How Ali Van Straten’s Fitness and Recipe Blog Earns $5k+/Month from SEO and Ads
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Ali Van Straten has been in the blogging world for a while, she’s seen the landscape evolve over time, and she’s evolved with it.
Her first blog dates back to 2011, and she used it to document her fitness journey and training for races. Although she stopped working on it eventually, in 2018 she started another blog, this time to document her fitness routine after birth and as a new mom. That blog is Champagne and Coffee Stains.
Ali was able to navigate all of the changes in the blogging world, the pandemic, and the HCU, and today she has two blogs on Mediavine and is earning $5k+ per month.
Keep reading to find out:
- The projects she worked on online in the early days
- What her first blogs were about
- Why she started her current blogs
- Why she changed her blogging strategy
- How she finds keywords
- How her income has fluctuated, and why
- Her main marketing strategies
- Her thoughts on SEO
- Her approach to link building
- How she creates content
- Her favorite resources and tools
- Her biggest challenge
- Her greatest accomplishment
- Her main mistake
- Her advice for other entrepreneurs
- Meet Ali Van Straten
- Why She Created Her Site
- How Much She’s Earning
- Ali’s Main Marketing Strategy
- Her Thoughts on SEO
- Link Building
- How Ali Creates Content
- Her Email List
- Her Favorite Resources
- Her Go-To Tools
- Her Greatest Challenge
- Her Greatest Accomplishment
- What She Wishes She Knew When She Started
- Her Main Mistake
- Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
Meet Ali Van Straten
I’m Ali, a 35-year-old mom originally from a small town in Northshore, Massachusetts, but I moved to Minneapolis about 13 years ago for work.
Growing up, I was always very interested in digital marketing. In the late ‘90s, I ran an e-mail magazine (called a ‘zine) that was the early-day style of blogging.
It was a lifestyle ‘zine and I used to send out MP3s—well, 30-second demo clips as that’s all that was available—before Napster and Limewire were a thing. The first one I ever sent out was Pretty Fly for a White Guy by The Offspring!
When I was 13, I became a whitelist AOL sender, which means AOL allowed me to email these ‘zines to over thousands of members at a time, which is crazy when you think about it now, but this is before we had all those privacy laws. I even used to mail them out for other publishers!
As I got older, I started to get more into the web development side and learning HTML. My parents didn’t like how much time I was spending online, so in middle school they made me join my school’s very small cross-country team.
I wasn’t very good, but I loved being a part of the team and continued that through high school. In college, I went off to school for accounting and paused blogging and websites to focus on my studies.
I ended up getting a seasonal job at an electronics store that ended up becoming my career when I graduated. I moved out to Minnesota to work at corporate, and during my move, I started on my health journey. This ultimately brought me back to running and I started to really get into training.
At this time, in 2011/12, social media started to become a thing, so I would document my process on Instagram as well as on a blog I started. I started racing Disney races, and became a runDisney blogger in 2012.
I absolutely loved this! Blogging gave me the creative outlet I needed from my finance job as well as it was really fun to connect with other runners. I ran this blog (it was called MSP Run) for a few years before I had to discontinue it because I ended up getting a job at Disney!
I felt like it would be a conflict of interest to keep my views unbiased, so ended that blog. This was also when blogging and influencers were in one bucket, and I didn’t really like the influencer/social media part.
Flash forward to a few years later and I have my first kid. I was looking for something to fill in the creative aspect of my life and came back to blogging. This is when I started Champagne and Coffee Stains, in 2018, as a way to document what it’s like to bounce back from having kids and get back into shape and a fitness routine now that I have kids.
The idea for the name came from trying to live like you used to before kids and having “champagne style,” but also being a hot mess with kids and a messy house.
I started the blog by sharing my recipes, as well as old-school blogging articles (like Friday Favorites, What I Ate Wednesday, etc.), but quickly learned things had changed A LOT! No one was looking for information like that.
I started to learn about SEO and keywords and worked a lot on that, and ultimately grew my pageviews to get into my first ad network: SheMedia. I continued to work and continued to see growth.
Then the pandemic hit. I kept blogging through the pandemic and started to document my journey with Peloton. As you can imagine, this exploded! I continued to share my Peloton journey, and ultimately my blog transformed into a recipe and Peloton blog.
