On Blogging: Building an Audience.

[You guys! This past week marked nine years of blogging here at howsweeteats. That means that I’m currently working on my TENTH year! I figured it was high time to answer all the questions you’ve asked me over the years about starting/maintaining a blog and what goes into it. ENJOY! xo]

Okay, so you’ve asked. I should warn you! This post is loooong. If you’re a blogger or interested in starting a blog, this is for you!

It’s basically like we are sitting down to lunch and I’m telling you exactly how I’ve done this job. I’m absolutely not an expert. I’ve definitely put this type of post off for, well… close to a decade. You certainly don’t have to follow my advice! I’m just giving you what works for me.

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See.

MY OTHER RECIPES

I suffer from this issue – probably called “being a brat syndrome” – where if I don’t want to do something, I just don’t do it. Or well, I loathe doing it. Maybe it’s the crazy scorpio in me or the fact that I’m just weirdly passionate, but I have to love love love what I’m doing. Like LOVE it. Or else, I’m over it.

Like when I was in college. Pretty good student all my life, up until econ my freshman year. I got a D. And I didn’t even care. I hated it and could not stand it. There was no way I was wasting my time on it. That was my mindset.

Yes, I realize this is terrible (and I sure hope my children don’t inherit this nor am I teaching this kind of behavior – and of course my parents did NOT condone it!) but it is the truth.

And I tell you this because this should tell you how much I absolutely adore blogging. I love it.

I seriously, gigantically adore it. And it’s probably one of the reasons that I’ve had a bit of success with it.

When I love something? I’m the lunatic that gives 765%.

And I know how lucky I am. I am so grateful that I have this space and that this is actually a job for me. I am so appreciative of YOU coming here!

And while I’ve very grateful, this space is here because I have spent the last almost-decade working on it every single day. Yes, every single day. Yes, even on the days when I have given birth to my children or had the flu. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have worked my butt off for what I want on this site. And that’s what this is all about – I’m going to write this series and share everything I can about blogging here at howsweeteats!

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ALL THE SECRETS.

That title is a lie. Because! I don’t have “secrets” when it comes to blogging and getting people to read my blog. If you’ve ever emailed me for advice on building an audience, you probably know this. Because when I’m approached about the topic, I often spill my guts like a psychopath to this stranger that doesn’t even know me.

I tell people exactly how I’ve built my blog because it’s not a secret.

In fact, I’ve had other bloggers tell me that I shouldn’t be “giving out so much advice” to those who ask me. I’ve even had family members say that.

Um, what? First, it’s not a secret. It’s just what I do. There’s enough space for everyone and – guess what? I still remember back when I asked bloggers for advice and they wouldn’t share it.

So I will FOREVER share my personal advice when it comes to blogging and what’s worked for me.

I’m an open book. I love to share what has worked for me. I could talk about it for hours and I will answer any question you ask.

The most important thing? Create the kind of content that YOU like. This is all I do. I only create content that I enjoy. That is why you don’t see me repeating my old content on here. I like to read new content and get weirdly creepily into a life of someone on the internet that I don’t know. I like to share my beauty favorites. I like to share my favorite light reads. I have this whole other section here on my blog that half of you don’t even know about it, just so I can ramble on about whatever I want to ramble about and use it as a diary.

The second most important thing? I never started a blog with the intentions of making money or “building an audience” or anything like that. That barely existed back then. I started and continued because I freakishly loved it. Most people today don’t have that luxury – the luxury of starting a blog in a naïve state and continuing because you love it. Nope. Almost immediately when you start,  you’re probably googling “starting a blog,” and you realize that people are making money and have 87 billion Instagram followers and you’re like HOW. It just spirals from there.

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GETTING READERS AND STUFF LIKE THAT

Building an audience is such an odd thing to me, because I never set out to build anything. I didn’t know blogging could be a JOB (can we all take a moment for this please… I’m dead) and then even when I realized it could, I wasn’t necessarily trying to BUILD. But alas, this is what you asked about, so here I am.

For me, it comes down to two things: consistency and connection.

Sounds super cliché, right? Well, it is.

It’s no secret that I post a lot of content. First, I post a lot of content because I love to do so. I love creating and sharing content. One day, I might not. And I assure you that when that day comes, I will stop.

But that’s not now. I love what I do.

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SHOWING UP

Consistency is key. There is a LOT of freaking content on the internet these days. I’m just being honest: if you’re only posting once a week (and let’s just get this out of the way early: by “posting” this could mean on a blog, on insta, insta stories, youtube, etc – whatever your preferred platform is) when you just start out, how can anyone find you? How can you stand out in a sea of content? It’s really difficult and unless you’re doing something cool/awesome/new/different, you probably can’t.

