Food Blogging

When I fell into blogging a while back, there were about ten people blogging about food. We were a fairly chummy bunch and met up for meals, swapped links, ideas, and technical tips as the medium continued to grow. It was all pretty small-scale until the whole thing blossomed into something that few likely would have predicted.

For years I’ve generally shied away from giving advice or offering opinion. After all, everyone’s blog is different and like lots of other things, it’s impossible to pinpoint what makes a blog click or even how to do it. What suits one person often doesn’t become another and people get into blogging for a myriad of reasons. But at the recent Food Blogger Camp, I compiled some thoughts for my presentation and wanted to share them here. Please note that although I do point out some things that have clicked for me, there’s plenty of terrific blogs out there that do the complete opposite of what I say and/or do, and work very well. There’s not a “right” or “wrong” way to blog and all points are certainly open to interpretation and discussion.

I wasn’t sure of the impact we’d had on the participants who came to the camp, since it was a hectic few days, until a few weeks afterward when I noticed almost all the bloggers who attended started radically changing their blogs; redesigning them, replacing hard-to-read fonts, getting rid of clutter, making them easier to read, and most of all, blogging with a renewed sense of fun and excitement.

The first things to ask yourself are “Why am I blogging?” and “What am I going to blog about?” Most people are blogging for fun rather than for professional reasons, and most just want to share recipes or food-related experiences. A while after I started my blog, I was talking to Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes and said “My blog isn’t a food blog” and she gave me a look of disbelief. But the more I think about it now, the more I realize that my site (or any food blog) isn’t just about food, cooking, and recipes. It’s thoughts and stories that we want to share, some involving food and recipes, but not always. To be a food blog (or writer) doesn’t mean you have to just recount recipes; often it’s the stories associated with cooking, shopping, or feeding others that are richer than lists of ingredients and putting together a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

The main thing you want to do is to find your niche and say something that people will enjoy reading or learning from you. We all have different personalities and highlighting yours in your blog is the most important thing you can do to differentiate yourself from others.

Getting traffic is a big goal for a lot of people, but that’s really not something anyone should focus on, especially when starting out. Instead work on giving people a reason to come back to your site. There’s an old saying that says “If you keep your eyes on the future, you can’t see the present.” If you’re just looking to get a pile of people leaving comments, you may as well just post recipes that include a cup of corn syrup or tell readers that you recommend running a cast iron skillet through the dishwasher. You’re not going to gain a following—or be happy—if it’s drudgery or you’re trying to merely use SEO (search engine optimization) tips to get the attention of Google. Write for readers, not algorithms.

Like professional writers, people write blogs for a variety of reasons. I would venture to say that a majority of writers (professional and non-professional) write because they have something to say. Blogging isn’t a popularity contest and I read a number of small, barely noticed blogs that I find interesting. But like professional cooking, which the media has created a bit of a frenzy by turning it into a series of ‘contests’, what only matters in the end is what’s on the plate. If you do what you love, the readers will (hopefully) come.

I’ve attempted to organize topics into some semblance of order, so please excuse any disparate elements as there’s a few places where ideas overlap. Some things I mention, a few will disagree with. But that’s what makes blogging so interesting, is the variety of styles and presentations. Blogging isn’t always easy, but it’s a lot of fun reading and participating in the discussion, and enjoying the diversity of styles and divergent opinions represented out there.



1. Develop your own style.

If you read blogs, you likely follow favorites that you go back to over and over again. That’s because you like the distinct voice and style of the author. Be yourself, don’t try to copy anyone. It won’t come off as genuine. Hank Shaw said something along the lines of “People should be able to read your writing without your byline (name) and know who wrote it.”

There are a lot of very good food writers, such as Julia Child, who could combine explaining a recipe along with certain turns that make the recipe hers. That was her voice. However blogs are more conversational than books and rules are a little more relaxed, so don’t be afraid to be more personal or do things different. If you stay in your comfort zone you’ll never change or proceed forward. Find a specific angle rather than describing just what’s on the plate. We all know soup is hot, rich, creamy, liquid, delicious, warming, comforting, and good with a dollop of crème fraîche. (And if yours isn’t, you might not want to be sharing it.) Think about what it is about that soup that will make it your story and why you like it so much, rather than the obvious.

For example, if you make squash soup…is it really that interesting that it’s your husband’s favorite soup? What is interesting about your husband? Did he grow up on a squash farm? Did he squash your mother’s favorite doll by accident? And why should readers care about him? Sure you love him. But even if you don’t, there’s likely a deeper story in there. Especially if you don’t. (In which case, you might not want to share that.)

Gertrude Stein told an artist, who later became a very famous impressionist: “Don’t paint what is there, paint what you see.”

So write what you see. I know there are lists of words that you’re not supposed to use when writing about food, so do think about using certain words like “delicious” and “unctuous” too much when writing. (Although some foods really are just delicious and unctuous, and it’s hard to avoid them.) But are there better words you can drum up?

The hardest thing I ever had to write was the headnote for the Vanilla Ice Cream recipe in my ice cream book. I mean, what hasn’t been said already about vanilla ice cream already? And is it really that interesting to write, “This refreshing vanilla ice cream is perfect with apple crisp or chocolate cake.” ZZzzzzzzzz. So it was an exercise in probing the depths of my shallow brain to find something else to say. (No one said writing was easy, folks.) Amber who attended Food Blog Camp, ended up not writing a description of the seminars, or the food (or the margaritas) but the event prompted memories of a best friend, so she ended up penning a heartfelt description of how the event transformed her and her writing.

Writing is as much about editing as it is about merely writing a bunch of stuff down. People like Matt Armendariz (who has a traditional media background, where word count matters) and Heidi Swanson, keep it short, concise, and neat, and don’t beat around the bush. I don’t know how much editing they do, but I’ve spent hours writing whole paragraphs, then re-read them the next day and deleted them. (You might think there’s a lot of endless rambling here on the site, but believe me, you should see what gets tossed into my trash folder before I publish it.)

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” -Elmore Leonard

Because bloggers can write as much as they want, we tend to overdo it. Check your statistics and see how long readers spend on your site, then tailor your posts so they can be read in about that length of time. If you’re not sure, two minutes is a good goal. Editing is probably fifty percent of writing and taking stuff off the page (or computer screen) means readers can focus more on what is on there. You don’t need to dumb anything down, but if you watch or read good comedy, you see the importance of a sharp, succinct punchline and not lot of extraneous matter.

Another thing you want to avoid are too many exclamation marks. F. Scott Fitzgerald said “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.” A good trick is to go through and limit yourself to one per entry. Or none. But there are no absolutes and rules should be taken with a proverbial grain of salt and we all be allowed to laugh at our own jokes once in a while. (I mean, if they’re not funny to us, how can we expect others to find them amusing?) Blogs are more about quick, off the cuff information, so bloggers tend to use more dashes and exclamation marks and parentheses because that’s how one might normally talk in a conversation. I’ve been making a concerted effort to use less in forums like Twitter because I’m not sure everything in my life is really all that funny. Well, at least to others. But I find some of the stuff that happens to me hilarious. (If I didn’t, I would have daily meltdowns.)

As Mel Brooks said: “If you’re quiet, you’re not living. You’ve got to be noisy, colorful, and lively.”

Same with blogging. So make some noise! (With or without that exclamation mark..)



2. Get those photos down.

I remember buying my first digital point-and-shoot camera eight or ten years ago. It was a little compact number and was wildly expensive, over $500. I recently upgraded to a better DSLR (digital single lens reflect), which cost less than what is now considered that outdated piece of crap. Good digital cameras have become a lot more affordable and if you can get your hands on one, even the cheapest model (like the Rebel that I have), your pictures will be a lot better.

People have become very, very visually oriented. People loved Gourmet magazine because it had an outstanding, stop-you-in-your-tracks photo on every cover and it was hard to resist not looking at those covers. People scooting around the web, if they land on an uninspired or out-of-focus photo, they likely won’t stay on your site. Never, ever put a bad or out-of-focus picture on your blog. (Unless you accompany it with a story noting that the photo was a dud, and then it can be funny.) People have very high standards these days about photos because so many people have digital single lens reflex cameras, which making taking a decent photograph relatively easy.

I used to say you need a DSLR but I’ve seen good pictures from point-and-shoots and iPhones. If using a point and shoot or smartphone:

1. Shoot outside, not in full sunlight.
2. Never use the flash.
3. Zoom in a bit; the most extreme position on those zoom lenses distort things.
4. Avoid extreme close ups, which makes food look goofy.
5. If using a smartphone, consider using an app like Instagram to make the photos more artful.

Use photos to tell the story. A nice picture is one thing, but your photos should augment the text, or vice-versa. Show the process, not just the end result. Use photos to show steps of a recipe that might be confusing or need clarification, like how to slice mangoes or boning a fish. Show the tree that grew that persimmon. Don’t let the props overwhelm the food.

Use photos to break up big blocks of text. People have a hard time reading lengthy paragraphs on a small screen, especially those of us with painfully short attention spans. I will curl up on the sofa with a New Yorker magazine but I don’t do that with my laptop. You don’t have to dumb down your text, but make it easier to read.



3. Find cheap ways to dial up your blog.

The most important thing I did for my site was to have it professionally designed. It was not inexpensive, and when I wrote the check, I was trembling. I cried when I sent it and it dashed my dreams of ever owning that black Yves Saint-Laurent suit that made me look like a million bucks. But it has paid off and I love my site and the fellow who redesigned it; it’s easy to navigate and has become an important part of my life.

Not everyone has a lot of time or money to fix up their blog and make it flashy. But the good news is that online, less is more. And if you don’t believe me, look at Google, which is the number-one most visited site on the internet. Other sites like Amazon and Ebay depend on relatively clean designs which makes them easy to use and navigate. Simple works.

How do you make your site look different than the others? If you’re on WordPress, there are thousands of themes to choose from. Lots of people are using Thesis, which is nice, but a lot of bloggers are using it now. So maybe find something else. I have zero technical ability but switching to WordPress this year made blogging a lot easier. (Although I had to write a few more checks for that.)

