How Elise Bauer Built Simply Recipes and Recovered from a 70% Drop in Traffic – FBP016

Welcome back, friends! On this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, Bjork interviews the maker of one of the most popular food blogs in the world – Elise Bauer from Simply Recipes.

Last week, we heard from Dianne Jacob, the author of the book and blog Will Write for Food. Dianne talked about everything you always wanted to know about working with a publisher, and also gave some great advice for beating writer’s block. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

How Elise Bauer Built Simply Recipes and Recovered from a 70% Drop in Traffic

There are people who have been blogging for a long time. And then there are people who have been blogging since before blogging was a thing. Elise is one of those people, and you could definitely say she was at the forefront of the food blogging tidal wave. Today, she runs one of the most popular food blogs in the world, and is here to tell us about the journey – which has definitely included its fair share of ups and downs.

In this candid interview, Elise shares:

  • How she started her blog and got her domain name
  • The decisions she made when getting started to promote her success
  • Why she buys good photography equipment
  • What Panda updates are and how Google now looks at new content
  • How search engine algorithm updates can affect your blog
  • How she recovered from a major traffic dropoff
  • How she uses Pin scheduling to keep bringing in traffic for popular recipes
  • What keeps her motivated even after blogging for over 13 years

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Transcript:

Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to Episode number 16 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Hey there, my name is Bjork Ostrom. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. This is podcast dedicated to two things, food and the internet, which sounds a little bit strange. The idea here is we talk to people that have a love of food and are using the internet to help build a brand or business. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of people that are doing that. One of those people is Elise Bauer.

Elise is the blogger behind the Simply Recipes. For those that aren’t familiar, Simply Recipes is one of the most popular food blogs in the world, literally in the entire world. I’m so excited to talk to her about her story, and how she has built Simply Recipes over the years. One of the things that I love about Elise is her generous and authentic spirit. Elise is also a great example of this idea that we talked about a lot, which is 1% infinity.

For those that aren’t familiar, this concept is all about sticking with something for the long-term, and getting a little bit better, just 1% better along the way each and every day. I think you’ll really come to understand how that ties into Elise’s story. She talks about the different ups and downs. She’s had to persevere through the years as she’s continued to build and grow Simply Recipes.

It’s an incredible interview. I’m so excited to share it with you. Let’s jump in. Elise, welcome to the podcast.

Elise Bauer: Hello Bjork, and hello everybody.

Bjork Ostrom: A crazy world that we live in, where we can chat here on Skype. We can record it, and publish it out to the world. What we’re going to be talking about today is going to be a lot of awesome stuff. I know that you have some great stories, and a lot of experience. Before we jump into that, Elise, I’m curious. This is my nerd question. I’m going to get it out there right off the bat the nerd question. I’m curious, if you were to jump in to Google right now, if you were to look at one of my favorite little stats of all time, real-time analytics, how many people, just maybe a range or if you have it pulled up, would be on Simply Recipes right now? Do you have any idea for that?

Elise Bauer: 2,483.

Bjork Ostrom: Crazy! That’s so amazing. Can you see the little dot, where one of them is in Saint Paul, Minnesota? If you see that, that’s me. I’m one of those. I’m honored to be a part of it. The reason that I asked that number one is it’s just the nerdy question that I enjoy. I want to start with the end just so people have an idea of where Simply Recipes is at. It’s a really established site. What I want to do now is I want to o back a little bit. I want to go back to 2003 when Simply Recipes first started. Do you remember, I’m curious, the first ever recipe you posted?

Elise Bauer: Oh my gosh! I think it was oxtail stew.

Bjork Ostrom: Is that one that you still make today?

Elise Bauer: Yes. It’s a recipe that I grew up with. It’s unusual. You don’t usually go out to a restaurant, and find oxtail stew. It was one that early on, I just really wanted to make. I called my parents to say, "How do you make this?" They told me.

Bjork Ostrom: When you were starting out with that, you knew that you were going to make this. At that point, you probably knew that you were going to post it to this thing called a blog. How in the heck did you ever come to the point where you said, "I’m going to start a blog, and I’m going to post recipes?" Was it happenstance? Did you know know, "I want to do this, and go all in?" What did that look like, and how did you get to that point?

Elise Bauer: What happened was actually in 2001, I started collecting my family’s recipes, and hand coding them into pages on my elise.com website, and creating navigation of every page by hand. In order to put a recipe on my little website, it took several, several hours of coding in HTML. This was before I knew the blogging software existed.

One day, a friend of mine sent me an email saying, "Hey, you should start a blog." I just, "What the heck is that?" He said, "Google it." I Googled it, and found, "Oh my gosh, I could publish recipes in a template on this thing called the blog. I wouldn’t have to hand code all the navigation by myself." It was this revelation.

For me, blogging was just an easier way of publishing, because what I really wanted to do, I had this idea back then that I wanted to take anything I thought of value that was rattling around in my brain, and put it out there on the internet, so I could access it from anywhere, and also anybody else could too.

