Welcome to episode 333 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Emma Duckworth from Emma Duckworth Bakes about how she’s grown her blog by focusing on SEO.
Last week on the podcast, we shared Bjork’s episode from the Eat, Capture, Share podcast with Kimberly Espinel. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Serving Your Audience
SEO: love it or hate it, it’s undoubtedly an important area for food bloggers to focus their time and energy on. And that’s why we’re chatting about it with Emma Duckworth in this episode!
This year, Emma decided to double down on her blog and hired a mentor to help her out with SEO. You’ll hear how she used the avatar exercise to understand her audience, how she optimized her homepage and recipe categories, and what she’s doing to focus on SEO moving forward.
It’s a fantastic interview that will encourage you to reflect on your own SEO strategy. We hope you enjoy it!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How Emma got into food photography and food blogging
- How she grew her food photography skills
- What steps she took to strategically grow her Instagram account
- How she started getting her first sponsored work
- What she learned from the cookbook writing process
- Why she decided to double down on her blog
- How she hired a mentor to help her out with SEO
- How she used the avatar exercise to understand her audience
- How she optimized her blog’s homepage and categories
- How she identified and optimized her top-performing posts
- How she has started doing keyword research
- Why she and her husband decided to launch a street coffee business
- What she’s focusing her attention on moving forward
- Emma Duckworth Bakes
- Order Emma’s cookbook, Simply Sweet Nostalgic Bakes
- Dear Coco Street Coffee
- Foodtography School
- This American Life
- Well Seasoned Studio
- Foolproof Living
- The Feast Plugin
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- Growth University
- Follow Emma on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest
- Check out the Food Blogger Pro YouTube channel (and subscribe while you’re there!)
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Transcript (click to expand):
Bjork Ostrom: Hello, hello. This is Bjork, you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, and today we are chatting with Emma from Emma Duckworth Bakes, and she’s going to be sharing about some of the things that she’s been learning about SEO, so that’s something that she’s focused on, what the results have looked like from that, from implementing some of this work around really strategic search engine optimization for her site. She’s going to be talking about… A fun little side conversation we have is talking about Dear Coco, their kind of coffee and side retail business that they have, talking about her process with writing a cookbook and what that was like, and really just what her journey has been like, not only personally and how she’s kind of evolved within her career focusing on interior design and then sorting to transit some of that thought process over to her photography and her blog, and how that’s been impactful.
Bjork Ostrom: And also just kind of the lay of the land from a business perspective, when she looks at her site, when she looks at having 50,000 followers on Instagram and all the different pieces to the puzzle, how she goes about thinking about allocating her time and continuing to build not only her skills and abilities, but her business. So it’s a great conversation with a skilled, capable creative person, and I know that you’ll get a lot out of it. So let’s go ahead and jump into the interview. Emma, welcome to the podcast.
Emma Duckworth: Hello. Thank you for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, we’re going to be talking about something that a lot of people are interested in, which is SEO, search engine optimization. I know that you’ve recently gone through the process of focusing on that and have seen some results on it, which is always fun to hear from all different stages of bloggers, right? So we have conversations with people who have been doing this for 10 years, people who are early on, and we want to touch on every stage of the journey to hear what people are learning and to share a little bit about that, but as I always, want to hear a little bit about where you started and how you got into this. So take us back to the launch of your site and talk a little bit about it.
Emma Duckworth: Sure. Well, my husband and I and our family, we’ve moved from Australia to back to England because I’m English, but he’s Australia. I spent 15 years out there and we decided to move back to London, and at that point, it was a career change moment of I needed that shift from what I was doing. I’d lost the passion in it and sort of wanted to start fresh in London in a new field.
Bjork Ostrom: And what was it that you were doing? Just out of curiosity.
Emma Duckworth: Interior design. So it was always creative, but I’d done it for so long and I knew I needed that shift into something else, but the internal question is what. So moving to London with Coco, our youngest, was one at that point, and I couldn’t go to work straight away, so I had sort of a year and a half of umming and ahing before we were thinking about her going to nursery, and then I sort of stumbled across food photography and was like, “Well, I’ve got my DSLR.” That was for taking pictures of the kids.
Emma Duckworth: I’d done a bit of prop styling back in Sydney, but what do I do? And then when I stumbled across food photography, I was like, “OK, well I love baking and I’ve got a passion photography. I’m not the world’s best, but can I combine the two? And that was the sort of starting point.” So that was in January 2019, and that’s when I did an online course with photography school and that was the sort of aha moment of, “Okay, I’ve got nine months before my kid goes to nursery,” and at that point it was a choice for us that I had to go back to full-time work. I had to be working by that point, so it was very much I have nine months to make this work. So it was very I want to do this, very targeted. This has to earn me money.
Bjork Ostrom: Has to happen. And when you say, “I want to do this,” at that point, did you know exactly what it was that you wanted to do? Did you have a pretty clear picture of what it was?
Emma Duckworth: Well, it was purely from this photography school course that I’d realized that you could earn money through pictures through your imagery on Instagram. I didn’t really come across that, and then sort of went into the spider web of scrolling and going onto other profiles and seeing the images that other students were taking and going, “Damn, they’re really good.” Bit of self-belief. I’m going to get that. So that’s when I jumped into the career and into it, and went, “Yeah, this is amazing. What an amazing job to be able to do this,” and from home and it’s flexible.
