How This 56-Year-Old’s Southern Food Blog Earns Multiple 6 Figures a Year From SEO
After a lengthy career as a registered nurse, Wendi Spraker decided to shift her attention to cooking, which was something she loved.
When she started her food blog back in 2014, her only goal was to share recipes with friends and family. She certainly didn’t expect it to take off.
Today, Loaves and Dishes is a thriving food website that shares delicious Southern comfort food recipes and teaches people how to cook.
She runs the business with her daughter, and together they have a successful YouTube channel, social media channels, and a podcast. She’s earning multiple 6 figures a year.
Find out how:
- Why she started her site
- How her focus for the site shifted over time
- How much content she produces
- What her podcast is about
- How much she’s earning
- How much traffic her website gets
- Her top marketing strategy
- Her thoughts on SEO
- Her content creation process
- How she grows her email list
- The resources and tools she uses
- Her biggest challenge
- Her greatest accomplishment
- Her main mistake
- Her advice for other entrepreneurs
Meet Wendi Spraker
I’m a mother of three grown children and a grandmother of four. I live on a small farm with three pugs, a sometimes spicy/sometimes sweet stray cat, a small army of chickens, and a seriously ancient horse in rural North Carolina.
My personal passion is dog rescue, so there’s always a foster dog hanging around and you’ll often find me just returning from a dog transport.
Before I spent my days writing about, cooking and cleaning up after food, I spent 30 years working as an RN, and I hold a master’s degree in nursing.
Why She Created Her Website
I created Loaves and Dishes from my love of cooking.
Prior to starting the site, I loved cooking for family and for groups of friends, and was often asked for the recipes.
After giving away many recipes, I thought, I wish I could put this online in a format that others could look up.
In the late summer of 2014, I ran across the tools available from Food Blogger Pro and followed their instructions for how to start a food blog.
From there, I began sharing my favorite recipes and, to my own surprise, soon those looking at my recipes were far more than a small collection of friends.
Today, Loaves and Dishes is a food website that shares delicious Southern comfort food recipes and teaches people how to cook. We have a successful YouTube channel, social media channels, and a podcast.
The YouTube channel began with what is absolutely the worst video quality possible and has blossomed into a channel that is known for straight-to-the-point instructions that show you how to make basic and beginner recipes.
We have grown that channel by providing what the viewer wants to see. If we have a question like “This is great, but how do I make a can of corn taste good,” then we produce that video, even if it isn’t exactly on target with the type of cooking we would like to be known for.
Producing 3 (ish) videos per week, targeted directly at the YouTube audience (not repurposed from something else) and including just the information that’s needed (and not a bunch of other of-target stuff like intro music, intro information, unrelated info about an upcoming video series we have coming, etc.) is what has attracted our audience.
We began producing the podcast just before Covid and had planned on visiting different restaurants and reviewing the takeout foods from those spots. Then Covid happened and, as you can imagine, that altered our goals.
Interestingly, we found that many of our podcast followers came not only for the food, but also for the mother/daughter interactions, arguments, discussions, and laughs.
We had lots of comments about how it was hard to tell our voices apart. Perhaps as people listen more, it becomes apparent whose voice is whose.
We stopped our podcast at 100 episodes because it was becoming increasingly difficult to schedule our time around dependable restaurant opening times.
Many restaurants are having a hard time staffing right now, and while they may have hours scheduled as “open,” we were finding that they often weren’t.
Perhaps we will start the podcast again if the world stabilizes a bit and opening times become dependable.
How Much She’s Earning
I can say that the business grosses in the very healthy multiple 6-figure-per-year range. Our greatest income is from ads on the main website, but we also have a monetized YouTube channel and affiliate sales.
YouTube and affiliate sales are only a minor portion of our income. It took about 5 years to get to 6 figures. It has grown from there.
The website traffic varies from month to month, with winter holidays being the most popular. In a year’s time, our website garners about 6 million visitors per year give or take. In the summer months, website visits might range from 3 to 400,000, and over the holidays may run near 1 million.
Although it varies from week to week, I work between 10 – 40 hours per week on the website, and my daughter works about 20 to 40.
Wendi’s Main Marketing Strategy
Google Search is our number one way that people find our website and, therefore, SEO is our number one marketing strategy.