I just wanted to share anything that I had in my head that I thought was useful. Recipes were really useful. That’s how it started. I actually started five blogs all at once, because I had lots of different things rattling around in my brain. The recipe blog is the one that took off, so that was the one that I focused my efforts on.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m guessing at that point, it wasn’t WordPress. It was probably a different type of blogging platform, is that right?

Elise Bauer: Yes. Actually, it was a blogging platform called Movable Type, which was Perl based. That’s for the geek in you.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure, any time, you can throw that stuff in. I’m all game.

Elise Bauer: I wasn’t a programmer, but I was very curious. I just dove into learning how to use this software. I ended up also creating a blog called "Learning Movable Typing," which I wrote over 100 tutorials on how to use it, and sort of a lot of things that you and Lindsay do with teaching other food bloggers the great practices, which is just so wonderful that you do that. I totally get it. That’s great.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that we found is one of the best ways to learn is to teach. It’s a great practice for us, and also beneficial for other people hopefully. You started on Movable Type. I’m guessing that Simply Recipes isn’t on Movable Type anymore, is that correct?

Elise Bauer: That’s correct. It’s been on WordPress now for several years.

Bjork Ostrom: You’re on WordPress. You switched over. I’m interested on the story side of things. The domain Simply Recipes, man, that’s one of the awesomest food blog domains there is. How did you come across that, and how did you get that? Was it one that you registered on your own?

Elise Bauer: No. The name of my blog was Simply Recipes before I actually had the domain. The domain wasn’t available, but I probably wasn’t even looking for it at that time when I started. I’ve put everything on elise.com. I came up with the name because I was asking my mom what should I call this site. I had been calling it Real Food Recipes by Elise, but I thought that was a little pretentious or just long or something. I said, "Mom, it’s just simple recipes, but I don’t want to call it simple recipes." She said, "Why not call it Simply Recipes, honey?"

Bjork Ostrom: Way to go mom.

Elise Bauer: Way to go mom, OK. The domain wasn’t available. However, it looked like someone would be willing to sell it, because it was one of those parked domains, but I figured if I approach this guy … By this point, I was calling my website Simply Recipes. It was in my blog, Simply Recipes, and had been for a year or two, and had some traction.

I thought, "I shouldn’t be the person who is approaching him. If I do, all he has to do is Google my name. He’ll see that I’ve got a website called Simply Recipes. He’ll want to charge me thousands and thousands of dollars." I got a friend of mine who had no online connection to me. He was just a good friend, but we weren’t connected in social. Actually, there wasn’t social media back then.

Bjork Ostrom: It just makes sense that you weren’t connected on it.

Elise Bauer: There was no way to connect the two of us from the outside. He emailed the seller, and saying, "Hi, my name is so and so. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to sell the domain simplyrecipes.com. I want to get it for my wife for Christmas, because she wants to start a website. I think this would be great for her. I’d like to pay around $400, $500 for it. I’d be willing to go up to $700."

Bjork Ostrom: We’d really stretch at the top.

Elise Bauer: Really stretched, and within minutes, he got a reply saying, "We couldn’t possibly part with this for less than $700, but if you’re willing to let it go for $700, then you can have it." My friend bought it for me. Then he just transferred over it to me. It was great.

Bjork Ostrom: I like the story with that, being that involved both your mom and your friend coming together to help Simply Recipes come to be really, really cool.

Elise Bauer: Also, it’s useful for others. If you haven’t actually secured your domain name, but you have a website that uses that name, and someone wants to be selling the name, you shouldn’t be the person that approaches them, because you’re not coming from a good negotiating position.

Bjork Ostrom: They can see how much you have in the game. It means a lot to you. I want to talk a little bit more about the history of Simply Recipes. One thing I’m excited to chat about and to hear about is the things that you’ve seen changed over the years. Before we get into that, I want to hear the different stages that you went through.

I want to go back to those first few years. When you were posting recipes in those first few years, did you know this was going to be something you wanted to build into a career or a full-time job? Was it a hobby? Were you doing it full time? How much time did you dedicate to it? I’d be interested to hearing the infant stages of Simply Recipes.

Elise Bauer: I’ve been collecting recipes for a while. About the time that I put them on a blog, I was going through some really severe health issues to the point where I was no longer able to take care of myself. I had severe chronic fatigue, and I couldn’t work. I ended up having to move home with my parents right around that same time that the hand-coded recipes, I started putting them into a blog.

I arrived home in Sacramento. I had been trying to learn to cook from a distance from my parents for the previous couple of years. Now, here I was living with them, and I was too sick to work on a regular job, but everybody eats. Here I am at home with my parents who are fabulous home cooks, so I just started documenting what they were doing, and documenting the meals that they were making, and hovering over my mom and dad when they were cooking, and taking good notes and posting them.

This way, early on, I was able to gather some of our favorite recipes. Mostly, I wasn’t doing the cooking. They were, and I was documenting. The funny thing is I liked to joke that they just wouldn’t even let me cook that first year, because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was learning from them. I was the apprentice. The first couple of years, it was a lot like that. It was mostly me learning from them, documenting what they were doing, and writing about it.

