463: How a Love of SEO and Entrepreneurship Helped Shaunda Necole Grow Three Successful Websites and Hit 1 Million Monthly Pageviews

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This episode is sponsored by Clariti and Raptive.

Welcome to episode 463 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Shaunda Necole from The Soul Food Pot.

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

How a Love of SEO and Entrepreneurship Helped Shaunda Necole Grow Three Successful Websites and Hit 1 Million Monthly Pageviews

Shaunda Necole has a true passion for being an entrepreneur — from her first business owning a cheerleading product company to today, running three websites, a food tour of Las Vegas, writing books, and more.

In this interview, she shares more about her love of SEO and keyword research and how her SEO strategy has changed in light of Google’s recent Helpful Content Updates. She also explains how she divides her time between her three websites (a food blog, a travel website, and her personal site), in addition to her SEO consulting, Las Vegas food tours, and upcoming travel book.

In a time where SEO can feel really unpredictable, Shaunda’s perspective and approach to SEO is one we all need to hear (and she clearly knows what she’s doing — her food blog hits 1 million monthly pageviews during the holiday season)! We hope you enjoy this episode as much as we did.

A photograph of someone serving a slice of peach cobbler with a quote from Shaunda Necole's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast that reads: "For me, Google just makes sense... the answers are already there."

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Shaunda first got interested in SEO via Pinterest.
  • How she first started out as an entrepreneur in the cheerleading product space.
  • How she went from cheerleading products to MacKenzie-Childs to the food space.
  • More about how she started with brand partnerships (and why she brought on a manager).
  • Why (and how) she transitioned from brand partnerships to SEO.
  • How she has committed to her niche (Southern soul food) over the years.
  • Why she enjoys keyword research and SEO for her site.
  • How she divides her attention between her three websites.
  • Why she syndicates content from her travel website to MSN (hint: backlinks!).
  • How content syndication with MSN works (plugin, canonical links, ad profit sharing, appeasing Google, and more).
  • Her favorite keyword research tool and how that has changed since the recent Helpful Content Updates (HCUs).
  • How she is updating and republishing content to recover from the HCU.
  • The importance of being “well-rounded.”


Thank you to our sponsors!

This episode is sponsored by Clariti and Raptive.

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Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode!

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

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Thanks to Raptive for sponsoring this episode!

Become a Raptive creator today to start generating ad revenue on your blog and get access to industry-leading resources on HR and recruiting, SEO, email marketing, ad layout testing, and more. You can also get access to access a FREE email series to help you increase your traffic if you’re not yet at the minimum 100k pageviews to apply to Raptive.

Interested in working with us too? Learn more about our sponsorship opportunities and how to get started here.

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

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Transcript (click to expand):

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

Emily Walker: Hey, there. This is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team, and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. This week on the podcast, Bjork is interviewing Shaunda Necole from the food blog The Soul Food Pot. She also happens to run two other websites, one of which is a personal website, and another of which is a travel blog all about Las Vegas.

In this interview, she shares more about her journey of entrepreneurship, starting from her first business owning a cheerleading product company to how she got to where she is today. In this interview, Shaunda also chats more about her love of keyword research and SEO and how that has really shaped the growth of her websites and the success of her businesses. Shaunda even provides consulting to other creators, especially those looking for some guidance after all of the recent helpful content updates. And she has a really awesome perspective on SEO and Google and just how to deal with all of these algorithm updates that have been coming at us lately. It’s a really fun interview hearing all about Shaunda’s journey, and we know you’ll love it, so I’m just going to let Bjork take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Shaunda, welcome to the podcast.

Shaunda Necole: Hi, Bjork. Hi, everyone. Yeah, nice to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s a lot of things that we can talk about because you’re doing a lot of different things, but I’d be interested to start with your fascination with the world of SEO. I know for a lot of people listening to the podcast, it can be a necessary evil. It’s like if people want to produce content, they want to build a blog, they want to build a following, and it’s like, and I have to do this thing that is SEO. It’s not true for everybody. A lot of people love it as well. And you’re one of those people who actually really loves the world of SEO and search. Did that come after you started to produce content online, or had you always been fascinated with that and you were like, “Hey, if I’m going to be fascinated with SEO, I might as well start a site?” What came first?

Shaunda Necole: Both are true. I have three sites, so at the very first site, it was definitely not the case where I knew anything about SEO. We ran a retail store for cheerleaders, so I had a cheerleading company before, and I remember people would send us emails, because we had a website, about, “We can help you with your SEO.” I had no idea what SEO stood for, so I definitely didn’t start the way that would’ve been ideal where I came in knowing how to do this first. By the time I got to the second blog, that was the case.

But I think my fascination started with Pinterest, where I used to teach Pinterest marketing. I still love Pinterest. If anyone’s not using it, it is a blogger’s best kept secret. Pinterest, being a search tool, what a lot of consumers don’t realize that it’s a search engine. It was just really neat just being a visual person to use Pinterest and to see all of the colorful bubbles, which are your keywords. And then when you search, unlike Google, predominantly on Google, you get a lot of text, and your results were on Pinterest, you get beautiful pins and pictures. It’s easy, and then you click through, and then you’re off to someone’s blog or website or product to find whatever it is that you came there searching for.

So Pinterest just made sense to me because it had that visual component to it. I began to really study, and whenever I’m into something, I am pretty laser focused, so I got laser focused on Pinterest. And then once I learn something, I’m always eager to tell the world and share, so I began teaching Pinterest. The fascination with search began from there.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s almost like a gateway drug. It’s like-

Shaunda Necole: I love it.

Bjork Ostrom: … you have the images, so it’s not like 100% technical, and it gets you into this world of like, oh, you can create a piece of content, you can optimize it. It still is like a version of SEO, it’s just on a platform that maybe also has a band towards design aesthetic. And then it’s like, wait, now this similar but different can apply to another world, which would be Google. But some of the same concepts apply. I’ll be interested to talk more about Pinterest. Before we get too far away from it, I’m interested to hear about your first business.

