031: Rebranding Your Blog with Erin Clarke from Well Plated

Welcome to episode 31 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week, Bjork talks with Erin Clarke from Well Plated about rebranding her food blog.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork talked with Nick Evans from Macheesmo about how he’s been able to keep his blog going for over 8 years. To go back and listen to that episode, click here!

Rebranding Your Blog

Back when Erin started her blog, it wasn’t called Well Plated. Instead, it was called The Law Student’s Wife – and that’s because 1) she was a law student’s wife, and 2) it wasn’t necessarily about food.

But after blogging under that name for a while, she decided that she loved posting recipes. And unfortunately, the name of her blog just didn’t fit any more.

So, she made the really tough decision to rebrand her blog, and she did it! But it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, though. There wasn’t much info about the process of rebranding out there, so she had to go at it all on her own.

In this episode, Erin shares what she learned along the way, and her #1 resource for learning what it takes to rebrand your blog.

In this amazing interview, Erin shares:

  • Why she started a blog and what it was all about
  • When she was able to go full-time with her blog
  • What made her decide to rebrand her blog
  • What went in to choosing her new blog name
  • How she figures out what her readers want to see
  • The best thing she did for her blog (aside from rebranding)
  • Her advice for new bloggers

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Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode number 31 of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Hey, this is Bjork Ostrom. You’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast, and today we have an interesting and awesome interview lined up for you. It’s an interview with Erin Clarke from the blog Well Plated, and we’re actually going to be talking today about how Erin’s blog wasn’t always called Well Plated. We’re going to be talking about branding, and the idea of a name, and how that impacts your blog. Erin’s going to talk about what it was like to rebrand her blog, why she decided to do that, as well as some tips that you can apply if you’re in the early stages of figuring out what you’re going to do with your blog, what you’re going to call it, and what you’re going to focus on for your brand and for your blog. It’s an excellent interview, and I’m really excited to share it with you today. Without further ado, Erin, welcome to the podcast.

Erin Clarke: Thanks, Bjork! It’s great to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, really excited to have you on. Had an email come in from you, and we were chatting about some things, actually specific to Food Blogger Pro and the Nutrition Label Generator. Kind of as an aside, you said, “Hey, if you ever want me to come on the podcast, I went through this interesting process of rebranding.” I thought that was such a good fit for the podcast, so I’m really glad that you brought that up because I think it will be really helpful for some people to talk about that.

Erin Clarke: Great! I’m glad that it worked out.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah. For sure.

Erin Clarke: I’m really happy to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Before we get into it, I want you to take us back a little bit. Go back in time to when things first started for you with your blog. Can you tell us about the genesis of your site? I won’t say the name, because that’s what we’re going to be talking about so that’s part of the story. Take us back to when things first started online for you.

Erin Clarke: Yeah, sure. I was living actually in the Twin Cities for about four years.

Bjork Ostrom: Woot woot!

Erin Clarke: Yep, love. Still miss it. They have a very special place in my heart.

Bjork Ostrom: All right!

Erin Clarke: I got married. My husband, Ben, was right after we got married starting law school in Madison, Wisconsin. I was looking at going from having this life in this city that I really loved to moving to a city where honestly I didn’t know anyone, and I left without even having a job. I arrive in Madison, Wisconsin, and I found a job right away, which was really fortunate. It was a consulting job, but I quickly saw that, “Wow, my new husband is spending a lot of his time in the library cuddling with his books.” I figured okay, well I’m going to need to find a hobby, and I had a friend who, before I left Minneapolis, was like, “Hey, Erin, I’m starting a blog.” My response was, “What is a blog?” This is in 2013. I don’t know what bubble that I was living in, but my exposure to blogs as particularly food blogs was Smitten Kitchen. The only reason I had even seen Smitten Kitchen was because a friend of mine baked what are still the greatest peanut butter cookies in the world.

Bjork Ostrom: You’re like, “What are these from?”

Erin Clarke: I was like, “What are they from?” She’s like, “It’s from Smitten Kitchen.” I was like, “What is Smitten Kitchen?”

Bjork Ostrom: She’s like, “A food blog.”

Erin Clarke: It’s a food blog, yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: You’re like, “What’s a blog?”

Erin Clarke: Yeah, exactly. My impressions of blogging before that, and why honestly I’m still not crazy about the word blogger, is I feel like it just conjures up images of someone sitting at home in their slippers complaining about their life online, which-

Bjork Ostrom: Which does happen occasionally for me.

Erin Clarke: Yes, it’s true. I’m not going to go into detail about whether or not I am or am not wearing slippers at this moment.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, exactly.

