Hey. So today I'm joined by Amber Bracegirdle co-founder of Mediavine. . Now we're gonna be covering all of the questions you want to ask about Mediavine, as well as learning about Amber's journey and the challenges and success that's she's faced in her own blogging career. So Amber, hey, tell us a bit about you.
Hello. About me, so I am a mom to two little boys, five and two, married to a British man for 13 years now, almost 14, and we live in San Antonio Texas, so we're about six hours behind you.
Wow. What's your weather like there?
You know what? It's hysterical. It is very British today. It is like-
Foggy and cold and it's just nasty. And my older one plays like the little kid football, meaning proper football, your football, and we had to be out in that today, and my little one was just frozen, like completely frozen. And I was just like, "Oh, well just don't even know how to dress you for cold weather. It's so terrible." So yeah.
Oh my goodness. Quite out of character to have cold weather in Texas, isn't it?
It really is. A couple of days ago it was like I don't know, 20C, and then it dropped and we're just like hanging out. I'm like, "Well, okay." Yeah, I don't know what that's about but dealing with it.
But we're getting the mirror over here because it's like it had been-
Oh, yeah. I heard that.
At 20 degrees last week, we had a lovely warm spring with lambs gallivanting around in the fields-
And now it's like some storm coming in tonight and high winds and back to the murk. So whatever.
Yup. Murk is a perfect descriptor for the weather we're having today. Like it's two o'clock in the afternoon and there's still like major fog clouds everywhere. Which I just-
Oh my goodness.
I've hardly ever seen something like that here so I was just like, "Well, all right. Time to go home and just cuddle up on the couch."
Yes. Yes, for sure. So tell me a bit about your background in blogging, because I'm really excited to learn ... You've been blogging for ten years so I'm really excited to hear how that's evolved for you.
It's really funny. So I started my food blog because we were living in England and I missed Tex-Mex and my grandmother's sort of Midwestern home cooking. And so I would call her, which back then it was so expensive to call home, and I would call her and we would chat for a bit and she would always give me a recipe. And so I started wanted to make sure that I kept those somewhere, and that was sort of the impetus to start my blog. And then what happened is, we moved to New Jersey from the UK, so still wasn't quite close enough to Texas for my liking.
And so I just really immersed myself in the culture of Tex-Mex and I grew up in it, but learning about it and sort of understanding a little bit more about like where the recipes came from and how it evolved. Because it's very specific, it's a very specific sort of off shoot of Mexican. You can't get it anywhere else, you can get it in California or New Mexico or anywhere like that, you can't even really get it in North Texas. It's a very different cuisine and it's a cuisine unto its own. And so I fell in love with that and so I started writing about it on my food blog.
And then one of the best things about creating that food blog was that, when we moved to New Jersey, we did not know a soul, my husband was able to transfer there from London. And so I was able to sort of create a community of people around me that were also food bloggers and make friends and things like that, where I had not been able to for probably the first year that we lived there because I work from home. And so when you work from home, and you also don't know anyone in the area, it becomes a very lonely situation. And so as I met food bloggers in the area and started forming relationships and things like that, it really kind of saved me for a little while.
And so I carried on doing that and then right around 2012, in the winter of 2012, I was at a food blogging conference in Philadelphia and I happened to be my typical self. I'm not very quiet when I feel like people are being wronged or told the wrong information or things like that. And so in this tiny little conference of like 60 or 75 people and a panel, I kept like asking questions. And Eric will tell you, one of my co-founders, because he was there, this is how we met, and I took on a Google person.
I was asking about photography because back then Google Plus had a like terms and conditions that said that if you uploaded a photo to Google Plus, they then owned the copyright. And as a blogger, that's a big problem right? Because especially in food blogging back then, there was a lot of brand work and stuff where if you worked with a brand, they might wanna like actually buy the rights to the photos forever or they wanted you to just do freelance work, where you were shooting their product and they owned the photos. And if you were also like contractually having to blast that out on social media, as soon as you uploaded them to Google Plus, you've kind of violated the agreement you have with them. And so I sort of took the Google Plus person to task, and I don't think they were prepared for it because they didn't really have an answer for me.
But Eric apparently leaned back to Josh, who was my podcasting partner, he was also there, he was speaking on SEO, and leaded back to Josh and said, "That's her." And what he meant was, they wanted someone to come and help them run a food site. And so I started working with Eric and Matt and Steve who are my fellow co-founders, pretty much right away I was consulting for them, to help them build Food Fanatic, and they asked me to sort of stay on and run it.
And I was working in fraud analysis at the time, I had a really successful six figure career, but I also wanted to have a baby. And so I was still running my food blog and still very involved in the blogging community, and I had asked tons of food bloggers to come and write for Food Fanatic. And so I was kind of their first introduction to the food blogging community. And I don't think that our company would be where it is today if I didn't have those relationships that at one pointed saved me. You know?