Think about your BFF. Your person. Someone you chat with all the time. I talk to Lacy and Eddie a billion times per day. About stupid things. About serious things. About what’s going on in the world that day. About all the things. If we only talked once a week, we probably wouldn’t be that close. And well, if I only talked to Eddie once a week… ha. You get it.

Be open and genuine. Be yourself. Share what you feel like sharing – honestly sharing, about your life and yourself. You will find your people this way.

I think all the cool young kids are calling it a tribe. You will find your tribe.

You just have to be consistent. I think it’s important to try and connect almost every single day on some form of social media. But whatever you decide you can commit to, it should be consistent. Three days a week? Great. Start there.

And you know what? It has to be consistent for a long time. Like a LONG time.

Daily, I receive tons of messages about growing a brand and an audience. The thing is that I have been growing this for almost TEN YEARS!! It takes time. No “big thing” ever happened for me. A celebrity didn’t shout out my blog, I wasn’t featured on GMA or anything. I don’t have connections. I don’t live in NYC or LA so I don’t even have accidental blog connections by location. It was truly just consistent day-in-and-day-out work that made my blog grow. Working on it nonstop.

Of course, I loved it so much that it didn’t feel like work. But that’s a whole other story.

Before I continue, I feel like I’ve got to give a disclaimer for all my mamas out there. I receive tons of questions about how I do this with kids. I feel that it’s important for me to stress that I did this for SEVEN years before I had kids. I did this for a super long time. I already had a groove. I had become very efficient. I had researched everything. This was my full time job, making an income, helping to support us. I had written a book already. I was immersed in this blog life, if you will.

I know exactly what has to be done, when, and how. I know what I need to do and if it means three baskets of clean laundry go unfolded, so be it. Ultimately, my kids have ended up fitting into this work life with blogging since I did it so long before having them. It’s just like having a job where you work outside the home. I don’t know how other to explain it, other than… I just do it.

And I feel like this is so important to mention because if I tried to start my blog AFTER having kids? I don’t know how it would be today. It definitely wouldn’t be the same. It would be very difficult. I could never do it like how I did it for those seven years before. It was my only priority for a super long time.

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SO, THE “AUDIENCE.”

Early on, like… really early on, I decided that I didn’t care about numbers. I really just cared about my readers. That is it.

Want to know why? Because back in 2009 and 2010, when brands started working with bloggers and sending product for review, multiple brands refused to send me product to blog about because they said my numbers weren’t high enough. And in hindsight, all I wanted to do was give them free advertising!

I had literary agents contact me early on, only to also tell me that my “numbers weren’t high enough.”

After a good long while of that, I thought screw it. I’m not doing anything with brands or anything with any other company. I am writing this blog 100% how I want to write it, because I have these readers here actually reading it and that’s who I love and adore.

And that was that. That was when this community really started to grow.

It was the start of my love affair with this community. Sharing recipes and chatting about everything. It made me so incredibly happy. It reinforced that page views are not all that matters.

Now, this is the part where I tell you one thing that is a TOTALLY different subject, but pertains to building an audience and making connections.

Your photos should probably look good. Luckily, you can start with an iPhone today! I couldn’t. I had to teach myself. And I don’t like photography one bit.

I’ll do another post touching on the photography subject. But let’s just say that… if your photos look good? People will start to stick around. Our world is so visual today – the photography is most people’s first impression of your content.

Anyhoo. Moving on.

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I’VE NEVER CARED ABOUT SEO. OOOOPS. 

When it comes to building a loyal audience and connecting with my readers, do you know what I don’t give a flying fig about? What I don’t even consider?

SEO.

Yep, that’s right.

Now I know, I know, the blogging gods and guides are going to come after me for giving terrible no good very bad advice. This is probably the worst thing ever to be written on the internet. And frankly, I’m not ignorant. I do KNOW that today, in a community that is large (some would say saturated – eh, I don’t always agree), in order to get noticed and get some sort of traction, SEO is important. I get this. I know it. If you’re starting out, follow all the SEO practices. Just do it! It’s easy, because you’re starting and you don’t know any better.

For me, here’s the thing. SEO requires some weirdo things that just don’t go or flow with my writing style. And by “writing style” I simply mean that I sit down at the computer, write whatever the heck is on my mind, pour out my thoughts regardless of how jumbled they are, proofread for typos two or three times and inevitably end up missing a ton, then hit publish.

