Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Carrie Forrest, the creator of the food and wellness blog, Clean Eating Kitchen. I share easy and healthy recipes and tips for women recovering from chronic health issues.
I have created a successful website that gets around 650,000 pageviews a month and earns an average monthly revenue of $20,000 from ads, sponsored posts, and affiliate income.
The keys to my success have been using SEO to rank high for keywords and leveraging my educational background and expertise to set me apart from other food bloggers.
At this point in 2023, my site is profitable. My ad revenue is fairly consistent, although it does vary from day to day, month to month, and season to season.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started blogging way back in 2009 because I wanted to connect with an online community. Blogging was still very new back then, but it was a great way to start to meet like-minded people.
It was around that time that I started developing pretty severe health issues including unexplained weight gain, panic attacks, and fatigue. So, I started what was to become a very long health journey to try and fix my health. I ended up going back to school to earn a master’s degree in public health with a specialty in nutrition.
Around this time, I was also experimenting with a vegan diet. I re-named my blog “Carrie on Vegan” and only posted vegan recipes. I was able to connect with a lot of other vegan bloggers and start to stand out in the niche.
Along the way, I was also diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2012 which was devastating and very scary. I blogged throughout my entire cancer experience and ended up developing a strong following online. This was all before social media when all of the connections were made through blog comments.
Around 2014, after going through my cancer surgery and recovery, I started to feel like my vegan diet was holding me back from recovering my health. So, in June of 2014, I announced to my audience that I was no longer going to be a vegan blogger.
My audience was VERY angry and I got hundreds of negative and awful comments. My email provider suspended my account because they were certain it had been hacked as so many people unsubscribed that day. I was so intimidated by the negative feedback that I almost quit blogging!
But, by this time, blogging had become a big part of my life so I decided to keep going. I re-branded my site and started publishing both vegan and non-vegan recipes and content.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
It was almost impossible to earn decent money blogging before 2010 or so. I finally joined Mediavine (my ad company) around 2015. But, I made no money at that time. Blogging was still a hobby for me and wasn’t a real business.
But, I had read other food blogger income reports that showed that some of them were making upwards of $1 million a year! I was shocked to realize that it was possible to make that kind of money from a website.
Realizing the potential for revenue from a blog/website was my “a-ha” moment when I started thinking about my blog as a business. This was around 2017 and that’s when I started treating my website as less of a personal journal and more of a resource for other women who were dealing with health issues.
Then, around 2018 I realized that I needed to start working on my website’s SEO (search engine optimization) if I wanted to start making real money from ads. Until that point, I was posting about recipes that nobody was searching for or were way too competitive to rank for.
I hired a blog coach and she helped me develop a system for identifying keywords with low competition and trying to rank for those keywords. It didn’t take long until my pageviews and monthly ad revenue started to increase.
I also continue to experiment with different types of content on my site, from posting just recipes to writing about women’s health issues.
In late 2019, though, my site was hit with a Google Core Update. In just one day, my site’s traffic dropped by over 60%. It was devastating to my ad revenue and so upsetting.
After about six months of suffering low traffic, I figured out that I had made some mistakes using headings on my website which led to the drop in rankings. It wasn’t that big of a deal in my opinion, but “technical SEO” matters can often be a bigger deal in Google’s eyes and can lead to traffic losses.
I spend much of 2020 fixing my website’s technical SEO problems. I was also publishing new content based on keyword research and started to see some great gains in traffic. It felt so rewarding to start to receive the traffic and reach that I had been hoping for!
For most of 2021 until now, my website has reached new heights in terms of page views and revenue each month, despite an increasingly competitive landscape.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
At this point in 2023, my site is profitable.
My ad revenue is fairly consistent, although it does vary from day to day, month to month, and season to season.
Ad revenue can also go up or down depending on what the overall economy is doing. Bloggers like me get paid on RPMs, revenue per milieu. This means that you get a certain dollar amount per 1,000 visits to your site.
