, I wanted to pop in and give you a little update about what you could expect in the Food Blogger Pro membership this month. In the month of March, we have a few exciting things coming up, so let’s dive in. First up, we have a coaching call with Chelsea from Chelsea Joy Eats. In this coaching call, Bjork answers some really good questions from Chelsea, and they talk about diversifying income while focusing more on your blog, staying focused, making the most of your time, and hiring help. It’s a really awesome coaching call, and that will be live on March 7th. Next up, we have a brand new course that will be going live on March 28th, and this course is all about advanced blogging, or what we’re lovingly calling blogging 202. Food Blogger Pro team member Natalie is going to be taking everything you know and love about blogging just to the next level.

So, if you’ve done a lot of our beginner content and are ready to take it up to the next level, this course will be for you. It should be a really great one. Last but not least, we have our March Q&A, which is technically in April, but still going to lump it in with this content. So, on April 2nd, we have our Pinterest strategy call with Kate Ahl, our Pinterest expert, and this will be again on April 2nd, and this should be a really great call about just how to level up your Pinterest strategy, what Pinterest looks like in 2024, and any other news and updates from Kate who is always full of good information. So, that’s what we have coming for you in March, including some good blog posts and other content, so if you’re interested in joining Food Blogger Pro, you can head to FoodBloggerPro.com/membership to become a member, or if you’re already a member, thanks so much for joining us. And that’s it for this week, we’ll see you next week. In the meantime, have a great week.

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