But you need to think about what your are hoping to achieve with your blog. If you really want more traffic, you need to spend time (and a little money) if you’re trying to make a go of it financially. One inexpensive trick you can do is hire someone to design a custom header or logo. Some people recommend hiring a design student who might be looking for extra work. However in my experience, you should only expect someone to give you back what you pay for and it’s worth investing in someone who will do a good job, not just the cheapest person out there.

I’m on the train for paying for stuff. When you work for yourself you see how much things cost and what they’re worth. Things like having a newsletter, blog maintenance, etc, aren’t free and paying provides a better user experience. If you have no budget, a pure white theme with block black letters works well.

Get rid of useless widgets and sidebar clutter and focus on content and pictures. Good examples of sites with very simple designs, which recede and highlight the compelling content are Sprouted Kitchen, A Life Worth Eating, deliciousdays, Zen Can Cook, and Lottie + Doof.



4. Create good content and provide answers.

A restaurant owner recently told me, “This business is all about solving problems.” Yes, owning a restaurant is about serving food, but it’s also about how to get the food to the restaurant in the first place, then to customers. Then how to take payment, how to hire (and fire) people, and a plethora of other issues that arise.

Having a food blog can also be about solving problems. Some readers are just looking to food blogs for recipes, of course. But people are also looking for solutions, like how to break down a duck, make bacon, discover a great lemon bar recipe, or what to make for dinner. They’re also looking for views to another culture, a laugh, to something about a new ingredient, or cooking tips. Think about what questions readers might have—What is a Parisian food market like? Where should we eat in Paris? How much should we tip in France? What do we do if we’re coming to Paris and we’re gluten-free? These are posts I’ve done, that are food-related but certainly aren’t recipes or cooking tips.

Long gone are the days when you could write a “How to” post and have it linked everywhere. (And from the “Be careful what you wish for” file; I once got Stumbled Upon for a “How to” post and for a one day surge of traffic, my server hit me with a $371 bill.) And while helpful and interesting for readers, the larger food sites and the content farms pretty much covered almost all of the general cooking topics by now. (More about SEO later.) So it’s best to try and gauge your readers, new and returning, and reel ‘em in with writing about what they’re looking for. Blogging is a conversation and providing interesting content is part of that, and something the content farms can’t do, but the other is reacting and responding to what you readers might like.

Many people try to make their blogs addictive by tackling controversial topics to generate conversation and get shared on social media. (In spite of those $371 server bills.) You can tackle a controversial topic, but steel yourself for any disagreements that might break out in the comments and elsewhere, and get ready to mitigate them. I worked in professional kitchens for almost three decades and people still think they can say something that will shock me. But man, the stuff I’ve seen, well…let’s just say I’ve seen it all. And I mean all of it in my days.

The other downside is that you’ll have first-time visitors who might not be familiar with your style and may invoke their unpleasant wrath upon you. One controversial post is great to have people come to your site, but you want them to keep coming back. And you want to build a network of quality readers, not one-time stopovers looking to stir things up.

There are a lot of threads going around about what to say and what not to say on your blog. Don’t say a recipe is ‘fast’ or ‘easy’—show readers that it is. Like ‘seasonal’ and ‘fresh’, everything is seasonal and fresh these days so show readers that it is, don’t just say it. Todd and Diane at White on Rice Couple don’t have to talk about how fresh their fruits are because they show the fruits still clinging on the trees in their backyard. Similarly Elise of Simply Recipes shows that she believes in home cooking only using fresh ingredients and presenting procedural shots and photos to show how they’re used.

I am a little surprised when people say (or write) “I have nothing to post about…I need to write up a post!” which came up when I spoke at the Blogherfood conference a few years back. (About every mouth in the room hit the beige carpet when I said that I think I had about fifty unfinished posts in a folder on my computer.) I always think, “Why have a blog unless you have something to post?” It’s not homework. If you don’t have anything to say, you’re not going to get penalized for not saying anything. But everyone has to cook or eat at least three times a day so no one has any excuse for not having something to write about. Find inspiration from worrying about what to make for dinner, about finding a hard block of cauliflower puree nestled in the back of your freezer that you tried to disguise as hummus by blending it with peanut butter (sorry, yuck..), or the caramels you found smushed at the bottom of your purse next to your chapstick that you forgot were in there. (Then maybe inventing salted butter caramel-flavored lip balm?)

The main thing to remember is that a blog is a conversation between you and your readers A good exercise is to speak your dialogue out loud and if it sounds like the way you talk, then you’re doing it right. And most important, find out what makes you special. That will help you stand out in the crowd. It isn’t always easy to find an answer to that, but it’s one that’s important if you’re interested in getting people’s attention.



5. Choose title words carefully to give your blog character.

There’s a lot of discussions about what words you should and shouldn’t use in food writing. As mentioned, one school of thought says that “delicious” is a big no-no, although anyone who tunes into Food Network will see that “delicious” isn’t going away anytime soon and if they stopped saying that word they wouldn’t have a network anymore.

Aside from words like “yummy”, “tasty” and “sublime” (which have their detractors, although I’m on the fence), folks should be careful using words like “family” “musings” “seasonal” “fare” and “fast”. All of those words are pretty subjective and I recently saw a “fast” recipe that called for “1 cup of grapes, halved”, which doesn’t sound like a task one would get done all that quickly. (At least they weren’t peeled!) A blog is a conversation and unless you’re writing the Encyclopedia Brittanica, if you normally pepper your chats with a word like “musings” and “yummy”, then feel free to use them. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word in any conversation but I’m not you.

(Backing up what I just said, I was once at a writer’s conference and the speaker said never use words like ‘opt’, and reinforced that by reading a sample of someone’s writing who used that word, following up by stating that “No one says opt.” I do, however, so I think it’s okay for me to use it. The point is to use words in your vocabulary, don’t reach for those that aren’t in there. I used the word “fare” recently because it seemed to fit. So there.)

When choosing a name for your site, or a tagline, try to give readers who land on your site an idea of what it’s about right off the bat. Anyone who has tried to sell a house or opted to buy a magazine because of the yummy, sublime, delicious fare on the cover, knows that first impressions matter.

Examples of blog titles that both give a clue about the content and the tone, and make you want to read more are My Kids Eat Squid, Hungry for Paris, 5 Second Rule, It’s Not You, It’s Brie, The Pioneer Woman, All That Splatters, 64 sq foot Kitchen, Three Many Cooks, Married…with Dinner, Matt Bites, and Shut Up Foodies!, which use action words—and a dash of humor, to tell you about the blog and the author in one concise phrase.

Add characters to your site. If you’re writing about your life, chances are there are interesting people that share your life, and table, as well. (If not, invite me over. I’m kind of interesting.) If you spend time with them, it’s likely others will want to as well. Some writers like to give others a bit of privacy, which is all well and good, but readers who are just joining your site for the first time don’t know who Q or X are, and I’ve found myself playing a little mental Scrabble trying to figure out who everyone is. (Tip: If you do that, perhaps put a glossary in your sidebar?) Readers may not comb your archives to look for where you introduced them. In my opinion, either use their real names, or just say “my husband”, or make up a pseudonym. Ree Drummond calls her cowboy husband “Marlboro Man”, Dorie Greenspan called her son “The Kid”, and Shauna James Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl nicknamed her husband “The Chef”. All gave their characters a moniker, making them an intergral part and character in their stories.



6. Stop thinking about SEO.

Some say that search engine optimization (SEO) is the “snake oil” of the Internet. Whose spam folder isn’t filled with pitches to “Take your site to the top of all search engines”? But think about it; would you rather open your home to a whole bunch of people coming to swill cheap beer, or have a great bunch of guests come for a nice glass of wine (or microbrewed beer) who you’ll want to return over and over again?

Do not write for search engines. If you are writing for search engines, you are cheating readers. People who come to your site want to read what a human being is writing; not a SEO machine. Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen shows up near the top of search engines, and arrives there because people consistently come back to her site not just for the recipes, but for her funny stories and sharp writing.

And if you’re still not convinced, personalities like Jason Kottke, The Oatmeal, and Wil Wheaton get boatloads of traffic but little of their material is based on subjects people are using search engines to find. I mean, when was the last time someone Googled—How to tell if your cat is trying to kill you?

Unless you are building a recipe database, readers may become bored just reading rote lists of recipes that you’re churning out. The top food blogs that are recipe databases have a personal touch and the recipes are invariably accompanied by a story that’s brief, but well-written, with a personal touch and a good photo.

A few years back you could write a post on a topic like peeling garlic or melting chocolate, and have a decent chance of getting to the top of the search engine pile. But some rather large sites and aggregators, and those “content farms” (sites that pay people $5-$15 to create brief posts based on popular search terms) have gotten into the game and it’s much harder to get to the top of that mountain anymore. And chasing that takes all the fun out of blogging, I think.

When I started blogging, I thought I would be near the top of Paris searches. But when I checked by searching for anything about Paris on the internet, I either got pages about Paris Hilton or the big hotel and travel sites selling stuff about my favorite city. Lil’ me doesn’t stand a chance. Since there was no way I’m going to get there, I started posting on topics that I felt would be of use to my readers, such as Tipping in Paris and Health Care Tips for Travelers Coming to France, along with restaurants and chocolate shops from time to time, because I have regular readers who either come to Paris or have friends coming, and they find that information useful.

When writing this up, I randomly thought of a post I did last year on French sugars, describing the differences and what they were since I was getting a lot of questions about them. It was an informative post (well, at least I thought it was…), and I just checked my statistics on my site and in the last 30 days, five people visited that post. Four left immediately (hrrmph!) and one stuck it out. So while it shows up as #1 when you search for “French Sugars” on Google, SEO ain’t everything.

My strategy, if you even call it that, is sometimes based on reading comments, following social media, or trying to deduce things others might be interested in. (However the phrase “Recipe…PLEASE!” is nails on a chalkboard.) So I hope that people use the site as a resource. I love my readers, especially those who share their favorite tips, resources, and places with me as well, and there’s a great interchange of ideas that happens in the comments and on social media. So we all win.

So think about it: Are you writing for fun, or just to get hits? If you’re writing just for hits, consider if that’s reason enough to be blogging.



