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#039: What NOT to Do as a Blogger with Sarah Cook

Today I’m talking to Sarah Cook, from the blog, Sustainable Cooks. This conversation is all about what NOT to do as a blogger.

Sarah made all the mistakes you can as a blogger, but if you look at her blog now, you’ll see it has transformed into something beautiful!

Plus, on her blog, Sarah writes: “Come for the food. Stay for the snark.”

Her special sauce is not just her gorgeous recipes, but her total honestly with her audience.

If you have kids and a busy life, I think you’ll find Sarah refreshing for saying it like it is. So listen now!

What NOT to Do as a Blogger | MiloTree.com



* May contain affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I might receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Transcript: What Not to Do as a Blogger with Sarah Cook

Host 0:03
Welcome to The Blogger Genius Podcast. Brought to you by MiloTree. Here’s your host, Jillian Leslie.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 0:10
Hello everyone. Welcome back to the show. Today my guest is Sarah Cook.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 0:18
Sarah Cook is the founder of SustainableCooks.com. She is into healthy, tasty and sustainable food and life. She used to blog under a blog called Frugal By Choice, Cheap By Necessity. So Sarah, welcome to the show.

Sarah Cook 0:34
Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here, Jillian.

Sarah Cook 0:37
Oh, good. Well, first of all, what I loved about you was when you reached out to me, and you said, You’re the only person who’s ever done this.”I have made a ton of blogging mistakes, and I would be happy to share them with your audience.”

Sarah Cook 0:55
And I was just, you know, checking out your blog. And I love your sense of humor. I love your honesty.

Sarah Cook 1:05
Well, I mean, in life, we can’t hide who we are. Not for very long. So you might as well just be who you are. From the start.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 1:14
Yes, yes. And there again, I will say that there’s something very refreshing about that. As we all try to present ourselves in a better light, then, you know, we might normally be.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 1:26
So Sarah. Will you share how you started your blog, how it evolved, and where it is now?

How to start a budgeting blog

Sarah Cook 1:34
Sure. I started blogging in 2010. So I’m a bit of a blogging dinosaur. And I started blogging because on April 1, April Fools Day of 2010, my husband was laid off from his job.

Sarah Cook 1:56
Very stressful situation. We had a one-year-old, and I had just taken a huge pay cut, because we had moved from Los Angeles back to our home town near Seattle.

Sarah Cook 2:10
So things were already tight, and it was really stressful. And I started learning a bunch of stuff as I was adapting our budget and all those things. And I, I really wanted to share it.

Sarah Cook 2:22
And the group of friends I was sharing it with, I realized I was like, kind of being annoying. So I thought, you know, I’ll just start a blog and share it there.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 2:31
Okay. So this is just a personal thing.

Sarah Cook 2:34
It was just a personal thing. I like to say that at the time, blogging was cheaper than therapy. I couldn’t afford therapy. I’m a big list maker. So it was a way for me to kind of be like, Okay, this is what we’re doing this week. And this is how much money we’re saving this way. This is what we’re eating.

Sarah Cook 2:56
And then over months and months, I realized that my passion was what we were eating. And the gardening and the homemade cleaning supplies and all that, that that was fine. And it was still really enjoyable. But the food is what I really enjoyed most about blogging, and sharing our journey.

How a budgeting blog turned into a budgeting food blog

Jillian Tohber Leslie 3:16
Okay. And so now, was it hard at all to be putting yourself out there, talking about how you were budgeting and stuff like that, or was that liberating?

Sarah Cook 3:26
It was liberating. And I’m a chronic over sharer. Anyone who has read my blog knows that I probably share too much, but it’s all part of the journey.

Sarah Cook 3:39
And also, if you think back to 2010, a ton of people were going through the same situation. A lot of people had it worse. It wasn’t, this is me, and I am all alone doing this. It’s, this is us. And we’re kind of all in it together. And at first, again, I didn’t really know anyone was reading.

Sarah Cook 4:02
So as as it grew, I was like, Oh, you know, I helped this person today realize that they could make bread for 60 cents, instead of buying it for $3 at the store.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 4:13

Sarah Cook 4:18
So I did that while working full time. And what we’re doing, I worked for a medical nonprofit, I did recruiting for them. And so I was working full time and commuting.

How to become a firefighter

Sarah Cook 4:33
After my husband was laid off, he decided he was going to become a firefighter. Well, we had moved to Los Angeles a few years before, so that he could pursue his dream of working in TV and film. He did lighting and electrical on movie sets, and a lot of reality TV shows.