The comparison that I have in our world are really good couple friends are launching a wedding business. A friend, he already has a videography business. He shoots videos for Pinch of Yum, and now they’re launching a venue called White & Sable. We can add a link to it in the show notes as they’re trying to build in their SEO.

Shaunda Necole: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: But it’s so funny because for 15 years we’ve been doing this like building a blog, and now Angela, our friend, is reaching out to me and she’s like all into this world of SEO because they have a site and they want to rank for it and they want to be strategic about it. So it’s been a really fun connection point for us. My guess is it’s kind of a similar thing where you have this cheerleading business, it’s a retail business, so it doesn’t need to be search forward, but you’re also adjacent in that you want to show up when somebody’s searching for a cheerleader store near me, or maybe you’re just have an e-commerce store. So what did that business teach you both about search, but also just about business?

Shaunda Necole: Yeah, great question. And congratulations to your friends, by the way, I’m rooting for them.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, thanks.

Shaunda Necole: Well, I’ve been an entrepreneur for almost 20 years because of the cheerleading store. It all started because I was a cheerleader. It was one of the, sounds corny, but one of the best things in my life. I learned teamwork, responsibility, just really core values of community. And so I always carry that with me from high school. And then I have a daughter and I was so fortunate and very giddy and happy that she wanted to be a cheerleader. So we did the cheerleader, the travel circuit, and competition teams. And what I found as we dove all the way in on this is that at that time, we’re talking back in ’05, ’06, that there was nowhere to try on things, walk into a store, try things on. Everything was not even internet at that time, but catalog purchase, so you couldn’t just walk in, try on a pair of shoes. Cheerleading shoes run totally different than street shoes. So it was just a whole thing.

My husband, he’s been an entrepreneur first, so he was like, “Oh, there’s a void, let’s fill it.” He had no cheerleading background, which actually was amazing and excellent because he was always pretty much the person that could see the forest from the trees and would be able to guide us. We were emotionally attached because of teams and all kinds of things. So we started that store and we started with a website. What was it? I have to try to remember the name as we go along, but it was a website, kind of the plug-and-play. This was before Wix and all the tools that make it easy for us today. Business, I learned so much. I mean, it was just before the days of Square, so for example, for us, our cash register system was about $3,000. We couldn’t just get a-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and super clunky.

Shaunda Necole: Oh my gosh, yeah, big back, clunky, the whole thing. I learned so much about taxes actually because of payroll and we had employees and profit and loss. The big thing that we learned from the cheerleading store, which I think definitely transcended for me into going online, in the later days… Well, to start with first, we learned that it was really necessary for us to create our own products. That was really where our profit margin was going to be, in actually manufacturing our own products. So we scaled from a retail store in the mall to maybe about eight years later to a retail store in an office warehouse space because Amazon became our customer and they would buy directly from us in that point.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool.

Shaunda Necole: We were manufacturing hair bows and hoodies and T-shirts and that-

Bjork Ostrom: All your own product? So you launched a brand and then you sold that brand through the channels that you had already established to resell other brands?

Shaunda Necole: Exactly. And so, Amazon had some light SEO in there. My husband played more with that at the time, but it was getting your products… Amazon ads, so we played with that when it was holiday time, and so you had to put the keywords in, and of course, when you launched a product, you wanted to boost that. Same kind of concept, almost like a podcast, getting those first ratings. I think it’s similar on Amazon today so that product would rise to the top. There was some light SEO in there, but we definitely just learned a lot about business. Working with Amazon, it was amazing for us. In the cheerleader space, we were the first company in that space to make it onto Amazon. We sold both channels where they bought from us, we shipped and sold directly to them in big pallet order sizes. And then we also sold as a seller on the platform as well, so it’s sometimes even competition between our own products. But we learned just the whole e-commerce thing. So when I came into the online space, I really had kind of a leg up on how things work from the whole Amazon business experience.

Bjork Ostrom: And even so much of what you learn is all the stuff that you talked about with a P&L and taxes. I think the reality of running on a platform, whether it’s Amazon or an e-commerce shop, part of it is almost like conditioning. I don’t know if this applies in the world of cheerleading, but I’ve just-

Shaunda Necole: 100%.

Bjork Ostrom: … been picking up tennis again and I’m like, “Oh, my wrist is always sore now.” I was like, “It was never sore when I played all the time.” And I feel like as an entrepreneur you get conditioned around, hey, we have the thing, which is cheerleading and the product, but then you also have the thing that supports the thing, which is the P&L and making sure that you’re keeping track of inventory and taxes and just the reality of all of that that surrounds a business. And it gives us an advantage and leg up, like you said, when you do start your next thing. What happened to that business? Did you wind it down, or is it still around, or did you sell it? What did that look like?

Shaunda Necole: We winded it down and it all took shape organically. All of our employees were cheerleaders, go figure, so we would purposely hire cheerleaders because they understood the business, they understood the sport, and that was people who are in that industry, it’s almost kind of die hard, so we needed people who really understood that model of sports. And so, as my last girls began, it was just organic, they would go to college and naturally go on and make a life for themselves. So I stopped hiring as they went on to do that.

To shorten the story of how I got into the online space, I transitioned into that, and it all just took shape together. But I started collecting a brand of product, McKenzie-Childs. I still collect them. Well, pre-COVID, they would have this in-person event every year, this huge sale where everything’s like 50 to 80% off. Their products are pretty pricey, so it was a really big deal. So fanatics like myself would go to the sale. It’s like a little village of 900 people, but 20,000 people would come in to buy all these products over three days. It was insanely wonderful. And so I decided if I’m going to go to this sale, the entrepreneur in me said, “Why don’t you put an ad out there and see if you can shop for other people and start a personal shopping service. They’ll be my clients, and they’ll pay me for it, and basically would just pay for my whole trip.” That’s all I even wanted, was just if I pay for my trip and I can buy stuff there, I’m good.

