This past weekend I gave a lecture at Food Blog South in Birmingham, Alabama. The title of my speech was “10 Food Blog Posts That’ll Get You Traffic” and though I was slightly nervous going in–this was my first time both attending and speaking at a food blog conference–I felt validated, after it was over, by the many people who thanked me for my presentation. Turns out, after nine years of food blogging, I have something to say on the subject. What follows, then, is basically the speech that I gave with images thrown in for good measure (I didn’t use PowerPoint when I spoke, so everyone just had to look at me and my colorful shoes). Hopefully the food bloggers among you will find this helpful.
Category Archives: Food Blogging
In 2006, I graduated N.Y.U.’s dramatic writing program and moved to Brooklyn with my friend Diana. At the time, I’d been food blogging for two years and had just sold a book to Bantam/Dell that came with a pretty decent advance. Before I sold the book to Bantam, I had ads on my blog—Google Ads, BlogAds—but wasn’t generating enough money to pay rent. With the book advance, things changed. When that check came, I told my parents that I wouldn’t need their financial help anymore. I’d be able to take care of things from here on out.
And, for the most part, that’s what happened. The book advance only got me so far; at a certain point, I began making enough money—from the blog itself and other food ventures—to pay the bills. Here’s how I did that and how you might do that too.
Inspired by this piece in the Guardian, in which several successful fiction writers (including Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, and Jonathan Franzen) give their ten rules for writing fiction, here are my ten rules for food blogging. (I hope my other senior food blogging colleagues write their own ten rules too.)
1. Have a hook. That hook might be cooking your way through a cookbook, deriding disastrous cakes, or advising fellow workers on where to eat in midtown.
3. If you don’t have a name, have a singular, stand-out voice that’s unlike any other voice out there.
4. If you don’t have a singular, stand-out voice, take beautiful pictures of beautiful food and include recipes.
5. Update frequently, at least three times a week. Even if you’re not a great photographer, include pictures in your posts; preferably, a lead picture at the top and several illustrative pictures studded throughout. (Edit these pictures in Photoshop, for maximum effect.)
I received a touching e-mail this weekend from a reader who finds herself in the same situation I was in three and a half years ago: namely, she’s a third year law student, she hates the law, and she wants to be a writer. She’s just started a food blog and wants to know how to make it popular. “How did you become so widely read?” she asked.
I told her I would answer the question on the blog, and it’ll probably echo many of the points I’ve made previously in this post and this one. But it’s always good to re-explore a subject, and especially after this weekend’s coverage in The Wall Street Journal, it’s as good a time as any to offer advice. And so, without further ado, here’s my take on how to make your food blog popular.
I hadn’t realized this until just now but if you Google “How To Start A Food Blog” the #1 result is the post I wrote on August 17, 2005 about, appropriately, how to start a food blog. Since more than a year has passed since that post, I have an archive in my brain of things I’d like to amend to it: further tips and pointers that I think could help food bloggers who want to get more out of their food blogging experience. So what follows is a sort of free-flowing supplement to the original essay: some of the points will be re-echoed, many points will be new–all of the points will be issues I feel strongly about.
This is my 1000th post. Can you believe it? 1000 posts. That’s craziness. That means I’ve sat down exactly 1000 times with a new window here and a new idea, a new experience to convey to you all. That’s a lot of times. I hope you appreciate it!
Since I’m a veteran now of 1000 posts I am going to use this opportunity to play teacher. Despite popular opinion, I’m not playing teacher just so I can wear a wool skirt. You see I’ve had some requests–via e-mail–for advice on how to start a food blog. My response to these people has generally been: “How dare you expect a man of my calibre to throw away brilliance on fools such as yourselves!” but then my little conscience fairy woke up and was like, “Adam, be nice, these people need help.”
So here, in celebration of 1000 posts, is my small effort to get some of you going on foodblogging odysseys of your own. Let’s begin at the beginning.
Why should you start a food blog?
Great question! Many of you shouldn’t. Foodblogging (like any other blogging) requires time. You really have to ask yourself: “Why am I starting a food blog?” I can think of two legitimate answers:
(1) I have a love for food that I want to share with the world;
(2) I want to document my eating and cooking experiences but I don’t really care about sharing it with the world.
