You love food.
You enjoy writing.
People tell you that you are good at both (eating and writing, not necessarily at the same time).
So, where do you go from here?
Odds are, if you haven’t already started one, a food blog is right for you. There are all kinds of discussions online about the future of blogging, and whether or not there is still the opportunity for bloggers to turn pro, getting their wonderful words picked up by bigger publishers.
The reality is, if you’re doing it with the idea of turning pro, don’t bother. Professional writers, those who do it to pay the rent, still usually need to go the route of preparing a manuscript, finding an agent, collecting rejection slips, and persevering toward their big break. Not to say it can’t happen, and it’s OK to hang onto that shred of hope that someone will actually read and care about what you write.
Otherwise, it may be time to simply focus on the pleasure it brings you to share your passion and your skills.
To help make the experience better for everyone—you, your followers, and the people and establishments about whom you write—here is an FAQ with a few tips to help you establish a good food blog.
1. What should I write about?
Start with what you love. Food bloggers generally love at least one of two things: eating, or cooking. Both of those are pretty general, though, so consider a more narrow focus. Ask yourself a series of questions to get perspective:
- What groups do you belong to? (For example, are you a member of a Community Supported Agriculture group, or do you follow the Slow Food movement?)
- Where do you usually serve the food you cook? (Do you take it to potlucks and church socials, are you the unpaid but willing caterer for your friend’s events, or do you have an audience of kids at the family table?)
- What books do you read? (Are you a fan of cookbooks for inspiration, or do you read culinary mysteries, or are you more technical in nature?)
- What do you most enjoy cooking or eating? (Are you into desserts, and if so, can you narrow it down to one category of desserts, for example?)
2. Do I have to have a lot of recipes to get started?
This is really up to you. Not every food blog has to include a recipe, although if you are talking about a particular dish it’s nice to at least provide a link to one you can recommend. What you do need to think about is not plagiarizing (taking a recipe and claiming it as yours) or not providing credit with a live link to the original source. Most food sites want you to link to them; most do NOT want you to just take their recipe, since duplicate content can be a problem online.3.
3. How do I promote my blog?
Great question, and one that usually goes unasked. In comparison to promotion, writing the blog is a piece of cake. There is a reason PR companies exist—promotion is a lot of repetitive, consistent, quality work. Start with social media, and promote your blog to your Facebook and Twitter followers (and if you don’t have any, start now—they are your best, guaranteed audience). Build a relationship with your local media, if possible; you can do this by writing the occasional news release (2-3 a year: one to announce the blog’s creation, another to announce a milestone, such as your 1,000th reader, and maybe another to promote some distinctive content or partnership you’ve come up with). Rely heavily on your friends, who can promote it to their friends, and so on.
4. What about photo or video blogging?
Yes, if you can do it. And, really, anyone with an iPhone can create a video blog—the question is, can you do it well? Check the First Person videos out that we’ve been playing with at foodchannel.com. Vlogging is quite possibly the future of blogging, and if you can make it interesting to have people watch you cook, go for it. As for photos, beautiful photos can make a blog much more visually interesting and attention-getting. As with recipes, do not just take someone else’s photo and attach it to your recipe—that is a definite infringement. If you can’t do photos well, stay away from them and focus on brilliant writing, or team up with a good photographer.
5. How often do I need to post?
The general rule of thumb is once a week, but the point is to choose a topic that you are passionate enough about to want to “feed” regularly. Blogs shouldn’t be the same thing as a journal—these are not your private thoughts, so they don’t have to be an everyday thing. There is one school of thought that says the more frequently you post, the higher your rise in the search engines—leading some people to post junk or aggregated material on a frequent basis. It’s much better to come up with original content and post it after you’ve edited it into something that is less stream-of-consciousness and of a higher quality. True blogging is original and concise. About 400 to 600 words is generally the right length. If you do commit to a blog, you need the discipline of deadlines, even if you are creating them for yourself. Waiting until you feel like writing is never a good idea. Too many of life’s vagaries can get in the way. So, you decide how often and how much to post, cutting yourself some slack here and there (after all, you are the boss of your blog), but sticking to a basic schedule. Keep in mind that if you want followers, there has to be fresh material on a regular basis to keep them engaged and coming back.
6. Where do I put my blog?
There are many, many sites that work well enough. Consider your own technical skills, how much time you want to put into building a site, whether you want to put advertising on your site or not, whether you want/need to own the domain, and where the audience may already be going. Tumblr is big right now, and Posterous is about as easy as they come (you just email them your column and you can be done). There are many networks of bloggers, so just do your research and decide if you want to join one of them, or if you have something different to offer. If you want to try to make some money, make sure you can put Google adwords or other monetization on your site, although you need a big audience for it to begin to pay off. If you aren’t too technically-minded, find a host that will do it all for you, including the automatic feeds to your social media connections.
7. What if I run out of ideas?
Then perhaps you aren’t as passionate about the subject as you thought. Go back and think through #1. Then pick up a book. Surf the web. Get in the kitchen and see what you can create. Take a walk. Make sure you are rested—ideas have a hard time flowing when you are tired and stressed. Take a class or an online seminar. If all else fails, call me. I have plenty to share.
8. What makes a good blog?
Short, for starters. You are not writing a book, unless it’s in 400-word segments. Second, provide some reflection on the human experience. Have you ever pulled a winter coat out to wear it for the first time of the season, stuck your hand down in your pocket, and found some money? See—you know what that feels like, right? That’s the universal human experience. Tap into that in your blog and you’ll find readers can identify with you. Better yet, go spend that money on a NY-style pizza, describe how you carefully fold it as the oil drips down your arm and you bite into it . . . and you increase the engagement. Journalism rules still apply in a blog, so cover the who, what, when, where, why and how, at least in your head, before you decide a post is finished.
9. What if I don’t cook—I just eat?
Restaurant reviews can be interesting, and helpful to others. There is a need for more in-depth information that helps a person when making a selection about where to go when visiting a city or a country. If you are the kind who can fairly analyze a meal, the service, the atmosphere, and not just be a food critic, then by all means, write about eating. Before you start, please refer to our Etiquette Guide for Food Bloggers, found here.
10. What do I need to know about food to set me apart?
Start with a working knowledge of food trends. Here’s my list of the top ten ways to keep current with food trends:
- Eat out
- Read food magazines, travel magazines, the food section of the newspaper, etc.
- Watch food TV
- Grocery shop, wherever you are
- Travel (and eat out some more)
- Look at food websites
- Talk to other foodies
- Pay attention to food ads
- Research – CultureWaves, Mintel, Technomic
- Attend food shows (local and national)
Really think you have a good food blog? Send us a link to your best story. We may publish it!