Starting a food blog is definitely a learning experience and different for everyone. Luckily getting started is pretty easy and there a ton of resources available. Here are my resources for food bloggers that I use and have used and found to be super helpful.
Full Disclosure: Some of these links are affiliate links so if you purchase through them, I will be paid a commission. However, it is of no cost to you and I honestly only recommend resources, products or tools I have personally used and wholeheartedly believe provide fantastic value. Most resources listed below right now are actually FREE! Yay!
The first thing you need (after you pick your domain name and purchase it and decide what you want to blog about of course) if you want to start a food blog or any blog for that matter is a WordPress.org site. It is different from a WordPress.com site. Both are free, however with WordPress.org you need a hosting platform whereas with WordPress.com you do not but it is much more functional and allows tons of customization for your blog. When I first started my blog, I used a wordpress.com site because I didn’t know any better and I very quickly learned all the limitations you will have. Save yourself the hassle.
The second step will be to pick a host. I currently use Dreamhost. I know many other bloggers use Bluehost and I’ve hosted with them on previous websites however I switched to Dreamhost based on a recommendation from a friend very knowledgeable in the web world and he highly recommended Dreamhost. So I switched. Both services are great. Customer service for Dreamhost has been quick and speedy and the pricing is really affordable. They also offer a one click set up of a wordpress site so installation is incredibly easy!
You will also need to choose a theme to give your blog the look & feel that works for your brand. You can choose from a variety of themes or have a custom design done for you. However, to save costs when you are just staring out (unless you just roll like that) you can choose from a variety of beautiful free themes from WordPress. Read the reviews before installing your themes, look for ones that have at least 4 or 5 stars and check to make sure it can support features you know you want. For example, I knew I wanted a sliding header image so a theme that wouldn’t support it, I didn’t even look at. I also knew I wanted my theme to be responsive since so many people view sites on mobile devices these days. So I only looked for themes that had responsive design.
The one that I use is from Elegant Themes. Their themes are beautiful, user friendly and their support forum has been very helpful in getting me set up. They also offer all of their themes for a very affordable price and it took about 5 different theme trials before I settled on one I really liked.
When I first put up the blog, I used a theme from Theme4Press. They have options of free and paid designs that both look great.
Next, you will want to start installing some plug ins to optimize your site. Plug ins are extensions developed by thousands of different developers to add features and functionality to your blog. The best part, almost all are free! Here are the list of the plugins I use for Life Made Sweet.
SEO by Yoast – great tool for optimizing your pages and every post so google knows your here and people can find you.
GetMeCooking Recipe Template – this is what I use to have a separate section for my recipes that is easily printable for my viewers. It’s super easy to use and great for SEO.
Instagram Gallery – this adds a pretty widget you can put either in the header, footer or sidebar to display what you’re posting on instagram and encourage new followers.
Akismet – prevents spammers from commenting on your site. Nobody likes spam.
JQuery Pinit Button – adds a pin it button to your images for it’s easy to share you beautiful pictures on Pinterest.
Limit Log In Attempts – important for site security. This limits the number of times someone can try to log into your site.
WP Optimizer – This plug in helps keep your database clean increasing your site load time.
One of the biggest ways to have a successful food blog is to have beautiful pictures. We eat with our eyes first, right? I honestly love Lindsay and Bjork from Pinch of Yum. I think I accidentally stumbled on their blog one day from a Pinterest link to a brussel sprout salad and have been hooked ever since. Besides being fantastic people with huge hearts, they share kick butt food recipes & an honest inside look into making money with a food blog on their monthly income reports. A resource that has helped me tremendously. As soon as I started following them, I think it was a week later I bought their Tasty Food Photography ebook and it is fantastic. With my cookie company, I already had a really nice camera I used for cookie pictures but I knew nothing about lighting and composition and all the editing tricks she teaches in this book. It’s super simple and easy to apply all her tips and tricks without tons of camera geek speak which sometimes can be very confusing. Even if you don’t have a really nice camera there’s tips for point and shoots and even your iphone, which takes some seriously good pics!
Creating a successful food blog is all about creating community and building a relationship with those that like who you are what you have to say. Outside of your blog it is really important to connect with those in your community through email. In an email format you can provide exclusive content and keep readers updated on what you’re up to. Aweber is by far one of the best email marketing tools available. It has features and functions to customize your list to make incredibly targeted campaigns and provide information to your readers you know they are interested in.
Another email service I have used before is MailChimp. It is a fabulous free service up to 2000 subscribers and good to use if you are just getting started.
Getting traffic. The one thing we food bloggers hate to think about. All we want to do is make delicious food and eat it and not think about SEO or attracting traffic… but it is a necessary evil. One of the best ways you can start to drive traffic to your site is via food submission sites. The biggest sites are Foodgawker & Tastespotting, however because of their huge popularity it has become increasingly difficult to get pictures accepted. Here are a few other sites that can help drive traffic to your blog as well.
Photograzing from Serious Eats
Make sure you are tracking your analytics to see which sites drive the most traffic to your site. Submitting your link and recipes, can be very time consuming so pick your top 5 or 6, stick with these and post consistently. It also helps to engage with other users.
Other useful traffic building articles.
21 Tactics to Increase Blog Traffic – The Blog Moz
21 Actions for Blog Success from Fizzle
SEO Tips from ZipList
How to get your first 500 Visitors from How to Make My Blog
Monetizing you Blog and Ad Networks – There are tons and tons of ad networks available as I am discovering. Here are just a few that I’ve had experience with and a few that I haven’t you can check out.
Google Adsense – this is probably the first and most obvious choice. Some people do very well with google ad sense but most use it as a supplemental ad network. Try it out and always always track and monitor your ads performance for improvement in placement choice.
Federated Media – they specialize in living, business and technology
Lijit – I have really liked the ads they place on the site and they have been incredibly easy to work with. They are also owned by Federated Media.
BlogHer – they typically have a fairly long wait time to get set up and your blog must be at least 90 days old before you can get started with Blogher.
Taste Ad Network– they are part of the Reader’s Digest Association which includes Taste of Home, Country Woman and other recognizable publications. They also have a fairly long set up time.
As you can see, there are many ad networks to choose from. Some require that ads be placed above the fold on your site so choose wisely and monitor which ads provide the most returns for you.
Hopefully this gets you started on the right track to getting your food blog up and running. As I discover new tools and resources, I will continue to update this list. If you know of any that should be on here as well. Please let me know!