How Michelle Blackwood Earns $328k/Year Sharing Vegan, Gluten-Free Recipes Thanks To SEO
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Michelle Blackwood followed her dreams to become a nurse, a career she thoroughly enjoyed. However, a health issue and dire complications from a C-section led her to reevaluate her lifestyle.
After transitioning to a plant-based diet and deeply exploring topics related to health and wellness, she decided to launch her blog, Healthier Steps. This is a place to share her vegan recipes and related content on skincare, gardening, and health. As a pioneering Jamaican vegan blogger, she successfully grew her reach through hard work, consistency, authenticity, international exposure, and SEO.
Today her blog earns over $300k per year, and projections suggest a potential earning surpassing $400,000 in the coming year.
Keep reading to find out:
- Why she transitioned to a plant-based diet
- What led her to create her website
- What other side hustles she was working on
- Where her income comes from
- What she did to boost her income
- Her approach to topical authority
- How she markets her blog using social media
- Her approach to YouTube
- What happened after her SEO audit
- Her content creation process and schedule
- How she grows her email list
- The resources and tools she uses
- The main challenges she's faced
- Her greatest accomplishments
- Her advice for other entrepreneurs
- Meet Michelle Blackwood
- Her Shift in Diet
- Why She Created Healthier Steps
- How Much Money She’s Making
- What Moved the Needle
- How Much Traffic She’s Getting
- Michelle’s Top Marketing Strategies
- Her Thoughts on SEO
- Her Content Creation Process
- Her Content Publication Schedule
- Michelle’s Email List
- Her Favorite Resources
- Her Top Tools
- Michelle’s Biggest Challenges
- Her Greatest Accomplishment
- What She Wishes She Knew When She Started
- Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
Meet Michelle Blackwood
My name is Michelle and I was born and raised in Jamaica. I began my academic pursuits at Northern Caribbean University, where I obtained a diploma in computer science. I then ventured to England to chase my dream of becoming a registered nurse, a goal I achieved at DeMontfort University.
My journey took me from England to the USA, where I met my life partner, Devon, and launched my career as a registered nurse in a hospital.
It was during this period that Devon and I decided to transition to a plant-based lifestyle. That was about 26 years ago.
Around the same time, I found myself struggling with carpal tunnel syndrome and embarked on an intensive exploration into the world of health and wellness.
Despite relying on traditional pain relief methods, I experienced no significant relief until I began a juicing regimen. The positive impact on my health was so significant that I no longer needed steroid treatments.
Her Shift in Diet
We decided to switch to a plant-based diet for spiritual and health reasons. We recognized that the first diet in the Bible for humans was plant-based, full of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds.
After extensive Bible studies, we realized that there is a connection between diet and lifespan. It was observed that when humans began eating meat, their lifespans shortened.
Our faith, the desire for a healthier lifestyle, and the remarkable longevity of those in Blue Zones were the driving forces behind our decision to switch to a plant-based diet. It's been a rewarding journey and we look forward to sharing this experience with others who might be interested.
This transformation had a profound effect on my life. I made the decision to leave my nursing position because of my newly discovered passion for health. Yearning for a quieter and more nature-filled lifestyle, we moved to the countryside of Virginia.
This move allowed me to homeschool my daughter, Devannah, grow our own food, and dedicate my life to teaching others about the importance of preventative health care. I offered health and cooking classes locally.
Why She Created Healthier Steps
Initially, I started a business crafting vegan cakes with top-notch ingredients. But the price was steep and not everyone was on board with the cost.
In the midst of this, I was expecting my second child. After the delivery, things went sideways. A mistake during the C-section left me with a serious injury. I was put in a medically induced coma for 5 days and spent a month fighting for my life in the hospital.
Once I was back home, I felt a burning desire to share more of my culinary creativity. I realized that if I hadn't pulled through, all my vegan recipes and knowledge would've been lost.
So, I got my brother on board to build a website, Healthier Steps, and my daughter Devannah jumped in to edit and upload photos as part of her homeschooling project. This was back in 2011.
At the same time, I was launching a skincare line and selling homemade soaps, lotions, and body butters. I added more products to my line-up—granola, popcorn, and seasoning—and sold them locally for some extra cash.
Healthier Steps initially began as a hobby, generating around $100 from Google Adsense. During that period, my main focus was on my skincare line, which provided faster cash flow through sales at markets and on Etsy.
As time allowed, I gradually expanded the content on Healthier Steps, primarily sharing my vegan recipes and a few articles on health. Over time, the scope of our content broadened.