I did that. I easily got clients just from eBay, putting it out there. One of my clients said, “Hey, the brand is having a contest and you can skip the line,” because remember I told you there’s like 20,000 people that come through trying to get in, especially on day one. And if you win you can skip the line. So I didn’t have social media back then, so my daughter was just graduating from high school and she made my first Instagram account. From there, I did all this posting, and I actually won the contest. With all the hashtags we were using, I made all these friends that were collectors as well. It was just such a wonderful experience. I kept the account, and then she created my first website, which was a Wix site at the time.

That’s how my clients would keep in touch with me. I started blogging about the products and then every year at that sale I put up my product, which was my personal shopping service, and they would be able to purchase from there. It just totally evolved into my first blog, which is now my name shaundanecole.com, a lifestyle site, kind of all of us full of all of journalistic entries about what I ate today and what product I’m loving. So that’s how it took shape.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that I think is so fun to think about is when we let ourselves go and just our brains think about, “What do we love doing? What is something that we’re passionate about? What do people need who maybe are also passionate about a similar thing?” I think sometimes what we can do is we can get locked in on, “Hey, this is the path forward. It looks like this. Here’s how you do it,” but there’s a million, literally, a million different ways that we all be going about building a career or if not a career, like side hustle, at least to start income and revenue doing things that maybe we would be doing in different ways anyways. It sounds like for you it was that entrepreneurial spirit combined with this thing that you’re already going to do, which is go to this annual sale that they do. Essentially it’s like home goods, like dinnerware.

Shaunda Necole: Yes. Some furniture.

Bjork Ostrom: Furniture, things like that. For people who couldn’t go, they would hire you. And then was it commission based?

Shaunda Necole: Right. It was a flat fee to hire me and then a commission based, so I would get X percent of the amount that I shopped for them for.

Bjork Ostrom: The other thing that’s so great about that is day one, your business was profitable. You were starting this thing and people were paying you an upfront fee and a commission, and so it’s like you had this little community who knew the hashtags, you knew who to communicate with, you knew the conversations to have. How did that evolve? Once you saw that as a thing that worked, my guess is you continued to post on social, learn how to build a following there, you were posting online, started to learn more. What did it look like to evolve into what it is today where you can, as we were talking, the site might get a million-page views around the holidays, you have additional tour sites that you’ve launched? We can get into all of that, but before we do, I want to hear how it evolved out of that initial relationship for people to do the shopping for them.

Shaunda Necole: It’s what you were saying, the picture was pretty much painted that way. My daughter created the website, but initially I was just on Instagram. That was my platform, and that was new to me. I had Instagram for my business, the cheerleading company, but the cheerleaders ran that. It really wasn’t something that I did. So Instagram was really new to me, especially from a personal standpoint. It was just a personal thing at that point. It evolved into a business.

My business model, kind of funny, it was just I only got paid once a year at that point because it was an annual sale. What happened is the influencer industry took shape. I was posting, like you were asking, every day because it was fun. It was just something I love to do about this product that I loved. I have tons of it in my home, so I had content for days to create and share on Instagram. And so I just began to get followers. I often forget this, but really, Instagram was part of my first SEO part of the evolution because of the hashtags, which categorize things. When I even think about why I really enjoy SEO is I am a neat freak and it’s like everything has a place and there’s a place for everything, so bins and organization, that’s my jam. I think of SEO that way, of compartmentalizing things, compartmentalizing keywords and grouping things together.

Hashtags were very similar. Like you said, I learned my community, I learned what hashtags resonated with them. My goal would be to… now it’s always we’re trying to get top of search. It was to own the hashtag. So whatever hashtag I was using, I wanted to make sure that my Instagram posts were at the top of that hashtag because I knew my audience, that’s how they would… We’d look at the hashtag like a catalog as collectors of this product, and so I wanted to make sure that mine were top of search, and that’s how I garnered more a following by doing that.

So that’s how that took shape. And then I just kept writing on the blog and posting on Instagram and brands began to reach out. And that was how the business became profitable at that point beyond just one annual sale.

Bjork Ostrom: The one time of the year.

Shaunda Necole: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: What did it look like when those first brands were reaching out? Was it interest in posting to the site, working with you in a sponsor capacity to write a blog post, or was it mostly Instagram? What did that look like?

Shaunda Necole: Yeah, it was mostly Instagram. I didn’t, at that point, still know much about the blog. That was just home base for my clients to come to every year, so a lot of my energy was put on Instagram where I was posting there maybe one or two times at least every day. I think this was before Instagram Stories. Stories may have come the next year or so. My first brand that reached out was a jewelry company, and I actually ran into their physical kiosk in Disney at Disney Springs, and I almost had a panic attack I was so excited. And so my daughter’s like, “What?” So I had to explain, I had to go explain to the people working the kiosk like, “You gave me my first shot. You sent me product.” I was so elated. But that’s how it started with a brand just sending product.

And gosh, I think it was Nivea was my very first campaign, and it paid pretty well. I was floored at what the email came in and what they offered. And then I did a good job, the brand gave them more money to continue the campaign, and they came back for another round of the same product promotion. And so that just got really fun. This was probably like ’16, ’17, and by the time I got to 2018, I was looking for a manager. I really enjoyed the collaborations and they were all on Instagram. I don’t think I’d had a blog placement at that point. Everything was happening on Instagram, the partnerships. I thought that I need a manager because I don’t like the negotiation part. I am an entrepreneur. I understand like you said, P&L, and all those good things, but I like creating. I’ve always been a creator. I made hair bows. I’ve always had that gene. And so the negotiation part or the pushback, I’m not the person that goes and haggles for the car. I just want the price.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally. And it’s also hard when you are the creator negotiating on your behalf.

