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Blog Biz Wednesdays: The Pinterest Effect for Bloggers

The Pinterest Effect for Bloggers from

Hi Blogging Friends,

Thank you all so much for your feedback and emails from last Wednesday’s Blog Biz post! Some great questions and topic suggestions were sent my way, and I’m really excited to be digging in to it all.

I was on the fence for a long time about talking about blogging on a blog (and a food blog, at that), but, I’m not sure that shoving all of this information into a completely separate site is the way to go. If it gets to be too much, lovely readers, and too distracting, just give a shout, I’ll definitely consider that direction. But for now, we’ll plow forward on Wednesdays and see how things go.

After being indecisive about the first topic — honestly, I could’ve published, like, 5 posts today — the timing of something that occurred recently made the choice for me, and so I’ll be starting with … Pinterest!

First, I do want you all to know that I’m pretty clumsy when I talk about myself. In sharing things good and exciting, I manage to come off all weird and humble-braggy. I don’t mean it that way, but I get so self-conscience about talking about myself that I just blurt things out and my “oh, that was tacky” filter lets it all slip through because it’s too busy hiding its eyes and cringing in the corner on my awkward behalf. So, I just wanted to get that out there: this post really isn’t about me; it’s about when bloggers like me get some Pinterest love.

And second, even if Pinterest isn’t your thing — and I know it isn’t for a lot of folks who don’t want to go down the spiral of Pinterest Envy and land in the Why Does All My Stuff Suck abyss — I hope you’ll give this post some consideration anyway.

For the average food blogger, Pinterest brings a level marketing playing field compared to other social media outlets. Twitter has the disadvantage of being text-based (yes, you can click an attached image, but that requires luring your audience into making the extra click with your little 140 characters), plus what seems to be an insanely over-crowded Twitter feed. I only follow some 200 people, but my daily feed has over 2,000 tweets. As a reader, I can’t keep up with that! There’s also a celebrity fascination attached to it that mere-mortal bloggers like you and me can’t compete with. Who cares about my little fish taco bowls when Uncle George has just tweeted a new bon mot, or Norman Reedus his latest selfie?

Facebook is … well … Facebook is becoming more and more challenging for bloggers (me!) who don’t want to commit serious cash (me!) toward promoting their posts with Facebook’s poorly defined targeting engine. Instagram is pretty cool, but it’s an in-the-moment experience — and is meant be such — lacking the saving and organizing capabilities of Pinterest.

In short, Pinterest rules — it’s free, it has pretty pictures, and I love the visual organization that the board format creates. In fact, many bloggers will tell you that Pinterest routinely ranks as their #1 or #2 traffic referrer (it’s #2 for me, behind Google search). Ignoring Pinterest now, in 2014, means losing out on some awesome blog-building — and Google-cred-building — traffic (I’ll talk more about that as we go along).

The Kingmaker

So now, we come to the reason I really wanted to talk about Pinterest today. Here’s what happened:

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this Spicy Shrimp and Saucy Guacamole Ramen Noodle Bowl recipe. I followed my usual content marketing process: submitting a photo to Foodgawker and Tastespotting (accepted on both sites, woot!), adding a status update to SoupAddict’s Facebook page, and then pinning the post’s photos once or twice per day for several days to my various Pinterest boards, as well as some active group boards.

Then one day, I was checking my blog stats on my phone at work (yes, I’m one of those obsessed number checkers), and had a heart-in-the-throat moment: the morning’s traffic was through the roof. Thanks to a remote location in a depressing industrial park, my 4G connection was terrible, and I couldn’t access the details. It wasn’t even noon yet, and I had to sit there through the rest of the day, wondering what was going on with my blog.

As soon as I got home, I dug into my stats, and it didn’t take long to find the source of the traffic:

The mother of one of Pinterest’s founders had pinned that ramen noodle bowl recipe. Jane Wang is a Pinterest superstar. She is one of — if not the — most-followed pinners on Pinterest, with over 8 million followers. The awesome couple from Pinch of Yum credits a pin from Jane as one of the “luck factors” in their very impressive traffic growth.

I know from my Pinterest stats that Jane Wang pinned the photo directly from my web site (meaning, she was actually on my blog when she pinned it), but I have no way of knowing how she came across the recipe to begin with.

The end result, however, was that my recipe was placed into the Pinterest feeds of 8 million people.

Pinterest and Exponential Growth

And if that weren’t awesome enough — and believe me, being pinned by Jane Wang left me giddy all evening long — the unique and peculiar laws of Pinterest Exponentiality then kicked in. Jane pinned my photo. And then Williams-Sonoma picked up that pin and pinned it for their followers. As did Better Homes & Gardens. And a few of the big-time food bloggers (all who have most-impressive, five- and six-figure followers themselves).

