172: Dreaming Big with Olena Osipov

Welcome to episode 172 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Olena Osipov from iFOODreal about the importance of dreaming big in order to grow your blog.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Noelle Tarr from Coconuts & Kettlebells about strategically using a podcast to build a business. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Dreaming Big

Your goals, dreams, and aspirations shape the direction in which you take your business and blog, and Olena’s journey is a great example of that. You’ll learn how she stayed motivated and encouraged through all of the ups and downs of blogging and how she managed to take her blog full-time.

Olena is living the dream, and she talks all about how she did it in this episode!

In this episode, Olena shares:

  • What it was like to move from Ukraine to Canada
  • How she decided to start her blog
  • How she stayed motivated
  • How to keep going and connect with others
  • What her biggest mistake was
  • How she saw 75% growth in traffic
  • SEO recommendations she received
  • Why updating old recipes was so helpful

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Bjork Ostrom: In this episode, I share my favorite type of photos, and we talk to Olena from iFOODreal about her success story as a food blogger.

Hey, everybody. This is Bjork Ostrom. You are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. The podcast is brought to you by WP Tasty. If you haven’t checked out WP Tasty yet, be sure to go to wptasty.com to see the plugins that we offer for people specifically in the food blog space. Now, maybe you don’t have a food blog. Maybe you have a fashion blog or a DIY blog or a craft blog. There are some plugins that still would apply to you, so I would encourage you to go ahead and check that out. Specifically, I’m not even going to talk about the plugins, but specifically, go check those out, and then check out some of the testimonials from some of the people that use those plugins. You can see how they use them, what they like about them. We have a huge pool of testimonials from people that have used the plugins from WP Tasty.

Today’s Tasty Tip is all about photos. A lot of you that listen to this podcast are people that take photos, but I actually wanted to talk to you about using other people’s photos and, specifically, a favorite type of photo and a favorite type of stock photo, and that is the photo from … or the photos from Unsplash. It’s just unsplash.com. Many of you know stock photos. These are photos that somebody creates that you would use maybe if you are putting together a post and you want to have a picture of mountains or you want to have a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge or something like that. You probably don’t have that yourself unless you’ve made a recent trip to somewhere that has mountains or to San Francisco, so you need to use stock photos, but the hard thing is, a lot of times, stock photos can be really hard to find high quality ones and then really expensive once you do find those.

Unsplash is an awesome site to find super high-quality, free stock photos. You can see, if you go to the about page on Unsplash, they have this little link to something called Do Whatever You Want, and that’s what type of license you get with Unsplash photos. All photos published on Unsplash they say can be used for free, and you don’t have to attribute them, so these are just generous photographers that have opened up their library and specific photos that they have for you to use. If there’s a certain type of post that you’re doing where you need a stock photo, you can go to Unsplash and look for those.

An example of one that we used was, on Food Blogger Pro, if somebody signs in and their membership has expired, they see a little photo of a pug wearing this wraparound blanket thing in the desert, and we have a little message for them. That wasn’t one that we took. We just found that from Unsplash, so there might be some creative ways that you can find or that you need to use photos that aren’t necessarily food photos or photos that you would take, and a great place to get those would be Unsplash, and a great combination would be Unsplash with Canva where you can add some text and improve those photos and create some really, really cool design elements for free. If you want to find the photo that we have, I think if you searched pug blanket you’d maybe find the one that we’re talking about on Unsplash, so even if you don’t use it, you can try and find that photo. That is the Tasty Tip. It is the go-to place for free stock photos, and not only just free stock photos, but free high-quality stock photos.

All right. On today’s episode, we are talking with Olena Osipov, and she is from iFOODreal. Olena’s been somebody that we’ve been connected with through the years, and she reached out recently and said, “Hey, it could be an interesting podcast interview to talk about some of the things that I’ve applied from the Food Blogger Pro podcast and the result that that has had on growing and regaining some of the traffic that I had lost,” but then also growing the amount of traffic that she had. And she’s going to talk about what those specific episodes were, what she did to implement the things that she learned and implemented, the impact that that had, and at the end, she’s going to talk about where they’re at now.

She’s working full-time on her blog. She’s going to talk about her husband coming on, and a cool update, a big transition that they’re making that has to do with kind of finding this next step for what they’re doing. She’s going to talk about what that is and give some really great advice as long as … as well as inspiration along the way, so excited to share this interview with you. Olena, welcome to the podcast.

Olena Osipov: Hi. Thanks for having me, Bjork.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. We have traded some emails back and forth, but this is the first time for us ever, quote, unquote, meeting. It’s not officially meeting yet. As we were talking about and kind of formulating the plan for this interview, I just got more and more excited about it because I think people will find a lot of inspiration from it, not just about your blog with your story, but also the story of your life. You said you’ve kind of lived a couple lives, and I’m excited to talk about that as well because I think that’s important to hear about. Let’s start with this. You are currently in Canada, but you always weren’t in Canada. Before that, you lived in the ’Kraine, and made a really big move, before you were in your twenties. You were 19 years old.

So take us back to that point and talk through what that was like, doing a cross-country move.

Olena Osipov: Sure, yes. I was 19 when I immigrated from Kiev, Ukraine to a small town in Canada, in Alberta – Red Deer. It was not my wish, but I was a teenager and my mom decided that we should go and live a better life. Everybody knows America’s the land of opportunity.

So I ended up in Red Deer. I had to quit university in Ukraine; I already was taking 2 years, and I had to quit, and once we came to Red Deer we had no money. I literally had a hundred dollars (laughter) and we lived in a basement. My sister already lived in Canada by then so we stayed with her and I had to go to work.

