How to Start a Food Blog.
*Disclaimer: Before I begin my Blogging Series, I must disclose that I have a bachelor’s degree in marketing/advertising, but no professional background in technology, photography, or writing. To celebrate Sally’s Baking Addiction’s 1st birthday, I am throwing together a series of posts dedicated to my readers who are eager to start their own blog. It is also dedicated to readers who are looking to grow their own blogs and market themselves. All of my thoughts and advice are merely things I have learned in the past year and strategies that I’ve used to get to this point.
Getting started with the tech stuff of a blog. Oy. How boring, right? But the tech stuff is backbone of your blog, so listen up.
Exactly 1 year ago I decided to create a recipe blog. I posted pictures of my cookies and cupcakes on facebook all the time - each picture resulted in an email or message from a friend asking for the recipe. I followed blogs myself and loved the idea of using a blog as a way to share my recipes. A personal little online outlet for cookies, if you will.
I love to write, I love to take pictures, and I love to bake. A baking blog was my destiny. But how on earth do I create one?
I went to my friend and very talented photographer Harper for advice (hi Harper!). She has a photography website and a personal blog. She told me I had a few options as far as platforms go – WordPress, Google Blogger, TypePad, etc. I didn’t know much about any of them but researched around and chose WordPress.com as my hosted blogging platform. This means my website’s URL was initially www.sallysbakingaddiction.wordpress.com.
What is Self Hosting?
There is a very big difference between a hosted blog and a self-hosted blog. The hosted solution is where a company houses and maintains your blog on its servers. It frees you from the stress of manually backing up your site and updating your software. And it’s free. Not knowing how much time I’d have to dedicate to Sally’s Baking Addiction, I chose the hosted solution.
Within four months, I wanted more leverage, more design control, more freedom, and the ability to install third party advertising on my site so I could make money. I wanted a more professional URL (without the .wordpress) and I wanted to own my domain - sallysbakingaddiction.com. I wanted the ability to install my own plug-ins, which are the little bells and whistles you see around these parts – like my slideshow above (more on that below). I purchased my own domain before switching to a self-hosted solution, though – which is possible through godaddy.com.
After 4 months using wordpress.com to host my blog, I transferred to a self-hosted blog through wordpress.org in April 2012 so I could allow my blog to really take off.
There is no right or wrong choice when you are considering a hosted blog or a self-hosted blog. It all depends on what your blogging goals are. To take total control of your blog with endless customizations, a custom domain, and so many plug-ins to choose from – I highly suggest bypassing the hosted option and head straight for self-hosting.
I self-hosted my website through Bluehost for the first year of its life. Bluehost has the cheapest prices around and you can register your domain name for FREE. I paid $6.95 per month to host my site. The whole hosting-domain stuff can be quite confusing at first, but Bluehost will be more than happy to walk you through anything.
**Edited to add (January 2013): I now use Servint for my hosting solution. Bluehost is a wonderful option to get started in the self-hosted scene. Once I reached 25K+ views per day, I began to notice that readers could not access my website and it was very slow to load. That is a good problem! I had to make a switch to a larger server.
Installing and configuring your own blogging software is very serious stuff to understand and to implement. To save myself from the headache trying to figure out .zip files and configure scripts (what does that even mean???), I hired help. Wordpress.org does offer a 5-minute install guide but even step 1 is gibberish to me. To avoid completely breaking my blog, I paid for help and a seamless transition. Worth EVERY single penny.
My website designer transferred the host and redesigned Sally’s Baking Addiction in April 2012. Along with investing in a new camera, my stats and page views tripled in May and have exponentially increased ever since:
For WordPress users – once your blog is self-hosted, you’ll be able to add in little bells and whistles all over your pages. These are called “plug-ins” and they can extend the functionality of your blog. They’re so many available and are completely free.
My favorite WordPress plug-ins include:
- Akismet – Akismet guards my blog from spam comments. As your site grows, this plug-in is crucial or else you will be monitoring hundreds of spam comments on your own. That would stink!
- Smooth Slider - the little slideshow of recipes you see at the top of my page? That was created through the plug-in called Smooth Slider. With customizable backgrounds, slide intervals, size, and fonts, this tool is a slick way to advertise your posts and pages.
- Comment Reply Notification - the most important plug-in I have, no questions asked. When a comment or question is left on my blog, more often than not I have a response or a thank you to say. Installing this plug-in will allow the reader to receive an email when I respond to their comment, rather than having the reader check back on the post. It’s most convenient for my readers and is a handy way to extend the conversation.
- Related Posts Thumbnails - the bottom of each of my posts always have 3 tiny thumbnails with links to similar posts or recipes. Based on the recipe category, similar posts are chosen at random to display at the bottom. It’s another easy & effortless tool to advertise your other posts.
