I started Life As a Strawberry in July 2012, and I’ve loved blogging even more than I initially thought I would. It took me a few months to get started, from the time I decided to start a blog to the time I actually launched the site, but the work was all worth it and has been an awesome learning experience.
If you’re thinking of starting your own blog, the best advice I can give you is to really do your research before you jump in – don’t rush it! Ask yourself why you want to start a blog in the first place. If you want to blog because you love food, cooking, writing, or photography, great! You’re on your way. If you want to start a blog so you can make money, it’s definitely possible – but be prepared to put in months (even years!) of hard work before your blog generates any kind of real income. My advice? If you start a blog – any blog – do it because you’re passionate about the subject you write about. A blog is a lot of work, and if you aren’t willing to put in the time, you won’t see very much traffic. A successful food blog is about more than cooking and posting to the internet – it’s about good writing, photography, publicity, web design, and recipe development. To have a popular blog, you need to be willing (and eager!) to learn about all of those elements.
I’ll go over some tips to publicize and monetize your blog in other pages, but this post is all about blog beginnings! Here are the steps you’ll need to take to get your blog up and running.
1. What’s in a name?
Before you think about hosting or plugins, you need a name! I spent a good six weeks brainstorming before I settled on a name I liked. I enlisted friends and family to help me pick a name that would best represent me and my point of view. One of the biggest challenges was coming up with something original – there are SO MANY food bloggers out there already, and they’ve all snapped up a lot of creative names! As you make a list of name possibilities, punch each one into Google to make sure you aren’t swiping someone else’s concept.
2. Hosting and Setup
You’ve settled on a name – wahoo! Now you can get into the nitty gritty of blog setup.
You have a few options when it comes to getting your blog on the internet. If you want your own domain name (which just means your own web address) you will probably have to pay a little bit for it. Life As a Strawberry is hosted with Bluehost – I registered my domain name for free and paid for two years of hosting through them for under $100. They’ve been awesome – great customer service to help me get started and I’ve never had a problem with my site. They also make installing WordPress.org software a breeze.
If you want to get your blog started for free, you can create a site through WordPress.com or Blogger. Both of these sites will provide the hosting for your site, but your web URL will look something like: www.yourblogname.wordpress.com, as opposed to a self-hosted URL, which would look like: www.yourblogname.com. It’s a minor difference, but when I started my blog I decided I wanted to self-host in order to streamline the URL and make it easier for people to find.
WordPress is a popular blogging platform, and it’s available in two formats: WordPress.com, which is an open-source, free-to-use software responsible for hosting many different blogs, and WordPress.org, which requires you to host your own domain name (with a company like Bluehost). A good overview of the differences can be found here. The biggest things to note are that the .com version won’t let you upload your own themes, so you have some constraints as far as blog design goes. WordPress.com accounts are also not allowed to run advertisements, which means you aren’t able to monetize your blog. I use WordPress.org for Life As a Strawberry, and I’ve been very happy with it. You’re able to download or purchase a ton of different themes (or create your own!), so you have endless options when it comes to how you want your blog to look. You can also monetize a WordPress.org blog very easily.
My blog was originally designed with the free theme PressWork – I chose it because it was a very flexible design that I could tweak and change easily, making it perfect for integrating my own graphic design work. Unfortunately, the creators of the theme have decided to retire it and focus on other projects, which means they will no longer be updating it. You can still download the latest version, and I continued to use PressWork as long as I could, but when I launched The Sustainable Seafood Blog Project I decided to make the switch to the very popular Thesis Theme. I am SO HAPPY I bought Thesis – I can’t imagine having gone through the Sustainable Seafood Blog Project’s Launch without it, and it’s given me much more control over my blog design than I initially had. It’s user-friendly and easy to learn.
WordPress also has a huge variety of plugins available. These features One of my favorites is called Relevanssi, which replaces the notoriously terrible WordPress search widget with a search bar that delivers much more relevant results (also, it’s free – YAY). You can set Relevanssi up to search whichever content you want (posts, pages, etc.) and can assign “weight” to titles, text, or comments. There’s also a related plugin called Relevanssi Dashboard that tracks which keywords your visitors are searching for, so you have a better idea of how people are interacting with your site. I also use two great plugins called Akismet and Limit Login Attempts, which help to protect my blog from spam and hackers. I’ll talk more about those plugins in the next step: Protecting Your Blog!