Erin Clarke: Hint: I am. I just had this view of blogging of not even knowing what it was, but I had always really enjoyed writing and enjoyed cooking. I started this blog as just a fun way to, not even to share recipes initially, I was just writing random updates about my life. It was almost like my blog was a diary that only my grandma read. It was like I was writing to my grandma about our life in Wisconsin. One night, I made these chicken enchiladas for Ben and I, and they were really good, and I snapped a photo with my … I don’t even know if I had a smartphone then; it might have been a flip phone. Put it online and posted the recipe, and about 3 days later, I got an email from a friend from high school that said, “Hey, I read your blog, and I made your enchiladas. They were really good.” Then this light bulb …

I was like, “Hey! That was kind of fun! I put it up there and she made it.” Then I didn’t really have any schedule. I just started posting more about what we were eating, and then I started reading more food blogs and realized, “Hey, this is kind of a thing. There are a lot of other people that are doing this, and it’s really fun.” I just progressively got more and more and more into it. Eventually started seeing that the photography was going to be a really big side, so I bought my DSLR, not the one that I have now, but just a good starter level one that I would really recommend. Then it was as if my blog just creeped more and more and more into my life to where I was still working my daytime consulting job, but then I had this side project at night. It was great while Ben was in law school because while he was at home studying, I was home working on my blog. We were both doing something that for me was very enjoyable and fulfilling and for him was necessary, but it never felt lonely or like I was bored while he was studying.

Bjork Ostrom: It made sense. It matched with your brand at the time, which it well it still is, but well technically it’s probably not. You go law student’s wife, right?

Erin Clarke: Oh, yes. I have not even said this blog’s name, so totally missed that part. Yes. My friend’s like, “You should start a blog.” I start a blog, and I called it The Law Student’s Wife because it was literally the thing that I did while Ben was in law school. That was kind of what spurred me to start it, and I never saw it turning into anything. I didn’t even know that it could be anything. Time progressed and then Ben graduates from law school, and suddenly it’s a lot less cool that I’m at home wanting to just be on my computer and work on my blog. He no longer has a law book.

Bjork Ostrom: He’s no longer a law student, right?

Erin Clarke: Yes and-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so you were no longer a law student’s wife.

Erin Clarke: No, so I just outgrew it, and by that point, my blog was at a place where I was really close to earning what I was at my other job and hated my other job and I loved my blog, so decided to make the move and go full time. We moved to a new city when Ben was starting work, so it was just a really clean time for me to give it a shot. It was terrifying, but I figured, “Hey, if this doesn’t work, I can always go back and work a corporate job. No one will take that option away from me, but this option to really see if my blog could turn into something might not always be there.”

Bjork Ostrom: Cool! I want to get into that transition a little bit. One of the things that I think is interesting … You said that you started in 2013, is that right?

Erin Clarke: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, so that’s a relatively short amount of time, and you were able to build that up into something that was, at a certain point, comparable to you said what you were earning from your job. I think people that are listening oftentimes are interested in that. I know that today’s podcast episode is about rebranding, but I’d also be interested to talk to you a little bit about that transition because that’s a really big deal. I think that’s super impressive, and first of all, congratulations on that, because it’s not easy. As you started to work on the blog that was started as a hobby, almost something to, “Hey, I have these nights, potentially weekends, where my husband is going to be away studying because he’s a law student. It requires a ton of time, so what am I going to fill my time with? Well, one of the things I like to do is this blog as a hobby.”

Then it slowly starts to become something like, “Oh, this is maybe something that I can do as a job or create an income from.” At one point did you start to realize that? What did you do in order to get to that point? What were some of those steps that you took during the time it was The Law Student’s Wife?

Erin Clarke: Yeah, definitely. I would say that it definitely came in phases, and initially at least I didn’t know that people were making money from blogging, because I didn’t really know what a blog was. That was where things started. Then it progressed into, “Well, I’m doing this anyway and I like it, so why don’t I put some ads on my site?” Then it progressed into getting to work with a brand for the first time. I would say for the first six months, I was earning zero income. Then probably for the first eight months, I was earning very minimal ad revenue. I can’t even remember how long it took me the first time to get the $100 payout from Google AdSense, but that was a big day. Then where things really started to pick up was when I started focusing more on the photography and the content.

Then I was able to start getting more sponsored post work, and I realized at that point I was probably posting two times a week. I went full time in August of 2014. In January of 2014, so a little less than a year after I had started my blog, I upped my posting frequency to three days a week. I did that in part to have more content, to build more page views, just to build more income, in part because I wanted to see if I could, and then also because at that point I had built a larger reader base. I was getting more sponsored opportunities, and I didn’t want every post to be a sponsored post. I also started posting more frequently in part just to spread those out and try to keep some authenticity there, too.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. That makes sense, so everything you’re doing isn’t sponsored content. One of the things that I know people will be interested about … You get to this point where you’re starting to improve your photography, improving content, in general things are building and growing. At what point did you start to work with brands? Did you reach out to them? Did they reach out to you? How did you make those initial connections?

Erin Clarke: That is such a great question, and it’s one that I still struggle to answer because it’s one of the questions I get the most. How do I work with brands? It is a great question. It’s one that I had at the beginning. It for me was really a mix. The first time I was ever paid for work was actually a company approached me. It was Red Star Yeast, and they were looking for some photography for their website. There were already existing recipes. I had some yeast bread recipes on my site and had been interacting with them on Twitter. Twitter, I know a lot of people say that it’s dead, but I think for brands it’s not.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure.

Erin Clarke: It can still be very relevant. That was how Red Star, I believe, first found me. Then they asked me to do this photograph for their website, and I worked really hard on it and then pitched them and said, “Hey, are you looking for new recipes for your website?” They had a blogger program in place that I was able to join, so that is one aspect of it.

Bjork Ostrom: Great.

