One of the questions I’m often asked is if I have any food blogging tips for new bloggers. I know it can be very overwhelming at first! So I’ve come up with a list of my top 20 tips. I wish someone had told me some of these things when I was first starting out. I’m certainly no expert and there are many out there who have been doing this a lot longer than I have. In the grand scheme of food blogging, I’m small potatoes. So these are just tips from my experiences over the past 4 years and you can take them with a grain of salt. What has worked for me might not work for you.
Note: These are “Food Blogging 101″ tips so I don’t expect that this list will be useful to more established bloggers. But feel free to add your own tips in the comment section!
- I have recipe ideas at all hours. In the car, at restaurants, while watching TV. Keep a list with you at all times so you can jot down your inspirations. I use Google Tasks with an iPhone app called GeeTasks so I can edit the same list from anywhere.
- Make your site very easy to view and navigate. Personally, when I visit a site I want easy access to a recipe index and recent posts. Creative layouts might be pretty but they often lead to confusion for a new visitor.
- Try to be a little bit creative with your content. I’m sure you have an amazing recipe for brownies but that probably won’t help you build an audience at first. Every post doesn’t need to be an innovative masterpiece but a unique recipe is more likely to entice a reader to stick around.
- Take notes in the kitchen! I’m constantly making minor tweaks and I would never remember them all if I didn’t jot them down.
- Give your posts simple titles (the name of the recipe if applicable). This will help people find your recipes in search engines. And as a reader, I want to know what a post is about just from reading the title.
- Be consistent with your recipe formatting. Write clear instructions and don’t use abbreviations. I learned some great tips from The Recipe Writer’s Handbook by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann and Jane Baker. Accuracy is everything and consistency will make people feel comfortable. Develop a style and stick to it.
- Proofread before you post! Mistakes happen to the best of us. When I posted my blueberry corn muffins, I accidentally left out a cup of buttermilk from the ingredient list. And another blogger made them and asked me why the batter was so dry! Boy did I feel guilty and luckily she had a sense of humor about it.
- Tag your posts (but don’t overdo it). These words will help search engines find you and some platforms, such as WordPress.com, have tag browsers so readers can search for keywords such as recipes, desserts, etc.
- Check and make sure your RSS feed and email subscriptions are working properly (and offer both!) I’m embarrassed tell you how long I was running a blog without RSS and that’s one of the main ways people follow you.
- Create links back to other entries within your site. Link to old recipes when relevant, create “Popular Post” and “Recent Post” links on the sidebar. If possible, use a plugin such as LinkWithin, which offers suggestions for other posts readers might like.
- I have a hard time giving away all of the food I make. The truth is, for blogging purposes you can usually get away with making half of the recipe. No one will know and you’ll save money on ingredients. That being said, you want to make sure you have your “pretty” tart shell or cupcake. Sometimes it pays to make extra so you know you’ll be able to get that one beautiful photo.
- Speaking of photos, learn how to use your camera. I used to take 20 pictures on different random settings and then pick the best one. That’s boring and a waste of time. Learn about ISO, f-stops, shutter speeds, white balance and manual vs. autofocus. I highly recommend the book Plate to Pixel. This food photography e-book is also great for beginners. Get some photo editing software for cropping, white balance, color and exposure corrections. I use Adobe Photoshop but there are cheaper options on the market, such as Photoshop Elements. I know there is free software online but I’ve never used any of it so I can’t make a recommendation.
- Once you learn to take photos, be sure to submit them to sites like Foodgawker and Tastespotting. These sites will bring you a ton of traffic but you need to be ready for a lot of rejection. They’ve turned away many of my photos and I hear a lot of frustration in the blogging community about rejected photos. Just remember- they’re offering us a free service and their high standards make us work harder to improve. To quote Foodgawker: “keep in mind that even with set quality standards, image selection will always be a subjective decision, because we are not robots.”
- If you want people to find your blog, you have to network. Visit other food blogs and comment on their recipes. Quite often the blogger will return the favor and visit your site. Even if they don’t, others are also likely to see your comment so it’s a good way to network. I’m constantly finding wonderful new blogs by reading comments on other sites. Social media is also a must if you want to gain followers. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are the most popular and also the most important. On Facebook, don’t just share your recipes. Visit other blogger pages and interact with them. Engage you fans with photos, links and commentary that’s separate from your blog.
- Host giveaways. At first you might need to buy items (such as a cookbook) to give away but eventually companies will come to you. Use the giveaways as a platform to get people to follow you via email, RSS, Facebook and Twitter. Have people share the contest with others.
- Speaking of companies, you should read this excellent article from I Am Baker: Blogging 101: The Pitch. Once you’ve been at it for awhile you’re going to start hearing from a lot of PR people who want you to promote their products. Just remember, you don’t always have to say yes. They want to benefit from your hard work and gain access to your followers. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but pick wisely and don’t give your time and effort away for free.
- If you’re going to adapt a recipe, you really need to take the time to re-write the instructions. This is a common rookie mistake. It’s also a pet peeve of many recipe developers who spend a lot of time coming up with the correct wording. It doesn’t take a long time to do and you’ll be adding your personal touch.
- Don’t use another person’s photography on your blog without giving them credit and providing a link back to their site. Most bloggers would also prefer an email request before the photo is used at all. If you read the FAQ on a blog you’ll often find information about personal preferences.
- If a recipe is no good or just ok, don’t post it. Test it again. If someone tries one of your recipes and they don’t like it, chances are they’re not going to trust you the next time.
- Above all else, have fun and be yourself. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. These tips will help you move forward and improve but there’s something very dry and business-like about them. In this end, we do this because we’re passionate about food. Love what you do, be yourself and people will enjoy your blog as much as you enjoy creating it.
Bloggers, what are some of your best tips for beginners?