So, you acquainted with blogging some time ago and a brilliant idea popped into your mind: a food blog would definitely be a thing for me to become successful and make an income from wherever I am by sharing my passion, knowledge, and skills. Thousands of others are doing it, how hard can it be!
What`s wrong with the picture?
You dig into Google and Youtube, find out that WordPress is the right place to start. You also discover the importance of branding, so you carefully choose your blog´s name, pick the colors and make business cards. You even print a bunch of these out. Seriously.
You spend a whole day selecting a free theme and another to learn how to actually set up a blog. Yep, that is also the time you detect the alluring world of plugins and widgets. WOW, the plugins! Aaand…It takes one more week or so to decide how many of THOSE would look wonderful on your blog`s sidebar.
Finally, after a couple of weeks you are ready to publish your first blog post. How exciting! Um, but what? You are like: “No worries, that nut is easy to crack”. Full of enthusiasm, you just start to upload photos and stories about your meals, life and experiences. Super randomly, of course. Sometimes you publish 2-3 posts per day, sometimes you keep silence for a month.
At some point, driven by a sudden excitement, you look at your blog numbers: low views and comments, no big bucks rolling in.
And the “truth” hits you hard: people aren´t interested about your topic as much as you have presumed.
From that moment of clarity your devotion and joy starts to fade. Slowly, but firmly.
Words of wisdom
Yep, you´re guessing right, that was my story, too.
And it continues like this:
On one weekend at our grandpa´s (78 years old) we discussed my blog´s troubles and he wished to look into it. On the following day he gave me his opinion and a solution:
“Your blog is nice and all and the subject is interesting. But. Your writing is too academical. Not addressed to anyone. It´s boring, to be blunt. Yet blogging, the way I understand it, is all about personality. Therefore, you should write as you speak. This way you´ll show your personality, be different and get noticed.”
Amazing, isn´t it? Words of pure gold.
(Nope, he has never learned a thing about blogging, branding or marketing).
Well, then. With such a wisdom in my hands, what did I do?
Not much, I admit. You see, at the time, I didn´t consider our grandpa exactly the King Solomon of the blogosphere. Still, his advice gave me a bit of thinking substance, so I googled a stuff like how to get noticed blogging etc. And met a myriad of generic blog posts that announced: You have to write for your audience! You must write epic content!
OK. Good. I understood that. The thing was, I didn´t know who my audience was or how to find it… And I knew even less about creating an epic content.
So, with no actionable advice out there, I simply lost interest. Quit posting. Abandoned my blog.
(Chopin´s Funeral March playing, a few dried leaves floating in the disconsolate rainy air).
Can you name the things that went wrong?
All of them did, basically.
That was not the end for blogging and me. Obviously.
Because. I decided to get over my slight disappointment and give the thing a new try. Meaning, to prepare better. I started to actually learn the blogging stuff for the first time and practically use my freshly gained knowledge.
What I did differently was to use my own domain for the second blog. I put lots of time into finding the right theme, hosting and color pallet. I also drafted a short fictional profile of my ideal reader, the reader, who should read my posts if this world would be perfect.
Yep, the results were better this time. I didn`t collect subscribers back then (which was a mistake), didn´t yet know how, but I had 80-100 regular blog views per day. Those numbers didn´t express the worldwide success, of course. But they were better.
In fact, it´s now my fourth time to create a blog, but the very first time to make a food blog. Or something of the sort. And with each new blog I`ve seen an improvement. It has taken effort (plenty!), time (even more) and trials ‘n’ errors (yes, those too) to gnaw through the boundless online materials.
Nope, I´m not an expert and I don´t expect this to be over in anytime soon. But I´ll learn as I go.
Awesome! But what about the lessons?
Oh, yes-yes, the lessons. So, what I´ve learned so far is: you don´t start your blog by creating all kinds of cards and banners or picking the blog colors and plugins. You don´t even choose the hosting or the names for your domain and website. You don´t make your products or think about the money. All those things are important in their OWN time, but at the very beginning just aren’t relevant at all.
I tell you, why.
So you´ll create a food blog and you even decide the perfect product to sell there. And you´ll select all the other stuff you consider necessary, write X number of content and launch your blog.
At first, you´re not nervous. You´re like: It´s all normal, in time they will come, cause´ hello, my blog is beautiful and my product is PERFECT.
