Find out how to start a food blog the right way and make money from it. This is a thorough guide aimed at beginning and newish food bloggers on low budgets.
I’m Deirdre, the one-woman show behind The Fiery Vegetarian food blog. I’ve been blogging for just over four years and qualified for Mediavine at the end of my first year of blogging and now make a liveable wage from it (I’m not rich yet though!).
Why should you listen to me?
There is a lot of misinformation out there about starting a food blog, with a third of it written by blogger services who want you to buy whatever they’re selling, and another third written by bloggers-about-blogging who want you to generate affiliate income for them.
The remaining third seems to be written by bloggers who have been in this game a long time (and the food blogging environment changes very fast) and provide outdated or incomplete information.
This post does not belong to any of those groups (although there will be the odd affiliate link for services I really believe in, as well as cheaper or free recommendations for alternatives).
Many established food bloggers, like myself, mentor beginner bloggers for free but I sure do seem to be repeating the same advice over and over again, so I decided to write this post to be a one-stop shop for all beginner queries.
I don’t do food blog income reports anymore but I do have a lot of them up here on the site from the first years of my blog, and they are also a wealth of information.
Do note that while I LOVE blog income reports, ones that are older than three-four years or belong to very well-established blogs that only started sharing income reports after successfully monetizing, just won’t be that useful to you as the blogosphere changes so fast.
In fact, scroll right back up now and check the date on this article and if I haven’t updated it within the last year, then take all my advice with a pinch of salt (but I do plan on updating this regularly).
Who is this article for?
If you’re looking for an easy way to share your loved one’s recipes with your family or communicate with friends about all the amazing dishes you’ve been trying while traveling around the world for a year abroad, then this is not the post for you.
If you’re planning on starting a food blog that can be monetized and bring in either an extra income stream or replace your income entirely (and increase it) then this is the spot for you.
If you’ve already started a food blog but it isn’t gaining any traction and traffic is going nowhere, then this post is for you.
Food blogging and growing traffic is hard work. You will need to make small initial investments depending on your income (I give free, budget, spend, or splurge options for everything you need where I can) and keep at it.
A lot of people starting out in food blogging think they’ll try it for just a few months and see how it goes, or have very unrealistic expectations of growth. The problem with this is:
- It gives you an easy reason to back out and not commit.
- It perpetuates the idea that blogging is some kind of lottery and that only a few will succeed at it, no matter how much hard work is put in. This is just not true. Blogging is an excellent investment in your financial future which will always pay off as long as you keep improving.
If you’re a terrible cook, well that’s going to be an issue, but everything else can be overcome.
Which blogging platform?
Your blogging platform is your content management system (CMS). New bloggers, especially food bloggers, tend to use WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace, and only a very few use Drupal.
This is further confused by the fact that WordPress actually has two platforms, WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
To be perfectly clear, WordPress.org is the only content management system you should be using if you want to monetize later, and you should be using it from the very start.
- Squarespace is very easy to use and cheap, and you can set up your site in a few clicks with content management and hosting. However, it’s just not compatible with many of the themes, plugins, and functionality you’ll need to have a food blog you can monetize. You’ll have to change domains and content management systems before you can really monetize and potentially lose a lot of traffic, so don’t start out with it. Migrating a Squarespace blog is an absolute pain as it’s just plain lacking in food blog functionality.
- Wix is also really easy to use and free to set up, but has very limited functionality and is hard to migrate data from.
- WordPress.com is not just a CMS, it’s also a host. It’s free, or even cheap, but don’t be fooled by their expensive WordPress Business options, it’s incredibly difficult to monetize, own your content, or migrate to WordPress.org later when you’re earning.
WordPress.org is just a content management system that can be installed on the host of your choice. You own your domain and content and can benefit from a huge array of plugins and themes.
It is the system of choice for ad management companies and serious bloggers. Installing WordPress software (WordPress.org) is normally free or included with purchased hosting.
Buy your domain
Your domain is the actual URL of your site, the address to access it, and what you type in the address bar.
You need to purchase a domain name, which is usually very cheap, between $3-10 per year, and is renewed yearly or for longer terms if you choose. The domain name you choose will depend on your niche, personal taste, and your target market.
For example, my domain name is thefieryvegetarian.com
The .com part is important because I always knew that I would be trying to target mainly the USA market as it monetizes better.
You will be more restricted when monetizing if you choose a UK or Spanish or South African or similar domain, so I recommend choosing a .com domain. Unless you actually intend to target another country, of course.
