Five months ago, I decided (at long last) that I was going to start up my own food blog ( Pescetarian Kitchen). Both my partner, Laura, and I had wanted to do this for some time, as we’re real foodies, so we started to do a little research into the practicalities of it.
One of the other motivations for starting our blog, outside of our love for food, was the fact that we’re both pescetarians (i.e. we follow a vegetarian diet, plus eat seafood). Now, when it comes to finding specialist pescetarian blogs, the results are pretty limited. I mean, I could count them on two hands…
That got us thinking… Why don’t we become THE pescetarian blog? There’s a huge demand for it, with up to 40% of the US population eating “flexitarian” meals (any form of vegetarianism) at some point each week. This growing statistic is also reflected in monthly searches within Google:
The term pescetarian is searched for around 40,500 times every month. This alone was an encouraging stat for me, because it doesn’t even take into account all of the recipe-specific search terms that could be targeted (e.g. prawn linguine recipe).
So, five months on, where are we? Well, I’m particularly happy with the results so far, and this is why I wanted to outline the approach that I’ve taken from a content, social, and SEO perspective to get results.
On the topic of results, here’s where we’re at right now:
- Page 1 rankings in Google for the terms pescetarian, pescetarian blog, pescetarian recipes and pescetarian meals. Go ahead, Google it if you don’t believe me
- 4,700+ followers on our Facebook page
- The average engagement on one of our Facebook posts will often result in around 100 likes, 5-15 comments, 20-50 shares and 100-300 clicks through to the website
- 850+ Twitter followers
- 500+ Pinterest followers
- 550 double opt-in email subscribers
- 30,000+ unique visits to the blog
- 15,000+ unique visits coming from social media traffic alone
- 65,000+ backlinks
As you can see, we’ve made a good start, but there’s a long way to go yet. It’s worth noting at this point that we haven’t really done much outbound link building work (the majority is organic) and we have spent no more than £100/$165 each month on promotion.
Although it’s early in our campaign, I’m going to share how we’ve achieved what we have so far and give you as much actionable information as to how you can go out and replicate the early success that we’ve had. This will include the exact strategies that I’ve implemented, the tools that I’ve used and any tips for accelerating growth.
Phase 1: Analysis
The first step that I take in any new campaign, be it personal or for a client, is a full competitive analysis. This includes:
- Insight into the types of content being produced by my competitors
- The marketing techniques that are bringing them success
- A breakdown of the social landscape, including the types of content being shared as well as the people who are engaging with it
- Competitive SEO analysis, looking at competitors and general opportunities
The first and most important part of the analysis is looking at the content that is currently being produced within the niche. All of the promotion channels are secondary to this.
For my food blog I started with a simple Google search to find some of the most popular blogs within the niche. From there I went in and gathered the following details:
- The name of the website
- The frequency of content being published
- The general themes of the content (e.g. recipes, how-tos, diet advice, etc.)
- All of their social media profile URLs
- I subscribed to their email newsletter to see how frequently they mailed out and what they were sending
- Traffic level estimates using SimilarWeb and SEMrush
- Insights into the length of their content, the format of the content, and social shares using URL Profiler. You can also use BuzzSumo for this by searching with the competitor’s domain name
From these core pieces of data I was able to drill down into what was working for each of my competitors, the types of content that I should be looking at producing, and some of the channels where I needed to invest most of my time.
The key takeaway from my analysis was that visual content was the key. Good photography is one of the biggest determinants of success within the food niche. Unfortunately for me, I’m a novice photographer, and only had an iPhone to use.
I’ve contemplated showing you some of my early attempts at taking photographs of our recipes, but they’re actually so terrible that I’m too embarrassed to! What I will share is the fact that you don’t need to be a professional to pull this kind of thing off.
Instead of spending a ton of money on loads of expensive photography kit, I did something that is very logical but, more often than not, overlooked. I asked for help.