During times of low ad RPMs, I aim to try and “make up” my revenue with volume. But, it can be tough since sometimes you can’t get the number of pageviews you need to make up for lower RPMs.
I also earn revenue from affiliate income (mostly Amazon), brand sponsorships, and sales of digital products. But these sources only make up about 20% of my income, with 80% or more coming from my ad income.
My expenses consist of items like website hosting, tech assistance, writers, editors, virtual assistants, and supplies for recipe testing. My expenses run about 22% of revenue, but of course, I also have to pay an additional amount of 25-35% of my annual revenue for state and federal taxes.
The future of this type of business model is a bit uncertain as some changes in privacy laws may affect how much money is spent on digital advertising. To help combat the uncertainty, I continue to build my email list, create brand partnerships, increase my social media and YouTube presence, and overall make my relationship stronger with my audience.
I also continue to experiment with different types of content on my site, from posting just recipes to writing about women’s health issues. I do an annual reader survey to help gauge the interests of my audience and make sure I am continuing to meet their needs.
In the face of tools like ChatGPT, I have to make sure my content stands out by offering personal experiences and well-researched and well-referenced articles that can’t be replicated by these types of tools (at least not yet).
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
From starting a business, I’ve learned that goals are important. But, also having the right kind of goals is important. For the longest time, my goal was to reach a million pageviews.
But, as I’ve gotten closer to reaching that goal, I’ve realized that it’s not that great of a goal. Better goals that I find more motivating include: reaching a certain level of ad revenue that will be used for a specific purpose (examples include building my retirement account, remodeling my kitchen, etc).
Other goals I’ve set for my site include being recognized as one of the top women’s wellness resources online, being a part of Mediavine Premiere (the top tier of bloggers in the Mediavine ad network), building an engaged audience on social media and YouTube, and making a difference in the lives of my readers, as evidenced by their e-mails and messages to me.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My website is built on Wordpress and I use hosting by Cloudways. I also highly recommend the services of Nerdpress which is a tech management service company. Other tools I use include: Ahrefs, Keysearch, RankIQ, Google Search Console, and an annual audit with Mediawyse.
I keep it simple when it comes to productivity. I use iCal to manage my editorial calendar and Microsoft Office and Google Drive to manage documents and stuff like that. I use Mailchimp to manage my email list.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I also recommend listening to the free monthly webinars of SEO for Bloggers.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My best advice for anyone wanting to start a niche website is to make sure that you are blogging about something you have expertise in. Also, try to find at least one thing that makes you stand out from the competition.
We don’t need more blueberry muffin recipes on the web, but maybe there is a niched-down version of a blueberry muffin that you could write for a very specific audience (how about a vegan and grain-free blueberry muffin with coconut flour?). Blogging in general has become very saturated and competitive, so you’ve got to find a way to stand out.
And, don’t expect that just because you’re new to blogging you will be forgiven for rookie mistakes. From your blog’s set-up to the plug-ins to the format to the writing or photography, you’ve got to match what is ranking number one on Google or you just won’t make it.
In other words, come out of the gate swinging! Do your research ahead of time on what the top-level bloggers are doing and don’t expect to make money until you can offer the same or better quality than what is already ranking on the first page.
My top tips are:
- See what is ranking in your niche and figure out how you can do it better.
- Know exactly what audience you want to reach and how you can do it better than your competitors.
- Do every single thing to the best of your ability or hire someone to help you make it excellent. One of my favorite quotes is “be so good they can’t ignore you.” It might take time, but if you are putting out excellent material, then you will get noticed in time.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I am not currently looking to hire.
That said, I would love to find a graphic designer who can create infographics of my health articles into pins for Pinterest at a reasonable rate. I’ve tried a few but don’t have anyone at the moment to help. If you are a graphic designer who is efficient and creative, then feel free to contact me with your portfolio at [email protected].
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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