Two Cents Tuesday: One Amazing Blogger Broke All the Rules

in Editor's Corner

This post is part of Two Cents Tuesday, where I throw in my two cents, and you throw in yours, too. Open forum.

We talk about how to be successful bloggers. Some people talk and then some people do.

Why do we talk so much (I’m guilty of this)? Because people ask so much. In my opinion, sometimes, there is too much asking and not enough doing.

I was doing some research on food blogging and found Orangette by searching under famous food bloggers in Google. Orangette’s author, Molly Wizenberg, has created a beautiful, pretty lively food blog obviously loved by many. Because we are obsessed with stats, I will let you know that her page rank is/was 6, and her Alexa ranking at the time of this writing is/was 159,857 with 1,461 sites linking in (links that Alexa is counting). Her BlogGrade is/was 94. I don’t want to focus on stats today since we always do, and for this piece those particular stats are not directly relevant.

She Breaks the Rules

Again, we talk about rules. We say these rules are 100% necessary for success. We say do these, or fail. But then we stumble across awesome, popular blogs that are breaking all of the rules and scratch our heads. Bear with me – resist the temptation to call Orangette an outlier, because I really do not believe it is. I wonder if somehow we, in our efforts to capitalize on and even monetize success, just miss the freaking point.

The Rules Orangette Breaks

These are the things that I and most only blogging niche bloggers always talk about as necessary for success… and Orangette breaks them.

  • Her blog is on Blogger, for one.
  • She doesn’t monetize that blog (say what?)
  • She didn’t bother to get her own domain name.
  • She uses multiple blogs on blogspot for her About, recipe index, and blogroll, rather than just creating pages (note, pages are actually quite new; they didn’t exist when she started her blog there)
  • On-page SEO – no trace of intent there whatsoever.
  • She never responds to comments that I can see. When you see 107 comments, for example, that’s 107 reader-submitted comments… on a post about berry cobbler that’s titled, But then… (hmmm)
  • She doesn’t have a social media sharing widget to be found on her site, yet if you check out her BlogGrader report, her posts are shared consistently on Twitter and Facebook alike.

So… What’s She Doing Right?

From what I can tell – for her – everything. Those rules above matter for certain bloggers with certain goals, but they are obviously not the keys to success. They are just guidelines.

How did Molly, who writes in her spare time now, create such a popular, engaged blog? One that would land her #4 in Google SERP for the term famous food bloggers? Hint: she did NOT write a post called Famous Food Bloggers and bookmark the heck out of it. This same blog led to her a book deal with Simon & Schuster, and was the catalyst for bringing she and her husband together (added bonus?) and the two of them now run a restaurant in Seattle.

The answer: I don’t know, frankly. But here are my observations. Things that I think are so key, they are worth making mental notes about them.

  • She obviously loves writing about food and her life. That is very clear.
  • She writes in the first person. She doesn’t use “we” or “us” or “you” nearly as much as she uses “I.”
  • Her posts are the sum of all of the intangible qualities we all want to possess: touching, real, inspiring, unpretentious, informative but not preachy, etc.
  • The above observation is entirely subjective, and in a way, that’s the whole point.

If a food blogger ever comes to me and asks for a blueprint, I’d probably say, “you should check out Orangette.” Technically, there may be things I would do differently, but when it comes to blogging, she’s got it down.

Funny things happen when you take money out of the equation.

Un-Conclusion: There’s No Formula

There’s no formula. I don’t care how many ebooks (including my own) you choose to read, or buy, or sell as an affiliate. The good news and the scary news about this is that you either got it, or you don’t. You can fake it, and maybe you’d go down as the biggest, most successful poser in history. That would be your legacy to deal with.

Success may very well be the result of doing everything right. That’s certainly how we seem to go about talking about it.

But, I would sum up Orangette’s recipe for success with one word: heart.

Leave a Comment


{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark September 12, 2010 at 10:16 am

It’s funny you should post this. I just got finished reading this piece on Lifehacker about how doing everything the “way you’re supposed to” might not be the best way:

Daniel Sharkov@Reviewz 'n' Tips September 11, 2010 at 10:27 am

Breaking the rules might sometimes work and sometimes fail. I can’t say that doing exactly the opposite of what most other people are saying is always right. I would rather not force myself into following rules I don’t believe into. If I feel like I should do something – I will do it even if it goes against the so called “rules”. After all going against the stereotypes makes you different in some way or another and being different can be translated into being successful (not always of course).

BLOGitse September 11, 2010 at 3:16 am

Thanks for sharing this post. I got a lot to think about…
Just moved from Blogger to self-hosted WP I’m trying to find my audience…
In Blogger life was safe and easy. Blogger’s control panel showed all the latest updates – now I’m totally alone.
Biggest minus is that there is no one comment platform. Those Blogger bloggers who don’t have Name/URL commenting option are pain.
I’ve tried…but I can’t change others…
So I have to move on and find new ideas, inspiration, networks…

Just subscribed your newsletter – I’ll be back! 🙂

Alex Dumitru September 18, 2010 at 10:50 am

I think you took the right decision. WP is way better than blogspot.