Absolutely. And I can imagine that so many people are relating to what you said about working from home, and being so isolated and then getting into the culture now, which is the word I think within the blogging community, and getting into creating those relationships around you. And no matter what stage you're at, just surrounding yourself with those people. Because it is very different now. In 2019, a lot of people are working from home, a lot of people are working from home. And it can be-
Very, very isolating. So tell me about how that looked when you were gonna be like making this decision to say, "Hey, I'm gonna put this six figure job behind me, I'm gonna have ... Well, not behind me but to the side, so I can go and have this baby." Because unfortunately we can't do both things right at the very same time, there has to be a little bit of a compromise. How did that look for you and how really was your blog I suppose the saving grace for you in that? And this is my extra part to this question which is, how had you decided that you were gonna then make your blog pay so that you could have your baby? Because you know you've got your blog, it's successful, you've developed this Food Fanatics as well, so how did that whole process look for you?
Well, so I was really lucky that ... So I had ads on my blog at the time but they paid me a pittance, so that was never really gonna replace the six figure job, and I knew that. I did do a lot of brand work back then. I was the recipe developer for Green Mountain Coffee and Keurig way back then. And worked a lot with Le Creuset and a couple of other people. But really what allowed me ...
Because my husband and I struggled with infertility, so it took us ten years to have a baby, and I did not want to be traveling all the time once I had Evan. And so my husband and I sat down and had a conversation about what we wanted our lives to look like once this baby was here. And I was in an exceptionally fortunate position that the guys had been begging me to come and work for them full-time and run Food Fanatic full-time instead of just contracting.
And so I could sort of say to my husband, "Well listen, I can run Food Fanatic full-time and have a salary, and still be home with this baby and fit it into my hours." Because basically Eric had said to me, "I don't care if you work one day a year so long as all your work is done, it doesn't matter." Right? Which that was a gift. In and of itself, that was a gift. And so we just kind of said, "Okay. We're gonna make that leap, we're gonna cut back a little bit on some stuff we're doing."
And I was able to walk away from that six figure job, take a $70000 pay cut, and still be okay. I still had a salary coming in, I was able to work ahead in terms of like creating content because Food Fanatic is a contributor driven website, I was able to just ask all of my contributors to have their work to me early so that I could take 12 weeks off, which I know that sounds ridiculous, in the U.S. that's our maternity leave, but so that I could take 12 weeks off and not even look at my computer if I didn't want to. And it didn't matter to the guys one way or another so long as the website was ticking over, they were good to go. So that's what that looked like.
I think that from reading the mission of Mediavine, you have always been passionate about helping people succeed, and when you're talking about Food Fanatic, straight away, I can just see, I know exactly what you've done. You've gone, "Right. I know so and so, so and so, so and so. I'm gonna contact them."
Wright this, I'm gonna give opportunities to people that I know might not get something like this because I know this is gonna be successful. And the other thing that struck me about you Amber is that, with the baby, you going through it, it's a challenging time, but your word and your language is, "When I was gonna have the baby. When." It was like it was definitely gonna happen, so 10 years it was a struggle but the way you word it, I know that you never thought that that wasn't gonna happen for you. And I can sense-
That you've put that into everything else that you are doing as well. And I think that's really a very strong character thing.
Pretty amazing. No, no. I think it's absolutely amazing and I love that you're giving people these opportunities and I can just see that that's really deeply ingrained in you. So what would you say is the most exciting thing for you now, having this opportunity with Mediavine and the mission that you've kind of created for yourselves?
Well, so the fun thing is that the ads sort of pay for everything. Right? They allowed us to get to a point where we now can say, "What can we build that makes the business of blogging better?" Right? And we don't have outside investors or we don't have a board, we don't have venture capitalists knocking at our door saying, "We don't want you to do that because it's not profitable for ..." Like we sometimes make decisions for the company that from the outside, might seem like loss leaders that don't make any sense. Right?
Right now we've got this new plugin Create that we've put out that has so much development in it, I think we have nine publisher engineers now. Like we've thrown a ridiculous amount of money at creating that plugin, when everyone is like, "But there are thousands of recipe card plugins on the market. Why would you do that?"
But we are very very long term thinkers and we have so many bigger plans. But what's really funny about all of it is it stems right back to Food Fanatic. So we want to move Food Fanatic, and our other three sites to WordPress, but we can't do that because we're not willing to take the speed hit that using normal WordPress with like Genesis or something like that, and a normal recipe care plugin that's out there, would provide. We're just not willing to do it, because we know how important site speed to SEO.
And so the first thing we were gonna do is build a card plugin for Food Fanatic, and then what happened is, we realized that our craft bloggers were using recipe card plugins to create sort of a most valuable content printable card for their readers, like to provide user experience. The problem is, when you put craft ingredients into a recipe card, you're marking up non-food as food. And that's a big old no no as far Google's concerned. And so we said, "Well, what if we built out a card that does both?"
Because there is how-to schema, there is craft DIY how to do something schema, and so we could just build something that does both of those things. And then we had an engineer on our team that said, "Well, what if instead of starting it with, "We want a recipe card," what if we just said, "We want a schema card,"?" And he built something that allowed us to say, "Here are the attributes of the schema," and it will automatically create the UI, like create the user interface for that specific type of schema.
And suddenly the doors blew open. Right? Because there is every kind of blogger, and there is every kind of schema, and if you can combine those two things and give them a way to have a principle card. Or maybe printing doesn't make sense for their audience, but having a most valuable content card that allows a reader to scroll through their post and read the points that they'd made, but also reiterates the points that they've made at the bottom of their post. Not only are you providing extra user experience, but you're actually guiding the reader to where you want them to be.