Bjork Ostrom: Did you take pictures as well, or was it just texts?

Elise Bauer: I took pictures as well with a really small point and shoot camera.

Bjork Ostrom: Like a Canon powershot or something like that.

Elise Bauer: Like pre, like a Fuji film digital camera. I actually just found the camera in an old box, and told my mom that it was time to throw it away, 12 years old, not very useful.

Bjork Ostrom: You can retire this camera. It’s done its job.

Elise Bauer: Back then, it was a lot easier. You just took one little picture, and any picture was … There wasn’t as much focus on incredibly drop-dead gorgeous photography. The tools weren’t there, so the photography wasn’t as good, but the standards were lower than they are now. I should just say the standards are much higher than they were back then. It was just easier and faster, so I could easily write up a recipe that we had made. My headnotes were three sentences.

I got to talk about my family. That’s really how it started. Then I’ve lived with my parents for seven years. As I live with them, I gradually got better physically and got much better at cooking, and better at photography, and better at writing, and better at recipe development, all of it. Over those years, the site slowly grew. I also started making money on it.

I started it as something where here I am stuck at home. I might as well learn how to cook, and put it on a blog. I don’t know how long I’m going to be living with my parents. I don’t know how long I’m going to be sick. It took years to recover from. I figured, "While I’m here, I may as well do something useful with my time, and learn how to cook, and put it out there on the blog."

Back then, the blog might have been making a dollar a day from AdSense revenue. It wasn’t anything that I thought would ever be huge. I thought if I kept that, maybe it would actually make enough money to pay rent, which would give me more freedom to find work that I cared about. Then things grew. They didn’t grow overnight. It took years.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m interested to hear actually about that. There’s probably some point where you had to come to the decision across roads of, "I feel recovered enough to enter back into whether it would be back into the technology field which is where you were before, correct, or to take this other path which involves building and growing this site that I’ve created."

I’m interested to hear about that point. Was there a tipping point that made you think, "I think this is something I can build, and build into a job, into a career?" Was it more of like, "I’m going to take this jump, and fingers crossed that if things continue to grow, then it will be able to sustain me as a job?"

Elise Bauer: The thing that I had that a lot of people don’t is that I was living at home. My main expenses, rent, and food were taken cared of by parents. It was a low risk situation. I didn’t have to jump off of anything. By the time I was well enough to actually leave home, and get back out there in the real world, the website was already doing so well that it made no sense for me to go and find a different job.

The other thing I discovered while I was doing this is that that food and cooking is all about love and nourishment. It’s so life affirming. It’s so much more interesting and life affirming than anything I had ever done before then that … I’m one of these serial learners. I’m happiest when I’m learning something new. My gosh, food blogging, it’s just the steepest learning curve.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s no stopping.

Elise Bauer: There’s no stopping. Every day, you look up, and all you can do is see there’s just so much to learn. It’s not just about the food, which is taste and nutrition, and chemistry, and biology, and culture, and history. There’s also the artistry of the photography, which is technical, but it’s visual.

Then there is all of the writing skills that are required, and the technical skills that are required for running a website, knowing things that you can do yourself and things that you can hire out for. It’s incredibly challenging. I love a challenge. This is the most fun, interesting, life affirming, and challenging thing that I’ve ever done.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s so awesome. One of the things that on the podcast a few times we’ve brought up is the importance of enjoying the process, not the end to which we’re envisioning it leading to. You’ll never get there. It’s the process. As much as possible if you can enjoy the work, we all say The Work, capital T, capital W, then it’s beneficial.

Even if it’s not something that you are doing full time or that your job or whatever it is, if you can still enjoy the process as much as possible, it can be life giving. I think that’s important that we don’t as people in general doing work or The Work that we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves.

Elise Bauer: The other thing is if it shows up too much as work, as something that is like a dark cloud hanging …

Bjork Ostrom: Lower case W.

Elise Bauer: Something that you have to do that is burdensome, then the creativity doesn’t operate very well under those feelings. To do well at this requires creativity, and to be really creative in a positive way. You have to be happy about it. Someone once told me, it’s like, "If you want to be a marathon runner, it’s great finishing the marathon, but you really need to like to run."

Bjork Ostrom: For sure, so not just finish the marathon, you have to enjoy the process of running.

Elise Bauer: That’s what you’re going to be doing. When you’re blogging, it’s like producing a paper, or a magazine, or something where you’re constantly publishing. There’s not something necessarily you’re working. There is not necessarily a specific endpoint that you’re working to, or at least not that I’m working to. I’m just trying to put out better content every day.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome, and get a little bit better along the way, which I think is great. There’s one thing that I want to go back to that I think was a really good point that we can pull from your story. That’s this idea of those early stages where you said it was low risk, and that you didn’t have a ton of expenses. It reminds me a lot of there’s a guy named Paul Graham. He was a part of this thing called Y Combinator.

