Food Blogger Tip: New Melbourne restaurants with no reviews

A short while ago Fitzroyalty thought that I might be up to the challenge of building some sort of site that churned out lists all of the unreviewed restaurants in Melbourne.

I quite clearly wasn’t. I tried a few approaches and none were at all accurate. I couldn’t think of an immediate way to legally make money from it and lost all motivation.

In its stead, here is a bundle of RSS feeds that grabs new restaurants from Urbanspoon that have never been reviewed by a food blogger whom suckles from Urbanspoon’s teat. If you subscribe, it will alert you when a new restaurant in Melbourne is added or an unreviewed restaurant is updated in the Google index, so that you can be first to post your capsule-sized review. It’s not all quality. You’ll get alerts whenever a new McDonalds graces the earth or your local milk bar gets uppity and installs a coffee machine, but you’ll soon realise that almost all of the writing about restaurants in Melbourne happens within a ten kilometre radius.

Melbourne Restaurant Alerts

How influential are Australian food bloggers?

Apart from that mythical beast return on investment, the hottest topic in social media measurement is influence. Does anything that happens on a blog or in Facebook or in 140 characters or less drive people to change their behaviour?

I’m banking my current career on it – so I have a small vested interest in saying that it does. While it is easy to make the argument that the totality of social media consumption causes behaviour changes if only due to the volume in which it is consumed, it is currently impossible to judge the influence of any single tweet or blog post with accuracy. There are a few tools out there that claim to be able to do this but they’re extremely easy to game.

Just to separate out food blogs, at a rough guess, there are less than 30,000 people in Australia who actively read a food blog. By actively read, I mean read the homepages and news feeds, revisit a blog at least once a month – rather than visit them as the result of a Google search. Around a thousand of these people are the food bloggers themselves. There are a small handful of Australian blogs with more than 30,000 Australian readers but those visits are certainly not all active readers.

30,000 is just my educated guess: I came to that number by pouring every blog in my list of Australian food blogs into Google Ad Planner, which lets you see an estimate of the traffic to most websites on earth, and looking at the reach figures that were spat out the other side. Ad planner is not accurate: it tends not to measure blogs with less than 15,000 unique visitors a month, which is almost every Australian food blog.

Active readers are important because they’re the people most likely to be influenced (to some degree) by everything that a blogger writes. Everyone else does not see everything. This is of the utmost importance if you happen to be in public relations and prone to throwing out freebies to bloggers. If the blogger does not have an active readership, you may as well give your free meal ticket to a dog because even if the blogger in question writes a ten thousand word dissertation on the power of awesome contained in your generic stock cubes, if their post doesn’t rank in Google then nobody will read it.

Almost 80% of my readers come via search, thanks to me ranking well for a few very generic words in Google. It’s not to say that they’re a worthless audience (and if I started running ads again, I can use them to take cash from indiscriminate and international advertisers) but they are an audience that is very unlikely to convert into an active reader. They arrive, service whatever question that they need to answer or laugh at some of my deep-fried stupidity, then bounce off into the wider Internet. Traffic from restaurant aggregator Urbanspoon or Tastespotting behaves in a similar fashion: a once-off visit that makes the most cursory scan of the photos and then leaves.

Most often the question that the Urbanspoon/restaurant searcher is looking to answer is “What is the restaurant’s phone number or address?” because restaurants tend to have appalling websites where this vital information is not readily apparent. I AB tested this on my Dosa Hut post after getting a number of phone calls to my personal mobile phone asking for Indian street food.

Put the address at the top of the page instead of the bottom and average time spent on that page drops by around 30 seconds. In either case, none of these visitors have ever returned to my blog and read another post. A handful returned to the Dosa Hut post, possibly to get the phone number again. It would only be possible for me to influence these people’s behaviour if I had something extremely negative to say about Dosa Hut. At the point that they’re visiting my website, they have already decided to contact the restaurant. It’s altogether possible that they have already been there.

Influence in blogging relies on attracting an audience who is in a state of mind to be influenced, not one that is looking for confirmatory advice or whose intent is already set. It’s not to say that influencing that thirty thousand is not important as they’re the people who influence others food choices, have higher incomes and spend more than your average person on eating out. It does however suggest that Australian food blogs are a bad fit as a vehicle for most mass market food products.

Food Blogger Tips: Google Recipe Search

This only applies if you write recipes online and care about how many people visit your site. Otherwise, move along.

