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How Thriving Home Cooked Up a Blogging Revolution
Written by: Esther Strauss
Esther is a business strategist with over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, executive, educator, and management advisor.
Published on December 6, 2023
Updated on February 19, 2024
In this interview, we have the pleasure of sitting down with Rachel and Polly, the inspiring minds behind Thriving Home. This popular blog has not only become a haven for families seeking wholesome living tips but also stands as a beacon for aspiring bloggers.
Rachel and Polly will delve into the intricacies of blogging, discussing the challenges they’ve overcome, the strategies that have driven their success, and the invaluable lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Whether you’re a budding blogger or a seasoned content creator, this conversation is packed with practical advice, industry insights, and real-life experiences that illuminate the path to successful blogging.
Meet the Minds Behind Thriving Home
SBS – Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Rachel grew up in Jackson, MO, and attended the University of Missouri to become an English teacher. She met her future husband, Nathan, there and took a job right out of college in children’s and student ministry for a local church. She worked there for nearly 20 years in some capacity. In 2008, with a love of writing and a desire to practically help families, she began sharing recipes and home and parenting tips on her personal blog. Rachel lives with her husband and three children (ages 13, 15, and 17) in Columbia, MO.
Polly grew up in Camdenton, MO, And attended the University of Missouri to become a school counselor. Instead, she got hired to take Rachel’s job at their church when Rachel decided to stay home part-time with her first child in 2007. Polly met her future spouse, Austin, got married, and began to share home DIY projects and eventually parenting stories on her first blog in 2008. Polly lives with her husband and three children (ages 7, 9, and 12) in Columbia, MO.
After each gaining a small online following separately, the two young moms decided to team up to create Thriving Home. Their intent from the very beginning was to create an online business. They never dreamed it would become their full-time job one day!
The Genesis of Thriving Home: A Blogging Partnership Born
SBS – Can you share the story behind the creation of Thriving Home, including the inspiration, initial ideas, and your journey from the start to its current success?
Rachel & Polly – After meeting through our first job experience and becoming friends, we quickly realized we shared an entrepreneurial instinct and interest in blogging and enjoyed creatively sharing what we were learning with others.
We began to hear stories about bloggers, like Crystal Paine from Money Saving Mom, who made an income from their blogs through ad placements, brand sponsorships, and affiliate earnings. In the fall of 2011, we decided to combine our blogging content and skills into a “mom blog” that would set us up to earn income while also helping other parents. “Thriving Home” was the name we settled on because it was broad enough to include all kinds of home-related topics yet also reflected the desired outcome we wanted for our own families and readers.
We each pitched in $90 of our own money to get started with a website host — which was a big deal at the time as stay-at-home moms on a tight budget! We began the arduous task of designing and setting up a site on WordPress, migrating content over from our old personal blogs, and setting up social media accounts. We also set up a legal agreement to be 50/50 partners and created an LLC for the business.
Promoting Thriving Home to our existing audiences from our personal blogs and social media helped us gain readership right out of the gate. At the end of one and a half years, we earned our first payment from Google AdSense ads on our site. It was so exciting! Within about three years, our site was consistently netting 1,000–2,000 per month from the ads and Amazon affiliate earnings and steadily grew from there.
Although we published content that ranged from recipes to practical home tips to parenting articles, we noticed that our freezer cooking content and recipes got the most page views in the first five years. At the time, both of us were in freezer clubs with friends — bulk cooking monthly for each other’s families and writing about it. Our readers loved the concept and wanted to learn more.
In 2016, several publishers reached out to us about writing a cookbook about freezer cooking. Through the advice of a blogger friend and cookbook author, we connected with a literary agent who coached us through writing a book proposal. The agent then pitched the book proposal to multiple publishers. That same year, four publishers got into a bidding war over it, and we landed a book deal that we’d have never dreamed of!
Our first cookbook, From Freezer to Table, was released in 2017. Before that book was released, our literary agent secured a deal for our second cookbook, From Freezer to Cooker, which was released in January 2020. Nearly 40,000 cookbooks have sold since then and their releases led to us being featured on Hallmark Channel, in People magazine, and in many other news outlets.