7. Find a niche.

Hank Shaw writes about gutting squirrels and foraging for wild grass for salads. He won a Beard award, writes from the Atlantic website, and got a book contract. These topics may not yield monster traffic, but he’s writing sincerely and has a good core of devoted readers, so it works for him.

Small niches can be better than big ones. Let’s face it, there’s a plenty of cupcake blogs, or blogs about Paris. Why should anyone want to see your blog? Maybe a smaller idea is better than a big one? You might not want to hunt for fuzzy critters in the forest, but perhaps there’s a subject that you’d like to explore. Cupcakes and macarons have been covered, and although I like both, maybe you could start from zero—like Julie Powell did with her Julie and Julia blog—and tackle something new or interesting to you. Heidi Swanson took on her overflowing pile of cookbooks at 101 Cookbooks, you can head back in time like 18th Century Cuisine, Luisa Weiss went through the food sections of newspapers for The Wednesday Chef, or admit your status as a culinary novice, like Adam Roberts of The Amateur Gourmet confesses to several times a week.

Don’t post “Sorry I haven’t posted in a while but…” which makes people think you’re bored with your blog or aren’t interested. So why should they be interested in it if you aren’t? Ree of The Pioneer Woman is likely the busiest person in the world with life on a ranch, scooping up cow piles, homeschooling four kids, and writing books, but she posts a few times a week. She’s posting what she makes for dinner—but that’s what it’s all about sometimes and she makes even a simple dinner interesting. So do try integrating your life into posts, not just recipes, but food-related stories that you can post quickly. I’ve found that sometimes those are my best posts.

If you don’t have time to post, do short posts. I have often been surprised at how much interest a short post that I put up quickly generates a lot more comments and attention than a long one with lots of photos and a recipe, which takes me oodles of time. Witness how that good comedian can make a big impression with just a couple of well-placed lines. Apply the same principle to writing about shopping or dinner. Find something interesting to say; make a cultural observation, present an unusual recipe (or give an old one your twist), show a technique, or write an opinion about something that you squarely believe in. Do it in sound bites.

Break up large blocks of text. When I want to read something long and involved, I will park myself on the sofa and dive in for a while. (Actually, I usually put on my pajamas and get in bed, even if it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon.) But on the Internet people have a lot less time; many are at work (and would get funny looks if they slipped on their jammies at 3pm), or commuting on a subway, or simply roaming around online reading things here and there.

Break up text with those pictures, dashes, spaces, and paragraphs, much more so than you might normally. I have zero attention span and if I see extremely long paragraphs, I don’t read a post or I go back when I have the time. If you’re a very good writer, like Brooke of Food Wolfe, Melissa of Travelers Lunchbox, Alec Lobrano of Hungry for Paris, readers like me will take the time to read whatever they write because they are compelling storytellers.

Do something daring. I just posted about white wine being good with cheese, better than red, and people really responded to that. Much more than I thought. Or take on something like, say, why the hoopla against regular corn syrup is misguided, etc…but you have to be prepared to back it up and deal with whatever ensues. A while back I had a very long talk with an author friend about presenting less-controversial since you have to deal with the aftermath. But if we become afraid to raise controversial topics and disagree, then everything just gets vapid and governments run amuck. That’s not to say we should all get nasty, but that it’s simply okay to disagree. A good conversation presents a few points of view, and what follows should be a spirited but respectful interchange between the various viewpoints. Perhaps I’m optimistic, but in spite of cable news and virulent radio hosts, I know we as a collective whole are capable of having intelligent, respectful conversations with each other. I just know it.



8. Make sure your blog is usable.

A while back I was having a conversation with someone who worked on a food-related website that was making people click 3 to 4 times to get to the content they were looking for, presumably building clicks (impressions) for revenue-related purposes, which shows they were more concerned about racking up clicks than user experience. I advised that making their site easy to use and not frustrating for readers should be of utmost importance. Plus every time they give someone a chance to reach for the mouse, they’re giving them a chance to click away and leave. (Which I did whenever I went to their site and tried to find anything.) People nowadays want a clean, quick user experience. They want to find things fast. Don’t irk people and make them work harder than they have to.

Check your commenting process. Spammers have discovered blog comments, unfortunately, and there’s often no other way to get around those captchas where readers have to type in a code, I’m afraid. But I recently visited some blogs where one could only sign in and comment using Open ID or AIM, or jump through various other hoops. I don’t use either so I didn’t leave a comment when I really wanted to. (I may be dense, but I don’t even know what AIM is.)

Get rid of widgets that aren’t doing anything for you or that seriously increase the time it takes for your page to load. There are websites that will help you gauge how long your site takes to load, which you can find by doing an online search. Assess how badly your readers want to know what countries other readers come from, how’s the weather (which I had here for a while, but took off), your Twitter ramblings (which I have, and will keep, thank you very much), traffic conditions at your local airport (if you’re a travel blog…perhaps…), or what time it is where you are. Am not sure why anyone would care about that. But then again, I’m someone who had the local weather on my site for over a year. So what do I know?

On a similar note, I recently went to a blog and the sidebar widget identified not only where I was from, but a lot more about me than I cared to have shared. Thankfully it was a food blog, not necessarily something I needed to keep private. But still, it was unnerving to see my presence in the top position on their widget, so I won’t be returning to that site.

(On another similar note, folks may want to dial back notifying and thanking people immediately who follow them on Twitter. The first time it happened to me a while back, I got really startled. More about that in a bit.)

Another usability tip comes from Elise Bauer who recommends that people check for broken links on their blogs. If you’re on WordPress, Todd from White on Rice Couple pointed out that one can use the Broken Link Checker plug-in. (Do check the forums as it has some issues loading up servers while it’s trawling sites.) For other platforms, Elise recommends DeepTrawl.

I ran the WordPress plug-in and found over one thousand broken links, many from commenters who had left links to their sites that we no longer valid, or they’d shut down their sites and the links were dead. And I was actually surprised how many still-operating bloggers had misspelled the name of their own blogs when they left comments.

And while you’re checking comments and links, run a few cuss and naughty words used by spammers (ie: erectile dysfunction drugs, nubile Russian teenage cheerleaders, white underwear, etc) through your comment search field; I found a few smutty surprises in old posts as spammers and their ilk can escape detection. And it’s not too pleasant for readers to come across those, which I learned when a reader pointed out that a link I had that used to lead to a site about how dirty French sidewalks were had changed and was now something completely different. I won’t mention what it was now, but if people are looking for links to sites about women’s backsides, my site probably isn’t the right place. (Even though the backsides were, admittedly, pretty awesome.)

Everything on your site and in the sidebar should do something. Look at Google, Facebook, and Ebay. These are the top sites on the Internet and there’s little nothing on their pages that doesn’t perform some sort of task. (Well, on Facebook there’s all those odd groups and games and stuff, and I have no idea why they’re there.) The person who designed my site told me “Tag clouds are the mullets of the Internet.” Do you click on tag clouds? If not, consider if your readers find them useful.

Lastly, go through your blogroll and weed out dead links and sites. I can’t tell you how many links I’ve clicked on recently in the sidebars of other people’s blogs that led to sites that haven’t been updated since 2009, or the link didn’t work at all.



9. Be a great commenter.

I’ve made several good friends (real and virtual) because of bang-up comments they’ve left on my blogs. Comments make a blog lively and make them different than other forms of media that aren’t interactive. They can be the most lively, important part of a blog. I love my commenters (except for the dude who asked if I wore tight white underwear, which was a little personal). You don’t have to go to extremes, but do take time to interact with readers and in return they’ll continue to interact with you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been steered toward something interesting related to food or in my travels because locals have left valuable information in the comments. (Thanks guys!) As a blog author, it’s not always possible to answer every comment but jump in once in a while as best you can.

Of course, it’s fine and a-ok just to stop by and comment to say hello and say they you liked a post or recipe with a simple “I love Brownies too!”, but the comments that get the most notice are ones that are funny or that capture your attention in other ways. I should mention that folks might want to let go of the word “drool.” The only people over the age of two who drool live in assisted-care facilities. And the idea of saliva pooling on someone’s keyboard isn’t everyone’s idea of appetizing.

And if you’re a blogger leaving comments on other blogs, you’re more likely to get people to visit your site if you give them a reason to come by. Informative or humorous comments, I think, get the most notice. Good questions and astute observations are also welcome and can prompt interesting discussions in the comments. Those are usually when I pop in myself and participate.

If you want to get noticed, comment quickly so you’re near the top. You don’t have to be Hemingway, but do scan for typos and punctuation. Especially if you’re leaving a comment pointing out someone else’s typo or bad grammar. I’d say 100% of the rude messages I have received regarding typos or grammatical errors contain worse transgressions than mine. Just remember that people are going to read what you wrote and that the comment will represent you and the writing style of your blog. Some bloggers go through and edit comments left on their site for grammar and spelling, which I sometimes do, especially for people whose first language may not be English. Although I sometimes find those goofs kinda charming and leave them.

If you’re going to leave a link within the comment field of the blog, make sure it is properly hyperlinked. (There is an excellent article about commenting, and leaving URLs and such in comment fields and elsewhere at Design*Sponge Biz Ladies, as well as tips for dealing with comments.) Normally your blog is automatically hyperlinked when you add it to the field where it’s asked for. If leaving a link in a comment, it should be relating to something about the blog post, such as if you have a similar post, or tried the recipe too, or can shed some interesting or new information about the topic. Long URLs can blow out site designs, so you can find out about to easily hyperlink your URLs at this tutorial and do that. It also makes it easier for people to visit your site and see what you have to say.

A few bloggers don’t allow any outbound links and be aware that spam filters often flag comments with URLs in them since that’s a common thing found in spam comments, and your comment may go right into the spam folder and whisked away without anyone seeing it. I recently learned that some anti-spam programs will mark your address as that of a spammer and you’ll get blacklisted from other sites as well. Yikes.

I have a “show recent comments’ in my sidebar because the comments are a prominent part of the site and I like to give them more visibility. Remember that the comment that you leave is like leaving a calling card, as well as a way to say thanks or to offer additional information. In my opinion, comments are at least 75% of what makes a blog and blogging interesting.