I had a few jobs. My first job in Canada was a cleaner in a Casino. And then I moved up to a waitress, and then to a bartender, and that allowed to save me a good amount of money and I was able to start a business program at University of Calgary the next year.

So I moved to Calgary and I got my business degree in accounting and I met Alex when I started university. Alex is my husband, and he is Russian. And we got engaged, and yeah, once I graduated from university I started working in oil and gas; Calgary is a huge oil and gas industry. Accounting was never really my passion, it was more for my mom.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And what do you mean by that, when you say it was for your mom?

Olena Osipov: Well, Eastern European parents, they want you to be safe. And because Ukraine is not a land of opportunity, you have to go for a job that will always bring you income, so you will be able to survive. It’s really survival mode. So she said, “Oh, that’s going to be great. Everybody needs accountants all the time.” But I never really liked it.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Olena Osipov: So I was working as an accountant and I had my first child and lived in Calgary, and we were not super happy. There was not much to do, and Alex was like, “Why don’t we move to Vancouver?”

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Olena Osipov: So we packed everything, sold our house, and we moved to Vancouver. Once we got to Vancouver, and there was no oil and gas industry and that’s what my specialty was. So I said, “Well, accounting doesn’t look like an option, I don’t really like it. Let’s try selling real estate.”

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Olena Osipov: So I went and got my realtor license and I started selling real estate for, I would say, four years.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Olena Osipov: It was okay. It was great learning experience because you go from an office employee to being self-employed. It’s a completely different world.

And at that time I had my second child. And as I had my second child, I realized real estate is not a good career for me because the hours are hectic and you have two little kids at home and we have no family to help, so I couldn’t be that flexible. I was running out of patience. Real estate is a very customer-service oriented career (laughter) and I didn’t realize that and my kids needed more and more of me, and I’m like, “Uh, I don’t think I like real estate any more.” (laughter)

And at that time, I don’t know how I came across Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income Podcast, and I could not believe that a guy was making money onlnie…that was 2011. Back then, a thought of seeing a home and getting deposit into your bank account was so bizarre.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think it’s a really common thing for people to have this realization, once they have somebody that kind of lays that out and says, in the case of Pat, who’s a great teacher and blogger, and has a great podcast, and he’s been on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast before so be sure to check that out. But we kind of have a similar story where there’s a couple of these influential people that were like, “Hey, this is something that you can do,” and it kind of opens that door up in a way that you didn’t even know existed before, and it sounds like that was kind of the case for you.

Olena Osipov: Yeah, so I could not believe that it is possible. You have this guy, he tells you that’s what he’s doing, but until you see that money coming to your account you sit and stare at it and go, “Is it real money?” (laughter) It was really eye-opening. But at that point I was like, “Oh, what do I do? I don’t know, I am not good at what Pat is good at.” So you have to find your own thing, and that’s how I came across Pinch of Yum and then I started seeing your monthly income reports, and I go, “Hmm, okay. Well, if I could replace my, even, back then accounting job at the office which was $45,000 a year, that’s like $2,000 a month, I should be fine and I can stay home with the kids and work at my own time and have flexibility.” That was super super appealing.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting, just real quick there, I think one of the things that … that moment where you, “I see this, somebody doing it,” and then you kind of crunch the numbers a little bit and you say, “Okay, if I have this job that’s paying X amount. You know, maybe you’re getting a paycheck, $2,000 each time and you say, ”Okay, what would it take to replicate that?“ One of the things we talk about is this egg carton method, and if you haven’t seen that we’ll link to that in the show notes for people that are listening. But you have that moment of saying, ”I see somebody else doing this, I know that if somebody else does this then I can do that, but what exactly does that look like and what does it take for me in order to get there in terms of a numbers amount?”

So before you even started your blog, were you kind of thinking in that way? It sounds like even earlier on, you were going to business school, you were doing accounting. Were you always somebody who was kind of entrepreneurial and had that interest?

Olena Osipov: Yes. Once I started real estate, I started to promote myself online through different third party marketing real estate websites, and I really, really enjoy it. And I go, “Wow, this is cool. This is so much fun.” Because it’s really up to you. You can put in this much time and get in more reward, whereas if you go to an office job, you are so limited. You get your set salary, and that’s it. Where here, the sky is really the limit.

So yes, I was always interested in that. But the problem for me was that I was … In Canada we get maternity leave for a year and it’s paid. So I did have that, and to start a blog and not go back to work, you’re losing that income, right? So I’m like, “How do I make a jump and wait out this year or two before I start making those $2,000?” So I did my math and I came to a conclusion that if I keep my kids at home, I save $1,300 a month on daycare, and then I save so much money on office clothes and then I save so much money on commuting. So I did my math and then I’m like, “Well, I’m just a little bit off,” so I applied to be an exchange student host family so for a couple of years to supplement the income we hosted students from Mexico, Japan, and China, and that’s how I did it.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s so cool to hear on how intentional you were with that. And to say, “Okay, if I’m going to do this, if I’m going to make this work, here are the ways that I can help bridge that gap.” For Lindsey and I, our story was one of this very slow transition where we had our full-time jobs and we had our side-hustle, and the side-hustle was really early morning, lunch, and then evening. And that tipped over into our part-time hustle, where it was, you know, we still had our regular jobs but we reduced our hours. Then eventually got to the point where we said, “Okay, now essentially we’re working two full-time jobs, how do we just fully transition this over so we’re just working on this?”