About a fortnight ago, Google released Recipe View in the US and Japan, a new way to trawl through their index for food preparation. When searching for a recipe online, most people type one or more of the component ingredients then hit the search button, which ends up with poor results. Most people who type “turkey” into the maw of Google don’t want to know what or where turkey is, just how to appropriately deep fry one. For example, the spike in searches for turkey on Thanksgiving isn’t the result of a seasonal interest in Byzantine vacations.

So to rectify this parlous state of affairs, they released Recipe View.

The practice of displaying rich snippets of information in Google search results has been around for about two years, so it was only a matter of time before it came to recipes and food blogging. The problem at the moment is that most of the results for Google Recipe View are trash: they’re stacked with the big recipe sites that scraped a good deal of their early content from the old Usenet archives because smaller sites (and most food blogs) don’t use the hRecipe format unless they’re run by an interminable data nerd.

What to do about it.

If you do write recipes and you use Blogspot, it might be a good time to consider your options. If you happen to use , I recommend the freshly-released Recipe SEO plugin or the older, and slightly less user-friendly hRecipe plugin. They’re both simple to use to appropriately format your content. With any luck (and the impending global rollout of Recipe View), you’ll pick up a few readers who would otherwise miss you.

Melbourne Restaurant Name Generator

Not sure what to name that new cafe or restaurant that you’ve lovingly crafted from rotting couches in a Melbourne laneway? Can’t find an fitting piece of pornocracy or Italian horror film to print on your disposable coffee cups?

All you need to do is combine an honorific of some kind with the name of a character on Mad Men, or parts of a spaghetti Western with a radio call sign. Or do all four at once and then follow whatever food trend is hot right now.

I think you should name it:

Press reload for more random free advice.

There is a one in nine hundred chance that you’ll get the exact name of a real restaurant. Sorry.

Three things that you don’t need to be a food blogger

1. An internet connection.

Or at least, you don’t need an internet connection of your own. My first blog, Phnomenon, was almost entirely written without the internet at home. My workflow was to obsessively write and draft at home and when whatever I’d strung together approached a basic coherence, I’d walk to a local internet cafe with my USB drive to add the results. It didn’t seem that strange at the time because every blogger in the whole country did the exact same thing. People probably thought that I was strange because I walked rather than rode my motorbike there.

It probably gave the blog a pile of the quirks that are in it. With no easy access to a decent online dictionary or thesaurus, I’d just use whatever word I’d first think of.  I’d transcribe Khmer however I heard it, rather than refer to a reference.  I probably linked out to other people less than I do now. I’d only read about five other people’s blogs on any given day, because when you’re paying by the hour and earning a wage just shy of a pittance, every hour spent online counts.

I still tend to turn off my connection when I’ve got serious work to get done. It preserves a fundamental weirdness.

2. A camera.

It is very easy to obsess over gear. I certainly do. I love it.

As much as I hate saying it, a better camera isn’t going to make you a better photographer or food blogger; it just gives you additional layer of machinery to obsess about. The DSLR isn’t an entry requirement to this sport – having a DSLR just means that I take boring and characterless shots through a different lens. A different lens that I love like my own child. I’d recommend that you squeeze the most that you possibly can out of the camera that you already have, even if it’s the one inside your phone.

The Old Foodie does very nicely without one. Johanna Kindvall’s Kokblog, Pierre Lamielle’s Kitchen Scraps, Recipe Look, Lobster Squad, and They Draw and Cook are (mostly) illustrated rather than photographed – but they’re all real exceptions

It’s strange that food writing on the internet attracts such a narrow range of forms of illustration when compared to recipe books, probably because most food bloggers work alone.

3. Your name on the guest list

Writing about media events makes you mostly irrelevant in the long term. Around 60% of restaurants will close in the first three years, rendering 60% of the writing about restaurant openings pointless within the same period. There are endless uncovered stories about food, gaps in knowledge and narratives that are your own in their entirety that could serve as meatier content.

They shouldn’t need to be force-fed to you.

All aboard the gravy train

There is enough beef waste in the US to fuel trains. Via The Guardian:

US rail operator Amtrak may have given the term “cattle car” a whole new meaning with the first test of a biodiesel train that runs on beef byproducts.

Operating on a $274,000 (£178,000) grant from the Federal Railroad Administration, the state-owned rail company has begun operating its daily Heartland Flyer train, travelling between Oklahoma City and Forth Worth, using B20 biodiesel fuel.

The fuel, which mixes 80 per cent diesel with 20 per cent biofuel, cuts both hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions by 10 per cent, according to the company, which said that the fuel also reduces particulates by 15 per cent and sulphates by 20 per cent compared to standard diesel fuels.

According to DirectFuels, makers of meat biodiesel, they’re “using blends of animal fats, but will be able to handle a range of feedstocks”.