The front part of your domain name will depend on your blog name, e.g. mine is The Fiery Vegetarian so my domain name is thefieryvegetarian.com.
So how do you purchase a domain name? Well, a lot of the time it will be included for free in your hosting plan.
It’s more secure to have your domain hosted with one provider and your actual hosting with a different provider, but when you’re starting out it won’t matter much, and one free domain will usually be included with your hosting.
If a domain is not included in your hosting plan, BigScoots, Namecheap, and 1&1 offer separate domain purchasing services and are trustworthy.
Blog name and niche
People really agonize over blog names, but in the end, they’re not as valued anymore as they used to be when it comes to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
It’s good to pick a name that is relevant to your niche, but don’t niche it down too much. Your blog name should align with you, your personality, your type of blog, and allow room to grow.
Don’t pick a name like onlyveganglutenfreenutfreebakinginalaska.com and then later expect to be able to easily branch out into wheat-based recipes.
I know so many people that started out with domains like maryonlybakes.com and later branched out into dinner and lunch non-baked recipes and changed their blog name and identity and bought a new domain and had to go through all the hassle of transferring and redirecting everything and a bit of a dip in traffic.
Your niche should be the area of cooking you enjoy the most but there should be enough search volume there to justify specializing in that niche.
Make a list of a few ideas, brainstorm, use a free blog name generator, and check if your ideal domain name is available before you get too attached to it.
I would also highly recommend you double triple check that your blog name doesn’t spell something rude or strange when all the words run together in a URL.
Whorepresents.com is a great example of not following this advice, the business is actually called Who Represents but there are unfortunately two other words that can be made when those words are put together…
Also, consider the initials of the words in the name in case you want to use an acronym later or include the acronym in the logo. For example, you might want to call your blog Lucy’s Sunny Diner, but LSD is probably not the best acronym to have.
When we talk about hosting, we’re talking about online services where your site is located, which make it accessible to everyone on the web.
Hosting is very important as it affects the speed of your website, which is a ranking factor for Google.
If you’re serious about monetizing, you need quality hosting with WordPress.org installation.
There are several tiers of hosting, with shared hosting (on a shared server level), virtual dedicated hosting, dedicated hosting, managed hosting, etc.
When you start out, shared hosting is perfectly fine and is the cheapest option before you begin earning. But not all shared hosting is the same.
Many of the cheapest shared hosting services have a lot of micro outages and are very slow, such as the three hosts I mention below.
I do not recommend Bluehost, Godaddy, or Hostgator. I have seen bloggers I really respected pushing them because they are affiliates for them and get huge payouts whenever you sign up with them. They are cheap for the first year only and then have a huge markup when you renew.
I’ve even seen a few bloggers try to justify recommending them by saying that you won’t make much headway in your first year of blogging so it doesn’t matter, but this is categorically untrue.
I myself was sucked in and used Bluehost for the first eight months of my blog before changing to a faster better quality host. I saw a huge increase in traffic immediately, applied for Mediavine two months later, and was accepted
Quality well-priced shared hosting you can trust is BigScoots (from $6.95 a month) and WPopt (from $6.67 a month). Don’t scrimp here. You should also get a free security certificate (https) or your site will be flagged with Google as insecure.
But I’ve already paid for a year’s hosting with “Insert terrible host here”?
I feel for you. I hate when people recommend services they know are rubbish that they would never use themselves. But you need to get out of that terrible hosting.
You could possibly stay the first six months or so and it wouldn’t make much of a difference, but why would you stay the whole year and handicap your growth?
When you make it to the big ad networks and are looking at from a few hundred dollars to a thousand each month in the early months as your earnings ramp up, canyou really see yourself thinking…
“Boy am I glad I put off getting here and wasted six months being tied into a terrible host that stagnated my site just so I could save the $18 I’d spent on the remaining six months of the plan”?
Your theme is another very influential factor in the success of your site. You need a quick light theme.
This is trickier than it sounds, there are a huge array of themes available for self-hosted (WordPress.org) websites and it can be tempting to just pick the prettiest one and march on ahead.
Don’t do it. Start out on the right foot. Get Kadence, GeneratePress, or Feast.
The basic Kadence and GeneratePress templates are free, very light, and fast, but you will definitely need a lot of patience to set them up or customize them as they’re not geared toward recipe sites.
For customization, you will also need to upgrade from the free versions. GeneratePress Pro, which I love and use for beginner sites, is quite cheap at $59 a year, Kadence is the same for their pro version.
