I’m often asked for tips and advice on starting a food blog, or taking your blog to the next step, so I thought it would be helpful to share my tips with you here.
So you want to start a food blog, but are not sure where to start? Well, unless you go with a WordPress or Blogger hosted blog, which is perfectly fine when you are just starting out, you will need a hosting company.
When I first made my move from a WordPress blog to a self hosted blog Bluehost was the company I turned to. They hosted Delicieux for a couple of years. BlueHost offer a quick and cost effective way (I mean $6.95 per month is a bargain!) to get up and running with your own self hosted WordPress blog.
Delicieux moved to MDD Hosting at the start of 2012 after it started receiving over 3,000 visitors per day and is running on a semi-dedicated plan. The support offered by MDD Hosting is top notch, fast and efficient. In fact it’s been fantastic and I highly recommend them.
Picking a theme for your blog is difficult. I know, I’ve played with a lot of them in my time, but getting the theme and look of your blog right is important not only to how you brand your blog, but also for visitor appeal too. So check out the resources below for picking a theme that meets your needs.
Delicieux runs on the Thesis Theme. Thesis offers fantastic search engine optimization tools built into the theme and is easy to customise to meet your needs. It also has great support with tonnes of tutorials and a helpful support forum.
Looking for a free theme? WordPress has thousands of free themes available.
One of the great advantages a self hosted WordPress blog has over a WordPress.com blog is the availability of plugins. There are over 18,000 plugins available. But what is a plugin? Basically, a plugin is something you install into your WordPress blog that provides an extra piece of functionality you require. For example there are plugins that add the ability for visitors to your website to share your post on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, there are plugins that report on your visitor statistics and there are plugins that change the way you moderate comments. If there is something you wish WordPress could do there is probably a plugin that will provide that functionality.
Everyone’s idea on essential plugins will differ, but here are my picks.
Caching plugins improve the performance and speed at which your blog loads. There are countless caching plugins available, however the main ones are W3 Total Cache, WP Super Cache and Quick Cache. I use W3 Total Cache and find it improves the speed at which my website loads. W3 Total Cache can look complicate to deal with though, so if you don’t feel overly techy I’d look at WP Super Cache and Quick Cache first.
Backup, backup, backup. The importance of backing up your website cannot be stressed enough. Last year, being the accident prone person I am, I spilled water all over my laptop, and lost ALL of the data on my laptop. This included the originals of thousands of photos I had taken for Delicieux, all of the photos I had taken while on holiday in New York, Vegas and Fiji last year, and more upsettingly the one photo we had of my fiance proposing to me on the beach in Fiji. The strange thing is I always insisted on backups of Delicieux, but not of my laptop because I quite simply thought “it won’t happen to me”. Well it did. Don’t take the same attitude with your blog. While a good web hosting company should take regular backups of your website don’t just rely on them. Install a good backup plugin. I use BackWPup. The thing I like about this backup plugin is that your backup is moved to an external server for storage, ie DropBox, Amazon S3, which means that if for some reason your host server goes down you have an external copy of your hard work.
Wordfence scans your site for viruses, malware, trojans, malicious links, protects your site against scrapers, aggressive robots, fake Googlebots, protects against brute force attacks and much much more. It also protects unauthorised people from logging into your admin page and blocks them from trying again, and can also be used to ban hackers or unwanted visitors from your site.
Yoast is the go to guy for SEO and his Yoast SEO plugin is in my opinion the best there is. It handles your SEO and your Sitemap management and can even implement breadcrumbs. No need for multiple plugins when it’s all here in Yoast SEO.
Social Bookmarking Plugins
Social Bookmarking plugins enable your readers to share your content with people on Facebook, Twitter and hundreds of other social media websites. There are hundreds of different plugins available and which one you choose really depends on what features you want. Some great ones to check out are AddThis Social Bookmarking Widget and Social Sharing Toolkit.