Those of you who fall into Camp 2 are basically not looking to be bloggers, you’re looking to keep an electronic record of your meals cooked and eaten using blog software. That’s fine, but I’m not giving you advice today. My advice is for those who want to grow a successful, largely read food blog.
So how do I do it?
Ok, you’ll need a few things. For starters, I really really really think you need a camera. There are some bloggers who can pull off blogging without pictures (Andrew Sullivan, Jason Kottke) but they’re not food bloggers. The few food bloggers I can think of who don’t post pictures on a regular basis are filter bloggers. What’s a filter blogger? This is a blogger who acts as a filter and fishes for food-related content on the web, posting it for all to see. Occassionally they come up with original content but more often than not they’re picking and choosing what they consider to be the best articles about food out there on the web.
What are some examples of filter food blogs?
The first that comes to mind is Alaina Browne’s A Full Belly. Alaina culls (is cull the right word?) great food content that you may or may not have found on your own and shares it with the world. She’s what I’d consider the perfect example of a filter foodblogger.
Josh at The Food Section acts as a filter food blogger on the side of his site under “Appetizers.” And Bruce Cole does a similar thing over at Saute Wednesday (built on the fact that food sections are published on Wednesday.)
What are the advantages of filter food blogging?
I think it’s safe to say that filter food blogging requires less time than other forms of food blogging. If you’re someone who loves to scan the net for food related content and you regularly discover items that the mainstream press doesn’t cover, you’d be a welcome addition to the filter food blogging community. Plus, you can make your blog as specific or as broad as you’d like. You can cover, as Alaina did in her former life, only NYC related food media or you can cover something really esoteric like three-headed shrimp stories. The choice is yours.
Ok, but what if I want to come up with my own content? Like you do?
Then you need to ready yourself. Again, you’ll need a camera. The best makers of original content in the food blogging universe (Clotilde, Heidi, and Pim come to mind) all have cameras and feature pictures prominently on their blogs.
There’s a reason for this. Unlike political or music blogs that focus on things that rarely have a visual component, food is something tangible, something you can hold, and something you want to see before you taste. And the fact that you see food before you taste it–the fact that how the food looks often affects whether or not you want to taste it–makes photography an integral part of food blogging. Any food blogger can write on and on and on and on about a piece of pie or a fish eyeball they ate at El Bulli, but more than in any other form of blog (and maybe I’m overstating) when it comes to food blogging, a picture’s worth 1000 words.
Ok, ok, I get it…
I don’t think you do. Not only should you have a camera but you should break up the text on your site with lots of pictures. For example, I’m growing concerned right here that this post is crazy text heavy. So I will post a picture of my cat, Lolita, to break things up a bit. When someone’s scrolling the site later this will catch their eye. It will be hugely effective.
Very nice. Now can we get on to the specifics? I don’t even know where to begin.
There are two things you have to do to have a food blog. Well only one, really. You have to choose blogging software. I’m a huge gigantic megawatt fan of Typepad which is what I use to run this site. It is so user friendly that I need only direct you to their site and you should be able to figure things out. So go to Typepad and look around. It’s great.
Next, you may want to buy a domain for your site. I actually named this site “The Amateur Gourmet” because I purchased a domain at godaddy.com and I needed to come up with something and I kept trying different combinations and amateurgourmet.com suited me best. If I would’ve chosen nakedjew.com, things would be a little different around here.
My advice would be to start your blog on typepad, use their domain for the first month or so and make sure you’re really committed. If you feel like you’re updating frequently and you’re enjoying it then buy a domain name. Typepad will help you send the data to the doman name (it’s called domain wrapping or something) but let’s not worry about that now. Typepad will help you with that.
You mentioned updating frequently. How frequently should I update?
Here’s the secret to successful blogging. Are you ready? To be successful, you must update frequently. That’s nothing new—most blogging gurus say the same. There are many reasons for this. The more you update, the more content you create, the more content you create the more Googleable you become. (I’ve learnt this watching my statistics: I get the large majority of my hits from Google searches for strange things that have nothing to do with food, only because there’s some obscure word in the title.) Clotilde explained to me once that Google has an algorithm that dictates how Googleable you are: it’s based, I think, on how many people link to you and how often you update. So updating frequently has its rewards.
But also, and more obviously, the more you update the more often people will check back to your site. The blogs I check most often are the ones I know will have new content every day. The more regular the new content, the more regular my visitation. I’m sure you can relate as a blog reader.