10. Social networking.

Think of tools like Twitter and Facebook as big gatherings where people gather around to discuss topics, or parties where you interact with friends and aquantances. Everyone wants to be in a room with interesting people around them and both of those social media sites allow you to pick and choose who’s in your “room.”

Social media spots are fine places to disseminate information including new books or products, store openings, stories about you life, daily happenings, or whatever, but you should pass along information as you would to a group of friends and not just a convenient place to pitch things. “Social media is about giving, not getting”. So please do post when you update your site and let us know if you have a new project coming out or would like to announce an event. It’s great to spread the word to all, but be wary of going overboard. If that’s all you’re doing on your Twitterstream, it’s not likely to attract others. I like to follow people that have something to say themselves, who pass along things they genuinely find interesting.

Like that virtual party, if you’re just standing there promoting something or repeating things that others say (retweeting), folks will probably not gravitate toward you. Friends are interested in your participation in conferences, camps, blog events, and other things you’re doing, but be careful of going overboard because it may not be so interesting for non-participants whose Twitterstream gets filled up for hours (or days or weeks) by a topic they’re not interested in. There’s programs like Proxlet that let you mute users or block hashtags.

(There are some sites that are aggregators that I follow simply because they are set up as such, like Food News Journal, which are curating sites. A few people I follow often point out great sites and posts, but they don’t do it as a rule and is a adjunct to their regular comings and goings.)

Some bloggers set up a separate Twitter stream for their site updates because more and more people are using Twitter like an RSS feeder and they want to keep their regular Twitter stream open for everyday conversations. So if you’re running a special event, you might want to just set up a special Twitter stream for that so folks can join up and follow along there. I have just one stream, but denote when I update my blog as [newblogentry] before the Tweet. And I only post that once.

Who do I follow, and why? I think people that say something funny or interesting, or helpful. In my Twitterstream, there’s people in my line of work—cookbook authors, chefs, and folks in Paris, as well as food bloggers and a few food companies. Justin Timberlake is in there too, as is Andrew Zimmern. And Paris city hall is in that list, although how they have time to Twitter but can’t answer a simple question over the phone is beyond me.

Who don’t I follow, and why? Those who are just retweeting other people’s tweets all day long. People who link to old posts on their site constantly. People who pick on other people.

Not everyone is going to ‘Like’ you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter and you’re not expected to like or follow everyone. Be cool with that. Follow people you want to follow and don’t worry about gaining or losing followers. Look, no one loves Andrew Zimmern more than me (and don’t even get me started on that Timberlake guy), but if they don’t follow me, the world will make another full turn tomorrow, and the next day and the next. If it doesn’t, we’re all got greater problems to worry about than if someone isn’t following you. The number of followers you have doesn’t really mean anything and some people follow anyone and everyone, and others don’t.

And the tribe has spoken about sending out tweets thanking people for following them; they’re not only not effective, but a majority of people find them unwelcome and automatically unfollow those people.

Don’t say things you wouldn’t say to someone in person. I’m constantly surprised at the things people say online to others. Or things I read in my Twitter or Facebook stream about others. I recently saw some comments on Facebook about a friend and former employer which were snarky and impolite and it just wasn’t very nice to read to see them. Bottom line: No one likes to read bad things about their friends, especially coming from other friends.

Like in comments, it’s fine to disagree, but I always wonder how some people behave in real life with family, friends, and co-workers. (I sometimes get a pass because I’ve worked with some wacky co-workers who would be surprised at nothing. And I encourage people not to follow me on Twitter, or to hold their peace.) As noted having worked in restaurant kitchens, there is nothing that shocks or surprises me anymore, and I’ve been called, and have called others, every name in the book. I’ve had people expose themselves to me, I’ve seen rampant drug use, and I’ve witnessed and experienced more harassment than Gloria Allred ever dreamed possible. I was that crazy person that threw frying pans at other cooks. Plus I live in France and have to deal with fonctionnaires at city hall. And I’d love to see anyone who think they’re so tough have to go and face one of those bureaucrats.

But now that I’m grown up and joined the “real world” (ie: one where insane people like me aren’t allowed to interact with others without supervision), it can be hard to not be snarky at times. However do resist the instinct to send off a nasty tweet or comment; even if you think it’s in jest, it may not be taken that way. So think before you act. Or if you’re the impulsive type, send an apology afterward, which is always appreciated. It’s really not that hard. I do it all the time.

People are busy or messaging on-the-go so you won’t always get a response if you write them a message. Like blogging, just be friendly, write something interesting that folks will want to read, and share things that are going on in your day-to-day life. Then hit the button to send it out. Because I’m busy, and work at home, I often pop into various social media outlets to check in with others, but sometimes stay in the sidelines. To keep my sanity, from the start, I’ve adopted what I call an “Exit Only” strategy of just doing what I can. Not everyone is comfortable with that and it’s hard to manage others expectations. But in the end, you have to think of how to best manage your own life. There are some people that will always want more than one can give, but in the words of Miss Diana Ross, “…there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it.”

We Americans are always trained to say “yes” and in France, the answer is often “non“, so I’m working on making that transition. Blogging (and social media) are a lot of “giving” and it’s great to give, and it’s great to get. However your ultimate responsibility is to yourself, so participate in whatever level works right for you and find the balance between the two.

In the end, social networking is not about numbers or collecting followers; it’s about communicating with others. I’m sure many of us have experienced the joys of overhearing someone’s cell phone chat so be wary of carrying on lengthy private conversations in a public forum unless you’re certain it’s going to be of interest to more than just the two of you. (I use the direct message feature on Twitter a lot.) Re-tweeting is fine but do make sure you contribute tweets about yourself as well. I follow people because I am interested in them and what they have to say.

It all comes down to balancing it all and finding out what works right for you, how you want to be perceived, and how you connect with others. No one can be all things to all people, but this big mix of us all is so exciting and I’m interested where we’re all going next.


A few other points:

-Let posts rest. I took a while with this one because I knew some of the points might raise eyebrows and wanted to explain things better. A few folks who were at my talk at Food Blog Camp recently told me that that advice was something they realized a few weeks later was really helpful to them, to let things brew. Most writers go back and edit, correct, explain, or delete.

-Consider adding metric conversions to your site. A majority of the world does not measure with cups and tablespoons and it’s nice to invite them to your site and to use your recipes.

-Don’t take content, including recipes and pictures, from other food blogs or media without asking for permission. Material online is copyrighted, just like books and printed media. Do not copy people’s posts or recipes word-for-word and the Geneva Act and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works extend internationally. Check out an article I wrote about Attribution for some guidelines when and how you should attribute recipes. Online images are protected as well and you can be substantially fined for using them.

If someone sends you a message about a post that you’ve written using their material without their consent, don’t take it as a personal affront or respond negatively, but take the time to rewrite or modify your post and send them an apology. People are simply protecting the hard work they’ve done creating recipes, photographs, and content.

-Do not take content, including recipes and pictures, for other food blogs without asking for permission. (Just in case some didn’t get it..)

-Don’t beat yourself up, or let anyone beat you up, for making some goofs. Yes, you’re going to upload a picture that isn’t perfect, get snarky, bungle some grammar, or publish a post with a typo. But we’re not curing cancer or sorting out the situation in the Middle East, we’re making pie and cookies. Sometimes it’s helpful just to relax, take a deep breath, and realize that it’s just about food and has no greater meaning than just that.

-Be a part of the community and link out. Food blogs are like antique stores and we thrive when we’re together.

-Post once a day. Or once a week. Or once a year. Gripe about something, or be angelic in your praise. Write in incomplete sentences, or go over your copy twenty times before posting it. Buy the best camera you can afford, or draw scribbles of your food, then scan and upload them. There’s no fixed rules, and even if there were, there’s none that apply to everyone and the medium changes so fast, what works today may be passé tomorrow.


After the most recent Food Blog Camp, I was excited when nearly every blogger who attended went home and made substantial changes to their sites, and they all look great. Some added logos, cleaned up their designs or theme, upgraded their photography gear, or started writing posts with a purpose.

The final day of the camp, I asked leaders; Matt Armendariz, Todd Porter & Diane Cu, Elise Bauer, Jaden Hair, and myself, some blitz-style questions reflecting on food blogging. Here are the responses:

Q: What was the single most important thing that you did to ‘dial up’ your blog?

Elise: Getting a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera.

Matt: Posting regularly.

Todd & Diane: Deciding to focus on storytelling. And to do what we wanted to do.

Jaden: Getting my own URL (moving from steamykitchen.worpress.com to www.steamykitchen.com) and having a professional logo designed.

Q: What was the turning point of your blog, when it became satisfying and you were happy with it?

Matt: When I realized I had met a lot of amazing people.

David: When my site was professionally redesigned a few years ago.

Q: What do you wish you could do better with your blog?

Matt: I wish I could understand the technical aspects better.

David: I wish I caught all the typos.

Elise: I find the challenge of telling the story and writing hard.

Todd and Diane: We wish we had more time to visit more blogs.

Jaden: I wish video and photos editing were more fun.

Q: What advice, in one word or sentence, would you give to people to improve their blogs?

Matt: Be yourself.

David: Find a niche, and try to fill it.

Elise: Be generous.

Jaden: Know what you stand for professionally and personally.

Todd and Diane: Put up your best content.


These are some posts that I’ve found that offer particularly excellent advice about blogging and social media. At the end, I’ve listed some resourceful sites for networking and learning more about food blogging:

An Open Letter to Marketers Who Abuse Social Media for Selfish Gain (Kissmetrics)

13 Steps for Establishing a Popular Writing Blog (Anne R. Allen)

Food Blogger David Lebovitz Interview (Dianne Jacob)

10 Mindful Ways to Use Social Media (Tricycle)

How to Manage Expectations with Your Blog Readers (Problogger)

Ten Things I Learned About Food Photography (The Pioneer Woman)

How to Handle Criticism (The Positivity Blog)

Massive Fail: The Anti-Social World of Social Media (The Punch)

The Do’s and Don’ts of Marketing to Bloggers (Elise Bauer)

My Food Photography Tips and Gear

Advertising 101 for Bloggers (Design*Sponge)

Ten Rules for Foodblogging (The Amateur Gourmet)

Foodblogging—Do’s and Don’ts (Delicious Days)

Copyblogger.com

Problogger.net

Will Write for Food

Food Blogger Camp

FoodBlogAlliance.com

FoodBlogForum.com

BlogTyrant.com

255 comments

  • Heh, I’m pretty sure the French sugars person who stuck around may possibly have been me. At any rate if it wasn’t, I’m one of the ones who read it through because being stuck in a French place where most of the sugars are differently named can sometimes be confusing. I even printed that article to stick in my recipes folder! So I’ll thank you personally now for having written it :)

  • Excellent and well thought out post David. Thank you.