And food bloggers have had that easy, right? Like they realized early on that people wanted to print recipes. And so there's always been ... Not always but there's always been the idea of a principle, most valuable content area. What we're trying to do is bring that to other niches. Right? So DIY and craft is obviously a pretty straightforward one. Travel is another straightforward one, with things like packing lists or tip places, the best places to find British food in New York City would be one that my husband would write tomorrow.
Those sorts of thing, they lend themselves well to every kind of blogging, it's just no one's paid any attention to anybody but food bloggers. And so we're like, "Well, let's pay attention to everybody." And I think it's going to sort of bring some revolution to how you can get a reader interacting with your website, and that I'm really, really excited about.
The other thing that I'm really excited about is Trellis. And Trellis is what we're calling our framework, so think of it as a replacement for Genesis. Right? And so it'll come with like a basic theme that you can customize and all of this, but then we're gonna work with a bunch of different designers to create child themes, that they can sell but we will make sure that they are to Mediavine's opinionated specifications with regards to site speed.
Because again, trying to move our owned and operated sites to WordPress, we could not find a framework that was fast enough for us. And so we said, "Well, we're just gonna build one." And if we were gonna build it for ourselves, why not just make it available to everyone." That's kind of been the Mediavine model.
Like our ad technology was not ... We did not go into it saying, "Hey, we're gonna start and ad network." We went into it with, "We need this for our four sites." We were dissatisfied with the companies that we were with. And so that's kind of been the ethos of the company the whole way along, and it's driving all of these long term decisions that we make. We're poring all of this money into Create, we're poring all of this money into Trellis, and people are like, "Well, how much is it gonna cost?" And then we say words like, "It's not ever gonna cost you anything," and people are kind of blown away by that.
But there's an ad component right? If you're with Mediavine and you're running Mediavine ads, both Trellis and Create are optimized for that. We make sure that it's providing the best possible ad experience and that it's running as fast as possible so that that doesn't impact your site or your ads. And so anybody that's gonna be running both of those things is going to be earning more money, which means we're going to be earning more money. So that's like the selfish aspect of it. Right?
But at the same time, we're frustrated with the state of blogging. There's a lot of lazy programming going on. There are a lot of people that just say, "Oh, don't pay attention to Google page speed insights. It's literally one of the two websites that Google says to pay attention to with regards to page speed. And I'm not just even talking about like plugin creators, I'm talking about hosts are saying that.
And it's just like, "No." Not only is speed like one of the biggest points of the Google algorithm, it's also part of Facebook's algorithm. Eventually my personal opinion is, it will be part of Pinterest's algorithm.
And the reason I say that is because a year before last, they introduced a thing that bloggers lost their mind over where basically you could see the entire recipe if someone clicked on your pin, they were pulling in all the schema and you could see the whole recipe including instructions. And it was sort of providing like an extra screen so the bloggers post was loading behind the pin in the Pinterest browser and you could see that it was loading but the recipe card was basically coming up within the Pinterest browser immediately. So the reader didn't even have to visit the blog, didn't even have to see their ads or whatever.
And the reason we actually reached out to Pinterest is, it was causing an ad policy violation. And when I got on the phone with them, I was like, "Listen guys, this is bad news bears for everybody that works for us, everybody that runs any kind of advertising on their website, because you're causing ad policy violations. What was the imputes behind this decision? Because you've just ticked off like all of your creators, all of your content creators that give you the content that gets people to come back to Pinterest over and over and over again, you just ticked them all off."
And they said the thing that caused them to make that decision is they were trying to get people to the information they desired faster because the number one complaint they were getting at that time is that it took too long for the website to load. And that's ads. Right?
The thing is like the consumers, are us as people that are scrollers what are we doing to ourselves really? We're all guilty of this because we're the ones consuming all the things online and we are the ones that just want it right now and want it ... And then when we're going to start businesses or to do whatever, we're just creating a ton of problems for ourselves. I personally think, and you probably will agree that in the next, I don't know, 12, 24 months, most of the platforms will want you to stay within the platforms and they will want to serve up the best that they can within their platform. With Facebook now, completely Facebook centric, isn't it? They do not want you leaving that platform at all. I have a feeling that-
Yeah. It's been that way for a while but they have to strike a balance. Right? Because people that are the content creators will just stop putting their content there is my thought.
It's really tricky isn't it? It's a really tricky-
Situation because we have ballooned them to wherever they are by using and consuming and being on there and then there's like a ... Well, they own whatever share of the people's time really don't they? And so if we're not putting our stuff on there, I don't know, are we gonna be able to bring it down as quickly as what we put it up? Does that make sense? I'm not sure if it will.
It makes complete sense. Yes. Yeah. And I-
Because become a habit in people's lives, going on them-
It has, for sure.
Consuming, is a habit. So although as content creators we've got the thing of, "Hey, well we made this. We got people here, I don't know if we can bring it down quite so quickly.
Yup. And honestly, that's one of the reasons that we always say, pay attention to your newsletter subscriptions. You are getting right in front of people without an algorithm.
