How to Start a Food Blog
In 2011, I started a food blog. I have always loved to bake and 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 family 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. 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 did my research 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 and maybe one day call this my job? That was my goal.
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. 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 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.
The Bluehost Solution
I self-hosted my website through Bluehost in the beginning. Bluehost has the cheapest prices around and you can register your domain name for FREE. At the time, 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. I highly, highly recommend them.
After Bluehost, I switched to 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 switched to a larger server in 2012. Since then, I’ve had to make a switch again due to traffic increases. At the end of 2014, I switched to WP Engine who is my current host.
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 (???), I hired help. WordPress.org does offer a 5-minute install guide but even step 1 left me confused. To avoid completely breaking my blog, I paid a web designer for help and a seamless transition.
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. There are so many available and they’re 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 thousands of spam comments on your own and ultimately go insane.
- 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.
My website was designed by Purr Design in August 2013. Purr Design transformed my blog to have a cleaner, sleeker look. They updated my Visual Recipe Index so each recipe has a category and photo.
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 3 times per week, with an occasional personal post or recipe-round up post. I write my posts in the evening and weekends and plan out which recipes will go live on which days. 3 or 4 posts per week is all that my schedule allows.
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. As of April 2013, my full time job is my blog! Food writing, baking, 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 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, 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.
(Does this girl ever stop typing?!)
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 blogging pages:
- 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