And it sounds like kind of a different version of that for you with saying, “I know that I want to do this, I want to have flexibility in what I’m doing. I want to build my own thing where my raise becomes effective when I do.” The more effective you are, the better the thing is that you build, the more you earn from that, which is such a great thing to feel. And so you said, “Okay, how do I do this?” One of those pieces was saying, I know that I won’t be able to bridge that gap as quickly as I want, so what are the ways that we can add to that? And saying, “Okay, hosting exchange students.” And folding that in as part of the income stream to replace what you were doing.

So you’re kind of thinking creatively around it. It sounds like even with your blog, when you first started it, were you thinking, “Hey, I want to start this as a business and grow it into an income-producing asset?”

Olena Osipov: I just wanted to replace my $45,000 and I would have been completely happy. So Alex is a web-designer slash IT developer right now and he told me, “Why don’t you start a blog? It’s not going to cost you anything. Here is what Pat is saying you should do. It’s not going to cost you anything to start a blog.” And then I was so into fitness and eating healthy because I had the weight to lose after second child, and he was like, “Look. Take your passion, what you like to do, and let’s put it online.” And that’s how it went.

Bjork Ostrom: And that was in 2012, is that right? So that’s when you started?

Olena Osipov: Yes, it was November 2012.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So, launching things off, kind of thinking, “Okay, maybe I can be intentional about building a business with the initial goal of, ‘I want to see what I can do to replace the income from my normal job.’” At what point in the journey of that or along the way did you say, “Hey, I’m actually starting to get some traction,” or “I think this might work”? Because a lot of people would get into it and they’ll kind of fizzle out and say, “Oh, this is so much work, it’s not going to happen.” But how did you stay motivated and at what point did you think to yourself, “Hey I think this might actually be working”?

Olena Osipov: Alex says that I’m the most determined person he has ever met. He’s like, “I have never met a person that is so dedicated and just keeps going and just doesn’t give up.” You just have to stay on your course. I started with Google Ad Sense which generated $30 a month and then I saw it generated $80 and then, oh my goodness, it’s $150. So you do see this potential and you just understand that it can be more, you just don’t know how much more. But it can be. So I just kept going.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s one of the things that I think is so encouraging for people who are early-on is just that proof of concept, meaning you create something and you put it out there, and whatever it is, whether it’s a product or website that has ads on it, or a piece of software…I distinctly remember the first time we ever created anything and had it for sale was a Photoshop action, and it allowed you to create a little collage of photos and to do it in an automated way. Which, there’s lots of online software that does that now, so it’s not something that we stuck with. But I remember the first time anybody ever purchase that, and I thought, “Oh, this is possible.” And it sounds like, for you, those early stages of even $30 from Ad Sense was this confirmation that, hey, this thing is possible.

But you didn’t stop there, you also built on that. So can you talk about how you continued? Because for so often people can get stuck in these ruts and they have these plateaus. What did you do to continue to number one, stay motivated, but number two to continue to grow. What were the things that were most helpful?

Olena Osipov: Well just to let you know, I did hit my plateau later and I will talk about it later.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Olena Osipov: When you have two kids and a mortgage payment, you have to stay motivated so the harsh reality was either this – keep going – or going back to the office for $45,000 and I really, really, really didn’t want to do that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Olena Osipov: I have to say that after I had my second child, and even after I listened to Pat Flyn and everything, I did go try – for a couple of months – a marketing job for a local finance company that was helping women with money. So I was their marketing person, and that didn’t go very well after I tried to sell real estate for so many years and I was self-employed so I got the taste of freedom and being my own boss, and I really, really struggled working for somebody else. And that was another big confirmation for me that I have to make this happen.

And I kept going. I just saw traffic growing. I remember posting chocolate protein cake around Christmas 2012, and there was 8 people looking at it from Foodgawker. I go, “Wow!” (laughter) It’s amazing! 8 people are interested in my cake! And it’s high, you get high from it.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that? And for those that are unfamiliar, so on Google Analytics, there’s this area where you can see live analytics and you can see who’s on your side right now, where they came from, and what they’re looking at. And I think I know what you’re getting at where you said there’s kind of a high that comes along with it, but what was that like for you and what did that do for you when you logged in and you saw that?

Olena Osipov: It makes you feel good. It makes you feel important. And if you love what you do, you want to do it even more. I will be honest and say that it does touch a little bit on your ego. (laughter) That’s social media, right? The more people follow you, you go, “Wow!” It’s the same. It’s human nature. And I just kept going and then at that time I saw my traffic grow. It was Foodgawker and Tastespotting and Pinterest. Pinterest started to be so big then, and that was my mistake. I relied on Pinterest 100% to bring the traffic.

Bjork Ostrom: So what year was this? So when you say then, it was a few years after starting? 2014? 2015?

Olena Osipov: 2014. 2015 was the peak of Pinterest traffic. Yeah. Organic, you take a picture, you do your post, recipe, you submit it to Pinterest, and right away you can see on Google Analytics, 15 people coming from Pinterest to look. That will never happen again, ever. So it was really – my majority of my traffic came from Pinterest, and then you see this instant gratification for the recipe, and that’s really inspiring.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And, there’s something about, and I think what’s interesting with that is I think as much as we can tap into those things that, you know you called it ego. But, I also think other people would just call it, like, or not call it, but would consider it to be the kind of thing where it’s kind of like playing a game. Like Monopoly, in the same way that it feels good to land on and be able to buy Park Place and Boardwalk. And, then, you kind of have that corner. There’s something fun about business building, where it maybe is something you can compare to like a board game, where there’s a game to it. And, one of the ways that you measure games is by numbers. And, what you’re talking about is one of the ways that you look at numbers. And, finding those things for you, for some people it’s not numbers. For some people it’s connecting through their writing, or it is getting a photograph just right. But, finding those things for you, and then, really leaning into those and letting those be the thing that encourages you and is the thing that you measure or keep track of.