Yeah. For sure. Absolutely. I know you've got a podcast also. So tell me about that and what made you start it, what it's all about and why people need to go over there.
So it's called Theory of Content and I co-host that with my buddy Josh, who as I said before, is also a buddy of Eric's they've known each other forever. Really what happened is, I've known of Josh ... I didn't even remember meeting him at that conference. I don't think that I actually did. But I know of him peripherally, right? Because he is the content marketer for a company called Alarm Grid that he and Eric and another guy run together, separately from Mediavine and they've had it forever.
And so it cracks me up be Eric's like this online content creator mogul situation, The Hollywood Gossip is like a huge website for us that he and Matt and Steve Started together and then over on this other site, he's got like a physical alarm company that he runs with Josh. And Josh really loves content and thinking about why we make content, like what drives the human mind to do it, and that's what drove his SEO strategies for Alarm Grid.
And so he tried to record the podcast by himself and apparently it didn't go very well, he's like, "I was so boring," which made me laugh. Because he's a funny guy but I think he needs someone to play off of, or else he goes down rabbit holes. Which is usually the case with technical guys, right? Eric had the same problem and that's why we work so well together is he would try to explain things in super technical ways and I would become like the blogger translator.
And so that's what I do with Josh and SEO and like helping people, helping bloggers specifically, understanding why you make content and understanding how you can reach your audience a little bit easier without losing your mind over diving into keyword tools and worrying about Google algorithm updates and all of this.
Josh's opinion is, "If you know the name of a Google algorithm, you already know too much and you're wasting your time." Because he feels that if you just keep creating content, and creating content that relates to each other, eventually Google understands what you're an expert in if you give them enough surface area. And so we kind of talk about that a lot, and then we also talk ...
Like we'll bring a blogger on, have them tell us where they're struggling and before the show we do a fair bit of prep, we get access to their Google search console and analytics and stuff like this and they'll think that their blog is broken and they aren't having any growth and all of this. And nine times out of ten, they are having all of those things, they just didn't zoom out enough. And so Josh always like to say, "You're blog aint broke." People that are, they're focusing, they think they have to focus on SEO so hard and then they confuse themselves and they're diving through SEMrush, and all of these things, and they spend hours and hours trying to figure it out when really the could've spent those hours and hours just creating more content.
And so we talk about how to do that and how to create a content plan for yourself that makes you not crazy and keeps you authentic to yourself, and keeps you not "writing for Google". Which again, I would argue that's not even a thing anymore, Google's smart enough now that if you're writing for humans you're writing for Google.
I literally wanna hug you through the microphone We have so aligned with the way we look at things.
I feel like it's because obviously you've been a blogger for ten years, I've come at it from a completely different angle with being a photographer, a business builder that is then working very closely with bloggers and it's become my main people that I'm serving now. And my thing is, "Hey guys, take this back to basics and build a Goddamn business, like just build business. What you're doing, you're helping somebody with a problem with your amazing blog content, turn it into a business. Think about it like a business. The question I get so much, and I hate techy questions. I hate it. I'm like, I'm not a SEO person, I'm not. I just know how to build a really good business.
All the tech stuff, it just falls in where you need it and when you need it when you're building a great business. And something I get a lot, and it's been coming up a lot recently is, like what platform should I start my blog on? What platform should I be blogging on? Where should I be? What should ..." And I'm like, "Guys, the time you're spending thinking about what platform to be on is time that you could be pressing play, pressing start on getting out there in front of people. It doesn't matter. Yes, okay when you get to whatever level and you're trying to scale and you wanna get very specific with stuff, yeah, okay, think about it then. But right now, what fits your budget and allows you to do it in a way that you're not gonna pull your hair out? Because that's the other thing.
For sure and what's really funny about that, right? Is I see all the time in the brand new blogger groups is, meaning that the blogger is brand new, not the group is brand new, is that they're like, "Okay, I've got my blog up. What ads should I put on it?" And I wanna scream into the void. I literally want to scream into the void and just be like, "No! Do not put ads on your blog. That does not make you an official business person or blogger. Stop doing it." And people are really surprised to hear that we literally did not put ads on Food Fanatic for two and a half years after we started it.
How can you possibly tailor what your audience needs in like two weeks? You can't. And for ads to work they have got to be relevant, specific, they've not got to look like they're distracting from user experience. They've got to fit in.
Well, not only that, but they've got to not slow down your website, right? Like I said it to your right before we started right? We say it all the time at Mediavine, ads suck. They suck. They're awful for a lot of things. What we try to do at Mediavine is just make them suck less. And then thing is, they've got to be worth it. They have got to be worth the loss of user experience that you are going to have, they are going to bring that, no matter what, they're going to bring that. And there will be a few readers among you like Jade, that are completely intolerant to them, that just do not want them.
And so I saw something even just yesterday in a group that someone was like, "I wanna put AdSense on my website so that when I get a little bit bigger, my audience isn't shocked by the fact that I've put ads on my blog. Well A, that's not a thing. That's just not even a thing. B, you have multiple audiences.
