When I started this blog a few months ago, I read everything I could possibly find to learn about blogging, search engine optimization, and social media.
That’s because I had zero experience in any of those things.
Now that I’ve been at this for a few months, I really wish I could go back in time and tell myself a few things. It would have saved me quite a few headaches!
However, since I don’t own a time machine- if I did, it would be a TARDIS- I can at least save someone else a few headaches.
That would be you, of course. So, do as I say, and not as I did, and you’ll find your path to food blogging a whole lot smoother.
WordPress, WordPress, WordPress
If you have any intention of blogging long-term, or eventually making money from your blog (aka “monetizing”), you should just bite the bullet, find a host company, and use WordPress.org software to run your blog. None of the free blogging websites compares in terms of customization and flexibility. I spent hours looking at blogging platforms before finally settling on this, and I should have saved myself the time.
Stay on Top of the Technical
Does your blog take ages to load? You’ll lose a lot of traffic as people simply click away to a faster site. Are you running ads, graphics, or plugins that make your site stall or display error messages? Fix it, or you’ll lose visitors before they even visit.
How about a technical problem that’s not caused by something you did? My site was crashing three or four times a week. I was on the phone to my hosting company more than I was on the phone to my own mother. I was not a happy camper and I told them so (politely). It turned out that the server I was being hosted on had some serious problems and they had to move my site to another server.
If I’d let it go, my site would have continued crashing, which would have lost dozens of visitors and possibly even gotten me dropped from Google’s index.
Set Up Google Analytics
You need to be able to see from the get-go whether what you’re doing is working. Google Analytics will show you not only how many people are visiting your site, but where they come from (Links? Search? Social Media?) and what they do once they’re there. It’s absolutely invaluable information, and that’s only scratching the surface of what it’s capable of.
Social Media, Blah, Blah, Blah
Speaking of social media, I’m going to beat a dead horse and tell you that, yes, Virginia, you need to be on at least some of the social media hubs. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, because that’s as far as I’ve gotten for now. I’d like to get some videos on YouTube when I get a chance and see how that goes.
I’ll tell you honestly: I haven’t gotten much traffic from Pinterest or Facebook yet. On Twitter I’ve done better, mostly because I went on a massive foodie-following binge and got enough follow-backs to get to almost 1000 real followers. Now I’m just letting it grow naturally, because there are only 24 hours in a day and I need to focus more on the blog itself.
Start Using SEO Right Away
Got WordPress? Good. Now go install a good SEO plugin like WordPress SEO by Yoast. What does an SEO plugin do? It basically looks at your posts as you create them and tells you exactly how to optimize them so that your post is easily found by people searching for a particular keyword (“chewy brownie recipe,” anyone?). This is called “on-page” SEO and is actually pretty easy once you get used to it. I could optimize my posts in my sleep now, but since I didn’t do this at the beginning, I’ve had to go back and fix a bunch of old posts.
Save yourself the trouble and install it now.
Test Drive Recipe Plugins
Are you going to be writing a lot of recipes? You need to TRY OUT the various ones in WordPress. Don’t just download one because it’s the first one in the list. Some are better than others, and you don’t want to be stuck (like me) reformatting all the recipes that you wrote in a plugin you ended up hating.
Don’t Use Your Free Ad Credits Yet
When I got hosting services, the hosting company gave me coupons for a couple hundred dollars in free ads from Google and Bing. I was so excited that I set it up right away.
And I really, really wish I hadn’t.
Why? Because I had no idea about using keywords to drive traffic. So I set up my ads to run for people looking for “brownies” or “brownie recipes” and sent all my ad traffic to my home page.
Very. Very. Bad idea. Sure, I got a few clicks, but no one stayed long on the home page because I was not directing them to a page specifically chosen for what they might be interested in. “Brownies” and “brownie recipes” were too general.
Fast forward two months. Now that I kind of know what I’m doing, I was lucky to get another coupon. This time, each keyword had its own targeted ad and each ad led to a specific targeted recipe. Search for “chewy brownie recipe” and you’ll get an ad for my Chewy Brownie Recipe. Search for “brownie cake” and you’ll get a custom ad for my Chocolate Brownie Cake recipe. See?
Learn to Operate Your Camera
As you may have read in my About Me, I have an old digital point-and-shoot camera that is not good with indoor lighting or much of anything else. We can’t all afford SLR cameras, can we?
You’d think so if you read a lot of food blogs!
So if you’re not a professional photographer, get out your camera manual and figure out how to turn off your flash and how to use your macro (super closeup) setting. I can’t compete with someone with an SLR camera, true- but I can make my pictures look a whole lot better just by pushing a few little buttons.
Don’t Link to Products/Corporations for Free
When first started, I thought it would be a good idea to make a recipe that included a product, then send that link to the attention of the maker on Twitter in hopes of getting a retweet and some traffic. After all, some corporations have tens or even hundreds of thousands of followers, so that’s a good way to get exposure, right?
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. (I could kick myself, really.)
The truth is that product endorsements and such are how many bloggers get paid, or at least get free stuff. Don’t give away your endorsement for nothing.
Otherwise, you’ll have them thinking, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
Comment Intelligently and Genuinely
Everyone knows to comment on other blogs to get links to your site and to network with fellow bloggers, right?
Then why in the name of heaven do we go around writing:
- “Awesome recipe! Love it so much!”
- “This looks so delicious! Yum!”
Let me tell you something. Almost no one is going to click on your link when you write stuff like that. What do those compliments say about your ability as a writer? Nothing! So why would I want to read more?
Not to mention that the writer of the blog you’re commenting on won’t have any real reason to connect with you, because you’re not engaging with them. A compliment is nice, but interaction is far superior. Your comments should always:
- Engage with the material you just read, and
- Be a showcase for the interesting blogger that you are!
For example, if you read someone else’s post on fried plantains, engage by asking a question about the cooking method, or the country of origin for the recipe. When you ask a good question, it shows that you have genuine interest and are not just leaving a comment for the sake of a link. Spend several sentences talking about your own experience with the subject in question. Ask, relate, engage!
How About You?
Is there anything you wish you’d known when you started blogging? Anything you’ve learned as you’ve become more experience? Please share it in the comments!