My Blog Turns 15!
Fifteen years ago, when I was young and full of hope, I started a recipe blog.
It was called mykitchencafe.blogspot.com
If you recognize the blogspot address or either one of these original logos below, it means you’ve been around a long time…and…you probably deserve an award.
A few years after I started My Kitchen Cafe, I swapped out the blogspot address for a real, live dot com and it has been Mel’s Kitchen Cafe ever since (with no shortage of logo changes until I finally hired a professional, ha).
It would be impossible to describe all the changes that have occurred over the last 15 years. Both personally and in the internet/blogging landscape.
When I first started my blog, life looked a bit like this:
Whereas now, “life” has increased in the number of humans…and in wrinkles. 😉
Some days, it’s hard to wrap my brain around the fact that I’ve been sharing recipes in this space for 15 years. THAT’S A LONG TIME!
My kids don’t really remember life before “mom had a blog.” Sometimes, neither do I!
Funny story: when my kids were little, little, I’d spend our days doing kid/mom things and making a concerted effort not to be on the computer. However, the minute my kids went to bed, I would rush to my computer and do all the blogging “stuff” on my to-do list. Inevitably, as kids do, mine would wander out of bed and into the office to find me and ask for a drink or want to tell me a random story to delay bedtime or just sit on my lap for a minute (you know, because I HADN’T JUST SPENT THE WHOLE ENTIRE DAY WITH THEM). 😉 During this time, a teacher at church told me that one of my kids had announced to his class: “my mom likes to play games on her computer every night after we go to bed.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or feel mortified (both!). Turns out, all that time, my kids thought I was hiding in the office to play games when they went to bed! We had a quick family discussion about how mom goes into her office at bedtime to work on her food blog…not to play solitaire until the wee hours of the morning. 😂 But honestly, I think they still told their friends and teachers and friends’ parents for years that I was a late-night internet gamer.
My kids’ shoe sizes and the number of animals we have acquired over the years aren’t the only things that have changed either. HAVE YOU TAKEN A DIVE INTO THE ARCHIVES TO SEE SOME OF MY OLD PHOTOS?
I mean, my goodness. Talk about before and after growth. 🤣
Things Change but My Motives Haven’t
I could write an entire blog post about how, outside of family life, things in the blogging world have changed so drastically over the last 15 years.
Over the years, the online world of food blogging has become less simple and more strategic.
Less relatable and more robotic.
Less carefree and more calculated.
It’s not all bad. It’s just different.
I started my blog as a way to share recipes with my mom and sisters who didn’t live near me. I never had any intentions of becoming a “full-time” blogger.
In fact, I was completely freaked out when a few months after I started putting recipes up on my blog I received a comment from a stranger saying they had made a recipe and liked it. I thought for sure that person was an internet stalker coming after my children.
Turns out, that first blog reader was a perfectly nice, normal human being who still follows my blog after all these years (hi, Kim!). Millions of readers have followed!
Years ago, I did a blog post called “This is Why I Blog”, and I could honestly repost that word for word because I still adhere to the same philosophies I always have about blogging. If you haven’t read that post, please do. It might give you some insight into why I am the way I am and why I blog the way I blog.
While blogging has changed infinitely over the years, my motives have not. Just like when I started putting recipes up on the internet late in 2007, my reasons I still do so are the same: to share my favorite, tried-and-true recipes with the world.
My blog started out as a hobby.
Now it is equal parts hobby and full-time job!
I never would have thought 15 years ago that my readership of about five people would grow into millions! What a tremendous, awesome opportunity and blessing it has been for me.
Some Fun Stats
For those who like geeky number-type stats, I thought it would be fun to share a few details/facts/numbers that help give a big picture look at Mel’s Kitchen Cafe!