Bjork Ostrom: And it was something you enjoyed, right, photography and food content.
Emma Duckworth: Exactly. So that, to me, the sort of light bulb moment of, “I can join these two passions together and hopefully make a career out of it.” So it wasn’t something I’d been doing for years and years. You hear others doing it for three, four years before they actually decided to really turn it into a career. It was very much, “Okay. Yeah, I’m going to do this. This looks great. Going to have a crack. I have nine months to make it work, otherwise it’s just going to be a hobby. I have to get into a job.”
Bjork Ostrom: I love the idea that you had this deadline and you had to work against it because I think sometimes they say deadline is the best motivator, and so you put that on the calendar and it’s kind of make it or break it. So what was that point? What was the deadline that you had in terms of knowing, “This is going to be a thing or it’s not, and if it’s not, then I need to go out and find a different thing.”?
Emma Duckworth: Well, I mean, I knew it wasn’t going to be sort of full-time work at that point, but I said, “Do you know what? It’s not going to be long enough to be making a full-time career,” but I had to know that it was possible. I had to have client work coming in, I had to know to see the upward spiral.
Bjork Ostrom: Trajectory is towards… Yeah.
Emma Duckworth: Exactly. To know this isn’t just a one-off job that you’ve got through sponsored work or whatever. I had to know that there is more client work that will be coming in, that my level is good enough, that was the biggest thing. So it was literally six months of practicing food photography before I landed my first client. So I did the course in January and by June I landed my first client, and that was with one of the major supermarkets here.
Bjork Ostrom: So what did that look like in the early stages? So you say, “Okay. I have nine months and…” I like to draw analogies to other areas just as a thought experiment, so it’s almost like… The one that I use a lot is music, and it’s kind of like you’re picking up the guitar for the first time, and you’re like, “I need to learn this, and not only do I need to learn it, but I need to play a show where either I get paid or I get enough tip money to be like, ‘Okay, then I see how I can do this moving forward in other ways.’” But you have to practice in order to get to point where you even entertain the idea of asking. So how did you know when you were ready to pitch somebody on the potential of working together?
Emma Duckworth: Well, I was lucky that I didn’t pitch. I was approached, well, for the first couple of months. I literally, I started my Instagram account at the same time that I took the course, so it was very much everyone was sort of in the journey with me of my self-improvement. But I picked it up pretty quickly. I have to say, I think my creative background definitely helped me with food styling and composition. I had a bucket load to learn, don’t get me wrong, in my photography. I look back on those images and it was just it did have to improve, but I think it was just looking at an image of mine and going, “Would I be happy to sell that to a client?” And believing that if it was a no, then I’m not going to accept work, if it’s yes then okay, because I have to be proud of that work that’s being put out at the end of the day. So that’s just five, six months before I was happy to go, “Okay, yeah.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, this is work I’m proud of. Yeah, there’s… I’m going to blank on his name, but there’s a podcaster who talks about this idea of the gap. The gap between what we’re doing… This is the worst thing to do is on a podcast look it up in real time or to share something that you don’t actually know who the source is, but his name is… It’s the guy behind This American Life, which is a podcast that just kind of chronicles stories and kind of behind the scenes things. And Ira Glass is his name, and he has this concept about the gap and the gap is for him, for creative people, it’s this knowledge that you know what good work looks like and you know where you want to be, and you also have a really good understanding of where you are, and it’s really hard to sit in that gap. I’m going to read this just a little bit of it. I won’t read all of it, but I want to see if this resonates with you.
Bjork Ostrom: So this is a part of the quote. He says, “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners,” he said, “I wish someone had told me all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste, but there is this gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not, but your taste, the thing that got you into the game is still killer, and your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase and they quit,” and I would imagine that one thing that’s interesting for you is you’re able to compress that to six months. My guess is that one of the reasons why is because you had a little bit of an advantage in having an understanding creatively due to your interior design work, but does that idea of the gap resonate with you in terms of what it was like to sit in that period of knowing what you want, where you wanted to be, but where you weren’t?
Emma Duckworth: Yeah, because right from the get-go, I could see these images that other people were taking and appreciate how beautiful they were. I’ve always sat in a creative space where I can appreciate the effort it takes to… And the knowledge that the output of an expert, what level they’re at and knowing what it takes to get there, but the fact that I could see that others who had started at my level were getting there is like, “Well, I can. It’s going to take a bucket of hard work,” and I’m by no means at the maximum level, as it was.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, never are we there.
Emma Duckworth: You’re always your own worst critic, but it was just the knowledge that, “Okay, I need work now, but I know where I need to get to before I’m happy to be able to sell my images and call myself a food photographer.” And I think because I had that line of September,, I was extremely focused on it. It wasn’t a let’s just think about it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right. Right, you had to move. What were the things that were most helpful in that season that allowed you to make the progress you needed to make to get better?
Emma Duckworth: I was just a sponge. I just researched as much as I could, did the course, practiced, was building my community on Instagram, that grew pretty quickly.
Bjork Ostrom: And do you have any thoughts on why it grew quickly, like how you went about growing it?
Emma Duckworth: It was-
Bjork Ostrom: Obviously good photography.
Emma Duckworth: Yeah, that, consistency. Again, I knew that Instagram had to play a major part in this and starting from zero at the start of career, I realized very quickly that you had to play to the out algorithm gods. It’s consistency, it was engagement, it was putting out-
Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by engagement?