If you’re a techie and relish a challenge and are looking to save money, these themes are your best bet. They also have excellent support and forums, even on the free themes, as well as more professional yet still economical Pro versions.
If you’re not a techie and want a blog that is fast and well-built and pretty with a template that is ready to go with a minimum of customization, then you need a feast design studio press theme.
It’s a bit confusing but you can get a one-time install of one of Feast Design’s five basic themes for just $19, perfect for your first year of blogging or until you need more functionality.
There is also a feast plugin starter at $97 a year, which includes access to all 5 themes with all the optimized settings and technical configurations hard-baked in.
I will say that I’ve had four themes on my website and in terms of ease of use and functionality for food bloggers, Feast Design has everything beat.
Once you’ve installed your theme, think about your site structure. And use categories, not tags.
Logo and colors
There is no need to spend a fortune on a logo at the start. If you’re anything like most food bloggers, you will probably change logos a few times before you settle on something you really like.
Personally, I’ve gone through three logo changes.
You’ll need a logo to start establishing your presence on social media, to create cohesion and brand awareness across your site, and to put that little favicon in the left corner of your tab.
Once you’ve decided on your blog name, get thee to a free online logo generator and play around with it and see if there is anything you like. This is a good time to start thinking about what color palette you want to use on your website and incorporate them into your logo.
Some bloggers use lots of colors, but to start with just choose three. You can’t have all super bright or pastel colors if you’re going to be using any of your colors for text, headings, or links unless they’re on a dark background and there is a lot of contrast, as it will make them hard to read and be an accessibility violation.
If you can’t find anything on online logo generators that you like, that’s fine, at least by now you might have a good idea of what you don’t like, and that’s also useful.
Spend a little more and head over to Fiverr where you can find thousands of designers who will make you a logo for prices starting from $5.
Plugins are cool little software snippets that can basically be plugged into your site. Lots of them are free, and even the premium ones are quite cheap, so initially bloggers love to use lots of them and get excited at the variety available and all the things they can do.
However plugins don’t just add extra functionality to your website, they also add page weight and slow your site down.
Keep your plugins to the absolute minimum. In the beginning, you should only need the ones below, and they all have free versions:
- A recipe card plugin
- A social sharing plugin
- Yoast SEO
- Spam protection (optional)
That’s all. For recipe card plugins, there are only three good ones, Tasty, Create, and WP Recipe Maker. I don’t know a huge amount about Tasty, but it’s not free, and most bloggers tend to use Create or WPRM.
They are both free with premium paid versions, but I recommend WPRM as it offers far more functionality later, and it will be an absolute pain to change recipe cards once you have a good bit of content.
For social sharing plugins, you can use something light like Simple Social Icons, or Grow Social.
They are both free, although Grow Social also has a pro paid version. I use Grow Social as I like the way it looks and I love the extra functionality in the Pro version, like changing the color of your social buttons and hiding pinnable images for Pinterest, disallowing pinning other images etc.
For image optimization, a lot of bloggers use the ShortPixel plugin but I prefer to use the free online app Squoosh to optimize my images before uploading them.
Squoosh reduces the amount of space your images take up on your server, and you can check what the images look like and easily adjust the compression and quality.
The Yoast SEO plugin is free and important for setting up your sitemaps and provides a box at the end of your post when editing where you can easily modify the URL for your recipe and add the page meta information etc.
For spam protection, many bloggers use the Akismet plugin, which costs around $8 a month. As you start to get traffic, you will get a huge amount of spam comments on your blog.
I found a free anti-spam comment solution years ago though, which is just go to WordPress –> Settings –> Discussion, and scroll down to Disallowed Comment Keys.
Then enter a keyword in lowercase which has been appearing in spam comments that wouldn’t appear in normal comments, like dioxymyclide for example, press enter and go to the next line without adding a comma or full stop.
I have a super long list that took me a few months to build up but I think I’ve only gotten three spam comments over the last few years after implementing it.
If you want a shortcut, I can mail you the list, just send me an email, or DM me on Facebook, or on Instagram as I can’t include it in the text on this page or Google will flag me as – you guessed it- spam.
Okay, this is an area that has a steep learning curve. If you already know quite a bit about photography and have a DSLR or mirror camera, then you really have a huge advantage.
If you don’t, quite a few people get by with high-quality mobile phone cameras and excellent editing skills for a while until they can afford to get a secondhand DSLR.
Photography is incredibly important as it increases the CTR (click-through rate) wherever your image is shown.
