So you’ve decided to start blogging, good for you! It’s all great when you’re reading blogs thinking ‘Hey I can do this’ but when it comes down to setting it up, planning and building it’s not so easy, well it’s easy but not as easy as making these giant yorkshire puddings.
When you are doing your research on creating your blog don’t just trawl through food blogs, look at other blogs and sites to get an idea of what can be achieved. There are millions of websites and blogs that can really inspire you to create something amazing. Throughout this ‘how to’ I’ll try and give some other examples of platforms, but, for the most part, I’ll focus on WordPress.
First off your going to have to make a few decisions and do some planning. Technology is changing and thus, the web is changing too. Keep an eye on the latest trends in design and development so you can keep your blog up-to-date. You can find out the latest trends by checking out sites like Designers Daily or Web Designers Wall. If you have no web experience there are some great options to get a blog ‘off the shelf’ and apply a pre-made theme. You can get free themes or premium ones. Here are a few things to consider when starting out.
What platform to use
There are loads of basic blogging platforms out there Blogger, Typepad and Livejournal are just a few. While they are easy to set up and use you have to consider the future of your blog. Are you going to want to expand to show video or be transactional to sell products?. If so you’ll find these platforms restrictive later on. Changing platforms is a pain, you will most likely lose all the SEO you’ve built up and your followers will have to re-bookmark your site. Here’s a comparison of blogging platforms.
You don’t need to be a web developer to use WordPress or Joomla! (it will help if you’ve got a basic knowledge of HTML, CSS and possibly PHP if you want to customise your site) We’ve chosen WordPress which you can choose to host on WordPress’ servers or you can have your own domain. To have your own domain you will have to buy a name for your blog and some space on the world wide web. Saltpigcanteen uses UK2.net who have a very straightforward system of buying and registering a name, picking a hosting package and setting the whole thing up. They’ve also got some fantastic live help.
Alternatively, if you are a web guru or know one, you can create your own, unique site. This does require a high level of development and design skills and will take some time but if you really want something special…
If you go for the basic blog – Blogger etc you’ll be getting a domain prefix which is something like myblog.blogger.com. This is all fine and well but remember; this is what people will be remembering and it’s sometimes (depending on the name of your blog) a bit of a mouthful. Also remember that if you decide later that you want a more personal URL and change platform, much the same as moving house, you will have a new address and lose all that lovely SEO that you’ve built up.
In terms of web space, if you go for your own site and host WordPress, or the like, yourself, you will have to buy webspace. Webhosting is relatively cheap and there are multitudes of hosting companies out there that will offer a variety of packages to suit your needs.
If you are using a basic blogging platform there will be little bells and whistles that you can add but if you have a platform such as WordPress or Joomla! you can keep adding extras ’til the cows come home. Plugins are plentiful for WordPress have a look here and here for some great examples.
No matter what you want your site to do you can bet your boots there’s a plugin for it. If you do decide to build your own plugin then remember; it’s great to share. You’ll be building the blogging community and you’ll be getting your name around.
Design & layout
Just like what you wear to an interview the design & layout of your blog will leave a lasting impression and set the tone of your site. As I said above I’d recommend researching lots of other sites, not just blogs and not just food blogs but sites that you like and others recommend. Check out some graphic and web design sites like WebCreme and DesignFridge for some inspiration.
If you go for WordPress you will be able to select a theme, I’d recommend something clean and neat which will make your content stand out but it’s entirely up to you. You’re the best judge of what will suit your style and brand. Here is a great resource on building a brand.
Themes on WordPress are easily edited and you don’t need to know any coding to edit on a basic level. I would, however, recommend getting in touch with a designer if you’d like a design that’s professional and will set the tone for your readers. You can contact one here
Usability & Accessibility
Both quite big issues in the world of web design and development. I’ll start with usability. Wikipedia offers this;
“Usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object. Usability includes methods of measuring usability and the study of the principles behind an object’s perceived efficiency or elegance. In human-computer interaction and computer science, usability studies the elegance and clarity with which the interaction with a computer program or a web site (web usability) is designed. Usability differs from user satisfaction insofar as the former also embraces usefulness.”
So it’s the way people use websites, the ease that they can learn and navigate. There are people who specialise in usability as a full time job so that should give you an idea of the scale of the subject. The good thing is that you don’t need to be an expert nor hire one. Most WordPress themes, and other blogging platforms for that matter, will already be setup to an extent. I’d suggest a couple of things at this point:
Have a look at your template in a few different browsers – Safari, Chrome, IE and Firefox as there may be variations on how they render your site, but don’t get hung up on it if your site looks a little weird on IE6 but fine everywhere else as it’s virtually impossible to be fully XHTML and CSS compliant. Also screen size is another issue, nowadays the most common used screen size is bigger than 1024×768 so a small font may look fine on a 800×600 notebook but look way too small on a 1280×1024 imac.
