It’s been a little over a year since Project Meal Plan began. That fact seriously shocks me because sometimes I still feel like I’m just getting started. But after doing some research into how far Project Meal Plan has come in that time, I’m a lot less shocked, and a lot more thrilled with the website than ever before. I’m so excited to share a report on PMP’s One Year Anniversary + My Top 5 Food Blogging Tips for Beginners!
I’ve posted updates on Project Meal Plan’s progress over the last year (first, second and third update), but I really suck at keeping up with them. So this time, I thought it would be WAY cooler to show Project Meal Plan’s growth, from start to now!
Traffic & Trends Since the Beginning
We initially launched Project Meal Plan in May 2016, but traffic didn’t really start trickling in until mid July 2016. It took a couple months of figuring out pretty much everything, as well as creating content so that there was actually something on the blog to set up.
I remember that being a bit of mental hurdle – I wanted to design the front page of my blog, but there was no content, and therefore nothing to put anywhere. So I had to start with creating some content (which I had also never done before) for a blog with no real front page. But now here we are a year later, with 110 blog posts/pages on the site. The hardest part was jumping in!
The first few months were slow. It wasn’t until October that we were seeing 100 pageviews per day consistently. And then some serious new trend/Internet magic happened. In January, people resolved to eat healthier, and the term “meal prep” started trending on Google like NOBODY’S BUSINESS (except Google’s… cause that’s their business).
It was also around this time I made some large scale changes to Project Meal Plan – I started doing actual, real keyword research for every post. Thanks to courses from both Food Blogger Pro and Lynda.com, Search Engine Optimization and keyword research became a part of each recipe and post on the site. I also went back to every old post and made a few changes based on what I learned. This included migrating all my recipes to a new plugin (WP Tasty) which was compatible with Google, Pinterest, and my favorite part: way more stylish than the old plugin.
This combination turned out the be the perfect cocktail to give my traffic a huge boost, and keep it that way. In January 2017, we saw our first day over 500 pageviews (January 3rd), AND THEN 1000 PAGEVIEWS (January 15th). Actually, January topped out at 1,751 pageviews on January 29th, and I was ecstatic. Perfect start to the year!
Traffic leveled out as January faded away. But I continued all efforts, got involved with some new social media groups, kept up with the community, and finally saw growth begin again in July 2017. At this point, every Sunday is topping out close to 2,000 pageviews. August 2017 saw over 37,000 pageviews! GUYS I’M LEGIT.
In its first year, Project Meal Plan has gone from 0 visitors, to literally thousands of people visiting the site every month! I call that a success.
Pageviews per Day: August 1, 2016 to August 30th, 2017
Where It’s Coming From
During the first 3 months of Project Meal Plan’s life, a majority of traffic (26.54%) was coming from Foodgawker, a food photo/recipe submission site. I found it wasn’t that difficult to get my photos accepted, so I made sure to submit a photo for every recipe on the site. In that same time period (July-September 2016), Organic traffic was 9.48%, and traffic from Pinterest was a tiny 3.65%.
Then I learned how to create decent long pins, joined some group boards, and went wild with Pinterest. In the next 3 months, Pinterest traffic shot up from 3.65% to 36.13% of my total traffic. Shortly after, as I discussed above, I focused on SEO to help my recipes show up in search engines organically. Organic traffic rose to 15.29% of all traffic. I still submitted to Foodgawker, but put a lot more energy into other forms of social media and optimizing my posts.
Fast forward to now. In the last 30 days, pageviews hit a record of 37,606. Pinterest made up 54.03% of traffic, while Organic traffic has risen to comprise of exactly 20% of my traffic. I always try to remember – traffic from search engines is not magical. It’s not just rising because the rest of my traffic is rising. It’s actually taken a lot of consistent work and attention to detail to keep that traffic source going up.
Did you know large companies have positions devoted specifically to optimizing their websites to rank high in search engines? If you’re a blogger or related Internet guru, you probably do. Otherwise, neither did I (and it used to be my job to know about jobs!!). It’s a legit thing that takes some legit work. And time. It takes a lot of time (see graph below).
Organic Traffic by Day: August 1, 2016 to August 30th, 2017
What’s Been Popular
Here are the top 10 pages on Project Meal Plan since the beginning.
Top 10 Landing Pages: August 1, 2016 to August 30, 2017
While there are still so many layers to Google Analytics I haven’t had the time to learn, the best reason to spend time with GA is to figure out what’s working on your site and what isn’t. Look past the number of pageviews, make some observations and see what’s already working for your site, and do more stuff like that. Especially if you don’t know where to go next. Of course I don’t have a magical formula. But here’s what I can tell by looking at my top 10 landing pages:
- Quinoa rules! Pages such as How to Cook Quinoa in the Rice Cooker, Meal Prep Slow Cooker Chicken Teriyaki Quinoa Bowls, and Mexican Quinoa Chicken Salad Lunch Bowls are rocking it. A couple of these also happen to be meal prep recipes (see next bullet).
- People are into meal prepping. I already knew this (after checking that Google Trends chart I mentioned), but both recipes and posts revolving around meal prep seem to do pretty well thanks to the trend. How to Meal Prep for Beginners has done well organically and on Pinterest. I do try to focus on meal prep style lunches, so this is a good sign! Oh, and can’t forget 7 Things from Costco That Make Meal Prep Better!
- Round-ups also work well… Just do your keyword research! 16 Make-Ahead Cold Lunch Ideas to Prep for Work this Week is a prime example of keyword research paying off. This is a relatively new post (July 11, 2017), but it was published right in time for the summer heat waves. During keyword research into meal prepping, I noticed people were also using the terms “cold lunches” and “for work”. Just try to be creative and do some research. I think if the title was boring or non-suggestive (ahem… MAKE THIS FOR WORK THIS WEEK), it wouldn’t have done as well as it did.
- Look here for video ideas! I’ve completed videos for 3 of the top 4 recipes on that list above, and I think it helped with SEO and brought even more visitors to the website. If something is popular, it could be even more popular with an awesome video attached. Browsing your most popular recipes is a great place to start for video ideas.
I’ve also learned that quality original content can start finding its own traffic sources. Based on the chart above (and what I see literally every day), Veggie Loaded Rotisserie Chicken Casserole is by far the most popular thing on this website. I’ve been lucky enough to have this recipe placed into multiple round up articles, which generates additional traffic and helps the overall SEO of the page. True, most of the traffic is from Pinterest, but additional links always help.
Top 12 Traffic Sources to Veggie Loaded Rotisserie Chicken Casserole by Session: August 1, 2016 to August 30, 2017
Social Media & Email
Where would we be without social media? A lot more productive… but no seriously, social media is everything.
Okay, social media and your email subscriber list. Together, they are everything.
Building an email list is one of the things I’ve been way too hesitant about. Guilty! Right over here. I’ve only recently started sending out a newsletter… consistently. The thought that people want to read what I have to say, share, and make is still completely weird to process. But I love finding and sharing helpful information, so why should it be so weird?
At this point, I need to MARKET that newsletter. Get the word out. Write a page about it. Make people actually want to sign up. That’s a priority September goal.
For now, I want to share how Project Meal Plan’s social media channels have grown over the last year. I’ve even expanded to YouTube for my hosting my videos, and I have gained several subscribers there (okay, 5… 5 YouTube subscribers).
Number of Followers/Subscribers on Various Social Media
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A Couple Goals I’ve Accomplished
I recently met the minimum required number of sessions (currently 25,000/month) to apply with Mediavine Publisher Network (I reached 29,555 in the last 30 days!!), an advertising management company. I’m part way through the application process (waiting on Google) and keeping ALL my fingers crossed. This was a long term goal of Project Meal Plan, and I definitely was hoping/expecting for this to happen somewhere around the one year mark.
The newsletter was mentioned, and I know I’ve got work to do on the email list, but I’m actually pretty excited that I’ve kept up the weekly commitment for the past few weeks. My favorite part is searching the web for ideas to try out in my home and share with others. EVERYONE can save time and money by meal prepping or planning in some way or another. So why not spread the news(letter)? I’m excited to make it a bigger part of Project Meal Plan in the future!
Another “goal” I feel like I’ve accomplished: I am actually impressed with how my food photography skills have grown and evolved. There’s a CLEAR difference when you compare photos of the same recipe side by side. And not just the actual camera skills – I now consider photo editing to be a REAL skill that I possess. Always room to learn and grow, but it’s a pretty cool feeling right now.
Photos from June 24th, 2016 & August 2nd, 2017 – Zucchini Chicken “Lo Mein”
My Top 5 Food Blogging Tips for Beginners
With a full year of experience under my belt, I thought I would share some lessons I’d give to ME over a year ago. I started with zero formal training in photography, WordPress, SEO, recipe development/writing, cooking, social media management, or website marketing (okay I think I took one cooking class…). Over the past year I’ve found so many different resources to help me out, and most of them, amazingly, have been other bloggers providing advice and experience (shoutout to Food Blogger Pro!). So to give a little back, here are my top 5 food blogging tips for beginners:
- Jump in with what you have. I give this advice not only for starting a blog, but for photography and videography too. Some bloggers literally just use their IPHONES to create beautiful visuals. Start with what you’ve got. It’s completely possible. I learned so much just from practice, practice, practice. Get your content out there, add and change things as you learn, and keep evolving. I’ll summarize with the title of my favorite M83 song – “Do It, Try It”.
- Find a community. Food Blogger Pro was the absolute best resource for me starting out. It’s so refreshing to have a place to bounce ideas, ask questions, and just generally talk about blog stuff. I later discovered some blogging, photography and videography related Facebook groups and I learn from those people DAILY. If that doesn’t work, find a blogger you like, and ask them a question. I’ve also learned in the past year that most bloggers are pretty helpful 😉
- Subscribe to a few food newsletters. Pick a couple of your favorite blogs, food magazines, recipe websites and sign right up. You can learn A LOT. Here are a few things to look for in these emails: What catches your eye, and what do well formatted emails look like to you?; Kitchen and cooking tips you can pass on to your readers; Photography, videography, and software tutorials you can use (bloggers like to share what they know!!); and finally, FOOD INSPO, trends & what’s in season.
- Use Pinterest to promote; Facebook and Instagram to connect. This is totally subjective and based on my own experience! I’ve found that Pinterest is so incredibly visual – long pins and beautiful, inviting images always win. Yes, you should participate in group collaboration boards, but that’s not really interaction on a personal level. On the other hand, FB and Instagram are where I actually talk to people, food eaters, and other bloggers (FB groups in particular). I love having multiple avenues and so I sort of treat them in different ways. Figure out what works for you and do it!
- Do your keyword research. Organic traffic makes up 20% of my total traffic. Technically, I would not yet have been able to apply to Mediavine without it. I can thank the extra 30 minutes or so of keyword research I do for just about every post. I always begin by brainstorming my own set of title words to describe the recipe or post. And then at the very least, I search variations of those words in Google and look at the “searches related to …” to see what other people are searching. Google Trends is my other go-to, as well as the keyword planner in Adwords.
Some of my favorites, just because:
Favorite thing to photograph: Simple Shiitake Mushroom Chicken Ramen
Favorite thing on the whole site: Chocolate Zucchini Espresso Brownies
Favorite dinner to consume: Creamy Pesto Pasta Chicken Bake with Peas
Thanks for reading about the first year of Project Meal Plan. I hope you learned something! Leave a comment or send me an email if you have any questions.