Erin Clarke: I’ve ask brands for contact via Twitter after we’ve tweeted, been flirting with each other. At that point maybe I’ll reach out and say, “Hey, I have a great idea of how we can work together. Who can I reach out to?” A lot, I think, comes from, and this is really important, is networking with other bloggers, whether you decide to invest into going to a conference or you try to get to know someone beyond the general comment on their blog. I’ve also gotten brand work through referrals from other people, too.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great, that’s great. We’ve done a few podcast interviews. We did one with Zach from DeLallo where he talks about that idea of connecting with people online and Twitter. One of the first podcast interviews we did was with Jaden and Scott from Steamy Kitchen, and they talk about this idea of permission to pitch, which I think is great, and what you talked about where you initially make connection with people, and you don’t pitch right away, but you say, “Hey, I have an idea for something. Is there somebody I could contact?” I think those are all great tips. Generally it’s like be a nice person, and do what you can to authentically and genuinely connect with people and help people. I think all that stuff is really good.

That was a little bit of a tangent, a little bit of a rabbit trail, but I think people are always interested in hearing how people make that transition into doing this content creation, blogging, to use a term that you don’t really like, but to build this into a business. That’s what you did. At some point, you realized, “This is a business. This is what I’m doing full time. I’m no longer a law student’s wife, technically.” You have this realization that you need to rebrand. When did that moment happen, and what was going through your mind at that point?

Erin Clarke: Yeah, definitely. This would have been in May of 2014. That was when Ben graduated. Probably a few months before he started graduating I started seeing that this name was about to graduate, too. On top of that, I was doing more brand work and sending more pitches. When I would be writing these emails and saying, “I’m Erin, the blogger behind The Law Student’s Wife,” I started immediately feeling like I needed to explain that name. When I was going on a brand trip or going to a conference, whenever I would say the name of my blog, I felt a little bit embarrassed, which is not the greatest thing to admit, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Erin Clarke: You should love your blog, you should love your blog name, and I just didn’t feel that way about it. I almost felt like every time I introduced it, I needed to say, “Oh, my husband’s in law school. Oh this is … ” I don’t even want to say, “Oh, this is my hobby of what I do to kill time while he’s studying,” because my blog had become much more to me than that. Realizing that I needed to start thinking very seriously about either embracing this name and just running with it and taking it for its nostalgic value, or if I didn’t want to go that route, I needed to find a way to change it. I started really seriously considering that and then reaching out to some different web designers. In addition to me needing a new name, I really needed a new site and platform.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure.

Erin Clarke: I actually started on Blogger, so that was issue number one. Moved off of Blogger to WordPress, and I was using a free theme with very limited capability, and that was slowing me down, too. I wanted a new web designer, both to build me a better site, and then also to rebrand it for me under whatever my TBD new awesome name was going to be.

Bjork Ostrom: I want to talk to you a little bit about that, specifically the naming process.

Erin Clarke: Oh my.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m sure that you were really intentional about taking time to think about what the new name of your blog would be. What are some things that you learned about the first name that you had for your blog? What are some of the things that you applied for this new name? I think the people that you are talking to for this would be either people haven’t started a blog and are thinking about it or the people that are at a place where they really don’t like their site name or their brand, and they’re thinking about rebranding. What would your advice be to those people?

Erin Clarke: Definitely. One of the hardest things about rebranding is coming up with the blog name. That is for a variety of reasons, one of which is that a lot of names are taken. It’s both coming up with a name that you like, so just your personal feelings towards it, and that you don’t see yourself getting tired of. You will be putting it in pitch emails. You will be introducing yourself by this name. When you go to any kind of blog event, the first thing you say is, “Hi, Erin Clarke. I blog at Well Plated.” I have bloggers that are in my cell phone as their first name and the name of their blog. Kind of a unique industry when you refer to someone not by their name but by their site name.

Bjork Ostrom: Erin from Well Plated, yeah.

Erin Clarke: Yeah, exactly. It needs to be a name that you like, it needs to be available. Sometimes, a website, you might type the URL into your browser and nothing comes up. Unfortunately someone could just sitting on that domain name.

Bjork Ostrom: Domain squatting, right? They just buy it and they hold onto it.

Erin Clarke: Yes, so I ran into a lot of that. That does not mean that it’s the end of the road, though. I think Elise from Simply Recipes talked about this a little bit, how she was eventually able to get her name. You want to make sure that any similar names are available. Back when I was The Law Student’s Wife, I had The Law Student’s Wife and Law Student’s Wife without the “the.” If you want to be The Happy Kitchen, make sure that Happy Kitchen is available, too. It’s looking for those similar spellings. You want to make sure that the name isn’t trademarked. That was something that we thought about pretty seriously, probably because I was married to an attorney-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right exactly.

Erin Clarke: … by the time I was doing this, so that was his priority.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m interested to talk a little bit about those two things. The first thing you said was making sure that those names are available. What do you mean by that? Is that just the URL? Is that social media? Are you going through and buying those different domain names and picking up those different social media handles? How do you check that stuff?