Sarah Cook 4:57
And so when we moved home, I was kind of like, all right, let’s have normal jobs. And then the earth fell out from under us. And he decided, I’m going to go be a firefighter. Which, if anyone knows any firefighters that I’ll tell you, it’s extremely hard to get into. It’s very expensive, and it takes forever.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 5:20
Really? I had no idea.

Sarah Cook 5:23
No, I like to say it’s like trying to join the mob. The mob, you know, you have to kill somebody. To get a job as a firefighter. It’s, it’s a really, really hard industry. And it’s very expensive to get into, because every department requires a physical test and a written test, and you have to pay for each test.

Sarah Cook 5:47
But no two departments require the same test. So every time you go to apply, you’re taking two to three $300 worth of tests for this one department, and you may not even get an interview. So it’s stressful.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 6:02
So did he ultimately get in?

Sarah Cook 6:05
Yes, it took four years and more money I would ever admit to in public. But yes, he is a full time firefighter.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 6:13
Okay. And does he liked it?

Sarah Cook 6:15
He loves it.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 6:16
Okay. Okay. So that has a happy ending. So during this time you’re blogging?

Sarah Cook 6:23
I’m blogging, yes.

How to monetize a food blog

Jillian Tohber Leslie 6:24
And are you starting to make money?

Sarah Cook 6:27
I think I put Google AdSense on about six to nine months in. But it was just, a little bit here and there. I wasn’t doing it as a business. I was doing it as a hobby.

Sarah Cook 6:41
My husband was gone all the time. Anyone who has small kids knows when they’re very little, there’s not a lot in your life that’s yours.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 6:50
Yes, definitely.

Sarah Cook 6:52
And so this was mine. This was something I could do. It was free. I could do it in my spare time, which wasn’t a lot, and I enjoyed it. Selfishly, it was what I wanted to do, and I could do it.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 7:07
And are you still working at this point for in your nonprofit?

Sarah Cook 7:13
I don’t work there anymore.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 7:15
No, but I mean, during this time when you were starting up your blog, were you working and raising your family and blogging?

Sarah Cook 7:22
Yes, all of those things, but I wasn’t blogging well. I’ll definitely admit to that. So I’d put a post up when I thought about it. I’d write about whatever I wanted to write about. It was just like, Hey, this is me, me, me kind of mentality.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 7:39
Got it. And when did it start to shift?

Sarah Cook 7:42
Sadly, not until last year.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 7:45
Really? Okay.

What it’s like not to give your blog readers a great experience

Sarah Cook 7:47
I mean, I have a very, very loyal audience. And like, I like to say they have to be loyal, because I pretty much gave them crappy content for years.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 7:56

Sarah Cook 7:57
Yeah. I mean, if you look back at my archives, and please don’t. It’s not, it’s not the best stuff ever. But I did connect with a lot of people. And I think I helped them feel like they weren’t alone.

Sarah Cook 8:15
So, you know, they were either going through financial difficulties, or they were going through a job transition, or they had little kids and they kind of fell out of control with their situation. They could at least relate to me in that regard. But other than that, what I gave them was not great.

Sarah Cook 8:37
And so, last May, May of 2017. I was listening to a blogging podcast, which I had never even known existed.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 8:48
Which one?

Sarah Cook 8:49
Food Blogger Pro.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 8:50
Got it. By the way, I was on it.

Sarah Cook 8:54
I know, that’s how I found out about you.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 8:57
I love that podcast. I love Bjork.

Sarah Cook 9:00
They’re so great. But I realized, Oh, my gosh, there’s so much stuff, I don’t know. So it was a whole, just new world for me. And up until that point, I was like, You know what, I need to quit doing this. I’m not, I’m not giving anyone any value. I’m not giving myself any value.

Sarah Cook 9:20
This isn’t enjoyable anymore. I sit down to write a blog post. And I’m like, I don’t even know what to write about. That kind of thing. And so it’s really been a journey since May of 2017. And I feel like every day I learned 10 things I wish I had known when I first started.

Blog for the “we” instead of the me

Sarah Cook 9:37
But something lit a fire in me. And I feel like I’ve turned everything around. I’m blogging for the, I like to say, the “we” instead of the me.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 9:50
So can you can you unpack that? What does that mean?