Finally, the pièce de résistance, a feature and a link to my recipe spent an entire weekend on the home page of (another big-time food blog) as one of her Friday Favorites. I’m fairly certain that lovely Iowa Girl Kristin does not follow my blog, so there’s a high probability that my recipe floated in through her Pinterest feed.

“Wait, back up there, SoupAddict: Just what is Pinterest Exponentiality?”

Right! It’s my made-up term for the way that one photo on one little blog, like mine, can explode into thousands of pins (followed by hits on the web site) in a really short amount of time.

A quick math lesson. Stay put, peeps, you won’t need a calculator, and I won’t even force formulas on you 😉 : exponential growth refers to the phenomenon of expansion that occurs very rapidly and in an ever-increasingly ginormous way. You might recognize this example from high school biology:


Let’s say you have a cute little amoeba germy girlie:


Hi, Amoeba!

And let’s say that the law of amoeba germies is that they split into two every ten minutes. So, at the ten minute mark, our little Amoeba girlie splits herself into two amoebas. And then 10 minutes later those two adorbs amoebas split in two. And then 10 minutes later, those four amoebas split into two. And so on and forth.

After one hour — and six amoeba splitting parties later — you have 64 amoebas. All from one little Amoeba girlie.

The Pinterest Effect for Bloggers from  Pinterest and Exponential Growth

Now, if Amoeba girlie were to split herself into four amoebas every 10 minutes, you’d have 4,096 amoebas after just one hour. Holy Germ Warfare, Batman!

That is exponential growth.

But, of course, we’re not talking about the flu, we’re talking about Pinterest. The same concept applies, however. Every time one of your blog photos is pinned, that pin has the potential to be seen — and repinned — by all of your followers. And then seen and repinned by all of their followers.

The life of a successful pin is not linear — that is, it’s not pinned by one person, and then repinned by a second person, and then re-repinned by a third, like handing off a baton at a relay race, one at a time. That kind of growth is very small and very tedious. Pin growth is (or can be) exponential.

(To get all mathy about it, exponential pin growth is also subject to decay — meaning, the repinning of a pin will dwindle over time. But in the pinning world, the dying off effect of decay is somewhat offset by Google cred (as well as the fact that a pin can suddenly come back to life much later, when it’s pinned by someone with a lot of followers). More on Google cred in a second.)

To paint an accurate picture of Pinterest Exponentiality, I also have to introduce some marketing math into the mix. By saying that Jane’s pinning of my recipe put it in front of 8 million people does not mean that it was repinned 8 million times. The term known as “conversion” comes into play here. Conversion refers to the rate that a specific action actually occurs in proportion to the entire group who had the opportunity to take that action.

So, if you’re at Target, and there’s a super-cool rustic bread board on sale, conversion rate is the percentage of people who actually buy the board in relation to the total number of people who saw the board. Obviously, the higher the conversion rate, the better. If 70 people saw the board, and 70 people bought the board, that means a perfect 100% conversion rate (and the marketer responsible for that campaign should get a promotion to CMO, because achieving a 100% conversion rate in the crazy world of marketing is really difficult).

While *I*, as the pinnee, would have killed to have my recipe repinned by all of Jane’s 8 million followers, that’s not what happened. That pin went to all of Jane’s followers, but only a portion of those followers were online at a time when the pin was high enough up in their feed to see it. And then only a portion of those seers actually repinned it.

But that particular repinning conversion was high enough — meaning, lots and lots of folks repinned Jane’s pin — and far-reaching enough, that it caught the attention of Williams-Sonoma, Better Homes & Gardens, and others of influence.

Here’s how my Pinterest stats looked that day with conversion factored in (the top number is 240,000 on the Y-axis, with the day starting around 20,000):

Crazy, eh? At the height of the day (which actually occurred a bit off this graph, on April 1st), there were about 320,000 impressions on this pin within 24 hours.

Google Cred

So, now, I want to circle back to Google cred. All of this pinning and repinning math is enough to send one into a tizzy, right? The short-term traffic boost was awesome (is awesome, since I have what seems to be a permanent lift in my traffic benchmark), especially once the link to my post landed on Iowa Girl Eat’s home page. But there’s an even better, more long-term effect here.

Google’s ranking algorithms are always a great mystery, but here’s one truth we know today: quality links to your website build trust, believability, and cred for your website in Google’s googly eyes. And when Google trusts you, Google gives you search engine ranking love.

