The best time to start blogging is now.

The Flickr Curve.

Something I discovered pretty early on in managing social media is that the lifecycle of most social media channels follow the Flickr curve. There is the same shape to search volume on Google over time: 3 years of growth followed by slow decline.

Even successful ones, like Facebook

They do so for different reasons. Flickr boomed and died, Facebook boomed and then moved into an app. Nobody is googling for the Facebook login page any more because they’re always already logged in on their phone (and every other device). With the benefit of hindsight, search behaviour for any social network looks cyclical. At the time, you have no idea where on the curve any social network is.

There’s weirdo outliers like tumblr. You should buy tumblr and work out why.

Blogging has followed a similar trend with an imaginary golden age from 2004 to 2007 followed by a slow decline.

Visits from Google once mattered for blogs and now it’s much harder to reach those people who no longer search for blogging as a genre. The search engine has recently announced that it prefers to show restaurant reviews from “reputable publishers” rather than from smaller fry which is as good as a death knell for small review blogs.

Blogging (and especially food and travel blogging) has returned to the state where it is as unpopular as it once was when I started a decade ago for three reasons and it’s both amazing and kind of shit.


As the mainstream food and travel media has collapsed in on itself, the mainstream blogging that has replaced it is as tone-deaf as before. Half the fun of my early days of blogging in Cambodia was taking the piss out of travel journalists parachuting in for the weekend, who filed the same food story about spiders and then retreated to cooler climes. Now journalists can no longer afford a parachute and land on the ground in a fine pink mist, the food and travel bloggers that have filled the airspace are more amoral than simply misunderstanding the cultures they cover.

Whether it’s video-blogging on behalf of the North Korean government or the Thai military junta, we’re left with as Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson puts it

…content creators so determined to deliver an upbeat, brand-friendly message that the uncomfortable truths of the world—personal and political—go mind-bogglingly, witlessly ignored.

This is where we were a decade ago.

Nobody is going to make any money

In the medium- to long term, there’s only three ways to make decent money out of writing your own blog posts without using it to bring in links to some other business.

These are:

  1. Gather a team with an obsessive focus on a single vertical (e.g. Skift, Digiday, Food52, Lucky Peach) and build something that looks literally nothing like personal blogging.
  2. Con other bloggers to work for you for free (e.g. Huffington Post, Medium, tumblr).
  3. Con other bloggers into believing that they too can make money with their blogs and then sell them ebooks/courses/nomadic lifestyle.

If you get in now and aren’t prepared to do any of those things, it’s for the love of the game and not to make any form of remuneration. Around ten years ago there was no real expectation that any money could be made from it until people started posting $100,000 cheques from Google, and then expectations began to change. There’s a chance that blogging will never again be profitable which leaves the field open to the committed amateur.

The end of the blog influencer market

Even though I’m a firm believer that influencer marketing does next to nothing for most food and travel businesses, the last five years has seen a change in the way that businesses measure the initial value of influencers. Now, businesses look at their social media following first and not their written work on their own sites which ends the market for blog influence.

If you’re the sort of person who wants to be Instagram-famous and wallow in the spoils that come with that fame then you’re no longer likely to be evaluated by your blog, because you don’t have one. This has the positive effect on blogging in that it keeps image-obsessed wankers away from writing more witless listicles and instead focussed on which VSCO filter to use. It’s like watching the shallow end of the pool recede in favour of the depths.

Early on, bloggers never expected to be influential because there was a fair expectation that nobody would read your blog. Most of the time, nobody did. Now they’re no longer seen as influential because businesses have picked a different arbitrary and pointless metric to value online work.

The conditions of the early-2000s are back. Nobody looks for blogs actively. There’s a mounting ressentiment with the state of food and travel media. There is zero chance that bloggers will earn any money or wield any degree of influence.

I used to tell people that the best time to start a blog was ten years ago when the conditions were identical. I’m beginning to think the best time to start is now.

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?

The end of food reviewing

I’ve just read all 94 reviews of Melbourne restaurant Chin Chin on Urbanspoon. Few are longer than a hundred words and a handful of photos, so you don’t come away feeling any great sense of achievement. If I was to then describe Australian restaurant review bloggers in a single word, it would be “compliant”. In general, restaurateurs have nothing to fear from Australian food bloggers apart from the risk of a damp backside from the prodigious arse licking.

There aren’t many barbed tongues.

When I started blogging, it was very much about having and fostering an alternative voice. For me, an alternative to the lazy, parachute travel journalism deployed in Cambodia and the sincere but ill-informed backpacker blogs that hopped from the Killing Fields to orphanage visit to “happy” pizza. The difference between the blogs that I liked and the ones that I avoided (or mocked) marked the difference between food criticism and food reviewing. Food criticism links what happens on the plate to the rest of the world, or at least, to the rest of the writer’s world. Food reviews just look at the plate in front of them and then move onto the next one; an endless stream of disconnected meals to be consumed in any order.

In the age of ubiquitous social networks and historically high patronage of restaurants, one of your friends has already been to somewhere that you want to go and has probably pressed their Like button. Facebook and Twitter provide a vast architecture of personal recommendations that sate any possible peccadillo.

The presses can’t keep up with the constant online feed. By the time a food review hits the newspapers, I’ve seen it on Twitter, discussed it at work and generally had somebody that I know visit the restaurant in person. There is no longer a need for printed food reviews when the ambient noise about them is faster, more trustworthy and tailored to my tastes.