Why She Created Her Site
I started Champagne and Coffee Stains as a place to be creative.
I was struggling, trying to get back into a fitness and healthy eating routine, so I thought I would share the recipes that I’ve used over the years with others as well as create this space to hold myself accountable.
I didn’t realize at the time how much blogging had changed, so I pivoted once I learned how to do keyword research. Now, instead of me just writing about what I’m making that week or a workout I’m trying, I lean more into what questions are being asked by my community.
I do the typical keyword research occasionally in tools like Ahrefs, but I really like more being inspired by my community on Facebook or Reddit and seeing what questions they’re asking and writing pieces around that.
My blog has grown a ton from the pandemic, and even now as people are shifting away from working out at home, I’m starting to shift my content into other areas that support the overall healthy mom lifestyle, like meal planning, prepping, gym workouts, etc.
It is funny though that my parents got me into running to get me away from the computer, but I’ve now turned that into my career, writing about running and working out. My goal is to ultimately qualify for the Boston Marathon.
How Much She’s Earning
My main blog averages $5k a month, with a majority coming from ads lately (56%).
The remainder is in affiliate sales, sponsored posts, the Amazon Influencer program, and now MSN.
I started making over $1k per month on my blog about 8 months in, and at 16 months I was able to leave my day job.
At one point I was making $10k/month; however, Peloton pulled back on advertising so my RPMs decreased and traffic overall has been down on the Peloton posts as gyms started opening back up.
Some months are more affiliate-heavy, usually during key fitness months (e.g. New Year's), so it ebbs and flows.
In terms of traffic, Champagne and Coffee Stains gets 65-100k sessions per month on average, and Everything Baby Showers gets 35-45k. The former is seasonal, based on fitness trends.
Traffic for both is primarily organic, followed by Pinterest.
As for my working hours, I had to go back to work, so I’m now working about 20 to 25 hours in the evenings and weekends on my business.
I also have a team of VAs working on my business during the week.
Ali’s Main Marketing Strategy
My big marketing strategy is being a part of the community I write about. I participate daily in Facebook groups in my niche and have become a trusted expert by them.
Her Thoughts on SEO
SEO is incredibly important and a major part of my strategy!
I get my ideas from Facebook groups and communities, but ultimately I go into keyword research to find the exact phrases people might be searching for and the question.
My keyword research strategy is part traditional—going into Ahrefs, searching for a keyword, and then narrowing down what my site could rank for— and I also use non-traditional methods, like seeing what’s trending in my Facebook community to write content.
Plus it helps me stay ahead of the trends.
In fact, the keywords I find on Facebook do well in search! These topics tend to be before keyword tools even pick up the keywords, so it’s been a really good way to get ahead of trends.
This has made me realize that I can’t trust keyword tools 100%. A keyword that Ahrefs might say has 0-10 search volume in reality could bring me 1-2k monthly traffic, but it’s too new for Ahrefs to know its true volume.
Link building is incredibly important and something I wish I had focused on sooner! Link building helps Google recognize your content is helpful and is trusted.
I link build in my communities by participating in roundups and responding to HARO requests. I am also in masterminds that request quotes which include backlinks.
How Ali Creates Content
I have 586 articles on my site. My content creation strategy is a mix of writing topics that are hot topics in my community (like a new Peloton feature or hack), doing keyword research on topics to supplement one of my content pillars (like writing a how-to on meal planning or how to use a kitchen appliance), and posting new recipes to fill in any gaps I have on my meal plan or that will complement other recipes.
I write posts daily. I write a mix of roundup posts for which my primary target is Pinterest, and I do 1 or 2 a day with writers, and then I write original recipes and content that is SEO optimized 2 to 3 times a week.
I used to write 100% SEO-focused articles but have pivoted to creating content specifically for social media now too since the HCU (for these types of articles I don’t do keyword research).
For SEO articles, I’ll do some keyword research, but again since the HCU, I’ve scaled back. I used to try to get to a percentage in a tool like Surfer or RankIQ, but I’ve rethought my strategy (I also just don’t have time to write like that anymore since going back to work).
Now I do more broad keyword research on a topic in Ahrefs, choose that keyword, and write with user intent in mind. What kinds of things is that person searching for? Why are they searching for it? What is my experience with that topic?