Shaunda Necole: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s a weird dynamic, maybe not for everybody, but I think it’s helpful to have somebody negotiating on your behalf. Let alone if you don’t like the process of doing it, what a relief to get somebody else to come in. So what did that look like for you to find that person? How did you go about doing it?

Shaunda Necole: It was like at that point, I’m not sure how it is today because I’ve had the same manager since that time, but when I was looking for a manager, I had some coaching consultation calls with some different influencer consultants. They were all in agreement that I should have a manager, but there were only maybe five that everyone knew and they were all at capacity. So one day, I think it was Brittany Hennessy who wrote the book, I think it was just called Influencer, it was a great book, and she-

Bjork Ostrom: She’s been on the podcast before.

Shaunda Necole: Yeah. Oh yeah, you have, exactly. So Brittany posted on Instagram a post asking… It was just a question that she asked. I don’t even think it had to do with agent specifically, it was just a question about brand and influencer relationship. As I was adding my comment, I started reading the others and I noticed this person commented, and whatever their comment was, she mentioned that she was an agent. She may have said, “As an agent, I think X, Y, Z about such and such.” My eyes lit up, and so I went and found her page through the comment and followed her and got in touch with her. And then here we are, I think, five years later that she’s still my managing agent. We actually found each other on social… or I found her on social media-

Bjork Ostrom: It feels appropriate.

Shaunda Necole: … and our first phone call… So appropriate. We just hit it off, and the rest is history.

Bjork Ostrom: How do you work well with a manager? I know you’ve heard all different people talk about experiences and, “Hey, I’m working with an agent or a manager and it’s really difficult for whatever reason.” Or some people are like, “Oh my gosh, it’s so nice to have an agent or a manager because for whatever reason.” So I think it’s helpful for people to hear their reflections like in your case, what are the things that you feel like allow the two of you to work well together and maybe talk through what that process looks like?

Shaunda Necole: Yeah, I think for us it’s a lot of communication. And this is even separate from even her managing my brand or any collaborations, but we just hosted an influencer, we called it Influencer Oasis. So we had it for the influencer community in Las Vegas where I live. But we just really communicate well together. So we came together and hosted an event, exactly what I was saying in the beginning, to share our knowledge, her as someone that negotiates with brands and worked closely with brands and then myself just as an influencer and SEO strategist, sharing with that community how to level up, how to monetize better in the year.

We have a really just a good relationship, and there’s a lot of communication. For me, in the beginning, she helped give me a lot of structure, because this is, I always still say, it’s the wild, wild west out here. We are still paving the way of what this looks like as far as content monetization, whether that’s through brand partnerships or ads on your site, however that looks, or product creation. She gave me a lot of structure because I had no idea why brands chose me when they were reaching out prior to having someone help me negotiate that. So the first thing we did, she had me create a media kit. She would say, “X to this” or “Check mark yes to that.” She put things into perspective. We have monthly calls as an agency altogether, and she tells us what brands are looking for, what we’re doing that’s working, what’s not working. There’s just a lot of collaboration, and it’s just someone else who has their ear to the brand world streets, whereas I’m very engulfed in content creation. So it’s just really good.

At this point, she actually teaches and has a blog on her site also, so I’m able to even share the SEO side with her. But it’s also nice because she’s in the content creation arena now too so that she understands even more of what her creators are doing and the things that we go through. So I think the collaboration just works so good because there’s a lot of communication in our structure.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Does she post about brand like, “Hey, here’s brand news or industry news that’s happening.”?

Shaunda Necole: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: What is the name of the site?

Shaunda Necole: She is Johanna with an H, so J-O-H-A-N-N-A, and then Voss with a V, V-O-S-S.com. And so on our Instagram, she has a blog also, she does share a lot of industry tips. She’s just one of those people who’s always like, “Hey, you got a question? Shoot me a DM, I’m happy to answer it for you.” So she’s just a very collaborative person.

But for me it meant the world not to have to negotiate things. So speaking gigs, I started to take those on, and I didn’t have to negotiate that fee. I wouldn’t have known what do I charge for that? And so she automatically did the contract for the speaking gig that comes from her. And so when I’d go somewhere, if I’m out of town doing a speaking gig or presentation, everything’s like A, B, C, it’s already set up for me. This time you’re here. This time you’re here. These are your deliverables. Make sure you use this hashtag or make sure this picture goes in, and they only want it shot at this angle. I like checklists, and so that’s what she really provides, that foundational checklist of things to make sure that are met for said project that’s taking place.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s so much parsing through that you have to do to pull out of a contract and be like, “What is this actually going to be about? And what are the expectations here?” The idea for you as a creator and creative to spend your time, number one, negotiating a contract, and then number two, pulling out the deliverables and the dates on those, it’s such a great thing to be able to put into somebody else’s court that then they take care of and for them to come to you and say, “All right, here’s what it looks like.” I think a lot of times you pay agents and managers well, but you also are probably making more than you would otherwise because, like you said, know rates and they know what to charge and what to ask for.

Shaunda Necole: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. All of that is… Oh, go ahead.

Shaunda Necole: Oh, I was just say quickly my, I think our first deal together, she upped it by a couple of thousand dollars and I was like, “Whoa.” She just knows what she’s doing.

Bjork Ostrom: All of this is like a profit center for you in the world of working with brands, you talked about speaking, you talked about Instagram, but we haven’t even touched the world of content and ads, which is another profit center that you have with your blog and website and building that up through search. What did that look like for you to balance the traction that you had getting paid to work with brands and sponsors with taking time to build up traffic, which you would monetize with display ads? How did you balance those two things? And then how did you get to the point where you had hundreds of thousands of page views?