To improve your photography skills, you’re going to need help. My photography is okay now, though I still want to improve it, but sheesh when I started out it was awful.
If you don’t believe me, the image below is from the first month of this blog (the shame).
I have tried plenty of photography books and courses, some were great, but most were not. The three most useful ones for me were:
- The Bite Shot Youtube channel
- The Food Photography Book by Nagi Maehashi from Recipe Tin Eats
- Food Blogger Pro membership
The Bite Shot channel is free and I recommend you work through all the photography and editing-related videos there before you move on to paying for anything.
Unfortunately, Nagi Maehashi’s book is not available for purchase right now but I will update it here as soon as it is.
Food Blogger Pro membership is pricier but includes a ton of other blogging information that’s really useful for new bloggers, read my Food Blogger Pro review to learn more.
FBP is what finally got me over the line into photos you’d like to click on because the tutorials and courses are really fantastic. Below you can see the first photo I took after FBP.
I do add sale dates to the Food Blogger Pro review when they’re on, you can sometimes get access really cheaply for a month, we’re talking ten dollars or less, and sales happen several times a year.
If you’d like me to let you know the next time a sale is happening, just drop me a line.
There is a 99% chance that your photo files will not be correctly lit or focused or cropped as is after downloading them from your camera or phone. You will definitely need to edit them to get the most out of them.
The best editing software for food blog photos is either the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite or Canva.
I have used Adobe from the start and pay about ten dollars monthly for the basics. I use Lightroom for general blog images, and Photoshop for collages, labeling ingredient shots, and making new pins for Pinterest.
Canva has a free version that is limited, but you can try it out, the pro version costs around nine dollars a month and is paid in one yearly installment.
If you’re using a DSLR camera, you should be shooting in RAW format. RAW files are huge though and you can’t preview them the normal way.
To whittle down your shots to the ones needed for editing, you can download the free XnViewMp tool which will allow you to preview and discard subpar RAW images quickly, reducing the amount of time you need to spend editing.
Some people who use their mobile phones just use their free phone editing software. Whichever tool you use, you need to be able to edit the following:
- White balance
- Vibrance and/or Saturation
- Spot removal
Your images should be saved at 1200 pixels wide, height doesn’t matter as much, I think mine usually end up at about 1800 high, but they should be in portrait format for featured images and in-post images.
I export my process photos as squares to make it easier to add them to collages.
Uploading images to WordPress
Insert your edited photos into your WordPress media library, not directly into your post.
Before uploading, make sure you have reduced their size using Squoosh and that the file names are optimized for SEO with dashes (-) between words, e.g. poofy-pasta-recipe.jpg not poofy pasta.jpg or IMG0145.jpg or poofy_ pasta.jpg.
Once uploaded, go through each image and add the alt text. Alt text is important for accessibility and should describe the image to users who cannot see the images or have difficulty seeing them. It is descriptive, not an opportunity to shoehorn in keywords.
For example, the alt text for the image below should read something like “A piece of naan bread being dipped into a dark orange sauce in a small white bowl, with several breads on a checked cloth behind it.”
When you add your photos to your WordPress post, make sure the first image does not load in the first screenview, otherwise known as “above the fold “, as it is not great for page speed and web core vitals. Push it down below the first paragraph.
When you’re just starting out blogging or are in your first year, and don’t have much cash to invest, stick with the absolute basics.
I can tell you that I spent lots on a ton of different accessories that everyone insisted I needed, and I do not use about half of them.
Here are the absolute basics you’ll need, and free alternatives:
See those super crisp images that great food bloggers have? That’s because they use a tripod to eliminate shakiness, which causes blur.
You’ll want a tripod for both front and overhead shots. Tripods for shots from the front are relatively cheap but overhead ones can be expensive. I use this one and have for years, for both overhead and front shots.
Free version? For overhead shots, put the food on the floor and stand over it, point the camera down, supporting it against your chest, hold your breath, and take the shot.
For front-facing photos, rest your camera on any stable surface, adding books or boxes if needed to get it to your desired height, and click away.
A tethered or Bluetooth trigger or remote will also remove blurriness, and they’re very cheap to buy on Amazon. You will need one that works with your camera, or mobile phone. I use this one for my Nikon camera.
The free version? A steady finger, and hold your breath!
You’ll need some nice backgrounds for your images.
You can use patterned wallpaper, leftover tiles, your countertop, any interesting surfaces you can find in your house, salvaged wood or cabinet doors, tissue paper, trays etc.