Having to include larger paragraph headings, writing out a keyword multiple times, including key phrases to make google happy and searching for key words or ad words or whatever the heck words – it just feels so… unnatural to me. Not genuine. I hate it. Honestly, I hate it. I like to sit down and write as if I’m talking to a friend. Write like it’s my diary. Like I’m talking to you! That’s the only way I enjoy it. And I don’t want some SEO rules to determine how I’m writing out the actual thoughts in my brain.

While this may be the worst advice ever given on the internet, it’s important for me. I have always been my true and genuine self on this blog because of it – that matters in my writing. The writing is my favorite part. No one and nothing is going to dictate how I’m “talking” to you guys day in and day out, and I believe that has led to a greater connection for us.

All this to say that… you probably SHOULD do something with SEO. What I mean by not caring about it? Is that I don’t thinking have perfect SEO is the best way to gain a loyal following. Writing your heart out will!

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I WRITE THROUGH THE CRAP (errr, the uninspiring moments) FOR THE CONNECTION.

This is another important thing for me, because writing is my favorite part of all of this. I realize that if you’re new, that may come as a shock. I don’t write any literary works of art over here, and since having kids, I know that my writing has lacked a bit. But that’s what I do on this blog – JUST KEEP WRITING. I keep writing, through the good and the bad writing and the awful and embarrassing and ridiculous and rambling writing because that’s how I get through it. Yep, this is my job so it should be semi-professional but it’s also kind of like my daily journal in a way that ended up being my job accidentally on purpose.

I’m the kind of person who is uninspired by taking breaks. I mean, normal breaks – sure, that’s great. They are refreshing. But like, if I “can’t get in the groove” of writing a blog post, and I decide to take a break? It could be WEEKS before I actually “feel” like I have something worthy of writing. You know? I mean, maybe I’d just never come back to write again. And then I’d get all stuck in my head about how it had been so long since I’d come back. It would be a vicious cycle.

If I had followed that tactic, I probably would have quit a long time ago. You just have to sit down and do it. Do the parts that you don’t love (for me, photography!) and the parts that are hard even when you do love them.

So, what I’m trying to say – and, to make a long story, well… longer, I believe that you push through for the connection. Keep writing and telling your story, in whatever way works for you.

That really brings together the whole consistency and connection thing for me. In being consistent with my writing, I’ve been able to connect with so many people.

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BE VISIBLE BY SHARING CONSTANTLY.

Well. I don’t mean to be all UP IN YOUR FACE.

Another thing that I stand by that many, many, many people don’t believe in – is staying consistent by posting often. Maybe you don’t need to share three recipes a week these days to build a following. But guess what? There are people out there who are still posting something six and seven days a week. They are staying in your face! By posting often – whether it’s on a blog, Instagram, facebook – whatever, you become a friend. Yep, that sounds ridiculous. But it’s 2018 guys. And 2018 is ridiculous.

By posting on a platform often, you have content that can be featured. It can be featured by online publications, bigger instagram accounts, by other bloggers – all of that.

Example: there are a handful of blogs that I just adore. I love the writing. I’m inspired by the photos and want to eat every recipe. I’m even invested in their lives – when they share, that is. And they go weeks without posting on their blog or on instagram and I actually forget about them. Not because I’m a terrible person (let’s hope?) but because there is so much content in my face that after a day or two, there is new content to consume and move on to. It’s just a fact of life.

It’s a fact of 2018!

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JOIN THE OFFICE HAPPY HOUR.

There is one part of connection that I believe is vital to building an audience. And that is networking with your peers and coworkers. Otherwise known as… other bloggers. Other bloggers in your space, other bloggers not in your space.

If you are a blogger who has been around forever or if you’re a reader who has been an avid blog reader forever, then you know. YOU KNOW. It’s embarrassing how much you know.

You know how many blogs I used to comment on.

Bloggers loooove comments. Comments are still treasured by bloggers. It’s one of the reasons that I try to respond to every comment on every platform every day. I SEE YOU! THANK YOU! Thank you for being here. It literally means the world to me.

Back when I started this blog, commenting on blogs was a big deal. Instagram didn’t exist. Neither did pinterest – I don’t even think facebook fan pages existed yet. Commenting on blogs was basically THEEEE social media of 2009. And it made it easy for readers to find you.

Here’s the deal. I did comment on a shit ton of blogs. I mean, hundreds a day. It wasn’t JUST because I was trying to gain traction for my own blog. Yes, of course it helped. But I commented for a few reasons. First, I was absolutely miserable and deeply depressed at a job where I had NOTHING to do but answer an occasional phone call. I sat in front of a computer with Google Reader open (oh the good old days) and read blogs all day long. Blogs saved me. They made me feel like I had friends at work! They made me feel like I wasn’t so alone and miserable! I made friends. I loved these bloggers’ stories. I loved to read their writing and keep up with their lives.