Erin Clarke: Definitely. Something that I did, because it got so difficult to keep track of all the different names we were thinking of and what was available, is I actually made a handy dandy spreadsheet where I just started documenting all of this. The first thing you want to do is make sure that the actual URL is available. You can just try to purchase it via your web host or on GoDaddy. Whatever you’re using to buy that domain name, it will tell you whether or not it’s available for purchase. If it’s not, you can do something called a Whois Lookup. If you just Google Whois, there’s a variety of different websites that will provide it, and it will tell you a lot of information about that URL: who bought it, how long they’ve had it, how many times they’ve renewed it. You can start there. Then from there-

Bjork Ostrom: An interesting side note regarding Whois, so I’m pulling up Whois.net right now, you can type in a URL, and if you haven’t purchased the privacy terms, this is just a side tip for people, your information will just show up. That would be something to consider for people that haven’t purchased privacy for their domain. The reason that you would purchase that privacy package, or whatever it is, from your host is so when somebody does type a Whois or make a Whois request that your information doesn’t show up. Just a quick tip for people that haven’t done that.

Erin Clarke: Yes, that is a very, very good point. I’m pulling up mine. I’m like, “Did I purchase this? Okay, good.”

Bjork Ostrom: Checking on the domains, maybe purchasing those. For Pinch of Yum, for instance, we have the different versions of it, so .co, and whatever, .tv. Then there’s also social media. How do you go about efficiently looking those up and getting those secured?

Erin Clarke: Definitely. Every social media platform is a little bit different in terms of checking availability. For the most part, you can just type in facebook.com/. When I was looking at Well Plated, which actually was taken, that’s a separate story that we can dig into. Really briefly the reason that I got Well Plated is because the owner did not purchase the privacy for his Whois Lookup, so I was able to contact him. Actually he gave it to me for a batch of cookies, which was amazing.

Bjork Ostrom: Great deal, wow!

Erin Clarke: I know. I can’t promise that that will happen to you if you contact someone. Just know that it’s possible.

Bjork Ostrom: Were they the original cookies that you had learned about food blogging from? Was it that recipe?

Erin Clarke: You know, it probably should have been if it wasn’t.

Bjork Ostrom: That would have been so perfect.

Erin Clarke: I don’t even remember. I should mail him another batch because I’m still very grateful.

Bjork Ostrom: For the social media handle, so it’s checking those, going to Facebook, going to Instagram. I know that there is also, I think it’s called namecheckr. I’ve experimented with this site before. I think it’s N-A-M-E- check and then … There’s a couple that I’ve used. The one is name and then C-H-K.com, namechk.com. We can put those in the blog notes. It does a massive search of all the different social media handles, so that’s one that I’ve used as well. Obviously, and I think this is what you’re getting it, the main ones, you can just put it in the URL, right?

Erin Clarke: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, the social media handles that are most important, essentially.

Erin Clarke: It can definitely vary based on your niche. For food blogging, it will definitely be all the ones that you just named.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep, for sure.

Erin Clarke: Just because something isn’t available doesn’t mean that you should become automatically discouraged. Obviously it depends on the size of that person’s platform. I know some bloggers, maybe their URL for just their blog name will be taken. Well Plated could have been taken. I would have been the option to be Well Plated Blog. You want to make sure that the name that you’re looking at isn’t a huge, very popular page, because that is only going to hurt yourself and probably anger that other person in the long run. There are different options that you can look at, too. I would just really encourage people to try to keep it consistent across all platforms if possible.

Bjork Ostrom: By that you mean consistent so that the handle is the same across all platforms.

Erin Clarke: Exactly, exactly. If you look, fortunately Well Plated was available across all platforms, but if it hadn’t been and I needed to do Well Plated Blog, maybe I would have maybe thought about making all of them Well Plated Blog just for-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, so it’s not different.

Erin Clarke: … simplicity.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep, that makes sense for sure. I’m curious about, you had mentioned Facebook and just being a little bit more difficult. What was that like with your experience with Facebook?

Erin Clarke: The great thing about every social media platform for the most part, except for Facebook, is that if you want to update your handle and keep your followers, you can just change it. You want to make sure that you’re securing and saving these social media handles in advance of your relaunch on a ghost account, which I have a whole step-by-step that I went through for that. Facebook you actually have to submit a few different Facebook-related forms, and then the Facebook team approves your request to change the name of the page and then combined your old page with your new blog name. They require some different documentation that yes, this URL redirect is in place. Yes, this is legitimate. I’m not trying to pass this new content off on a page of people that decided to like this page for a different reason.

Bjork Ostrom: Interesting.

Erin Clarke: Facebook has a very rigorous process that takes about two weeks. There was a very awkward two week period where my page was technically called Well Plated but still at thelawstudentswife.com, and people were very confused. Some of that happens with rebranding. There are parts of it that just get a little messy, and you have to roll with it. Unfortunately Facebook, because they have the process in place that they do for their own reasons, it’s a little bit trickier.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, maybe a little bit more manual in terms of the process for updating. Yeah, interesting. One of the things that I’m interested to talk about is just really honing in on your name. Well Plated, obviously it’s a great name.

Erin Clarke: Thanks.

Bjork Ostrom: It comes from I’m sure a lot of intentional thinking, and researching, and going through a huge process to get there. Why Well Plated? What were the things about this new name that made you confident in using it?

Erin Clarke: One of the biggest reasons that I wanted to change my name from The Law Student’s Wife to something else was that The Law Student’s Wife no longer said anything about what my blog was about. It didn’t say anything about food. On top of that, it no longer said anything about me because I wasn’t a law student’s wife anymore. First of all, I wanted a name that would reflect what my site was about. I do everyday healthy themed recipes, so I liked the idea of having a word that tied with the idea of living healthy or living well in it, so that’s where the well came from. Then I am primarily a food blog, so just different terms that would tie in with food, too. Then the third thing is I really, really love puns. They have a giant place in my heart.

