For many food bloggers, the winter holidays signal an increase in RPMs and pageviews, which in turn creates higher revenue. Q4 for food bloggers makes this hard job of owning a recipe site worth it. After all, more money is the gift we receive for working harder the rest of the year.
We can hear you thinking it, because we hear it a lot, “I know Thanksgiving and the holidays are high traffic times, but how do you prepare for holiday content?” We hope to give you a bit of insight into how we gear up in advance for the holiday traffic months and what you can still do this year if you didn’t have the time, or knowledge, to prep sooner.
WHEN DOES HOLIDAY SEASON TRAFFIC START?
The answer to the question of when holiday season traffic begins is really subjective, because it will depend on your site content and how you are marketing it. We both show a small ramp-up period that starts in October, reaching a peak of traffic in December. We are sharing a screenshot of Google Analytics from 2019 because 2020 was an unusual year.
We anticipate that 2021 is going to be similar to 2019, since most of us did not celebrate the holidays in 2020 in large gatherings. 2021 may hold a surge of new cooks who are looking forward to sharing their new cooking skills with their friends and families.
The best part about increased traffic that starts in October and continues to increase until the end of December is it all happens during the fourth quarter (Q4). If you are with an ad agency, you already know that RPMs are at their highest in Q4.
For those of you who don’t know what Q4 refers to, it is the last 3 months of the fiscal year, which, for most businesses, coincides with the calendar year. So, for recipe site owners, Q4 means the months of October, November, and December. Many advertisers, especially retailers and food manufacturers, set aside a large portion of their budgets each year to spend during this period, and their spending usually starts some time before Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S.).
As the holiday seasons approach, and with them peak consumer spending, so does the end of Q4. Companies push to get their products in front of as many eyes as possible and any excess budget they may be sitting on is thrown at this endeavor.
Would it surprise you to know that some food bloggers see 30-40% of their yearly revenue in November and December? This is the reason most of us spend a good amount of time gearing up for the holidays.
The blue line reflects pageviews and the green blocks represent revenue. Can you see how they pretty closely correlate with each other?
EVALUATE YOUR HOSTING PLAN
First and foremost, food bloggers should evaluate their website hosting plans well before their traffic starts to increase.
Traffic tends to go up by 30 to 50% for the weeks right before Thanksgiving and the holidays in the U.S. This means food bloggers should evaluate their hosting plans 2-3 months before the major holidays. You really don’t want to find your is site down because you exhausted your plan. Even if you think your pageviews are within the pageview limits that some hosts estimate, remember that food blogs are fairly image-heavy, which creates a larger server and resource load.
If you are currently using 65-75% of your monthly resources with your host, we highly recommend communicating with your hosting company to see what happens if you get close to, or go over, your limit. You need to know this answer because we have seen consequences that range from lost pageviews because of excessive use on shared plans (remember, you aren’t the only one with increased traffic sharing the resources) creating slower speeds to sites being taken offline because they are using too many resources.
Be prepared. Depending on what you learn, you may need to change your plan or change your host.
The advice that was given to Elaine well before she was making consistent money on her recipe site was to change her hosting from a budget-friendly company to a better and faster hosting plan. At that time, she moved from Bluehost to WPopt with Charles Smith.
Once Elaine got on to the Mediavine ad network, she realized she needed an even faster host. Although she enjoyed working with Charles and his company, she decided to move Dishes Delish to BigScoots for the sake of her business.
She didn’t completely jump ship from WPopt, because Charles really does have incredible customer service, especially for a small company. Instead, she decided to keep the Dishing podcast, along with the registry of her domains, with Charles’s company, and she has been very happy with that decision.
We have mentioned in earlier articles that we both partner with BigScoots to host our recipe sites and Food Blogger Help, but we cannot stress enough the importance of a reliable hosting company, so we want to mention it again. Neither of our sites has been throttled or experienced an interruption in pageviews or speed during increased traffic times. Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2020 were the true tests. BigScoots lived up to its promises during this time.
We both start planning the upcoming year’s content calendar during the summer because it’s a slow time for each of us, and we have bandwidth to think ahead. We try to get the first 9 months of the following year planned first.
Likewise, we hope you already have your own content planned for this year and have included plenty of recipes that are popular during the holidays. However, knowing this isn’t always the case, we want to offer some ideas of when you should be publishing Q4 content.
By the end of August, you should be publishing or re-publishing any pumpkin recipes you have. We understand that it is difficult to write about pumpkins, turkeys, and Christmas cookies when it is 1,000,000 degrees outside, but you want to make sure that your content has had a chance to “simmer” with Google and Pinterest before the holidays roll around.
We encourage you to leverage the wisdom of trends that can be turned up in any research tool.
As you can see, pumpkin spice starts ramping up in August, peaks in October, and is nearly over in December. If you wait until October to post or promote your pumpkin content, Google and Pinterest may not have had enough time to understand what that content is about. Pinterest takes many things into consideration when deciding which pins to show at the top of their search pages. It is believed that one of them is the social signals given to them based on where it has been pinned.
