Ten Tips For My Beginner Blogger Self
Today marks my 4 year blogging anniversary, can you believe it? I certainly can’t! I have a long way to go in the blogging department and I’m not claiming to have the end all, be all of blogging answers, but I’m pretty happy with the success of Carrie’s Experimental Kitchen so far and I have all of you to thank. You inspire me each day with your emails, comments and general support and it’s been my utmost pleasure to share my kitchen experiments with you over these last four years.
When I looked at the calendar and realized I was going to have a Blogiversary (blog anniversary), I started to reflect on how far I’ve actually come in this blogging world and what changes I would have made or done differently if I could go back in time. I realize not everyone reading this will want to start a blog or maybe you even have a blog of your own already that is super successful, but if nothing else, you’ll get a little more insight into me and Carrie’s Experimental Kitchen. Here are Ten Tips For My Beginner Blogger Self.
1. Take your time and choose your name carefully
One Saturday afternoon I got the idea that I was going to start consolidating my recipes so I can save them for my kids to reference when they got older. I started looking online and came across a few food blogs and thought “This looks like a fun thing to do! All of my recipes would be in one place and my kids, family and friends can go online to get what they want.”
The hardest part was coming up with a name, but I knew a few things:
- I liked to cook, but never wanted it to be my profession
- I never made the same meal twice the same exact way
- Whenever I didn’t know what to make I would just open up the refrigerator or cabinet and start pulling out ingredients and a new meal was created; usually with praise from family and friends
In 4 hours from start to finish, Carrie’s Experimental Kitchen was born. At first, the name got mixed reviews and I had to explain what it meant. Some people loved it, others thought it may sound like my “experiments” could be flops and have a demeaning connotation. I decided to just leave it alone mainly because I figured “Who’s going to read this anyway?”
To date, over 150,000 people view Carrie’s Experimental Kitchen each month so I guess I’m tied to this name for the rest of time. Though the name expresses what I love to do, it is a bit long. In hindsight, I should have spent more than 4 hours when creating a blog for the first time, given it some more thought, done some more research, and maybe should have slept on it. But I’m a little impulsive. Once I get an idea in my head I’m off and running..Hello, I’m an Aquarius!
2. Select your blogging platform not for what is easiest or less expensive, but rather one that is most practical for SEO
As many of you know I was on the blogger platform for the first 2 ½ years of blogging and if you think typing carriesexperimentalkitchen.com is long, try typing carriesexperimentalkitchen.blogspot.com! Had I known better, I would have started on WordPress (a self hosted blog) A LOT sooner. Not only does having your own domain (.com, .net) enable you to be found on search engines easier, you also have more design capability.
For me, switching from Blogger to WordPress was pretty painless. I hired an outside IT company to make the switch for me as I didn’t want to mess with things I didn’t fully understand (coding, html, etc), but there were and are still growing pains every now and then. WordPress allows you to add plugins that help build your SEO (search engine optimization) and enable people to find you. That is what you want right? People to find and read your blog.
3. Post one recipe at a time
Ah. This was a big learning curve for me! For the first 5-6 months of posting on my blog, I thought it would be helpful to post a full dinner with 2-3 recipes in one post. That is until Pinterest started to take off. I wanted to share one of the recipes and realized it was hard to find since it was hidden under another post for something else. After that, I started to only post one recipe at a time and focused on sharing just that one recipe at a time. By doing this, it also helps with SEO and helps to organize your posts into categories much easier.
This should have been a “no brainer”, but some of my earlier posts didn’t have any pictures at all. Really. 2-3 months of posting and no pictures or REALLY poor pictures. Food is a visual thing and if you want people to come, you have to show them the goods (so to speak).
When I first started taking photos, they were pretty horrific. Take this recipe for Country Chicken. Thankfully I just made this recipe recently and took a new photo. I think it looks more appetizing, don’t you?
I went from taking pictures with my then iPhone 4; then graduated to a Nikon DLSR D60 and am currently using a Nikon DLSR 800. Even though I knew the recipe was a good one, you wouldn’t be able to tell looking at the photo.
