Today is my first day of culinary school. And as with most first days, my tummy is all aflutter with nerves and excitement. Going back to school at 40 isn’t easy, but I’m both thrilled and grateful for the opportunity.
That being said, I thought this blog would be a good platform for discussing food blogging in general. I get a lot of questions about how to start a food blog. And since this blog is all about learning about food and how to cook it, I figured it wasn’t a far leap to discuss different aspects of blogging about food as well.
I promise, this blog will be all about cooking lessons and culinary arts. But I will also, on occasion, blog about food blogging. I hope it will help those who are interested in getting started in this amazing career.
So until I have something from class to share with you, here are my general tips for starting a food blog.
So you want to write a food blog.
Are you interested in starting a food blog? Have you started one and quickly realized that it’s either much more work than you first though it would be, or that building a following isn’t as simple as it seems?
You’re not alone. Thousands of blogs get started each month and nearly just as many are abandoned. Blogging is not a simple career. When it works, it’s fantastic! But that doesn’t mean it’s simple or an easy walk in the park.
Brace Yourself. This Is A Long Blog Post.
Having built a successful food blog (and now starting over again with this one), I’m constantly reminded of how much work I have actually done on my first blog. When I work on building this blog and find myself getting frustrated with one thing or another, I have to remind myself that I’ve already put in 5 years of blogging on my other site. I also tend to forget just how much time and energy I’ve invested in my other blog. It’s not easy to start OR start over. But on the other hand, you can benefit from me blogging here about all the little steps that happen along the way. Some of which, I forgot ever happened simply because it’s been so long!
So I’m going to share a lot with you in this post. But it will cover some basics for getting started and knowing what to expect.
Blogging Opportunities and the Green Eyed Monster.
I get questions from people about how to start a career in food blogging, and often I get little side comments about how it “must be nice” to get the opportunity to do one thing or another. Almost like they are saying the opportunities must come easy for me now. But one thing that even some experienced bloggers fail to realize is that each blog has a path of it’s own.
Just as each person in this world gets through life in their own unique way, so it is with blogging.
If a food blogging career is something you feel strongly about, first and foremost you have to understand that you will rarely if ever have the same exact opportunities as another blogger. Your path to success will never mimic another blogger’s success. Your own blog will present you with your own opportunities if you hang in there long enough and learn how to network (something I’m still learning myself).
The truth is, many opportunities won’t come your way until you have some substantial numbers to show for all your hard work. Both in social media following and in blog traffic. But that doesn’t mean smaller blogs won’t get any opportunities at all. Quite the contrary. It all comes down to your niche, and your blog’s path to success. Never forget your blog is as unique as you are. Nobody else can write or publish your blog. And nobody else will have the same opportunities that will come your way.
So how do you actually start this thing?
I have a friend who always has great ideas for new ventures. Brilliant ideas, actually. But she never knows quite how to get started, and before you know it, somebody else has gone and done it and is making millions. She kicks herself every time.
Blogging is not a path to overnight success. Quite the opposite. It’s a long road that requires tons of dedication, focus, belief in yourself and your message, and a willingness to always learn something new. If that sounds like you, let’s proceed.
Many people like to start out with a TypePad or Blogger blog. There is nothing wrong with this and there are several large blogs that run on these platforms. If you feel comfortable with them, go for it! But in all honestly, I truly prefer WordPress. The control you have over your blog is far greater (at least in my opinion), particularly when you move to a self-hosted blog. Does this all sound like Greek to you? Not to worry. Read on.
A blogging platform is simply the blogging web site you will use to open a free account and start blogging. And start blogging you must or there is no point to any of this. So regardless of which platform you choose, open a free account and start blogging. It really is that simple.
Don’t worry about mistakes right now. I hate to put it this way, but nobody knows you exist in the blogging world right now if you are truly new to this. So make all your mistakes now while nobody is watching. Go ahead, start a test blog and get to know how it works. You can always start another free account when you figure out where your new blogging career is really headed. My other blog started and grew on WordPress.com. When it grew large enough to actually bring in some revenue, I moved to a self hosted site.
What’s in a name?
The burden of naming your blog can be a heavy one. Some people are lucky and a name just comes to them. But the real trick in choosing a name is finding a name that is not only unique and fits you and your niche (think “brandability”), but is also free as a dot com and on all social media platforms. In other words, you can have the best name in the world, but if somebody already owns that url, you’re out of luck. Particularly if you want your blog to grow. I have gone back to the drawing board many times when naming a new blog simply because somebody already had the name on facebook or Pinterest. You want continuity on ALL platforms, even social media platforms. Otherwise, it will be tough to not only brand yourself, but to build a following because people will never know how to look you up.