Accessibility will also be covered by your theme/ hosting site but to give you a little information incase you want to go down the route of widening your audience here is a good resource. Basically it means that people with disabilities can still come and enjoy your site. Simple things like having an option to increase the size of font on your site so that people that find screens difficult to read can see all the comments your lovely followers have left.
Colours too can be a stumbling block for a lot of people, think about the colour of your text and links. If your site background is black and you’ve got a zingy bright yellow for your links it might not be too easy to read. There are a lot of great colour schemes you can use and if you aren’t the most gifted when it comes to choosing colours you can try ColourLovers where you can select a colour you like and it will give you options for contrasting and harmonious colours and recommendations from users.
This goes along with design but focuses more on how your name, blog, space will be perceived by users. I really want to say be unique, different from what everyone else is doing but it’s not that easy if you’re not a branding/design expert. Sometimes it might suit you to have a similar theme or niche to someone else. People are always breaking new ground, however, the market is big enough for more than one food blogger.
Think about what your blog idea is, if you’re writing about food in general your site may look very different than, say, if your site is dedicated to the catching and cooking of lobster. Also, what are your strengths? Are you a great writer? If you are you would want your words to stand out more, or if you’re an amazing photographer able to turn a plate of gruel into a mouthwatering delight, you should showcase your images. Maybe you’re like us – have a passion for food but aren’t experts in writing or photography. The attribute you want is a willingness to learn and adapt. I’ve chosen a template and adapted it so that it showcases the images (once I get better at photography) and gives importance to the articles.
There are a lot of food blogs cropping up every day, don’t let that turn you off creating a food blog – people will always need to eat and food will always be an area of interest. So with tastes and trends changing all the time there’s a multitude of topics in the food world.
A huge part of blogging is that readers will come back because they love reading what you write. So show some of your personality and build your blog to show your style. You’ll know this yourself by the blogs you read. Why do you like reading them? it’s because of who they are – anyone can write down a recipe but it’s the personality, traits and individuality that goes into the posts that brings readers back. Setup an About page so that readers can get to know you and make a connection from the start, that way if they continue to follow you they will feel like old friends who’ve been around to see your blog grow and develop.
Conversely, you may not want to allow people to see who you are. Maybe anonymity is what you are after. In that case maybe a public blog on the world wide web isn’t the best medium to tell your story.
Back for more?
You want readers to bookmark you or sign up to your RSS feed, anything to keep them coming back for more. The only way you’re going to do that is to create value. Giving them half thought out articles, useless reviews and half-baked recipes ain’t going to win you more friends. Sharing interesting recipes that you’ve tried, providing tips and tricks, restaurant reviews and thoughtful articles will have people returning time and time again.
Try thinking about what you haven’t read in food blogs, maybe you’re not getting so many readers anymore and there’s an area you can open up. Think of a new avenue. What can you bring to the blogging community? What can you share that people will want? Catty is the queen of Matcha cooking and Mowie Kay of Mowielicious never fails to make you hungry with his food photography.
We’re trying to cover a few bases, learning new skills, providing quality recipes and reviews, tips and pitfalls from the kitchen and just enjoying engaging with people who share a love of everything edible.
Posts – what and when
Posts are what your blog is. You post and people read. It’s that simple. Posts can take the form of a story, a recipe, an essay, a journal of your holiday, how-to video, restaurant review etc. They should all be under your chosen subject – which in our case is food, this may involve jaunts into travel from time to time but we’ll stick to our subject so that readers know what our blog is about and what our brand is about.
Going back to adding value to your blog, remember the world wide web is full of sh*t – don’t add to it. Quality is what will bring people back. Just ramming your blog with verbal diarrhea each and every day will not build you a following. One good quality post a week will be better than 6 posts of quickly scribbled nonsense.
Try and set a posting schedule, this will help you get into a rhythm of writing and will get your followers into a routine of reading your posts. There is no rules for posting, you could do it everyday but after a while you’ll sicken yourself of it and you run the risk of lowering your post quality.
You want your blog to be attention grabbing so think about your SEO. When someone searches for, say a, mushroom soup recipe your article may come up but the heading might not be that enticing. Read magazines that are well established and get a feel for how they encourage and entice you to read the rest of the article.
Something to bear in mind…your site is your space, if you put your name to it and show your friends you can bet your bottom dollar that your colleagues and bosses (and potential employers) will see it too. I’m not talking about the odd swear word but maybe you had a terrible meal and service at a restaurant and you just want to vent. By all means write your article but don’t post it straight away, look at it with a fresh pair of eyes the next day or, better still, have someone you trust who can act as an editor for your posts. This will ensure you’re not creating a bad name for yourself in the food industry.