  • I’m still digesting all of this still, but firmly agree it’s not about the numbers, of course, it’s quite nice to have a lot of followers, or commenters (which aren’t my friends or family) that give my hard work, cooking, baking, photography, pastry school, lessons… give validation for the work put forth…

    SEO isn’t everything… I rather gather followers, readers who resonate with what I’m all about and build up a conversation, and hopefully, a friendship IRL… I’m not really a foodie blogger, but I just write, or post about what I like, love, or am doing at the moment, for me.. in all honesty, the validation (from new readers, commenters) slightly stroke my ego..but in a good way.. which inspires me to ask more of myself, be it with cooking, fashion, relationships….

    I do have a question.. recipes.. what is the appropriate way, I always link back, but I wonder if I’m not doing enough, and I might not even be aware… what I do have a problem with.. is seeing many bloggers using photos from anywhere on the net…, a lot do link to them but… still.. and some are quite popular and feel that it’s a bit of a cheat to the readers…

    What is the appropriate way of listing a recipe you found on… Martha Stewart for example…? I had thought, that a link back with credit, is all that is needed…perhaps that’s not true?

  • Jessica: Glad you found it interesting. Thanks for being the one to read it : )

    elle marie: You can read details in the post I linked to about Attribution but people should never use images that aren’t theirs without permission unless the site specifically allows that. As linked in the post, someone just had to pay $4000 after using an image from elsewhere without permission.

    Readers don’t want to read cut-and-pasted recipes (or see photos from elsewhere) on blogs; they want to read what the blogger has to say. Republishing text verbatim and linking back to the source isn’t enough. If Bon Appétit magazine has an article on French sugar, I can’t (and shouldn’t) just lift it. And vice versa. I don’t know why people think it’s okay to do that.

  • My own food blog is basically for me, but other people are welcome to read it! I am vain enough to link it to Twitter and Facebook, but if I am honest, its main purpose is to give me somewhere to post my (excruciatingly boring to anybody else) food diary – doing so does help me keep my food intake within reasonable limits! So I put recipes on the top if I can, just to make it marginally more interesting.

  • Wow David! Thanks for such an in-depth post. I agree in finding something you enjoy writing about and treating your readers like they were a friend you’re talking to. That’s definitely when your personality shines through. It is tricky finding those stories that make your posts worth reading besides the fact that your recipe is “delicious” or “drool-worthy.” ;) I also love my rebel!–Although photography is going to be a lifetime learning process.

  • Wow, a great, useful post, thank you. Personally though, I wonder whether it really is necessary to break up text with plenty of pictures all the time; as you’ve proven here great swathes of text can be just as attractive (well, I read all of it anyway) and the profusion of posts, on any subject, on the internet today which are littered with pictures and just a bare smattering of words I think just trains people to be lazy in their reading. Perhaps as bloggers, who write for fun in our spare time, we should be encouraging others to rediscover the joy of the written word, rather than focusing their attention on “drool-worthy” pictures. (I think you’re going to get a lot of drool in the comments).

  • David,
    My partner, the other Gilda, and I just began our blog in January, so I find your post so apropos… Thanks for sharing all this information.

  • I`m a begginer polish food blogger and for me such post is really helpfull. So thank you! It`s difficult to find right balance in good blogging. Day by day I try to find mine and I have so many happy moments when I`m blogging. It`s an awesome experience and I do my best with each new post. Hope that is visible to other people :P I like when meals are funny and colourful, because I really don`t like boredom on my plate :)

    Have a great time,
    Paula

  • Hi David,

    I’m not a blogger, just an avid reader of blogs. Thanks for saying that comments such as “I love Brownies too!” are welcome. I’ve seen several discussions lately on other food blogs that have said that comments that don’t “add value” to the site aren’t welcome and that commenters should make more of an effort.

    I don’t always have something important to say but occasionally like to say “I enjoy your blog” or “I love this recipe” just as a means of showing my appreciation for the writer’s efforts. I don’t do this every single time I visit a blog or read a post, just occasionally. I’ve recently stopped, though, because I thought it was so unwelcome and usually can’t think of anything particularly clever to say.

    Thanks again for a wonderful blog :)

    Nevine

    • Hi Nevine: There are plenty of times when “Oh my goodness!” or “That’s hilarious” are appropriate comments and that’s all you want to add. Or else, as you mentioned, there’s not much else to say but you want to add your 2 cents, which is great. I think if you’re doing it genuinely to add your comments in there, that’s a-ok and you shouldn’t stop as bloggers do appreciate comments of all sorts.

      GuFt: I did point to some places and blogs where there are large blocks of text. I think for me (and maybe because of my aging eyes) I have trouble reading big blocks of words unless they’re in a book and I’m sitting on the sofa. But all sites are different and sometimes just a few words and pictures work, and other times, there’s a lot of information to present.

  • One of the most important things I learned in the last 5 years of blogging is that I do it because I love it. It takes time and energy to maintain a blog and if your heart isn’t in it, then what’s the point?
    Also, editing! My keyboard’s DELETE button is very overworked.

  • Hi David.. thank you… Gesh.. I must have missed the link…. So far, I think I’m dotting all the i’s and crossing the t’s … it is most definitely food for thought (sorry for the pun)…

    But… I think I need to be even more careful… I often use adapted from, list the ingredients, then offer my own words on directions… the best that I know anyway.. Totally agree about using photos without permission.. that turns me off more than anything on blogs (mostly fashion and interior design blogs)… I’m sure I made a few mistakes during my years of blogging… I understand they might need content, but I find it too cookie cutter for my likes….

    I sure bet many don’t realize the specifics of listing a recipe… ,etc.. this is far bar the most informative post I’ve read on the subject of blogging.. truly impressed..

    have a fab weekend.

  • Amazing tips, spot-on advice and well written, as usual. I love that you said not to write for SEO – I can’t tell you how many blogs I’ve stopped reading because it’s so obvious that their every word is dictated by fear of getting screwed by Google. What’s the point of writing? No one STARTS a blog for the purpose of SEO unless it’s actually ABOUT SEO, but it won’t garner a loyal readership.

    I, too, have a Rebel and it made a world of difference. Though now I’ve got the camera bug and want those mega expensive lenses and newer models. What have you done to me, David? :)

    • Lindsey: Search engines can be important and I know (and read) several blogs that are recipe databases that are also great reading which rank very high in search engine results. So it is possible to “have it all.” But as you mentioned, if people are just trying to rack up points on the search engines, it’s going to be a lot of work to get to the top of them at this point. The most widely read food blogs present a lot of recipes, but they’re also about telling stories that readers (not search engines) want to read, which is why they’re so popular.

  • Thanks, David, for yet another wonderfully informative post (insert exclamation here).

  • I remember living in America and my French husband asked if I could make macarons so I searched and found your recipe….and I have been a reader ever since (though my macarons were not so great). I now live in Paris (actually St Cloud) and your stories and food advice have made my life soooo much better.

    You were a blog pioneer and now you are a leader…..and the world is a better place because of you :) All hail David Lebovitz !!

  • Great, informative post, David. Thank you so much for writing it. As a novice blogger working very hard at finding my own “voice,” I have learned so much simply by reading your blog and many of the others you mention here to study how you keep it flowing and personal… Whether or not you intend to, you’re setting a good example.

    First time for everything, right?

  • Thank you, that is incredibly detailed and useful advise. I started my own food blog in the past month, and I’m loving it. I have a background in design and photography so haven’t had to pay anyone to do these things. Your advice on finding your own voice and bringing your life story, friends and other interesting anecdotes in I think is key. I hope one day to be as popular as you!

  • p.s. I love your French Apple cake…

  • David, thanks so much for writing this. All of this needed to be said, and I don’t even mind that there is not a single picture to break up your long post :)

  • Hi David, really, really excellent information for a new food blogger. (skipped ! there but wanted to..) Thanks so much for taking the time to compile such a thorough treasure trove of tips which are especially valuable for those of us who are just starting out.
    All The Best,
    Imen

  • Hi Again,
    Just noticed your Fine Gael 2011 election day button on this page as I scrolled up….a little bit surprised (not for party support per se, but just in general), but it is definitely top of mind here in Ireland today that’s for sure!
    Imen x

  • Jenn: Thanks. I kept off the pictures just because they didn’t seem necessary. I did have a lot to say, but pared it down to just what was the most important.

    anna: Am glad you like the cake. It’s a recipe from Dorie Greenspan (which I did attribute) and she’ll be thrilled that you like it. It really is a terrific recipe.

  • Awesome article, especially with Google bumping up their algorithm police department concerning content farming. Keywords are great, but just like your searches, it should happen organically.
    The power of Social Media brought me to this article… viva la Twitter.

    And now I have a great food blog to follow too!

  • What a fantastic piece, thank you for sharing your experience and recommendations. It’s like going to class! Storytelling – visual and verbal – is part of the fun and the reason many of us do it – to share and connect.

  • David, fantastic recap. If you noticed (and I hope you haven’t) I am slow to implement much of what I learned at “camp” and it’s not because I am unenthusiastic or didn’t take it in, it’s because I am tech challenged and also overwhelmed with other stuff right now. The main reason I am slow to change my blog is that I plunged in without answering many of the questions you pose and want to clarify my purpose a bit before moving ahead. I am also teaching a food writing class for beginners (!) gasp. Surprisingly (to me) it is going very well, and I hope you don’t mind, but I am using you, Elise, and Jaden as the prime examples in the blogging portion of the class. (It’s a do what I say, not what I do kind of thing, but I’m pedaling as fast as I can.) I agree that you can’t ask the question who am I enough to find your focus and make your blog and your writing authentic, honest and congruent with who you are.