Just make sure they aren’t glossy. Most bloggers actually use printed vinyl sheets or boards, which are super easy to clean and put away. You can order some double-sided ones very cheaply on AliExpress.
Cutlery, napkins, tea towels and crockery
The extras. Use what you have, as long as it’s not super glossy, or raid second-hand stores for what you need. Ikea and other stores have some great finds as well, especially as you’ll only need one or two of each item and not a full set.
Some pinch bowls will especially come in handy for process shots and for filling white space in your photos with grated cheese, chili flakes, fresh herbs, etc.
Diffusers soften harsh light to make it more flattering and to avoid harsh shadows and overly bright highlights.
I like to use Neewer diffusers that also work as reflectors, but really you can use anything. A transparent white curtain works, as well as just sticking some tracing paper or white baking paper on the window you’re using for light.
If you’re using natural lighting and it’s a cloudy day, you probably won’t need a diffuser at all.
Bounce cards or reflectors
Lighting is best from the side, diagonally from the back, or from the back. Use bounce cards to reflect light into spaces that are too dark, usually on the side furthest from the light.
You can just use folded pieces of stiff white paper. Equally, if you’re aiming for a darker more broody photography style, use folded pieces of black paper to add more shadow.
Natural lighting is best, and it’s free. But as I said before, light from the side, diagonal behind, or behind. Don’t shoot your food outside, non-directed light is very unflattering.
If you have issues with natural lighting, then you’ll need to consider using artificial lighting. Do not use the overhead lighting in your house, or lamps, it will give your photos a yellowish cast and a flat look.
I use these Neewer lights in winter when it’s difficult to get good natural light during the hours I shoot, especially if you’re working outside your home during the day. They are pricey though.
A spray bottle
If you’re shooting sauces or pasta dishes, a lot of the time they will absorb the sauce and look a bit dry. The same with cut fruit.
Get a dollar-store spritz bottle and fill it with water and spritz your food while shooting if it needs to look shiny and luscious. Spray olive oil is also a great option for suitable dishes like pasta.
You need a way to store your photos, both unedited and edited. Never delete the originals as you’ll need to prove ownership with the RAW unedited image, if someone uses your images without permission.
Even worse, and it has happened, someone could use your images and then claim that YOU stole them.
You’ll need a good memory card for your phone or camera, and to store them in at least one place else. I store all mine on an external hard drive as well as on a free Google Drive account that I set up purely for my blog.
SEO is an absolute must. You must understand the basics of on-page and off-page SEO in order to rank. I’m sure your “Super Duper Combo Cheese Crisp Pickled Spaghetti” is awesome, but if nobody is looking for it, then it won’t do you any good apart from a few curious social media visits.
First, you need to target low-competition keywords that people are looking for. For that, you need to use a keyword tool. I use Keysearch, which costs about twelve dollars a month.
In my Keysearch review, I also detail exactly how I use it to find keywords. I HIGHLY recommend using Keysearch, it’s by far the most accurate cheapest tool available.
It also has a free one-month trial, so you can join up, do a huge amount of Keyword research, and then either continue or cancel your subscription before you’re billed for the next month and rejoin later, as needed or when your blog is earning consistently.
A keyword research tool should be one of the first things you buy before publishing content, otherwise, you’re potentially expending a lot of effort on content that will never be seen.
Moz also has a free 30-day trial. And if you set up a free account with Semrush, you can get 10 free searches a day.
You should also check out other blogs that are ranking for your keyword in search results. Do they include the keyword in their URL? Are they all top-quality high DA (Domain Authority) websites with well-ranked recipes?
Then you’ll probably never rank for that keyword. Look for results where your main keyword is not in the URL, which don’t really correspond to the query, or where Pinterest, All Recipes, or manufactured products occupy some of the spots, because although they may be high DA sites, they’re not SEO optimised.
For more in-depth free SEO advice, I advise you listen to all the free Top Hat Rank seminars and Food Blogger Pro podcasts.
If you want to invest in an SEO course, I highly recommend Cooking with Keywords as the best for food bloggers. The Hashtag Jeff course is also great and you can pay for monthly access at $29, learn as quickly as possible, and then cancel your subscription if you’re trying to keep expenses down.
Pick one main keyword. If you can naturally fit in other related ones, great, but remember, jack of all trades, master of none.
Your main keyword should be in your slug, or the part of the URL that shows where to find your post. Add the bare keyword, without “best” or “easy” or a date or a category. E.g. if you’re doing a post on poofy pasta, your URL should be https://mywebsite.com/poofy-pasta.