After about a year and a half of blogging, my family gave me the gift of a private, one on one photo course. I’m more of a “show me, don’t tell me” type of learner so this was right up my alley. I brought my own camera and they walked me through just what I needed and wanted to know. The abridged version so to speak on how I should use my own camera to take the shots I wanted to create. One of those suggestions was to purchase a 50mm lens; which was THE BEST ADVICE EVER! That’s the lens you use to get those close up food shots and the blurry background. My photo taking skills are much better because of it.
As my photography skills improved, so did my website traffic. I was able to reach more people by sharing photos that looked appetizing. Though I have improved a lot since my early photo days, I still need to work on my food styling. I really wished I had taken a photo course sooner and would really love to take a food styling class next. Maybe this year for Christmas…hint…hint!
Just because a dish or bowl looks pretty, doesn’t mean it is going to photograph well. In the beginning I had an array of colored plates and tried to mix up my photography a bit. Take these Cauliflower Fritters. Great recipe, but you can’t really tell what they are on this plate (not to mention too much light exposure…geesh!).
Now I pretty much stick to basic white and accent with different backgrounds like placemats, napkins, textured tiles or wooden cutting boards. It’s a cleaner, sharper look and draws your attention to the food, not the background; like this image for Paprika, Rosemary & Cheese Cauliflower “Popcorn”.
6. Keep a blogging calendar
I can’t stress this enough and I wish I had started doing this from the very beginning. I finally got smart around Year 2 and realized that if I was going to make something out of this blog, I would have to plan. I went through several iterations of a blogging calendar and have created my own set of tools to help keep me organized, but for a good starting point check out Mama Miss, she has some great blogging tools.
I plot out a month ahead as best as I can with holidays, special events or food holidays; then use that as a starting point to plan out my weekly posts. I don’t like to plan too far ahead unless I have a backlog of recipes. If I don’t have anything in the que it’s a little harder as most of the time I don’t know what I’m going to make until I go shopping for the week to see where inspiration is going to strike. 🙂
7. Build your email list
Over the last few years, social media has been very “fickle” to say the least; especially Facebook. I used to spend hours and hours trying to build followers and then just like that, FB changes their algorithms, my posts don’t show up, people who have liked my page are deleted and I’m lucky if 100 people out of 17,000+ fans even see the post I’m sharing. Bottom line? Don’t put all of your eggs in one social media basket.
So how do you get your content seen?
You increase the direct traffic to your website through your email list. On social media people are being bombarded with posts from thousands of different pages trying to get their messages across. With an email list, your content goes directly to your readers (yes, you guys!) without a filter.
How do you collect email addresses?
When I first started my blog, I used Feedburner to capture my RSS feed. In the settings you can export your email subscribers into an Excel or CSV file. If you’re not sure where or how to see your feed, you can generally find your feed by typing the following: http://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/myfeeds. I then switched to Constant Contact because I worked with it in the past and was familiar with it, but then switched and am currently using Mail Chimp. There are other email marketing companies out there, but do your research and use the program that works best for you. In any event, I highly recommend using one of the marketing companies versus just sending email from your own personal email server due to the CAN-SPAM Act. Here are a few ways I collect email addresses.
~Hellobar link on the top of my homepage
~Subscribe buttons on my weekly email and monthly newsletter
~On my FREE Carrie’s Experimental Kitchen Mobile App
~When running a giveaway, use “Follow (Blog Name) by Email” as a mandatory option; when applicable
8. Be a social butterfly
Ok, that statement itself is not me by nature. It’s something I have to work at every day and fall short all of the time. It’s hard to be everywhere at once, but you kind of have to. When I first started blogging, Facebook was my social media platform of choice. I made some great blogging friends along the way and we’d talk for hours in our private groups where we would share helpful blogging tips, new recipes or even just vent. These bloggers were crucial to my success and I hope, I was to theirs as well. Without each others support, I don’t think I would have attained as many followers as I did and for that I thank each and every one of you.