And, it sounds like for you, one of those things was, hey, looking and seeing, “Okay, this many people are on my website right now. And, when I put it on Pinterest, it works.” And, that kind of became something that allowed you to stay motivated and interested in doing what you were doing.

Olena Osipov: Absolutely. And, you can’t quit at that point, because you see it’s working. And, yeah, you see hundred people in your website, and you go, “Wow.”

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Olena Osipov: Yeah, it’s a great, great feeling.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, at what point along the journey, we were talking kind of 2014, 2015, and have kind of started to figure things out a little bit it sounds like, relying on Pinterest a little bit. But, was there a point where you said, okay, I’m kind of seeing maybe I’m getting close to this point where I can kind of release this idea of going back to the job that you kind of dreaded. That job that you didn’t want to go back to and said this blog thing, this website thing actually might work out for me. What year was that, or about at what time did that start to become a reality?

Olena Osipov: I would say, yes, 2015, but more 2016 I was 100% sure, like, it’s good. I don’t have to go back, because 2015 traffic really changed from 2014. But, I saw in 2016 it stayed similar. So, it is kind of stable-ish. Yeah, that’s been work.

Bjork Ostrom: I think one thing that’s really interesting and important to point there is, so we talked about starting in 2012. And, then, 2016 was the point where you said, “Hey, I’m kind of starting to see and feel confident about this being a thing. Like, that it could be income producing to the point where it can be my full-time thing.” That’s a lot of time and energy. That’s four years or working on something before you get to the point where it has enough speed and momentum to be your full time thing. And, it was kind of a similar story for us. And, I think especially with a content driven business, like a food and recipe website, that’s really, really common.

I have a friend who we’re actually interviewing for the podcast coming up, and he has a, it’s a men’s fashion site. And, he said he analyzed people that were doing this and said, “Hey, it really takes about five years.” So, that was the number her gave himself. He’s going to work hard on it for five years and see if he can get it to the point where it’s a full-time thing. And, it is now. And, he has a team, and he’s working on it. But, I think it’s important to point that out. It takes a long time. And, it’s something that you have to put a lot of time and energy in to.

So, along the way, what where the things that kept you motivated? So, you had talked about kind of some looking at other people and reading what they’re doing. You talked about tapping into some of the things that gave you inspiration with numbers and looking at that and saying, “Okay, I can see some continual growth here.” Were there other things that you said, you know, you being a determined person, what were some of the stories that you told yourself that helped you to continue going?

Olena Osipov: You know, I was following of course Pinch of Yum, and your monthly income reports, and I was not listening to all Food Blogger Pro podcasts, but some. And, being a food blogger, or even realtor, or in many cases a sales person, it’s very lonely job. You are by yourself. There is nobody else. And, it’s all up to you. So, you do have to stay motivated by listening to inspirational stories and examples. And, that’s how I kept going. I did read the income reports, and I did act upon the things that you guys did, like, let’s say an eBook, I tried that. And, Food Blogger Pro, sharing other stories. So, that was my main source of motivation and some other blogs I just read and see what they are doing. And, I just kept going.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it is, I think being able to connect with other people that get it and that understand is such an important piece of it. And, I think a lot of people that listen to podcasts will be familiar, so for a period of time we did income reports and traffic eventually as well, and talked about, okay really specifically here are the things that we’re spending money on, that we’re creating income from, places where we’re getting traffic, new things that we’re trying. And, offering kind of a sneak peek into what it looked like to build a blog and a website. And, but I think the thing that is unique and important to point out in what you’re saying is reading those, understanding it, and, then, doing it. Like, actually implementing and taking action on it. And, that is one of the most important things that, you know everybody has access to this information, whether it be Food Blogger Pro podcasts, a membership site, YouTube, you know, there’s all these incredible resources. But, the hard part is actually jumping in and doing it.

So, when you look back at the growth that you’ve had and the things you’ve implemented, what are the things that stand out as especially important? And, it could be concepts, general concepts, or it could be really tangible changes that you made, or things that you implemented with your blog or website. What stands out as the most important?

Olena Osipov: Up to now?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Olena Osipov: I would say everything was going well, but in 2016, I noticed that I hit a plateau with traffic. And, because I was running a business before and just I have a business degree, and it’s just common sense, I know, well if my traffic is the same as last year, I have to grow. I saw your Pinch of Yum traffic, and it steadily grows, like steady growth. And, then, I hit 2017, and my traffic was lower than 2016.

Bjork Ostrom: Which is a, it’s not a great feeling. But, what I love about what you’re saying is saying, “Okay, how do I fix this?”

Olena Osipov: Oh, yeah, that was reality check. By that point I have to say honestly I got relaxed. I get comfortable, oh this is money making website, I’m good. I don’t have to learn. I quit learning. That was my biggest, biggest mistake. I stopped learning. So, in 2017 I think it was early on, because how it goes for food blog, first three months of the months, especially for healthy food blog, are the busiest. So, January, February, your traffic is skyrocketing, because everybody is trying to eat healthy, New Year’s resolutions. March, it’s good too. But, then, come April, it starts to slow down. And, summer is really slow. And, around Christmas, it’s not busy, either, because Christmas people don’t eat healthy.

So, in April 2017 came and I realized my traffic is dropping. And, I have to fix it. And, because by that point, I really didn’t want to go back to work.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. You know what it feels like to not be there when you see that potential in the distance. It’s a good motivator.