    Thank you for all this. I heard someone say that ninety percent of blogs are not worth the paper they’re not written on. Your writing and your advice are the wonderful exception!( oops, I am guilty of overuse of exclamation points and parenthetical comments) xxoo

  • Now THAT was a long post (and no pictures either!). But I am not complaining, it was most interesting. I particularly love the “Blogging isn’t a popularity contest”, you have to like what you are doing first of all. Be true to the inner voice. Some people will like it, some will not. Tough.

    I follow this blog and I follow you both on FB and Twitter (hey, but that’s not stalking. Not really. Besides I am mostly harmless) and I particularly appreciate the fact that all three contents are different. Not many people make that effort. So thank you for the time spent on this.

  • David- FABULOUS article! . I am a new ( under 6 months) food blogger with so much to learn. So thanks, so much, for sharing your wisdom. I am hoping to attend Food Blogger Camp next time to hear some more in person. I wonder what you think of all the give aways I see on so many blogs lately. It seems that some blogs are becoming more about the giveaways than the content.

  • wow….what a blog psot. this post is so crammed with valuable information, that i’m probably going to have to reread it several times to take in all the information. for those of us that live far from places that host the food blogger conferences, this really is a wealth of information. one particular thing i wanted to comment on was finding a niche. there are so so many blogs out there, that it’s really hard to find a niche that hasn’t been done before. but also, do you find a niche and blog about it just to drive traffic or because you love that particular niche, if you get what i mean. an example would be gluten free living. i’m not following a gluten free diet and nor do i have any interest in it but do i blog about it as it will drive a whole new sea of fish to my site.

    great article.

  • Thanks so much for all this advice, David. It’s much appreciated and much needed (by me anyway). I so agree about trying to keep your site clean and easily navigated. I’ve gotten rid of most of the widgets and plug-ins I used to run, including the weather widget. I’m in the Caribbean, chances are it’s warm and sunny. No need for me to rub it in.

    I also have to say amen to your advice to be a good commenter. I’ve only made one snarky comment on a blog and it was here on your site. I almost immediately regretted it and commented again with an apology (and the original comment was made because I totally misundestood a photo, my error). But I’ve never done it again. Basically, if I don’t have something nice to say, I keep quiet. That also taught me the lesson that drunk commenting isn’t any better an idea than drunk tweeting.

    And I’ve found that by (politely) joining the conversation on other blogs, I’ve been able to enter into some fantastic conversations, often with writers that I deeply admire and respect.

    Thanks again.

  • Terrific, David! Thanks for sharing your expertise with the world- so helpful :)

  • Wow David! This is Awesome. Thanks for the overview. I really appreciate the honesty and you taking the time to touch on all the topics relevant to the Food Blogging World. Thanks for the great array of links as well! This article is a great resource that I will be coming back to. Thanks again for your time and sharing.

    - Taylor

  • Val: I’ve only done a couple of give-aways here but generally don’t do them because 1) A lot of readers live outside the US, where the items are not available to be shipped, and 2) I don’t have the energy and it’s not what this blog is particularly about. But what works for one blog doesn’t work for another and folks who want to do give-aways, well, it might be a nice way to reward readers and/or to get a bunch of folks to come to the site. Either way, it’s up to the individual person to decide what they want to do with their blog and I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to do a give-away.

    (Although I’m miffed I haven’t won any of those iPads that people were giving away!)

    Abigail: I think it’s all just a learning process and usually once someone goofs, they see it and move past it. We’ve all made errors doing things and I think it’s important to learn from those, apologize if necessary, then move on. Like when I worked in restaurants; if something doesn’t work, toss it and start again.

    I see it on Facebook sometimes where people get all riled up and things get nasty and I guess some people either like to do that kind of back-and-forth, but bloggers can set the tone for the blog. And yes, drinking and blogging, or commenting, don’t mix…I’ve learned that, too ; )

    Sukaina: A while back, and still, there are so many great ‘niche’ blogs from around the world, from people living in Korea and exploring the cuisine there, to folks exploring everything from Estonian to Malaysian cooking. That’s what makes food blogs so special. There’s a place for everyone who wants one.

  • Thank you for such a well written, informative post. I really enjoyed reading it and I hope I can put some of your advice into practice (especially the exclamation mark thing! I really need to work on that!). I’ve just started writing again after a few years break, I’ve always given up before because I never seemed to have a consistent voice, I’m not really sure I ever gave myself long enough to find it. Hopefully I can stick it out this time and it’ll come.

    Again, thank you- this post and the one you wrote a little while ago about typos, grammar and not being perfect have been fantastic to read, and have been a real help in getting me to put pen to paper.

  • Thank you for writing this. I very much wanted to attend Food Blogger Camp but it didn’t work out this year.

    I have the article bookmarked to come back and look through all the links at the end. I am giving a talk tomorrow about food blogging for a local blog conference and I will share your post.

  • Wow! So much to think about and absorb – thank you so much for sharing! I’m just starting out as a blogger and altho I’ve done some research, I can see it’s an ongoing learning process. I’m definitely going to have to come back and do another read through!

  • a most informative post. thank you! i am just starting up a blog, but it’s personal, not professional. however, until i have found my footing (& figured out the camera thing) i’m not linking to it. still, a few people found it! a very startling development. for the record, it isn’t your cat plotting to kill you, it’s those garden gnomes.

  • Great post for any blogger, not just food bloggers. And as an intellectual property lawyer and blogger, I especially appreciate your emphasis on copyright and proper attribution. When in doubt, ask permission.

  • What an awesome *free* resource for anybody that has a blog or is considering starting one!

  • I do have to point out that this took me much longer than 2 minutes to read. But read I did! I found this inspiring (whereas most “how to” type posts are anything but). Many times, I blog in such a rush, that all I write is a brief description of the food, post the recipe, and I’m done. I know it’s uninspired, but I feel that I “should” get that post out now rather than later. But when I have time to blog, time to really write, explain, describe, that’s when the readers can (hopefully) really get a glimpse into what the recipe means for me, a glimpse into my (hopefully) interesting life. You’ve reminded me to slow down and really dig to write. If that means the posts come less frequently, so be it. Thank you for this!

  • Jessica: What I find so perplexing is when people say “I didn’t know.” When I was in elementary school, we were taught that things in books and newspapers were not to be copied. I guess since online file and music sharing, folks have a different view of that. But even our mothers and grandmothers hand-wrote recipes on file cards, and changed the wording as they went. So that should be a pretty good template for adapting recipes on sites as well.

  • This just might be my favorite post about blogging EVER! Thank you! I think it should be required reading before starting a food blog. ;)

  • Thank you David for taking the time to spell out your perspective on finding a voice and making one’s blog interesting. I love it that you emphasis finding a niche and a passion as the impetus for writing a blog. And yes, I do use the word impetus in daily conversation :)

  • oops. Emphasize.

  • Thank you for this great article. There is so much here for me to consider. I’ve made some of these blunders and I’ve made some of the suggested changes before I read of them here so I think I’m doing ok. But since there is so much here to take in, I’m going to have to save it to my favorites and keep re-reading. I really wish I could have gone to the Foodblog Camp. Just to connect with great bloggers if nothing else.

  • Thank you David for posting this. As I scroll though the shared advice, I find myself saying “oops, I’ve done that.” I started my blog shortly after finishing cooking school in 2006. It has been my journal for food and travel and just my life encounters in general. I have come to realize that my little blog is just like life. It’s a journey. It changes. It’s personal. And it’s humbling.

    I would like to think that along with my tone, niche and cooking, my photo and food styling skills have improved. I blog, because I love to write, I enjoy looking back at my culinary creations and I like to laugh at the often wise ass or goofy ways I see things in my life.

  • Dear David, my morning starts with a cup of coffee, and in stead of the newspaper, i start the old computer eager to see if you have been writing me.
    I to, have been cooking for like 30 years, done some talking, writing and television in the name of good food. I think you are exemplary, have just enjoyed your lesson in how to do a good blog, almost made me want to make my own, but then again, I spend most of my day reading about food, blogs, books,etc. shopping then cooking for friends and family. Now unfit for working as a cook, less a chef, food is still my life, you and your writing are fortunately around to make me start the day on “the right foot” And when in doubt I shop your blog for good food and spirit.
    and you can have your ice cream to! love from copenhagen

  • This is all great advice, but I think you’re comment at the end about how we’re all going to make some “goofs” rings the most true for me. I’ve had my blog for a year and a half. It took me more than a year to figure out how to take decent pictures (and I have to admit, my artist husband helps me with that). I’ve only recently decided that I want to focus more on storytelling. I’m still figuring out how to use Twitter effectively.

    But that’s all part of the process, right? That’s what I like about blogging. There’s always an opportunity to learn something new.

  • Excellent and insightful post. I agree with all your points and specially the one about giving your blog character. Thanks for the great advice.

  • I just launched a restaurant dining and design site and have been absolutely overwhelmed by the whole “world of blogging.” Your advice was very useful and CALMING! (Please excuse the exclamation mark.) My new mantra will be “If you keep your eyes on the future, you can’t see the present.”

  • David, i really need to thank you for this long and amazing post, i was a food blogger reader for a long long time and i have just started my own blog a few days ago, so this words from you were just perfect to help me.

    Thank you for real.

  • David,
    I’ve bookmarked this post to refer back again and again. This is the most practical advice I’ve ever read. Beleive me, I’ve googled quite a bit. From a first read, I learned plenty. From a second read, I realize I still have plenty to learn. Point well taken on money spend – classes will be the key to non-sucky photographs. I’ll call as soon as I finish this post. Promise. Thank you, thank you.

  • The only thing I would disagree with here is the concept of “finding a niche”… though I suppose it depends on exactly what you mean. I feel like you need to figure out what you enjoy writing about and just do that… if you try too hard to find a topic that is “the next big thing” or sparsely blogged, then it seems likely you will end up out of your comfort zone and blogging things that aren’t necessarily your passion. I say just write about what you like and let the chips fall where they may.