Sarah Cook 9:53
Yeah, absolutely. So it means that when I sit down to write a blog post, it’s not like, Oh, I’m going to use this time to complain about, I don’t know, this person who cut me off in traffic or something. Which, I’ll still throw in from time to time.

Sarah Cook 10:06
But hey, I’m going to put this blog post out there. And I need to know ahead of time how this is going to help my reader go about their day, in a better way. And sometimes that’s just like, they need a little bit of humor in their life.

Sarah Cook 10:22
But other times, it’s, hey, this is a 25 minute dinner that you can make from scratch with all natural, real food ingredients and still get your kids to soccer practice on time. And not go through the drive thru and spend $35.

Most useful posts for your blog readers

Jillian Tohber Leslie 10:37
Got it. And what are your most useful posts for your audience? Is it that? Is it the quick meal? Is it the kind of I’m overwhelmed as a parent? Like, where do you feel you connect the most with your on you provide the most value?

Sarah Cook 10:57
So I think so. Yeah, it’s for me, it’s the quick meal. And my readers tend to love quick meals, healthy meals, and side dishes.

Sarah Cook 11:06
They’re not really into desserts, though. Sometimes I will still do a dessert from time to time.

Sarah Cook 11:13
But within my posts, I also like to weave in short personal stories. Because, you know, back in the day, when I was blogging, it was 600 words about what I ate for breakfast, or something like that. So now, it’s like snippets of real life, but also, I don’t, I don’t sugarcoat things.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 11:33
That’s what I have to say. That’s what I really like about your blog.

Blogging with humor and truth

Sarah Cook 11:38
Yeah, it’s, I mean, we can’t be perfect, nobody’s perfect. And if we waste all of our energy, trying to pretend we’re perfect. At the end of the day, there’s nothing left for us.

Sarah Cook 11:48
So I’d rather just say, you know what, my kids are driving me nuts today. And I made this dish and they’re still driving me nuts. But at the end of the day, I really liked eating this for dinner.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 12:02
I don’t like my kids right now. But I like my dinner.

Sarah Cook 12:04
Exactly. Like yesterday, I told my nine year old, You know what, next Summer, I’m putting you in Summer camp every single week. Because I cannot be around you this much.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 12:14
Right? I read that. And I read your joke about Ambien, too.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 12:21
I get it. So how does your audience then reach out to you? How do you know how you’re connecting to them?

Sarah Cook 12:28
So I would say it depends on the platform. On the blog, I can tell based on comments.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 12:35
Okay, so people are commenting on your posts?

How to know what’s connecting with your readers as a blogger

Sarah Cook 12:39
Yes. For my email subscribers, I can tell based on open rates. So, hey, I wrote this really great post. And I spent eight hours researching it. And only 30% of my readers opened it.

Sarah Cook 12:56
And then I start looking at, well, geez, consistently, they’re not opening these types of posts. Okay, so what’s that telling me? It’s telling me my readers don’t care about desserts, or they don’t want them from me.

Sarah Cook 13:11
Instagram, I base it, you know, you kind of have to do it on a vanity metrics of likes, engagement, comments, direct messages, that kind of thing.

Sarah Cook 13:24
Facebook, comments and shares, and then also emails, you know, I have a really, really engaged readership and they will happily email me and let me know what they thought about something.

Sarah Cook 13:37
Sometimes it’s positive. And sometimes it’s not. But it’s all a way to kind of interpret their feedback.

Sarah Cook 13:43
What kind of negative feedback have you gotten?

Sarah Cook 13:46
At the start, it was my language. I can be kind of salty. But I stopped responding to those or, just let people know, the internet’s a really great big place. And if I don’t resonate with you, there’s other places out there for you.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 14:03
Got it.

Sarah Cook 14:04
You, you wouldn’t come into my house and tell me how to speak in my house. So find something that fits better with you.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 14:12
Okay, that’s good. You will respond, or now, you don’t?

Sarah Cook 14:15
Yeah, if someone’s aggressively rude or anything like that, I’ll just let it go. Especially on Facebook. My friend once gave me the great advice of don’t engage the crazy. But I find that I don’t have  a lot of that. And if I do, oddly enough, my readers are the ones who take care of it.

