How to make money with your food blog in 2013

Selling eggs near Psar Toul Tom Poung, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Selling eggs near Russian Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I’ve been trying to update this post for about a year. My first attempt ended in me saying that you shouldn’t bother trying to make money from your food blog, or at least, you should not feel entitled to recompense for your creative endeavours.

It’s pretty hard to find a food blogger who makes a living from it who started food blogging after 2007. Google tends to favour those with a deep history. It’s also hard to find one who’s not in a partnership with somebody who makes or has made a decent income elsewhere. Any food blogger (or journalist for that matter) can look wealthy with the backing of a generous benefactor or understanding partner.

When I talk about making money, I mean making a living wage, not just a few dollars to pay for your web hosting or the occasional pint of bitter. You could do that by signing up for Google Adsense or Amazon Affiliates.

Most food blogs never plan to make any money, but if your goal is to make money online, the best thing for you to do would be to quit food blogging and start writing about something which is more lucrative and has less competition. When you blog about food for money, you compete with some of the world’s largest and best resourced media organisations for visitors. I’ve worked for a handful of these: a TV station, newspapers, magazines and a state tourism bureau. Most of them know what they’re doing online and while they have no monopoly on audiences for food, they do tend to have the lion’s share.

Bloggers can certainly pick over the carcase of the food media and occasionally hit some rich marrow but it is a very occasional and unpredictable feast.

While not the only source of income, the biggest problem for selling advertising with a blog now is scale. As the web keeps expanding so to does the potential advertising inventory, which makes advertising ever cheaper. From the blogger’s point of view, this means that there is incrementally more work that needs to be done to make the same amount of money over time from advertising. Bigger websites tend to win. They have the sales staff to work directly with media buyers; bigger audiences to segment; deeper inventories.

While in 2007, I might have recommended a handful of different ad networks or affiliate sites for your food blog, online food media has matured. If you want to work alone, it’s almost impossible to compete for a huge audience. At this point, I think that there are only two broad strategies to make a living by writing a food blog. They’re not mutually exclusive.

1. Going alone.

Get a job that you love in a related field.

No writer starts out as just a writer. Everyone has worked in the employ of others, attempting to do the work that enables a writing habit. The difference with blogging is that there is a variety of fields that contribute to being a better blogger. The direct path to this is somewhere in the web industry: writing editorial content for websites, and if you’re lucky enough, one that keeps you in touch with food.

There is no shortage of the types of roles that fit into the broader spectrum of jobs that train you to be a more rounded blogger: community management, analytics, search marketing, the digital side of public relations. There’s plenty which are almost impossible to break into, but where your blog is a calling card: food journalism, photography, styling.

This is how I make most of my living: variously, managing websites, social media, copywriting, SEO, analytics. At least over the last ten years, all of my work has contributed directly to the way that I write and much that I’ve learnt from writing a blog can be fed back into much larger websites. Often my blogs have become testing grounds for ideas that I’ve had for far larger projects. It’s a lot less costly to fail quickly on a blog than it is on a huge corporate budget.

Start a food business, not a blog.

I shouldn’t need to say this but the easiest way to make money is selling something. Blogging doesn’t do that directly but can act as a proof that you can build sorts of communities to whom you can sell. I’m in no position to tell you how to start your own food business and having worked in a few from farm gate to factory floor didn’t convince me that it was an altogether good idea.


There are no shortage of bloggers tracing a path in this direction. Tammi Jonas (and family) started a free range rare breed pig farm, which is a complete extension of the food philosophy that she espouses on her blog. Jackie Middleton from Eating With Jack started EARL Canteen, serving some of the best luxury sandwiches in Melbourne. Aun Koh from Singapore’s Chubby Hubby started his own PR firm with a focus on food and lifestyle.

2. Going together.

You need a lot of people visiting a website that doesn’t sell anything to make an amount that approaches a living wage from affiliate sales and advertising. Not only do you need many people, but increasingly, those people need to be homogenous: same country, same demographic, same purchasing power. To some extent, this dictates the sort of blog that you’ll need to write. One that is mostly inoffensive and advertiser-friendly, low to middle brow, easy on the eye. A blog wherein you will know the exact demographic of the reader just by glancing at the design.