Emma Duckworth: Engaging with the audience, answering every comment. I think up until 10,000 followers, I was answering every single comment that somebody put on there, engaging with other people. Not necessarily following a whole huge heap of people. Of who I follow, it’s not huge because I wanted to really build the connections with the people I was following, also who were following me. So that’s all DMs and just being super consistent with that for the first year.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. Anything else that you’d point out? Consistency, making sure to engage your audience. And to point out, you started this beginning of 2019, is that right?
Emma Duckworth: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, so coming up on two years and right on the point of getting to that 50K mark, which is such a great marker.
Emma Duckworth: I’d say the engagement and consistency is key because last year with the cookbook, I couldn’t commit so much time and I’ve struggled to now keep that trajectory up, and that tells me that Instagram wants you to be there all the time, and it will reward you for that.
Bjork Ostrom: Point being, if you aren’t as present to the platform, potentially, from an engagement and consistency perspective, the growth trajectory might reflect that because now you’ve been doing cookbook work, which is one of the great struggles that people who are successful have, which is opportunity, right? And it’s a great problem to have, but the problem becomes what is the most important thing for me to be focusing on because you have a cookbook in front of you. That could be awesome, that could be really successful, but you could also focus on Instagram. That could be great, that could be successful.
Emma Duckworth: And I think for that first… I’d say for the first year, because I started the blog in August of that year, so not at the start, but in about August, and I think for that first year, I sort of knew everything that I should be learning, and equally, I felt very overwhelmed by that because there was the photography piece, there was the editing piece, there was this Instagram, there’s marketing yourself, there’s the blog, there’s how do you do a blog or the recipe development? Because I was just an at-home baker, and then suddenly you’re shifting to wanting to teach people and develop recipes, that in itself is a new skill that develops with you. So there’s just so many factors to this profession, isn’t there, as we know.
Bjork Ostrom: Right, you really have to be a… This is another one of those phrases that I’m not going to remember exactly what it is, but I remember hearing a interview with somebody who worked in the newspaper profession and he said, “There’s a switch,” and it was to some jungle cat animal. He said, “It’s like it’s a switch from people who are specialized to panthers or jaguars,” or something like that, but it was a phrase that they used to describe people who could write and photograph and document video, and that’s really what it’s become. There’s this interesting evolution, I think, that exists for creators and publishers, which is in the beginning, you have to be all of those things, or at least a handful of them.
Bjork Ostrom: You have to know kind of how WordPress works, you have to know Instagram, you have to know photography, you have to know your computer, you have to figure out how to do updates on your computer consistently, updates on WordPress, all of these things. So you kind of, I think, come in maybe specialized, you do one thing. To some extent, you become a generalist, but I think then as you have resources and you’re starting to create an income, you can start to and move back to being a specialist as you bring other people in, but there is this kind of middle part of the process where you’re kind of doing a lot of different things, and you’re in the middle of it.
Emma Duckworth: And it can be super overwhelming and… Because you know at what depth you want to get into these, but it’s just time, isn’t it? Everyone’s shortcoming is time to be able to do all of this all at once. So for me in that first year, it was very much, “Okay, I need to grow Instagram if I want anyone to sponsor me for sponsored posts and I need to do photography and editing.” Those are the components that they need to skyrocket if I’m going to be able to pitch myself to do photography for outside of Instagram, which I was doing.
Bjork Ostrom: So when you started out, did you know, “Hey, I want to grow Instagram and do sponsor content,” or did you say, “Actually, I would love to build my blog and improve SEO?” Which we’re going to talk about, or you’re like, “Hey, I would love to do photography for restaurants?” What did you think you were going to do and then what are you actually doing now?
Emma Duckworth: The Instagram and sponsored piece, definitely, and then also that developed into creating imagery for brands, not on Instagram, just for their website, and recipe development that way. So the blog was a… I sort of more used it as a portfolio, but with the recipes, I didn’t understand SEO at that point, sort of heard of it, but maybe because my brain was just so full of everything else, it was like, “I just can’t get to that.” Make it work as much as I can, but obviously it wasn’t going anywhere. So it was just three.
Bjork Ostrom: And made a decision to kind of double down on that and had some success with it, which we’ll talk about in a little bit, at what point did you say, “You know what? I think that can be a thing and I think I’ll be able to build this into a full-time position,” whether you are there now, still on the trajectory to see when that might be, but you did it in a relatively short amount of time compared to what it might look like in a lot of other situations where I would say for the world that we live in, for that to take three, four years isn’t uncommon considering all the other things that are happening in life. But what does that journey look like for you, and at what point were you like, “Hey, I feel pretty confident in this becoming my job, my career.”?
Emma Duckworth: Oh, by around Christmas that year was the jobs are really rolling in, and I was lucky enough that I wasn’t having to pitch clients, they were finding me, and that was through Instagram.
Bjork Ostrom: And what does that look like? How did that happen and how did you kind of navigate those conversations?
Emma Duckworth: It was literally just emails dropping into my inbox, or there was one, a cocoa company who I reciped about and shot for quite a bit. A friend of a friend mentioned my name said, “Oh, I know this girl in Instagram, and she does beautiful photography, whatever,” and just popping into my inbox was sponsored work. Did a lot of work for Nielsen-Massey Vanillas over in the US during that early phase, so that became a regular. So it was around February last year That it was just like, “Okay, this is, this is really taking off. This is fantastic,” and then obviously March hit with COVID. Because a lot of the work here is through PR agencies, if it’s going to be sponsored content, then it goes through a lot of PR agencies.