How MiloTree will grow your blog

Jillian Tohber Leslie 14:36
I wanted to take a short break and give you guys some props, because I know how many hats you have to wear as a creative entrepreneur.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 14:44
And I know how important growing social media is, and growing your email list. And that’s why at MiloTree, our goal is to lighten your load a little bit.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 14:56
So MiloTree is a series of smart pop-ups you and install on your site, program it how you like, super easy to set up. It puts your follower growth your subscriber growth on autopilot.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 15:12
Again, it’s one less job than you have to worry about. So check it out at milotree.com, add it to your site, see how it works.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 15:21
And what’s great is we give you your first 30 days of MiloTree free. So there’s really no risk. And now back to the show.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 15:28
Here’s a question. So the first mistake that you made for a lot of years was that it was your blog. You saw it as about you and not about us.

Sarah Cook 15:39
Exactly. Yep.

Mistakes bloggers make

Jillian Tohber Leslie 15:40
What would you say? Say two other mistakes you made at the beginning or not? Even at the beginning, up until last year? Things that made you say, Oh, this is what I need to be doing.

Blogger mistake: not know what SEO is

Sarah Cook 15:54
Oh, gosh, there’s so many more than just two mistakes. But I didn’t know what SEO was until May of last year. So I had been blogging for seven years, and not a single thought had been put into search engine optimization.

Blogger mistake: bad photos

Sarah Cook 16:12
And I would also say, my photography was atrocious. It was terrible. And it’s still my biggest pain point. But it was just, I mean, I was working full time. The only time I had time to write or take pictures was at 10 o’clock at night, and my fluorescent lit kitchen. And, you know, I take a cell phone picture or a terrible DSLR photo.

Sarah Cook 16:39
I didn’t know how to use my camera. And I’d put it up because that’s all I had time for.

Sarah Cook 16:45
And so when I say my readers have stuck with me through thick and thin, I really, I mean, they were looking at some junk for years.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 16:52
Wow, but again, there’s something poignant about this, that it isn’t just about the beautiful photos. And it isn’t, you know all about SEO that people are finding you on Google.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 17:06
It’s somebody stumbles upon you, and they connect to you. And they stick in there because they wanted it. You know, they want to feel connected.

Sarah Cook 17:16
Yeah, they had to dig in pretty deep, because I didn’t give them a lot of surface area.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 17:21
Yes. And by the way, for people who want to learn about SEO, go back into my archives, because I’ve done some interviews on SEO that will really give you some insights into how to think about it.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 17:33
But how did you start to fix your photography. Because I was just on your blog, and I think your photos are really pretty.

Sarah Cook 17:45
Thank you. If you go back 18 months, you will probably have a different comment. Basically I just start. I listened to a few podcasts about photography specifically for food photography.

Sarah Cook 18:02
I bought the Pinch of Yum Food Photography, ebook. And I went to a food photography workshop in Seattle.

Sarah Cook 18:14
But basically, I feel like what really started helping me was when I got my photos out of the kitchen.

Sarah Cook 18:26
I have an amazing amount of natural light except in my kitchen. And I was trying to force the situation. I was trying to take pictures in the kitchen because it was convenient for me.

Sarah Cook 18:38
So now I have to take my pictures in the living room on my footstool pushed up against a window, which makes it very interesting when you have a two year old running around.

Sarah Cook 18:49
Sometimes he makes it in the pictures stealing a bite or something like that.

Sarah Cook 18:55
But I think it was it was just realizing that I didn’t have to follow what I thought were the rules. It was experiment. Take 1000 photos, and maybe you’ll get six good ones.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 19:09
Yeah. My mother-in-law will always be like, wow, Jill. You take beautiful photos. And I’m like, Are you kidding me? This was 4000 photos. And there’s one good one. The law of big numbers is in my favor. I’ll get one good photo.

Sarah Cook 19:26
Exactly. And I mean, next week, you might take 3900 photos and get two good one.

Sarah Cook 19:34
But I know I need to learn to keep trying.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 19:36
Yes. I completely I completely agree with you. Okay, so are you working now full time? Or is this your full time job or your part time job?

Sarah Cook 19:46
So this is my full time job. I don’t yet make a full time income. So it’s good that my husband does have his full time job. And he’s extraordinarily supportive of this.

Sarah Cook 19:58
Because he says, for years you you supported us and let me do my dreams. And now it’s my turn.

How to monetize a blog

Sarah Cook 20:05
How are you thinking about monetizing, what are your strategies? How have you started?

