Shaunda Necole took an unusual path towards success when it comes to niche sites.
She started out with a small but targeted blog where she offered personal shopping services for a niche shopping event. Although that was successful, she wanted to go bigger.
A love and passion for soul food cooking led her to create her second blog, The Soul Food Pot, in 2020. Later she launched a podcast to go along with it called The Soul Food Pod.
Since then, she has gone on to create a travel blog and she also has a pet website in the works. Today, Shaunda’s earning over $100k a year.
Keep reading to find out:
Where her passion for soul food comes from
What her first shopping website was all about
Why she created her second blog
What unique spin she put on her content
Where her income comes from
How much traffic she’s getting and where it comes from
Her main marketing strategies
Her thoughts on SEO and niching down
Her approach to keyword research and 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 Shaunda Necole
I’m Shaunda, your go-to recipe creator for modern soul food cuisine; the founder of The Soul Food Pot, the #1 Southern soul food site on Google; and the host of The Soul Food Pod, Apple’s first show dedicated to the history and culture around iconic African American dishes.
I believe in making life easier and more soulful, one recipe at a time!
What makes me an expert on authentic soul food?
Inspired by my upbringing in coastal Virginia, I’ve shared over 250 recipes across my food blog, four cookbooks, and two seasoning guides, including codifying “Black Folks Sweet Potato Pie,” an adapted family recipe that went viral in 2021.
My heritage dates back to my great-grandmother Florence, a highly esteemed North Carolinian one-woman catering queen. In honor of my Grandma Florence’s legacy, I run the world’s number-one soul food website today!
My podcast, The Soul Food Pod, is the first-ever podcast dedicated to the history and culture around soul food dishes. My expertise on the origins of red velvet cake is even shared on the dessert’s Wikipedia page!
Why She Created Her Blog and Podcast
Things tend to unfold and happen organically for me, from a need or opportunity.
This is how I got here—where I own and operate a publishing company built on the innovation of shared media.
My business model unites influencer marketing with consumers, advertisers, and brands through the power of original content creation.
In other words, I’ve created my own online network (think NBC’s Peacock, ABC’s Hulu, or Netflix) through my websites/blogs.
Advertisers pay for ad placement on my “channels” (my three websites) to reach the many viewers, visitors, and subscribers that tune into my content.
And the fun part about creating this? It was truly organic. Almost accidental!
Starting my first blog channel was an up-level of a simple website my daughter, a teenager at the time, made for me to keep in touch with friends and fellow enthusiasts of a unique brand of dishes and kitchenware I collect. Enthusiasts became clients that I would shop for annually.
It was a unique business where I provided high-end personal shopping services for a niche shopping event that happened only once a year. I acquired my customers by making friends on Instagram with fellow collectors who used niche hashtags.
Little did I know that was my entry into the world of SEO!
My blog and an e-commerce site were created as a way to keep in touch with my clients for over a year until the next big annual shopping event.
I wish I could say that when I started that blog, I saw the end in the beginning.
Instead, it was a bumpy ride of necessary pivots to progress and become profitable. Because essentially, I’d created a niche business that was only profitable once a year!
I was only making money when that annual sale happened. For the rest of the year, there were no commas and no paychecks from this business model.
Fast forward to 2020 and the unfolding of my second blog, The Soul Food Pot.
I was presented with a new set of challenges, as was the world. The main concern was that all in-person events were canceled, so how could I personally shop for any clients?
Still, I kept creating new content consistently, without knowing what was coming next.
Luckily, consistency is my superpower. So, I started my second blog out of my love for Southern soul food cooking. I began creating content by reimagining my family’s beloved soul food recipes with Instant Pot and modern kitchen appliances to shorten the cooking times. This is how The Soul Food Pot was born!
A couple of years later, The Soul Food Pod was created to marry The Soul Food Pot and amplify the blog’s recipes with podcast conversations about Southern soul food and recipes for success in the kitchen.
How Much She’s Earning
“Mediavine Pro” is an invitation-only program built especially for the agency’s high-performing, full-time professional publishers earning a minimum of $100,000 in annual ad revenue.
The Soul Food Pot entered Mediavine’s Pro Publisher program in its first year!