Libby Fisher September 9, 2010 at 9:11 am

Hi Tia, this is a really inspiring post! I think you hit the nail on the head – you have to be passionate about what you are blogging about. I am a new blogger myself and at first I worried about running out of things to say and what if nobody reads my blog and would I give up if no one read my blog, etc., etc. But I have kept telling myself that no matter what, I will keep blogging for “myself”, by which I mean – write about what I love and have a passion for without worrying about what other people think or whether or not any one else cares about the things I write about. As long as I love what I write about and don’t worry about or change my blog because of stats or ranks or numbers, I know I’ll enjoy blogging for years. And if my blog gains some good loyal readers over the years, that’s just a bonus! Anyways, that’s why this post is really inspiring to me. Thanks!

Cindy@The Game of Life September 9, 2010 at 2:29 am

Bloggers like that are amazing, Tia… I visited her blog. She’s not even making an effort to sell anything or convince people. I think the thing is that she never stopped doing what she’s passionate about and people are drawn to her like that. She is full of heart.

Tia Peterson September 9, 2010 at 8:46 am

Agreed! If after 6 years she is still doing it just for the love of it, that’s saying something.

kelly September 8, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Nice revelation Tia! I came across completely ugly blogs with links and banners and they still manage to have page 5 google ranking. It’s just mind-blogging.

I think what worked for Orangette, was that she made each of her blog topic-specific, that made for easier searching and easier navigation. Wordpress self-hosted blogs are not exactly search-friendly and relies heavily on RSS feeds.

Also, having 3 backlinks from authority sites beats having backlinks from say 3000 websites with low ranking. I think that’s partially what makes Orangette’s blog this successful.

Great content by the way Tia! Will explore your blog more! 🙂

Tia Peterson September 9, 2010 at 8:48 am

Thanks, Kelly!

Matthew DC September 8, 2010 at 7:16 pm


Great post! It’s always nice to see someone bucking the trend and being successful. We always go on about all of our rules, but in the end, if you have content that is buzz worthy, everything else can just fall in to place. Is it something you should count on happening to you? No, but it is still an inspiring story and one that will keep us all honest when looking at our own business models and content.

Tia Peterson September 9, 2010 at 8:47 am

Hey Matthew – perfect way to say it! Right, we should not “count” on it happening to us. Too many people are unsuccessful in business and life because they are following someone else’s path to success.

Ileane@Basic Blog Tips September 8, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Hi Tia, It’s really great to see that someone has a blog that isn’t monetized these days. My only question for Molly would be what made her choose Blogger over

Tia Peterson September 8, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Hey Ileane – Her blog is 6 years old. I know that back then, Blogger was a very popular choice for blogs. I came to know Wordpress much later, so I don’t even know that it was on the radar…? Blogger is STILL a popular choice for bloggers.

Rob@Ladybug Costume September 8, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I absolutely agree that there is no set formula to success. At the same time, I do believe that most people who are successful follow a few basic principles and put themselves in the position to be a winner. Sometimes they will succeed. Some of their projects will fail. Success online is the same way. And passion about a subject is very helpful to achieving a successful website.

Venita September 8, 2010 at 10:07 am

Hi Tia
Thanks for introducing me to Orangette, what a delightful read! Molly’s relaxed writing style, coupled with her full circle detailed memory allowed me two lovely hours in her world.

Thanks for sharing – and as you say – amazing things happens when you take money out of the equation

Tia Peterson September 8, 2010 at 4:19 pm

You’re welcome, Venita. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment! I like Orangette, too. It has a soothing effect. 🙂

Jarret September 7, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Tia, I’ve had the opportunity to see some blogs in other niches, mostly sports, that seem to break conventional rules despite a tremendous amount of success.

One of my favorite blogs is a NHL hockey blog that follows the Edmonton Oilers. It’s called “Lowetide” and it’s also on Blogspot. The author similarly has zero on page SEO with it being on Blogspot such as meta descriptions, etc or social media add ons. He doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter at all. However, during the NHL season, his blog generates hundreds of comments per post and his home page has a PR of 5. With Blogspot, you can only track home page backlinks, not domain backlinks (since you get every link on Blogspot). Despite this, he has 63k Yahoo backlinks to his homepage alone.

The author of that particular blog has a genuine interest and passion about writing about a sports team. He’s an exceptionally knowledgeable writer in this niche and is routinely cited and quoted by MSM sites. No ads, no custom domain name, no social media, rarely replies to comments, no SEO. If you meet any new hockey fan in this city, it’s not long before conversation shifts to one of his recent posts though.

Tia Peterson September 8, 2010 at 5:43 am

Hey Jarret – Thanks for that link you sent in Amplify. I checked it out.