Today, Healthier Steps serves as a platform where we share a diverse range of content, catering to those seeking vegan recipes, gluten-free options, as well as information on health, gardening, and skincare. The progression of our content has allowed us to reach a wider audience and provide valuable resources in multiple areas of interest.
How Much Money She’s Making
In 2016, after moving to Florida, I teamed up with Mediavine and started upping the content on Healthier Steps. I phased out my skincare products and concentrated more on the website.
During 2018, I started putting up content more frequently and my income shot up to over $92,000 a year.
This serious increase motivated me to dive deeper into the world of SEO and figure out how to make my website even more successful. It took me around 3 years of seriously investing in my blog to start earning a six-figure income.
These past 12 months, Healthier Steps generated an annual income of $324,626, equating to approximately $27,000 per month. This year, projections suggest a potential earning surpassing $400,000.
It took me four years to achieve this. I also earn about $300 per month from royalties from book sales on Amazon.
I’m in the process of launching my first mini-video course, and I’m currently training to become a business coach as well. These will add to my revenue streams.
Even with a dedicated team supporting me, I personally commit around 36 hours per week to my work. However, I prioritize taking time off on the weekends.
As a Christian, I value spending quality time with my family and attending church services. It is crucial for me to allocate this time for rest, rejuvenation, and spiritual nourishment.
What Moved the Needle
Twelve years ago, when I first embraced a plant-based lifestyle, the vegan blogosphere was sparse. As one of the first Jamaican vegan bloggers, I managed to establish a strong online presence with my unique recipes.
There was little competition back then, and my plant-based takes on traditional dishes even outranked the meat- and dairy-based originals in search results.
A few years into my journey, I started incorporating gluten-free options into my recipe portfolio. I believe being an early adopter of vegan, gluten-free recipes gave me a significant edge and contributed to my blog's popularity.
What truly set my blog apart, however, was the international exposure I gained living at a missionary college in Virginia for over a decade. We had students from more than 24 countries, many of whom came to fondly call me “mom.”
They shared their beloved traditional dishes with me, which I then transformed into vegan versions. After winning the students' approval, these recipes found their way onto my blog.
I quickly grasped the value of mastering keyword authority, employing relevant searches with related terms. Starting with phrases like “Jamaican vegan” proved beneficial.
Later, I extended my keyword focus to specific recipes, such as pancakes. I aimed to create as many pancake variants as I could without monotonous repetition. Then I moved on to other food categories, like soups and rice dishes.
In the early days, my family formed my support team. My brothers, Lloyd and Kemory, served as web designers, while my husband managed finances. My daughter has been an invaluable editor and assistant and continues to play these roles.
Starting with my closest kin, my team has now grown to include social media virtual assistants, writers, marketers, graphic designers, and sous chefs.
I've been methodically optimizing older content while continually adding fresh material. With a dedicated team backing me, I've been able to quintuple my content output, leading to a surge in traffic.
This exceptional mix of early keyword dominance, global inspiration, and team support has fueled my blog's growth and propelled it to its present success.
How Much Traffic She’s Getting
My traffic kept increasing throughout the pandemic, as more and more readers were home and reading about natural ways to boost their immune systems.
Healthier Steps gets an average of 692,623 monthly pageviews.
Michelle’s Top Marketing Strategies
My primary marketing strategy revolves around consistent daily postings on my website and my various social media platforms.
For Pinterest, I've enlisted the help of a virtual assistant who specializes in creating and sharing captivating pins and generating pin ideas.
On Facebook, I utilize the Facebook scheduler to ensure I post seven times a day, except on Saturdays, when I take off. I actively manage two Facebook groups, and my Facebook page boasts over 116,000 followers, making it my third most significant source of traffic.
My posting schedule is set to release new content every two hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., plus I share one post from another blogger. After 8 p.m., I've noticed a drop in traffic, which aligns with my audience's routine.
I have changed my strategy for Instagram because it hasn't been a substantial source of website traffic for me. The Reels Bonus program was also discontinued, and since then I've found it to be more of a distraction and time-waster.
I've decided to upload stuff on Instagram less frequently in order to remedy this. As an alternative, I've engaged the help of a virtual assistant, who's in charge of overseeing and publishing content on the site.
This enables me to concentrate my time and efforts on other marketing initiatives that have a higher potential to increase visitors to my website.
To engage my audience further, I conduct live cooking videos where I consistently encourage my followers to visit my website for more content.
I record and publish videos 3 to 4 times per week. These videos are a mix of live videos, recorded videos, and AI videos.
I use Pictory AI for some of my videos. Pictory is a technology platform that uses artificial intelligence to transform long-form text content into video, which can include text, artificial voice, and music.
