I’m thrilled to be publishing our very first Food Blog Collective Interview featuring Sam from Buttermilkbysam.com.
Let’s get to it!
I’m Sam, the baker, recipe developer and photographer behind buttermilkbysam.com. I’ve got two daughters (3 &6 yos) and live in Virginia.
When did you start blogging? When you started, did it start as hobby and turn into a business? Or did you start out with the intention of a blogging business?
I had two food blogs before buttermilk but at the time I had them I was working in a very different field and didn’t take either blog too seriously so they largely went unnoticed.
A few years later, I had moved away from that career and decided to start buttermilk as a cottage food business. I made the website with that intention and design, so the site had my ‘menu’ for potential customers. I was selling chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, and chocolate swirled breads out of my home kitchen. It was mostly neighbors and friends buying from me, and mostly on special occasions.
But I quickly got bored of making the same things over and over again. I’m the kind of person who can’t stick to a recipe (especially my own!) and I live for experimenting, I love creating new things and doing things differently.
So alongside my menu, I started to have a section for recipes that I wasn’t going to sell but wanted to just share the recipe like many of my favorite baking bloggers (sally was an early inspiration).
And that part of the blog, and my linked instagram started taking off, much more than the bake-to-sell aspect of the business. I was happy for it too! It meant that I could get weird & creative in the kitchen.
What attracted you to starting a food blog vs. other blogs?
I am a little old school so by the time buttermilk came around I had already had two (now defunct) food blogs, before that a couple of blogs for writing about politics, a personal journal type blog, and before that one that I shared with some girlfriends writing about gender. I’ve been blogging on and off for about 18 years. I just liked to dabble and never took it too seriously until buttermilk came along in 2018.
How many page views do you get each month?
Over the year I average 250,000 page views a month. It goes up and down depending on the season.
Where do you get most of your traffic from?
It's a mix of direct traffic from social media and from organic Google searches.
What is the most unexpected place you get traffic from?
TikTok! It doesn’t happen often but when it does, going viral on TikTok can send page views over the cliff.
How long did it take you to monetize you blog?
A little over two years. I got a boost of traffic thanks to pandemic baking and I was able to apply to Mediavine. I’ve since moved to Adthrive as my page views went up.
How many streams of income do you have? What are they?
Two main ones: brand partnerships and ads on my site. The former is incredibly unreliable and I kind of take it as it comes. Ad revenue only started to become more substantial once my page views grew.
What are your thoughts on social media? How much of social media is a part of your traffic and revenue source?
Buttermilk started getting traction because of my Instagram and I have a wonderful community of followers and fellow bakers on there.. Much of my traffic comes from IG & now TT; that’s how a lot of people come to know my work.
But really, it’s tough to try to please the algorithms and it can be very demoralizing to put your best out there and see it flop, over and over. Sometimes I need to take a step back, turn off socials for a few days and remind myself, I don’t create for Instagram, I create because I love to bake.
What is your approach to SEO? How has it changed over time as algorithms and industry standards evolve?
This is something I’m still working on. I have spent some time reading SEO guides to help me understand how to write blog posts better but it’s something I am not fully confident in yet and feel like I have a lot to learn.
Early on I was writing recipes and creating things with absolutely no care for how google felt, it was for me only. Now that buttermilk is my business I recognize I need to please the Google algorithm to be able to keep this as my job, but I try to work around what i want to be creating. So I won’t go and create a recipe because Google says it’s a great keyword, but once I create something I do a few searches to see how best to name the recipe so that at the very least, maybe it’ll come up when someone is searching for something similar.
What resources do you use for SEO research?
Hashtag Jeff has a ton of great guides. He also did an audit for me which gave me some direction on how to better structure the technical parts of the site itself to be more SEO friendly. I use the free version of SEM rush (so no more than 10 queries a day) to help me figure out how to name a recipe and title sections of the post.
Do you have a backlinking strategy? (i.e. guest posting, outreach, networking for roundups, etc) If so, what has been the most successful for you?
n/a (I don't have one!)