So I left comments because it was a way to participate in the community. It was a way to show other bloggers’ my appreciation for the work they put into a post (because, holy crap, if you’re not a blogger you have no idea how much work goes into a post!) and yes, it was also a way to “get my name out there.”

A lot of those blogs that I commented on? I’m friends with those people today. I developed amazing relationships and connections with incredible people through commenting on other blogs.

I also gained some readership from people seeing my name in the comments. At that time, that was really one of the only ways to discover other blogs.

I tell you this rambly, drawn out story because it does have a point. This is still a really big way to get your “name” out there as a blogger (or… the dreaded word, INFLUENCER) and build an audience. But it’s also a great way to participate in your community and make “work friends” (haha).

Show some love, share some love.

Obviously things are different today. While I still very much believe in commenting on actual BLOGS (we love them! Please keep commenting!), Instagram interaction is probably the most important right now. You know?

And not to be the bearer of bad news, but commenting on a few Instagram posts for 10 days is not the answer to this. I commented on tons of blogs for YEARS. For well over five years. Five+ years, daily commenting on other blogs. The only reason my commenting took a back seat is because I had released my first book and shortly after, had Max, and then my whole life shifted and I had to prioritize a bit more. However, I often take a few days a month and comment on multiple blogs just to show my appreciation for how hard those bloggers are working.

And oh p.s. while I adore all blog comments here (seriously I love you so much!), it’s not WHY I write. I would still write this blog even if no one ever read it. Because I can’t do anything until my brain is clear of all these words! Clearly, 3536 words in. I’m the worst.

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ON A CONNECTION FAIL. KIND OF.

Because I am a product of this internet generation and an oversharer, I’ll tell you about how I feel that I’ve missed some connection here on the blog.

I really feel as though I’ve missed connection in the mom/baby/kid space.

I mean, sure, I have this baby page over here. Pour my heart out into it – at least once a month. I rarely direct anyone to it and it doesn’t even go through my RSS feed. And that’s because back when I was pregnant with Max, I had some comments from readers that basically said “please don’t turn into a mommy blogger!”

I mean, I get it. I never took offense. Getting pregnant with Max was kind of a surprise for us and I wasn’t reading any mom blogs or kid stuff at the time – I didn’t have much interest in that either. I also feared every time one of my favorite bloggers got pregnant – the ones who I really clicked with because we were in the same stage of life – that they would change and their blogs would change.

Well. DUH! Of course they would change. That is life. Life is about changing.

While I never had any plans to turn into a mommy blogger and I can’t imagine ever basing my business on the behaviors of my children, I still had blogged about my personal life for nearly a decade.

And I took those comments to HEART.

The first year or so that Max was here, I definitely struggled with my writing content because I was so afraid (and, well, exhausted) to even MENTION things about being a mom or having kids, for fear of ostracizing the community that I had spent so much time creating here.

And that’s crazy, because I write a lot about my life and when I read someone’s blog, I’m usually very invested in their whole life. Even with the changes!

I wish that I had (to be oh-so cliche) followed my heart and weaved it more into my writing. Always follow your gut!

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I’M FINALLY FINISHED WRITING THIS, THANK GOD.

I don’t mean to sound flippant AT ALL about being consistent and building a connection. Of course, once I was into blogging and realizing it was an actual THING – and working on building my audience and writing books and all that, I’ve been strategic about things.

By strategic, I just mean that I bridge the gap between what we all love here on the blog. The things WE love. I want to create the kind of content that my readers enjoy. I only get the opportunity to do this because of my readers.

I listen to my readers (you guys!) on what you want to see more of. And I combine that with what I want to make more of. I find a happy balance.

To quickly summarize my almost 4000 word brain dump (SORRY! Oh wait, not sorry, I’m trying to stop saying I’m sorry! And I’m failing.) this is what I feel works, especially for new bloggers:

  1. Be consistent and post content (on at least one platform of your choice) OFTEN.
  2. Be genuine in what you share. You will find your people this way.
  3. “Network” with other bloggers. Make office friends. Genuine friendships and connections. No fake crap.
  4. Be patient. It’s the worst part. But guess what? I’m being patient (I mean, trying to) ten years in.
  5. Work harder than everyone else. That’s what I’ve always said. Whatever that means to you.

Okay. I’m officially tapping out at 4096+ words. Ask me whatever questions you’d like down in the comments! I’m here for it.

Oh an next up… the comparison trap. And how to get out of it. I’m hoping I figure out the answer by next month. I’ll be sharing all sorts of things in this series (my take on photography, how to stay consistent, how to get over burn out, etc), but if there is something specific you want to know, leave it below!