Sure you're gonna have a loyal audience, but also you have a different audience, you have about five different audiences really, but you'll have a Google audience that comes at you that never comes to your blog again, but you have exact information they need from you right them. Do you think they're gonna know that you didn't have ads on your blog for the first year? No. They won't care. Same with Pinterest. Same with Facebook. Like there's an argument that the people coming in from Facebook are probably more than likely the people that follow you loyally, they're not going to care.
And if they do, you can write a blog post on your website, hundreds of our bloggers have done this, where they've written a blog post about why they have ads and why they chose Mediavine and why they this and why they that, and it helps the reader to understand why you have made that choice as a business person.
My argument is always, you are a business person and you deserve to be paid for the hours and hours of content you are creating. Whether that's through sponsored posts or display advertising or whatever the case may be, do what fits you and not worry about, "Oh, I'm gonna freak my audience out." It's not like they're gonna stop coming to your website, that's not a thing. So wait until it's worth it.
Yes, completely. Completely. Wait until it's exactly the right ... I don't know. You've just got that clearer view I think of what you need and whether it's gonna suit because it works for some, it doesn't always work for everybody. And-
I think it's a rush to monetize because they're so confused about how to make money from their blog. All they think is, "Oh, people make money from blogging from having ads on their website, and they get sent free stuff to review. That's it. That does seem to be the level of education there is around making money in your blog for people that are new and sort of coming into it.
Yeah. That's pretty accurate. Yeah. We have tons and tons and tons of content right? About when to put ads and why we do ads the way we do and all of these things. And I'm probably gonna blow your mind right now but it was so timely.
So we have a private Facebook group for our Mediavine folks, if you're running our ads, you get access to the Facebook group. And really what that group is meant to be for is, I had the idea to start ti because what I found was that the food bloggers in my food blogging groups would get into this bubble, this feedback loop where there's only one way to do a thing. Right?
And what I was learning as we built out Mediavine, and we were working with multiple niches of bloggers is that, if you ask the same question of food bloggers, travel bloggers, parenting bloggers, pet bloggers, you name it, you're gonna get different answers from each of those niches. And I really wanted a place where people could ask a question and get answers from outside of their feedback loop so that they could think about things more openly and in a different way.
Because I saw people making really bad decisions for themselves because five other people they knew were doing it that way, and that frustrates me. Like that frustrates me to no end. I want people to sort of step outside of their bubble and think for themselves and what's best for them and their website and their audience, and their business.
And so I'm gonna blow your mind right now probably. So, we had somebody post in our group yesterday and say, "I was worried ads would affect my site when I signed up for Mediavine, so I ran an experiment. On Google Optimize, I set half of my readers to see full ads on one of my posts and the other half of the readers to see none. As you'll see in the screenshots below, time on page and bounce rate are the exact same, and scroll depth significantly increased with ads.
That's really interesting isn't it?
Yup. And so that post had roughly 11000-page views in each category of his A, B test, roughly 10000 unique in each of his A, B tests, and the average time on page for the folks in the "with ads" category, was .5 seconds longer.
Do you think that's because they're having to scroll that bit further to scroll-?
Passed the ads and stuff. But like you say, it's only beneficial isn't it? Because if they're staying on the site longer then-
Time on site, dwell time.
That's really interesting. Well that shows what it does to run the right things that are serving people.
That's the thing, right? So I don't know if you know much about Mediavine. Right? We're not your typical ad company. So, the first thing is that we came at it from a very different place, we were running four websites, our ad company go acquired and overnight our ad income cut in half. Now we were supporting four families plus an army of contributors, to have that cut in half was really scary.
And so Eric, who is the programmer among us said, "I think I can build something. I've been reading everything that Google's been putting out about this new stuff called header bidding. And I think I can build something to operate within that environment and do better for us than all these other people are, because nobody's paying attention to header bidding yet and there's a lot of inventory there." And the other three of us were like, "Hey, cool. That's awesome."
And within him deploying that and we were just running it on our backfill, we were out earning our main ad network within a couple of weeks. And so luckily we were right at the point where our contract was gonna end with them and so we said, "We're not renewing." After seven or eight years of being with them we were like, "We're not renewing," and I think it shocked them. Because The Hollywood Gossip is a huge website, it's got like 50 million page views a month. So to lose that Comscore, was a big blow to them. But we realized that we could be better at this.
But the technology that he built, he was very opinionated. So first of all, he built it for scale because he didn't wanna have to constantly be changing something on four different websites. So he wanted it to work as well on Food Fanatic, which was a tiny site at the time, as The Hollywood Gossip. Which he will tell you, "Yeah, I was lazy. I didn't wanna do it twice." And so he built it for scale but then the next thing that he did was he said, "I'm not gonna let any of these sites take a hit on page speed, so I'm gonna lazy load all the advertising.
We are still to this day, the only company that lazy loads advertising. And let me tell you what, when you don't load all the ads on site load, first of all, you speed it up by like multiple seconds, but you actually, and this is something we didn't expect, you actually provide more value to the advertiser themselves because you are not asking them to pay for an ad impression that no human eye saw.
When we realized that our ... So the industry cares about this metric called viability right? Which says, 50% of the ad was in the viewable screen for at least one second. The longer that it's in the screen, the higher the viewability score goes. So we basically weren't loading ads if they weren't going to be seen by a human, and then because we were lazy loading them, it wasn't slowing down the site so people were staying on the websites longer rather than bouncing away on like a terrible mobile connection.