Don’t just pop a recipe on your site that you’ve not tried out for yourself. Anyone can re-write a recipe but if you sweat over it, find the problems and list the workarounds you’ve found you will have created a unique, useful article that readers will comment on and enjoy. The last thing you want is to give a recipe you’ve not tried, only to find through comments on your post that it doesn’t actually work – how embarrassing…and damaging!
If you’re going to list a recipe from another cook/chef/blogger then give them credit. Also if you’re wanting to use Jamie’s latest lasagna recipe then write it in your own words if you haven’t got permission from his publisher.
With the advancement of technology we’re all using digital photography nowadays. It’s fast, easy, accessible and instant.
You’ll know yourself, from reading other blogs, that a good photo can speak a thousand words…but so can a bad one! No doubt you’ll have a point and click camera – which is really all you need to get going. If you’re good at taking pictures of food then that can be your niche. Here are a few great food photographers:
Taking pictures in restaurants used to get some pretty funny stares but these days it’s quite normal to see someone whip out their camera when a dish arrives at the table. A few words of advice though, be discreet. If you are dining in a restaurant, enjoying a meal with your partner the last thing you want is an inconsiderate nonce on the next table moving round the salt & pepper and their flash going off like a nightclub strobe. Restaurants themselves also don’t want to have terrible pictures of their food posted round the interwebs so ask if people (and the waiter) mind you taking a couple of pictures of your food. Give them your web address and let them know what you’re doing, although, this could lead you to getting special treatment in return for a good review which wouldn’t please Mr & Mrs Jones on table 8 who are still waiting on their starters but it’s nice to share and if you get good service I’m sure the staff will love reading about it.
If you get home and find your shots are all blurry or just plain trash drop the restaurant an email asking if they’d mind sending you a picture or two to use on your site. They might oblige after seeing your attempt. This will also build contacts, they might check out your site and start following. And so may their staff.
The best bet for photography in public, whether it’s in a restaurant and your snapping the food or if you’re in a different country at a roadside stall and want to get an image of the chai-wallah, is – ask permission first!
Let’s link arms!
Linking is the way the public will find you. It’s your advertising and without it your site doesn’t exist. Links within your articles and posts keep the internet connected and the food blogging community a community. It will help you, and others, discover new people, bloggers and sites. Say another blogger links to an article on your site and it drives a huge number of people there, you’ll be one happy bunny. Now, you can do something nice for them…link to something on their site that’s relevant to your post, that way you’re building relationships and readers, not just for you but for tens, hundreds or thousands of bloggers. Some random food blogger in the back of beyond isn’t going to just stumble across your brand new, unlinked, unsearchable blog, you’re going to have to make the first step to say ‘Hi’; just like starting a new school, you’ve got to make the effort.
You can create a list of the blogs you love and regularly read, usually called a blogroll. Readers of your blog will be able to find other exciting blogs that you’ve recommended strengthening the connection they feel for your blog.
Never, ever, ever, ever ask to swap links. This is called reciprocal linking and it’s just not cool. You’ve got to go and get links; leave good quality comments on blogs, create articles linking to others sites and eventually you will get the links on their sites. It doesn’t happen instantly, getting ranked takes a while, it’s all about building up your site and your presence on the interweb.
We all need money to get by, that is unless you’re marooned on a dessert island like Tom Hanks in Castaway – WILSON!! I was going to say ‘We all need money to survive’ but if Ray Mears has taught us anything, it’s how to survive on next-to-nothing.
As time goes by you’ll want to grow your blog and one way of recouping some of the hosting costs etc is to advertise. There are loads of ways to place ads on your site, Google Adsense is one of those ways. It’ll put a strip of relevant ads down the side of your blog taking people off to buy something or other. There are ways of doing this that is subtle and unobtrusive, and there are ways of doing it that is just offensive, in-your-face and will have your subscribers hitting that unsubscribe button quicker than you can say ‘Macaroon’.
If you’ve got writing skills then you’ll be able to tweak your writing style to subtly introduce adverts into your posts which won’t detract from your style and readers won’t get annoyed with a barrage of ‘Buy this’, ‘Buy that’, ‘Sale now on’. When it comes to running ads on your site, I’d say less is more. Remember why you started blogging and keep your integrity.
Problogger has a great article on advertising.
Traffic congestion & getting social
A kind of follow on to linking, increasing your traffic is an art form, but not a difficult one to master just one that you have to spend time on. I’ve mentioned before about commenting on other blogs and this is one of the best ways to get your name about. Do leave quality comments, participate in discussions on Food Blog Alliance and blogging events. You can overdo this so be careful you don’t become known for just promoting your blog.