What about the domain?
If you are lucky enough to find a name you love AND it’s available as a dot com, find a cheap site to buy the domain through and buy it before somebody else does. You have no idea how quickly domain names get bought up. So if it’s available, grab it!! Even if you end up owning 20 domains before you settle on the one that is just perfect. Just buy it.
You will find different prices at different sites. I buy mine through Bluehost.com. But you can buy domains almost anywhere on the web these days. And yes, I own a ton of domain names. But I’m good with that. Nobody else can take those names as long as I pay for them annually and many of them are really good names that I may actually still use in the future. In fact, one domain I used to own and let go is now a really big blog. So never underestimate the value of a domain. Even if you don’t use it for a while.
And remember, you can always “point” that domain at your free account so you can easily promote your own domain name.
What does this mean?
It means that when you open a free account, your domain will look something like this: www.FantasticBlogName.wordpress.com. But if you buy your own domain, you can usually point the url at the wordpress blog so that when people type in YOUR domain, the one you purchased, it will redirect to the wordpress site. Talk to the company where you buy your domains about this. Even if you have to open up a cheap hosting account to do this, it can be very worth it (Bluehost is somewhere around $5 a month for a beginning hosting account. Not too bad if you really want to point your domain at your wordpress address.).
So in plain English, if your domain is pointed at your wordpress blog address, it means that if somebody types in www.FantasticBlogName.com, they will then be redirected to your blog at www.FantasticBlogName.wordpress.com.
Social Media Accounts.
So once you have your new wordpress (or Blogger, or…) account and you own your domain, go open up social media accounts on every single platform you can think of. This means, open up a facebook page, twitter account, pinterest account and any other account you can think of in your new blog name. This is critical. Even if you never use those accounts, nobody else can either.
I’ll share a personal story here to press this point a little further. I do not own an iPhone. I’m too cheap to pay $100 a month for a stinkin’ phone. So I was never able to open up an account in my business name on Instagram. One day, a fellow blogger emailed me and wanted to know if I would like to participate in an Instagram contest for our readers. I told her I didn’t have an instagram account. To which she replied, “yes you do. You have over 200 followers there”.
This was news to me! Those were not my followers. Somebody had opened up TWO accounts in my business name and was pretending to be me. They were sharing my recipes (in full – a complete no no – more on that later) and were sharing really badly copied photos of my recipes. For some unknown reason, they were simply pretending to be me. Thankfully, they didn’t do any real damage. I mean, they could have posted all kinds of awful things in my name. It’s happened. And thankfully, once I contacted Instagram and informed them that I owned the trademark to my name, they very quickly transferred both accounts over to me. I was then forced to go out and purchase an iPod Touch in order to manage those accounts. But either way, you can see where things can go south pretty quickly if you don’t own your own name in social media.
And one last note on social media. Get familiar with as many of the platforms as you can because you will be spending a lot of time there. You will learn pretty quickly that food blogging is about 25% actual blogging and recipe development, and 75% promotion and marketing. Social media and any other form of marketing will be your life’s blood if you truly want this to be your career.
So what social media accounts should you have?
As many as you can find. Seriously, keep an ear out for any new social media platform that comes into being and open up and account there. Even if you never use it. Here are a few to get you started.
- Facebook (fan page and group)
- Google Plus (this one is critical!)
Those last three are more just recipe/photo sharing sites, but you still want accounts, and hopefully, you’ll actually use them because they are good at driving traffic to your blog. And remember, this is just a short list. There are many out there, but these are the main ones that I can think of. And now I’d like to talk briefly about a few of these platforms.
Google Plus and why you need it.
The truth is, Google is taking over the world. No, seriously. And if you want to have good ranking in Google search engines, it’s probably a wise idea to have a Google Plus account. Yes it takes a little getting used to, yes there is a learning curve, yes it can be frustrating, but it’s worth your time to learn it, get google authorship for your site and use your account. It does and will continue to make a difference. So learn it, get used to it, and use it. You won’t regret it.
Facebook… possibly the worlds most frustrating platform that you still need.