I got in touch with a few food bloggers and asked them what they did when they first started out. This simple and optimistic email outreach resulted in an incredible response from Kiersten Frase of Oh My Veggies. Kiersten outlined her exact method for taking great photos with just an iPhone and a few cheap bits of equipment (it cost me around £20/$35 in total). Here’s a link to an article she shared with me that talks all about this – I’m sure it will be of use to a number of you.
After this I worked on perfecting my photography (as best I could) so that our content would be able to compete with the competition and build a solid image around our brand. Here’s a recent shot I took:
The image of our blog is everything. The visuals are the window into the rest of the content. Without them looking great, everything else would be overlooked. Being overlooked is not what we wanted, so we made sure we invested time into getting everything right before ever hitting publish.
I’ve spent countless hours simply looking at the way that our competitors were composing images and how they would use them across social media. I firmly believe that this has been one of the deciding factors in the initial success of our content.
Before we went off and set up a Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, SoundCloud, SlideShare, StumbleUpon, Myspace and LinkedIn page for our blog, we needed to decide which channels were right for us. More importantly, we needed to decide which channels would provide the best route to our target audience.
Considering the visual nature of our content, it made sense to drill down on social channels that would really make the most of showing off what we have. Similarly, the main goal was traffic generation, so we wanted to be able to bring a pull-through of relevant people to our blog.
Immediately we were able to ditch some social networks from our list of potential channels, including LinkedIn, Myspace, SoundCloud, etc.
We also made the decision that we weren’t going to produce any video content at this stage (mainly due to resources), so YouTube was ruled out (for now). This gave us an initial list of:
Now came the issue of our time. Although we wanted to get as much exposure as possible, it’s not always realistic to start building communities in every channel that you can – it can often have a detrimental effect because you’re not able to put enough time into each platform and your content becomes very disparate.
So… we mapped out the time that we could dedicate towards our social media activities. This was a simple process that took into account the following:
- Time needed to create a content roadmap across each platform.
- Resource needed to produce any platform-specific content on each platform (e.g. resized images, custom tracking links, post descriptions, etc.).
- Any extra equipment/software that would need to be purchased or any extra skills developed.
Once we had some estimates for each channel, we could then compare this to the total opportunity for each. Now, this isn’t always an easy thing to calculate, but platforms that have an advertising program will often help to identify some rough audience volumes.
For example, within Facebook we did a search for anyone who liked pages related to pescetarianism/vegetarianism…
As you can see from the screenshot above, there are over 6 million people interested in the topics within the UK and the US alone. That’s a good starting point.
You can do a similar exercise within StumbleUpon and Twitter.
Once I had these stats, I then took the figures from my initial competitive analysis to see the audience sizes of relevant (and bigger) blogs for each channel. Here’s how it was broken down:
The big takeaway here was that Facebook was THE platform for growing a large community of followers. Alongside this, Pinterest and Instagram were a close second, with Twitter coming in third.
Unsurprisingly, the social platforms that are very image-led seemed to be the places where the majority of our target audience were consuming content. Off the back of this research we decided to focus primarily on the following platforms:
We decided to go with Pinterest instead of Instagram because of the fact that they are very similar and we didn’t have a huge amount of extra time to work on both (so it made sense to choose one or the other). There was also the fact that Pinterest works particularly well for traffic generation, which is one of our primary objectives.
SEO & traffic analysis
The third and final part of our analysis was to look into the websites that were linking to our competitors, the keywords that we could potentially target for ranking within the search engines, and the websites that were driving through large volumes of traffic to our competitors.
Competitive link analysis
I’m not going to go into all the details of performing a competitive link analysis because this topic has been covered hundreds of times. If you want to get a little more information then you can view this article, this one or this one.
Here’s a comparison that I ran through Open Site Explorer:
In a nutshell, this told us that the majority of these websites were very well established and were getting large volumes of linking root domains through to their website. But then, I expected this to be the case.
What I was more interested in was who it was that was linking to the competition, and also how they were linking.