We take an extremely personal approach to sharing our recipes and try to imagine that we’re showing someone who knows nothing at all about cooking how to make this particular recipe.
Last year, our most successful recipe was “How to Cook a Spiral Sliced Ham Without Drying it Out” followed closely by “How To Cook Frozen Corn on the Cob.”
We ask people to share the recipes and encourage them to continue working on their cooking skills at home.
Her Thoughts on SEO
SEO is extremely important for Loaves and Dishes because that is how most people find us.
If you ask, “How did you learn about SEO,” the answer would be multipronged.
First, I followed what Casy Markee of Media Wyse, had to say and had a website audit with him.
Secondly, I carefully watched and studied what my own website data told me. If I had something that did well on Google, I did more of that.
It’s easy to get lost if you listen to what “just anyone” has to say. For example, for a while, I listened to what random people in Facebook groups said, or what other food bloggers said in a forum that I belong to.
I took their emphatic answers as gospel assuming that they probably knew more than me (who wouldn’t know more than me?).
There are people in forums and in Facebook groups who know little or nothing about a subject and who will rant like the queen of the subject, as if they wrote the book! The same people will argue with true professionals in those areas.
Not everyone is out for your own best interests (in fact, almost no one is), and then you have to rely heavily upon your own experience and brain power.
Her SEO Strategy
Our strategy is to choose recipes based on our ability to rank on page one of Google for that keyword/keywords.
The process begins with my daughter (who does the YouTube channel) and I discussing what we believe will be popular immediately (for YouTube) and in about 6 months (for Google) to choose recipes we want to focus on.
We then use various keyword tools (like Keywords Everywhere and SEMrush) and our own Google and YouTube comparisons to determine the exact title of the recipe and what keywords we need to target.
Link building is important, and the best links we’ve built have been given by larger venues (Better Homes and Gardens, The Pioneer Woman, Country Living Magazine) picking up our material and sharing it.
There was no backend trading or anything that made that happen; it was simply that the other website liked and needed our content.
The exception to this is that some articles were published after I answered some questions on “Help a Reporter Out.” Another time, I taught a cooking class for a 4H club and NC State, who sponsors 4H in this state, and they published an article about it on their website.
Her Content Creation Process
We create content based on 3 concepts:
It takes most of a day to create a website post by the time you have written the post, made the recipe, written the recipe, taken photos of the final product, made a video of the recipe being prepared, and then done all of the final processes to make the post all that it can be.
We try to write 1 to 3 website posts per week.
A YouTube video takes however long it takes to make the recipe and film it. Then the video has to be edited to remove repetitive motions, noise, mistakes, etc.
A voiceover has to be done and sometimes it takes a while to get it right. The video then has to be resized and reformatted a bit to fit into the various uses it has and, finally, posted to YouTube with an explanation, so that it’s picked up by the YouTube bots and the video can be found by viewers.
Her Email List
We do have an email list and we grow it by asking people to share the news on our website, YouTube channel, and social media sites.
Our newsletter has about 10,000 readers, give or take. We use ConvertKit to manage the email list. I’m just going to warn you, it isn’t cheap. That said, it’s easy and I need less hassle in my life, so it is worth the fees.
You can find many other email management tools out there that are a lot more affordable. Any will work. ConvertKit works for me though.
We send one email per week reviewing the recipes we’ve written that week, or if it isn’t anything particularly interesting, then instead I focus on something like “summer salads” or something of current interest.
I do have a few tips on growing an email list.
First, while I personally can’t stand pop-ups asking for someone to sign up for the email list, I find that this one works. I have an exit intent pop-up asking for the email sign and I offer a free booklet with the sign-up. The pop-up knows if someone has visited in the past week and won’t pop up again within that one week.
Second, when I write an email, I make it personal to just one person. For example, I never start out with “Hi everyone! Just wanted to update everyone on what we are doing this week.”
Doesn’t that sound impersonal and like I’m just trying to fan the flames of my own popularity? Like I think everyone in the world is enthralled with my little kitchen? How egocentric.
Instead, start out with something like this…”Good morning sweet stuff! Isn’t it a beautiful day out today? The birds are singing and the sun is rising! What have you been cooking in your kitchen? I would love to hear from you, feel free to drop me a line by clicking reply to this email. I promise to answer back as soon as possible. Did you have a question about how to cook chicken pieces in a pan? I’ve got an answer….”.