Shaunda Necole: Yeah, so in all honesty, I don’t spend much time with brand partnerships anymore. I really found my zone in the lane of content creation on my site specifically. So for me, it’s really important that I’m growing my brand. And when I do work with a brand, it would be more in a collaborative space where it’s elevating my brand also and not just where I’m doing the service for them. So I’ve shifted gears on how that works for me in my business.

SEO, so I have this one blog, my name blog, the shaundanecole.com, and again, just like most of us who have started with this, it was definitely throwing spaghetti at the wall, just whatever I felt like writing about, what I saw that inspired me, but it was completely, I mean for lack of a better word, random, the content I was creating. So Pinterest, it did and still does do very well on Pinterest, but Pinterest, which is great, unlike Google, doesn’t require you to have a niche. You can talk about all kinds of things, and it doesn’t matter. If you understand their search engine structure, if you need to get traffic for chocolate cookies, then you create pins for that and understand how that works. But you can also create pins for what I wore today, and that still works on Pinterest collaboratively with that. So when I-

Bjork Ostrom: Whereas Google, generally speaking, you’d want to stick to a category. So it’s not like you have a site with 200 posts and 100 different topics.

Shaunda Necole: Yes, yes. Google is very much looking for authoritativeness because it wants to trust that you know what you’re talking about. I mean, I always think of Google as a store itself, and they want to serve the best products to their customers who are people in search, people searching are their customers. So it wants to make sure that when it’s showing you something about what I wore today that maybe your niche is fashion on this particular style of what I’m looking for, and not that you write about fashion and chocolate chip cookies and what vitamins to take, that it’s all over the place. So they’re really looking to serve someone at mastery of what they’re doing to their audience. And so, again, that doesn’t matter so much on Pinterest, but it does with Google.

I got an Instant Pot. Instant Pot was all the craze, and I wondered, “What is this thing?” So my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I was like, “I want an Instant Pot.” And so I got an Instant Pot, and I just found it to be the best thing ever. It says it on my blog, but I do probably 97% of my cooking in my Instant Pot.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally.

Shaunda Necole: And so I’m from Virginia. I live both in Virginia Beach and in Las Vegas, so I grew up with Southern cooking. My parents are from North Carolina. So southern soul food cooking, it’s a staple. I’m in the South, and it’s just what we grew up on. So I began to take recipes that were traditional family soul food recipes and I learned that instead of … and a half to cook candy yams, I can do that in five minutes. It tastes the same, everything in the Instant Pot. So that became really an inspiration for me to recreate traditional southern soul food recipes but with modern kitchen appliance, whether it be Instant Pot, air fryer, and so that was my niche for starting the blog.

I met with an SEO strategist before starting because I was like, “I’m going to do this right this time. I’m not going to just start creating content and then figure out why this isn’t working.” She told me that, “I know you may think that you have some health content on your lifestyle site and that people will come here and then they’ll see your recipe and want to look at that too.” She’s like, “They won’t. They’re coming for a specific reason, and the other thing that you have there is not going to be of interest to them if it’s not related. So you need to separate the content.”

And so that’s what I did. So when I started writing about food, I completely separated food from the lifestyle site, and that’s how The Soul Food Pot, my food blog, took shape. And so from there, I was just very, very niche about that. So if I go out and I have a wonderful seafood or let’s say Italian meal, whereas before I’d probably think, “Oh, that’s great, let me write about that,” I don’t, it’s not southern soul food. So I’m very specific. That’s something I may post in Instagram Stories just to share with the audience, but it can’t make it to the blog. It’s not the genre of what I’m writing about. And so… Oh, go ahead.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting to think about just intent as a consideration when creating content. When you think of Instagram, oftentimes, but not always, or any other social platform, the intent is entertainment potentially or just curiosity or exploration. And so often with search, the intent is pretty clear. It’s like somebody who wants to make Southern Fried Chicken. They maybe will also read an associated post with it, but they’ve made up their mind, that’s what they want.

Shaunda Necole: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: And so I think it’s really a good point to make, the one that you made around thinking about what is the intent of somebody related to the content that you’re producing and how does that change the content that you produce. Do you ever find it to be restrictive, like, “Oh, it’d be really nice if I could do this.”? Or is it actually freeing to know, “I can only do this and I won’t do this because these are the boundaries on the type of content that I’m creating.”?

Shaunda Necole: I think it’s the latter. It’s the freeing, because now there’s no guesswork about, would this rank, should I do this? Again, I like the checklist, I’m a organization checklist kind of person, so the boundaries are really good for me that I’m not guessing or, like I said before, throwing things at the wall trying to figure out, “Will this rank? Won’t it rank?”

For me, Google just makes sense. I would call them clues, but I just feel like the answers are already there. If you just study a search, you can just say, like you said, fried chicken. If we just search that and we pay attention to what shows up in the search results, because search intent, as you mentioned, is very crucial, and that’s the starting point. So if you were to search fried chicken, honestly what’s going to come up is probably restaurants. That’s typically what someone’s searching for. Now, if we add the word recipe to that, then that changes the game. Now there’s someone who wants to-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s a different intent.

Shaunda Necole: … make different fried chicken. And so those are things that really matter that would be step number one in doing keyword research, is to understand what the intent is of the audience when they’re going in for that search. I do find it more liberating because it gives me more clarity as to what I should be writing about and what we can just leave for Instagram Stories and still content, but we just won’t put it in this space.

Bjork Ostrom: Lindsay and I talk a lot about this when we think about where does stuff go. We have all these options of these places where things can land. They can go on a website, they can go on a social platform, they can go on Pinterest, they can go on an email. I think that your point around understanding the intent of people is really good because then it helps to clarify, “Okay, this is maybe not something I’d post to the blog because you want to be genre-specific.” But if it’s still interesting and it’s still unique or people might like it, you could post it to Instagram. There’s not going to be like some algorithm hit because you posted about an Italian meal when you’re out in Vegas when the general theme is like Southern.