Bjork Ostrom: Nice!

Erin Clarke: I liked the idea of well as a play on words between something being well plated and then also yourself being well, being healthy. I liked it for those reasons. I liked it because it was short, because I will tell you that The Law Student’s Wife gets to be quite a mouthful after a while. That’s another piece of advice that I would give people is just do yourself a favor and try to come up with something shorter.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, one of the things that we talk about, too, and I think that this is true for Well Plated, is the balance between picking a niche and allowing yourself for flexibility down the line. If you, for instance, started a site and it was just about let’s say carrot cake cupcakes, you’re going to be really, really restricted. You might feel like you’re the biggest carrot cake cupcakes fan in the world, but then after a year of blogging about just that, you get to the point where you’re like, “What else can I do outside of the niche?” and you’re restricted by the name. At the same time, you don’t want something that’s so general that people don’t know what it is. It’s a hard line to balance. The example I think back to often is Zappos. Are you familiar with Zappos, the online store?

Erin Clarke: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Bjork Ostrom: There’s a book called Delivering Happiness. It’s a great book from the founder of Zappos, and in it he talks about the naming process for Zappos and how they knew that they wanted to start out with a shoe store, but they wanted flexibility to grow beyond that. They used, I don’t know, Zappos is meant to be like shoes in another language, but it’s like nobody really knows that, right?

Erin Clarke: No.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s flexibility to be an entire shop, essentially. I think that’s the fine line that you have to walk as a blogger, is you have to commit to a niche in some sense, whether it’s food or maybe it’s paleo, but knowing that you’re going to be restricted by that if you choose to have that in your name. I think it’s something that Well Plated does really well, is you know it’s a food blog, it’s related to food, but at the same time it’s not like you go and you expect to see only desserts, for instance, or only paleo diet or something like that. It’s a good brand name in that’s it’s niche but not too niche. I think that’s something important for people to consider as well. You’re at the point now where you’ve rebranded, you’ve made the switch. During the process of making the switch, what were the hurdles that you ran into that you were like, “Oh, this is harder than I thought it would be,” or the hangups that you had along the way, if there were any?

Erin Clarke: Yeah, definitely. I would say that the biggest piece to figure out when you’re rebranding is to have a concrete idea of what needs to get done and when you need to do it. I thought that I did a pretty good job planning the obvious things at the beginning, because when I picked the new name, I knew the name was available, I knew I didn’t need to worry about similar spellings, I had all my social media handles secured. Then I outsourced the technical side of it, which I also very strongly recommend unless you’re super tech savvy. Changing an old URL to a new one without breaking all of your old links, which is an especially big deal if you’ve been blogging for a while and have traffic built up, is a very for me technically scary thing to do. I wanted to make sure that I could do that.

I have all these big pieces in place, I’m feeling really great, and then it starts to get to be a month or so before I know that this site is going live, and you start to realize there are a lot of places, especially if you’ve been blogging for a while, where you have your old name. Everything from foodgawker, my ad network was tied to my old name, your RSS feed, all of your brand partners, if you’re working with them, are working with you under your old name. Then a really huge group that you have to think about that I believe is very easy to leave behind in this whole kind of personal, introspective process of, “What’s my blog going to be? What should I call it? Who do I want to be to the world?” is your readers!

Your readers don’t want to log onto your site one day, and then suddenly it’s not there. There’s this whole new thing. That would be very abrupt and could be off-putting, so that was a big concern, too. Definitely, outside of the whole technical aspect, just really making myself sit down and list out everywhere that my blog name was and figuring out, what can I change now? Who do I need to let know when? What is going to need to wait until after my site goes live, too?

Bjork Ostrom: For sure, yep. That’s great. I think that intentional process of just sitting down and listing all of that stuff out, it’s like once you give the time that it deserves, I’m sure you start to think of all these different places, like you said: ad networks, your readers, all of the different places where you’re hooked into with that old brand. You made the transition, you outsourced the technical side of that, which means that you hired somebody to come in and essentially flip the switch, right-

Erin Clarke: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bjork Ostrom: … from old site to new site. That process goes well. Now suddenly you have this new site, Well Plated, and at this point, what happens? Do you switch the type of content that you produce? Are you doing the same type of content? What is the result of the switch and your new intentionality behind the site?

Erin Clarke: For me, I think there are two different ways that you can view rebranding. Depending on what your reason for rebranding is, you might answer that question really differently. For me, I picked Well Plated because I felt like it better reflected what my site and content were already about. I was already doing these everyday healthy recipes. Now I had a name that fit in with it more, versus someone that maybe had a blog that has a very dessert-driven name and now they want to start changing their content and expanding more. That could look a little bit different for different people. For me it was, “Okay, this is what my site is about now.” Moving forward, it definitely helps me hone in and drive my content.

I still do decadent recipes every now and then because that is just part of life, and I try to strike a good balance. I definitely spend more time now … I think this is a big important factor to consider when you are looking at going full time, and what is the difference between blogging full time and blogging as a hobby, it’s: what are the types of recipes that my readers are here to see and what will they like? Rebranding also helped me focus on my readers and the types of recipes that they wanted to see much more.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and how do you figure that out? How do you realize or start to understand what type of recipes your readers want?