At the Beginning (from about 2007-2010):
- Revenue/Income: $0
- Blog Visits: 50-1,000 per month
- Additional Employees: 0
- My Time: 10-20 hours/week
The Middle Years (2014-ish):
- Revenue/Income: part-time
- Blog Visits: 750,000-1,000,000/month
- Additional Employees: 1 part-time virtual assistant (5-10 hours/week)
- My Time: 30-40 hours/week
Current Years (2022):
- Revenue/Income: full-time
- Blog Visits: 3,000,000-4,000,000/month
- Additional Employees: 1 part-time virtual assistant (10-20 hours/week) plus a few contracted employees to help with videos/projects
- My Time: 20-45 hours/week
A Note About Income and Revenue
Things can get kind of weird when people talk about money (and heaven knows, I don’t want things to get weird between us!), but lots of people have been curious over the years if my blog makes money.
It does! But it didn’t always.
For the first several years, I made approximately zero dollars.
Around 2010, I started putting display ads on my website (first just on my own with Google Adsense and then with a long since outdated company, Foodbuzz through Federated Media). I remember literally falling over with excitement when I got a check one particular month for $125. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid that much to talk about recipes I loved!
I later changed ad networks to AdThrive and then switched to Mediavine in 2016 and have been with them ever since.
A VERY simplistic description of how ad networks, like Mediavine, operate is that they work directly with ad exchanges and companies to service and display all the ads you see on my website (and they work on the ad technology and gaining new ad customers so I don’t have to!).
I am paid based on a revenue split – meaning, I don’t pay Mediavine directly for their work servicing ads, rather, Mediavine and I split the revenue that comes from the ads on my site.
I can choose which ads I want displayed. Although that system isn’t always perfect, which is why you may occasionally see a questionable ad, like an alcohol ad, even though I have alcohol ads disabled in my ad settings. Please feel free to always report those ads, by the way! You can do that by clicking on the Mediavine logo in the lower right hand side of the ad and selecting “report ad” (see screenshot below).
Over the years as I’ve worked hard and traffic has increased and my ad structure has changed, my blog has grown to provide a full-time income for me and my family.
My income comes from: the ads you see on the blog, Amazon affiliate links (and L’Chef affiliate links when Bosch mixers are on sale), and Prepear menu planning subscriptions. I know ads can be annoying – and because of that, I only run about half of the ads available to me through my ad network – but those ads serve a purpose to help pay the costs of running and hosting a website, pay my employee and contractors, and compensate me for my work on the blog.
My Virtual Assistant(s)
I’m blessed in that my sister, Emily, is my virtual assistant! She started working with me in 2013 and she is a lifesaver. She schedules posts to Facebook, answers emails, works on Prepear menus, does tons of behind the scenes work updating recipes and categories on the blog, and more.
Her help allows me to focus more on recipe testing, taking all the photos, writing the posts, answering comments, interacting on Instagram, occasionally taking a nap, and maintaining the authentic voice here on the blog.
And since I’m deep in the middle of this acceptance speech (?? kind of starting to sound like one! haha), I would be remiss if I didn’t give a huge shoutout to my faithful partner and best friend. He’s the unpaid assistant around here.
Brian has been my biggest champion since the beginning. And as the resident taste tester (all those pictures on my blog with one bite taken out?? Yeah, thank Brian for that effort), he offers the support, compassion, brain gasoline, and endlessly patient listening ears that keep me and this blog putting one foot in front of the other.
The Numbers Game + Blog Visitors
2020 was a huge year for internet traffic. Because of the pandemic shutdowns and increase of at-home cooking, my visits per month were at a record high that year – nearly 10 million per month! But things have gradually slowed down and my traffic is actually less than it was a few years ago.
The thing is, I rarely check my stats. I can’t really tell you month-to-month how many visitors I’m getting or if it is waxing or waning.
The numbers game can be debilitating (both in traffic and with social media), and I’ve just chosen not to play it so that I stay better focused on my overall intentions. I monitor and check things out now and then, but I don’t dwell on it.
However, I did do a fun little check for this post to see where my visitors are checking in from!
United States: 81.38%, Canada: 8.35%, United Kingdom: 2.53%, Australia: 1.35%, South Africa: .56%, New Zealand: .36%, Philippines: .35%, India: .33%, Germany: .29%
The Right Way to Blog…Or Not
Many bloggers in this food space are intensely savvy. They do keyword research and create their recipe posts strictly around what Google wants (with the goal to get high up in search results). They network with companies (and each other) and grow virtual empires. They publish books and videos and create products.
