It’s been five years since I hit “Publish” on my first post on Cookin’ Canuck, and what a ride it’s been since then! Never in a million years could I have imagined that this blog would turn into a passion, a career…something I could truly call my own. Through blogging, I’ve met amazing people, traveled to various locations, met the farmers who grow our food, learned to use my camera and connected with you, my readers. I thank each and every one of you for sticking with me, for making my recipes and leaving wonderful comments for me.
I came into this knowing…well, nothing. All of a sudden, I was learning a foreign language. SEO, widgets, plug-ins…what are these strange things you speak of?
Thanks to generous fellow bloggers and many hours reading “how to” posts just like this one, I pieced it all together, learning a little more every day.
In this post, it’s tempting to cover it all…yes, there is a lot to talk. But I’m going to narrow it down to ten things. The top ten things that I hope will help you in your blogging journey.
While this list is geared mostly for beginning bloggers, I hope there will be some helpful reminders on here for some of you who have been blogging for several years.
#1 Love it…and focus
This may seem obvious, but bloggers tend to fall into the trap of, “What’s going to bring me the most traffic?” To paraphrase A Field of Dreams, “Write it well and they will come.” If you are half-heartedly writing content that you think will be popular, but aren’t really excited about it, your readers will see through it. They can only take so many “Ten Best ____” lists (ahem).
Treat your readers like the intelligent people they are.
Readers are going to come back to your blog because your recipes have become family favorites…or they are mesmerized by your gorgeous photos…or you provide them with a much-needed laugh.
When you first start blogging, the “focus” aspect might seem a little vague. When I first started out, my intention was merely to share my recipes and to be able to tell family and friends, “It’s on the blog” when they asked me to send them a recipe.
Things shifted over time, particularly when I went through my 30-pound weight loss journey. At that point, I started to blog with the intent of showing my readers that healthy recipes could be full of flavor, and I began to include the nutritional information and Weight Watchers points with each recipe.
So, what’s your thing? Gluten-free? Decadent desserts? Slow cooker favorites? It’s okay if you don’t know yet. And maybe you don’t want to have a certain focus. That’s okay, too. But I do urge you to find a way to make your blog stand out from the many others on the web.
#2 Blogging karma
When I first started blogging, I was lucky to have Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen sit down and share some great Blogging 101 information with me. One concept that she introduced me to has stuck in my mind every single day…blogging karma.
What does this mean?
It means to give back to the “blogging universe” in an authentic way. Comment on other blogs, share their content on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram…) and link to others in your blog posts.
Be generous with sharing others’ content and it will all come back to you in the end.
#3 Make sharing easy
If you are interested in increasing your traffic and getting your content “out there”, make it easy for your readers to share it. Put social media sharing buttons at the top or bottom (or both) of your post and consider using a recipe template plugin, such as ZipList that allows your readers to save your recipes to their personal virtual recipe boxes.
If readers see things they like, they’ll want to find an easy way to get news from your blog. Make it easy for them to find your social media accounts. For example, at the top of each page in the smile box (by the photo of me grinning at you), you can find my Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and StumbleUpon links.
If you’re looking for advice on sharing plugins to use on your blog, Elegant Themes wrote a post on The Best Social Media Sharing Plugins for WordPress.
#4 Get on Pinterest!
When I first started blogging, the world had not yet been introduced to the brilliance that is Pinterest. But once Pinterest came on the scene, it took very little time for bloggers to see the benefits. Readers started following their favorite bloggers on Pinterest, pinning and re-pinning their content to their personal boards.
And blog traffic started to go up and up, with many people citing Pinterest as one of their top five traffic referrals (this information, along with all other interesting tidbits, can be found if you install Google Analytics on your site).
After a lot of trial and error, most people discovered that portrait-style (i.e., vertical) photos are re-pinned most frequently on Pinterest, probably because they take up more “real estate” on the page, so catch your eye more easily. Consider this when taking the photos for your blog posts.
And pretty is good…nice styling, good lighting and sharp images are more likely to be re-pinned. You don’t have to be a pro photographer, but figuring out the basics really can help.