    Otherwise I found your advice very helpful… especially about letting posts simmer a bit before hitting publish, and incorporating more than just the final product in your photos.

    From the photography side, as a novice who has moved up from a point and shoot to a DSLR… a DSLR makes a *huge* difference, even on automatic… and a pro flash that you can bounce of the ceiling or walls can save you a lot of headaches when cooking at night in poor lighting. Though obviously those things aren’t cheap.

    • Hi JW: I think a ‘niche’ can be anything, from a blog about vegan casseroles, to about “you.” The point I was hoping to make was that just having a blog about what you’re eating is not as interesting to readers about who you are, why you are writing about a certain subject, where you live, how you cook, etc…and those are things that make a blog more personalized. Those things are well in most people’s comfort zone, although I do think sometimes if you’re curious about something (like a new fruit or a certain cuisine), readers often want to come along on your explorations from time to time.

      You’re right that a niche isn’t vital nor should one be really trying to find “The Next Big Thing” but I do think polishing or refining your focus is a good idea.

      And I bought one of those speedlight flashes which was kind of pricey, but during long winter months, it’s been nice to have so I didn’t have to limit the time when I could take photos. If you use a Canon, they’ve just introduced a new line of low-priced speedlight flashes (the 270EXII) that’s around $140.

  • I’m here because of a RT on Twitter and am I ever glad I came! I’m a newbie when it comes to food blogging….have a lot to learn. I’m printing this post so I can refer to it frequently. Thanks very much. (I LOVE your “comment policy” page…especially the last sentence)

  • I just wanted to thank you for this post. I launched my blog earlier this month and all the research I’d done didn’t quite sum things up as well as you did here. You’ve provided me with a lot to think about.

  • *raises hand* Short attention span right here. And yet I read every word. Well done, David.

    When I first started blogging (a mere 2+ years ago), I tried so hard to sound smart and be profound, it was painful. A year later, I stopped the madness and began writing as I speak. And had fun with it. That was the real me and naturally my posts started to develop effortlessly. I believe when you’re authentic, it becomes less work. And you can knock out an intelligent, witty post in 300 words. And people will fall in love.

    My following isn’t anything to write home about; just a small fish in a gigantic pond. Growing slowly. BUT, the readers I do have are fantastic. They engage, and trade, and make me laugh. Which is what I always thought blogging should be about. When it stops being that, I don’t want to do it anymore.

  • David,
    Though I have been a gluten free author and have taught classes off and on for 10 years I arrived late in the game for blogging. I recently decided to revisit all of the great chefs that contributed to my book when GF wasn’t as hot as it is today. It has been fun finding each chef, seeing what they are up to today, and bringing an update and a new recipe to my readers. Funny how i blogged for almost two years without even having the thought of reconnecting with the chefs.

    Your post has made me think of other ways to make my blog more interesting, thank you. I loved reading your post and was pleased to see that I already do many of the things you suggest–so reaffirming. There is much I can do to improve so I enjoyed the 20 minutes or so spent reading what you have to say. I look forward to reading all the comments later. Storytelling doesn’t come as easy for me but I am now inspired to give it a go with a bit more effort.

  • Whew that was a long one! It was really interesting to read and a LOT to take away (I might have to digest this in parts) but a good solid read and certainly not rambling. Always a joy to read your posts David, keep up the good work!

  • Thank you for this post, David. As a newbie food blogger, and somebody who genuinely enjoys the online food community, I really appreciate your comments about misplaced focus on SEO.

  • Thank you, David, for this in depth post. As always, insightful, funny and inspiring. I’ll be combing my blog today looking for clutter. And most of all, chewing on your timely point about setting boundaries and making time for LIFE. If we don’t create a space for our lives beyond the blog, blogging can swallow us whole. Burn-out isn’t pretty (it’s ruining my beauty sleep). And saying no is hard. Someone always wants something more. I needed to hear this today– and maybe hum Ricky Nelson’s Garden Party song to bolster my conviction. You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself. xox

  • How very generous of you to share all that with us. It’s very interesting even to those of us that don’t blog, but toy with the thought of it occasionally. Thank you.

  • Wow! Thanks for this post…….(It must have taken forever to write.) Lately, I have been feeling that nothing can go right with my blog and my efforts to gain readership (not for revenue but to build a community of blogger friends). I know I have a lot to learn and this post really helps.

    And, I have a question for you—do you think someone needs to have just a food blog or can it be more? I always feel that I don’t really have a food blog because I write about travel and family and stuff—but the majority of my posts are me experimenting in the kitchen. Sometimes I worry that my food readers don’t care about my travel exploits and travel readers could care less about how to make ice cream..(BTW, I made your vanilla ice cream the other day…)

    Thanks again……I’ll be working on doing a lot of these things.

  • Wow, I’m so glad @jenncuisine posted this on twitter – this is excellent, and I really appreciate it! I agree with pretty much everything said … Thank you!

  • Great post, David!

  • Hi Dave

    Geez, it looks like you read my blog and picked it apart. Kidding….mmmmaybe. Anyways, good read here and well thought out. It made me realize a lot of different things which I may be doing wrong and other things I am doing right, but maybe not completly right. I write my blog to satisfy myself, but I also write it from the perspective that I am extremely passionate about food and being a foodie. As long as I do my part to get the message out there that food is an integral part of who you are, so eat wisely, I am happy with what I wrote. I put this particular one from you on my favotites list and will read it occasionally for a refresher. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  • David, this one was worth waiting for. You are practicing what you preach here, in terms of sharing value and being generous. Thanks for all your help with my blog, which I’m re-designing right now after Food Blogger Camp. I did come away with a strong sense of my purpose—to help people who need to change their diets for health reasons—and a very long (but exciting) to-do list to make my blog even more useful and usable. For me, it’s all about serving others, that’s why I started blogging. I predict this post to have many, many links to it. :)

  • I forgot to add in my earlier comment that when doing my write up on Suzanne Goin earlier this week, I was in a mad dash to find some lucques olives to make her recipe, sadly, I couldn’t find them. But I did find your post (maybe one of those posts you talked about that may or may not attract a large draw, but it sure helped me, thanks).

    I went on to link my reader to your post because the photo of those lovely lucques olives in the market down the street from you will help others hopefully spot them when they are shopping in a specialty market in Seattle.

    Next on my list is a new camera…..someday.

  • Once again, I am blown away by the food blogging community. What a generous post this is – sharing so much information that will only serve to improve each food blogger who reads it which will in turn improve the whole community. But after working for 20 years in high tech where it’s all about “non-disclosure”, I am still shocked by how open and giving this community is. Thanks, David, for writing a post that takes longer than 2 minutes to read and in fact, represents years of hard-earned experience on your part. It was inspiring to me in many, many ways.

  • Thanks for the tips, David. You have helped me to find focus, the reason and impetus to keep on blogging. You’ve really made me think. I always appreciate direction.
    Renee

  • I am not a blogger but I love cooking and I love baking (mostly bread), and to me, the blogs are a source of inspiration and information. However, I would say that as you pointed out, I enjoy the stories in the blogs I read. Because I love stories and because day after day, I create a mental and personal picture of the blogger.

    Nice pictures and smart titles are as you mentioned important, but one of the things that I consider basic is to clear the page of clutter and to have an index.

    I really enjoy your blog and look at it almost every day, even though I don’t bake sweets that often.

  • Good topic and one I’m glad you wrote at length about. And I’m not even a blogger!

    I’m glad you talked about comments here, too. When I discovered blogs I visited sites for awhile before I jumped into the fray just so I could get a sense of what was appropriate and what provoked interaction within the post. I found, as you said, that relevant questions or comments about the topic were what helped get more conversation going between the host and the guests as well as to clarify some elements of a topic.
    .
    Conversation doesn’t start, though, unless there is more to the post than the topic. I want to be able to “hear” the voice (that I’ve become familiar with and that I can usually identify) of the blogger. It can help me sense the mood or tone and whether the host is inviting guests to join a conversation, ask questions or listen and enjoy. I’m finally learning that I don’t have to have a question or add an opinion or comment on everything. I am glad to hear that it’s okay to just acknowledge enjoying the topic to the host. At least, now I won’t feel intimidated by other comments that complain about the value of an appreciation comment, so it was good to hear you say so!
    .
    I’m glad so many bloggers share favorite blogsites either via a blog roll or as a resource link. It has led me to some wonderful sites, some that become favorites of mine, too. The favorites also give me some insight into a blogger as well, which helps me learn what they enjoy, inspires them or makes them laugh.

  • Thanks for the yummy post, David! heh

    In all seriousness, this is a great post. It should be in pamphlet form that you can hand out to bloggers. Excellent advice. The more I blog and Tweet and Facebook, the more it is confirmed for me that all of this is about being yourself and sharing yourself. Doing things just for SEO ultimately isn’t going to work that well and it isn’t going to make you happy. Whenever ppl ask me what to do to be successful, I tell them to do what makes them happy and what they have a passion for. That will come through and will appeal to others for whom that topic is a good one. Thanks!

  • Dammit David, what did you have to go and write this for? I thought I had my blog all nice and spiffy, and now its back to the drawing board. I guess I should stop stalking you and go bake some cake instead.

    PS – I am joking of course, this is a really good post, and I am actually going back to my blog to make a few changes. Cheers!

  • Wow. This is comprehensive and thoughtful. The list of links is an added bonus. I plan on reading this over the course of a few days, because there is a lot that needs to sink it.

    Best question to ask yourself: why are you doing this? I always wonder why people have blogs, because it certainly isn’t to make money. Me? Every time I get exhausted by my blog, and the blogosphere in general, I remember this: how very hard it would be to quit. I have made so many friends, and learned so much, that if I pulled the plug on the blog I would miss it dreadfully. I feel rich and lucky to know so many vibrant and talented people, and that’s what I’m working for. And it’s worth every post.

  • Thanks for posting this, David. So much great information! I recognized a lot of what I’ve been doing right, and also a lot I’ve been doing wrong. I particularly appreciate what you said about SEO. I’ve always felt like there was something wrong with me because I didn’t really “get into it” like so many other bloggers. I just like to tell stories and share recipes. Sure, I want to be one of the “cool kids”. Hopefully, that will be enough.