I’m not super familiar with it, but the idea is that it’s a startup incubator. They take small companies and they start up, so maybe one or two people, and they help grow those into huge companies. Airbnb is an example or Dropbox. Companies like that started in Y Combinator, and then they grew from there. One of the concepts that he talks about a lot is this idea of ramen profitability or the idea that …

Maybe this is applicable for food bloggers. Maybe not though because it’s ramen, but the idea that when you’re first starting out with the business, you’re eating ramen, so you can be profitable. You keep your expenses so low that the expenses are less than the revenue, and therefore it’s ramen profitability.

I think that’s a really important takeaway for people that are listening that they don’t dive in, spend a ton of money getting their site up to date, or paying for this huge redesign. Maybe use a free theme with the blog for a while as you’re getting started with it, and realizing that you’re going to stay committed to it, or testing it out.

Elise Bauer: My blog has been profitable from day one, because I didn’t have any expenses.

Bjork Ostrom: Exactly, I think there’s something so smart about that. One of the things that I wanted to touch on that was a part of the stuff that you had just said was this idea of when you’re first starting out, and some of the content that you had to produce and continue producing, and you’re taking these photos. It got to a point where it was eventually something where you said, "Hey, I’m going to jump in, and I’m going to work on this full time."

Obviously, there’s a lot of hurdles along the way with that. I’m interested to hear when you were first getting started or maybe that first phase, whatever that would be, what were some of the hurdles that you had to overcome? How did you overcome those? It’s a high-level question, but I’m guessing that you maybe have some examples of things that you had to overcome, and examples of how you overcame that.

Elise Bauer: Early on, it was different. It was much smaller. There were technical hurdles early on because when we started, I was doing everything. I was doing my own programming. At some point, CSS or the style of the site that the code skills required to style my site were greater than I had. Not only was I not a designer, but CSS is completely different than HTML. In order to have a beautiful site, I either need to greatly increase my own skills, and be a website designer, or hire somebody.

That’s one hurdle. There’s that first stage we go. There is this point to which you can do everything yourself when you’re starting. In fact, you should do everything yourself when you start. Then at some point when you know, "I want to continue to do this. I’m really excited about this. This is giving me something, whether it’s money or such enjoyment, that it’s worth it to me to hire someone else to make this more beautiful and more usable," then you do that.

Website design is such a specialized skill that unless you are a designer, it’s really, really, really difficult to do it on your own. That was one of the hurdles. Fortunately because I had been writing now these tutorials from Movable Type, I was part of that community of developers even though I wasn’t a developer. I was able to connect with somebody, Jesse Gardner, who at that time was a website designer, and worked with Movable Type. I was able to hire him to design my site.

We have maintained a great friendship over the years to the point that a few years ago, I hired him full time to Simply Recipes. That was one of the first ones. I don’t know. I think one of the things that I personally struggled with early on was how much to reveal about what was actually going on with me personally, and what’s private and what’s public.

I felt so physically and emotionally vulnerable, because I was so physically weak that I couldn’t see my site, and feel I was strong enough to be able to handle criticism and judgment that would be thrown my way if I revealed too much about what was going on with me. I didn’t.

That’s something that also early on the people have to look to see, "What am I going to reveal about myself? What do I feel comfortable revealing about myself?" You don’t have to. I tell the stories I want to tell. I also found early on, when blogging first came out, one of the things that was so remarkable about it was that we went from from I could call static page publishing to creating dynamic environments, where people could comment on them.

Back in 2001, 2003, that was huge. That was the thing that that completely changed publishing everywhere. It was very hard for people who came from a print background or hadn’t encountered this before, and none of us had encountered this before at this point, to accept. How do we deal with all these people commenting on our content who we don’t even know?

Bjork Ostrom: It’s such an interesting thing to think about, because it’s so common place now. When you say that transitioned from print, the reality that people are used to putting the newspaper out or putting the magazine out, and they transitioned into that being online, where it’s like, "OK. Maybe you have something that looks like a magazine page." Then the idea that you will open up, and there is this little portal for people to put their own two cents in is a really big change.

Elise Bauer: How do you manage that when the trolls show up, and people are mean? It was more oflooking out at this situation saying, "I don’t want my website to be a home for trolls. My website’s way too personal. My blog is way too personal. For me, it’s like my dining room. If you as an invited guest come and start saying horrible things in my dining room, I’m going to escort you to the door."

Bjork Ostrom: You can leave now.

Elise Bauer: You can leave now. Photography is one of the greatest challenges in food blogging. It was then, and it’s just as much now. Taking the time to teach myself how to take better and better photos, being willing to buy the equipment. When I first started out, people would say, "It’s all about the photographer. It’s not about the camera."

I would say, "Yes, if you’re a great photographer, you could take good pictures on anything. If you’re not a great photographer, you need all the help you can get. I need all the help I can get. I need a good equipment, because it’s too hard for me to do it on equipment that’s not great." That’s an ongoing challenge.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s interesting. I want to transition a little bit, and talk about a little bit more. Maybe it’s not totally present day, but we talked about the first half those growing years where it was all about commitment. It was consisting content. It was figuring out these new systems and dynamic content.