You make an account to every Social Media channel out there, trying every tactic and strategy you know. You write more content. You offer considerable discounts. You pay for ads.
Time flies, days become months. Perhaps you´ve had some sales and got a number of newsletter subscribers. But it certainly hasn´t gone the way you´ve imagined. And you´ll gradually start to feel the regret about all the time, effort and money wasted.
That has happened to me and could freely happen to you, too. (Unless you´re smarter than me).
But WHY it happened?
Cause´ we ignored the one most important thing at the beginning: a DEMAND. We didn´t figure out, is there anyone who´d want to read our blog and order our product. We didn´t define our audience.
Now, as we saw from above, it´s definitely possible to build a blog by making things randomly. That is to start with the fun stuff, post whatever and whenever you choose and write mainly about yourself (or your products). BUT. I´ve already tried the random way. Didn´t work out so well for me.
So now it´s time to explore the second, deliberate way and kickoff with relevant things.
Who, what and why
Yep, these 3 things are the foundation of our successful blog. And precisely from those we´ll begin.
All 3 are closely related and equally relevant. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Let´s just determine our who (our audience), our what (our topic) and our why (the reason we´re doing it and our audience should choose us). And we are ALL set.
In real life, these 3 have turned out to be, like, the trickiest part of blog creation. For me, at least. I mean, it´s totally easy and fun to bustle with the colors and fiddle the themes, rather than answer to those not-so-pleasant questions: hmm, who´s gonna read my blog? What`s my content? Why should they read it? What’s in it for me? (no, becoming famous and making money is not the reason, it´s the preferable outcome).
Yep, THAT´s a bummer, I know.
Anyway, since we are agreed, that there´s no way around these annoying questions, we might as well jump right into our lil´ online research. And by the end of this research we´ll have our answers about how to start our food blog in a best possible way. Yay!
Our imaginary reader
When we´re starting out, we usually know what our broad topic should be (it´s the food, surprisingly), but may not know, what´s our specific niche, who´s our ideal reader, how large is the audience and where to find it. Or, we might´ve defined our perfect reader, but don´t know, what particularly this person wants to read about.
To come up with a FICTIONAL reader profile isn´t exactly a rocket science. Seriously. We could smoothly jot down something like this: ” I`ve got plenty of dieting experience, so I`ll create a special diet blog where I share weight loss tips and recipes. My ideal reader is 30-45 years of age, she´s a specialist with the college degree, married, has 2-3 children. She and one of the kids are suffering from overweight and therefore she needs to pay special attention to what to put on a dinner table every day. She needs advice about weight-related health issues, managing her everyday cooking as well as the appropriate recipes”.
Beautiful, isn´t it?
There´s only one BIG problem: we don´t know how many of these persons really exist. If any.
Cause´, without the facts it´s just our educated guess, I´m afraid.
So, for starters, we must dig out the facts.
What´s cooking in a food blogosphere?
To find that out, we´re taking a closer look at the current MIGHTY ones who are ruling this world.
We´re opening Top 100 Food Blogs. It´s a directory that curates 421 most popular food blogs. By briefly visiting a number of blogs (for example the first 50) we are able to find the following factors: what are the popular food trends and niches, blog designs and photo styles, what kind of recipes are featured in these blogs, how large are the audiences. (Data is being updated daily, so you may see some difference in numbers by now).
After examining the top 50 blogs we see that:
∗ most blogs are offering organic and/or healthy food recipes
∗ 9 are vegan or vegetarian blogs
∗ 12 blogs are about homemade/family recipes
∗ 10 blogs are featuring quick and simple recipes
∗ 3 blogs are writing about budget friendly cooking
∗ 3 of the 50 blogs are run by men
What else can we see?
Popular food bloggers are mostly women. Most of the blogs are looking visually very similar using classical layout with one right sidebar on a pure white background. Almost every blogger uses at least 4 Social Media channels: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter. None of the blogs are new, most of them are created 5 to 10 years ago. According to SimilarWeb an average monthly websites visits start from about 11K up to about 1.8M.
What can we conclude?
An immense amount of people are interested in healthy and plant-based cooking, as well as of diet recipes, family recipes and the recipes that are tasteful and simple to prepare.