Erin Clarke: I have magical powers, and I can just figure out-

Bjork Ostrom: Ah, that’s great!

Erin Clarke: No.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you tell us how you get those?

Erin Clarke: I wish. There are two ways. One is watching what your readers seem to be responding to. Do you have a recipe that people make all the time? That’s probably a pretty good indicator that that is a successful recipe and something that your readers are interested in.

Bjork Ostrom: Are you seeing that in Google Analytics, or comments, or both, or other areas?

Erin Clarke: That’s a good question. That comment is driven primarily by reader comments on the posts. I do have some posts that have super high traffic, but all that traffic comes from Pinterest. That’s not necessarily a core reader group. That could be just someone that … I hope when people come to my blog, they like what they see and they want to stay. My traffic is primarily from Pinterest, and not every single person is going to do that. If it’s a recipe that’s just mostly from Pinterest, that’s great. You need those Pinterest hits in there too to keep a good balance, but it’s the ones that I get consistent comments or emails from readers saying that they’ve made; that’s a piece of it. If you use MailChimp or a similar automated email campaign … I can actually look at all of my campaigns and see what the open and click rates are, so that is good indicator.

If I send out a recipe via email, and it has a higher click rate than others, to me that says, “Hey, okay, obviously my reader base … ” because anyone that receives an email is truly a reader. You know they’re not coming from Pinterest. They’re interested in that style of recipe, so that’s a good note for me for future. Then another really great way to find out what your readers want is to ask your readers. Every year I put out a reader survey. One of the questions that I ask on it is what are the types of recipes that they would like to see more of. I’ll put a whole list and ask people to just pick three. Then at the end of that, I can see, “Okay, these are my priority recipes. Every month, I want to make sure that I am doing at least two recipes that fit into these three categories.”

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. What do you use for that survey, just out of curiosity?

Erin Clarke: I use Google Forums. It’s free, it’s really easy to customize, and you can embed it right into your blog post so that people don’t even have to leave your blog post to take it-

Bjork Ostrom: Nice.

Erin Clarke: … on a desktop.

Bjork Ostrom: Great, so just within Google if you have a Gmail or a Google Apps, you can go in and create a Google forum and then embed that on your site or link to it in an email.

Erin Clarke: Yep, it’s super easy. I’m one of the least tech savvy people you’ll ever meet, and I was able to figure it out.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, cool. One of the things that I’d be interested to talk about, if you’re up for sharing it, would be, and obviously it doesn’t all come back to the rebrand, but did you see growth after rebranding, and what did that look like? Were there other factors that you feel like, along with the rebrand, helped with that growth?

Erin Clarke: Definitely. My rebrand is exactly one year old then.

Bjork Ostrom: Happy birthday, rebrand.

Erin Clarke: Thank you. I did go back and look at my old post. I was like, “Oh, my gosh. There it is.”

Bjork Ostrom: Funny.

Erin Clarke: Such a nerd. Since rebranding, within the last year, my page views, because I feel like that’s a good easy measure, is monthly page views, they’re up by 131%-

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.

Erin Clarke: … which has been very exciting. Did they initially sky rocket after I rebranded? No, they actually went down, so that is a sad part about rebranding, too, is that even if you do everything technically perfectly, you do hurt yourself with Google for a while. It took about six months for Google to catch up and recognize my site again. It’s still a priority area for me. I do feel like rebranding, when I look at it in the long term, because rebranding your blog is a long term decision, was a key piece of that growth. I had a much cleaner site. It was easier for me to pitch to brands, to reach out. I felt like my brand was more consistent and attractive to people that were visiting. Just like what you always say, and what I want to stress to people, is that there’s nothing more important than building your content and having quality content. In addition to rebranding my blog in this past year, I put an enormous focus on trying to enhance the quality of my content, especially my photography.

Bjork Ostrom: With photography, what were the things that you changed that helped the most?

Erin Clarke: One of the biggest things is that I bought a new camera.

Bjork Ostrom: Nice! What camera?

Erin Clarke: I shoot Nikon. I’m one of the few Nikon shooters, so whoever you are out there, you are not alone. Honestly, that was primarily because I started on a Nikon so it made the transition a lot easier. I shoot with a Nikon D750. The closest equivalent for a Canon user would be the 60.

Bjork Ostrom: Just out of curiosity, do you have a favorite lens that you use?

Erin Clarke: I have two lenses. One is still the nifty 50. It’s the f1.8 50 millimeter prime lens, meaning it’s the fixed lens, so it doesn’t zoom. That is the one that I use for all around everyday. If I could only have one lens, or if you can only afford to invest in one lens, that is definitely one that I would recommend. Then when I bought my camera, I also bought in Nikon it’s 105 millimeter macrolens. Similar Canon equivalent would be the 100. That has allowed me to capture some really nice up close photos of food-

Bjork Ostrom: Cool.