There’s this second half of the site where it’s moved into, or I’d assume that it moved into, some pretty intentional strategy. One of the things that I would love to talk about with Simply Recipes is just the force that it is on Google. If I know your story right, a lot of the traffic to Simply Recipes comes from organic search or essentially people searching for a recipe on Google, is that right?

Elise Bauer: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Percentage wise if you had a pie graph, do you know what that would be approximately?

Elise Bauer: Between 80 and 90% of traffic comes from search. Almost all of that’s from Google.

Bjork Ostrom: Part of that is the authority that your site has, and that it’s been around for a long time, and there is trust given to that. As we were talking about before this conversation, there was also potentially a reason why that could have been detrimental. That goes back to this cute, adorable animal called panda. Can you talk about what Panda is, and the significance that it holds for websites and search?

Elise Bauer: Anybody in search engine optimization world will tell you that Google’s main goal is to deliver search results that are high-quality. That they want the best-quality search results for people searching for content. To do that, they have algorithms that use all sorts of different ranking factors to figure out how the results are ranked. The algorithms changed over time.

Google’s always adjusting them. When Google updates their algorithm, I don’t know what they call it internally, but maybe it’s just the SEO industry calls it something. There is a particular type of update called the Panda Update. The Panda has to do with quality of the content. Now, Google has in their algorithm, they have certain things. This is all black box. It’s not like, "I know you can see the algorithm."

Bjork Ostrom: Classic Google is Google does as Google wants, and doesn’t really tell you much about it.

Elise Bauer: I’ve even heard that the people inside, the people that work on the algorithm, are not allowed to talk to people outside of Google. It’s really a black box even within Google. They come out with these updates. There’s a Panda Update that gets updated every so often. What ends up happening is that Google changes some of the variables in their algorithm. That can severely negatively affect your traffic if you are dependent on search engine traffic.

For example, it used to be that Google, if you had a website or if you had content that had been around for a long time, that URL was 10 years old, Google used to think that that was a good thing, or the algorithm used to reward you for being around for a long time. They would figure, "Well if you’re around for a long time, then you must be useful." In one of the more recent Panda updates, they appeared to have reversed that. Instead of older content ranking better, they were giving higher rank to newer content.

Bjork Ostrom: Is that, just to clarify, the content or the URL? It is maybe hard to say for sure.

Elise Bauer: It’s not the URL. It’s the content. They want fresh content, not stale content. That’s new. The algorithm didn’t use to work that way. This is something that’s pretty new. The other thing that Google has been focusing on lately is site usability. They’re looking at metrics of how usable your site is to people on desktops, people coming from cell phones. The reality of what’s happened about how people access web pages now is that over 50% of web pages are accessed through mobile phones.

Most websites out there are not mobile friendly. It’s one of those things that the Google search algorithm, they wanted to deliver the best results for people searching, so if your site is mobile-friendly, then you are going to show up better in mobile search. Things like that come into play with the algorithm.

What ends up happening is that every six months, or every year, or every two years when Google does a major update, it can completely change your rankings and your traffics. A year ago, May, Google did a huge Panda update, and I lost half of my traffic in one day, just gone half of it.

Bjork Ostrom: If you were to log into Google Analytics, you’d see whatever the day it was made.

Elise Bauer: May 20th, I think.

Bjork Ostrom: You probably know the exact date.

Elise Bauer: I love that day.

Bjork Ostrom: Then May 21st, it was literally half of that.

Elise Bauer: It was half of that. I thought there was something wrong. Did our site go out? I just started poking around to figure out what was going on, and became pretty clear pretty quickly that it was the Panda update. My site was even written about in some of the search engine magazines as an example of a major website that lost a significant amount of traffic.

Bjork Ostrom: I remember reading a search engine land article. They are listing the sites that were impacted negatively. It was like, "I know this site. This maybe is familiar." Then SimplyRecipes.com, and I thought, "What? Oh no." Would you be willing to provide numbers in terms of what that might look like from May 20th to May 21st just so people have an idea of what that would be in reality? Percentages make sense.

Elise Bauer: From a traffic perspective, I was at a run rate of about 24 million page views per month. The next day, we dropped to 12 million page views per month. You’d have to divide that by 30 to get to the daily. Then a few months later, that’s about a year ago, in July, it got pushed down even further. By July, I was down about 70%, down to less than nine million coming from what should have been at that time around 25, 26 million page views per month.

Bjork Ostrom: What was your thought process at that point other than for me, it would have been complete panic?

Elise Bauer: Let’s see. I was really panicked. This is my sole source of income. It is my retirement. It is everything. This is what I live off of. Not only that, I have a full-time employee who has a wife and three kids, who I support through Simply Recipes. It’s just to what extent am I going to be knocked out of the index.