Now. Let´s get a bit of extra statistics to double-proof our finds. We use Google Trends for the purpose. It´s a free tool that shows the worldwide rising trends and data based on Google Search. I´ve picked a bunch of relevant keywords for closer viewing: vegan recipe, vegetarian recipe, family recipe, homemade food, easy recipes, cheap food, organic food, organic recipe, paleo recipe, healthy recipe, healthy food, healthy eating, medicine food, weight loss recipe, weight loss cooking, diet recipe.
After inserting those one by one into the search box and adjusting the time range into past 12 months, we can see, that all these keywords show the rising trend (meaning, the subject is currently popular).
But, let`s dig even deeper now and try to find out, what type of blog posts are most commented (and therefore most engaging).
We´re using a super helpful tool FaqFox to respond to that question. By inserting site URL´s and our keywords, FaqFox shows a number of relevant threads to us. By opening them one by one we´re paying special attention to the comments number. After typing in multiple keywords and checking the comments, we´re able to conclude that posts meriting most of the comments in general, are articles that are practically helping people and therefore being valuable in some way (like blogging, cooking, health and everyday tips, as well as the guides about how to start a food blog or to take food photos, etc.).
We´re having the same results when checking FaqFox cooking forums to see what people are asking there:
Finally, it´s time to check one more tool called BuzzSumo, which displays us a list of the most popular content in the past year (sorted by total shares). After inserting some of our keywords, we can examine the most shared content in our topic:
We can also search for the top influencers in our niches:
For the most in-depth research we could further explore our readers on Reddit forums, Amazon`s cookbook reviews and Facebook’s Audience Insights. It´s easy to find an audience on Reddit, just type in your niche keyword into subreddit search and you´ll be able to view the discussion threads related. How to use the Facebook Audience Insight tool, you can watch this video.
For now, we´re seeing the big picture about what´s going on in a food blogging world. And we have a pretty clear idea what niches are worthy building our blogs around.
Our creativity shines like a golden globe on a Christmas tree and we´re like: “Oh, as a previous weight watcher I´ve got tons of healthy homemade dinner recipes that´ll make your pounds totally melt away. Plus, they are so easy and quick to prepare. AND, I see lots and lots of people who´d benefit from my blog!”.
Note, that we didn´t guess that, we searched for the facts.
Wasn´t so hard, right?
Next, we´re gonna figure out who our ideal reader is. Yep, we´re compiling a person´s profile. Just like a bunch of self-made Sherlocks.
Great. But what exactly is a reader profile?
Reader profile is a list of characteristics and statistics, such as:
∗ demographics: gender, age, location, profession, education, income, marital status, number of children etc.
∗ psychographics: interests, hobbies, preferences, problems, fears, desires, challenges etc.
But, what kind of Sherlocks would we be without a couple of clever widgets to help us in our deductive work. Ta-da! Allow me introduce you our eligible analytic tools, our´s to use for free!
For starters, we´ll cast a look at Alexa (it has 7 days free trial) and insert an URL of one of our closest competitor`s site (closest competitor meaning: you`d like to captivate the same audience. The reason for using the competitor´s audience is that we don´t have our own or it´s not large enough).
Since we now have a pretty good idea into what niche we can fit (depending on our personal preferences, experiences, and skills), then let´s say we´ve decided to go ahead with a healthy diet blog. After a lil´ digging, we´ll pick a blog Skinny Taste from the Top 100 Food Blogs to use for the example purpose. Yep, that´s the audience we´re gonna observe.
At the very bottom of the page we are able to view the audience demographics of this site:
Alexa shows a pile of other stuff, such as the age range:
Where the Skinny Taste`s audience is mostly located:
What keywords drive most of the traffic to the site:
We`ll continue our research with another tool called SimilarWeb. This tool among other things, helps us to discover, what are Skinny Taste´s readers favorite Social Channels.
We also see what sites readers commonly visited before and after landing on Skinny Taste:
What are audience main interests:
What other websites and what topics are relevant for Skinny Taste audience:
Google Display Planner shows us also a bit of demographic data (it´s not what the tool is mainly meant for, though).
Let´s open it. Inside we´ll see 2 options for searching:
∗ keywords, topics, or sites
∗ landing page
We are inserting our site address into the search field and add a couple of relevant keywords (what our readers would be interested in) for more accurate results. Then we´ll click the blue button:
On the next page, we see a graphic panel that shows us the demographics of the site visitors:
We´ve got the ingredients, so let´s cook
There. We´ve collected our audience´s demographics and psychographics from 3 tools. At first glance, this data may seem a bit general and estimated to you. It may be so, however, for building our reader profile it´s sufficient enough.