Add some social bookmarks to your site and posts. We’ve used a Facebook and Twitter (@SaltpigCanteen) link on our posts so readers can post that post on their walls or tweet about them. This is a great way of getting your readers involved in the growth of your site. Register your site with online directories, sign up for community sites around your blog theme. This will ramp up your presence on the web and get you immersed in the community.
Optimise your site. SEO – Search Engine Optimisation is making your site readable for search engines. They trawl the web and websites looking for relevant metadata and keywords that help to rank your site in listings. There is ‘organic’ and ‘paid’ search but I won’t open that can of worms right now. Making your headlines relevant to the post is a great way to start, as is adding alt codes to images. If you are using WordPress there are some great plugins for assisting on SEO. SaltpigCanteen uses All In One SEO Pack
Reading statistics about your blog is great, you’ll feel all tingly when you reach milestones in readership but is useless unless you’re going to act on it and use it proactively. Get yourself Google Analytics – WordPress will give you a basic version but GA is better. It’s free, albeit Google will keep your precious data as a reward, but it’s infinitely useful. The two main things you want to be looking at are; trends and your goals.
Trends are things that will become apparent over time, once your blog has had the chance to get noticed and for you to build up content. What you’re looking for is growth in audience (unique visitors), average page views, time spent on site, and readers of your RSS feed.
Goals are unique to you and your blog but stats will help you see if you are heading in the right direction to hit your goals. Test and trial things, keep doing what’s working and bin the things that aren’t. If you are selling products on your site then you’ll want to keep a close eye on statistics but if you’re running a blog you won’t need to stress over them.
Phil Lees has written a fantastic article on site statistics.
Keeping in touch
There are a number of ways to keep in touch with your adoring public. You will get emails left, right and centre from people asking you all manner of requests; from linking to advice to people wanting you to review products and suggestions for restaurant reviews. It’s great to get emails from people, it shows they’ve gone out of their way to contact you but a lot of them can be absolute nonsense so just enjoy the doors they might open and take some people’s inability to say ‘thank you’ with a pinch of salt.
When your blog gains popularity you’re going to be asked to write product reviews in return for keeping said product. Is it selling out? No, so long as you let them, and your public know that all your reviews are impartial. Just because you’re getting a freebie it doesn’t mean your review will be glowing! They might decline a review but at least you’re being honest with everyone and you can’t go wrong with the truth. I wouldn’t like to get into the middle of an ethical blogging scandal, would you?
You’ll maybe be lucky to be invited for an interview, this is bloggers ‘sleb status. It could be an article all about you or you could be one of many in an article. You can ask for a list of the questions you’ll be faced with so you can get it clear in your head what you want to say. It’s you’re chance to tell people about your blog outside of your blog so make the most of it but don’t be too ‘Me, me, me’. You can also ask for a copy before it goes live, you might not be able to edit it but at least you’ll be prepared if you’ve not come across in a good light.
Where there’s always a company who wants to sell you something, marketing to bloggers isn’t an area marketers have perfected…yet. Meredith Farkas wrote a good article and guide to the marketing world on how to market to bloggers.
Also, here are a couple of articles by Susan Getgood on Bloggers, Marketing and PR.
So, we’ve gone through a cut down way of setting up a blog. I’ve not delved too deep into each subject, things like SEO are a huge topic as is web design, but you should be able to get a blog up and running pretty quickly with this guide.
While you might be in the grasp of bloggers enthusiasm remember that you’ve still got a life so work your blog around it. You might have full time work, family, friends and hobbies so make time for them. Your blog isn’t going anywhere – I mean it’s not going to run off not that you’re not going to get anywhere with it Remind yourself why you started blogging – I’m sure enjoyment was in there somewhere and being a pain in the arse isn’t. There are mistakes to be made but, I for one, like mistakes – it gives you the chance to grow and learn. You’ll learn nothing from doing it right all the time! So test and try and if it doesn’t work – hey ho! We’re all doing the same thing in the blogsphere so make friends and have fun.
Take a break from time to time, you’re friends and family will be getting a break too, from the constant waiting until you’ve got the perfect picture before eating dinner to the late nights tapping away on the keys. I try not to sit in a restaurant with my camera on the table, I’ll sometimes not take it out at all, as I’m sure when I’m dining with friends they get a bit frustrated waiting for me to line up a shot when all they want to do is dig into dessert.
There are hundreds of ‘How to setup a blog’ articles that are more encompassing than ours, here’s one.
What’s your take on it? Is there anyone with some tips? Do any of you have horror stories about setting up a blog? or there’s maybe some inspiring stories? Let us know.