Bjork Ostrom: Meaning the brand partners with the PR agency who reaches out to publishers and creators?
Emma Duckworth: Yeah. Creators are going to be. So everything was going brilliant, the trajectory going up, it was just like, “Okay, this is brilliant,” and then COVID hit and all the PR work stopped because obviously marketing budgets got cut, contracts got torn up because everyone just hit pause on everything because obviously everyone panicked and to know what was going on, and so that was a massive eye-opener actually for me to realize I’ve put all my eggs in one basket.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and that basket being sponsored content or photography brands.
Emma Duckworth: But at the same time, that’s when the cookbook email from the publisher came in literally the week the world shut down. That dropped in the inbox, and it was just like… First of all, I thought it was spam. Luckily, I didn’t delete that. And then that conversation opened up with the publisher and it was just one of those sliding door moments of, “Okay, this part has stopped pretty much overnight, so this has now opened up the conversation for a cookbook,” which I might not have gone down the route because things have been going so well and I knew sort of how much time it was going to take away from doing my other client work. So it was just one of those moments that was just fortuitous of, “Okay.”
Bjork Ostrom: One door closes, another door opens.
Emma Duckworth: That’s precisely right. Precisely.
Bjork Ostrom: With the cookbook, how did you go about navigating that conversation? Did you do a bunch of research on what norms would be? Did they present you with something where they said, “Hey, this is kind of how we work with publishers.”? Did you look for an agent that would maybe help you navigate it? And then any advice for people who would go through a similar situation?
Emma Duckworth: No. I mean, it’s a publisher that I’d seen other Instagram and food photographers using, Page Street Publishing. They very much champion… Not in my wildest dreams did I think that I would write a cookbook, that I would be at that level, but they very much champion people who they feel they’ve got something to say, who they love the recipes. So the blog definitely helped with that and have got a small presence on Instagram because I’m not huge comparatively.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah, it’s all relative.
Emma Duckworth: Yeah, before it was certainly not at that point. I was maybe 20,000 or something, which is a good number, but it’s certainly not in the hundreds. No, it was just quite a few conversations with them just to understand the process because I had absolutely no idea. So no agent involved on my part, it was just very much straight conversations with them and was very happy with what they were offering. The timing was great. It was suddenly, “Okay. Well, this could be the next six months.” I had no idea when the world is going to open up. We were sat there.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, in a season where there’s a lot of question marks, it was maybe nice to have some punctuation that wasn’t open-ended or a question. So anything that you’ve learned in the process of doing a cookbook?
Emma Duckworth: It’s intense. very intense. It was a six month turnaround. So that was full-on. I didn’t really realize how full-on it was going to be. I’d sort of planned it out, because for me to be able to process something like that, I need to map out how that’s going to look, so I very much put time blocks of recipe development for two months and then recipe writing for two months, and then photograph it all for two months, and then broke it down within those weeks of how many recipes do I have to do per week and then per day, so that I could sort just compartmentalize everything and understand how it was going to affect me at home, what weeks are going to be busy with the family. Got three kids. It was the big school holidays were in that time as well. That was like, “How’s this going to impact the family?” Because it was going to.
Bjork Ostrom: It seems like a great example of a time when you need to start with the end in mind. So when do they need stuff and what do they need? And then reversing that by blocking on the calendar and saying, “Here’s when I’m going to do that in order to make that happen.”
Emma Duckworth: I got to say, I felt by very lucky. I feel very lucky obviously to have done it, but I think it was because I was so dogged with my want to do it on Instagram first with my imagery that got me seen because otherwise, imagery sells, doesn’t it?
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Something we’ve talked about before was this idea of who, not how many, and to your point about having a really successful Instagram account, 20,000 followers, I think that’s aspirational for a lot of people to grow a following to 20,000, 50,000, but also good reminder of good work is good work regardless of the number of followers, and there’s something to be said about creating good work in the world regardless of if you have 500,000 followers or 500 followers, and what really matters is the who of it matters more than how many, and somebody influential like a publishing company, another influential creator, might come along and recognize that good work and realize that it needs to have a light on it, and they might have the ability to do that. So I think that’s a great example of that happening and somebody reaching out and kind of validating your good work.
Emma Duckworth: Exactly. Yeah, the client work slowly started rolling in maybe the latter third of last year, as we were sort of going in and out of the lockdowns, etc., and companies were sort of releasing their marketing budgets then, and definitely by no means to the extent and it still hasn’t got to where it was, I would say, at all. And so once I’d finished the cookbook, I realized… I sort of handed it all in, got the manuscript in and sat there at the beginning of this year. So now we’re talking two years on from starting all of this, and I was chipping away at the blog, but it wasn’t consistent, it was here or there when I could fit it in, but I sat at the beginning of this year and went, “I need to diversify my income.” I’ve got a cookbook, that all generates income at some point, don’t know how much. This is going to tick away in the background, that’s coming.
Bjork Ostrom: Conceptually, can you explain what you mean by that for people who aren’t familiar with how a cookbook contract works? So you get maybe be an initial upfront, and then my understanding is you work through that initial amount until you get to the point where maybe you pass it, then you’d get kind of royalties for many sales. Is that generally kind of how it worked and what you’re referring to?