The release of our cookbooks and subsequent PR, growing our email list through the use of freebies, and starting to learn SEO best practices in 2019, helped our site grow from 4.2 million annual readers in 2017 to 7.8M million in 2022.
Thriving Home’s Traffic and Revenue Streams
SBS – How much traffic does your site get?
Rachel & Polly – 8,266,037 page views in the past 12 months (October 2022–September 2023), which is the highest it’s ever been.
SBS – How much money per month/year are you currently making through Thriving Home? If you have multiple income streams, can you tell us about them here and provide a breakdown? Also, how long did it take you to achieve your current revenue level?
Rachel & Polly – It varies some from year to year, but Thriving Home’s average net income over the past three years has been about $130,000 per year. (We do give away over 10% of that to charities, like Compassion and local nonprofits that help the homeless and foster families.)
Here’s the percentage breakdown of our income streams:
- Ads on our site = 65%
- Sponsored content = 15%
- Products (1 Hour Freezer Prep and Autographed Cookbooks) = 12.5%
- Affiliates = 7%
- Other (speaking, credit card cashback) = 0.05%
It’s been a slow and steady race for us, with some ups and downs along the way. To get to a full-time income level (while working only 20–25 hours each, which is the way we want it) for both of us has taken about 10 years.
#1 Marketing Strategy
SBS – What’s your #1 marketing strategy? What unique marketing strategy are you using to grow your business that maybe others don’t use much?
Rachel & Polly – While we have experimented with Facebook/Instagram ads and Google ads over the years, our email list has always been our #1 marketing strategy. Our emails build trust and a relationship with readers, send traffic to our site, and include either sponsored content or sales pitches.
Our second most successful marketing strategy has been our cookbooks and word-of-mouth. While writing cookbooks took years of our time and did pull our attention away from growing our website content for a while, they also established our authority in the freezer cooking space, generated quite a bit of free press at the time of their release, and now continue to drive word-of-mouth recommendations.
SBS – How important is SEO for your business, and what is your overall SEO strategy?
Rachel & Polly – SEO is absolutely integral to our business strategy and requires constant learning and vigilance to stay on top of the best practices. In fact, in the next year, we have a goal to go back through over 500 old posts and make sure each one is fully optimized. Search traffic makes up about 60% of our traffic, so this is vital to our business.
SBS – What’s your keyword research process and strategy?
Rachel & Polly – Currently, because we have over 600 blog posts on our site, Casey Markee from Top Rank Hat advised us to go through every piece of content to make sure it’s fully optimized, each recipe is the “best of the best,” and the photos and writing are top-notch. It’s a bit like going through your entire “house” and purging, organizing, repainting, and updating the entire place!
After we finish this big project, we will return to creating new content. Our SEO process for that includes brainstorming recipe/article ideas that we’re excited about and that will help our readers, using a tool called Semrush to research keywords that have a high search volume and low competition, and then developing a recipe and/or writing an article focused around the best keyword(s).
While writing with SEO in mind, we want to always consider our readers first… so user experience is #1. We want our content to be incredibly helpful, appealing to the eye, and user-friendly.
SBS – How important is link building? What strategies are you using at the moment, and what have you tried that hasn’t worked for you?
Rachel & Polly – This is an area we want to grow in. Right now, all link-building is completely organic. Thankfully, because we have been around so long and because we did so much PR for our cookbooks, we have a fairly large back link network.
We do plan to pursue more podcasts, interviews, and PR opportunities in the future to help with this goal, however.
Content Creation and Optimization
SBS – What’s your content creation process and strategy? How many articles are live on the site?
Rachel & Polly – We have over 600 articles/recipes on our site. As I mentioned, we are currently updating and republishing every article to make sure everything on Thriving Home is SEO-optimized and top-quality content.
However, when we return to creating and publishing new content, this is our process:
- Brainstorm: Polly or Rachel gathers ideas we are personally excited about that fill a hole in our content and/or will be helpful to our readers
- SEO research: Polly or Rachel does keyword research using Semrush and Google to see if there are any keywords or phrases that have a high volume of search and low competition. Sometimes we start with this step and create content based on our findings
- Development: Polly or Rachel develops and researches recipe/content. Tests recipe multiple times and writes a detailed recipe.