  • David, thank you for such a detailed and thoughtful post. I can’t imagine how much time you must have spent working on this! I began food blogging a couple of years ago but am about to launch an entirely new food and lifestyle blog, and I’ve been searching out ways to do things right this time. This will be a wonderful resource for me. I can’t thank you enough.

  • I can’t even say how amazing it was to read this article/post. This blog has always brought me joy, and reading something like this on it is such a sweet hint that there is care and collective thinking in food-blogging.

    thanks

  • As I read this entry, I realized how many things about my own (new and rough) blog that needed improvement. How many times have I tuned in to the Food Network to hear, with disappointment, a dish being described as “delicious”? WHY was I doing the same??
    Thanks for these suggestions :)

  • Wow, this is great information. So glad I know about the food blogger’s camp and all the helpful links you’ve mentioned here. And by the way, several years ago I made a German chocolate cake, pulled off your site, and it was amazing.

  • Thank you so much for this, David. When I first started writing my site, I had no idea what the purpose was. Because of that, I updated irregularly, and was sort of all over the place with content. But when I found a reason to write (I wanted my husband and I to find a place to connect our passions –food and music) it came naturally. Now, the site is something we do because we love to do it. Because it gives meaning to cooking dinner together, and curating music. And because we know so many people are seeing the food/music connection. I think the number one reason to write a food blog is to make yourself happy. If it doesn’t, stop.

  • You are so generous; thanks for everything….your readers are lucky you take the time. Where else are we going to get lessons on things like running an effective blog and perfecting lemon bars, panna cotta, etc. from someone with your background and credentials for free? You give away lots of love and radiate a democratic spirit! Thank you, thank you!

  • Well that was awesome. I didn’t need another reason to procrastinate this morning, but you gave me several. (Am I the only person on the planet who didn’t know about the Oatmeal?) I’ve probably bumped up your time on site stats because clicking out on all those links had my attention span going nuts. Thanks for the refocus on several fronts, and always for your humor.

  • This is a really fantastic article. I am a scientist by day, with my PhD in genetics and when I am not in the lab, I am pretty food obsessed. Because the academic life has me separated from my significant other, family and friends, I began blogging about six months ago in order to share my life with them. The thing that I enjoy the most is developing my voice. However, one of the things I still struggle with is whether or not to try and blend those two aspects of my life, food and biology, in one blog, or if I should have two blogs. I am currently leaning towards keeping them together as they are both really crucial components of what makes me, “me.”

    Thank you for sharing all of your thoughts.

  • I read this entire article.. which is only amazing in that I had a toddler demanding my attention for most of it. Even while taking “play breaks,” I kept coming back – what a valuable resource you’ve written.

    I struggled immensely with finding my voice – and still do to some extent. I took on the challenge to cook one meal for every country in the world (because 1 – to help my family eat a better and varied diet 2- I would be a student forever if I could). With such a vast project I have to constantly talk myself out of being an encyclopedia. Some posts I do better than others.

    When I had an opportunity to ask Amanda Hesser’s advice (she was in Tulsa recently) she suggested I pretend I’m writing a letter to my family (she said that’s how she found her voice, while living in France – pre-email). Not much different from Ree Drummond’s advice on her web site – pretend you’re talking to your sister.

    Thanks again.

  • That was a very interesting read; mind if I respond? 1) I think proofreading IS important. If the blog entry is riddled with errors, what confidence do I have that I’m not going to waste time and money on a flawed recipe post? 2) I love pretty food photos, especially of markets and fresh foods; I will look at them all day. 3) Most of us, however sophisticated, tire of overly chi chi recipes and foods. We want to make something good without a trip to the nearest large city for galangal root or an obscure artisinal cheese. 4) We want to watch others (you) make the rtip to the nearest large city and take us along :-) 5) We don’t give a rat’s ass about blogger conventions and contests. I have given up on may sites because the writer forgot he or she wasn’t a celebrity. I visit your food blog more than any other because it is good.

  • David – what a monster post. A really wonderful post…
    I am proud to be one of the 2011 Food Blog Camp participants that went home, filled a notebook with ideas, spent hours on my cross-town bus brainstorming, and made some big changes to my blog. There is always something new to learn. There is always room to grow. Otherwise, what’s the point?
    I can’t imagine how much time and thought you put into this post, but I think it’s terrific and I will keep referring back to it!
    Have a great weekend, and thank you again for all of your insight.

  • David, this information is SO helpful to me, a new blogger. I’ve been spending the last few months trying to find my voice, my focus, and figuring out how to take a decent picture. Having little to no traffic and no comments has been discouraging, but I realize that putting out the best content I can and writing as honestly and generously as possible should be the main goal. Thanks for reminding me that the “numbers” don’t really matter all that much as long as I enjoy the process.

    Enjoy the weekend!

    Nicole

  • It’s always nice to see a successful blogger advise people to forget about writing for SEO and start writing for other people. The reason Google is the most used search engine is because they care about the experience of the person typing the words into the search bar. To that end they’re constantly changing their algorithms, and those trying to “game the system” are always having to adapt to the new rules.

    Lots of great information in this post. I suspect this page has already been bookmarked as a reference source by more than half of the people that have taken the time to read through it.

    On a different note:

    “If not, invite me over. I’m kind of interesting.”

    Yes you are, David. Yes you are.

  • I spent several hours while at my desk at work completely engrossed in this post. I’ve seen a few of these popping up lately from food bloggers I admire (Brooke of Food Woolf did one just last week), and I can’t get enough. As someone who thinks she kind of knows what she’s doing, but really has a long way to go, I try to soak up as much advice as I can. Thank you so much for all of your insights, I have some good stuff to think on.

    I’ve been following you here for quite some time now, but am embarrassed to say this may be the first comment I’ve left. I’m terrible at leaving comments. But I vow to better starting now. Thanks for being you and sharing it with all of us strangers.

  • May I be blunt?

    I’d say I will not read about 99% of the people who comment here who want to write or are currently writing a food blog. They could be fantastic writers whose posts are free from grammatical and punctuation errors.

    But if I accidentally stumble upon their blogs, I will not be returning to them. Nothing personal; just not my “niche”.

    If that one post I happen to see doesn’t grab me immediately (or if the recipe contains ingredients I don’t have or want), I move on.

  • this was such an insightful post. thank you so much! you’re one of the blogs i visit almost daily, and i always look forward to your posts… i love your voice, your humor and your writing! i’m just starting a food blog (like so many other commenters!)- so this couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment! Thank you :)

  • This is the best post of food blogging I have ever read. Thank you for taking the time to write out this incredibly well thought out post. I have been blogging for four years now and I am still continually learning about this field. But I feel so lucky to be a part of this community.
    So often with articles and conferences aimed at food blogging leave feeling overwhelmed by the information about SEO and monetization. Those topics instantly remove the joy and passion involved with food blogging for me. It is so refreshing to read your words and be completely reassured in the reason why I blog.
    Thanks again.

  • This is hands down the best food blogging advice I’ve ever read, and I love all the humor you added. THANK YOU for every word you wrote. It was a long post, but worth every word.

  • Hi David- I’m very new to the food blogging world- and basically I’m just feeling my way out and trying to find my “voice” – I have to say, I found your long list of tips very informative and helpful. I’m going to make a more concerted effort to be a storyteller rather than regurgitating recipes (or at least tell stories while talking about recipes). I also clearly need to work on my photography- point and click is what I’m limited to for now. Do you have any advice on lighting- my kitchen is not really brightly lit enough, and I probably need to either take photos somewhere else in a very crowded house, or improvise some better lighting scheme- I know the cheap cameras I have CAN and have taken better photos- the challenge is figuring out how to do it consistently.

    You can probably also tell that I’m a little wordy when I write- yeah, I need to work on that too. Thanks for the helpful tips.

    • Hi VE: I think you need to find the “sweet spot” in your house, or outside, where the lighting is diffused but strong enough to be able to light whatever it is you’re shooting. Usually next to a window is good, and if the light is strong, you can block/diffuse it with a cheap piece of tissue paper. Other things you can do are to keep a piece of styrofoam handy to bound light into the shadows under and around food and the plate, keep things simple by avoiding excessive napkins, silverware, intricate dinnerware that detract from the food. And lastly, do use a photo editor. Flickr has Picnik built in (and it’s free), and there are others that are free, or you can invest in something like Photoshop or similar programs.

      At my post on Food Photography, I’ve linked to a few online places where talented photographers and bloggers talk about how they get their shots.

  • David – many thanks for such a thoughtful and generous post. For those of us who cannot get to Food Blogger Camp, the sharing of this information is invaluable. It has certainly given me much to think about and is a post that I will be referring back to again.

  • David, thank you for sharing your experiences with us neophytes.

    Food bloggers have to be cooks, food stylists, photographers and writers — it can seem overwhelming at times, but your tips make it seem not as daunting.

    I hope you bought your Yves St. Laurent suit by now. You deserve it.

    Kathleen

  • How did I only find this now (especially since I’m a subscriber)?

    Excellent points and insights, David. Maybe you should write a book! Ha ha. No seriously, I love that even though you are a big star now, you’re willing to help people and share your knowledge. Not everyone is like that. Long may you reign.

    I will tweet and Facebook this post.

    And thanks for mentioning my little blog in your list. XO

  • I am not a food blogger. But this post is so much more than some advice on food blogging – I think it is useful for every blogger out there who wants to share some sincere thoughts with anyone who might be reading them. Thank you David, I really enjoyed it. Hope you come to Istanbul some day and try some Turkish recipes…

  • Lovely post, as always. I’ll never be a blogger but this post is sure to enhance my life by improving other blogs I read.

    Thank you for taking the time to lay it out so thoroughly.

  • Great article! I don’t stress out about blogging, and I think that helps keep a blog fresh. If someone is stressing out… well I think it shows. I agree with a blog being like a conversation. Just let it be an extension of yourself. If it doesn’t feel natural maybe try changing something up a bit.

    Take care!

  • Thank you, thank you. This is one post that I’ll be coming back to again and again.