I hired a couple search engine companies to help me try to figure out what was going on. That helped a little bit, but not completely. The most advice they gave me was that they were so many thousands of places, of websites that are copying my content that Google couldn’t see that mine was original content anymore. I spent several months chasing down copiers of my content. I filed over 5,000 DMCA complaints. I got a lot of people mad at me for taking legal action.

Bjork Ostrom: You’re like, "Wait, let’s keep in mind, you are copying my content. Let’s get this right. Who should be mad at who here?"

Elise Bauer: Here’s the thing, Bjork, it didn’t do any good. Even though I had gotten rid of copies, even though I would rewrite the content, it actually made no difference. The one thing that did make a difference in terms of recovery was to republish my most popular recipes, to republish them almost as new recipes. Rewrite them. Rephotograph them. Bring them forward. Promote the heck out of them in social media.

When I did that, then they recovered somewhat in the search rankings. There’s a whole discussion of how to recover from that, but there’s also the discussion of how is it that Simply Recipes is so utterly dependent on search traffic, which is not a good thing.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that?

Elise Bauer: It’s not a good thing because Google will change their algorithm. They did last May. They will continue to do so. I have my fingers crossed that I am going to be in a good position, but I don’t really know. I think when you are so dependent on any one source for your traffic, whether it’s Pinterest, or Google, or Facebook, people have been having a lot of issues with Facebook changing how they do things. Then that’s a problem, because you’re too dependent on one source.

When that source shifts too much, you can lose a substantial amount of traffic. For me the lesson was, "I have been ignoring social media for years. Now, I can’t ignore it anymore, because it’s a great source of traffic for many websites." I just haven’t invested any time in it, because I haven’t needed to. I’ve been so successful with getting traffic from Google search. Now that that is so clearly not stable, then I need to look at other ways of getting the word out about my site.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s two things I want to ask about that. First is obviously you’ve done a very good job with search. I don’t want to ignore that. I’m curious to know are there things that you’re doing when you craft a post, where you’re crafting it in a way that you think might help or maybe you know will help in terms of the search ability for it?

Also, within that question, double question, could you talk about what that refresh process looks like? I’m curious to know what that looks like, and how you go about picking a post to refresh and then what you do when you go in and actually do the refresh.

Elise Bauer: I don’t pay that much attention to SEO. I just don’t. I will think that if someone is searching for this recipe, what search terms would they use, which is why my titles tend to be pretty generic.

Bjork Ostrom: Zucchini bread.

Elise Bauer: Zucchini bread, that’s what people are looking for.

Bjork Ostrom: On my end, it’s top two. It’s the second one there next to all recipes, which is like, "Whoa, there’s a lot of people that search zucchini bread in a day."

Elise Bauer: I’ve just republished that one. It has been on page three a few days ago. This is when I say things will recover when I republish them, because Google likes more fresh content.

Bjork Ostrom: When was the original published date on that, just out of curiosity?

Elise Bauer: If you look at the post, that might say 2008, between 2007 and 2010, but I think 2008, something like that.

Bjork Ostrom: Just as an aside, it almost feels like I don’t want to say an error, but it feels like recipes were included in an algorithm decision that shouldn’t include recipes. It makes sense for tech news or just general news, articles, or content that if something is from 2008, it’s probably not relevant.

If a recipe is from 2008, chances are it’s not going to be that different. It’s still going to be a good recipe. Nonetheless, there’s this algorithm, and it’s maybe not intelligent enough to know that a recipe is a recipe. It’s an interesting observation of the algorithm.

Elise Bauer: Here’s the thing, Bjork. I don’t know if that’s actually … I mean, that’s my guess, but maybe they’re not looking at things like … Maybe they’re looking at the amount of photos on a page now. We really tried to limit the kilobytes on a page because didn’t have as fast access to the internet as they do now. Now because we’re moving more towards the visual web, having bigger, larger photos and many more of photos can … Before, it used to hurt you because it would slow the site down. Now, it doesn’t hurt you, and may in fact help you. Who knows?

Bjork Ostrom: What you said about the idea with SEO, I think there’s general principles you can apply. You want to use terms that people search for, or maybe you want to label your files in a way that it’s describing what’s in it. For a food blog, the one thing that’s the tangible SEO takeaway is the idea of schema markup, and the idea that recipes can be labeled in a way that communicates to Google that it’s a recipe, which you can do by a custom recipe plugin. You can use one that’s available in the WordPress directory for plugins.

What I like about what you said is this idea that you’re not trying to craft content just for Google. That’s so important, because what Google is trying to do or any search engine is figure out what is best for people. If you can make content that’s really good for people, eventually, Google is going to catch up to that even if it’s not there right now. Then there’s also the reality of these weird quirks, where you have this sixth sense, "If you publish up-to-date content, maybe they’re going to show higher." It’s really an art and a science SEO is.

Elise Bauer: One of the things that I think is going on is I think that Google is listening more and more to social signals. They’ve said over the last couple of years, "We listen to social signals," which means that they take into account the number of places your content is showing up on social media like Pinterest, or Facebook, or Twitter. I think they’re listening more.