Olena Osipov: It’s very good motivator. Honestly. To sit in traffic for hour and half commuting downtown when it’s over, I’m like, “No, I cannot do this.” So, that’s when I said to myself, I put on my big girls pants, and I said to myself, “Olena, let’s do this.” So, I went to Food Blogger’s Pro blog and just started scrolling through all the podcasts. And, the one that really struck me was I believe it’s 92, was Meggan Hill of Culinary Hill. Where she’s talking about defining her niche and really concentrating and rebranding, kind of like this kind of thing, because, I go, “Oh my goodness, that’s for me.” Because, I felt so lost. I don’t know. The feeling I had, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who I am. I have this blog. I have this cauliflower crust pizza that brings half of my traffic. But, I don’t know what I should be concentrating on. What kind of recipes? Healthy recipes? But, then, there’s such a huge competition. Healthy Ukrainian recipes? But, how many Ukrainians really are in the world that want to eat healthy?~

So, I was completely confused. But, Meggan’s podcast where she shares how she contracted Laurie Buckle of CookIt Media and how she made it clear. And, the most helpful phrase that Meggan said was that, “When I wake up in the morning, I have a clear of vision of what I should be doing today.” And, that was like, “Oh my goodness, I need this. I need Laurie. I need Laurie in my life.”

So, and that’s when I contacted Laurie. I just went and Googled CookIt Media, and I contacted Laurie. And, I said, “Laurie, please help me.” And, at that point, that was an investment in your business, because it does require some investment. It’s not the most cheap option, but I have learned that you have to invest in your business. And, that was fine with me. So, Laurie said, “Yes, I can help you.” And, over the course of last summer, we did three or four interviews. And, after that, she came up with a clear plan what my blog is, what is my tagline, what I should be blogging about, and how to redesign the website.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. So, I think it was episode 93 that was the interview with Meggan, so you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/93 to listen to that. And, then we actually interviewed Laurie as well in episode 132. So, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/132 to check out that podcast.

What was it? Talk through that processes, what it was like for you, kind of the before and after. What did the kind of rebranding or establishing the new site do for you? And, in doing that, you can share a little bit about what the site was like before, and then, what your blog was like after.

Olena Osipov: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, Laurie came in and she analyzed my back then website. And, Laurie’s big on creating a story, which was completely new to me. And, that’s, whatever Laurie talks about in episode 132, right? That was exactly what she worked on with me. And, she said, “Olena, you need your story, and you do have your story, like very unique story. But, you have to tell it. Like, you have to say it. And, you have to be the face of the brand.” I was really intimidated and scared to put my face out there. It’s scary. You hide behind the posts. And, it’s really scary to go out there and even Instagram stories to show your face, you are so, “Do I look okay? Is this hair okay? Is it okay if I have, like, cutting board with brand on it behind me?” Like, you know?

But, once you start doing it, you have to. And, once you start doing, you get comfortable, and people do want to see real you. And, that’s what she told me. You have to get out there.

Bjork Ostrom: How did you get through that? What was the most helpful thing to get to the point where you felt comfortable?

Olena Osipov: You put on your big girls pants, and you just do it.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. It’s exposure therapy. It’s saying, “Okay, I’m scared of doing this. I know that I need to. And, one of the best ways to not feel scared to do it is to do it.” Which, is kind of the irony of so many of those situations, is that, and I can think of specific examples, like recording a course for Food Blogger Pro, or recording a podcast episode, where I don’t feel a tinge of nervousness before recording now. But, I can distinctly remember the first episodes that I recorded and how nervous I was. And, the only way that I got from there to here is by doing it. And, it sounds like that’s what you’re saying as well.

Olena Osipov: Exactly, exactly. And, we are, I go, “Okay, wait a second. I am a grown up. I am an adult. I’m a mother of two children. I can do this. Big deal.” So, just by doing it, that’s the only way to get comfortable. And, nobody else can do it for you.

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). One of the things that you said, you know as we were trading emails back and forth, was that, and I would guess that it was from this point, you said visitors and page views have grown 60% compared to the same time last year, which is awesome. And, it’s such a testament to saying, “Okay, I know something is off here. I need to move forward and implement some things in order to correct this.” And, you talked about kind of the rebranding processes as being a really important piece of that, and working with Laurie and CookIt Media. What were some of the other things that you said or learned or implemented that helped you along the way? And, there’s actually some podcasts, you know as we were trading emails back and forth, that you mentioned. And, feel free to mention any of those as well that were especially helpful as you kind of thought about improving and you know bumping your traffic back up.

Olena Osipov: Yes, sure. I would like to say something about the 60% growth, and actually from the time I send you email a month ago right now, we see 75% growth.

Bjork Ostrom: Hmm. That’s awesome.

Olena Osipov: So, yes. But, the time I contracted Laurie last summer, summer of 2017, and it took us three to four months to work on rebranding. And, my traffic growth, I saw only starting this April, 2018. So, I just want to point out there is no instant gratification. It takes time.

Bjork Ostrom: Long term, yep.

Olena Osipov: And, it’s a lot of work.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes.

Olena Osipov: But, it can happen. Yes, at same time, like 2017 was an eye-opening for me because my traffic was dropping. So, at same time as I started working with Laurie, I started listening to more and more Food Blogger Pro podcasts. So, one of the helpful ones was optimizing recipes for SEO with Yoast, that’s number 91. And, believe it or not, in 2017 I didn’t have Yoast.

Bjork Ostrom: Which is a big quick win.

Olena Osipov: Oh my goodness. I didn’t know how I got there. And, I have a web designer husband. But, he was working full time. He was just helping me out as I needed him. And, at that point we had an older website with a custom keyword field and a custom description field, so we thought, “Oh, we don’t need.” Alex doesn’t love extra plug-ins if we don’t need them, because they slow down your website. So, we said we’ll have this custom. But, that website was built in 2014. So, I didn’t have Yoast. So, installing Yoast was good.