To get to an appropriate size, you need to publish more than your average food blogger. Plan for at least three posts a day, every day, forever. Unless you’re prepared to burn yourself out within a scant few years (or publish vast seas of utter shit), you can’t do this alone.

If you’re looking to make money from it, this starts to look much more like a business than a hobby. You’ll either need to convince other food writers and photographers to ditch what they’re doing and join you in partnership; work out some way of compensating others for their work; or take the Huffington Post model, where authors mostly work for “exposure“.

If you were to head down the path of starting a group blog:

  1. Write some objectives for the blog
    1. Why are you doing this?
  2. Work out how you’re going to compensate people. Or not.
  3. Write some editorial guidelines.
  4. These don’t need to be huge, especially if you’ve already got a good relationship with a small number of other contributors. One of my favourites is this gaming blog’s guide – they’re short and easy to understand. At a minimum, I’d include:

    1. Objectives for individual posts on the blog
      1. What is each post supposed to do? Is it to keep people reading and subscribing, or is it to make people click ads?
    2. Describe your audience: who do you want to read the blog? And are there enough of those people to be valuable to advertisers?
    3. Style guide: Is it a free for all, or are there minimum standards to adhere to? Images? Video?
    4. Write a linking policy: can authors link anywhere? Can they link back to their own writing elsewhere?
    5. Copyright terms: Can writers republish/resell what they’ve written? Who owns the work?
    6. Position on gifts/freebies. Can writers whore for swag?

Getting my focus back.

The Australian food bloggers’ conference (which I’ve also written about over at SBS) seems to have had the effect of lighting a gigantic fire under the collective arses of Australia’s food bloggers. I feel like I’m back on the blogging bandwagon and have a decent reason to post again. The conference gave me real chance to assess why I do this.

My own focus has been away from Last Appetite over the past year, as you’ll probably notice from the volume of posts. This is not a mea culpa. I’m still writing, albeit 600 words a week for SBS. I chalked up my hundredth post for them a few weeks ago, which means that I’ve written the equivalent of a novel on SBS’ dime. Last Appetite fell by the wayside because I put most of my quality work elsewhere. I work hard at it and they pay me.

My focus has also changed over the last two years in Australia. Where in Cambodia, I’d wake up in the morning and point my camera at whatever happened to ride past my house, I’ve stopped doing so in Australia and this is to the detriment of writing blog posts. I’ve started to care more about the quality of my images instead of the value of a story even though I know that the words alone can carry it. This is because of a concern with how many people read my blog posts. Images sell food online and very few people want to read a thousand word post like this one. Those few people however, are the ones that I respect and want as readers; the people who are demanding, critical and taste the rising bile every time that they see a Donna Hay recipe book.

The weirdness of living back in the First World has started to wear off. I still get that strange sensation of disconnection in the supermarket and feel overwhelmed by the pointless choices but it doesn’t happen on every visit. I can even buy milk without reading the label of every variety and make choices using brand alone, like regular people must do. I spend much more of my time tending to my garden and cooking at home than interacting with the outside world. I began to think that my inner suburban pastoral life had no blog value in terms of cash or audience.

When I started blogging, I didn’t care if anyone read my work apart from a small group of people that I know in person. The idea that anything that I wrote had any monetary value was not a consideration that I made. Over the past two years, I got waylaid by making money with my blogs but have since realised that starting blogs or websites with low quality content in high value industries is much more lucrative than good writing about food. The fall of Gourmet magazine is testament to this.

As another example, this site which I own and use to test Google Ads is one page long, has virtually no content, but earns more than my few years of work at Phnomenon. If you click the ads, I’ll get somewhere in the vicinity of one to five dollars a click. Yes, it’s a travesty but a lucrative one. In a few years, I’ll be able to sell it for a few thousand dollars. I would not be able to make the same cold-hearted decision about a food blog that I’ve written because the sites are worth more to me than I could imagine a sane person paying.