And then because only the ads that were actually seen were being loaded, the viewability scores just went off the charts. And so our average CPM per ad is way higher because they know that our ads are gonna be seen by a human, so it means you can actually run less ads if you want to and still make the same money.
That's amazing isn't it?
Just a little tweak.
Just a little tweaks and actually thinking about your reader ... It's exactly what you were saying earlier, like when you think about your reader, the rest of it falls into place. And that's exactly what happened with the ad tech is, all we were doing was thinking about the reader and not wanting to lost our search engine rankings, because The Hollywood Gossip is the number one website on the internet for Hollywood gossip. And so we did not wanna lose that ranking, because it accounts for probably 50% of our traffic. And so that's what we were focused on. And in focusing on that and providing a better user experience, we actually provide ads that are more valuable to the advertisers. And its just kind of crazy that it worked out that way
I was about to say, it's completely crazy isn't it, that that's all it needs, is that tiny little tweak and just that think outside the box what I'm gonna do, doing it.
I'm gonna do it because ... Yeah.
Yeah. I'm gonna put this in because it's gonna be good.
And back then we could make that decision. Right? Because we were only building the technology for ourselves. We were only gonna run this on our four websites, and then my best friend who is also a food blogger said, "Hey, my ad company stinks too. Can you help me?" And so I said something to Eric and he was like, "Well, maybe."
And when you represent a site that you don't own in the ad world, you have to jump through a bunch of approvals to do that. So once we had done it for Jaime, we could literally do it for anyone. And so we started with people that wrote for Food Fanatic, and initially the idea was, "Well, we're just make a cute little network of like the 50 sites that our contributors plus our four, we'll just leave it at that. That's what it'll be." And then Eric realized, "No, we can launch sites so quickly, this can scale so easily, and the bigger and programmatic ...
And I don't know if you know what programmatic advertising is, but it's the advertising that's more relevant to the reader. Right? So like while you might get an ad for Tesco, I will get an ad for Honest Diapers, because that's what's relevant to me. And it actually provides a better user experience, that you're seeing ads that are relevant to you rather than seeing and ad for a chainsaw. I don't wanna see an ad for a chainsaw on my food blog.
What do I care about that? But my husband might see an ad for a chainsaw and he would be just fine with that because that's relevant to him. And so that's what programmatic advertising is, it matches like who you are based on your browser history and cookies and serves up ads that are relevant to you. And when you do that, those actually will pay you more as well. And so with programmatic advertising, the bigger your network of sites, the better you're able to like press on the advertisers for more money. And so we realized pretty quickly that while we could remain that small, there was no reason to and we would actually better our original bloggers that took a chance on us, by allowing more people into the network. So I wanna say as of yesterday, we're at like 4357 or something.
Which is just crazy because we started three and a half years ago with six.
Yeah, and with no scope to think about.
None. Yeah. And we just two years ago had I think, six employees and now we have 53.
Do you find that they're lightening the load or is it just making you more focused to grow further and further?
We're just treading water, every time we hire people we're treading water. We did a massive hiring of publisher support, which is like our biggest department because we care so much about making sure bloggers are supported and lifted up. I think there's 20 odd people in that department now, and this was like three months ago that we hired them or four months ago and we're already like, "Well, we've got to hire another round."
Oh my goodness. I felt that's so wonderful though that you ... I feel like I saw your stats around having the 53 employees and over 50% are female.
Tech. That's amazing.
Such a cool thing.
I feel like that you are gonna be given people that have left jobs and like having a family, so many women in that situation aren't they? You're gonna be giving
Chance to really get involved in something a bit different rather than just having to blog on their own. If they don't want to, they wanna still be part of that kind of company culture, I feel like you're gonna grow to the point where you can bring people in that are just the most brilliant at what they do but to be able to work on their own basis as well. I felt this is a turn in the tide, I'm seeing it more and more with people that have been squeezed out of corporate or squeezed out of wherever, and then are going on to build something like ...
Well actually, I know somebody that's done a virtual assistant company and she had triplets and she was working in the city and it was just crazy. And she now, employs all women that have come out of corporate roles, so they were like CEOs, CFOs and she's got them doing different type specialist virtual assistant type tasks, but using all of the brilliant skillsets that they had that they thought, "Well, what am I gonna do with these now? Because I can never go back to corporate." You know?
Right. Right. That is so awesome. Yeah. So one of my favourite things that has come out of everything that they guys and I have ever done together is like for example, I had a friend ... Because I used to live obviously New Jersey local to New York City and I had a friend who had three kids under five, her oldest was a boy and then she had twin girls 17 months later.
Oh my goodness.
So yeah, hands full. Right? And as they were getting a little bit older and getting into school and stuff, she wanted to get back into having a job. But she was an actress by trade before she had her children and getting into New York City to try and do auditions and stuff when you have to be back for school run, is like impossible.
And so we were talking one day and she had been a food blogger and kind of she got it and she liked it and all of this but then the kids were getting nuts again and she kind of gave it up and I said, "But you still have all of those skills. Why don't you come and virtual assistant for me, on Food Fanatic?" And she actually did that for three and a half years, ended up taking on a bunch ore clients, and parlayed it into a full-time job back in an office.