Sally’s Current Website Design
**Edited to add (October 2013): My website was redesigned by Purr Design in August 2013. You can read about my new design in this post. Purr Design transformed my blog to have a cleaner, sleeker look. They updated my Visual Recipe Index so each recipe has a category and photos. They also formatted my recipes using Ziplist. I highly suggest all food bloggers use Ziplist to format their recipes. It makes them very easy to read and navigate through for our readers. And that’s the most important part too, right?
As far as post schedules go – I have to admit that I currently do not follow a strict one. But I do believe being on a regimented blogging schedule is important for time management and for loyal readership.
I typically post 4 times per week, with an occasional personal post or recipe-round up post. I do not post on weekends, although I will throw in a Saturday or Sunday post if I have an extra recipe to share that week. I write my posts in the evening and weekends and plan out which recipes will go live on which days. Four or five posts per week is all that my schedule can allow at this point.
Consistency, I believe, is more important than frequency. My readers can depend on a certain number of posts per week and that is what matters most.
Two things to consider as you start your blog:
- Dedication. How dedicated are you to your new blog? I was not sure if the whole blogging thing would work out for me given my schedule limitations and commitments. I have a full time commitment to running, yoga, my family, friends, fiancé, and our dog. Within a few months, I realized how much I enjoy blogging and how much time I am willing to dedicate to it. I immediately wanted to take it to the next level. I do wish that I began my blog as a self-hosted site, but starting with a free blog from wordpress.com allowed me to get my feet wet before taking the self-hosting plunge.
**Edited to add (October 2013): As of April of earlier this year, I am happy to say that my full time job is my blog. Food writing, food photography, connecting with readers, cookbook writing, and recipe development. And boy, does it take a lot of work!
- Budget. If you are looking to significantly increase your traffic and really make a career out of food blogging, you’re going to have to make an investment in your site. Paying for a web designer, paying for a server, paying for technical support, etc. Then there is the camera, editing software (if you chose to use one), lenses, food props, groceries, etc. You may, of course, design and maintain your blog on your own but being quite tech-clueless, I opted to pay for help in the technical area.
If you truly dedicate yourself to your blog, the money invested into the start of your blog will be paid back to you plus more. Trust me. I have made a career out of my blog through very hard work and am able to support myself financially.
Don’t let the millions of other bloggers out there intimidate you as you take the blogging plunge. What began as a mere way to share my recipes with my friends has grown into something that now means the world to me. I still remember the first day I reached 100 site views. Then 1,000. And it still makes me smile to read an email, a picture, or a comment from a reader saying they made and enjoyed one of my recipes. It takes a lot of time and effort to grow your blog and the journey is far from over!
Be sure to check out my other posts on the subject of blogging:
- Year One: How I Did It
- Blogging Strategies: Being Present and Personable
- Blogging Strategies: Quality Content
- Food Photography Basics
- How I Turned my Food Blog into a Career
Here are some helpful links that have helped me along the way:
- Blogging 101 by Averie Cooks. Also Blogging 102, Blogging 103, Blogging 104, and Blogging 105.
- Useful Tips for Emerging Food Bloggers by The Hungry Australian. Over 100 helpful links for food bloggers on this post! I visit it daily.
- Resources for Food Bloggers by Pinch of Yum – so helpful & easy to understand!
- 10 Real-Talk Blog Tips by Joy the Baker
- Food Blogging by David Lebovitz
- How to Start a Food Blog by The Last Appetite
- How To Start a Food Blog, part 2 by The Last Appetite
- Food Blogging Do’s and Don’ts by Delicious Days
- How to Start a Food Blog by The Amateur Gourmet
- Top 20 Food Blogging Tips for Beginners by Savory Simple
- Food Blogging 101 by Eat The Love
- Ten (Super Rad) Blog Post Ideas by Joy The Baker
- Ten Important Things I’ve Learned About Blogging by the Pioneer Woman
- How to Start a Food Blog by A Sweet Pea Chef
- How to Start a Food Blog by Burnt Carrots (how-to on installing wordpress software)
- How to Choose a Blogging Platform by A Sweet Pea Chef
- 10 Commandments to Successful Blogging by Daily Blog Tips
- 10 Attributes of a Successful Blogger by Daily Blog Tips
- The Cost of Food Blogging by Bakers Royale
- Tips to Make Your WordPress Blog Look Yummy by The WordPress Experts
- How to Create a Fabulous Food Blog by Women Get Social
- How to Start a Food Blog in Five Simple Steps by Slender Kitchen
- 17 Ways to Grow Your Blog From Top Bloggers by Social Media Examiner
- The Essential Guide to Growing Your Blog on Minimal Time by Problogger
- Starting a Blog by Avocado Pesto
- How To Make Your Food Blog Popular by Amateur Gourmet
- Beginners Guide to Food Blogging – by the Food Channel
Have any more questions? Let me know!