Oh, hello. If you just joined, I’m a Canadian girl blogging from the deep frozen tundra… I mean, Calgary. Instead of a recipe today, I figured I’d talk about some of my experience in starting a food blog over the past two years – why I do it, what’s difficult, what I learned so far, and my plans for the future. I’m aiming this post at any of you who ever wondered about starting a food blog, to give you an idea of what to expect, or those who are just curious why I’m spending so much time on this hobby! This is hardly a technical “how to start a food blog” post, like it’s become fashionable to see in the food blog circles. Rather, let’s do a first introduction, crawl before you walk kind of deal.
Why I blog
I really, really, really enjoy the creative process. Cooking, writing the recipe, taking pictures, and translating all of this on to a page. I like seeing myself improve in all these areas and how this transforms into finished work. I like snooping around and getting ideas how to do better, putting my head down and improving mundane technical things (well… don’t talk about mundane to me right now, as I do SEO on 150+ posts…) I enjoy feedback and seeing people come in to the blog (20,000 views last month!), sharing my recipes and knowing someone far away is cooking something I concocted in my own kitchen. I think it’s very cool that I can get “free swag” – I just got a few organic chocolate bars in the mail from Grenada (THE Grenada, as in the Caribbean island) – just so I can write about them on Canuck Cuisine. I mean, serious, free chocolate. What’s not to love?
Starting a blog felt very weird and unnatural at first. In the beginning, you’re just staring at a blank space, you have no visitors, and, chances are, your pictures and writing suck. I never used WordPress before, either. All of this was hardly encouraging. Blogging, essentially, is writing a letter to noone – it felt very unnatural and silly, and my early posts are short and stunted. It feels different now that I know people do stop by to read, but I still have natural fears about judgement, I mean, half the time I don’t even know where to put my commas (what if I get a visit from a comma ninja and they judge me??) Lastly, I had a very big fear that I was being extravagant with my time. This is work related. I’m so conditioned to perform professionally, that cultivating a time-intensive hobby seemed ludicrous.
What I learned so far
I improved my writing – big time. You could say that I’ve written plenty at work, but professional work in the technical industry hardly translates into informal creative writing. I’ve written plenty of presentations and reports where information was skimmed into neat little bullet points. Going off into long sentences was discouraged, because time is money, and information needs to flow the shortest distance possible. I know I’m not alone – a friend of mine wisely said that corporate emails ruined his creativity. After a few years in the office, I felt like I couldn’t string two words together anymore, and I was desperate to start writing regularly to avoid a slow descent back to a Neanderthal. This part of blogging was very difficult at first, and I’m so happy I’m getting out of my brain fog!
I learned not to take yourself too seriously, and not to do everything at once. It’s human and natural to improve over time – if you’re also a new blogger and feel discouraged, just go and look on any of the popular food blogs and flip through their archives. How are the pictures? See, everyone’s been there. Focusing on enjoyment of the parts I like about blogging it is the only way I think I’ll see longevity. There is no use in forcing anything, or trying things too early and being let down. That said, I mentioned above that I’m currently trudging through 150+ posts and optimizing them for search engines. Yea. That’s the part I wish I did right from the beginning… (Tragically, SEO, web analytics and web usability are my real-life work background. I am smacking myself now).
I indulged in learning new technical skills and nurturing existing ones. There’s a lot to food blogging, if you really want to get into it. First of all, you need traffic – and Foodgawker and Pinterest are your gates to it. The nerd in me is simply fascinated by the entity of Foodgawker, the psychology of what food pictures bring the most traffic, and when to submit your material to end in the most favorable traffic-grabbing positions on the page. I have literally sat there analyzing this and plotting an Excel sheet – people who know me in real life will not be surprised to hear this at all. What “does well” in traffic goes back to photography and technical writing. In order to succeed, you need to nail your pictures (prepare for maaany rejections on Foodgawker!), and have a great recipe to match. In order to blog successfully, you need to embrace many hats – a great cook, a photographer, a code developer, and a marketer.
I’m still trying to nail down my niche. I spent the first year of blogging just trying to see if I like it, and if it’s a long term thing. The second year was spent on developing the technical side – the hosting, the platform, the theme, and the design. That’s the part that will never, in fact, be finished – optimization and maintenance are an ongoing thing, the details of which go way beyond this post. What I’m currently struggling with is my overall message and finding who my blog audience is. My name, Canuck Cuisine, was simply coined because I happened to get my Canadian citizenship the same week as starting the blog. Multicultural recipes are my thing – and I hate processed food, but is this viable as a model? How do I land this successfully? You have to consider this stuff when looking at driving traffic.
Getting more traffic = more ad revenue. This year, my third, I will focus on traffic, optimizing my content for search engines, and simply getting more recipes out there. I will be looking at my ad revenue with great curiosity – because if 20,000 views get me $40 in ad revenue, what will, say… 60,000 views do? 200,000? Is it even possible to get that many views? This is a challenge, and I like challenges.
Exit strategy. Where is this going? Every good business strategy has an exit plan. I can blog for years, or tire of it – I don’t know how it will turn out. One day, I may simply post an intermission sign, and leave the blog as a collection of my own recipes which I reference and use. I may blog less, or I could turn the blog into a business, which will become like any other work, and in time I will come to resent it. This is a very real possibility, too.
For now, I just blog – I’m settling in and enjoying the ride.
That’s over a 1000 words here, guys. I wrote them over having a couple of morning coffees. I’m on a roll 😛