Erin Clarke: … which has helped my Pinterest traffic tremendously. Those images perform really well on Pinterest.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool, and one of the things that I think is so great when you were talking about content and content being really important is this holistic view of content. With rebranding your site, you’re viewing at the high level the website itself and the brand itself as content, and then within that there’s those microchannels. There’s the photography, there’s the recipes, there’s the writing. All of that is content as well, but it’s supported by this overall brand. When all of that stuff is succinct and it’s working well, the idea of maybe connecting with another brand to do sponsored content, or just in general people coming to your site and feeling like that it’s a good experience and that they’ll come back, all of that stuff is so important.

The holistic view of rebranding I think is so important. I’m looking at some notes that I had jotted down and some stuff that we had talked about before. One of the things that you had also said, which ties in to this I think a little bit, but you had hired an assistant. Can you talk about what that process was like and how that allowed you to focus in on the content a little bit more?

Erin Clarke: Yes, definitely. That was quite possibly the best blog move I have ever made outside of rebranding.

Bjork Ostrom: Why is that?

Erin Clarke: A big part of the reason why I left my full time job was because, in addition to loving blogging, I was tired of working two full time jobs. When I look at my first year of blogging full time and trying to really make it work and grow my site, that was a year of work. I worked all the time, and I suddenly realized, “I am back where I started.” Where I feel like instead of making friends in a new city or making sure that I have something to tell my readers about besides, “Hi, it’s me here again. It’s 10 o’clock at night and I’m watching Netflix.”

Bjork Ostrom: I’m still working.

Erin Clarke: “I’m still editing. I’m still here. What are you guys … ?” If you want to have a good blog, you need to have a good life. I think Joy the Baker might have said that, and I have never forgotten it. I just saw more and more, “Okay, well I’m spending all this time on my blog,” and when I examine the time that I am spending, so much of it was on scheduling social media and feeling like … With blogging, you can’t turn it off, right? It’s very difficult to turn off. You can always do more and more. I just have a really hard time leaving things undone. I felt like I was investing all this time into social media, which you don’t want to say that anyone can do it, but it’s much less personal to sit and schedule Tweets than it is to sit down and write to my readers. Only I can write to my readers. I want to be the one that’s developing these recipes and doing the photography. Those are the core things, your content, that are going to make your site ultimately be better and grow.

I got very serious with myself and said, “Okay, can I have someone who I trust who I fell like understands my readers and my voice, can I outsource some of this to them?” I went through a process of interviewing people. I actually put out a post on my blog. The assistant that I hired is absolutely wonderful. Her name is Molly. I know at some point she’s going to need to move on from grad school. It’s a great fit. She’s getting her Master’s Degree in communications. It’s been a valuable experience for her seeing how social media with websites is run in “the real world.” Then it’s been great for me, too, to have someone that is a little more invested in that side of it. She’s local, too, so we’re able to meet in person and go over things as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Great. Just out of curiosity, so was that somebody that was following along with your blog and saw the post that you did?

Erin Clarke: It actually wasn’t, which is so funny and just so a time when I definitely felt like things worked out the way that they were meant to be. I had some readers that applied, which was fantastic because they understood my blog and my voice, because they were the people that I was writing to. The tough part about it was that they weren’t local, and so much more can be accomplished when you just sit down with a person and can sit together. That was something that I really wanted. It actually ended up being a reader referred her friend that lived in Milwaukee. Said, “Hey, I don’t think you read this blog. I know you’re getting your degree in communication. She’s looking for an assistant.” Molly, my assistant, applied and it was just a fantastic fit. We’ve been working together since September of 2015. September of last year was when I hired her, and it’s been great.

Bjork Ostrom: Do you have any advice for people that are thinking about doing the same thing, hiring an assistant?

Erin Clarke: Definitely. Have a very clear plan in place of exactly what you want that person to be doing, and then how you’re going to track those tasks. Really try to empower them as much as you can. Before I hired an assistant, I actually spent a couple of days going through and documenting everything that I did for a single post, which is fascinating unto itself, so not a horrible exercise to do. You realize, “Oh, my gosh. There’s so … ” I almost miss the innocent days of my blog as The Law Student’s Wife when I would just put up a post and that was hit. I just hit publish, and that was the end of the day. There’s so much more to it now than that. Really taking time to write down those step-by-steps so that your assistant can have a quick reference for what they should do, investing in scheduling tools that are going to help both you and your assistant do their job. I use both CoSchedule and Tailwind. I was using them beforehand, and then I gave my assistant access to those tools.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Erin Clarke: Then for the application process, I think the most helpful things that I asked my applicants to do were to write practice Facebook posts and Pinterest posts, just to make sure that that person had a clear understanding of what would be a good fit on those social media platforms, and then what would be an appropriate fit for my reader audience, too.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. You can see what their voice is like and how they would draft a certain social media post.

Erin Clarke: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bjork Ostrom: Great. That’s awesome. All right, so one of the questions I like to ask, we’re coming to the end here, is if you were to go back in time, if we had a time machine you stepped in, I pressed 2013, you go back, and you’re able to start all of this over again, what are some things that you would do different, if you’re starting out at the beginning?

Erin Clarke: Besides naming my blog something else, although then we wouldn’t get to have this great conversation, so that is another positive that has come from it, I really, I think, most people say this I strongly encourage anyone that is thinking about starting a blog to start on WordPress. If you’re new and you started on Blogger and you think it’s something that you want to keep doing, I would encourage someone to move to WordPress now because it will only become hairier as you go. That’s something that I would have done differently. I would have invested in my blog earlier than I did. At the beginning, it’s hard to invest in your blog when it’s just a hobby that you’re feeling out and you don’t know, is this going to become something? Is it not? There’s investing in the camera and the photography side. That is one piece.