So, what demographics do we have after observing Skinny Taste´s audience:
∗ Gender – most of the readers are females
∗ Education – most readers have higher education
∗ Income – likely from medium to above medium
∗ Age – most likely in 30s (second larger group is in 50s)
∗ Location – mostly the readers are from the US, Canada and the UK
Now, let´s break down the psychographics.
Skinny Taste`s readers are mainly interested in food, cooking, health, fitness, traveling, as well as in social news and entertainment. After viewing the most frequently searched keywords of the blog (weight watchers recipes, cauliflower fried rice, overnight oats, low carb recipes, stuffed peppers, paleo recipes) we see, that readers are mostly looking for weight lowering recipes. According to SimilarWeb´s data, 16.1% of traffic comes from Social Media, while 94% visits come from Pinterest and Facebook. Meaning, the readers are most active there.
After reading a number of Skinny Taste´s blog and Facebook comments, we notice lots of Weight Watchers diet related questions, for example about the point system, keeping the weight once it´s lowered etc. So, we can conclude, that their problems and fears are mainly connected with their weight, appearance and overall health. As losing the baby weight was also among one of the more-discussed subjects, we are able to deduce, that women in 30s are mostly struggling with overweight gained during pregnancy, while women in 50s are facing the weight issues caused by the metabolic slowdown. We also meet plenty of comments, where readers are thanking the blogger for providing such quick, healthy and delicious recipes, that are appreciated by the whole family, so the weight watcher mustn’t always cook two separate meals (and it´s a huge time and money saver, obviously).
This one is quite clear here, too. Reader´s main challenge is to change her lifestyle and lose weight, while the desire is to achieve her dream/ideal weight and keep it.
(PS! If you plan to target different age groups on the same blog, like 30s and 50s, then I`d suggest creating separate profiles. As women in 50s are interested in different things than women in 30s).
Finally, we meet!
Now, we´re ready at last to put all this information together and create a reader profile based on Skinny Taste´s audience statistics. We use a FANTASTIC free tool for the purpose called Xtensio. Once we´ve opened an account (quick and easy), we´re seeing our dashboard:
Next, we´re choosing User Persona and click Use Template button. This takes us to our persona template. What I especially love about this tool is that all the fields are customizable to perfectly fit our needs. So we are free to duplicate or delete all of the elements, change fonts and colors, insert images, links and videos, format paragraphs.
Let´s now insert the demographics and psychographics into the fields and meet our ideal reader:
Exploring the Facebook and blog comments I just noticed the name Sarah to come up frequently, so I chose Sarah for our ideal reader´s name. I also noticed lots of brown-haired commenters, that´s why I selected this Pixabay stock photo to depict our reader. The biggest challenge for this audience is the lifestyle change, therefore I picked this quotation for our profile.
See, how we´ve minimized the guesswork here by using the facts. AND, after working through all of these steps, we begin to feel like we´re actually knowing our reader.
However, that´s just for the beginning. In future, when you already have your own audience, you´re able to ask your questions directly. What they like and what they dislike, what are their main problems and dreams. It´s all necessary for creating better targeted and truly valuable content for your readers. Which is the key to success, of course.
Me, me! Oh, pick me!
Finally, we´re gonna answer to the question WHY?
Why should Sarah start to read OUR blog?
Perhaps you´d think it would be such a clever idea to start doing what Gina is doing and just copy Skinny Taste´s blog? We know how it looks, we know the content it provides and we know the audience. And it´s SUCCESSFUL. It would be soooooo tempting, wouldn´t it?
WARNING, ‘m friends! It´s definitely NOT the right way to go.
Oh! Um, why?
Let´s see. Cause´s one more identical blog is the last thing your reader wants. They don´t need another blog with exactly the same layout, style, content and voice. There´s just WAYYY too much similarity out there already for anyone to handle. Therefore, we have to do something else: we must be different.
By being BETTER, of course. We must find our own unique way to offer more value to our readers. And copycats can do that rarely. Sad but true.
So, what´s our angle?
That brings us, well…to us. Yep, we´re gonna profile ourselves now. Ready?
For the purpose, we´re taking a pen and paper (or if you´re too modern for that, your favorite device). Next, we´re gonna put some time aside and write down our skills, knowledge, and experiences. (You could even use the same Xtensio tool to make your own profile).