From just what I can see, it looks like … The thing that I do is I republish something, and I also make sure I share it out on social media, because it seems to make a difference in search. That’s the other thing that Google is focusing more on than they used to.

Bjork Ostrom: It makes sense, and that the potential for them to use social as an indicator for relevance of content. If you have a Pinterest post that whatever is viral, maybe there’s higher potential for that to be a recipe that people would actually enjoy or that would be a good fit for their search.

I’m interested out of all the social media stuff, there’s a lot of them, Google Plus, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram. We could go on and on and on. MySpace, we can put that in there if you want to include that. Where are you focusing most of your social time right now, social media?

Elise Bauer: Pinterest.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s good, period. What are you doing specifically with Pinterest? I know that you’re very intentional about this stuff. Could you talk a little bit about what that looks like for you?

Elise Bauer: Here is the thing. About a year ago, I met with Susan from Ahalogy. She’s wonderful. She is their community manager. I told her, "I don’t understand. How come I’m not getting any traction on Pinterest? I pin at least once a day." She looked at me, "How many pins do you do a day?" I said, "Like I said, at least one pin a day." She looked at me like a kind grandmother talking to a five-year-old. She’s actually very, very, very nice about it.

She said, "Well, no, if you really want to get any traction in Pinterest, you have to pin at least 15 pins a day at least, and up to 50, 60, 70." I looked at her, "Are you kidding? Fifty pins a day? How is that even possible? I would be pinning all day." She said, "Yes." Not that that’s what I do all day, but over the last year, I’ve certainly had to spend a lot more time pinning. Up until then, I had not really at all.

Also, most of my photography has been in landscape, and not portrait orientation. Pinterest loves portrait orientation. For the last year, I had either been reshooting or recropping photos so that they’re in a portrait orientation, which makes them much more pinnable. That is the bulk of the work that I’m doing that would be supporting Pinterest.

Then I’m also creating collage pins, what I call DIY pins, pins that show the process of making something, and pinning them and participating in group boards. Pinning other people’s things as well. It’s a lot of time. I now have to balance it up, because that’s the part of what I do that doesn’t bring me joy. It’s just too much sitting in front of the computer, so I’ve scaled back a little bit. Rather than pinning to every group board I have, I focused on the group boards that are the most popular, and try to make sure I pin a few times there.

Bjork Ostrom: Was that like when you’re doing that, where you sit down? You log into Pinterest. You pick a pin. You do that. Do you schedule those?

Elise Bauer: I do both. I use Viraltag for scheduling. What I do now is I’ll pin something, and I’ll wait to see how well it does. If it does really well, I will schedule it out for over a year.

Bjork Ostrom: A year from now, that’s planning ahead. I like that. A high-performing Pinterest pin, you notice that, and you say, "One year from now, do this again."

Elise Bauer: Yes. Actually, I’ll schedule it out every couple of weeks for 12 to 15 months, and putting them in different group boards, so it’s not all going to the same board. That way, I’m not pinning the same pin to the same board more than once a year.

Bjork Ostrom: I feel like it’s a great example Elise of your continual ability and willingness to learn and do new things. In some ways, it’s not starting from zero by any means, because you have all of these followers and people that are engaged in what you’re doing. In a lot of ways, you’re learning a new thing, and you’re diving into it. I think that is awesome and a huge part of why you’ve been able to grow your site to what it is today.

As we’re coming to the end here, I feel like I could talk for a really, really long time to you, but I want to be respectful of your time. As we’re coming to the end here, I want to hone in on that a little bit, and that idea of the long-term.

One thing that we always try and talk to and about and with people that are doing any type of creative work really, whether it’s building a food-related site or a food brand or a food blog, or really anything is this idea of long-term commitment, and continually getting a little bit better each and every day, and doing that for the long term.

You’re a great example of that as you’ve committed to this thing for a long time, and you’ve gotten better a long the way. I’m curious if you have any insight, or advice, or just general feedback for people that are processing this, and what mindsets they might adopt in order to look at it as not a three-week thing, not a three-month thing, but a three plus year thing. How do people commit to the long-term?

Elise Bauer: I think, sometimes people start blogging because they think it’s something they should do, and then they get into it, and they realize it doesn’t bring them as much joy as they thought it would. For me, I have to constantly keep looking for the aspects of this that really make me happy. Getting into the kitchen and making stuff makes me happy. Cooking with other people makes me happy.

Going out to restaurants and finding a cool dish that I could do a riff off of on my side makes me happy. I just want to share great food, sharing great recipes, sharing great food. I want people to eat really well, and enjoy cooking, and make wonderful meals for their families. That’s what fuels me forward. I have to be very sensitive to what are the things about all of this process that’s wiped me out of energy, and what are the things that keep me inspired, and keep me happy about doing this.

One of the things that can be challenging for me sometimes is coming up with good ideas, because it’s almost overwhelming. There are so many things out there that one could make. One of the things I’ve done is I work a couple times a month with a chef who used to work at Chez Panisse and also at the Zuni CafΓ©. She’s in her 60’s now, and has so much knowledge. I so much enjoy cooking with her.