Emma Duckworth: Yeah, so I basically got paid to develop the cookbook and create the recipes, but then also there’s the photography component which you don’t necessarily get that straight away, you sort of have to pass the test in essence. They want to be good enough if you want to do it yourself, or you can employ somebody else, but I was very happy to do it myself. So you get paid those installments and then once it’s all handed in, the manuscript’s in, final payment comes through and then now it’s just waiting for it to be published and then getting a percent of the sales once they hit the store.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that makes sense. So you knew essentially that… Well, in a quick kind of example, another industry, I have a friend who write songs and he will get paid to write those songs, kind of a stipend from a publisher, they’ll place those in a TV show or the news will have a song that will run, and then he gets royalties based on how much that song would play or not play. Cookbooks kind of being the same, except a little bit more direct and that it’s just related to sales.
Bjork Ostrom: So you could see, okay, you had this period where you were starting and you knew that you wanted to get to this point. It was kind of the nine month mark, and then you started to see traction, you started to get sponsorships or working with brands to do their content. March 2020 hits, that all goes away, but as that door’s closing, the cookbook door opens. So you’re hanging out in the cookbook room for a while. You get that all taken care of, the room is complete, you shut that door and now you’re standing in the hallway and you’re like, “What door do I open next?”
Emma Duckworth: Yeah, precisely right. Precisely right. And that was the realization that suddenly, “Yes, I’ve got time now, so to speak. The client work’s not coming in as much as it was before COVID hit. Where else can I put my focus on?” And for me, that was the blog. I knew that people were earning from this. There’s so much time taken and cost as well running blog. As inefficiently as I was doing it, there is so much that it takes out of you to create the blog post and the recipes, but I knew that-
Bjork Ostrom: People don’t realize how much goes into it a lot of times, yeah. I mean, we all do everybody. Who listens to the podcast does, but yeah.
Emma Duckworth: Exactly, but the general public don’t. And I just knew that either I’m going to just transition this to a portfolio website and it’s pure imagery, or I’m going to make this work. So it’s another one of those right, I can be pretty… When I want to do something, I’ll go for gold on it.“ So it was a very much a, ”I need to learn how to do this. Either I can YouTube it, I can Google it, or I can look for someone who can help me.” Part of my belief is that you have to invest to educate yourself if you want to do it with any form of speed, because otherwise you could be willy-nilly YouTubing or Googling, but they’re not putting the pieces in the right order.
Bjork Ostrom: So what did they that look like for you and what were the areas that you focused on right away? You had photography down, but what were the things that you were trying to figure out?
Emma Duckworth: SEO. The whole package of SEO. I had absolutely zero idea. So I was looking to do a course in SEO and I’d actually spoken to a blogger friend of mine and said, “What’s this course like? I really need to knuckle down on this to get this dog up and running. I want it to be successful,” and she said… It was Ari from the Well Seasoned Studio. She said, “Okay, stop. Stop. Stop. Don’t sign up to anything. I have this friend Aysegul who runs Foolproof Living, a blog. She’s an SEO guru. She’s been doing this for years, and she’s just starting to look for someone that she can mentor and sort of impart her knowledge on. Let me connect you guys and take it from there, and then you can decide.”
Emma Duckworth: So Ice and I had a chat on Zoom and I took a leap of faith and she took a leap of faith in me because she wasn’t set up, it was sort of forcing her hand a little bit quicker than she might’ve wanted to do it, but her and I said, “Yeah, we get on. Let’s do it. Let’s work it out. Let’s do it together,” and so we sort of entered a three month mentorship, and that looked sort of three hour calls a week for 12 weeks, and we went into everything.
Bjork Ostrom: Tell us about it. What were the things that you feel like were most helpful and we’ll link to her… I’m familiar with Ice and the work that she does. We’ll link to her site. What do you feel like you learned knowing that you were coming in knowing the term SEO, but not much around it, and also if you share where you were at and maybe where you ended up as you kind of went through the process with your site?
Emma Duckworth: So at that point, my blog was at about 65 posts. Had about 65 posts on there, so a very small number comparatively, and I was at about 18,000 page sessions by sheer fluke.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. Sure, having content on the world and people coming across it.
Emma Duckworth: Yeah, completely luck. Mostly actually being driven by social, but not by Pinterest, not by keywords. I had no idea what keywords was. And so we started at the beginning, we started with my avatar of who’s the blog for, who you talking to, Emma? And that was quite a… I really had to step back, realign myself, really think, “What am I doing? Where am I going with this?”
Bjork Ostrom: And what did you land on?
Emma Duckworth: It’s a blog for… Well, we got down to specifics, like the type of person, so family woman, she likes to bake, she’s from America, but lives in Europe, so loves the sort European edge. She loves easy weeknight baking for her kids during a week, to bake after school for the kids, and then on weekends she likes to stretch her wings a little bit, more advanced recipes.
Bjork Ostrom: And do you imagine… when you’re writing content is one of the things you do imagine writing for that person?