3. Protecting Your Blog
If you decide to use WordPress, you’ll see that the site automatically sets your login username to “admin.” This can be bad – because that’s the most common username on the site AND because WordPress allows unlimited login attempts, it makes it easy for hackers to try and get into your account. The good news is, it’s easy to fix! From your WordPress home page, go to the “users” tab and click “add new user.” Create a new user and GIVE IT ADMIN RIGHTS (VERY IMPORTANT). Try to come up with a unique username/password combo – it’ll protect you better from those pesky hackers. Next, log out of your “admin” account and log back in with your new username. Go back to the “users” tab on the toolbar and delete the original “admin” account. If you have existing posts on your blog, it will prompt you after you click “delete” to choose a new account to attribute any existing posts to. Choose to attribute any existing posts to the new account you just created. Ta-da! So much safer. Now, the new account you created will be your primary login account. There’s also a great plugin called Limit Login Attempts that will do just that – limit the number of login attempts that anyone can use.
I STRONGLY recommend downloading a good spam-blocker plugin. I didn’t have one for the first few months of blogging, and I (foolishly) thought I’d be fine, but then one day I logged into my account to find 73 (!!!!) spam comments (from the same ”company”) had been posted on every.single.page. of my site. THE HORROR! I had to spend a good hour finding and deleting them all, and it was no.fun.whatsoever. So I downloaded Akismet ASAP. Since I downloaded their plugin, this software has blocked over 1,000 additional spam comments from making it to my site. Yay! The way it works is that Akismet screens every comment someone tries to post, and pulls anything that registers spam into a queue instead of letting it post directly to your site. When you log on to your WordPress dashboard, you can go through the comments in this spam queue and delete them in one fell spam-busting swoop.
Bam! Blog safety: accomplished. Now we can get to the fun design part!
3. Designing Your Blog
I had SO MUCH FUN designing my blog. I love graphic design and have been freelancing for different print projects over the last few years, so this was a great adventure in web design. I started with a template that employed mostly neutral colors, but after a few months I did a big redesign to brighten up the blog and make it look fresher and more inviting. I still do freelance graphic design work on a regular basis, so if you’d like some help with your own blog logo, social media buttons, or e-book design, feel free to contact me! I always love working on new projects. You can see a bit of my design work in my Etsy Store.
The great thing about using a platform like WordPress is that you really don’t have to have much design experience in order to create a blog that you love. Many themes are very artistic and creatively designed, so you may only have to worry about adding things like a logo or header, pictures, and social media buttons.
When you begin to work on the design of your blog, spend some time online researching popular blogs from other writers. You don’t need to limit this search to food blogs, either – you’re looking for design inspiration! Take notes on what you like and don’t like – do you lean more towards bright or dark colors? What kind of navigational menu setup will work best for you – a menu on the side, on the top? I probably looked at 200 or more blogs for inspiration, just to get an idea about what type of layouts or colors I liked or didn’t. To see a list of some of my favorite blogs (based on both design and content) take a look at my blogspiration page.
Here are some great tutorials to help you get rolling on your own blog design:
4. Generate Great Content!
Now that your blog is up and running, you can focus on creating great, interesting content to help draw in readers. Two great resources for food bloggers are The Recipe Writer’s Handbook, and Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More. Both books will help you hone your writing skills as they pertain to recipe development and general food writing.
No matter what you write about, though, write in your own voice. A lot of articles talk about “finding your voice,” but few go into detail about what exactly that means. For me, it’s simple: write the way you talk. Don’t try to be flowery or overly eloquent: if your reaction to a piece of amazing cake in real life is “HOLY-CRAP-DELICIOUSNESS,” then THAT’S what you should write in your blog post. Be honest in your writing, and your voice will shine through.
Next Up: Publicizing Your Blog
Hungry for more? These are a few of the articles that helped me get Life As a Strawberry off the ground: