One of the best things about the SITS 31 Days to Build a Better blog challenge is that I get to meet lots of new bloggers. I’ve mostly been interacting with other beginner and intermediate bloggers. Quite frankly, a lot of the advanced bloggers are at levels that make me feel minuscule (other than Ricky H of Diet, Desserts and Dogs – she’s brilliant at interaction).
As I’ve been visiting around, I’m so tempted to leave comments with constructive criticism specific to food blogging. But that would be rude. So instead I’m going to post my comments here and hope that beginners find their way to me!
So here are 10 things I wish I knew when I started food blogging:
1) Photography! photography! photography! Editing photography. If you are good enough at photography people will flock to your site to see the pictures you took of someone else’s recipes.
(NOTE: it is ok to make a post showing off the brilliant food you made following someone else’s recipe but not to repost their recipe. Show the awesome picture of your food and say, for recipe visit [insert blog name] (see my french canadian “meat” pie). An adapted recipe is one with 3-4 major changes to it, then it becomes your adapted recipe with link to original recipe.)
Read every article you can on food photography, learn your camera’s settings, try to emulate picture setups you admire. Give your food some style. Learn how to manipulate your images using photo editing softwares (the free one with Picasa is actually quite good for the price).
Photography is an art and it takes time to master. I’m no photography master. But look at the difference in pictures between this wheatberry salad and the one I posted recently. Become your own critic.
2) Make your recipes easy to find on your site. This may seem easy but when life gets hectic that hand updated recipe links page may fall to the wayside. Use a recipe database like Recipage (which is now free) to store and update your recipes. It will be a lot faster than trying to add them in later.
3) Make it easy to search for previous posts and recipes. This is where tags and search bars come in handy. Sometimes I remember a great recipe that I saw on a site, only to never find it again. All I could remember was that it had pomegranate, but that the title had nothing to do with pomegranate.
Anything you can do to help your readers navigate your page will help them play around in your archives which helps increase your page views.
Make it easy for search engines to find posts. A basic knowledge of SEO will help search engines find your page too. I only get about 10% of my pageviews from search engines, but those are page views none the less.
4) Don’t be afraid to dredge up the past. Have amazing recipes that you posted when your only reader was your mom? It’s ok to bring up your old posts.
I sometimes mention previous recipes in new recipe posts, especially if the recipes are related. Actually a related post plugin is a good idea. A good link to a recipe post should be descriptive (this helps SEO). For example, “find another pasta recipe here” is less descriptive than “try my butternut squash pasta sauce”.
I also like “best of” posts or roundup posts for those slow days. I haven’t done one in a long time (here’s an example), but it’s a good way to give your previous recipes a spotlight.
5) Submit to Food P0rn sites, linkups, pinterest, blog hops, challenges etc.
You may be rejected (I still often get rejected and I take great care with my pictures), but you will learn as your photography improves what people are looking for. If I get accepted on one of the “big” food p0rn sites I may get upwards of 2000 views in a day and the views keep rolling in for weeks after.
My favorite food p0rn site is without a doubt finding vegan. It’s harder to tell if I have been rejected but also less crushing to not know if I got rejected or just forgot to submit the post. Most of my initial readers found me through that site.
Linkups, pinterest, blog hops etc generate a less drastic increase in page views but I tend to find more regular readers that way.
6) Interact with your readers, let them know you interacted. When I find blog posts that I enjoy, I often will comment on them. I’m not talking about Pioneer Woman style comments that are basically the equivalent of saying “FIRST!” or “OMG you are so brillant”. I mean comments that offer a perspective.
At the same time, I appreciate when a blog writer will respond to my comment (at least if I asked a question or said something that added more to the post than “great shot”). I try to do it too. At the same time, I can’t go back to every blog post I visited the day before to see if my comment was responded to. Therefore I love when the blog gives me the option to subscribe to replies to my comment. This can be done with a variety of plugins.
These plugins send the reader an email when their comment has been responded to. They are great because
1. They show the reader that you cared enough to respond
2. They remind the reader that you exist, maybe prompting a return visit.
On the same note, find a plugin that only emails responses to threaded responses. I personally don’t want to read all the other comments generated by the post. Especially when the post is 6 months old and someone just discovered the post. It makes me not sign up for the optional email.
(Interacting with readers on twitter and facebook are also great)
7) Understand the Ethics of Food Blogging. Don’t share other people’s recipes on your page without permission. Link to their recipes, no one will fault you for that. I’m a little unclear on the rules for using another blogger’s picture to link back to their recipe, so I always ask for permission before I do it.
8) Make it easy to subscribe to your site, comment on your site, interact with you. This is one of my huge weak points. I probably lose readers who don’t know how to easily subscribe. I keep saying I will address it in the redesign.
At least I don’t make people jump through hoops in order to comment on my site… I hope.
9) Post consistently. At one point I was getting over 1500 page views a day. Now I’m down to at least 300 a day. Why? Because life got in the way and I didn’t post for several months. All that momentum I had built was lost when people thought I had abandoned my blog. I’m ok with it. Between my running, full time work, being a dog mother and wife, and grad school, blogging was what had to go. I refused to post lower quality posts in order to post something. I wrote a post about strategies for blogging when short on time, right before my life took over.
My goal in 2012 is to post at least once a week no matter how busy life gets. Instead of posting two or three posts in a day I post one and keep others (such as personal reviews of products) in a draft folder for times when I’m too busy to sleep.
10) Guest Post. Find an open opportunity to guest post? Use it! Especially if the blog has a bigger following than yours. I’ve never had the chance to guest post, but I would love to. Some of the best guest posts are the ones that let you link back to your own blog for recipes and further idea.
If you want to attract guest posts, be sure to come up with a theme. Sure people will write guest posts about just about anything, but giving them a theme gives them something to aim for. I’m always looking for guest posters for my What I would Feed a Vegan Series and will be looking for guest posts in July if anyone is interested.
Blogging is a constant learning process. I’m not an expert, I’m not a brilliant top of the line blogger who makes a living off of it. But I try to share my healthy creations with the world. The worth of blogging for me is to know that other people appreciate my posts. I’m so happy when I see people posting my posts on pinterest or tumblr. It keeps me working towards making better food for myself.
Have other things you’ve learned from Food Blogging? Share below. Lets get Food Bloggers off on the right foot.
Have questions post them too. We will see if we can get them answered.