Honestly ask yourself “Why am I doing this?”
I want to share recipes/restaurant recommendations/my boundless food wisdom with friends – If you want nothing more than to share your thoughts about food with people whom you already know (and you are being honest), your best bet is to get over to Blogger.com and start writing as soon as you finish reading this sentence. Reading their help section is all you’ll need.
You are wasting valuable time reading anything past this point.
I want to meet people who write on the web that aren’t freaks and be a part of a community of like-minded, passionate food junkies – I haven’t physically met any food bloggers whom I don’t like, but then again, I was living in a country where I was the only food blogger. My neighbours in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, China and Laos were all fantastic as were the few that dropped by Cambodia.
I want to make money – If you’re in Australia, writing about Australian food, this is not going to happen in at least the next five years. The online advertising market in Australia is growing but is too small at the moment. If you’re going to rely on Google Ads, Yahoo or other big ad networks, you need either a huge number of visitors to your site or to attract a very valuable niche who will be convinced to buy whatever products you pimp from Amazon or Chitika.
The alternate route is to sell ads directly to businesses – which is not impossible – it’s just that you’ll probably end up spending more time pitching to businesses than you will writing about food. I briefly made a living from my blogs alone but this was because I was living in one of the world’s poorest nations and I sold ads directly to an ad agency who thankfully hadn’t noticed that I had called the product that they were advertising “insipid”. In the First World, I’d have starved.
I want to be a famous food writer/photographer – Name five famous food writers that began as bloggers. If you said Clotilde or Julie five times, it does not count. I’d doubt that you’d know who they are unless you have already started foodblogging, in which case, this guide is not for you.
Sure, blogging has only been around for a few years but it doesn’t yet seem like the springboard to you being the next Steingarten. If you want to be a food writer in the offline press, your time is better spent hassling editors and pitching stories to the offline press than it is blogging. A great place to start this is Mediabistro or with your local media. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do both but every minute that you spend on your website is time that could be used to develop your offline work. As I mentioned earlier, every major food media outlet will have a food blog within the next few years and it requires a skill set different from your average journalist – starting blogging now will put you a long way ahead.
If you want to publish a recipe book, why would you give away all of your valuable content for free on the web? Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are clavicle-deep in experimenting in this model, as is science fiction writer Cory Doctorow. More relevant to food writing, Chefs Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot from Ideas in Food have self-published a photobook of their molecular madness but still haven’t landed that publishing deal that they richly deserve.
Any writing is good practice and doing it in public gives you the chance for people to write back to you, telling you that you’re crap (or otherwise). If you want to be well-known amongst a small cadre of other food bloggers, food blogging is the best avenue for this. I imagine that it’s kind of like being world famous in New Zealand. Domo Arigato, Dr. Ropata.
I have a food business/restaurant/am a food professional and need somewhere to honestly link up with the punters/debate my awesomeness – There is nothing better than blogging to keep you connected and no easier way for people to meditate on how terrible your business is, to your face. You need a thick skin and to be responsive to criticism.
I love writing about food and photographing it and don’t honestly know why I want to start blogging – my guess is that 90% of food bloggers have this as their sole reason to start writing about food on the web. It is not a bad reason. At least you’re being honest.
If you answered honestly, this will divide you into two categories:
I don’t care how many people read my blog, apart from my friends – You said that you just wanted to share things with friends. I told you to stop reading earlier, and go over to Blogger, which I guess means…
I care (or at some time in the future, I might care) – from here on in, I talk about the nuts and bolts of building your blog; then attracting, maintaining and measuring an audience.
What to write about
I’m going to write about X – You have an unwavering passion for or business interests in X. You might be addicted to eggs, bacon, chips and beans; eating what you shoot; or Cambodian food. In the biz, this is called your niche and if you’re doing this for any sort of professional/money-making reasons then it is easier to build an audience if you start like this. People who have a vague interest in X will gravitate towards you and over time, you’ll become the world’s leading proponent of X. It’s also a great way to link up with others who have an unhinged obsession with X.