Shaunda Necole: Exactly.

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So tell me more about splitting the site. So you had your site, it was your name, and then you’re like, “Okay, I want to be more strategic about this,” so you created The Soul Food Pot that’s going to be this focus on these soul food recipes, but also taking those and making those easier or more accessible, quicker, potentially maybe using Instant Pot or air fryer. And now you have a travel site where you talk about Las Vegas as well. How do you divide your attention between those? Or is it more of a playground and you’re like, “These are the things I like to do, and what do I want to post about today?” Tell me about the decision-making process with that.

Shaunda Necole: Yeah, I would say it’s more of a playground because anyone who knows me knows that I love Las Vegas. So I say now that I have the site I’m the newest spokesperson for Las Vegas. I actually, because of the site, garnered a book deal, so I have a travel book coming out next year in stores everywhere about Las Vegas, 100 Things To Do in Las Vegas Before You Die.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.

Shaunda Necole: Yeah, it’s just super fun for me thinking I’m just small town Virginia girl that loves Las Vegas, and now I have a publisher who’s willing to support me in a book on that.

Bjork Ostrom: Which is also one of the benefits of picking a narrow niche, is that it’s easier for people to say, “What do you create content about?” If somebody wants to work with somebody to create content about Las Vegas, who do they go to? Well, they go to you.

Shaunda Necole: Right? It very clear.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s clearly defined. Yeah. Right.

Shaunda Necole: Yeah. So that was wonderful. It was an easy yes for them because the site existed. So it is like a playground. Sometimes I have to tear myself away like, “Oh, I want to write about this for Vegas, but I need to get this recipe up.” But I do feel that because of SEO I’m very in tune with my audience on both sites. It’s usually pretty clear as to what’s the next thing that we’re writing about, and I let the data also tell that story. One of my rules in SEO is that one of the pillars that I have for myself is not what you say, it’s what they say. And so it’s always the content creation is based on what the audience is looking for. Sometimes it comes in the form of a comment where that happened recently where someone said on the Vegas site, “Can you share things to do here and how to get an Uber?” I was like, “Oh, that’s amazing. Yeah, how to get an Uber in Vegas because if you’ve never been to Vegas, you don’t know really what that looks like. Do they come to the airport? Do they take you to the strip? What does that really look like?”

And so it was a great blog post. I syndicate to MSN. I think that one did amazing even on that platform. Sometimes it comes directly from my audience’s direct feedback of, “Can you share this type of post?” And then most of the time it comes from Google Search Console and what keywords I’m ranking for or what posts may need supporting posts because they’re doing well or we need to branch out. There’s more to cover ground on this one subject. So that goes for the food blog and the Vegas site. I can say that I am very in tune with what each site needs, and that’s how I tend to write from there. And for both, even SEO, they’re just things that I can talk about in my sleep, so it makes it really fun to create content and to share new content around both of those subjects where it’s soul food or whether it’s Las Vegas.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. A couple of questions coming off of that. One of the things, it’s interesting to think about the world of travel because it’s so different than the world of food.

Shaunda Necole: Completely.

Bjork Ostrom: Are you able to expense trips? When you go out, is that part of it? I feel like that would be one of the many benefits of a travel site, is suddenly that is your business.

Shaunda Necole: Right.

Bjork Ostrom: And that’s all… not all, but I would guess a lot of the things that usually people would consider to be tourism vacation is like, “Oh no, this is content, and therefore is a business expense.” That’s great.

Shaunda Necole: It so is, yeah. It’s almost like pinch yourself too good to be true because when we moved to Vegas, we fell in love with the Vegas strip, so we are those locals who constantly are going to the strip. We just had the Super Bowl, so when they are amazing things going on, if I’m buying tickets for any of the activations happening around town because of that, it’s totally a business thing even though we’re really enjoying this experience. So that is a really fun part of it. But yeah, definitely travel and food are two totally different, I guess, animals, you would say, like a cat and a dog when we’re talking about creating content.

Bjork Ostrom: The other thing that you talked about that I’d be interested to hear your reflections on are syndicating the content. You said you syndicated to MSN. What does that look like, and what is the thought process with that, and how does it work?

Shaunda Necole: It’s something that’s new for me, and I’m really enjoying it. The greatest thing ever, and again, it’s a pinch me moment, I can’t believe that they’re letting me do this, and it’s true, MSN’s owned by Microsoft, I mean they have billions of users, and you’re earning backlinks from this incredible source. So in essence, it boils down to you have content on your blog, and MSN allows you to literally add a plug into your site, click a button, and now that whole article, whether it’s a recipe or a travel article, goes over to MSN with all links that you have internally or even affiliate wise externally from your site. You maintain the canonical link, meaning that you maintain the original source link so you’re not competing with your content on MSN with the same content on Google, you maintain the original source link. Google just knows that this content was worthy enough and it’s just being shared over here. And MSN even says, “This post originally comes from The Soul Food Pot,” whether it’s corn recipe or whatever it is. So it’s amazing.

There’s an ad profit share with that. It’s just something I’ve just gotten into this year. Look, I haven’t even gotten to the money part of it, just the aspect of earning that type of backlink is just simply mind-blowing and incredible.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Can you talk about what a canonical link is for those who aren’t familiar?

Shaunda Necole: Yeah, thank you for getting me to clarify that because it’s a clunky word that I dropped in there. For example, in this case where it’s the exact same article being shared over somewhere else, Google would definitely recognize that and say, “Hey, hey, hey, what are we doing here? This is the exact same content. Shaunda, it’s on your site, on The Soul Food Pot, and it’s over here on MSN.” So what it is is MSN is categorizing it saying that, “We are not the canonical link, that we are not the original source link.” I call it in my head, it’s like the sanction link, the original source link, and so that’s your link or my link if it’s my content going over to MSN or any other platform it could be. In this case, MSN is coding it appropriately so that Google understands that the original source is The Soul Food Pot’s recipe in this case and MSN has now a non-canonical link where they are just syndicating or sharing that same exact content, but it’s over here.