Now, I know, we are all MEAN cooks, but for the angle we need to come up with our special thing. So, what´s the skill? It´s not a time to be shy here!
For example, let´s think what we really-really love to cook and what recipes are declared AMAZING by our family and friends. Perhaps it´s the pies, or the woks, or the salads, or the stews. We´ll write it down.
What else are we superb at?
Preparing gourmet meals? Awesome food plating? Stirring cocktails? Shooting magazine-worthy food photos? Writing mouth-watering food descriptions? Organizing memorable dinner parties? Mixing herbs for exquisite teas? Creating menus easily for any season and occasion? Suggesting a cafe or restaurant to any taste in your city? Creating stylish table settings? Making astonishing DIY arts&crafts projects? Giving expert health and beauty advice? Being a fashion guru? Having a marvelous sense of humor? Being budgeting wisards?
What about our experiences and challenges? – Dieting? Wellness? Physical activities? Travelling? Nursing? Parenting? Living abroad?
To make a list of your skills and knowledge may be a simple task for you. Or maybe not. If you get stuck, think, what are the things your friends and colleagues keep asking from you. And, I totally suggest you to turn to some of your closest friends and ask them, what you´re great at. You´ll be surprised what they might say.
I mean, I was. One of them wrote about me: “She knows all kinds of stuff like budgeting, selling things, cooking, housekeeping, just name it”. Here`s another: “She has an ability to self-study whatever she wants”. One more:” She is such a good cook and everything she makes turns out fantastically“.
I was like: WOW! Is that me? REALLY? Cool!
Now, on the following day, we return to our list and cast a fresh glance to it. Which skill, experience or knowledge is our favorite and at the same time would be most beneficial to our reader Sarah? Those are both important aspects to consider: we should be passionate about the subject to keep up the persistence and the material should be valuable enough for Sarah to become our subscriber.
Let´s check her profile once again. We see that losing weight is her main interest. So, we could combine the main interest with her other interests, that are also our own interests. For example:
∗ dieting + wellness/beauty
∗ dieting + parenting
∗ dieting + traveling
∗ dieting + fitness
∗ dieting + lifestyle
∗ dieting + health
There. Once we´ve selected our blogging niche, we´ll define the blog format that serves us the best. If we are experts on our topic, we´ll start an expert blog. If not, then we´ll be curious novices trying to become experts and we´ll begin with a blog describing our journey. Or, our blog can be the combination of both.
Now, what´s our WHY?
Perhaps you´ve heard about the Purple Cow theory created by Seth Godin?. He also says, “Today, the one sure way to fail is to be boring. Your one chance for success is to be remarkable.”
So, what will Sarah find from our blog (besides the valuable content), that she doesn´t elsewhere?
That would be our PERSONALITY.
Yep! YOU are unique! With your own thoughts, dreams, fears, problems, desires and challenges. Share it! Don’t be afraid to show who you are.
And you´ll be unforgettable.
You´ve made it to the end. So how do you feel?
Cause´ we know now, that the widespread advice to start a blog by choosing the hostings, domains, WordPress themes and branding stuff is not the right way to build our successful blogs.
The right way is to answer those who, what and why questions first:
∗ Who´s our audience?
∗ What´s our content?
∗ Why choose us?
Starting a food blog is not something you carve into stone. This process is not something to be displayed publicly for evaluation. So, don´t take it too seriously, but creatively, flexibly and with pleasure.
All the steps described above are mainly for helping you to begin as better prepared as possible.
It`s important not to compare your blog´s current situation with somebody else´s. Like: “See, how many followers she´s got! How many posts and photos up!”
There´s no point in such thinking. Because. Every blogger´s starting point, journey, and goals are completely different. There´s no point to compare your situation with someone, who´s been out there for much longer, having much more knowledge and experience.
It`s important to fix your starting point, a few nearer goals and start moving. It`s important to keep things simple now and not get stuck with something, that´ll be important after 3 weeks or 5 months or a year. It´s so easy to lose your head and your way in todays flow of information. I know that oh-so-well.
Therefore, I totally suggest you to follow an old Estonian advice: each thing on it´s own time.
If you need help defining your audience or have questions about the topic, leave a comment below the post and I’ll try to assist you the best I can.
If this article helped you, please consider sharing it. It may help other people.
Head photo comes from Unsplash.