Every single post that you write on the web should somehow add value to X. Linking to someone else’s news article about X doesn’t add any value to your blog unless you have something insightful to say about it.
Traditionally, this is what most web marketers will recommend that you do when starting your blog but ultimately, most food bloggers don’t stay on mission. Once you’ve built an audience of readers, they’ll either forgive you (or love it) when you stray off topic. Here is RealThai eating real Swedish, Ed Charles talking about his dog, me talking about obscure Cambodian/Vietnamese geopolitics.
I’m going to write about whatever the hell I feel like. Not even food sometimes. You can’t stop me. – This is a harder path because the appeal of your site isn’t going to be the subject matter; it’s going to be you. If you’ve got self confidence and know that your voice alone is going to attract readers, then go for it. I’ve begun thinking that one of the reasons that many food bloggers burn out within a year is that they run out of subject matter (X) and don’t know what to do next.
Michael Ruhlman, David Leibovitz and Aun from Chubby Hubby all tend to write about whatever they choose but the focus stays on food. They all also have offline food industry experience (or readers of their books) to back them up.
Technical issues – the nuts and bolts
Which blogging platform?
I’m not going to do an in-depth review of the best blogging sites and software out there. Others have already done this in an approachable manner – see the links below.
As for my recommendation for food blogging, I choose WordPress – It’s flexible, relatively easy to extend and most foodbloggers who start with another platform and don’t quit within the first year of blogging end up moving to WordPress. The downside is that you’ve got to pay for hosting (between US$6 and US$12 a month) and have some confidence with technology. I recommend Bluehost for hosting – they have an auto-install function for WordPress and they’re currently less than $7 a month.
If (after looking at WordPress) you’re not feeling confident with the technology (or simply, just don’t want to pay), sign up at TypePad, Blogger or LiveJournal. It’s as easy to start blogging there as signing up for email. If you don’t mind paying just a little, I’m impressed by newcomers Squarespace – their stock blogs are world’s apart of getting something off the rack at a free blog site.
Regardless of which platform you choose, I strongly recommend buying your own domain name (e.g. www.yourfoodblog.com) before starting for a few reasons:
- It is painful if you move platforms and lose the incoming links that you’ve built over time
- If you’re good at blogging, someone else will buy it before you. This happened to Pim of Chez Pim, who only recently moved from Typepad to chezpim.com
For more information on choosing a blog platform
- Problogger weighs up the pros and cons of the different blogging platforms
- USC Annenberg’s Online Journalism Review reviews the various tools
- Sitepoint reviews Moveable Type, Textpattern and WordPress
For more “getting started in food blogging” articles
In my next instalment (next Thursday), I fill in how to design your blog, attract the audience that you want to attract and make (a little) money. Continued at “How to start a food blog, part 2“.
Originally, this post was written as a response to a session at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival on “Web 2.0: how to blog/how not to blog”. I didn’t attend the session, but judging by the ensuing debate generated there seems to be firstly something controversial about saying that there are many bad food blogs out there and secondly, a lot of Australian bloggers are full of vim.
There are food blogs written by machines that steal content from other food blogs. It’s called scraping. These are bad and my guess is that by quantity, they make up the bulk of the world’s food blogs. How you define quality for the rest of world’s food media (including blogs) is subjective; and it is beginning to look a bit silly setting up a binary opposition between mainstream food media and blogging when both Condé Nast and The Guardian run food blogs populated by both bloggers and journalists. Within the next few years every major food media outlet will have one as more of the news business moves online. Australia is just running behind the rest of the Western world when it comes to web marketing in almost every sector.
Thirdly (and what interests me most) is that nobody is talking about subject of “how to blog/how not blog”. If I went along to the session to learn this, I get the feeling that I would have walked out half way through feeling deeply ripped off but possibly still enamored by the presenters and Helen Razer.