Food Blogging 101: How to Get Started
I started this food blog three years ago (!) and I can’t believe I’ve yet to write about the actual topic of food blogging. Over the years, I’ve been asked many questions about how I got started, how I maintain my blog and–of course–the inevitable question about how to partner with various companies and brands. One of the reasons I’ve been hesitant to write about starting a food blog is because I am always implementing techniques that I glean from networking with other writers and anticipating what my audience wants to read (or, if I’m completely honest, by trial and error). In other words, I am constantly learning which serves me well because it allows me to keep my blog updated and my content fresh and engaging. With that said, this is how I got started and what has worked for me.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The name of your blog is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a food blogger. It should be catchy, interesting and roll off the tongue easily. There are thousands of food blogs floating around on the internet and if you want to distinguish yourself from the herd, your blog title may be just the thing to do it. You also need to decide how you intend to use your blog. Will it just be a personal hobby? Will you use it for business reasons? These are questions that will govern not only your choice of name but also the type of content you’ll produce (more on that later). Before I started my food blog, I spent a considerable amount of time dreaming up a name for it; I knew that eventually I wanted to use it for business purposes and work with different companies and brands so I picked an appropriate, business-friendly title. The name The Palate Princess was partly born because a friend remarked that I eat like royalty to which I jokingly replied that I was a “palate princess.” A light bulb went off, I liked the way it sounded and so my food blog was born.
Think of a platform as the foundation on which you build your food blog. Blogger, Tumblr, and Typepad are popular but WordPress still remains the platform of choice for most bloggers–myself included. While I can’t speak for other blogging platforms, I absolutely love WordPress because of the ease of use especially the backend administration control panel. WordPress offers a free and a paid, self-hosted version (I use the paid, self-hosted version that allows me to have total control of my blog). If you choose the free version, your blog’s name will be in the YourFoodBlog.wordpress.com format which, in my opinion, is too cumbersome. If you go the paid, self-hosted route, your blog title will appear in the more recognizable, traditional YourFoodBlog.com format.
WHO’S YOUR HOST?
If you want to be taken seriously as a food blogger–particularly if you hope to partner with companies and brands–this is the time to spend some money and invest in a self-hosted domain. Think of a domain host as the place where your blog will live; it is the powerhouse behind your blog. I use HostGator because of the excellent customer service and technical support. Other popular hosts include BlueHost, GoDaddy, and Liquid Web; there are a number of web hosting companies out there and selecting one takes some research and depends largely on your blog’s needs.
When designing your food blog, you should consider what will appeal to your audience and draw their attention. Believe it or not, the type of content you produce should be factored into your design decision. For example, if you intend to maintain an instructional recipe blog, your design (or theme as it sometimes called) should accommodate that content in a way that is simple for your audience to read and follow. My food blog includes very few recipes–I tend to write about a variety of culinary topics so I prefer a magazine-style layout. The great thing about blog design is that it is something that can be frequently changed and updated with a fair amount of ease. There are both free and paid themes available and, of course, you have the ability to customize the code and make it your own. Of course, you can always hire a web designer and farm out the design work.
Good photography is critical to a food blog’s validity and success. Think about it–if you’re writing about food or recipes and your photos are visually unappealing and poorly shot, you not only lose your credibility as an authority in your niche but you also risk losing readership. My advice is to invest in food photography classes or some of the free internet tutorials and get yourself some good-quality camera equipment. Now I’m not suggesting that you go out and purchase thousands of dollars of camera equipment, but I am advising you to get a good solid DSLR camera and learn how to use it properly. The sites Jenn Cuisine and Pinch of Yum offer detailed, comprehensive photography tutorials and tips for both novice and veteran food bloggers alike. Sites like Amazon and B&H (which also has a huge retail outfit in New York) are excellent resources for photography equipment.
FINDING YOUR NICHE vs. FINDING YOUR VOICE
Your niche is the subject about which you are an authority. In the world of food blogging, there are niche blogs that deal with subjects like gluten-free cooking, healthy eating and restaurant reviews. There are even food blogs devoted entirely to the subject of pizza, panini and cheesesteaks; the subject matter runs the gamut and your options are wide open in terms of deciding what your blog will discuss. Finding your voice is completely different than finding your niche; your voice is the tone of your blog. Are you a humorous writer like the anonymous bloggers behind Thug Kitchen? Are you an Asian food expert like Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen? Not only am I a food blogger, I’m also a professional food writer and magazine columnist so I know firsthand how easy it is to attempt to copy someone else’s voice and writing style. It is difficult to read the work of someone you admire and not try to emulate that, but let me tell you something–there will always be only one Hemingway and what that means is you should embrace your voice and style and use it to your advantage. You have a unique story that only you can tell and readers will respond to your authenticity. Trust me, readers are very intelligent and can quickly sniff out an impostor–be yourself, produce great content and hone your writing skills and you’ll be richly rewarded with a loyal, strong readership.
CHECK YOUR STATS
A successful food blogger knows that statistics matter. Google Analytics is a great tool to install; it allows you to critically analyze your blog and see how readers respond to your content. Some of the things that analytics measure include:
- Bounce rate (the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page) – A high bounce rate is a sure indicator that your site is unappealing or boring to visitors.
- Demographics (the statistical data relating to your audience) – Understanding your blog’s demographics–age, gender, location–will help you in deciding what kind of content to produce.
- Engagement (how your readers respond to your site’s content) – Analyzing your blog’s engagement is essential because it shows you exactly what resonates with your readers and, conversely, what turns them off.
THE GOLDEN RULE
When it comes to food blogging, remember the golden rule and that is: Above all else, have fun! When you’re having fun writing your food blog, it shows. Even if you are utilizing your food blog for professional reasons, don’t take yourself too seriously. Also, remember that it’s OK to take a break; writer burn-out happens to everyone and many bloggers feel pressured to consistently churn out content. As a general rule of thumb, I try to post new content 1 – 2 times per week but there are times when I don’t. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, shut down your laptop, take a step back and breathe–great writing is inspired writing and it’s completely acceptable to go on hiatus until you’re feeling inspired.
Congratulations on taking your first steps toward starting a food blog–good luck!