For making money, quality content online is of little benefit. It’ll help you get a job providing content for someone else and be respected by your peers but won’t necessarily pull in a valuable enough audience to make advertising a viable option (yet). By viable, I mean making a minimum wage. Currently, the most valuable audiences online are those which are about to make a high value purchase online. This is why newspapers are spiralling the online drain – the valuable crowd is somewhere else.

So I’m going to stop giving a fuck about making money or building a larger audience on Last Appetite and get my focus back to where it once was: covering food stories in a way that nobody else writes about for the small group of people that I care about. I’m making good money elsewhere, online and in my day job, and my friends don’t want to see ads and don’t click them in any event.

Also, related to the conference, I’ve decided to go postal on any food bloggers accepting free shit from public relations folk.

I don’t mind if you attend press events or restaurant launches – the line between journalist and blogger has ceased to be meaningful and attending such events comes with the territory. But you don’t need to write about it. The bloggers whom I value most are the ones that set their own agenda.

As soon as you start talking about the awesomeness of the goodie bag or whore out your blog for a meal or an overpriced bottle of pomegranate extract, then when I link to you, you get a nofollow tag, forever. If you’re on my list of Australian food blogs, I’ll also mark that you have accepted cash or other incentives in exchange for comment in the past. If I wanted to read someone’s reworking of a press release, I’d buy a newspaper because at least that keeps a young journalist employed.

Making money with your food blog

Selling eggs near Psar Toul Tom Poung, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Selling eggs near Russian Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

As I mentioned in “How to start a food blog“, food blogging is a terrible way to make money if you enjoy living in the First World. This year, food blogging will pay my rent but not much else. Here is how to do at least that, without devoting your entire life to blogging:

Advertising for your food blog

Which ad network? Or which combination of ad networks?

There is no single ad network that is right for everybody. The most profitable blogs tend to use a mix of networks and play to each of the networks strengths. This list of networks is by no means exhaustive: there are hundreds of ad networks out there.

Google Adsense – Everyone has Google Ads; the number of people getting rich from them apart from Google shareholders is miniscule. Google’s biggest coup is that it has realised that most bloggers are happy to get paid nothing as long as a few dollars trickle through. The advantage of Google is ease of use: they’re dead simple to add to your site, customise in a bare bones fashion and earn a few cents a click. You can use them on every blog network. They’re the ultimate in low maintenance. The disadvantages are the low pay and the complete lack of control over which ads turn up on your site. Because the ads are geographically targeted, the ads that you see won’t be the ones that anyone else sees. This is fine if you don’t care.

Yahoo! – Just like Google but second best!

Text Link Ads – if you want to people to find your website by searching on Google, this network is dead in the water. Google penalises your “page rank” if you use it, but I use it over at Phnomenon because in most of the categories that I write in, I have no competition on the web. It pays very well, doesn’t rely on clicks (so you make money whether people click your ads or not), and if you place them judiciously, people won’t even notice that they’re being advertised at.

A similar network has beaten Google for now. They’re still in the early stages of development (as the spelling mistakes on their beta site attests) but worth watching.

Blog Ads – the specialist ad network for bloggers. They’re a handy way to make money when you have low traffic because they pay regardless. The downside of this network is that if you do receive big, unpredictable spikes in the number of people visiting your site, you won’t be getting an equally large spike in earnings. They’re invite-only which is a strategy that I still don’t understand.

Selling other people’s products

When people read your favorite cake recipe, it is unlikely that they’ll click on the ingredients to buy them online. When people read a digital camera review, the opposite is true. Selling other people’s products and making a commission is a popular way to make money for most bloggers but it is difficult for food bloggers to do well because of the nature of the subject. Most of society does not buy the bulk of their food online. The easiest way to sell products is via Amazon affiliates program or the lesser known Chitika (Probloggers swear by it, because unlike Amazon, it relies less on you making sales and more on click-throughs)

If you want to spend your time writing reviews of products then this is a possible way to make money and there are still a few niches where food bloggers could be making huge amounts of cash: major appliances and kitchenware. Most of the top food bloggers already use Amazon to link to cookbooks but most of the time it is just a half-hearted link rather than a ringing endorsement.