It’s important that it’s coded correctly for Google because I think we all know we can’t just copy and paste a blog post on our own site and title it something different, that Google definitely frowns upon that because it’s not good for the user. The search intent is for what they search for, so we can’t just duplicate things and call it something else, and in essence trick the user or the search engine.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah, that’s great. Canonical, usually being a link that you don’t even see, a lot of times it’s just hidden behind within the code, like the structured data, but it’s a signal back like, “Hey, this is,” like you said, “original source,” and so Google knows that. You’ve mentioned a couple of different things, talked about doing some keyword research, talked about Google Search Console. What are some of the other tools that you really like from a SEO perspective that you find helpful in your SEO tool belt?

Shaunda Necole: Right, so I love a keyword research tool. Quite honestly, some of the tools that I used to live and die by when I’m creating an article have changed since the HCU, or helpful content updates, those that have taken place with Google from the end of last year. It was the end of quarter three they started, but around quarter four into where we are now into 2024.

My process is a little bit different. I still use a keyword research tool where I go in and just look at what’s the search volume on this? Is anybody even looking for this? How to approach it, what’s the best keyword that I should be using? I’ll start with Google to see, again, search intent, what comes up. If I’m putting in fried chicken, again, are they looking for a restaurant or are they looking for how to make a recipe? So we’re always starting with Google to make sure that we’ve covered ground on the search intent. And then we’re just playing with what’s the right keyword we’re trying to rank for here. Whereas I would really deep dive and take that further, I used to use a couple of keyword tools where I’d go so granular as to find out what questions are people asking. I had a tool that would pull specific questions from Google, but HCU has changed things. We’re noticing, of course, that content where it was like, “Oh, long form content, long form content,” it really isn’t wanting that anymore because it’s not as user-friendly.

Definitely we’re seeing Quora and Reddit forums showing up in search when we’re doing searches. I think everyone’s seeing that. Well, it’s because it’s actually easy, that it gets right to the point, it gets to the point of what the user searched for, and gives them a pretty quick logistical answer. Like I said, I feel like the answers are always in Google. By just performing a search yourself, you can see, I don’t even call them clues, just the answers of how Google really wants things for its customer. I hope I answered that question. I still use keyword tools, but not the same way.

Bjork Ostrom: Almost saying using Google as the primary tool, finding a keyword, and then just seeing what type of content is ranking well for this keyword right now, and using that as a soft indicator to inform potentially what type of content should be created for that keyword. Because it’s obvious like, “Okay, that’s the thing that Google prefers.”

If it’s in the world of travel content and you’re creating something like the best steak dinners in Las Vegas, you can see, is there somebody going super deep on an explanation of each restaurant? Is it just a list of the top 10 with one sentence after? And that can be something that informs what type of content we should be creating if the intent is SEO. When you are creating content right now on any of your sites, is it always SEO forward? Is that how you’re approaching all of the content creation, is thinking about SEO?

Shaunda Necole: It’s definitely SEO forward, but at the flip side of that, we’re not writing for SEO, if that makes sense. For Vegas, my site is Vegas Right Now, and so I like to be the first on the scene, the source. So when new things really happen there, I like to be able to share that. That’s really not necessarily an SEO thing, it’s just I want to make sure that we have really current content about what’s happening in Vegas today. We keep updates of shows that are happening so that when you’re coming to the site, you’re not getting last year’s shows showing up, it’s the current shows, like in the next three months that are happening. Then, of course, once we decide what article is going to be published, what that subject is, then there is definitely an SEO strategy because we want to make sure that people find it, which is very important.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You mentioned HCU, helpful content update. My guess is that most people are familiar with what that is and how that played out, some people might be super familiar with the ins and outs. But everybody probably to some degree has been impacted by it, some people pretty significantly, other people not as much. I know that you, along with creating your own content, work with other publishers to help sort through all of this. What are you seeing right now in terms of sites and blogs and the impact that HCU has had?

Shaunda Necole: Honestly, I feel like HCU has affected most of us. There are articles on my food site that we are rewriting just to be in that position that I talked about where it’s more directly to the point. So I shared a lot of stories because my recipes come with a lot of cultural relevance and stories of how my family may have gotten to this, so we are certainly doing updates. I like those challenges. It’s funny, I just like to know that I can be flexible and adapt to changes, so I embrace them and we just move forward in that direction.

But it’s a lot of what I mentioned, that whereas we would put so much into one article, that we really need to look at that and see like, “That probably should be two, maybe even five different articles. It’s probably not a one-article thing. There’s just too much.” I think of it on the travel side, it’s like dad content. So if you were thinking you’re going on a vacation, and dad’s probably the one who knows how tall the mountain is, who scaled it before, what year that happened. That would not be something that the average user, maybe mom who’s going in, or kids want. They just want to know what time’s it open, what time’s it closed. Give me just the things that I need as a traveler to know how to get to this national park or this attraction. And then in a separate article, we can dive into how high is it, how much did it cost to build it, all those dad kind of things. So that’s the way that I’m seeing, and like I said, we see the Quora on the Reddit show up, because they really condense that content into what the user really just needs to know very quickly.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting. You see the lists of sites that are impacted positively or negatively, and the Qouras and the Reddits are just off the charts. It’s just like there’s so many search terms that have been gobbled up by those sites. In the food world, if you’re just doing recipe content, a Quora or a Reddit maybe won’t cannibalize those as much… or not cannibalized, but take those over. But if you were doing best yoga pants or something like that and you ranked really well or best places to visit in Minneapolis, you could have ranked for that, and then suddenly now there’s Reddit and Quora box and it has all of these threads from these platforms, and it’s like, “Oh man, you can see pretty quickly how a single algorithm change can upend your business and change things.”