Emma Duckworth: Yes, I do now. It’s hard. We’ll go into it, but at the minute, just purely re-optimizing all the old posts and republishing, just going through all the old content because it’s so thin. So now would I choose the content that I’ve got on there? Maybe not because I didn’t know about it beforehand, before putting it on there. I was very much, which is the worst thing you can do, isn’t it, for blog, I was very much creating for me. It looked pretty. Oh, there are different things that you put on to make the picture look pretty. I was doing it for me.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think it’s a simple concept that’s really hard to actually implement, which is… On this podcast, for example, I think the best podcast interviews are when I think about what are other people maybe thinking about, and trying to ask those questions versus I think it’s okay if I just ask questions that I’m curious about, but if I start to think about who are the people that I know listen to this podcast, and when they’re listening to this, what are some of the questions that they might ask, that’s when I feel like podcast are at their best. Similar with content, who are the people that are going to be reading this and what are the things that they’re going to be most needing or wanting to read?
Emma Duckworth: Yeah, precisely. So we started from ground zero. We tore apart my blog, what needs to change. I was using Foodie Pro, but I wasn’t on Feast Design Plugin. My head was in the sand when that came out. I didn’t know that was out. So I had to shift that and restructure the blog a little bit, and the categories.
Bjork Ostrom: What were the things… So you’re familiar with Skylar, and folks will see him in the Food Blogger Pro membership forums occasionally. They do great work at Feast. What were some of the things that you liked about the Feast Plugin and what were some of the changes you made from a site structure perspective?
Emma Duckworth: It’s super easy to not easy. I’m not technical, right? This is where I struggle, the technical kind of things, but I managed. I got about 80% there of doing it by myself on a, what you call it, staging site, and then I just need a little 20% of help from a web developer just to make those changes. The homepage is obviously now on the modern homepage and the sidebar, but putting more content on the homepage because before it was just the latest recipes, which was common for newer bloggers just to put archives, whereas now you’ve really got to… Ice taught me it’s putting as much as you can on there in a very structured way, but with links. So your different categories, your best posts on there, seasonal content, and then what else did we do? Just looking at the categories that I had split up and linking recipes on the little intro and the categories. So we just really looked into everything on the website and blog performing post work because I didn’t know. That was another Google analytics, Google search console.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and when you found out that post that were performing well, what did you do? What was it with those that you said, “Great, I know this.” Now do you email folks about those, do you link back to them more? Do you try and create similar things that are a little bit different? What was the strategy around… Because it’s like one thing to know, but then it’s another thing to know and then actually do something with it. Is there something that happened out of it?
Emma Duckworth: Yeah, definitely. I mean, Ice, she taught me about your content buckets, you take your posts that are doing well and what else can you create around those posts to be able to lift that up and lift the other places as well, sort of a rising tide lifts all ships, it’s our mental. So that’s why we’re really focused on me re-optimizing all the old blog posts and updating them rather than continuing to put out new stuff when I’ve got a weighted post that will keep me down. So I look forward to when I’ve finished optimizing all the posts to then be able to create the content that I know will lift the rest more because a lot of my how-to posts, they’re the ones actually… The how to make the biscotti, how to make sweet short crust pastry, how to make enriched dough. Those ones are the ones that are really… How to make scones, plain scones. They seem to be the ones that are doing super well, so it’s leaning into that and going, “Okay, well let’s build on that.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and how can you kind of create content around those where maybe you have specific recipes that are kind of one-off, or maybe it’s supporting recipes. It’s almost like a kind of a hub and spoke mentality where you have a hub of something that’s kind of pillar content, that’s pretty significant, performing well, building things around that to kind of support it. Maybe those supporting pages also do well, but it’s kind of like you’re becoming an expert on a certain category of really niche baking or a niche type of recipe.
Emma Duckworth: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I’ve got a notebook full of ideas of posts that I want to do in the future. Right. Right.
Bjork Ostrom: Right, right, but for the time being, optimizing and improving, that’s what’s needed.
Emma Duckworth: So that’s very much our strategy for the time being is getting all the old blog posts optimized, keyword research. I learned all about that, normal marketing, Pinterest, putting a free book on there to try and test people to sign up and subscribe.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure, that makes sense. What is the tool that you use for keyword research?
Emma Duckworth: Keysearch.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay, and then can you talk a little bit about how that works, like what you’ve discovered in that process in regards to keyword research and things you’ve learned?
Emma Duckworth: Yeah, sure. It’s finding the keyword that you can create content around that it’s not so high up on the difficulty level, so you’re trying to hit the long tail keywords instead of say, chocolate chip cookie. The competition is too high, there’s so much volume around that that I’m never going to be able to compete with everyone else, but if you, I don’t know, for example, brown butter or butter chocolate chip cookies, that multiple keyword, then suddenly the search volume is still there, but the difficulty is not so high. The aim is obviously to rank on the first page number one.
Bjork Ostrom: An idea of being you can go a little bit more long tail for something that’s a little bit more niche, maybe there’s not going to be as many searches for chocolate chip cookies with Hershey’s kisses, for example, but there it won’t be as competitive and so you’ll be able to potentially rank higher and get traffic, and over time, you can probably start to level up those keywords and get-
Emma Duckworth: Exactly, as the domain authority improves.
Bjork Ostrom: So what did that process look like and what was the traction you were able to get in terms of kind of building from the starting point of kind of not really thinking about search, having 60 recipes, having a little bit of traction, were you able to see results in terms of search picking up and actually getting traction along the way?