In order to enhance the user experience, I integrate my YouTube videos into my website posts, providing a seamless viewing experience for my visitors.
I thoroughly enjoy connecting with my audience while cooking, and therefore, I frequently go live on YouTube. I then integrated these videos into my website.
I also have a community of superfans who like, comment, and share my posts daily on their social media platforms. Occasionally, I share my content with Facebook groups for a boost in traffic.
I have done some Facebook ads, especially during Q4, to drive extra traffic to my website. I do it because RPMs are usually high and more people are searching for content.
Her Thoughts on SEO
SEO is very important to me, as I find that most of my traffic is organic. Our aim is for our posts to be on the first page of Google so that our content will be easily seen.
Therefore, I do use keyword research tools like KeySearch to select some of our content. Otherwise, we post what we believe will benefit our audience.
My focus now is to update my older content and improve the quality of the photos on my website.
I usually start doing new seasonal content about 3 to 6 months in advance. We have over 2000 posts, so it takes a while to update this older content.
In the beginning, SEO wasn't something I was particularly interested in. Almost a decade ago, my friend Michael Dantzie, a UK-based marketing consultant and an alumnus of the college we lived at, reached out to me to conduct a brief SEO review of my website.
Astonishingly, he was immensely impressed by the level of SEO effectiveness in my content, even though, at that time, I wasn't consciously aware of it. This unexpected praise led to an increased curiosity on my part about SEO. As a result, I started to learn more about SEO.
In the early days, I used Keywords Everywhere, then SEMRush. Nowadays, KeySearch is my preferred tool when it comes to optimizing previously published content.
In the past, many of my articles were quite brief since it was feasible to achieve high rankings with as little as 300 words. Nowadays, I pass these older pieces to my writer for necessary updates. She's well versed in adding detailed descriptions of ingredients, recipe instructions, possible variations, and answers to commonly asked questions.
I've also educated her on how to use the KeySearch content assistant tool, ensuring that our articles incorporate keywords that our competition is using.
I have never focused my attention on link building; my focus has been more on creating quality content. However, many reputable sites have shared my content over the years.
Her Content Creation Process
I collaborate with an assistant chef who works closely with me.
To begin, I conduct keyword research to generate approximately two recipes per day. I then proceed to write the recipes, discussing with my assistant chef the desired outcomes and providing them with the written instructions.
The assistant chef follows the recipes as written, making adjustments or redoing them as necessary. Together, we test the final recipes to ensure their quality and taste.
Additionally, my assistant chef is responsible for capturing appealing photographs and producing accompanying videos for the recipes.
Once the recipes are finalized, we send them to our writer, who transforms them into well-written content. This content is then uploaded to our website, and a virtual assistant takes care of tasks such as adding meta descriptions and other relevant metadata.
Before publishing, my daughter makes a final revision of the content, making any necessary edits and incorporating the appropriate images. Once everything is in place, she handles the publication process.
To find extra talented writers and photographers, I typically rely on freelancing platforms like Upwork and Fiverr.
Thanks to this collaborative workflow, we are able to consistently publish content on a daily basis, ensuring a steady stream of engaging posts for our audience to enjoy.
As for keywords, another strategy is to use Google Search Console to find keyword titles that my users might be searching for but I’m missing.
This is my process:
- Login to Google Search Console
- Click on Search Results
- Make Sure Average Search Position is highlighted
- Click on Last 28 Days, then apply
- Click on pages
- Click on position to show the highest numbers, the arrow should be pointing downward
- Click on the first URL
- Click on "queries, and it will show you what search terms people are using to appear on your website that you can now include on your website
Her Content Publication Schedule
Our posting frequency varies. We ensure a minimum of one post per day, and at times, it could be as many as four.
Essentially, we post anywhere between 1 to 4 times each day, contingent on the workload from other ongoing projects.
Those projects include the recent launch of our video course, 7 Foods You Must STOP Eating Right Now!”, plus we are doing local catering events this summer, along with cooking classes, and we’re relaunching our vegan skincare company.
Michelle’s Email List
To ensure a highly engaged and loyal subscriber base, I made the decision to refine and trim down my email list, resulting in a modest count of 8,953 subscribers.
Quality and engagement matter more to me than sheer numbers, as I believe having 1,000 devoted subscribers holds greater value than a large list of disengaged individuals.
Currently, my email campaigns demonstrate promising open rates of 44% and a respectable click-through rate of 3%.
Typically, I send out emails once a week to maintain consistent communication. However, due to the ongoing launch of my first mini-video course, I have increased the frequency of my emails to a daily basis.