Third, ask your readers to share the email with their friends and recommend your website to their friends.
And fourth, thank your readers for spending some of their precious time with you. They didn’t have to, after all, right? Tell them how awesome they are.
Her Favorite Resources
There are several resources that I’ve found to be invaluable over the years.
For someone looking to build a food blog, I would recommend…
Her Go-To Tools
For me, the technology that I use is critical to my business. I use Apple products because their seamless integration makes a huge difference in the time I invest in my work.
I have none of the frustrations I used to have using a regular PC and an Android phone.
Now, my equipment automatically communicates with one another, updates, and each piece mirrors the other so that it is seamless. What a relief.
Because of the nature of my business, having high-quality kitchen equipment is essential. Investing in more upscale cookware and utensils has been a lifesaver in terms of creating beautiful food and photos, which are essential to my business.
Software that I use in my business includes WordPress, Picmonkey, Canva, iMovie, and more.
Wendi’s Biggest Challenge
The biggest challenge has been finding the right professionals to help me with aspects of my business that I am not able to do myself.
For example, having the right tech partner to fix issues and problems on my website.
Finding an exceptional accountant who does what they say they will do and who can wrap their head around my business.
Her Greatest Accomplishment
My most important accomplishment has been to understand that sometimes the end product you dreamed of at the beginning is not the most productive or financially sound path to take and instead, you have to produce what is needed.
I’ve been able to produce what people need and what they are looking for and that has made all the difference.
In the beginning, I dreamed of being another Pioneer Woman or Ina Garten, creating delicious new and fabulous recipes that the world would clamber for and wait with bated breath for me to create. Are you laughing as hard as I am right now?
So, when I created something like a delicious new organic skinless chicken recipe with a delectable and light pan sauce, invariably, I would have someone ask in the comments, “This looks great but I’m trying to make a chicken casserole with cream of chicken soup and I can’t figure out how to know when the chicken is cooked all the way through.”
Seriously, would you ask Bobby Flay that question? No? Then why are you asking it here?
The secret was when I figured out, “That’s who is coming to my website. People who don’t know how to make a chicken casserole with canned soup.”
Those are my people.
Not experienced Anne Burrell-level chefs who want to cook along with me. Nope. My people are folks who are learning to cook, moms who need a great easy weeknight recipe, and newly divorced dads who have never cooked for a house full of kids and suddenly have to.
I’ll do the most good if I focus on that. Thus, I have extremely popular posts about “How to cook a hot dog in the microwave.”
What She Wishes She Knew When She Started
There are no shortcuts. The work is hard and takes dedication and discipline, so just do it the best way the first time.
For years, I’ve had new food bloggers ask me for things like “the easiest way to get the number one spot on Google” or “how to write a post in just an hour.”
I have no answers for that. It sometimes takes years to figure out a method that’s going to work for your website. There really aren’t any fast and easy ways to the top.
Yes, you’ll hear of the unicorn person who threw up a fast website and got to the head of the class quickly, but that’s very rare and there’s no recipe for it.
The best way is the slow way. The very best way is to pick something you love and do that. People generally follow along with something that they see that you love.
Her Biggest Mistake
The biggest mistakes I’ve made have always stemmed from following someone else’s lead instead of listening to my own inner voice.
In trying to learn about food blogging, I joined Facebook groups and a forum for food bloggers. There’s some good information to be found in those places, and it’s fun to talk to other people doing the same thing you’re doing.
That said, you have to weigh any advice you receive there and figure out if it’s true and if it will work for you. I’ve often found that there are people who will appear as if they are a guru when in fact, they might know less than you know.
My biggest mistakes have been when I’ve followed the advice of someone else without checking that advice out first and doing my own due diligence. I’ve bought SEO keyword tools that were worthless for what I need, I’ve used the services of WordPress technicians who actually screwed up my website, and I’ve used an accountant who “specializes” in websites only to receive some of the worst advice ever.
Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
I would say to work hard, follow your own internal compass, and always be fair and honest.
Even now, after 9 years, I’m still laying some of those foundation stones and missteps and mistakes can take you far off track. Therefore, develop your gut feelings on things.
Do your research before committing to something, and at the same time, don’t take too long. You can really become paralyzed with decisions if you aren’t careful.
You’ll sleep better at night knowing that you did the right thing and went about things on the up and up.