Emma Duckworth: Yeah, it took about six weeks, six weeks or two months, because at the same time, my husband and I… So I finished my mentorship with Ice and then my husband and I opened up a street coffee business, so that then took up time, and so it was like, “Oh, I finished that mentorship, but I can’t get into it just yet.” So I sort of had to park it a little bit for month or so, six weeks,. And then it was like, “Right. No, I need to get back into this,” and then it was about six weeks later where I started to see the numbers slowly picking up. I was like, “Is this supposed to go up?” And it’ll go back down again, and it keeps dropping, going up, dropping. So now I would say I’ve updated about 25% of the blog now, so not massive. Still got a lot to go, but most of them need re-shootings, I do process images and all of them. It’s a full workaround. Pretty much starting from scratch again with them, but…
Bjork Ostrom: Sure, but starting to see traction in the payoff from that work?
Emma Duckworth: 100%. So end of April, it was around 19,000 page views, 8th of May, whereas now I’m at 42. So it’s doubled in that time.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, and that comes from not even publishing new content, just looking at old content.
Emma Duckworth: There’s a couple of new content pieces on there, but maybe I’d say five, so nothing… Certainly not one a week type of thing. For me, I find it’s a long process to write blog posts. I don’t know how people churn out one a day. It defies logic to me.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure, yeah. I think there’s something to be said about producing less that’s higher quality as opposed to trying to get more, yeah. So I’m curious to know… The brick and mortar maybe isn’t the best way to describe a street coffee business, but when you look at kind of the lay of the land of your different businesses, one of the things that I think is interesting is there is diversification. So you have your site that’s growing and building, and eventually that will get to a point where 40,000 will turn into 80,000 will turn into a 100,000. You’ll get to a point where it’ll be able to produce thousands, multiple thousands of dollars. I’m curious to know how you look at kind of the balancing of your different income sources, also including the street coffee piece. If you were to look at the pie that makes up your hustles, what does that look like and where do you think the focus will be going forward?
Emma Duckworth: Okay. In terms of the coffee, my husband pretty much runs that. So I take all the images for him, give him a helping hand on Instagram, but he’s doing really well with that, so he’s making that fly. So he pretty much is involved in that, and then I would say at the moment, it’s that fine balance of if I accept lots of client work, then I’m taking away time from right the blog, which I know is getting traction, it’s working, I’m getting there, But it takes work and it takes effort. So what I’ve not struggled with, but it’s been hard to know when to say no to things with client work, to be able to keep moving forward because if I suddenly fill my month up with client work, then it’s going to slow down the progression.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s a really interesting balance between trying to figure out really how to navigate that. It’s kind of like having a full-time job where how do you transition that. Different in that you have a little bit more control, but similar in that you’re working and you’re getting paid for that work as opposed to maybe kind of snowballing that effort, which…
Emma Duckworth: With blogs and people have told me right from the get-go, it’s the long-term game. It really is a long-term business, and for someone who can be relatively impatient because when I want to do something, I want to do it. Do it and then work hard at it. Move forward, it’s a real test of patience, but I know that it will benefit in the long run because I see it all around. So it’s like this is something that I really want to keep going so that in the future, in five years’ time, this has really gained traction, but it takes a bit a sacrifice now, I guess, to be able to say no to other client work, to keep that moving forward.
Bjork Ostrom: Right, right. And so at this point, client work is focus with being able to do blog building, Instagram following, those things. Instagram following on obviously supports some of the client work, but would you like to see that shift from maybe 80% client work, 20% blog sponsor content maybe, slowly that starts to shift 70–30, 50–50, 60–40 until-
Emma Duckworth: Well, I think time-wise, I would say the majority of my time is on the blog at the minute for the past three months, I would say, has been predominantly on the blog and that’s been quite a.. It was a conscious choice to do that because I could see the traction happening. It was like, “I just need to get to that 50,000.”
Bjork Ostrom: Right, and if you can build that out and if you can say, “Okay, if this is here now.” We’re at this point with Clariti, which is a tool that we’ve been working on and building. If we can draw the trajectory on that and say like, “Okay, that as a business isn’t profitable right now. We spend a lot of time on it. We spend a lot of energy on it,” but we can see the trajectory of it, and if we can draw that out to a point where we say, “Okay, 12 months in the future, if history continues to look like what it has, we know that it will be at this point.” not only will that be income that’s being produced, but it will also be value in that, and this is something that we’re trying to talk more about on the podcast, in that then that type of business, a blog, software company, whatever it might be, that also has inherent value.
Bjork Ostrom: So if you have a business that’s making a $100,000 and it doesn’t necessarily require you to do it in the same way that shooting for a company, doing freelance food photography would, it’s like a passive-ish type of business, that’s going to have inherent value within it. So you could maybe sell that for 300, 400,000. So not only is it creating that income from you, but you also have created an investment, and it sounds like what you’re doing is saying, “Okay, I realize that, and if I can invest this time up front, I see that traffic is doubling you, getting some traction. I can draw that line out and see this will be worth it in a year when I hit this point where then it becomes a more sustainable form of income.”
Emma Duckworth: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s the choice you make with any small business at the end of the day, isn’t it? It’s always going to take an element sacrifice and time, and that’s essentially what blogging does. It is time away from doing other things or with your kids. It’s all time for free at the minute, but with the knowledge that it will produce.