- Photos/Videos: We decide if Polly will photograph the recipe or whether to delegate it to our contracted photographer, who also does video content.
- Blog post draft: Our team member, Carla, starts the structure of a blog post, inserting all photos, videos, the recipe, and adding the main SEO components
- Writing and editing: Rachel or Polly fills in the rest of the article and sends it to another team member to edit
- Publish and promote: We publish the article at the top of our blog, link the new article to other places around our site, put it on our social media calendar, and include it in a future email
The Power of an Email List
SBS – Do you have an email list? How do you grow it?
Rachel & Polly – Yes, we have about 40,000 subscribers.
To build our email list, we offer email opt-ins through our website and on social media, such as printable freebies like our 7 Chicken Marinades cheat sheet or a helpful email series like Top 5 Crock Pot Recipes. We try to match the opt-in to the content the reader is on or to the season we are currently in (i.e. back to school), making it as attractive and helpful as possible.
We clean up our email list about three times a year, making sure to remove inactive users so we don’t pay for them and to improve the deliverability of our emails.
Daily Operations and Team Management
SBS – How many hours per day or week do you work on your business?
Rachel & Polly – We each work about 25 hours per week and have one employee who works about 15 hours a week.
We also work with a contracted photographer who shoots 2–3 recipes per month, a social media management company that runs our social media, and an accountant who helps with payroll.
Valuable Resources and Tools
SBS – What are the three most useful tools that you rely on as an entrepreneur, and how have they been instrumental in your journey?
Rachel & Polly –
- Semrush — For SEO research
- Clariti — This tool helps us to organize projects related to our site’s content and track how it’s doing after we make improvements
- Trello — This is what we use to organize our editorial calendar and projects for our team
Challenges and Triumphs in the Blogging Journey
SBS – What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as you’ve grown your businesses?
Rachel & Polly – The online content space is always changing, which can be discouraging and overwhelming at times. Being a blogger means constantly keeping up with algorithm changes and technology changes (or hiring people who can help you with this). We’ve also learned to be patient and keep moving forward during downturns in traffic and ad revenue, which do wax and wane during different seasons and years.
Also, since our site has been around since 2012, we are constantly having to figure out what to do with underperforming/old content. It’s only in the past few years that we’ve really prioritized SEO. While this has helped, there is a lot of “baggage” that keeps us from ranking high for some search terms.
SBS – What do you consider your most important accomplishment as an entrepreneur?
Rachel & Polly – First would be lasting this long in the food content niche through many ups and downs and making food blogging a full-time income for both of us. Second is publishing two cookbooks that we are very proud of!
We are also really proud of the fact that we did a national TV segment on Hallmark Home & Family and were featured in People magazine.
SBS – What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started out?
Rachel & Polly – Blogging has changed so much since we began 12 years ago. It originally was more like an online journal. Most of our content was based around what we were doing, reading, enjoying, and cooking. The majority of it held no SEO value.
If we could go back, we would have been much more selective in the kind of content/recipes we chose to publish, so we wouldn’t have to go back through everything and update it now. We also would have narrowed in on a niche (i.e. freezer cooking) much sooner.
SBS – What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made on your entrepreneurial journey?
Rachel & Polly – Although this was just part of our journey of learning what readers really wanted, we think it was a mistake to make the content on our site so broad.
It would have been much better to narrow in on a specific topic area to be experts in much sooner. But we didn’t really know what that was in the beginning!
We also wish we would have connected with more bloggers and gone to conferences to learn from others. It would have been amazing to have a small group of bloggers to be on this journey with.
Advice for Emerging Bloggers
SBS – What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are building their own businesses right now?
Rachel & Polly – Whatever content or product you create, make it the “best of the best.” Ask yourself and others, “Is this super helpful to my readers or customers? Does it solve a problem for them? Is it easy to use? Does it look appealing?” Producing content/products like this will truly help people (which is so fulfilling and what it’s really all about!) and simultaneously cause customers/readers to trust and recommend you to others.
Continue to work on your business a little every day. Take the long view, not the short and fast view. Building Thriving Home has been a marathon, not a sprint.
How Thriving Home Cooked Up a Blogging Revolution
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