Case Study: What We Can Learn From Two Wildly Successful Food Bloggers

pioneer womn

As far as blogs go, food blogging has a rather clear path to success:

  • pick a niche
  • grow your readership
  • get a book deal for a cookbook (or 10)
  • teach cooking classes

But while it may seem like every food blogger you read has already released at least one cookbook, they’re the lucky few. There are tens of thousands of food blogs!

Today we’re going to look at two wildly successfully food bloggers: Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) and Aran Goyoaga (Cannelle et Vanille) and how they got to be where they are today.

What Are They All About?

cannelleThe Pioneer Woman
This mother of four runs a minor empire—both online and in-person, where she tends to four children and runs her ranch household. She posts about recipes, food trends, and life in the country multiple times per day.

Cannelle et Vanille
A pastry chef who found herself a bored stay-at-home mom turned her outlet for her cooking skills into two new passions: food photography and sharing the unique foods of her Basque heritage with the world. She posts magazine-quality blog posts and photos once a week.

Where Are They Now?

According to Wikipedia (yes, she has her own—quite long—Wikipedia entry), Drummond is:

…an award-winning American blogger, No. 1 New York Times bestselling author,[1] food writer, photographer and television personality who lives on a working ranch outside of Pawhuska, Oklahoma. In February 2010, under the headline “Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: The Pioneer Woman’s True Life Harlequin Romance,” she was listed as No. 22 on Forbes’ Top 25 Web Celebrities—one of only three women.

When Drummond posts on her blog, she usually receives no less than 100 comments per post. She’s written five books, ranging from cookbooks to children’s books to a romance novel. One has been optioned as a movie, rumored to star Reese Witherspoon.

Goyoaga, on the other hand, posts far less frequently on her blog now than she once did because of what it has gotten her: the financial freedom to spend her time where and how she wants and the creative freedom to pursue her food writing and photography through other paid venues.

Her first cookbook, a stunning hardcover edition, came out in 2012 and she’s been busy writing for the likes of Martha Stewart Living and Conde Nast Traveler and running multiple $600-per-person photography workshops per month ever since.

How Did They Get There?

In three years, Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, grew her blog from a small, personal blog to a behemoth with 13 million page views per month. In another two years, she was up to 23.3 million page views per month.

While Goyoaga has a background in food, Drummond pursued journalism in college, so she brought some professional writing background to her site from the get-go. But what truly set her apart were the photos.

When Drummond posts a recipe, she includes anywhere from around 20 to 50 photos.

In 2007, just one year into blogging, “Confessions of a Pioneer Woman,” as the blog was originally called, won its first award, the “Best Kept Secret Weblog” from the Annual Weblog Awards or Bloggies.

Two years later, she hit the big time. She won best blog of the year, best blog design, and best blog photography at the Bloggies, where she was also nominated for best food blog, best humor blog, and best writing.

Goyoaga began her blog for the same reason many moms create new businesses. After moving to the U.S. in 1998 and starting a family, she wanted to rekindle her old skills and have something of her own, as she says in her first post in January 2008:

I feel like a little kid on her first day of school. What a terrifying thought that is! I have always been shy of crowds, introductions and so on.

But I really wanted to start a pastry journal, mostly for myself, to keep me going and to force me to bake everyday. I am a pastry chef, you see.

And the first thing people ask me is… “So where do you work?”… “Hmmm…” I think to myself… “Well… currently I don’t work anywhere. I’m taking care of my son”. “ohh…” they respond and stop there.

In the first year, she put up 131 posts, each with a recipe and many photos documenting the finished product. During this year, she recognized the importance of food photography and strove to improve her work. Her early posts were more of a stream of consciousness, diary style, but throughout the year, she evolved.

On the one-year anniversary of beginning her blog, Goyoaga received her first award: 2008 Best Food Blog from Well Fed. It was just the first of many, many to come, and she was soon nominated for the James Beard Award—the highest praise for food writers—for the Best Individual Food Blog in 2012 and 2013.

Unlike the Pioneer Woman, which focuses rather narrowly on a particular lifestyle, Canelle et Vanille is a hard blog to define. It’s obviously about food, given the recipes, but it also relays a hard to find view of Spain’s Basque culture, and often functions as a travelogue when Goyoaga is on the road. When she teaches photography classes, it seems more like a photo blog!

Because of the wide range of topics she covers, each of which are dear to her, Goyoaga’s first book came out later in the process than Drummond’s, but like her blog, it suits her without fitting into one category or another. Published in 2012, Small Plates and Sweet Treats is a gluten-free cookbook, because Goyoaga is now a gluten-free cook herself, but it is also about following the seasons and how she grew up eating in Basque country.

What Does Their Success Mean for You?

Though these food blogs both started in the same era, they’ve taken dramatically different paths. Drummond is constantly multiplying her output and leaping to bigger and bigger stages—even TV—while Goyoaga often takes summers off to travel to Spain and up and down the east coast with her children.

Having amazing Alexa rankings, a book published, or articles appearing in newsstand publications may seem automatic indications of success, but for both of these moms, their blogs  allowed them to do what they originally set out to do: in Drummond’s case, write novels, and in Goyoaga’s, keep up her cooking skills and heritage and share both with her family.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa Stein owns, is a college business professor and a mom to Gabriela and Elle. Lisa is dedicated to playing a part in helping women and moms run a business they love, help support themselves and their family and create a flexible lifestyle. You can find her online on Facebook and Twitter or at home burning something in the kitchen.