As our blogs progressed, we found that we needed to broaden our horizons to get more traffic and so we joined sites like Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, Flipboard, Yummly, Delicious, Stumble Upon and the list goes on. My advice is to be on as many as you feel comfortable using and can update on a regular basis; at least for a while. It’s a bit trial and error and only you know which platforms work best for you. Focus on the ones that bring you the most referral traffic.
The best way to connect to other bloggers is to get involved in blogger groups and attend conferences to meet other bloggers where you can. To date, I have attended 1 conference and actually signed up for and paid for another, but couldn’t attend last minute due to a family emergency. Yeah, I was REALLY bummed about that one. Conferences really help you connect a name to a face and you’ll find that after speaking to many of the participants online, you build an even greater bond by meeting in person; not to mention the fabulous breakout sessions with helpful blogging tips!
9. It’s not about the numbers
Ask yourself, “Why did I start this blog?” at least twice a month. Was the reason to get millions of people to say they like you or is it because you wanted to share your love of food, recipes, tips, etc with others? I bet it’s the later. For a while I was obsessed with trying to get to that next 1,000 mile marker on Facebook, to the point where I would literally spend 5-6 hours on FB a day (OK, maybe more if my hubby is reading this!). I even belonged to a sharing group where we would all share each other’s pages. Then my brain finally kicked in and said “Hold on a minute! You’re spending all of this time on FB and your likes are going up, but your referral traffic from Facebook wasn’t increasing. What are you doing?”. I was sacrificing precious time with my family to get those last 50 people to like me. For what? These people, were patting me on the back with “atta girls” but weren’t even reading my post that I spent hours creating, just finding the right words to say or the perfect mouthwatering photo.
Numbers or likes don’t mean as much as you think they do. Like I explained earlier, I have over 17,000 Facebook followers, but less than .5% actually see my posts; let alone comment on them. Spend your time where you are getting quality leads; the place where people share or comment on your material. It takes on average between 8-10 hours to create one post between creating a recipe idea, testing the recipe, food prop/styling for photo shoot, photography, reviewing, editing, selecting photos (on average I take 30-40 shots per recipe), writing and editing the recipe. That is before I even begin with social media! Get the most bang for your buck by creating quality content that people want to see, comment and share and focus your attention and time in those places that bring traffic to your site. The best way I found to analyze your traffic is through Google Analytics; which tracks everything from users, page views, referral sources, landing pages and demographic information.
10. Be true to yourself
You can only do what you can do and you’re never going to please everyone. Someone is bound to not agree with what you say, or how you prepare something. I had one person in the beginning comment on just about every post I wrote. Not with praise, but with corrections and criticism like “I do it this way. It’s better this way.” or “That doesn’t look very good”. I have pretty thick skin, but after numerous comments like that I was ready to quit blogging. I questioned myself and thought I was doing things wrong. But you know what I finally realized? I realized that this was my blog. This was the place I started so that my two daughters, my family and friends could come to get easy, delicious recipes to feed themselves and their families. I may not prepare a recipe the same way someone else will, and I never claimed to be a professional chef. I’m just a Mom who has been cooking since she was 8 years old and loves to share my recipes with you.
As for blogging itself, set realistic expectations for yourself and your blog and if you can’t meet those, set new ones that will work with our schedule. Don’t beat yourself up over it and don’t try to keep up with the Jones’ . I used to do this all of the time and felt bad if I didn’t post something. I’ve learned to balance my time more efficiently over the years; though it’s still a work in progress. If you can’t get three blog posts done in a week, only do one or two. If you want to go on vacation, go! The blog will be there when you get back and if you’re worried about the numbers dipping, they will pick back up. Don’t sacrifice family and friends in real life for those in the virtual world; you can’t get back that precious time. Be true to yourself, your beliefs and your values.
Thank you for being part of the CEK family. I’m truly fortunate and blessed to be able to follow my passion every day. <3 Carrie