Additional revenue streams for my food site include product affiliate commission, cookbooks, and culinary guides, which comprise about 5% of the business’s annual revenue. This is primarily from my Shopify store and LTK affiliate product recommendations.
I also offer SEO courses, like my masterclass SEO Made Easy, and private coaching hours.
However, I don’t advertise or market these products because they require too much time from me to be worth it. As a result, they don’t even contribute a full percent to my total earnings.
The Soul Food Pot reaches close to a million pageviews monthly during peak times, with a steady third of that traffic (about 300k monthly) during its off-season.
As for how much time I work, I spend 6-8 hours daily on my websites and at least 4-6 hours during the weekend, because I love what I do!
I’m an early riser (5 am club, anyone?), which is the only way to manage 3 websites and delegate projects and responsibilities to my incredible support team.
Her Top Marketing Strategy
It all sounds complicated, but in truth, my marketing strategy is relatively simple and comes from my understanding of SEO and the Southern soul food community. My strategy is to leverage organic traffic via SEO to reach new markets in the Southern food space.
This strategy includes a daily focus on updating and optimizing published articles and creating new keyword-researched articles based on the performance of previous content, along with a dedicated SEO strategist focused on implementing these key points.
In addition, I leverage Pinterest marketing and also have a dedicated Pinterest manager. The Soul Food Pot’s organic traffic from Pinterest brings in about 50k pageviews monthly. I explain and illustrate my signature “Pinterest Pyramid” SEO strategy in great detail in my course Pinterest Magic Marketing
The Importance of SEO
My success in the food space has been described as: “The blogger who built a soul food empire with just one pot!”
On The Soul Food Pot, I reimagine iconic African-American recipes via modern kitchen appliances like the Instant Pot, often shortening the time to prepare these culturally beloved traditional dishes.
I love trying new cooking appliances to see how Southern recipes can be adapted for more efficiency for busy home cooks.
Many wonder how my site gained Google’s top ranking in just 2 years. And here’s the thing. I’ve wholeheartedly embraced my SEO rule number 1: You have to go small to get big.
Yes, this sounds counterintuitive. Like many entrepreneurs, when I was starting out, I wasted a lot of time trying to cater my content to everyone and everybody. But let me explain.
People often think Google is “out to get them” or the algorithm hates them because what they share online never seems to surface for anyone to see.
My question is: How far down have you niched?
And believe it or not, that tiny “niche” is likely hundreds or even thousands of people who are searching for exactly what you do or share. You’ve made yourself small, but you are now big in your niche’s eyes!
I’ve found my most successful writing voice by prioritizing what my audience is searching for and de-prioritizing what I think of to share.
It’s my SEO rule number 2: It doesn’t matter how YOU say it. It matters how THEY say it.
When people want to find you, they don’t go to the Yellow Pages like our grandparents once did. And they don’t Google your name. Not yet, initially, because they don’t know you.
So, it’s important to check in and make sure your content is what your audience is searching for.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s very easy to accidentally create content that no one will ever find or see. Don’t think about what you want to say. Think about what your audience is typing into the search bar.
That’s what you’ll write about.
This year, I’ve also added a publicist to my team to increase brand reach, visibility, and awareness, especially by garnering backlinks from article features in high-authority media outlets.
My publicist pitches me to the media for visibility opportunities for my recipe creations or my brand story, including TV, podcasts, and magazine publications.
I also use Link Whisper to quickly link to internal keywords and text between posts.
Her Content Creation Process
My content creation strategy is very old-school SEO simple.
It starts with in-depth keyword research to uncover “how THEY say it” to ensure I’m writing about something people actually search for.
Then, the article is written and optimized to speak to Google with questions and keyword phrases, the same way people use Google’s search bar.
Her Email List
Email lists are essentially nuggets of gold and one of the most valuable assets to a business! I engage readers who land on my site by offering them an immediate free and tangible benefit when they subscribe, like a series of recipes or culinary guides to help them with the core reason why they’re visiting my site: to create delicious comfort food using the most efficient time-saving kitchen appliances and tools!
Although a bit expensive, I use ConvertKit for my subscribers. It’s one of the most elevated email subscription tools for publishers like myself, with multiple sites, various email forms, and a number of email sequences.