Sarah Cook 20:11
So I monetize through ads. And I also do affiliate marketing, mainly Amazon, but a few other small, you know, channels. But recently I was approved for a new ad network. So that will be starting next week. So that’s very exciting.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 20:31
Okay. And what is the ad network

Sarah Cook 20:34

Jillian Tohber Leslie 20:35
Okay, great.

Sarah Cook 20:37
And for the next kind of two to three months. My plan is to really try and ramp up sponsored posts. Because I’ve done a few here and there, but I I’ve never had any direction with how I reach out to companies. I’ve never really had any good follow through on my part. And I feel like that’s kind of where I’m missing a lot of opportunities.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 21:04
Got it and, and is your plan to reach out to brands or to join networks where you could get sponsored posts?

Sarah Cook 21:15
So my plan is to reach out to brands because I’m in at least one network for sponsored posts. But you know, through the law of averages you either don’t get picked.

Sarah Cook 21:26
Or when you look at the amount of work that’s required for X number of dollars. You’re like that that’s not worth it. To me. I feel like when you go through a network, the pay is quite low, right?

Jillian Tohber Leslie 21:38
Yes, yes, I agree. I’m like reading right now. Sorry, I’m reading I love this. That in your bio. You say, “Yo, I’m Sarah Cook and Sustainable Cooks is your guide to healthy tasty and sustainable life, unfiltered, no BS. Come for the food, stay for the snark.”

Sarah Cook 21:59

Jillian Tohber Leslie 22:00
And I love in your navigation bar all the different things you have. I feel like you are a unique voice in the world of food bloggers, and because you’re kind of saying it how it is. And you’re putting your truth out there.

Sarah Cook 22:20
Yeah. And like I’ve said, you know, trying to be someone else at the end of the day. You get nothing out of it. Your readers get nothing out of it. And you’re going to burn yourself out really, really quickly.

Sarah Cook 22:30
So I realize I’m not for everyone. But that’s fine. I don’t need to be for everyone. If the people who are with me are really with me, then that’s what I need. I need those raving fans instead of people who are like, it’s fine.

How to monetize a strong attitude as a blogger

Jillian Tohber Leslie 22:42
Right? Well, that’s it. I like it. Sorry. But like the wheels are turning in my head. And I’m like, how can you monetize your snark, your food and your snark and I don’t quite know, but if anybody listening to this has some ideas on how she can monetize her snark, I feel like that is a really strong competitive advantage.

Sarah Cook 23:03
I could be a billionaire if snark was monetized.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 23:06
Yeah, but I’m just like thinking about it. I’m like, wow, she has pretty photos. Just got some like, you’ve got some attitude. And I feel like a lot of food blogs kind of do similar stuff. You know, it’s hard to differentiate many of them.

Sarah Cook 23:23
Yeah, I mean, being vanilla in the world is not my, it’s not my goal in life.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 23:29
What social networks work for you?

Sarah Cook 23:33
Facebook to an extent. I mean, Facebook to the extent that it works for anybody these days.

Sarah Cook 23:40
But for me, it’s really Instagram. I have a small following. I mean, if you looked at the amount of people I have followed me, it’s, it’s not a lot. It’s under 1000.

Sarah Cook 23:52
But I didn’t focus on Instagram for years. I mean, I’d throw up a picture every six months and be like, hey, hashtag, whatever, you know, because I didn’t understand it.

Sarah Cook 24:01
So that’s an area I need to work on. But at the same time, I think they say the average Instagram post gets, you know, 1% to 3% of engagement, right? And my posts get, like 9% to 12%. So I don’t have a huge number. But they’re loyal.

Advice: Get to know your Instagram followers

Jillian Tohber Leslie 24:25
Interesting. What do you mean by that?

Sarah Cook 24:27
Oh, you know, like the people, you will, defend and applaud, and you want to see them succeed. And when something happens in their life, you know, you celebrate along with them.

Sarah Cook 24:42
So one thing I do is, I follow most of my followers, and if I don’t follow them, it’s not because I’m ignoring them or anything. It’s just, you know, maybe they snuck in, and I didn’t happen to see them.

Sarah Cook 24:57
So I know a ton about my followers. I know their kids names, I know their struggles. I know their pains. I know, if their mother passed away last week, that kind of thing.

Sarah Cook 25:08
So not only am I able to connect with them on that level, it helps me figure out how to tailor my content to meet what their pain points are.

Find your readers’ pain points

Jillian Tohber Leslie 25:18
What would you say their pain points are again? We talked about they want quick meals, that kind of thing?