Selling your own ads

Selling your own ads is by far the most profitable way to make money for your blog because it is one of the few avenues by which you’ll firstly be in direct contact with the advertisers’ money and secondly, will be able to charge what your blog is worth. The only downside is that you have to do the selling. As much as I love marketing, marketing is not sales. The low effort way to sell your own ads is to put a banner where your ad would be and link to your rates page. How much should you charge? Here’s blog network Gawker Media’s rates for their network of professionally produced and edited blogs. That will at least give you a point for comparison.

Unconventional means


A few food blogs sell their own merchandise: Chubby Hubby was selling notecards for a time; Ideas in Food sell their photo book; I’m considering turning Phnomenon into a book. If you can find a niche this may be worthwhile.

Make money from every link

I was going to call this bit “monetize your food blog”, but I get a sharp stabbing sensation in the part of my brain that stores verbed nouns every time I write “monetize”. Whenever you can throw in a product link, make sure that you make money from it. For most bloggers, this means the occasional link to an Amazon product, but you’ll notice that practically every link on this page has my referrer code on it. If you sign up for anything then I make money from you! It doesn’t affect your income but I benefit.

Get hired by someone else as a food blogger

This isn’t as hard as you think it might be. B5 Media are always on the lookout for good bloggers. Problogger keeps a handy jobs board: at last check there were two paid food blogger positions. The biggest advantage of making money from your food blog in this way is that (generally) you need not worry about the technical side of the blog or selling ads as the blog network/business will do the design and marketing. The down side is that the pay is terrible and you have no control over design and marketing.

Sell your posts and photos

If you think that your posts and photos are magazine quality, try selling them to magazines. For me, selling a single article to an American newspaper earns just a little less than the income from my two sites for a month. Get over to mediabistro and to your local press to get started. Scoopt started a business selling blog posts to mainstream magazines as ScooptWords (e.g. these food bloggers in Olive Magazine) but have since seemed to have discontinued the blog side of their business to concentrate on cellphone snaps of celebrities.

As for photos, the online stock photo business is well on its way to destroying a valuable income earner for the bad professional photographers who take the photo of the guy climbing the mountain with a briefcase. Good pro photographers will always have a business. To sell your food photos online, see the links below.

Sell out entirely

Get paid to write reviews of other websites at somewhere like ReviewMe. If I no longer valued human decency, I’d make $60 every time that somebody wanted me to review whatever shit that they thrust in my direction.

Where should I place ads to make the most money?


blog ad heat map

Google published the above heat map to show which ads are clicked the most with the red areas being the most clicked. They have also produced one targeted at blogs which is a little more rudimentary and when I’ve tested it, doesn’t seem to work well.

Also useful are themes for your site designed with making money in mind. See below for links.

The easiest way to make money from blogging is writing about making money from blogging.

Just because I’m making a Third World income from blogging doesn’t mean that you can’t earn more. Read Shoemoney or Problogger. They’re earning 6 figure amounts but they’re also devoting the entirety of their lives to doing it. Sadly, that is the bare minimum amount of time you’ll need to spend.

Maintaining your audience

How often should I write?

As often as you like.

The standard answer to this is that if you are looking to increase your audience, often is better. If you look at Technorati’s top blogs, most of these sites are updated multiple times a day. You’ll also notice that none of them are food blogs, unless you count which is substantively about cats perverting the English language.

I’d prefer to be reading blogs that update once a month and write 15,000 word articles rather than one that writes two 250 word posts a day. I’m not most people, but nonetheless, I’d encourage you to write for me. What seems to matter as much as frequency is consistency. If you plan to write once a week, stick to your schedule.

I’m burnt out and sick of blogging. What do I do?

Take a break.

What I tend to do is write articles that aren’t time dependent and change their post date to two weeks in advance (you can do this in WordPress). If I have enough content in two weeks time, I push it forward another two weeks. This maintains the appearance that I’m equally motivated all of the time. I’m quite clearly not. The scary thing is that my blog will continue to run for a few months if I’m dead.

People don’t comment. How do you make them?

Ask a question at the end of your post. People are that easy to manipulate…or aren’t they?

Links of note:

Selling your photos online

WordPress themes optimised for making money

Handy “monetizing” links.