Bjork Ostrom: And, what were some of when you installed Yoast, what were some of the thing … and for those that aren’t familiar, that’s episode 91. Yoast is a plug-in that helps with search engine optimization, and they have a free and a premium plug-in. And, what were the things that you focused on when you installed Yoast?

Olena Osipov: I think I focused on to have a keyword for each post, and take around it. Like, to make sure my URL has the same keyword in it and my title. Yoast is not, installing Yoast did not fix all my SEO right away. It just helps you to keep on course. And, at same time as I installed Yoast, I was getting emails about someone promoting SEO services. And, I contracted out this guy, he was based in San Francisco. And, he agreed to give me consultation on SEO for couple hours. So, I took that at the same time as I installed Yoast, and that helped as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Do you remember some of the recommendations that he gave that were helpful?

Olena Osipov: Yes. What he said that your keyword, your title should be the same, and your picture names should be the same. And, I asked him, SEO is very confusing. And, I asked him what if I want to say, for example, I’m working on a recipe, Healthy Beef and Broccoli. Can I say, “30 Minute Healthy Beef and Broccoli Recipe?” And, he recommended no, you keep your posting Healthy Beef and Broccoli. Just what you want to rank for, keep it the same way.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So, kind of some recommendations around like titling your images, and saying, okay, if you have an image that’s a picture of healthy beef and broccoli, like make sure that the image file name is that as well as the alt text that you’re describing what the image is and what is in the image. Titling your post and how important that is, so the keyword is included in the title. And, then, obviously Yoast has some of those recommendations for other things that you should be doing from and SEO perspective. So, it sounds like kind of some, two different things that you implemented as part of your system. Again, not things that, like, you change and update. And, then, tomorrow it’s suddenly like, hey there’s this big impact. But, over time, those things, those small wins can really add up.

Olena Osipov: Yes. And, you also have to do your keyword research. There is what I completely neglected, and that was one of the reasons my traffic was dropping, is I was posting recipes that I thought were awesome and tasty, and they were. And, they were cool. But, nobody searching for them.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Olena Osipov: Like, frozen vegetables stir fry. There is 100 people maybe less looking for it-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Olena Osipov: -every month. So, how are you going to generate traffic if nobody is looking for that keyword.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And, what was the tool that you used for keyword research?

Olena Osipov: Well, back then I, just Keyword Tool by AdSense.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Olena Osipov: And, then, I used Google Trends at same time to predict the seasonality and really how many people are searching, if it’s trending or not.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. And, so, for those that aren’t familiar, Google Trends shows you not necessarily search traffic, but the different seasons that trends would peak. So, like, Apple Crisp would be more popular in the fall than in the dead of winter. Or, lemonade would be more popular in the summer. So, it would be, you would see where the trend is over time and also seasonality. And, then, the Google Ad Words keyword tool is kind of changed through the years. But, it was slash is a tool that allows you to see the search volume of a certain keyword. Now, there’s other paid tools. One that we’ve started to use a little bit is called Ahrefs, I think it’s how it’s pronounced, A-H-R-E-F-S, if anybody wants to check that out, or there’s some other ones as well. Moz is one of them. But, that’s a little bit deeper on the keyword research.

So, it sounds like you were kind of doing a combination of a couple of those things along with, so, understanding the popularity of the content you were writing. And, then, also starting to be intentional about the kind of, they would call it technical SEO, kind of some of the how you’re structuring things on your website. And, so, implementing some of those things sounds like was one of the wins that you had, along with the branding from working with CookIt Media. What were some of the other things that were influential around that time?

Olena Osipov: Well, we redesigned, Laurie said, “We need a new website.” And, we knew that at that time. So, Alex built a completely new custom website for me, and it took him about four months. We launched just around Christmas time, 2017 last year. So, that was huge for us.

Bjork Ostrom: And, the big thing with that was it the branding that came from it? Or, was there other helpful things from like a traffic perspective with that launch?

Olena Osipov: I think the crucial difference was that Laurie said, “Your website right now, block style, everything is very hidden, and people don’t see it. It’s hard to find content, so she said she recommended, and that’s exactly what she talks in her podcast interview with you, to have it like a magazine. She said it’s not a blog anymore for you, it’s a line cooking magazine. You have to have all the recipes, kind of like the kitchen.com, because Lori has consulted for the kitchen I believe. And everything should be on the home page, it should be right there when people get there, so we built this home page in verticals and by categories that I can change depending on the season and when a user gets to the website, there is already like 30 or so recipes they can pick from and they’re trending right now so that was really big for us.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Olena Osipov: So, concentrating more on user experience versus about me.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and I can see that even when you go to the site. So you can see there’s new recipes but there’s dinner, there’s chicken, there’s popular recipes, grilling and what I hear you saying is I can go in and change that so let’s say if it’s seasonal or maybe around a holiday, you can switch that out so your supplying, and it could be older content but in the niche that we’re in it doesn’t matter because a good recipe is a good recipe. And that’ll last forever but you wanna make sure that you’re surfacing the right stuff seasonally and also having kind of that cohesive brand, which makes more sense.

Olena Osipov: Exactly. And older content was very hidden on my website, and that’s a good recipe but nobody can see it, and was losing traffic from Pinterest. You have to concentrate mostly on Google, and that’s how most people come to your website, and that’s what I also did I have to say a huge part of the traffic growth for me was going back to old recipes and updating them. Taking new pictures, adding step by step, and republishing them. That was huge.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. And what was huge about that? Why do you think that worked well as a strategy?