What I found was that some of the best links that all of my competition had were coming from BuzzFeed. This came in the form of recipe mentions within list posts. In fact, the majority of their links were coming through to deeper pages on their websites – primarily pages with recipes on them. This was a key insight because it was clear that we needed to spend a lot of time ensuring that our recipes were as linkable as possible.
As with competitive link research, keyword research has been covered LOADS. In fact, I produced an almost hour-long tutorial on running keyword research for blogs, so you can check out the full video below:
The main finding from our keyword research was that there was a ton of interest around search terms related to pescetarianism (as I mentioned above) with fairly low competition around them – perfect.
Not only that, but there are thousands of potential long tail keywords that can be targeted around specific recipe ideas. This bodes well for developing consistent growth in organic search traffic.
To tie together the competitive link analysis, social media analysis and the keyword research, I wanted to have a look into the major traffic sources to my competitors’ websites.
There are a number of tools that you can use for this, some paid and some free. The first tool that I love to use is SimilarWeb. By plugging one of my competitor’s websites into SimilarWeb I will get a breakdown of their top referring websites.
Now, one thing to bear in mind here is that you need to take these figures as estimates. They’re pretty close but they’re not spot-on. Here’s a snapshot from a couple of my competitors:
Here’s another one:
No surprises that BuzzFeed was the top traffic source for each of these websites. From this simple analysis I was able to find a whole host of websites and communities that I could start tapping into to drive through traffic to our blog. Here’s a small list of some of the top targets:
- Huffington Post
- Reddit (we found a Pescetarian-specific subreddit)
As well as using SimilarWeb, I took a lot at the keywords that were bringing through the most traffic from the search engines to my competitors’ websites. I did this with SEMrush. Here’s a snapshot of some of the terms specifically related to pescetarianism:
Again, all of this data is used so that we could map out some content to start competing for similar terms.
Phase 2: Where the hard work begins
Getting the branding right across the site was something that took a lot of time. I wanted to make sure that it was well thought out, related to our target audience and used all of the research that we’d carried out to make informed decisions.
At the same time, I didn’t want it to cost a fortune. This was the same case for all of the assets we needed to go along with it. For example:
- The website design and development
- The blog logo
- Social media profile artwork
- Banners for advertising
These are just a few things we needed to consider, with more to follow over the coming months. Ideally, the website that we’ve created has been built to last at least 1-1.5 years so we needed to get it right.
I know it can be tough to know where to start with these kinds of things, especially if you’re on a tight budget and have had little experience in running anything similar before. With that in mind, I’m going to share a number of different tools and services that I used (or have used before) to get various brand assets in place…
Adobe Kuler – before you start diving into your web design and development, you need to get an idea of the colour palette of your brand. Adobe Kuler is always my first port of call, plus it’s free.
Mural.ly – this is a pretty smart platform that allows you to map out your ideas in a manageable workflow. It’s a paid tool but the entry level package is only $10. I’ve used Mural.ly to map out all the different things I want my brand to encompass, who my target market is, the channels I’ll be using, etc. and it works really well.
Dribbble – if you’re looking for some creative inspiration then Dribbble is the perfect starting point to look at some cool designs, brands and campaigns. Always good to get the creative juices flowing!
Google Consumer Barometer – this is a seriously awesome resource for getting deeper insights into the online behaviour of your target audience. Using some of the data within Consumer Barometer, you can start shaping the perception and story of your brand.
99designs – an amazing marketplace where you can get all kinds of creative work done for as little as $99. This can include logos, banners, print work, etc.
WiseStamp – create custom email signatures that can also pull in links from your social profiles, the recent posts from your blog, your latest tweets and much more.
48hourslogo.com – here’s another amazing design marketplace. We actually got the Pescetarian Kitchen logo designed here for $120 and the results were amazing. You can check out the design page here: http://www.48hourslogo.com/project.php?id=29142
crowdSPRING – logo design and graphic design marketplace.
Swiftly – small design jobs from just $19. This is great to get little bits of your brand artwork created or tweaked.