No amount of all of the “fixings” we give our blogs can replace the level of interest in the example you’re talking about and the one above at Orangette. What’s even more interesting is that they are both on Blogger, and I’ve always said that Blogger is the “blogger’s blog” because most of the other stuff is stripped out and all you’re left with is the blogging.

These two don’t want for readers and yet have not exactly gone out of their way to get them, either. It just happens naturally and over time.

Anyway, thanks for your comment! 🙂


Chris@Gold Miners September 7, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Very interesting. She has a PR of 6 and has only 1461 sites linking to her. I know blogs that have a PR of 4 with 10,000 sites linking to them. It just goes to show you that Google has interesting criteria when they hand out Page Ranks

Tia Peterson September 7, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Hey Chris – Well those are the links Alexa counts. Alexa, from what I can tell, only counts 1 link per site no matter who many links come from it. And I also don’t know whether or not Alexa only counts links that are on Alexa’s “radar.”

I have no idea what her total back link count really is.

Dana @ Blogging Tips Blog September 7, 2010 at 4:45 pm

It seems this blog gain natural famous. It is because the readers can feel her passion and love trough her writing.

Tia Peterson September 7, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Yes, Dana. Absolutely. She came by fame naturally, just by being able to connect with tons of people. Very cool.

Ryan Biddulph September 7, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Hi Tia,

Passion precedes greatness, it’s that simple. As you noted she loves what she does and this feeling radiates to her readers.

Steve Pavlina became a multi-millionaire running a blog using the old skool Kubrick Wordpress theme. There really are no set rules when it comes to being successful. Having an intense passion for whatever it is that you do allows you to break all the rules.

Thanks for sharing the inspiration.

Ryan Biddulph

Tia Peterson September 7, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Hey Ryan!

Having an intense passion for whatever it is that you do allows you to break all the rules.

Couldn’t have said it better!

Jessy September 7, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I do not believe that she has read your post. Most people do not know what they have until it is put directly in front of their faces. I know that someone will share this with her and maybe, she will do something about it. I always look forward to what you have to say because you have never sent me in the wrong direction.

Tia Peterson September 7, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Hey Jessy – That would be cool but I’m sure she knows she rocks. After all, she got a book deal! 🙂

Kathy September 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm

I come across sites like that from time to time. There are sites totally kicking butt out there where I doubt the people even who own them are really putting that much effort into them. When you do something that you truly love to do, you tend to get noticed by everyone around you. It is impossible to hide true enthusiasm.

I am a firm believer in doing what you love first. Then try to find a way to make a profit from it. I wish her continued success.

Tia Peterson September 7, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Hey Kathy,

Another great quote!!

It is impossible to hide true enthusiasm.


Gera @ Sweets Foods Blog September 7, 2010 at 8:25 am

As foodie and as the same time a techie there is no surprise for me at all.

People out of the food area don’t understand why several success blogs are in blogspot, seo-null, awful design, zero interactions with readers, twitter what?, zero scannable posts what this? and always I – not you and they get tons of traffic and some of them with thousands of subscribers.

The fact is that rules are for tech people but for not-tech the importance is lower. I can show others in similar situations, money several doesn’t care or others aim to sell a cookbook or give cooking classes, or sell their delights online – this other world 🙂



Tia Peterson September 7, 2010 at 5:59 pm

I agree 100% Gera! At a certain point, ultimate success becomes innate. There’s definitely a connection with her success in blogging and success in getting a book deal and success with a restaurant. I truly believe there is something internal and we always try to quantify things that can’t be quantified.

And that’s why I sum it up as heart.

Imran Yousaf September 7, 2010 at 10:48 am

Tia, she is getting 4th number on SERP due to natural links that she has on her blog. Plus inward anchor text boosted her ranking of your desired term. thats great. One thing is crystal clear, that content is king. Write with passion and core of heart. This is her magical content that drove people to comment like anything. A lesson for us.
Great discovery Tia.

Tia Peterson September 7, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Hey Imran – Correct. And even though this is a total guess, I am certain after reading her blog that she didn’t go get those links herself. They were graciously given by others, which is actually the most natural way to do it!

Thanks for your great comments as always! September 7, 2010 at 9:17 am

This is awesome story.You have make so much valuable points in a story itself

Great quote:Success may very well be the result of doing everything right. That’s certainly how we seem to go about talking about it.

Thanks For Sharing

Imran Yousaf September 7, 2010 at 11:01 am

I will take the privilege to endorse your statement. No doubt that right thing done in right way will pay you off. We have a prime example in this story. She is even not replying to the comments, but she has great community on her blog, because she is following just one thing. Write for humans.

Tia Peterson September 7, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Hi Ab,

I think the even better quote comes after that, about heart. There are some who can’t or won’t succeed no matter how well they follow the steps. If they have no passion it will not work over time.

Previous post:

Next post: