Registrations have just opened for the Australian Food and Drink Bloggers Conference for 2011. Get your applications in early.
Just for interest’s sake, I extracted the comments table from my blog to see if I could come to any conclusions about the nature of blog commenting. My theory is that comments from non-bloggers have moved elsewhere: to Facebook and Twitter; to the recesses of the web that are difficult to plumb with any accuracy.
Of the past 1220 comments on this blog:
- 71% of the comments came from other bloggers, excluding myself.
- There’s been comments from 670 different people
- I’ve met every single one of the top twenty commenters in person, who account for about a quarter of all the comments.
So these days, while the readership is more diverse than ever, a large proportion of the conversation on this blog is taking place amongst a small group of people who know each other, which reaffirms the old adage about blogs being about community.
My theory about Facebook doesn’t however seem to come to much. Facebook lets you track the number of conversations on your shared items through Facebook Insights. While a huge number of people share or like my words on Facebook, there isn’t any notable conversation about them there, just a steady stream of more likes.
Long tail! Half of the commenters leave but a single comment.
Comments are in decline! Although this doesn’t take into account the frequency with which I post updates to the blog, so is meaningless.
Word cloud of every word in the comments. You people say “just like” quite often. Interpret as you will.
So you’ve decided to start a food blog and broadcast your eating life to the world, but you can’t find the perfect moniker under which to write. So here’s a food blog name generator to fill in your blank.
You should name that blog:
Apologies if it comes up with the name of a real food blog, sexual innuendo or Michael Pollan book. That only happens if you wish hard enough. Press reload for more deliciously random food blog names.
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.
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.
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 wordpress, 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.
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.
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.