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Jill Selkowitz of This Old Gal can re-create a recipe from taste alone. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, she’s built an admirable following on her blog and within her Facebook Group. She credits her success to her authenticity and desire to help other cooks. In that spirit, she offers up these insights to help new food bloggers get started.
On your blog This Old Gal, you give a lot of credit to your dad for your cooking skills. How did he influence you as a food blogger?
I was completely influenced by my father. He put himself through law school as a short order cook, so he knew how to cook and he knew how to think on his feet as a cook. He taught me how to cook, what goes with what, and how to create recipes.
He’d take me to Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, and when we’d get home, I’d recreate the foods we tried by taste. Since he had to work all day, at night, we’d do the cooking together. I could prepare a full dinner on my own by the time I was ten. I loved to cook because he loved it.
He was also very blunt, like me. He taught me that I should be passionate and follow my passions. Passion. That word is very, very important to me.
I was in the Instant Pot Facebook Group, and people were asking questions about cooking with a pressure cooker. Since I’ve been using electric pressure cookers since 2003 and an Instant Pot since 2011, people kept turning to me for answers.
I didn’t know anything about blogs at this point, but I noticed that other people were posting links instead of answering the same questions over and over. I did some checking and realized they were linking back to blogs.
I thought, “Let me see if I can do this. I’ve got so many recipes, and I love to help people.”
I’ve got a few friends who want to start blogs, and they’ve asked the same question. My answer is: I’m really not sure. Working as a legal secretary, I was fifteen years behind in technology and I didn’t know all the lingo. I think that’s why I have trouble answering. I don’t really know what I did because it was all so foreign to me.
I didn’t know about SEO. I didn’t know about themes. A lot of the terms that are used now in blogging meant something different when I was growing up, so the concepts are sometimes hard to follow. I’d look up a word and then have to look up the words in the definition.
Being a very determined person, I did lots of online research. I found little snippets of things I needed to do: get a domain name, find a host, buy a theme. When I found a theme I liked, I called the company and asked lots of questions. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just did what they told me to do. It was all trial and error.
I focused on what I did know – on good recipes, because that’s my passion. When I write about my recipes, that’s my passion. I write what I think and how to do something, and then I hit publish.
By getting where I am without knowing my stuff, I know why people are coming to my blog. It’s not me being great at photography. It’s not using Pinterest or other means and forcing my links all over the place although I do post my links in Facebook groups. It’s not trying to drive people to my blog or advertising. It’s not taking other people’s recipes and making them better or adding better videos or marketing. I didn’t know any of that stuff. I do, however, know my recipes.
My recipes are good, solid recipes that I’ve been using for years. When I connect with my people, I’m real. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not. I need to be me. I believe in being me. I’m honest and very, very transparent. I think because of that people trust what I say because they know I’m going to tell them the truth, and I am not going to sugar coat my response. If I say that I like this item or this is a good recipe, they know I’m telling the truth. That’s why they’re coming to my blog. That’s why they listen to me.
I didn’t have any kind of audience in mind when I started. I didn’t think that far. I still didn’t understand blogging. All I knew was that you could put recipes online and people would use them. I didn’t know about ad networks, and I didn’t know the extent of the money you could make although I did realize that blogging was a thing and money could be made.
I thought to myself, “You know what? Cooking is my passion, and if I can follow my passion and make a living at the same time, I am all in.” I did intend to make money blogging, but it was only by doing so with good content, honesty and integrity. That needed to be first and foremost and I knew that with hard work and my ethics, the money would come. It’s how I grew up, it is what I learned from my father.
I didn’t know how to read Google Analytics and I still don’t. I didn’t mess around much with ads. I had no strategy. I just posted my recipes.
Now that I’ve gotten better at it, I’d love to go bigger. I’d love to have a strategy and publish a cookbook. But what started me on my blogging path was the need for a pressure cooking blogger with good, homemade recipes. It was my passion and there was a need. A perfect match.
Once I posted my first recipe in that Instant Pot Group, people immediately started coming to the blog. I started my This Old Gal Facebook Group to have my own space where I could really connect with people and teach them one on one. I enjoy the socialization.
Once my blog started becoming bigger and people realized I had my own page, more people started coming. During Black Friday, there was a big sale on Instant Pots. Just in that weekend alone, I got almost 20k followers in my Facebook Group. Today, it’s over 50k.
I do more than just pressure cooking. I love using cast iron and I am a natural fermentation bread baker. I also use an Air Fryer and BBQ Grill, and my Air Fryer Group is over 12k.
Understanding the technical stuff. The recipes are a no-brainer. This is what I’ve been doing my whole life. I’m a cook. I can re-create recipes in my head, execute them, and they come out right on the first try. I can stand in my kitchen, look in my refrigerator and pantry and pop out a recipe.
Understanding the technical stuff and the language, though, has been and still is a big challenge. When I first started with Google Ads, I’d go to Google and manually put the ads on the recipe pages. I went in to figure out where the ads needed to go for, say, 100 recipes. Then when I got on Mediavine, they said I’d have to take out the Google Ads.
When I said that I’d have to go in and remove them all manually, Brad from Mediavine said, “What? Why didn’t you just use a plug in?”
I had no idea. I had to manually go through every recipe and pull the ads, one at a time. What a job! The biggest challenge to me then and now is that I know there are things I should be asking, but since I don’t know what I’m supposed to ask, I cannot ask. I don’t know what I don’t know, so I don’t know what to ask. I find things out by accident.
Part of why it takes me so long to get up a recipe or migrate the recipes from one plug-in to another is because I chat with my readers a lot. I spend a lot of time in my group and in other cooking groups and respond to all their questions. I get tagged quite a bit. I also give my input when I see people asking for help. This is one of the reasons I will never get rich. I think I spend more time helping people than I do working on the blog.
I don’t use professional cameras or lighting equipment. I want my readers to know exactly what the food looks like as I go. Restaurant menu photos always look so pretty and then when the food comes, sometimes it’s a letdown. My photos are not staged. They are taken as I go, including the finished product. I use my cell phone to take the photo on top of my oven with a wooden board covering the burners to give me a flat surface. I think this helps people feel more comfortable when they cook and see their results. Very often their final product looks better than my photo. It gives me great joy and gives them a huge sense of accomplishment.
While I want to make a good living from blogging, I want my readers to love the experience of my blog and know that they can trust the recipes.
Be prepared. It’s very hard work, and you’re not guaranteed success. I want to know that you actually know how to cook and that you’re being true to yourself. If you’re doing it, you’ve got to have passion. Passion comes before money.
You don’t have to know everything when you start your food blog, but be prepared to learn as you go. Focus on your strengths, on being true to yourself, and on helping others, and your readership will respond.