Her Favorite Resources
I strongly encourage participation in mastermind groups, having an accountability partner, and joining Facebook blogging communities.
In January, I was involved in two such groups for a span of three months. One focused on artificial intelligence, while the other mastermind concentrated on team building. Currently, I'm attending a business coaching course, and I'm actively applying the lessons I learn to my business operations.
I also have an accountability partner with whom I maintain regular communication. We aim to exchange words of encouragement daily and share bi-weekly updates and goal-setting sessions.
For those in the food blogging sphere, Facebook groups can serve as an excellent platform to initiate a mastermind group with individuals sharing similar interests.
I also love to listen to podcasts like How I Built This, Eat Blog Talk, and Millionaire Mindset.
My favorite YouTube channels are mostly about health and business, such as Evan Carmichael, Odetta Rock-Head Kerr, and Lewis Owes.
Current books I’m reading are the Bible, Creating Wealth, by Robert G. Allen, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, and We Should All Be Millionaires, by Rachel Rogers.
Her Top Tools
The main tools I use in my business are as follows:
KeySearch: This is the number one keyword tool that I use, and I use it to find blog post topics and keywords.
ChatGPT4: This has become my new favorite tool. I use it for social media post descriptions and overall writing
Google Analytics: This is great for tracking website traffic, including the number of visitors, sessions, and pageviews. It also gives you demographic information, age, location, and gender.
Michelle’s Biggest Challenges
I have had several challenges. These include:
Scaling my company to 7 figures: My biggest challenge is scaling to my 7-figure income goal. I am currently strategizing about starting multiple streams of income to get there.
Using spreadsheets: I don’t like spreadsheets, so I write down everything on paper the old-fashioned way. I ended up hiring a bookkeeper and payroll company.
Google updates: We have seen consistent growth in spite of the Google updates, so I usually remind myself that it’s inevitable
Artificial Intelligence: No one is sure how the surge of AI will impact us as food bloggers so I have embraced the fact that it's coming, so I have been acquainting myself in using AI tools.
Her Greatest Accomplishment
My most significant achievement has been surpassing the income I could have ever earned as a registered nurse.
Despite skepticism from others, my husband and I made the life-changing decision to become missionaries, and it turned out to be the best choice I have ever made. This path has provided us with a quality of life that was once only a distant dream.
Being an entrepreneur has allowed me the privilege of sponsoring numerous individuals in various third-world countries. I have witnessed the positive impact of my support, as it has improved living conditions and children are now able to attend school.
One of the aspects I truly cherish about being an entrepreneur is the flexibility it offers. No longer tied to the constraints of punching a clock, I have the freedom to shape my own schedule and pursue my passions in a way that aligns with my values and goals.
What She Wishes She Knew When She Started
I deeply regret not realizing the potential of growing my blog into a thriving business earlier. If only I had taken it more seriously sooner, I could have capitalized on the opportunities available to me.
Another aspect I wish I had prioritized earlier is SEO. Recognizing its significance in driving organic traffic and boosting visibility, I should have devoted more attention and effort to optimizing my content for search engines.
Furthermore, I now understand the value of outsourcing work to experts in their respective fields. Had I recognized this earlier, I could have delegated tasks that were outside my expertise, allowing me to focus on the core aspects of my blog and business.
In the ever-evolving digital landscape, video content has emerged as a powerful tool for engagement and audience connection. I regret not embracing video earlier in my blogging journey.
By incorporating more video content into my strategy sooner, I could have fostered deeper connections with my audience and reached a wider audience through visual storytelling.
Lastly, overcoming my shyness and stepping in front of the camera earlier would have been immensely beneficial. By sharing my authentic self through video content, I could have forged stronger connections with my audience and showcased my expertise in a more engaging and personal way.
Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
My advice for other entrepreneurs would be:
- Connect with your audience by providing value and listen to their feedback
- Seek help and avoid being a one-person operation when building your business. By leveraging the support of others, you can accelerate your growth and scale more efficiently.
Trying to do everything alone can slow down your progress and limit your potential for success. Instead, delegate tasks, outsource where needed, and collaborate with others with the skills and expertise to complement your own.
- Be agile and adaptable. Business landscapes can change rapidly, so it's essential to be agile and adaptable. Embrace innovation, be open to new ideas, and be willing to pivot your strategies when necessary.
Stay resilient and flexible in the face of challenges. Remember, building a business takes time, effort, and resilience. Stay focused, learn from failures, and celebrate your successes along the way.
- Practice self-care! Prioritize your physical and mental well-being to sustain your energy, creativity, and overall performance. Set boundaries, take breaks, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
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