We get together, and we just come and we develop recipes together. That’s a lot of fun. I learn a lot. She learns stuff too. We have fun with that. It’s structured, so I know what day she’s coming. I put everything else aside. We make tons of recipes that day, and then I have many, many, many days to process photos, and figure out if I’m going to make the recipe again, and play with it that way. I bring in some outside people to keep me inspired and also keep in a schedule.

That helps also when I get a change to cook with my parents. I no longer live with them anymore, so I don’t do as much cooking with them. When I do, that makes a lot of fun. I have to , again, for me personally, be very sensitive of things that suck away my energy. The whole legal stuck of chasing down copyright infringers, that just sucked away so much joy out of my being that I just do very, very little now. I just cant emotionally deal with it anymore.

Pinterest, I have to limit because it isn’t good for me physically to be staring in front of the screen pinning for hours. I went and bought a Fitbit. I noticed a lot of food bloggers have gotten into Fitbit craze. It’s really good. In fact, they can encourage each other with their morning walks. Again, you have food blogging. It’s cooking. It’s photographing, but a lot of this is in front of the computer, which is sedentary. I have to remind myself to get out there and move.

That’s something that if you’re not moving enough, that can dry you down too. If you’re in it for the long haul, there are things that you need to do to take care of yourself to make sure that the journey … It is the journey. There is no endpoint. What do you do to help this wonderful journey called food blogging stay interesting, and fun, and joyful just in whatever it is for you? What it is for me is I have to make sure I move every day. Then I’m also cooking with people I love to cook with.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s so important. A lot of times, people can look at somebody else doing something, and think they that have to replicate what they’re doing and do the exact same thing. There are so many options, and so what I hear you saying and I think is so wise is to find the things that you love, that give you lie, that you enjoy, and find ways to do more of those in order to sustain you, to make it enjoyable, to enjoy the process.

That’s an awesome note to end on. Before we wrap though, Elise, I want to know where can people find you and follow along with what you’re doing.

Elise Bauer: Let’s see, on simplyrecipes.com, Facebook.com/simplyrecipes. I’ve already got into Instagram lately. That’s just @simplyrecipes. Pinterest again is Pinterest.com/simpyrecipes. I’m all over those, and Twitter too, Simply Recipes.

Bjork Ostrom: Thank you so much Elise for coming on the podcast. I know that people are going to get a lot out of it. I had a ton of fun talking to you, a ton of value in the show, and just really, really enjoyed it. Thanks for your time today.

Elise Bauer: Thank you so much Bjork for having me on the show. It’s been a delight.

Bjork Ostrom: Really fun, thanks. That’s a wrap for episode number 16. Elise, thank you so much again for coming on, really, really appreciate you sharing your story, and appreciate all that you’ve done for this crazy world that is the food blogging community, such an honor to have you on the podcast.

One quick note here for everybody that’s listening, we have an email list that we call Blogging Tips and Tricks for Food Blogger Pro. If you want to be a part of that, you can sign up at foodbloggerpro.com/ebook. The reason that it’s slash ebook is because we have a little PDF download that’s called The 10 Mistakes that Bloggers Make and How to Fix them.

We talked about actually the 10 mistakes that Lindsay and I have made over the years with Pinch of Yum, and what we did to correct those. Nothing too complicated, but really helpful if you’re just getting started out or if you have been blogging for a while. After that, what will happen is you’ll get a weekly tip about blogging, just an inside tip or trick. If you want to check that out, again, it’s foodbloggerpro.com/ebook. With that, I will sign off. We will talk to you next week.

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7 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this interview with Elise! She is such a great example of the 1% infinity concept. I love what she said about finding joy in the process. It all comes back to that joy because building an audience (especially in an already crowded space like food blogging) can be really difficult and take a long time. If you aren’t happy doing it, you’ll burn out pretty fast.

    Sometimes as baby bloggers, we feel like we need to be great at everything (Pinterest! SEO! Photography! ALL the things!)…right from day 1, or even year 1. And that is (1) not fun and (2) not even possible!

    Side note to Bjork – I am late to the podcast party. So I have been catching up on episodes. Great job! Lots of valuable content.

  2. I am really liking these podcasts (and thank you so much for putting the transcript – I love being able to read it when I don’t have time to listen). I found it fascinating how a change in the google algorithm affected Elise’s traffic. I heard of this happening, but what Elise said really made me understand. I found Elise’s site years ago through google. It’s very interesting to hear how the big blogs work and what kind of issues they experience. It’s so important to continuously evolve, and it’s quite intimidating to people who are just getting started (like me – ha).

  3. Hi Bjork, thank you so much for the opportunity to be interviewed for this podcast! I truly enjoyed talking with you about my personal journey. I’ve enjoyed listening to several of your podcasts with other food bloggers too. Thanks so much for this series, it’s fascinating!

  4. I really enjoyed listening to Elise. She is an inspiration for me as a blogger and her personal story motivated me a lot. Thank you!