So what should I write about? Just cook stuff and write about it?
This is a tricky question. It’s as complex as telling a room of wannabe novelists what they should write about. It really depends on you and your interests and what you’re setting out to do.
Clotilde’s success is largely built on her wanting to share her experiences living and cooking in Paris. It’s a simple concept that’s attracted a huge audience.
The idea of a “simple concept” is one you should really consider. Some blogs can rest on the laurels and the talent of the people running them, like Heidi’s and David Lebovitz’s. But most of us have to create an easy to process “hook” that’ll keep people coming back. My hook, as you all know, is that I’m an incompetent louse who really wants to learn about food. Hence my blog details my adventures making mistakes and learning the ropes.
This sounds like work. What if I can’t come up with a concept?
Don’t worry too much about it. More important than a concept, more important than anything, really, is that quality that makes all great writing worth reading and that’s your voice. Bring yourself into your food blogging and everything else will follow. When I first started, I wrote a ridiculous food song every Thursday night and sang it for no good reason. You can still hear them on the lower left hand of the site. Why are those there? Do they really have anything to do with food? Of course not. But they give you a sense of what I’m about.
And that’s another thing: as a food blogger, you’re not just writing everything you know about food, you’re sharing your personal experiences and in doing such you’re sharing little bits and pieces of yourself. I believe that the more you share, the more loyalty you’ll generate among your readers. Of course there’ll be the occassionally hate messages (but you can delete those) and angry phonecalls from family members who think they look terrible in the pictures you’re posting (AHEM) but the more you give the more you’ll get. At least I believe that to be true.
What else might I get? I like getting things.
There’s lots of evidence that blogging, even food blogging, can bring you fame and fortune or at least a small semblance of it. Julie of Julie/Julia Project has a book out now (or at least it’s just about to come out) and other food bloggers have books on the way too. I’ve had lots of opportunities arise from my blog that I can’t tell you about yet. But rest assured that blogging is a great way to put yourself out there—especially when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels in life, which is how I felt right before I started this blog.
Is there anything else great about food blogging
Yes. Aside from the fact that lots of people will read what you write on a daily basis (which is always exciting), you get to act as your own editor, producer, director, publisher and secretary. You can make money from blogads and Google ads (though not enough to act as a super incentive). You can find a way to channel your creative energies (hence all my films and songs and EXTREMELY LONG posts like this one.) And, best of all, you have a great reason to really explore the world of food: both in the kitchen and out in the world. If I didn’t have a food blog, I doubt I’d cook all the stuff I cook or eat at as many places as I do. I do most of it so I can sit down later and process everything that I just experienced, for better or for worse. And over time you’ve created this gigantic record of your journey. If you click my archives and read the posts I posted my first couple of weeks as food blogger, I think you’ll detect a marked difference in my competence level, my knowledge and my confidence both as a writer and as a chef. Foodblogging pays off.
You mentioned “as a writer.” Do you think food blogging helps your writing if you want to be a writer?
Absolutely. Sitting down every day and having to organize your thoughts and figure out new ways to describe the food you just ate definitely makes you sharper and, over time, more relaxed behind the keyboard. I write most of my posts in one long sitting and I reread them once and I publish. That’s it. And this proficiency becomes useful when you’re writing e-mails or essays or cover letters or plays, like the ones I write for school. You feel free-er to experiment and to make mistakes. Food blogging can be as formal or as informal as you want it to be. It’s really what you make of it.
Ok, wrap it up.
Ya, this post is really long. I hope some people found it helpful. I had fun writing it…but I think that’s the reason why I’ve lasted 1000 posts, because I do find this sort of thing fun. If you do too, I say come aboard! The more the merrier.
[P.S. It occurs to me that I didn't talk about design. I'm really incompetent when it comes to that and I sought out the help of an internet designer who, unfortuantely (I believe) isn't taking on any new clients. But if you're worried about designing your site, shop around. I'm sure you'll find someone...]
[Also, if you do start a food blog and you have it up and running for a few weeks let me know. I'd love to see what you come up with. Good luck!]
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More Amateur Gourmet:
Favorite Food Sites:
- 101 Cookbooks
- Chez Pim
- Chocolate and Zucchini
- David Lebovitz
- Serious Eats
- Simply Recipes
- Slice NY
- The Food Section