What the heck are 404′s I hear you ask? Well, 404 errors are where someone has tried to visit your website using an incorrect link or address. For example they might have been trying to visit a particular page and have typed in the address incorrectly. In that case they would receive a 404 error telling them that WordPress could not find the page they were looking for. What a 404 plugin can do for you is record the 404 errors you are receiving, and also enable you to setup a redirection (i.e. if someone else uses the incorrect address you can redirect them to the correct page automatically). More importantly 404 plugins are useful from a SEO point of view because if visitors to your website receive a lot of 404 errors this can negatively impact your Search Engine Ranking, which of course none of us want. As far as 404 Plugins go I use 404 Redirected, which has a wonderful feature where it will automatically try to correct 404 errors for visitors and redirect them to the page the plugin thinks they were looking for. Pretty neat huh?
Spam and the internet are quite simply two things that go together. There are plugins that can make managing spam, or blocking the amount of spam you receive, easier though. One I consider an absolute essential is Akismet. While Akismet is great, I have found that quite a bit of spam can still slip through the cracks, so I also use Growmap Anti Spambot.
P3 Plugin Performance Profiler is a fantastic plugin that, well, monitors the performance of the plugins you have installed and reports on the impact they have on the speed of your website. Run the Auto Scan and at the end of the scan you can see exactly what plugins are running slowly and the impact that plugins have on your page load time.
As a food blogger you will need a great recipe plugin. There are many out there, but Easy Recipe is the best and I use it to format all my recipes.
Blogging guides & books
Just starting out with blogging? This essential guide will set you on the right path.
31 Days to a Better Blog is for people who already have a blog and are looking to take their blog to the next step. Full of useful hints and tips, and daily tasks this guide will help you get ready to take your blog to the next level.
Dianne Jacob’s Will Write for Food is a must read for all food bloggers.
Promoting your blog and building a readership
Once your blog is setup you will be wanting some traffic. So here are some great food photo sharing sites I like to use. Just be aware that some of them have a specific look that they are going for so all of your photos may not get accepted. Don’t be disheartened though, keep trying and you will be rewarded with traffic
You’ll find more sites where you can submit your photos here.
Other ways to generate traffic to your blog is to sign up to social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Start sharing great content (not just your own blog posts) and people will follow…and more importantly share your content too!
Earning an income from your blog
Running advertisements is a great way to earn some income from your blog. Don’t expect to earn a fortune though, unless you have a substantial amount of traffic.
Some ad networks you might want to investigate are:
I’ve tried most of the ad networks listed above and have had the best success with BlogHer, but you may be different.
Alternatively you can sell your own ad spots and set your own prices. A great tool to manage this is Passionfruit Ads. You can also do this in conjunction with the above solutions.
Food Photography tools
Lets start off with the tools you will need to take photos of your delicious dishes.
Adobe Lightoom is what I use to edit all of my food photos. While it’s not exactly cheap, you do get what you pay for. And before you splurge you can use the 30 day trial to give it a test run and see if it works for you.
Canon Digital Rebel XSi 12.2 MP Digital SLR Camera with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens – Black – When I was starting out this was the camera I used. It’s small, light and is a great step up from a point and click camera.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens This was my first lens and all of my early food photos were shot with this. It’s cost effective, small and light.
Canon EOS 50D 15.1 MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only) This is my current camera. It’s heavier than the rebel, but with it’s size, and the increased cost, come better quality photos. It’s what I use for all of my current food photography.
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens for Canon EOS SLR Cameras This is my current lens. I use it for all of my photography. I love it.
Dolica AX620B100 62-Inch Proline Tripod and Ball Head If you don’t have a steady hand (and I certainly don’t) you will be needing a tripod.
Lowel EGO Digital Imaging, Tabletop Fluorescent Light Unit Sometimes, particularly in winter, getting great photos of your food with natural light can seem impossible. This is where these great light units come in handy. I have 2!