Bjork Ostrom: I remember calculating once super rough hours on if we had gotten paid for all the work that we had done up until a certain point with Pinch of Yum, what would that have looked like? And at the moment, let’s say in a month you earn… I don’t remember when it was that I did this post, but 5,000 or $10,000 a month, and it’s like, “Oh, my gosh. That’s awesome. What a great job to be able to have,” but if you look back at it over the four years and you were to calculate that out, it’s like, “Well, actually to get to that point, if you were to stop and didn’t earn anymore…” For us, I don’t remember what the number was, but it would’ve been $5 an hour. But that if you stick with it, that snowball eventually accumulates and it shifts where maybe you’re able to spend less time on it, and that number looks different. But the hard part is those first few years.
Emma Duckworth: Yeah, exactly. And I know that with food bloggers that there’s the seasonal piece in it as well. So our lead up to Christmas is going to have that snowball effect too, or that pickup. That’s why I thought, “Right, you’ve got to commit it now so that hopefully we can get on that wave, get some keywords going that are working for you and get to the advertising before Christmas hits, before the crash drops.” I’ve got there, so fingers crossed. I’m hoping in November.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. What would your advice be, Emma, for anybody who’s super early stages? Maybe it’s somebody who’s listening to this and they’re thinking about starting, or they’re thinking about going all in, in a way that they haven’t before. Any advice that you’d have for them?
Emma Duckworth: Educate yourself. I think that’s the biggest piece of advice is to try not to do it alone in a sense because there are other people who have been… Like with Food Blogger Pro, all the information is there. You’ll fast track yourself by following guidance from others who have been there and who are experts in the field at the end of the day, instead of trying to jigsaw puzzle the pieces together and then realize, “Oh, I did that wrong. Oh, I shouldn’t have done that,” and backtrack. I kind of kicked myself that I didn’t learn all this at the start, but there’s only so much brain capacity I can deal with.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s one of the things I’m learning myself, which is I need to continually learn. I ask that question for other people all the time, “Hey, what are you learning? What are you doing? How are you staying on top of this? How did you learn?” So I actually just signed up for a membership program called the Growth University, which is all about growing a software business, and what I found is it’s super helpful for me to go through the process, learning from other people who are experts in an area where maybe I have opinions and ideas, but I’m definitely not embedded in the industry of growth, and that’s one of the things that I hear you talking a lot about with your journey is really being focused on learning and knowing that that’s part of the job.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s not just doing the work, it’s learning how to do the work and those two things paired together, learning how to do it, getting better at it and doing the work, is kind of the secret sauce, and it’s why we talk about getting a tiny bit better every day forever because that’s what has to happen in order for you to continually evolve and improve and get better. So that’s great. Super fun conversation with you to talk about your journey, Emma. Can you talk a little bit about where people can connect with you and follow along with what you’re up to, and also your cookbook? We talked about that, but I want to make sure to give a shout out for that if people want to order that or be aware of how they can pick that up.
Emma Duckworth: Instagram is Emma Duckworth Bakes, and so is my blog, www.emmaduckworthbakes.co.uk. The cookbook, I’ve got it here actually. One copy is out, but it’s not out till the 23rd of November, that’s the publication date, but it’s called Simply Sweet Nostalgic Bakes. It’s 55 recipes tapping into nostalgia, all those recipes that… We’re also layered in our lives, in our memories, and food is such a part of that, isn’t it? So you smell a blueberry pie and you’re taken back to your nana’s kitchen table, or a bake called tart, for me, is such an English pudding, the tart, but that was trips up to see my grandparents. So it’s those sort of desserts and treats, but with an Emma twist, different flavor combination or whatnot. Yeah, as on the 23rd of November for the US and Canada, and then about a month or six weeks later for everyone else. So it’s a bit delayed because of COVID shipping and all the…
Bjork Ostrom: As is true in the logistics world for COVID. Yeah, that’s great. We’ll link to it in the show notes, make sure the people can see that and check that out. Thanks for chatting today, Emma. Really fun to connect.
Emma Duckworth: Brilliant. Thank you. Thank you for having me, a Brit on such a big US show.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. No, happy to make it happen and thanks for coming on. Appreciate it.
Emma Duckworth: Thank you.
Bjork Ostrom: Thanks to Emma for coming on again and sharing her story. When I scroll through her Instagram, when I look at the pictures, it’s obvious that she’s done the work that is needed and also has the skills and abilities from her past career, and that combination, showing up and doing the work, educating yourself, putting in the time, and then also committing to it for a long period of time, we talk about that often, results in an end result that is beautiful photography in this case or business growth, whatever it might be. So that is my encouragement to you. If you are looking to achieve a thing, be willing to show up, to learn, to do the work and to commit to it for a long period of time, and I think if you do that, what you’ll find is after three, four or five, 10 years, in our case, 11, 12 years that you’ll be able to cover some incredible ground.
Bjork Ostrom: There’s a lot of different people this quote has been attributed to, like Bill Gates or Tony Robbins. I don’t know who it actually is, but they talk about this idea that you overestimate what you can do in a year, but you underestimate what you can do in a decade, and I think that’s really true and it’s been one of the main ways that I think of how we do business. What do we want to do over the next decade and how do we commit to doing that each and every day? So I hope this podcast can be a small part in your puzzle as you think about what that journey is like for you. We appreciate you tuning in and excited to be back here, same time, same place. Until then, make it a great week. Thanks.