Like it or not, as it stands right now, if you want opportunities to come your way you still have to build a following on Facebook. Why do I say it like it’s a bad thing? Because Facebook has changed their algorithm multiple times making it nearly impossible to build a following there. See the catch 22?
Facebook likes to say that they are making things better, but the truth is, they are not. They have made things far, far worse. They have lost a good portion of their teen users and I have a feeling that their adult users may not be too far behind in finding other platforms to communicate on. I mean, on my personal page alone, I’m lucky if I see posts from 5 out of 500 pages I’ve “liked” and the posts I see from my friends never change! I see the same post at the top of my feed over and over again and you know it’s not because people aren’t using Facebook. It’s because Facebook has done something so funky that what used to be a wonderful platform is now becoming a headache. I mean, how many times do I want to read about my friend’s trip to the dentist???
And yes, you can switch to seeing the “latest updates”. But even that shows me only a very tiny fraction of what I’ve actually asked to see.
But all that aside, you still need an account and you still need to put in the time to TRY and build a following there. Something is better than nothing, and the followers that DO get to see your posts are typically pretty willing to interact with you. But don’t get discouraged if you post and post and barely ever hear from anybody. I have somewhere around 100K followers on my page and I’m often lucky if 500 people get to see some of my posts. So you can imagine what it’s like when you are just starting out. But don’t give up. At least have a presence there even if you don’t get a huge amount of interaction. Times may change and Facebook may very well become a thing of the past. Then it won’t matter anyway. But at least make the effort for now while it still does.
Oh how I love Pinterest. I hope and pray that they never go the way of Facebook because Pinterest is a beautiful thing. Where Facebook may send a few hundred people per day to my blog, Pinterest will send thousands. I’m not kidding. It can take a while to get the ball rolling there though. It’s not easy to get followers on Pinterest when you are new. But don’t give up. Because once you start gaining followers there, it snowballs. The more followers you get, the faster they come in. I’ve been using Pinterest for a little over a year, and my following there has already surpassed the following I have on Facebook. And it took me 5 YEARS to build to the numbers I have on Facebook. So all this is just to say that it is well worth it to invest your time in learning how to present yourself professionally on Pinterest. Stalk some of your favorite bloggers there and see what they do. I don’t mean to say you should copy them, but it’s okay to do what they do as long as you do it your own, unique way. If you do, it will quickly become your number 1 source for blog traffic.
But what about photos?
I won’t lie, photos are critical for a food blog. Photography is something I struggle with all the time. Thankfully, practice helps. But you absolutely NEED photos of your recipes, and they have to at least make the food look edible.
These are some of my earliest food photos:
As you can see, they are not very attractive. But they were a start. And that’s what you have to do. Start. You’ll never get better if you don’t practice.
These are some of my food photos today:
I’ve never taken a photography class, and I don’t know much more about my camera than how to point and click. But my point here is to show you that with repeated and focused practice, you can and will improve. Learn everything you can whenever and wherever you can, and improvement will be inevitable.
Growing your traffic.
This will be your biggest hurdle. Getting people to go to your blog is no small thing. Food blogs are a dime a dozen. So you have to give people a reason to come to your blog instead of going to one of the other thousands out there. Admittedly, in the beginning, that’s tough to do. But it’s not impossible. If it were impossible, I would not be making my living with my food blog. I repeat, IT IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE.
So what’s the secret? Just. Keep. Going.
The simple truth is, if you blog long enough, eventually, some people will read your blog. And if they like what they read, they will send their friends and family to read your blog. It’s a slow build, but it does build. Never underestimate the power of one more reader. It may only be one person, but you never know how many people that one person can bring to your blog. I hear from readers all the time about how they share my blog with friends and family. Even co-workers!
The truth is, if you are giving people something they can honestly use, then growth is inevitable. You have to define your niche. And once you’ve defined it, define it some more. Really nail your niche into the ground because you will be shouting it from the rooftops for years to come. For me, that niche was clean eating recipes. It never ceases to amaze me that such a “narrow” niche could be so successful. But you also have to realize that once you build a core following, once people get what you are about, word spreads and growth happens.
Your nichy niche.
Can you define your niche too much? I don’t think so. Not in a world of millions of random blogs. You have to stand out. Your readers have to know EXACTLY what they are getting when they come to your blog. That’s the only way to build a true and loyal fan base. My readers know that when they go to my blog, the ONLY thing they will find there are recipes and information for a clean eating lifestyle. I may mention other things about my life in my head notes (the conversational stuff you type before you give people the recipe), but you can bet that it all relates back to clean eating and if my story doesn’t relate to clean eating specifically, it certainly comes back around full circle to talking about a clean eating recipe.