I also employ Mediavine’s Grow and Spotlight Subscribe widgets, which I’ve found to be the best tools for converting readers to subscribers! These tools also seamlessly integrate with ConvertKit. So, as readers subscribe, the automated email nurturing magically begins to flow!
Shaunda’s Top Resources
My family business is steeped in real estate investments. So, I look at my websites with the same core real estate principles of location, purchasing, maintaining, and reinvesting.
I view each of my websites as real estate I own. So, I often borrow brilliance from the property investor community when making decisions for my online property, including investing in learning resources.
I make it my business to seek and purchase these resources because there is someone online in the creator community who knows what I need to learn and has created the content or course to help me understand it.
A few innovative thinkers’ podcasts I enjoy and often recommend are The Secret To Success with Eric Thomas, Success with Soul by Kate Kordsmeier, and the podcast Bigger Pockets.
Her Go-To Tools
The tools I use consistently in my business are:
Grammarly – As a writer and publisher, Grammarly is my go-to editor tool for proper checks of grammar, punctuation, and overall message tone and clarity. I’d hate to write without it!
Market Muse – A very dynamic and robust SEO and keyword research query tool. As a self-professed SEO geek, Market Muse is my favorite for dialed-in topical research. I rarely publish without it!
Fiverr – I believe Fiverr is one of the most incredible places for finding affordable, skillful creators to quickly execute one-off projects, from minor to major. Because remember: “Innovation is rewarded, but execution is worshiped.” It’s not what you think about doing or creating; it’s seeing the process through and actually doing the thing.
Her Biggest Challenge
Initially, funding a team to support my business seemed like a big, expensive undertaking that was years out of reach.
On the contrary, each time I faced my fear and did it anyway – brought on a new team member.
I started with my graphic designer and Pinterest marketing manager.
Today, The Soul Food Pot’s team includes my graphic designer and Pinterest manager, writer, SEO strategist, photographer, social media manager, podcast producer, Facebook community manager, brand manager and agent, media coach, and publicist.
And we’re still growing!
Her Greatest Accomplishment
I’ve built a 6-figure business inclusive of freedom, flexibility, and, most importantly, doing what I love.
What I still find magical about that (still pinching myself!) is that all I have to do is bring my ideas to life in writing (with a bit of SEO strategy), and brands are willing to place ads on anything I write about – and pay me!
With the help of this fantastic creator business model, in 2022, my husband and I purchased our dream home in our dream neighborhood in our dream city – Viva Las Vegas!
I even started a third blog channel about things to do in my fabulous home city, Vegas Right Now.
Today, I split my time between my homes in coastal Virginia Beach and the saucy desert of Las Vegas.
When I’m not creating content, you’ll find me strolling the fabulous Las Vegas Strip or at the beach, dipping my toes in the sand alongside my husband, our “kidults” (adult kids), or our grandkids.
Or, you’ll likely catch me in the airport, ready to take flight with my laptop and two fur babies in tow!
What She Wishes She Knew When She Started
I wish I’d understood the importance of SEO when I started my first blog. Starting with my now SEO rule number 1: You have to go small to get big.
My first blog, Shaunda Necole, is a lifestyle site that covers all types of content genres, from beauty to wellness and home decor.
But if I’d known back then that by niching down, Google would understand that it’s a very particular and niche audience I aimed to reach, I could have found those just-right, on-target customers and readers years earlier!
Shaunda’s Main Mistake
My biggest mistake is a common one: creating content that no one will ever find or see.
True story: Before I could move forward and create new blog channels, with hundreds of posts already on my first site, I spent days unpublishing and correcting content that wasn’t helpful because it wasn’t created to be searchable.
So, I got to work. I corrected my past errors. I invested time and money into understanding the ins and outs of SEO content creation.
Today, I own and operate a masterclass site, an e-commerce site, a podcast, and three online channels in the food, travel, and lifestyle verticals (with a site dedicated to pets on the horizon).
I don’t publish anything unless keyword research has proven its search intent and is quantifiably search-relevant.
Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
I’ve found great success in running my business intentionally, working at least 6 months ahead. Then, the necessary tools are already in place whenever it’s time to get creative or pivot.
It’s one of those “Thank me later” gifts, this time to your future self, from your present-day self.