I loved that we were able to do that for her. Right? Because she was feeling ... Like she was gonna go back to school to become a legal assistant. And she said to me, "It's literally the last thing in the world I want to do but it works with my schedule." And I was just like, "No, Karen, stop. We can fix this." Because I was getting to a point where Food Fanatic was getting so buy and Mediavine was getting so busy that I needed help with Food Fanatic. And so it kind of fit perfectly.
And then we've continued to do that, right? We continued to do that with the people that work for us. And you're actually speaking directly to my heart with this stuff because next month I'm actually going to Washington D.C., there's a blogger on our network, her name is Betsy Eves and her day job, she works for a non-profit called Dog Tag Bakery that helps caretakers of wounded veterans as well as veterans, get back into the workforce and things like this after they're no longer in the military. But also supporting their caretakers because, injuries that result in PTSD, that's a lifelong thing and it's really hard on caretakers.
And so she's very passionate about it and she actually asked me to come up there and teach a course to a bunch of military wives about how to blog. Because it's one of the few jobs that a military wife could have, or a military spouse could have that they can take with them, wherever they are in the world.
That is such an amazing cause. I think that's so brilliant and I don't think they'd find much of a better teacher either Amber.
Well, thank you. I hope so. I hope that we can help them find something they're passionate about to blog about. Because that's the thing, so long as you're writing about something you're passionate about, the audience will come.
Absolutely, and I feel like it's just getting off to it on that right foot. I think if more people were ... Not subjected, that's not the right word. But were given a glimpse at that right build a business-
Right. Viewing it as a business.
Yeah. In the first place, there wouldn't be so much frustration, so much ... Well, there is frustration being an entrepreneur, it's not an easy road.
But it's a different way of looking at it, and-
Without the kind of, "Okay. Well, I think I have to do this because the tech tells me I got to do this and the SEOs telling me I've got ..." It's without all of that pressure. I saw a comment in one of the Facebook groups, they love it when I jump on one of them. They just love me, because I've always got something to say that just doesn't fit with any of it. And-
about DA and I was like, "Okay. I understand what this is. I understand why you're kind of concerned about it, but why are you giving it your thought? Like why are you giving it your focus? Your focus should be on building your audience, and building and audience that love you and that you help, and that will just loyally keep coming back to you, and the DA comes with that. It comes from all these things that you get because of that. I'm no say that it's not important-
[crosstalk 00:51:27] can I just say that, DA is bull shirt. To use the Good Place, I don't know if the Good Place has made it over there yet but you have to watch it if and when it does. No, it's utter ballocks, it really is. It's just dumb and it's not even a Google thing, it's a Moz thing.
A Moz thing.
Come on guys. Moz knows-
A lot but yeah, it's creating pressure where there doesn't need to be any. And one of the things I find so bizarre and frustrating and I guess this just shows my age as a blogger now, right? Is that there's all kinds of courses and stuff like that about blogging. Which is fine, right? We're big on education, we put out a lot of stuff for free, which I'm sure ticks a lot of people off because they're trying to build a business out of it, which is fine. What I find really odd to me is that people have courses and principles that they are trying to funnel people to and all of this, about blogging. So there are brand new blogs about blogging. And I'm like, but you haven't been ... I'm so confused.
Right. I feel like we've all got unique skillsets, okay? Whatever it may be, it may be that we've got the gift of the gab, it may be that we just have got this way of getting people to engage with us socially, it may be that we've got technical skillsets. You know? Maybe that you're the best branding photographer in the world. Well, we know that's correct in my category. But do you know what I mean? We've all got special skillsets and they're things that people are gonna pay us for. The other stuff is just ... I feel like it's inauthentic. We've got to come from an authentic place.
It's why you don't see me putting out stuff saying, "Hey, SEO for bloggers." Because yeah, I can help you build a great blog business, I can help you take great photos for your blog. I'm not gonna say, "Oh, yeah. Here's everything I know about SEO, because I don't know it.
I'd have to learn it myself, it's not my skillset. So, I completely understand where you're coming from.
Right, and I mean-
Blogging is, is that it's strange isn't it? That it kind of goes on in that way. It doesn't really have industry.
No. No, it doesn't. And it just goes to show that we're still kind of in the wild, wild west with this stuff, right? But yeah, you'll hear Josh correct me on why I think something is the way it is in SEO and stuff like that. I don't claim to be an SEO expert, but I do claim to know how people consume content.
Right? And what makes them stick around. Because I've paid attention to it for the last 12 years of my life. I was an avid reader of blogs before I was a blogger, and I paid attention to what they did and how they did it. I'm an analyst by trade, I was a fraud analyst for 15 years, which sometimes makes people crazy, because I will poke holes all day and all night, but that's the fraud analyst in me.
And so I see these groups sometimes and someone will say something and I'm like, "But that's not ... You know what? I'm not gonna make myself any friends here." And then I'll blow into why that's complete and utter bull. And I'm sure I don't make myself any friends but that's who I am, it's who I've always been, it's how I've ended up where I am. So I try to stay as true to it as I possibly can. But yeah, if you can't come at blogging from an authentic passionate place, you're not gonna stick with it. You're just not.