It’s amazing to watch and see. I love it!
My strategy, which should come as no surprise, is more of the homebody, naturalistic, girl-next-door approach. Meaning: I don’t network all that much, I don’t do keyword research, I don’t do sponsored posts.
I make a recipe. I squeal in delight. I force my family to taste it and review it. I make it again. And likely, again. And then I post it for you, because if I don’t, I want be able to sleep at night.
That’s not to say I don’t work hard at this gig. I do! Blogging is a ton of work (certainly more than just taking a pretty picture of food and slapping it up online!).
I set priorities for certain projects (like email growth, etc), and I’ve always put high emphasis on staying up to date with SEO principles and technology updates, but at the end of the day, I’m still an old school blogger who just wants a space to share my favorite recipes with the world.
Which means sometimes I turn a blind eye to “best practices” and do my own thing. I don’t do this to be ignorant – it’s really just a survival skill to preserve my mental health and ensure I continue to keep blogging.
For me, this space, is about so much more than numbers and stats and money and notoriety. It’s truly about human connection and sharing good things with you.
A Day in the Life
My schedule has shifted and changed over the years. Now that all of my kids are in school full-time (and one has graduated high school), I try to get all my blogging work (particularly) computer work done during the day instead of staying up super late to tackle my to-do list.
I don’t set specific “work hours” but it naturally ends up that about two days a week are spent on the computer side of blogging. Writing and publishing blog posts, answering comments and emails, coordinating projects with my sister-VA, and working on other techy-stuff.
Once I get my kids off to school, I feed farm animals, do scripture study, write in my journal, exercise, and (sometimes) shower, before diving in to blog work from about 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with laundry and other household/farm chores scattered in there.
Additionally, I end up spending another day or two a week bustling around the kitchen to test and photograph recipes (I use natural light, so right now during the winter, I have to get that done before 4 p.m.).
I usually make about 5-6 new recipes a week. Sometimes just for fun. Sometimes to test them (again) and/or take photos. I know, I need to get a life and/or diverse hobbies, but I can’t help it! I love food and making new recipes.
My kids always have Fridays off school, so I try to fit the blogging work in Monday through Thursday; however, inevitably there’s an evening or two that it spills over and I work in my office from 8 – 11-ish p.m.
I don’t shy away from saying I work from home or that I have a full-time job. But I do consider it a serious blessing that my job is this blog and that even though it requires hours and effort, I’m able to set my own hours and schedule.
And doing so allows me the flexibility to volunteer in my daughter’s class, do church and community service (right now I’m helping at a refugee organization, and it is life-alteringly rewarding), run errands when I need to, take a break from everything and help one of my kids or work on a house project, or just aimlessly waste time on the internet searching for watermelon carving knives.
To Sum it All Up
At the end of the day, I’m a very average, real human who has a lot of highs and a lot of lows. And I don’t do a great job of pretending like those things don’t exist. Normalize real life. That’s my motto. 🙂
I have no idea how long I’ll continue to blog. If asked, some days my answer would be “forever” and other days the answer is more like “um, ask me tomorrow – I may have pulled the plug on the blog by then.”
The truth is, even with my laid back style, it’s hard work. Something is always going on (or breaking!) behind the scenes and there is a lot of management that blogging requires besides the delicious pictures of food and brand, new recipes.
I get tired and burned out.
But the reason I always, always end up sitting at my computer at midnight NOT playing solitaire 😉 is because of you guys.
It’s Because of You
If it weren’t for the real human connections I’ve made with you over the years, for the comments you leave and the stories and experiences you share, for the notes that tell me how a recipe has impacted your family or changed someone’s life for the better, for the hilarious anecdotes and the heartbreaking life experiences…if it weren’t for that, I’d be long gone.
I tell my family all the time that it’s ok I never leave my house because I have millions of friends online.