Olena Osipov: New pictures, if you take a picture from 2013, that’s updated with my 2018 skills, that’s better.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. And I think everybody can kind of relate to that as they know their photography evolves. Did the benefit from that come from search or social media or both? What was the most beneficial about updating those older posts?

Olena Osipov: No, it was mostly search. First of all it helps you jump up in search and just the user experience but mostly definitely search. After all the algorithm changes that we went through with Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest, I put time into my own website. I really cut back on social media and mostly concentrated on Google.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. And speaking of, another one of the podcast episodes that you mentioned was episode 133, as kind of being influential in your campaign to regain traffic, and that was the episode with Casey Markee from MediaWise, he’s a food blogger pro expert. Can you talk a little about anything that you remember from that podcast episode as being especially helpful?

Olena Osipov: Yes, Casey is good. Those episodes were helpful. I don’t remember exactly what he was saying.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, and I can just jump in too, so episode 133, you can get there by going to Foodbloggerpro.com/133, Casey talks a lot about, the great thing about Casey is he’s kind of become known in the food and recipe niche. So he really understands not only search but search specific to food blogs and recipe sites. And so if you have food blog or recipe site, anything that you’re publishing recipes, that would be a great episode to check out, he talks about some of the important things that are happening with search optimization as it relates to recipes and how they show up. And tied into that, you had mentioned 136 as well. So, that episode Foodbloggerpro.com/136 if you haven’t caught onto that trend by now, about optimizing for search results on Google and Pinterest. For those that didn’t listen to that episode, can you talk about the difference between optimizing on Google and Pinterest and kind of the, as you thought about that with your own site, some of the things that were helpful with that?

Olena Osipov: Yes, now that you mentioned Casey I pulled up the episode number 133. I see what helped me. The structured data. And as we, believe it or not, and you’re gonna laugh at this. We did not have, we were not using recipe plug-in. We were but we were still using zip lists, and that went out of business four years ago and was not updated. So I go, “structured data, what are those stars that they have?” He was like “I have no idea.” So we started looking into it and he was like “you need a recipe plug-in.” I’m like “Zip List won’t cut it?” He’s like “No, free Zip List will not cut it anymore, it’s not updated.” So that was a big eye opener that you have to have structured data to rank well in Google. And that was one of the biggest problems for us why we were not ranking. That’s when we got Tasty Recipes.

Bjork Ostrom: And did you notice that with that change, did you track along with structured data, the results in search? Did you see a change and if so how long did that take in terms of what the results look like and how they’re displaying?

Olena Osipov: Yes, right now our Google traffic is 67% of our traffic together, so yes, since we installed, and the star ratings do help and the structured data yeah, it’s a slow process, it slow grows. I hired somebody to calculate all the nutritional info, we use NutriFacts as well. I was at a point like, “What the heck, let’s get it all. Let’s get Tasty Recipes, NutriFacts, Tasty Pins. It’s really, if you look at the big picture those tools are really helpful and they help you so much and I was so at the point where, ”Listen if Google says you have to have it, and it’s recommended, let’s just have it all and see what happens.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and I think that’s great. And one of the things that’s important to point what you said is with anything search related, and any of these updates that you’re talking about, the important thing is making those, implementing that, and sticking with it and knowing that it’s not necessarily something overnight, but over time as you practice some of these best practice things, that it kind of snowballs. The thing is with the snowball, it starts out really small, but you pick up little pieces and it builds over time. That’s such an important piece of this puzzle is sticking with it, learning like you said, implementing and over time seeing some of that slow and steady growth. The last thing…go ahead yeah.

Olena Osipov: Absolutely, and I just want to say one more time there is no instant gratification. You don’t know when it’s coming. You just have to keep going at it. But once it snowballs, you go “What?” You go “Excuse me?” And it’s just completely mind-blowing. One of the biggest mistakes I made and I really want everybody to really take my advice and dream big. You can dream big and you should dream big because we’re in America and anything is possible. Anything is up to you and honestly it’s not that hard. You just have to listen and put in the work and keep going. Many times I found myself my own worst enemy. I’m standing on the path of my own success. I have this voice in my head, “No wait, this cannot be true. I cannot do this. This is too good to be true.” But I have Alex, Alex is a total dreamer. He’s a guy and he’s an artist, he’s a dreamer. He dreams and I’m the most practical person ever, so we’re a good combination. So he is dreaming and I put him back down on Earth and he pushes me back up.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. I feel like it’s such an important thing and I think one of the things that’s so great is it’s the power of this tool that is the internet. Whether you’re in Canada or the US, or Mexico or Europe or Africa, obviously each one of those places has a different government and how you operate and how it looks to run a business, but as much as possible within the constraints of where you are, figuring out how do you pursue something you’re passionate about and interested in and how do you set those dreams and those goals. For us, for people that listen to this podcast, how do you use the internet then to achieve that and to give you voice to the world and to create content and to help people, and that’s something that you’ve done which is so encouraging. So fun to see as we followed along with your story and been connected with what you’re doing. It’s so fun to have this kind of moment, to kind of check in and say “Okay, this is something that is so inspiring for people and so encouraging for us to know that it’s something you’re still doing and having success with.

You’re gonna have a big reveal on your blog with this and it’s gonna be before this podcast comes out so we can talk about it here. Speaking of dreams and dreaming big, you’ve purchased a new house which is so exciting and you’re making the move where you have a studio for your blog as well. This is a really big move, you’re doing this full time, is Alex working with you full time as well?

Olena Osipov: Yes. He is now. We reached a point where we both work together now which is a different story, working with your spouse.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure, yes.