I definitely don’t think that anyone that isn’t sure if they’re really serious about blogging should run out and buy the nicest, most expensive camera out there. I would not recommend that. I would have done a better job of recognizing where I have limitations and not being afraid to ask for some experts to help me. For example with my blog design, under any name, my blog got very, very cumbersome. When I did finally find the designer that I wanted and reach out to her, I worked with Lindsay from Purr, Purr’s amazing, highly recommend them to anyone, I sat on that waitlist for four or five months. I’m glad that I did, because as I mentioned rebranding’s a long term decision, and you want to do it so that your vision comes together at the end. A big part of that is hiring the right people. I would have started that aspect of it earlier as well.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. Like you said, that early investment can be something that’s so hard to do because when you’re just starting out, it’s a hobby in the sense that it’s not creating an income from something right away. To take those small steps in saying, “Yeah, maybe I’m going to buy a nice lens for my camera or maybe ask for it for Christmas or a birthday present or something like that,” but to be intentional about building your tool belt that will allow you to more efficiently work and create things that are high quality. I think that’s great advice.

Erin Clarke: Definitely.

Bjork Ostrom: Go ahead.

Erin Clarke: I needed a more elevated level of technical help just because I did want a whole new custom site, and I needed someone to transition it over for me. I don’t want someone to feel like if they’re running a free theme with WordPress right now and feeling limited, there’s a whole spectrum in between there of even themes that you can purchase from WordPress for sixty bucks that will give you a lot more capability and flexibility than you have now. Definitely it’s never either just your iPhone or the best most expensive camera, or your free theme or a custom theme that is going to cost you thousands of dollars. There are options and steps that you can take along the way as you build your blog, figure out how interested you are in it, or build your income so that you can afford to invest a little bit more, too.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s awesome. Great, so before we end, there’s two things that I want to do. First of all, where can people find you? After that could you talk a little bit about your book? You wrote an e-book about the process of rebranding, and I think that would be really helpful for people that are thinking about going through the same thing.

Erin Clarke: Definitely. I am Well Plated everywhere. Hooray! You can find me wellplated.com and then Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, oh and Facebook. I was like, “I think I’m forgetting one.” Well Plated at all those. I’m making my first foray into video, too, so I’m also on YouTube. That one, Google is a little different. It’s still tied to my personal name with Google’s identification that they like to do with that. I’m Erin Clarke on YouTube.

Bjork Ostrom: Great. Awesome, and then can you talk a little bit about your e-book?

Erin Clarke: Yeah, absolutely! When I decided to rebrand, I had a lot of questions, just about some very basic logistical things, everything from how do I update my Twitter handle, to my Feedreader, to what is the best way even to make my URL redirect from my old name to the new one, just the very basic questions. I was incredibly frustrated by the lack of information and then also the fact that there wasn’t any single consolidated place where I could find a checklist for how to rename your website, which blew my mind! It didn’t seem like the craziest thing for a person to want to do, but it was just very difficult for me to find the information. That was the first thing that spurred my e-book, was just wanting there to be a place where I could take everything that I learned from rebranding my website and just put it in a consolidated place where someone that wanted to do the same thing could find, hopefully if not everything that they’re looking for, at least most of what they’re looking for or a good start.

Then, also as soon as I rebranded, I started getting a ton of questions from bloggers, which was really interesting because it’s something … You look at someone’s website, you assume that they’re happy with the name or that’s what it’s called. Then through various bloggers reaching out to me, I saw hey, I’m clearly not the only person that is interested in doing this. Maybe there are other people out there who want this information, too. That is really why I decided to write the e-book.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome, great. Where can people find it? We’ll link to it in the show notes as well and the blog. For those that aren’t able to get to that, where should they go to find it?

Erin Clarke: It’s super easy. You can just go to my site, wellplated.com, and then if you look in that very top navigation menu, there’s a tab that says e-book. If you click on it, there’s a whole page that tells you everything that the e-book is about. You can see a table of contents there, a few different sample pages, so you can take a look and see if it’s something that might be a good fit for you. Then that page has a link to purchase as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome, great! Like I said, we’ll link to that in the show notes. Erin, thanks so much for coming on the podcast! Really interesting to talk to you about the process, and congratulations on one year of the rebrand. So cool!

Erin Clarke: Thank you!

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Erin Clarke: Thanks for having me. It’s an honor to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Sounds good. Thanks, Erin. Hey, that’s a wrap for episode 31. Thanks again to Erin for coming on the podcast. Really, really appreciate your insight. One more congratulations to you for coming up on your one year anniversary here of changing to Well Plated, and I know that a lot of people will find a lot of valuable information from this podcast interview. Hey, I’m now going to thank you, the individual that’s listening to this, wherever you are around the world. I think it’s so cool that we can do this, that we can interview people, that we can share information, and hopefully help you along on your journey. We couldn’t do what we do if it wasn’t for people like you that tune in every week, so on behalf of Lindsay, and myself, and the Food Blogger Pro Team, thank you so much for following along with what we’re doing and listening in to this podcast. We really appreciate it. We will see you same time same place next week. Until then, make it a great week. Thanks, guys.

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