I imagine with the collapse of metropolitan dailies in Australia, we’re going to lose most, if not all food critics. I don’t imagine that any of the food liftouts from Australia’s newspapers are financially viable and who knows if Gina Rinehart likes her food? If you’d like a summary of how this has happened elsewhere, Eater picks over the bones of newsprint food criticism in the US. Newspapers are not the lone bastion of food criticism in Australia but they are more likely than elsewhere to provide it and pay for it. Criticism is more important than ever because there is so little of it.

It seems to suggest that the era of earning a living wage through either food criticism or reviewing is well and truly over and the only financially viable platform is blogging. At least, financially viable for those rare few that can wrangle community management, SEO and sales whilst finding time to eat and write.

Talk amongst yourselves

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.

Food Blog Name Generator

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:

Bacon Ginger

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.

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.

Moving your food blog from Blogspot to WordPress

At the Australian Food Blogger Conference yesterday, Michael from My Aching Head mentioned the process of moving a blog from Blogspot/Blogger to WordPress. I’ve had to do this three times over the past few years for friends.

Here is the step by step process for moving a blog from Blogspot to WordPress. It does require some very basic editing of your blog template and a file in WordPress, but the gigantic bonus is that you get to maintain all of the incoming links to every page from your old blog.

Here is an example of it in action:

  1. Go to
  2. It will redirect to (check the URL bar in your web browser.)

Measuring web statistics for your food blog

Unless you’re going to act upon it, measuring anything is nothing more than statistical masturbation, whether it be on the web or anywhere else. There is the warm afterglow that you get from the first time that you hit a hundred; a thousand or a hundred thousand visitors to your blog a day, but once you know that people are reading your blog: then what?

Web traffic alone is meaningless without a goal attached to it. And this leads me back to the first post in this series where I asked you what is motivating you to get into the business and art of food blogging. If you don’t have a goal, there is no need to measure anything at all on your blog.

How should I measure:

Get Google Analytics for whatever blogging platform you use. It is both a blessing (it’s free! at least if you don’t count Google harvesting your rich and creamy data as a cost) and a curse (it’s so powerful that you can spend more time analysing statistics and staring like a rabbit in the headlights into an oncoming graph than you can writing about food). It’s also inaccurate; but still accurate enough for the common food blogger who doesn’t need to worry about a 25% margin for error or so.

What should I measure:


Always measure trends

Daily bumps and spikes in web traffic are meaningless if they cannot be repeated at will or sustained. What all bloggers should aim at is growth in audience (unique visitors), average page views, time spent on site, and readers of your RSS feed over time. It will take a few months after the launch of your blog for any of these things to become apparent. In the early days you (probably) won’t have enough content or readers to make a real assessment of where your food blog is headed.

Always measure your goals

Amongst people like me who measure web traffic for a living, there is much talk about how to judge the meaningfulness of web traffic beyond just visits to your website or even “conversions” (the people who buy your product and the path by which they arrive there). If you’re not selling a product and your goals are as ephemeral as the vagaries of food blogging then what is worth measuring?

Unless you’ve read the how to start a food blog, design, and making money posts, the following goals will sound a little vague.

Specifically for food bloggers:

Goal: 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

Most important metric:
Incoming links from blogs that you respect; conversations started. And who you’ve met.

Incoming links is by far the easiest of these to quantify. Google Analytics does it under Traffic Sources > Referring Links. You can also chase up the links that have never been clicked to your site by typing into Google’s maw. This will output a raw number of incoming links and it’s easy enough to scan through the list to see if any blog that personally matters to you

Conversations started can encompass much more than just the number of comments on your site. The trend for blogging is that an increasing amount of the talk generated about what you write about will happen on sites other than your own: on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, StumbleUpon, on other people’s blogs and in the mainstream media. There isn’t a convenient tool yet to roll all the conversations together and come out the other side with a useful metric. When someone comes up with a widely agreed upon “conversation quotient“, I’ll be a happy web marketer. Nielsen BlogPulse is the beginning of these tools, along with Tweetscan or Summize for Twitter.

Check your address book to see who you’ve met. Poke your Facebook friends or something.

Goal:I want to make money

Most important metric: How much money you’re making.

Yes, it is that obvious.

While masses of visitors to your site will often be a proxy to how much money you’ll make (and is a direct correlation if you’re lucky enough to be paid per visit rather than per click), if you want to make money, measure what works. If you’re using Google Adsense, they include handy information on the click-through rate for each ad that you place on your site. Use this information to tweak ad placement.

Goal: I have a food business/restaurant/am a food professional and need somewhere to honestly link up with the punters/debate my awesomeness

Most important metric: Local traffic and conversions. Unless you’re running a destination restaurant that punters will fly in from all over the world to visit, the most important thing for a restaurant/locally-focussed food business is the traffic from your immediate region and how many of those people eat your food or buy your product. To measure this traffic on Google Analytics, go to Visitors > Map Overlay, click your country then use the Segment selector to segment up your national or regional audience however you choose.

Secondly, if you’re selling something, you can set up goals to measure whatever action/conversion is desired. Google can tell you more about setting goals in Analytics. Offline, you need to harvest this data wherever you can. Can you ask those who book or buy where they found out about you?

How should I act upon it:

Repeat the things that are successful. Stop doing the things that aren’t successful. If you’re tracking a goal, defining what counts as success is straightforward. Do you write posts that start more conversations than others? Could you spin them out into a monthly series? While you were building an audience did something spur a huge number of people to subscribe to your RSS feed? Could you, in good conscience, repeat it?

If you were obsessed with statistics, you could test every change to your website using multivariate analysis before you commit to any change, but for the average food blogger, it is not worth it.