Sarah Cook 25:24
Yeah, I would say most people are just really overwhelmed. They don’t know where to start. And they feel like they’re set up for failure from the beginning. And so it’s easier to just not do anything.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 25:37
Ooh, got it. Oh, I have so many ideas for you. I’m like, you could help people through this with some snark, you know, with some attitude.

Sarah Cook 25:47
Yeah, some tough love, but some snuggles at the same time.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 25:51
Exactly. I mean, that’s what I feel from you. That’s really wonderful. And then I’m looking at your website, and you also have resources on there to help other bloggers.

Sarah Cook 26:00
Yeah, people would reach out to me from time to time and be like, Hey, what’s this? Or what’s this?

Sarah Cook 26:07
I have a follower on Instagram right now. He’s trying to get a blog launched. And so rather than just send everyone else send everyone information. Kind of piecemeal like, Oh, this is what I did. I thought putting it in one place. You know, I’m still I still love to answer their questions. But I always do say, hey, check this out first, and then let’s talk about it.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 26:27
Right. I don’t see MiloTree and your resources page, just so you know.

Sarah Cook 26:31
Oh, well, you know, I’m sorry. I do need to add that, it’s good.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 26:34
We have a really good affiliate program. We pay $20 a conversion.

Sarah Cook 26:40
That’s amazing!

Jillian Tohber Leslie 26:41
Yeah. There is something raw about you. And I love that you’re kind of in it right now. And really finding your way.

Sarah Cook 26:56
Yeah, I’m definitely in the middle of it. I mean, I don’t have all the answer. But I have some.

How to find your secret sauce as a blogger

Jillian Tohber Leslie 27:03
You have something by the way, that I believe is your secret sauce. And that is this deep connection to your audience.

Sarah Cook 27:14
Yeah, my readers are the best and I’ll shout that from the rooftop. And I’m, you know, I’m willing to do  anything for them. But I want to make them happy. Because they are amazing. And they are deserving.

Sarah Cook 27:31
If they’re spending their precious time giving me a few minutes, I want to make it worth their while.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 27:36
So I feel that, so I don’t know exactly what it could be. But I feel like you could you could monetize that in an authentic way. Whether you’re helping them through their difficulty.

Sarah Cook 27:51
Yeah, I mean, I’d love to figure it out myself.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 27:54
We could talk offline about it if you’d like. Just because I think that it comes through. Like it just totally comes through. I’m just really impressed with that.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 28:07
Okay, so in terms of mistakes, let’s go back to that.

Sarah Cook 28:09
Oh, gosh, yeah.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 28:10
Okay. So you didn’t know SEO. You didn’t take good photos. You didn’t know to think about your audience. Right? And what else would you say you were not doing great at?

Sarah Cook 28:31
The website you’re looking at now is new. I rebranded in January of 2018. So new new site, new name, new URL, all that.

Sarah Cook 28:45
So up until I had quit my old job, I had never formally introduce myself to my readers. So they didn’t know my last name was Cook, and you want to be in the food blogging space. And your last name is Cook. I mean, that’s a huge missed opportunity.

Sarah Cook 29:03
And it’s just because I worked in a public job. So it was a public nonprofit. And it wasn’t fair to my company, for readers to associate me with the role that I did. And so I, you know, I kind of just shut down that personal side of me.

Sarah Cook 29:21
So with leaving my old job, and being able to be okay, this is who I am, that kind of thing. It was huge opportunity to rebrand.

Sarah Cook 29:30
I was super over my old sites name, it was a mouthful, took forever to say. And it just put me into a niche that I no longer really was a part of. I felt like I couldn’t be as authentic as I wanted to be.

Sarah Cook 29:50
So last September or August, I decided to change the permalinks on my website. So I had originally started with Blogger back in 2010 can when I converted to a WordPress site in 2014. I had dates in my URLs.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 30:11
Ooh, ooh, okay? So let’s just say I want to explain what that means. in somebody’s URL. You know, it has what the title is and I think is a WordPress default it will add the date. So it will say, you know, January like, 01012015 if that’s when you publish the blog post right?

Sarah Cook 30:34

Advice: take the dates out of the urls of your blog

Jillian Tohber Leslie 30:35
Okay. And just so we all know, you do not want dates in your URLs because of course it dates your content.

Sarah Cook 30:44
Yes. And not only that, but if you want to update your content. And then also republish it. Yes, it puts it out under a new URL.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 30:55
Oh, well, you mean if you take off that date?