As we round the corner and close out, I’m curious to hear you, as you look forward within your business, you’ve had a lot of experience with business, we talked about starting with the retail store, learning the ropes, getting into the world of publishing online, both with your platform and your blog, and refining that process, and now here we are in 2024. What do you think of when you look out and you look on the horizon to where you’re going? As an entrepreneur, as a creator, where do you see the opportunities and what would your advice be people who are going to be in the game with you when you look ahead?

Shaunda Necole: Yeah, I love this question. My strategy is always long-term, so it’s never just like for today. I’m always trying to see this as a full-fledged… It is a full-fledged business, but seeing that things that we’re creating are for the long-term and not just for today. One of the tips I would have is simply just being well-rounded, just not just brand partnerships. We sell digital printable products also. I do consulting. There are websites. And for me it’s more websites. I really enjoy the content creation. I really enjoy the SEO structure, so I look forward to a fourth site in 2025. My eye is on a pet site. I travel with my pets, and so I would love to share how I navigate that, how I get them on a plane and they’re quiet the whole time, and just share those stories. And they’re just used to it and they love it. So it’s just thinking long-term type of content.

I think we say evergreen content, but really making sure that we’re hammering down on things that are going to make revenue for years to come. I just don’t think in this day and age, maybe like five years ago it was different, or honestly, maybe a year and a half ago it was different, but as a content creator, we cannot ignore SEO any longer. It is crucial to how content is created. To rank top of that search engine, it’s very important to be in tune with how search engine optimization, how that optimization works.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, there’s something to be said about that idea of diversification, and we have versions of that. We have Pinch of Yum, we have Food Blogger Pro already as a software tool, but then also, and we don’t talk about this a lot, it’s like we have this other world of real estate. And it’s the ultimate contrast to all things digital, but the reason is, number one, similar to you, I think there’s something to be said about it’s enjoyable to have multiple things that you’re doing. I think for some people, if you’re only doing one thing and it was really narrow and that’s all that you’re doing, it might get old and you might burn out. Some of it is just being able to sustain yourself by having variety.

But the other piece that is so helpful is that you know that if one of your sites is impacted, you maybe have another site and that site might not be impacted. And so there’s a little bit of this load balancing that we can potentially do. You have to make sure it comes at the right time because you can’t start four things at the same time, but I think it’s really wise to think about what does that look like to balance across multiple things so you’re not just in one area and to have those different revenue streams that you can have as an entrepreneur and bonus if it’s all stuff that you enjoy doing.

Shaunda Necole: Totally agree.

Bjork Ostrom: It sounds like that’s true for you, whether it’s traveling with your pets or going to Las Vegas or making incredible recipes.

Shaunda Necole: Yeah, and definitely you mentioned the real estate conversation for another time, but that’s our family business. We have tenants and property, so it’s the foundation to all of it. But yeah, that’s a whole ‘nother wonderful conversation.

Bjork Ostrom: At the top of the hour, this is what happens, is then we open up this entire door that we can walk into and we could explore, but we’ll have to schedule another podcast interview. But yeah, I think it comes back to that, and I think a lot of the conversations, even that I have with creators who are at a certain point where they’ve been able to build up some profit, the question then is like, “What do you do with that?” It’s probably a series that we could do on the podcast, which is like, what do you do when you’re at the point where you have established success and have this profit coming in? Do you reinvest it? Do you, in your case, invest in real estate? Do you put it in the stock market? What are all those considerations which are fun but also potentially daunting decisions to make?

Shaunda Necole: Yeah. Definitely can be daunting decisions, but the geek in me, it’s another fun conversation.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, okay, it sounds good. Shaunda, if people want to connect with you, if they want to reach out, I know that you talked about working with other publishers and maybe people have a trip to Las Vegas coming up, what’s the best way for people to connect with you and follow along with what you’re up to and see all the other stuff that you’re doing?

Shaunda Necole: Yeah, absolutely. So Shaunda Necole is my site, and actually it’s the home base now, so from that site you can get… It’s Shaunda Necole. My parents were a little creative, so I’m S-H-A-U-N-D-A and Necole is very untraditional, it’s N-E-C-O-L E.com. And from there there’s a dropdown, I think, under About Me for my consulting services. But also on the homepage, if you want to know more about Vegas, you can link directly to my Vegas site, which is vegasrightnow.com. And then also on the homepage there’s a direct link to my food site, which is thesoulfoodpot.com. And on Instagram, I am also Shaunda Necole.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Last question for you. We’re doing a trip to Las Vegas, hypothetically, where’s the one restaurant that we need to go to? We have one night in Vegas. What restaurant is it?

Shaunda Necole: One night in Vegas, oh gosh, because on the strip off the strip. Well, I’m going to say this one because it’s dinner and a show, so it’s almost kind of like speak easy-ish, but it’s not completely hidden, but Superfrico. I just took some guests there because you get a dinner, you get a show, you get a DJ, it’s so Vegas.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. There it is, superfrico. Love it. We’ll add it to the list next time we go. Shaunda, thanks so much for coming on. Really appreciate it.

Shaunda Necole: Oh, you’re welcome. Thanks for having me. I loved the conversation.

Emily Walker: Hey there, this is Emily from the Food Blogger Pro team. Thank you so much for listening to that episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. I wanted to take a minute and just ask that if you enjoyed this episode or any of our other many episodes of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, that you share it. It means so much to us as a podcast if you share episodes with your friends and family, or if you are a food blogger or entrepreneur, if you could share them on social media or even in your email newsletters. It really helps us get the word out about our podcast and reach more listeners. Thanks again for listening. We really hope you enjoyed this episode, and we’ll see you back here next week.

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