We are both Virgos, so we are both planners. That means if we were searching for the ultimate coconut cake for a Thanksgiving gathering, there is a good chance we will be looking in August, September, and October. There is a very good chance that if we pinned it, it would be pinned to a holiday, Thanksgiving, or Christmas board. What kind of signal do you think Pinterest would take from that?
In early to mid-September you should be publishing and re-publishing any recipes you have that are Thanksgiving and Friendsgiving friendly. You should also be increasing the number of pins for these recipes during that time. Remember not to overdo it though. The Pinterest spam filters are brutal, as many of us learned during the great banning boondoggle earlier this year.
We both try to keep at least 50 pins and 4 days between using the same URL, and even then we get a little nervous.
In early October you should be focusing on holiday cookies, candies, and dinners (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.). As with the other examples above, this includes content and social media promotion.
In November, you will want to continue to market holiday posts on social media but anything you are cooking, photographing, and writing now should be aimed at New Year’s parties or healthier options people tend to look for at the beginning of the year. If you don’t have anything in mind, do some research and find something.
Alternatively, you could set your sights on Valentine’s Day. Many holiday candies and desserts have a secondary or even primary bump in searches in February.
In December, you should probably be writing and/or planning for Valentine’s Day and Easter or Passover. These holidays can provide a small traffic surge. Just know that those surges will not be long-lasting. Another option for December is to take some time off to enjoy your friends and family, knowing that you have already posted holiday recipes and have scheduled social media marketing to cover yourself through the holidays.
We get it, you are worried about not posting regularly. Keep watching for an article we are currently working on that, with any luck, will put your mind at ease about taking time off from a regular posting schedule.
SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING
Everyone is tired of hearing about repurposing content for Pinterest! However, we think it is a great idea to make new pins that are designed as holiday pins. Do you have some dessert that you just have to make for the holidays? Even if it isn’t something traditional like sweet potato casserole, you can find a way to put a holiday spin on it.
Make sure you use holiday keywords in addition to your usual keywords. Say for example you have a coconut cake recipe. SEO research shows us that this recipe has peak traffic in February, another nice hump in September, and another slightly smaller bump in April.
If you understand SEO, then you probably posted this recipe earlier in the year and you might be thinking why would I promote that for Thanksgiving or a year-end holiday? We would be promoting it because the search volume for Christmas coconut cake peaks in November, as you can see below.
While the volume is not very high, it is high enough for us to know that if people are searching for it on Google, they are also searching for it on Pinterest and other social media platforms.
To sweeten the deal even more, coconut cake has a nice bump in November and March. Guess which holidays that would be? (As a side note, we would begin as early as January to promote this as an Easter or Passover dessert recipe pin.)
If we were to write a Pinterest description for this cake it would look something like this:
“Looking for the ultimate coconut cake to serve at Thanksgiving or Christmas [or substitute your traditional holiday]? Look no further! You’ve just found the best coconut cake recipe. It’s the last one you’ll ever need.”
The pin we would design would have some Thanksgiving or year-end holiday charm added to it. Better yet, do one of each. Just be careful not to pin the same URL too close together in time, even with fresh pins.
Now that you have read what we do to ramp up for Q4, we want to share with you what is right on the heels of the best traffic and review month for most food bloggers. The January blues. Sometimes those are followed by the February doldrums, and what might have you calling “March madness.”
Once you see the incredible increases in traffic and revenue during Q4, January is not going to feel good. Brace yourself for it! We have joked between us for years that January is like one big gut punch. Not only do pageviews drop for many of us, but RPMS are also at their lowest because it is the first month of Q1, which is when advertisers are still trying to figure out what to do with their new annual budgets. By the looks of RPMs during January, they do not make those decisions very quickly.
Instead of wasting time in January wallowing in self-pity, we suggest you use the time to start planning and scheduling new content for that year’s Q4 and deciding which posts could use a refresh prior to October. This is also a great time to pick up holiday decor and linens to use as photo props next year. They are all on sale!!
Please don’t believe that January is too soon to plan for Q4. We all know that time gets away from us and ideally, you want to have your holiday content pushed out and marketed on social media starting about 2 months before the actual holidays.
When looking at the bigger picture, you only have roughly 7 months to have everything planned, recipes tested and written, and photo shoots done.
You will also need to research SEO, properly write posts, and create social media marketing materials. Don’t forget, you are going to want to run new social media marketing for all of the fabulous content that carried you through this Q4, so it is fresh, clean and ready to carry you through the upcoming Q4.
the importance of q4
If you view your recipe site as a revenue-generating business, then we urge you to give Q4 serious consideration and plan ahead for this potentially profitable time of year. Remember, you are planning not only for your site but for Google and Pinterest. All the social media platforms, but those two especially as the major drivers of traffic, need time to recognize your content so they can promote it when users go searching for it. And your site needs to be prepared to receive that traffic when it inevitably arrives.
We hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. Our goal was to give you different approaches and strategies to prepare for holiday traffic, as well as how, when, and why you should time them.
We would love to hear how you prepare your site for Q4 and when you plan out your editorial calendar. Leave us a comment to let us know.
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