Yeah, I agree.
Eventually you will get burnt out and you will be like, "Why am I doing this?" And even the people who do come at it from a passionate place sometimes get to that point. Mostly because they're listening to all the noise of, "You have to do this, and you have to do that, and you have to ..." Like I've literally seen my best friend be frozen on creating more content because she's like, "Ugh. But then I have to do this and I have to do that and I have to all the social media and I have to," whatever. And I'm like, "You make such wonderful content, how do we fix that?" And in a lot of ways it was hiring help, it was hiring a VA to do the social stuff and all of these things. But don't let yourself get frozen with all the noise, just create some stuff that you love.
Exactly, because we start blogs from that passion and that purpose driven place. We've experienced something, been through something that is gonna help other people. So, we've got to keep that fire ignited because that message is one that is really worthwhile sharing and others need hear it. So I completely understand what you're saying.
Yeah. Like for some reason, a lot of people think, "Well, people don't wanna hear what I have to say." Why the heck not? We're all on Scary Mommy nine times a day because they're pushing out content that we related to so viscerally, we stay on their website. And everyone that's writing that content is a blogger from another place, they're pulling in that content, they're syndicating it. Go and find that blogger, because obviously if you're relating to it on Scary Mommy, they've probably go a bunch of stuff on their own website that you'll related to quite viscerally as well.
Thank you for sharing with us Amber. Have you got anything else that you wanted to share?
I don't think so. Other than there's a couple of Mediavine conferences coming up in case anyone happens to be in the U.S.. Chicago's happening in June and Austin's happening in November. Austin goes on sale in a couple weeks so if you happen to want to go to Austin Texas, there's great barbecue and Tex-Mex, and I'll take you to all the places, I promise. Come and buy a ticket.
When are you coming to London?
I don't know when we're next over. We were just there in December for my brother-in-law's wedding, he got married in Rye of all places. It was our first time down in Rye, it was absolutely beautiful but even understanding that things run at a little bit of a different speed in tiny villages in the UK, we were all a bit shocked that we couldn't get lunch at half past one?
Half past one.
Oh no! Half past one? No chance.
It was crazy. It was half past one on a Friday, nothing's-
Open. Not even a caravan for a bacon sandwich. It was bananas.
And we were like, "Well, we could drive 45 minutes back to the grocery or we can just wait for dinner which is in two hours." Luckily we had lots of snacks for the kids, but it was just like, "Ugh. This is frustrating. We're all exhausted and jet lagged and-
We do, don't we?
Rye was like a whole other situation. Like if we came back, I'm not sure ... Like it was absolutely stunning, that area of the country, but I was like, "I'm not sure that I would be up for coming back to Rye just with little kids. I'll come back when they're grown and all of that and I don't have to listen to whining because they're starving and I can't find somewhere with just a bacon sandwich. This is so dumb."
Oh my goodness.
But yeah, so we were just over then for that. I'm hopeful that we'll get back maybe early next year. I'd like to get my younger one potty trained before we go on the 11 hour flight again.
Yeah. It's tricky isn't it? Two year old, that is tricky. You've got to-
They just don't sleep. Neither one of them have. The last two years we've gone, they do that 11 hour flight and they don't sleep, not even a wink. And I've decided, I'm not in for that just a while.
It gets worse doesn't it? Because they get to like three, four, five, they're so opinionated but they're still like giant toddlers and then-
I find like six, seven starts to get a little bit less, they're a little bit more independent, so their kind of taking care of them self.
you know? But yeah, I feel like three, four, five, yeah that's the trickiest. My little girl she's three, so she's gonna be four this year, and I'm like, "This is ..." But she is a bit different to the boys. She is a big different to the boys.
Yeah. Well they always are right? My niece is younger than my nephew and she mothers him, and she mothers my boys as well. And it's very funny, because no one's asked to her do that, no one's told her, "Oh, you're a girl, you have to mother them." No one has ever said anything like that to her, we're actually a very forward thinking family and she just does it naturally. She just knows that they need taking care of because they're in their own little worlds, all three of them. And yeah.
So I'm hopeful that next time we can actually bring them with us, like my sister's whole family. Because they haven't been over and it would just be such a fun trip. So I will let you know when we are over, we always try to see a fair few of our friends and stuff like that. One of our favourite people that we go over and see is ... I don't even know if you know them, Kay and Kate from Pinch of Nom.
Uh-huh. I saw them on the Mediavine website, and I thought, "Oh, interesting."
Oh, yeah. They've actually been with us since they were a tiny, tiny website and to watch their growth has been amazing.
Just amazing. But they are also just two of the most wonderful people I've ever met in my life, so down to earth, so kind, just kind people. And the last time I saw them was in Liverpool, we went to lunch together and they don't have kids but they were so lovely to my two, and they still talk about it. They still will say, Miss Kay and Miss Kate and all of this, and they know exactly who they are. And I will just say that that success could not have happened to two more kinder people.
Aww, that's so lovely to hear.
Yeah, yeah. So you will hear from me when we are in your neck of the woods.
Amazing. Well thank you so much for joining me today.
You're very welcome.
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