Impossibility! – a fantastic domain name generator that will help you to decide on the perfect fit for your domain name. We started using this tool for our blog as we needed to have the term pescetarianwithin it. We finally decided on going with one of the new .kitchen TLDs that were made available.
Balsamiq – a great wire-framing tool that you can use to map out how you want your new site to look.
Theme Forest – if you’re not very code savvy, you may want to look at using a premade website template. You can customise these themes with your own imagery and Theme Forest is a huge marketplace to find the right one.
IM Creator – if you’d prefer to use a much simpler interface without having to know anything about development or code, you can use IM Creator to create a website within their easy-to-use interface.
oDesk – if you haven’t heard of oDesk before then you should check it out. It’s a great place to hire freelancers to get bits of development work, design work or any other kind of work done. I use oDesk all the time but you just need to make sure that you’re taking the time to interview the freelancers you work with.
Build Fire – this can follow on from your website development project as you can create your own mobile apps with Build Fire’s platform. The beauty of it is that you can have a HTML5 app for free (no strings attached) and you can also get iOS and Android apps for just $50 a month. They could be a nice extension to your website (it’s something that me and Laura are looking at right now).
Once we’d got the website developed along with the logos and imagery, it was time to start focusing on the traffic generation side of things. I’ll break this down into some of the different channels that we focused on and then go into detail on the specific activities that we carried out to get results.
As far as long-term traffic generation strategies go, SEO is top of the list for us. As I mentioned in the analysis in phase 1, we carried out extensive research into which terms our competitors were ranking well for, as well as some potential keyword opportunities that we could target. After this it was time to align this to our content strategy.
Before we started planning out specific content ideas, we set a few things up within the blog to ensure that our site was optimised as well as it could be. The first was to implement Schema.org markup.
Schema.org markup is particularly useful for food blogs as it enables you to mark up specific webpages that contain recipes in order to display them differently within the search engines.
In the image above it shows the search engine snippet for one of our recipes. It has an image of the dish, the total cooking time, the number of calories within it and then the usual title/description.
When compared to a lot of the other competing results, it’s clear that our SERP snippet is much more clickable:
The best part of this was that we didn’t have to do any coding at all (or even know how to code this up). Instead, we used a simple free WordPress plugin called ZipList that allows us to enter in a few extra details to our WordPress posts and it will add all the necessary Schema.org markup that can enable Google to display a custom SERP snippet.
Aside from Schema.org markup, we also set up Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin. The main reason for this is that it’s completely awesome! It allows you to manage your URLs, sitemaps, meta data and tons more. It’s worth having a read of this post on different on-page SEO factors and then working your way through them with the help of Yoast’s plugin.
The majority of our link acquisition strategy is geared around a more organic, earned approach. We’re focusing on developing great content (in the form of recipes, primarily) that others will share and link to. This obviously has some level of manufacturing to it in order to gain traction, but our ethos is to focus on content first, links second.
With this in mind, our content has to be right.
To begin with, we gathered a huge list of potential keywords that were food/recipe orientated. From there we mapped them out into a huge spreadsheet and identified the keyword competitiveness score for each ( Moz metric), along with the total monthly search volume. From here we could start creating a list of topics to write about (i.e. different recipes we would cook up) and then marry them up perfectly to our target keyword.
It takes time to start ranking for a wide spread of keywords like this but getting content together for each of your target terms is the right starting place. Over five months, we’ve published 72 recipes that all focus on different search terms from which we can start bringing through search traffic. It’s worth noting that keyword search volume isn’t the only factor that’s considered when creating new content, but it plays a big role in it.
As I mentioned within the first part of this post, BuzzFeed is a key traffic driver to the majority of our competitors. Having a look at some of the links they have acquired from BuzzFeed show that they are generally from having their recipe(s) featured within list-based posts.
Not only that, but they’re cashing in on some seriously powerful links (DA 92).
I made it our goal to get a feature within a BuzzFeed article. Not only was I interested in getting a seriously powerful link, but the traffic potential off the back of one of these posts is huge, especially if it goes to the front page.