Sarah Cook 30:59
Yes, but if you republish even if you republish the old if you republish the old post under a new date, than it changes the URL.

Sarah Cook 31:07
Yes. So you have to redirect it, which can be glitchy. And so last year when I decided to do this by myself, which was dumb. Essentially what I did, I did this for a month. So I changed my permalinks. And then I started updating my most popular posts.

Sarah Cook 31:37
And I was using a redirect plugin to do all that updating, and then I changed my permalink. So what I essentially did was going into q4, so the fourth quarter traffic, I broke all my most popular posts that were on Pinterest.

Sarah Cook 31:53
So anytime someone found had saved or whatever, one of my old popular posts when they went to click on it, because maybe they wanted to make X, Y or Z for Christmas, it then directed them to a broken link.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 32:06
Right. And Google hates this.

Sarah Cook 32:10
Yeah, Google and I were not friends for a very long time.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 32:14
So just just just for anybody who has dates in their URLs, you want to get rid of them. But you want to hire somebody to help you do it.

Sarah Cook 32:23
Yes, don’t do it yourself.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 32:25
Because it’s too valuable to you. Those URL links are very valuable. And Google gets really mad, it doesn’t really get mad, but it will punish your site for broken links.

Sarah Cook 32:38
And it definitely did.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 32:40
So did your site get hit?

Sarah Cook 32:43
Just record low traffic. Be very careful when doing big site updates so you don’t lose your SEO

Jillian Tohber Leslie 32:45
Yep, yep. And I have this new thing that I wanted to share, which is being mindful of like updating your blogs, and like, you know, rolling out a new blog. Anytime we have done that we have gotten so punished by Google.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 33:07
So just be very careful if you can make just stylistic changes without changing the fundamental underlying platform, I highly recommend it.

Sarah Cook 33:21
Yes. From a structural standpoint, for sure. And then when I rebranded at the end of January of this year, I definitely got dinged by Google for about four months. Okay, but I am on an upward swing now. And I’m on track to have the best month I’ve ever had this month, and in the middle of the summer slump.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 33:43
That’s terrific. That’s terrific. Okay. That’s wonderful. So yes, so I think the lesson there is just to be really mindful of links. And so now you’re on WordPress,

Sarah Cook 33:57
Yes. And I’ve been on WordPress since 2014. But I was on WordPress through my old site. So everything had to be connected to the new site.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 34:07
Got it. So here’s my question, which is, let’s say, I am a blogger like you. And I’ve been at it for a while. And I didn’t know about things like SEO, or I feel I feel behind. What would you say to that person to keep them going?

Sarah Cook 34:27
Well, first, I’d give them some chocolate.

Sarah Cook 34:31
And then I would say, if what you’re doing now isn’t working, continuing to do the same thing is not going to be working in a year. So it’s time to bring in some fresh blood, whether that’s through education, which is what I did.

Sarah Cook 34:47
Podcasts are free, they’re absolutely free, and you get such a wealth of information. Your podcast has been amazing. You know, there’s like, 10 others that I listened to. And every time I listen, I learned something new. And I’m like, oh, gosh, Man, I wish I had known that eight years ago.

Sarah Cook 35:06
But what I would say is, if you’re not getting any traction, definitely doing the same thing is not going to move you in the momentum that you want to be in.

Sarah Cook 35:17
And I would also say that, once I realized, this is kind of what I want to do, there was always a, “but what if” in my life. So I was working full time so I couldn’t be a popular or a successful blogger. But if I didn’t have to work full time, and then when I quit working, I’m like, Okay, now I can be popular.

Sarah Cook 35:38
But oh, you know, my parents at the time lived with us. And I was a caregiver for my mom. I’m like, Oh, well, I don’t have as much time to devote to the blog because I’m helping out my mom and I had a new baby.

Sarah Cook 35:51
So you know, I’ll be successful when all these things kind of like, fall into place. And then soon after I quit my job. My mom was diagnosed with cancer. And, you know, we had her for another 11 months. And that time was amazing and hard, very, very hard.

Sarah Cook 36:10
But then when she passed, I was like, Okay, now, this is the time I need, now I can focus on me. And, you know, it didn’t really happen until I made a plan, got new resources, things like that.