Are there any tools/software/services that you can’t live without?
My Nikon & Adobe Lightroom for photos, my iPhone and InShot for videos.
How much new content do you create a month (blog posts, social media posts, other…)
One thing I committed to very early on was to have at minimum one new recipe a week published to buttermilk.
My IG averages 3-4 posts a week, and 1-2 posts to TikTok. I try to post to Pinterest too, and I just update that once a week with whatever I have that’s latest.
What have been some of the biggest successes and failures you have encountered along the way?
Successes: I think I’ve been successful in cultivating a community of bakers that are interested in my take on recipe creating and baking. I have a bit of a reputation for going off the traditional route and I’ve been lucky enough to find people who like my unique take on things and want more.
Failures: Generally speaking, I think I fail at prioritizing what I need to do over what I want to do. I want to be in the kitchen creating and experimenting. But I need and should be figuring out how to make my blog more SEO friendly, how to grow it as a business, how to market it better, get more fluent in analytics, etc.… but I only have the bandwidth to do some of what I need and want to do, and I usually end up doing the latter.
Have there been any times when you felt like giving up on the blog but were able to overcome them?
Many times! It’s usually when I get deep in the comparison game: I think about how long ago I started doing this and how I haven’t grown enough in that time, or I am not getting as much traffic as others who started at the same time or later.
My husband is good at reminding me to take a step back and focus on what I have achieved in that time - maintaining the blog with two babies at home, having no childcare, growing the blog into a resource that followers come back to over and over.. that’s something, I think. It’s much easier for me to endlessly count all the things I haven’t done, but if I take a minute and really think about what I’ve accomplished with the time/energy/money constraints I’ve had, I feel proud and want to keep doing it.
Knowing what you know now, if you started a new food blog today, is there anything you would do differently? The same?
This may seem very obvious to some but the major thing I would do differently is have my structured data early on. Because I initially published my recipes in text rather than in a recipe card, I had to go back last year and redo all 200+ of my recipes. It took months and was not fun. Use a recipe card!
What would be the one piece of advice you could give a food blogger today?
What is your most creative tip for achieving _________ (choose 1: traffic, sponsorships, guest posts, affiliate deals, publication features, social media engagement)
Social media engagement -
Do it better or do it differently. I say this all the time when people ask me for advice; there are hundreds and hundreds of food bloggers out there and while I don’t think the market is fully saturated, I also think you aren’t going to stand out if you are making a very basic, known dish without making it eye-catching and/or giving it your personal, unique take on it.
What are the most rewarding parts of being a successful food blogger?
It is so unbelievably gratifying to have someone call one of your recipes ‘the best’ or their ‘go to’. Having been the person making other people’s recipes for most of my life, to now be on the other end of that, is so humbling, and just the best feeling. I feel like I’m at people’s (dessert) tables and I love it so, so much.
How has your vision for the blog evolved over time?
When I first started out I wanted all my recipes to be almost impossibly distinct. Like, you wouldn’t be able to find anything like it elsewhere. Over the years I started to give myself the freedom to share what I want, instead of setting the bar too high for me to be able to regularly reach. Sometimes I will post a banana bread recipe, and that’s ok, because maybe I love that particular recipe and think others will too. The blog now has a mix of recipes that might be familiar but either have a slight ‘sam’ twist or a sharp sam angle.
How did you get your first sponsored post?
My first brand partnership was a huge deal to me!! It was with King Arthur, a company I’ve adored for over a decade, and I had under 10k followers on IG. They reached out to me and asked me to be part of their recipe of the year campaign. I’ve done two more with them since and they are just a dream client.
Thank you so much for joining us for this month’s interview series! I hope you were able to take away some great insights to apply to your own blogging journey. I know I have!
A special thanks to Sam from Buttermilkbysam.com for taking the time to connect with The Food Blog Collective. We appreciate your openness and willingness to share your knowledge and experience with us! 🙂
Don’t forget to find your new favorite recipe and inspiration at Buttermilkbysam.com -
…here are some of my faves!
See ya next week!