And, ok, I know that sounds completely weird, and if my kids said that back to me, I’d definitely get them professional help.
It’s also true. Thank you for sticking around. For being my virtual friends. For making this a space that I want to come back to day after day.
Love your guts. 😘
Also, a special shoutout thank you to all of you who leave comments/ratings/reviews on recipes after you’ve made them. This makes such a huge difference! For me, and for those who scroll through comments to get ideas/variations/suggestions when they are planning to make the recipe. Thank you for taking the time to leave comments and reviews and ratings!!
What’s to Come
Well, first of all, count on the best of the best new recipes to continue popping up here! I have some exciting new recipes coming your way. My goal is to get you 4-5 well-tested, fantastic recipes each month in 2023.
Additionally, I’m planning:
- lots of updates to many of the recipes that have been on here for over a decade (not changing the recipe, per se, just updating photos and recipe notes, etc).
- some additional content projects that will likely involve hiring another assistant to help with marketing and development
- site updates and changes to make the website sleek, savvy, and even more SEO-friendly
- continuing with Friday Thoughts posts now and then
- and a few other things swirling around in my brain
I get asked all the time if I’m planning to do a cookbook. I have a cookbook started on my computer – some content, lots of ideas, etc. But every time I get close to signing a publishing contract or going the self-publishing (or hybrid) route, I can’t ultimately commit. It feels stressful and wrong. I think my biggest hangup is that my first priority is to continue to publish a wide range of amazing content on my blog, and I don’t think I can manage a cookbook and the blog. Additionally, I’m not sure I really have anything to offer the cookbook world that hasn’t already been done. So. We’ll see! Never say never!
Anything you are dying to see on Mel’s Kitchen Cafe? Let me know below in the comments! I love getting suggestions from you!
The End, Finally
And herein lies another extensive novel-like post about nothing all that important, which will surely garner some hate mail from those that “just want the freaking recipe already so stop blabbering,” but hey, 15 years in, it’s hard to change these long-winded stripes.
OK, BYYEEEE. 😘 Here’s to the next 15 years!
If you have any other questions about blogging or Mel’s Kitchen Cafe or just want to tell me about YOURSELF (yes! that’s a good plan!), leave me a comment below!
In case you didn’t clearly hear me earlier in the post: I AM SO GRATEFUL FOR YOU!
Thank you for all of your heartfelt comments. They’ve made me laugh and cry. I’m just so grateful for each of you. For the good humans you are. The efforts you make in your own lives. The affirmations you’ve allowed me to feel that this blog is “more than just a blog.” I’m just very grateful to be here with all of you.
Thank you for all of your suggestions, as well! I keep a running list of things you would like to see on the blog, and I’ve taken note of all of them!
To answer a few questions coming through in the comments:
- Where do you get ideas for new recipes? I have so many recipe ideas swirling around in my head, it’s a miracle I ever get to sleep! I’m so anxious to share all of them with you! I find inspiration from recipes you share with me (I LOVE GETTING NEW RECIPES FROM YOU SO MUCH – thanks for sending them to me!). I also get inspiration from a few recipe magazines and social media. But a lot of my recipe inspiration just comes from me thinking about food nonstop and figuring out recipe mashups I want to make.
- How many times do you make a new recipe before posting it? At least twice, but for baking recipes, usually an average of 3-4 times (with some recipes taking a few more testing sessions).
- How many of your recipes are original or modified from other sources? There are a lot of both! Although I would submit that there’s probably no such thing as a truly original recipe anymore since there are so many recipes “out there” already. I always cite a recipe source if I’ve used a recipe as inspiration or modified it. But there are some recipes I’ve come up with on my own from all those ideas swirling around my head (and many other recipes from my childhood)!
- How adventurous are your kids when it comes to eating? My kids eat everything I make. They don’t always love, love certain ingredients (I have a tomato hater and a mushroom hater and a bean hater; they power through it), but they’ll eat it. I have two kids that love to try new things and will eat anything. They’re the ones at restaurants that order something unusual and fun and will dig into sushi with me and Brian. The other three go straight for the mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. 🙂