Sarah Cook 36:23
So there’s always going to be something mentally that is preventing you from being successful, and you just have to plow through it and realize I need new tools in my arsenal.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 36:36
Hmm. I like that. I really like that. And now given that I believe your special sauce is your authenticity, your willingness to say stuff that other people might be shocked by that kind of thing.

How to find what makes you special as a blogger

Jillian Tohber Leslie 36:54
What would you say to bloggers who, let’s say, a food bloggers, but who is trying to find their special sauce?

Sarah Cook 37:04
Well, I mean, you can talk with friends and family who are willing to be straightforward with you and be like, when you think of me? What comes to mind? Like, how have I helped you? Or what’s special about me?

What is the Johari Window?

Sarah Cook 37:19
There’s a test that I had to do for work one time it’s called the Johari Window. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 37:26

Sarah Cook 37:31
I’m sure if you Google it it’s there.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 37:32
Yeah, I’m gonna put a link in the show notes.

Sarah Cook 37:35
Okay. And so I mean, it’s been a few years since I’ve done it. So you have to think there’s a list of descriptive terms, and you have to pick like two for you.

Sarah Cook 37:45
And then you send the link to like 10 other people. And they have to pick from this descriptive term list of descriptive terms for you and pick a few.

Sarah Cook 37:54
And then at the end, you get this little report that said, Okay, here’s what you think about you. And here’s what everyone else thinks about you. And I realized when I did this, I was incredibly hard on myself and everybody else who selected terms for me was much more giving and kind.

Sarah Cook 38:17
And I was like, well if all these people are seeing something that I’m not seeing, what is that saying about my current level of self awareness.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 38:26
So what terms did you choose? And what terms were other people choosing?

Sarah Cook 38:30
Oh, gosh, it’s been like, five years. I don’t, I don’t really remember. But I think I said something like, it wasn’t like assertive, but it was something that I picked that I thought was negative, and then other people were using, like giving, and like, selfless and stuff like that.

Sarah Cook 38:52
And I’m like, Oh, well, what are these people seeing in me? That kind of thing.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 38:56
Hmm. I like that. Oh, I like that idea.

Sarah Cook 39:00
It’s really interesting.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 39:02
Yeah. Was it scary to hear what people thought?

Sarah Cook 39:05
Um, I mean, I used to work in corporate. A long time ago. So I’m used to hearing what people think. So No, it wasn’t. But I think what was really interesting for me was realizing that nobody saw my flaws in the way that I saw them.

Sarah Cook 39:23
People weren’t looking at me and seeing the negative, they were seeing the positive, and maybe I needed to start doing that for myself.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 39:30
Oh, wow. That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful. Okay, so Sarah, if people want to reach out to you. And again, because I love that you’re so open to that, what is the best way for people to connect with you?

Sarah Cook 39:48
So I mean, I think it depends. Obviously, you can go to my website, SustainableCooks.com. I’m on SustainableCooks at Pinterest and Instagram, on Facebook, unfortunately, because, you know, years ago, I didn’t really think through things I’m at Frugal Sarah C, but if you type in Sustainable Cooks that will eventually connect you to me.

Sarah Cook 40:12
But if anyone out there is a blogger and has questions and wants to talk more deeply about the really stupid things I’ve done, they can just email me at sarah@sustainablecooks.com. I’m pretty much an open book. And I’ll tell you my experience.

Sarah Cook 40:30
And you know, if you ask me for advice, I’ll give it to you. But I’m happy to share my mistakes so that other people don’t repeat them.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 40:38
Yeah, and definitely check out her website because you will get to know her within like a post or two.

Sarah Cook 40:44
Oh thank you for saying that.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 40:48
And for you, Sarah, to to think about how can you build on this, because it’s really special.

Sarah Cook 40:56
Well, now you have my wheels turning

Jillian Tohber Leslie 41:00
Good. And if you want again, we could talk about it.

Sarah Cook 41:02

Jillian Tohber Leslie 41:03
Alright, well, wonderful. Well, Sarah, thank you so much for being on the show.

Sarah Cook 41:08
Jillian, thank you so much for having me. I had a great time.

Please rate The Blogger Genius Podcast on iTunes

Jillian Tohber Leslie 41:12
If you’re enjoying The Blogger Genius Podcast, please head over to iTunes and rate us. You don’t even have to leave a review. But I think if we get enough ratings, and they’re high then iTunes will, it’ll signal to them that our podcast is worth listening to.

Jillian Tohber Leslie 41:28
So I want to thank you in advance. So thank you and come back next week.

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