Google seems to like this new approach too and I’m slowly seeing a rebound from the HCU!
Her Email List
I’m just starting on e-mail.
This is one of my biggest regrets: not starting one sooner! I learned hard with the HCU that I shouldn’t put all my eggs into one SEO basket, so this is something I’m working on.
Her Favorite Resources
I love reading mostly and I stay up to date with Fat Stacks and Niche Site Lady’s emails.
I do listen to podcasts while I train for marathons, and I use that time to catch up on Niche Pursuits.
Her Go-To Tools
I use Google Search Console, Ahrefs, and Clariti the most.
Google Search Console: This is my day-to-day tool for checking out what’s going on. GA4 is a nightmare, so I only look at that when I need to.
I do have a Looker Studio dashboard my SEO mentor built for me so I can get a snapshot of where everything is coming from, but day to day it’s Google Search Console.
This tells me any page issues, organic results, and I can see keywords I’m ranking for. I used to like to also use this to measure my web stories, but my site has been hit with the Discover bug so I don’t get any traffic from those anymore.
Ahrefs: This is the tool I use to do competitor analysis, research keywords, and check on my backlinks. My old agency used Semrush and that’s starting to grow, so I might switch to them from Ahrefs soon. They basically do the same thing, just more competitor gap analysis.
Clariti: This is an awesome analytics tool that deserves way more attention! I’ve been using it ever since they launched and it’s been amazing to see how much it’s grown.
It basically takes every blog post on your site and puts it into the tool so you can see traffic (traffic merges GA4 and UA, which is nice so I have over 2 years of trends!), traffic sources, any issues with the page (broken links, missing alt tags, etc.).
You can also make notes if you’re testing anything and it’ll highlight it on a chart for you. This has saved me so much time because I used to try to do this all on spreadsheets for content management, but never figured out a process.
It links directly to GA4 and GSC and is all real time, so as you make updates, it’ll update the stats.
Her Greatest Challenge
Evolving trends and HCU have been the biggest challenges.
Evolving trends: As people went back to the gym, my Peloton content would fizzle out because there would be a new trend that came up.
So I’ve had to become less focused on trends and more on creating evergreen content.
I didn’t realize at the time when I began Champagne and Coffee Stains (or starting really growing with it) that the content I was producing was so seasonal vs. evergreen, so that was a big lesson to strengthen my more evergreen content.
I also got a double whammy my first year because my RPMs were insane and then suddenly dropped. When I asked Mediavine what happened they did an analysis and could actually directly tie it to a drop in ad spend on Peloton.
That was a big learning moment because I had no idea one company’s web ad spend could affect me so much. So now when I see RPM spikes I’m a little more cautious and realize it could just be temporary!
HCU was another really hard one to face. I was so pissed when it happened, and confused too, but as the months have gone by, I feel like I probably got caught up in keyword research and pumping out content that I did lose sight of actually creating content for the user and not a score on a tool.
I’ve been doing some honest critiques of my content and even going back and editing and revising it—that was something I completely neglected and should've been doing since day 1!
I still don’t agree with all the Reddit forums and Quora taking my rankings (and I hope the SERPs get fixed), but as a content creator, I feel like I’ve grown because of it and am getting back to keeping my reader as the priority again and not the tools.
Her Greatest Accomplishment
My biggest accomplishment has been growing my blog while having two small kids.
I don’t have family in Minnesota, so I’ve really had to get creative with how I work and schedule everything about daycare schedules.
It’s gotten more difficult as my kids get older and transition to traditional school hours.
What She Wishes She Knew When She Started
Blogging has a lot of ebbs and flows and a lot of opinions! You need to pick a strategy and stick with it and learn how to not listen to the noise.
Blogging is really part art and analytics, and as an analytical person, it can drive me nuts sometimes not being able to measure why or how things are impacting me (e.g. a drop in Google traffic without Google telling us what is causing the drop).
Her Main Mistake
Looking back, I wish I had focused more on building my brand and email list so when the algorithm hit, I’m not so impacted.
I am focusing now on continuing to diversify my traffic and build up my email list.
Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
Don’t give up and stay the course.
Also, diversify early! Don’t rely on just one traffic source.
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