Ever wonder how successful blogs got their start? What did they do right? What tactics and content types worked the best, and which didn’t work at all?
For this installment of the “Origin Stories of Powerful Blogs,” I spoke with Matthew Barby, digital and content strategist at Wyatt International. I’ve been a big fan of Matthew Barby’s writing on various online marketing topics, and love his incredibly detailed posts about his process for his food blog, Pescetarian Kitchen. I asked Matthew to share how they got started, and what worked as they were getting the blog off the ground. He offered some great insight in his answers below:
1. What were your general measures of success for the blog?
The blog is still in its infancy, but we hit 50K visits per month within the first year of going live, we have a Facebook following of around 5.5K, and an email subscriber list of around 5K.
2. What was the main objective for the blog?
To be honest, my partner and I started the blog with the idea of monetizing it in a couple of years once we’d built up a good following. Once we started to get some traction, I decided to use the site as a bit of a testing ground for some new ideas I had for SEO, social, and more. This has only helped us to grow the blog.
3. Roughly how much time were you spending on the blog early on?
We would spend between one and two hours a day max on the blog at the start. This involved doing some photography and writing up recipes. We just planned these around the meals we would eat in the evening which made it easier. I’d then schedule all of the social content in advance each weekend, doing some daily engagement for five minutes in the morning and lunchtime.
4. What was your strategy for the blog?
We had the plan to fill a huge gap in the food blogging scene, which was catering to pescetarians. The term “pescetarian” is searched more than 70K per month in Google and yet there are less than four major pescetarian blogs – this seemed like a huge opportunity to tap into a very specific niche.
These types of opportunities usually have high conversion rates due to how specific they are. With that in mind, we put together a plan to get as many new recipes out in bulk within the first three months to get some initial traction on social and via our email list. I think we were publishing almost twice a day at one point. After three months, we scaled back to three articles per week and focused more on the promotion side of things.
5. How did you come up with topics for the blog early on?
The topics were fairly easy to come up with because we’re so passionate about food. We have a ton of recipe books and follow a lot of blogs ourselves. I just used the base recipe ideas and then performed basic keyword research to identify any big opportunities for long-term traffic and then prioritized them.
6. How long was the content you created?
The content was around 400 to 600 words and this has remained fairly consistent. At the start it was more about getting as many new posts out as possible, and the strategy moved away from volume and closer to off-site promotion once we built a good base of content.
7. How frequently did you publish new content?
More than once a day within the first month, and then three times per week from month two on.
8. What content types did you publish the most?
Everything follows the same format of a structured recipe, but we created customer photography for each post and then overlaid it with our branding for consistent social sharing and brand recognition.
9. What did you use as KPIs early on to determine if you were getting traction?
Mainly social engagement in the early stages. We also looked at email subscription rates to judge early performance. I tend to avoid focusing on traffic levels until I can get at least five to six months into a campaign.
10. What content types did you retire quickly because they didn’t work?
We tried a few longer pieces that elaborated a lot more on the ideas and inspiration of the recipes but we soon found out that a lot of our visitors just wanted the details of how to make our recipes. We quickly moved away from doing that.
11. How did you promote your content early on? Did you or someone involved with the blog have an established following or were you starting from scratch?
We started from scratch within the food niche. We set out a list of key online communities that we wanted to be present within, and made sure we were engaging in them and shared our content there a lot. We spent a lot of time engaging within Reddit which gave us a ton of traffic.
Alongside online communities we dedicated time to preparing content for BuzzFeed which ended bringing through 10K+ visitors to our blog and a flurry of email subscribers. Alongside this, we spent around $100 per month of Facebook and Twitter ads to acquire new email subscribers.
12. Did you ever think about quitting, pausing, or limiting your investment in the blog?
It’s funny you should ask that because we’ve been on a break with the blog at the moment. This was mainly due to the lack of natural light we were getting in the evenings within winter to do really good photography. We decided that if we couldn’t do it really well, we’d avoid it altogether.
Our plan is to begin content production in the next month and invest in some better lighting equipment for next winter (a lesson we’ve learned). We made sure that the blog had good traffic coming in organically and kept the email campaigns going in the meantime.
Featured image created by author for SEJ
Matthew Barby’s photo used with permission