Jeni of The Blog Maven wrote a very helpful post on Creating Content Pinterest User will LOVE.
And back to the karma concept, pin and re-pin others’ photos. The general rule of thumb is to pin 10 posts from other bloggers for every 1 pin from your own blog. And please…PLEASE…make sure that you pin from the original source. For example, if you see a good-looking recipe on Foodgawker, click through to the blogger’s site and pin from there, rather than pinning from Foodgawker. It’s only fair to the blogger…their content, their blog traffic.
#5 Organize your time
Have you ever looked at the clock and realize that you just spent an hour flipping back and forth between Pinterest and Google Analytics? Not that I speak from personal experience or anything (ahem). It’s easy to get caught up reading other blogs, scrolling through Facebook, chatting on Twitter and re-pinning to your heart’s content. Before you know it, it’s 6pm and you still haven’t put the finishing touches on your next post.
I finally had to start using a timer. “Okay, I’m going to allow myself 15 minutes on Pinterest. GO!”
There’s nothing more satisfying than checking off your to-do list as you move through the day. If you have extra time left over, pop over to those other sites.
#6 Quality content
At the end of the day, most of us want to create content that is useful and/or inspiring for our readers. It’s such a fantastic feeling to receive an email or comment from a reader, telling me how much their family loved one of my recipes, and that it will become a regular in their menu rotation.
What do you want to give you to your readers? Maybe it’s recipes for a vegan diet, perhaps it’s tips on styling photos or it could be inspiration from something that you overcame in your life.
Don’t just post for the sake of posting. Create content that has some sort of take-away value for your readers.
#7 Open up a little
I am not one to air my dirty laundry on my blog, though some people are comfortable with getting into the nitty-gritty of their lives. How much you share is completely up to you.
However, do keep in mind that your readers probably want to get to know you beyond the face they see in your smilebox. Sharing funny anecdotes or thoughts on daily challenges, or sharing a journey that you traveled can be both entertaining and inspiring.
Let people relate to you. Let them see that your life is not always picture perfect.
#8 Build relationships
Never in a million years did I expect to meet so many wonderful people through blogging. As is the nature of “the biz”, I met most of the people online, reading their blogs and connecting through social media. And then I got lucky and starting meeting some of these people at conferences and on blogging trips. They are now friends…friends who understand the ins and outs of blogging and the challenges of working for yourself.
Photo credit: Kevin & Amanda
At the end of the day, it is these relationships that mean the most. Far more than blog traffic, far more than gigs with sponsors and far more than the blogs themselves.
#9 Work on photography
Photography is a process and it’s going to take time. Go easy on yourself. I started with a point-and-shoot camera and gradually made my way to a DSLR camera. But I learned over time that it’s not about the gear you have. It’s about understanding light and figuring out how to use your camera…at least to start.
I’m not a pro by a long-shot, but what I can tell you is this:
Practice, practice and then practice some more.
In my opinion, putting some time into working on your photography is well worth the effort. As I mentioned above, Pinterest loves pretty photos. People eat with their eyes, and they will come back for more and will be inspired to try your recipes if the photos show something that looks appetizing, or even beautiful..
There are so many fantastic blog posts and books out there that can help you learn what you need to know to improve your photography. Here’s a list of my favorite food photography books and helpful posts from successful food bloggers.
If you are interested in what cameras and lenses I have used along the way, the answer is in my Frequently Asked Questions.
#10 Don’t play the comparison game
This is easier said than done. It’s tempting to compare yourself to other bloggers. Is their photography better? Do they get more traffic than me? How many Twitter followers do they have?
You can drive yourself crazy.
Embrace what you have and what you have accomplished with your blog. It’s your space and no one else’s. Set goals for yourself…weekly, monthly, annually…and rejoice as you meet each one along the way.
There’s always going to be someone who has a “bigger and better” blog. But it’s not your blog, is it? Love what you have created and be proud of it.
I hope these tips are helpful for many of you. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments below.