You might remember the golden oldie days of three years ago when people went nuts over link exchanges: having links — any links — to your website gave you Google ranking. Everyone had a blogroll, and everyone vied to get their websites listed on everyone’s blogroll. The problem was that the dilution of thoughtful curation meant those lists of links became worthless to us readers. And Google recognized that.

Now — and I have no idea how they do this — Google tries its best to acknowledge only honest-to-goodness, sincere links from sources that it believes are honest-to-goodness, content-producing websites. As a result of my ramen noodle bowl post, my website was linked from the highly reputable sources of Foodgawker, Tastespotting, Pinterest, and Iowa Girl Eats, along with a good number of links from other smaller, but still reputable sites and blogs.

I regularly check my Google search ranking on recent posts to determine what kind of keyword tweaking I need to do. A few days after I published the ramen noodle bowl post, that recipe was on page 9 or 10 of Google’s search results for “ramen noodle bowl”.

But after the Pinterest hoopla, and after that post spent a weekend linked from Iowa Girl Eats’ home page, my recipe shot up to the middle of page 3, and then, as of last night when I took the screen capture below, all the way to the top of page 3. Mind you, for the “ramen noodle bowl” keyword phrase, I’m also competing against Amazon and Walmart and eBay, who sell actual bowls in which to put ramen noodles. (No way I can overcome those search engine stalwarts, so I’m not at all unhappy with my page 3 ranking.)

The Pinterest Effect for Bloggers from  Google Cred

That page 3 ranking on Google means that Google finds my post to be reputable and adds to my site’s overall Google cred for other posts, plus I will enjoy long-term traffic from folks searching on Google for that keyword phrase.

And that, my friends, is the Pinterest Effect for Bloggers {collapses to the floor, exhausted}

Now, if you happen to be thinking to yourself, well, what about Twitter? Can’t Twitter growth be exponential, too, with retweets?

Yes, absolutely. The best, most recent example of that was Ellen Degeneres’s Oscar selfie. That photo exploded on Twitter [and, well, exploded Twitter in the process] because of the massive expansion power of exponential growth.

But as I said at the outset, Pinterest is a level playing field, and you don’t have to be a celebrity tweeting from a televised event for your post to go insanely viral.

Pinners, by their very nature, are collectors and sharers. Even when repinning a pin is a selfish act — i.e., you pinned a recipe because you want to make it later, not because you want to share it with the world — the end result is that you’re still sharing it with your followers, who can then repin your repin. You’ve participated in the exponential growth of that pin without even realizing it.

And you also don’t need a Pinterest megastar like Jane Wang to pin your blog posts to find Pinterest success. Although I certainly enjoyed an unexpected explosion of activity on my website from Jane Wang’s pin and an ongoing boost in daily traffic, remember, Pinterest has been my #2 traffic referrer for a very long time, before Jane Wang.

Pins with even just a modest number of repins still give your website valuable direct exposure and Google ranking potential. And it’s free marketing. And Pinterest doesn’t judge you (a la Google) before placing your photo into people’s Pinterest feeds, and you don’t have to pay Facebook’s ridiculous fees to get your photo in front of your followers.

Level playing field.

Now, go forth and pin!

Karen xo

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Saturday 10th of May 2014

Just like with you, Pinterest is my #2 source of traffic behind search. And I don't even do much with it, don't make the cutesy photos with text, haven't figured out how to attach an ingredient list to the photo, etc. Thanks for sharing about how your post went viral with the help of uber-pinner Jane Wang, that was good to know!

Karen @ From Scratch

Thursday 17th of April 2014

Great post! And congrats on your Jane Wang pin!! Those types of days are very exciting.

Julie @ Texan New Yorker

Thursday 17th of April 2014

Thank you so much Karen, I love this post! And Pinterest. I don't think I've had a pin go viral on Pinterest yet, but I did experience this exponentiality you speak of. I pinned my Rhubarb Scones recipe and a few people repinned it, yada yada, but then one person who repinned it has a ton of followers and it's gotten almost 600 repins to date - from her pin, not mine. And I do get some traffic off that. I'm on the top of page 2 of Google search for "rhubarb scones", which, given the sheer number of rhubarb scones recipes out there, is probably pretty decent. I'll take it, anyway...

Thursday 17th of April 2014

Thank you for enlightening me on the virtues of Pinterest. I need to go now, so I can get pinning :)

Rocky Mountain Woman

Wednesday 16th of April 2014

I actually joined Pinterest when I noticed how much traffic I was getting from there. I had done a guest post for another blogger and someone had pinned it and then repinned it and it was just crazy! Thanks for the info, it was really helpful to a techno challenged person like myself!

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