Cheryl Malik runs a blog where she shares Whole30 paleo recipes for food lovers. Find out how she rapidly grown her email list & traffic over the past few years.
Revenue of $8,800/mo
Email list size of 18,000
Founded in 2009
Hello! What’s your background, and what is your blog about?
My name is Cheryl Malik, and I wrote, photography, and develop recipes for 40 Aprons. On 40 Aprons, I share family-friendly, flavorful Whole30 and paleo recipes. 40 Aprons has evolved over the years, starting years and years ago as a way for me to maintain my culinary creativity and writing as I started law school! Since then (and since I quit law school, of course), it’s morphed along with our current eating habits.
We looked for so long for a diet that really “fit” us and made us feel awesome all the time. Trying a Whole30 for the first time, we realized this was it! My passion carried over into my content, and my traffic and following grew exponentially since I found that niche.
Speaking of morphing, my career has done the same along the way. Of course, I prepared for a career in law, but I realized quickly that I had no desire to spend my life as a lawyer. I began working in a small business, and over time, I realized I could turn the marketing I’d been doing into a freelance business.'Figure out what you want. What do you want to write about? What can you maintain? What motivates you? What’s your passion? Figure that out, and stick to it.'Click To Tweet
My freelance business and digital presence with my blog caught the eye of a couple local ad agencies, and I ended up working full-time in an agency a little more than a year ago. But entrepreneurship has always called me, and I decided to quit my job (again!) and put my full strategy and content creation efforts into my blog. I was completely shocked by just how impressive the growth has been.
What motivated you to get started with the blog?
I started the blog almost 9 years ago and called it “Legally Eating.” The idea was the blog would be my creative outlet as I went through an intensive law school experience, but I realized very quickly that I much preferred creative work to legal!
Back then, monetizing your blog was nebulous and undefined; there weren’t hundreds of income reports to peruse. So for years and years, it was simply a hobby, a way for me to share my recipes and enjoy my (very) little following.
I started taking it more seriously during times of transition in my life, but I always ended up putting it back on the back burner whenever things picked up again. How many times have I said to myself, “If I’d just kept up with my blog back then!”
What is the revenue model for the blog?
The bulk of the revenue on 40 Aprons comes from display ads. I’ve been advertising with some advertising network or other for years and years, but I only recently made much to speak of this way. With Adsense, I made pennies as an RPM compared to my revenue today!
About a year ago, I switched over to Mediavine, a more powerful advertising network and fantastic blogger community. I started seeing real revenue, and it encouraged me to put more time and effort back into my blog. A couple months ago, I started noticing how well my friends on Adthrive were doing, so I very recently switched. I’ve been amazed at the difference in revenue I’m seeing.
Aside from display advertising, I sell products, work with brands to create sponsored recipe posts, and take advantage of affiliate marketing.
I sell books and digital photography products on my site and promote them in my email footer. These sales provide a decent chunk of my overall income, considering the work is done and there’s hardly any active time invested there each month. That said, the amount I make on products is quite minuscule compared to product-focused bloggers.
In my recipes, I attach Amazon affiliate links to certain ingredients or equipment. This makes it easy for my readers to get what they need to make a certain dish, and it costs them no more to purchase whatever it is. I make a (very) small portion of the sale back, and this adds up over time. Again, it’s a nice chunk of income considering how little time it takes to implement, but my affiliate sales are tiny compared to a lot of other bloggers.
What are some strategies you have used to increase the blog’s traffic?
There were two major strategies I followed to increase my blog’s traffic so drastically.
I found my people. I noticed that Whole30 and paleo recipes were extremely well received and took off much faster on Pinterest. From there, I noticed that my followers prefer savory dishes, usually dinners.
I focus on recipes that I feel they’ll like, and produce them constantly. Finding my niche has given me the freedom to really own a space, rather than feeling like I need to touch all of them. And I can speak to my people in a language we all get! I’m so grateful for having found this little corner of the Internet that works for me.
I focused all my energy on content. At one point, I would literally say out loud to myself, “Just do it.” If I thought my dish would look better with an entirely different setup, I’d just do it. I’d replate everything and shoot it all again! It was tiring and annoying at times, but the focus on content helped me improve my skills and attract more and more readers with quality photos and recipes.
I produced often and at a high level, even if I didn’t feel like it or would have preferred to do something else. I took it as seriously as I’d have taken a giant client; that’s what I was, really!
How have you grown your email list?
My email list is relatively large, considering my traffic, and I attribute it to my overall traffic growth. About this time last year, I had about 2000 subscribers, and now I have nearly 18,000.
Last January, I offered a free Whole30 eBook to subscribers, just in time for all those resolutions. The conversion rate was a bit shocking to me, as I’d never had a quickly growing email list at all. I learned from this, and I’ve continued to offer high-quality lead magnets to keep my list growing.
Other than that, I don’t do anything special with my list: I send people recipes and important updates. That’s what they really want, right?
How do you write great content that performs well?
For me, the most important thing is high quality photography, well-tested recipes, and dishes that I know people will love. How exactly I determine what people will love is a bit less concrete, but I’ll say it’s a process of watching what works, finding patterns, and thinking within that vein.
Another important angle for food blogging, however, is SEO. I spend a big chunk of time each post thinking about what people might search if they’re looking for a recipe like mine, and then I take the time to integrate good SEO practices into each post for those keywords. This commitment has helped my organic search traffic continue to grow and grow.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome with your blog? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
I strung myself along for so many years, working hard at my blog, but never staying too committed. I wish I’d invested the time I deserved in my blog years back, but it always ended up being last on the to-do list.
A big challenge we’re working with right now is the ever-changing social platforms. Pinterest changes rich tags, pin dimensions, repin displays… it’s exhausting! It’s so hard to keep up with best practices and constantly change what you create and how you share it. Even scarier is feeling like I’m at their mercy!
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Focusing on my food photography has been massive for me. I started out with Lindsay Ostrom’s Tasty Food Photography which was a huge help for me when I knew, really, nothing. From there, I read Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots, and this really helped me take my food photography to the next level.'I strung myself along for so many years, working hard at my blog, but never staying too committed. I wish I’d invested the time I deserved in my blog years back, but it always ended up being last on the to-do list.'Click To Tweet
I put everything I learned that helped me grow the quality of my food photography very quickly; my book Improve Your Food Photography Almost Instantly is perfect for anyone who wants to, well, improve their food photography almost instantly.
What’s your advice for bloggers who are just starting out?
- Figure out what you want. What do you want to write about? What can you maintain? What motivates you? What’s your passion? Figure that out, and stick to it.
- Find your people. With whom does your work resonate? Who shares your passion? Find these people, and figure them out. Give them what they want, and they’ll stick with you!
- Sharpen your technical skills. If your blog is food- or lifestyle-based, you’ll need professional-level photography. It wasn’t always this way, but it’s certainly the case now. Make sure you have decent gear and that you spend plenty of time investing in growing your skills. If writing is your draw, work hard at crafting your story and honing your voice.
- Do it a lot. It’s going to take a lot of content or a lot of time to make your blog successful: one or the other! On top of increasing the odds for increased traffic, you’ll be improving your skills. While you’re improving, it might be uncomfortable; you might shy away from whatever it is. But the more you do it, the better you’ll be, the easier it’ll become. Do it a lot, and you’re more likely to be more successful, faster.
Where can we go to learn more?