Olena Osipov: So Alex is concentrating on video and we’re still trying to figure out our position on video. Again, it was one of those cases where you just have to start. It’s not perfect, it’ scary, but we’re still working on it. And now we have completely outgrown out kitchen, our kitchen is not designed to make food videos in it. And now Alex said to me “We have to move.” And I said “I don’t want to move,” because I don’t want to move. And he’s like “Well why not? We can.” And this is one of those cases where I’m standing in a way of my own dreams. He’s like “You have to have a studio.” I’m like “I cannot afford a studio.” He’s like “You can.”

And he took me literally, I’ll tell you the story, we live in the suburbs of Vancouver which is in Canada and in May he took me to Vancouver Island, I don’t know if you’re familiar…it’s a huge island with a population close to million off of the mainland, accessible by two-hour ferry. He took me to the island and he found me a house, waterfront, he’s like “we have to live a dream. You live only once. You will have regrets, go for it if you can.” And I go “Okay.” So he took me to a house which was completely outside of our budget and he said, “Just come and look.” And I’m like, “I’m not moving my kids from school, from friends, across the ocean, I already moved enough, it’s enough. I want quiet. I just wanna work in my kitchen.” He takes me to this house and it’s an acreage and as I come in I see all this freedom and then I see a studio above the garage, it’s a caretaker suite, it’s older it’s 26 years old but no work has been done so it does need a lot of work.

But it’s this perfect studio above the garage with windows and it’s completely separate from the house. I see the house and I go in the backyard that backs onto the Pacific Ocean and I look at him and I go, “Sold.”

Bjork Ostrom: So that was it? So you guys have purchased a house and you’re making the move?

Olena Osipov: We have. And this is the most mind-blowing part to me, I still wake up in the morning and go, “Someone please tell me this a reality of…” You have to understand I was 19, I came to Canada with 100 dollars in my pocket and 17 or 18 years later I’m gonna live on a waterfront property facing the Pacific Ocean. And that is all thanks to iFOODreal and it’s just amazing and mind-blowing and this is why I say you have to dream big, because maybe if I dreamt big sooner I would’ve got there even sooner. I just didn’t. I didn’t think it was possible but it is. Now we’re super excited because we’re at the point where we cannot really work in our family kitchen anymore, so it will be so nice to have a set-up studio kind of like Pinch of Yum. You have a set table, you have lots of light. We really struggled with light, we don’t have enough light. You have a set up and you just come into work and you have this line between work and family, because right now we don’t and it’s very very hard.

I built my business on the couch in my family room literally.

Bjork Ostrom: I think a lot of people can relate to that.

Olena Osipov: It’s really gonna take us even to the next level and it’s an investment in our business.

Bjork Ostrom: I think it’s great, that idea of allowing yourself to think and dream really big, whatever that might look like. Whether it’s your blog or for your family or for goals and ambitions that you have to say, “In my mind, what do I imagine that being? What do I imagine myself striving for, and what would it look like if it was a little bit beyond that? Or what would it look like if it was two times that or ten times that?” And just to allow yourself to go there to see what that feels like and how that impacts the way you think and operate and how you approach things. I feel like it’s a great thought and concept to end on and a really inspiring one as well as is your story overall Olena. So, if people wanna connect with you, if they wanna learn more about your story, if they wanna see the post where you do this big reveal of your house, I know they haven’t published it yet but if they wanna check that out, what’s the best way for them to see that and just to follow along with you in general?

Olena Osipov: Sure. My website is IFoodReal.com and you can find me on Pinterest, Instagram or YouTube at IFoodReal.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. And before we wrap up, what’s the backstory with the name of your blog. That’s one of the things I wanted to ask but I didn’t.

Olena Osipov: That’s good one. We were brainstorming for a name and Alex being into all the technology and iPhone and everything he’s like, “It’s real food, and he’s like, ”Ifoodreal, I cook real food.”

Bjork Ostrom: There it is.

Olena Osipov: And it’s kind of changed, we started with BeSkinny.Me, that was our original. That lasted about two weeks and I’m so happy it didn’t. So then we switched. Alex is a huge Apple fan.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it, which makes sense. Well we’ll make sure to link to all of those in the show notes, and we’re so excited for you and your story and what you guys have been doing and the hard work that you’ve put in and to see how that’s paying off, and for sharing that with the audience here. So thanks so much for coming on the podcast Olena.

Olena Osipov: Oh thank you so much for having me.

Speaker 1: Hey lovely listener, Alexa here and I’m here to say thank you. Thank you for tuning in, for downloading, for listening and for making the Food Blogger Pro podcast part of your day today. I’m also here to do the reviewer of the week and this one comes from Itunes from somebody named HayMade. It says, “I get excited to commute an hour to work so I can listen to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. I listen to every single one of these podcasts on my daily hour commute to work. I used to dread driving that hour but now I get excited to set aside the start and ending times of my day to soak up knowledge from Bjork, Lindsay and other guests. I am accomplishing my dreams and goals to become a professional food blogger because this podcast gives you practical knowledge and encouragement to just go out and do it. A huge thanks to Bjork for making this experience for me and many others.”

Well thank you so much Hey Maid this is such a great review and we appreciate you making the Food Blogger Pro podcast a part of your daily commute how cool is that? I was the same way before I started working here at Food Blogger Pro. When I had a commute to work, I was always listening to the podcast so it’s really cool to see that others have had similar experiences. So thank you again for tuning in, we appreciate you guys so much and until next time, make it great week.

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  1. Olena,
    I absolutely love your recipes. I get excited each time your site pops onto my email. Your recipes are simple yet delicious. You don’t require a lot of “stuff”.
    Thank you for doing this for me.