I can’t over emphasis enough the fact that you MUST give people unique (in your own words) information that they can actually use. And you MUST make it clear that when they come to your blog, that particular type of information is exactly what they will find there.
If you start a food blog and find that you really enjoy blogging about motherhood, start another blog. That, or redefine what your blog is about. Make sure that your message is about recipes for moms, or something of that nature so that your readers understand exactly what they will see and read when they arrive at your little corner of the web.
NEVER. CONFUSE. YOUR. READERS.
If you want to blog about crafting, GREAT! But don’t do that on a food blog.
If you want to blog about really luscious dessert recipes, GREAT! But don’t do that on a diet blog unless that dessert is also somehow related to that particular diet.
You have to understand that you are branding yourself and/or your blog. So be sure the message is consistent in everything you do.
Use YOUR words.
I cannot state enough how critical it is to the success of your blog, that the information you post there is YOUR OWN. Please do NOT go to somebody else’s blog, copy their content, and paste it into your own blog. Even with a credit link, this is plagiarism.
I consistently find blogs that have my content copied and pasted in full with a small copyright notice and link stating that the recipe or article belongs to me. I have to scratch my head over that one. I mean, what exactly is it about a copyright notice that says, “please copy me”? That little link does NOTHING. In fact, it’s deceptively damaging. Something I’ll get into in another post.
Think back to when you were in school and had to do a book report. Would your teacher have accepted your report if you copied it from somebody else and simply gave them credit for it at the end of your report? No! You’d get a big, fat F and a quick trip to the principle’s office.
Seriously, if you don’t have anything original to say, you shouldn’t be blogging. With the exception of a few, well done aggregate blogs out there, reposting other people’s content is not only illegal, it’s just wrong. And frankly, you will never build a following that way. At least not the type of following that will bring in a steady paycheck.
Remember, your blog is your own space. Make it YOURS. Not somebody else’s. People want to read your blog because they want to hear what YOU have to say. If they wanted to hear what a different blogger had to say, they would be reading a different blog! Keep your blog uniquely you, informative and useful, and readers will follow. I promise!
All that being said, it IS okay to share somebody’s recipe. But you have to do it the correct way. Bloggers work hard on their blogs so it’s always considered best practice to share a recipe in a way that sends traffic back to the original blogger (see resources below for more information).
I think so many new bloggers get caught up in trying to build traffic to their web site that the thought of sending their traffic somewhere else is frightening. But trust me. Sharing the original source and making sure that the original blogger gets their dues (in traffic and credit), not only shows that you have a ton of integrity, but also shows that you are willing to interact with the blogging world. Remember, you want readers, but you also want to get to know other bloggers. It’s called networking and it’s critical for just about any career. Not to mention your readers will appreciate the referral, and I promise, they WILL come back to you!
You have no doubt seen blogs and web sites where people have altered another person’s recipes and shared their version with their readers. There is a correct and an incorrect way to do this. Take the time to learn the difference (see resources below). It makes a huge difference in being either just another blog that few people will read or being a career.
As bloggers, we all need resources. Networking is critical, but resources keep us going on a day to day basis. You can’t email a fellow blogger every time you have a question. We love to help each other, but we all have work to do, especially if our blogs are our full time jobs. And that’s where resources come in. There are so many fabulous bloggers that give you their time through their blog posts. Meaning, they may not be able to email you personally, but they have written blog posts that most likely answer all your questions and then some. These are some of those sources.
- Step By Step Instructions For How To Properly Share Another Blogger’s Recipe
- How to properly give attribution
- Photography Tips
- More Food Styling Tips
Aside from what you find online, three great places to get training for blogging are:
I hope this gives you a frank yet general overview of starting a food blog. I will be discussing different aspects of blogging far more specifically in future blog posts.
Posts to come.
These are blog posts I have in the works.
- How to monetize your food blog – Direct ads, affiliate programs, networks and not putting all your eggs in one basket
- Disclosures and other legal yuck you have to know about as a blogger
- eBooks and other stuff you should sell
- Writing your cookbook and other ways to branch out from food blogging
- Self hosted blogs – How to get one and why you want one
© Article copyright Tiffany McCauley. Article may not be reproduced or published elsewhere without written permission.