Your keyword should be in your title (your h1 heading). You can add an extra word before it like Easy, Quick, 10-minute, Best, etc. to increase interest and the click-through rate from Google, but you don’t want your main keyword to be at the end of a long title.
Do not add your main Keyword to other headings on the page. This is keyword stuffing and it was dealt with in a Google update and does you no favors.
Feel free to add it two or three more times throughout the post where it sounds natural, e.g. Poofy pasta can be stored in the fridge for up to five days.
Structure your post well. You want an introductory paragraph before your main image at the top of the post, a highlights section, an ingredients section, an instructions section which should include your process photos, storage, tips, FAQs, a call to action to rate the recipe, and the recipe card itself.
Your images should be optimized for size and SEO before uploading them to your WordPress media library.
Name your photos with relevant keywords, e.g. my main photo will be called poofy-pasta.jpg, my labeled ingredients photo poofy-pasta-ingredients.jpg, my process collage how-to-make-poofy-pasta.jpg, and any other final recipe images can be variations on the main keyword where applicable, preferably ones that are relevant and have search volume, like vegetarian-poofy-pasta.jpg, poofy-pasta-sauce.jpg and so on.
In your recipe card, you should have the main keyword in the title, and fill out as many of the sections as you can e.g. photo, timing, category, servings, ingredients, instructions, notes, etc.
The keyword section in the recipe card is for voice searches,like Alexa and Google home screens, and you shouldn’t put more than three phrases. You should definitely angle it more towards voice search and not keyword research. Think along the lines of poofy pasta, pasta that’s puffy, fluffy pasta, and so on.
Google search console will sometimes give you a warning if you don’t include process photos in your recipe card, but ignore it. Process photos in your recipe card are not great for UX as they make it much longer and more difficult to see where you are at a glance while cooking.
They also make printing out your recipe card more difficult as the printout will be longer and use much more ink.
Lastly, be sure to include your main keyword in the meta description for the post, and really sell your recipe. For example, “This poofy pasta is vegetarian and ready in just ten minutes for a quick decadent meatless meal tasty enough to satisfy everyone“.
Off-page SEO refers to your blog’s online presence. It’s what helps your Domain Authority grow and helps you to rank. It can be backlinks, social media presence, guest posts, etc.
Quite a few bloggers do guest posts to try and build their DA. I never have.
It’s also very hard to get guest posts from established bloggers with high DAs because they’re quite exigent about the subject, the quality, and the photos.
Your social media presence will help by driving eyes toward your new content but I wouldn’t obsess about it unless you have a particular talent for social media marketing.
The bit that you will most be able to control is getting links. Do not buy links, even from “reputable companies” as it puts you at risk for a Google penalty.
As your site grows, some links will come naturally, but a good way to build links faster is to actively seek out round-ups and mentions from established bloggers.
An easy way to do this is to set up a folder in your bookmarks bar with Facebook groups for sharing and round-ups and check it several times a week and to apply to relevant calls for recipes to link to.
Some good ones are FBC Social Sharing, Food Blogger Link Building, Blog Post Round Up Database, and Bloggers Sharing Links for Roundups.
You can also search for relevant groups in your niche. Recipe-sharing sites are another good way to get links, even if they are nofollow, to get more eyes on your content.
They don’t generate a huge amount of views now, so again, don’t spend a long time on this. I personally just use Foodgawker because it’s super fast to do.
Launching your blog
I have been asked this question so many times I’ve lost count. “How many posts should I launch my blog with?”. The correct answer is always…
Your blog will take at least six to seven months to gain enough links, content and authority to start ranking and being seen by other people.
There is zero point in worrying that people will see it before it looks its best or has all the categories filled out or the logo finalized or whatever because I repeat, no one will see it.
Leaving your blog in WordPress draft hell languishing while you get it “up to scratch”, is just wasting time that your blog could be aging, and delaying getting you monetized.
If you really want to do a celebratory blog launch with your friends or family or whoever, push your blog live after the first post, keep working on it, don’t say anything to them or give them the address, and then when you think it looks presentable enough, do a launch.
Measuring traffic and results
So, after all of the effort you’ve been putting into actioning these points, how do you actually see if you’re getting results? Read on to find out.
Before you dive deeper into measuring results, it’s worth mentioning that you should also keep an eye on your site speed. Run it through Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool, your ideal result is one that is green.
The Google Sandbox
First let’s discuss not getting traffic. You should be aware of the fact that the Google Sandbox will prevent you from getting much traffic at all in the first 6-7 months of your blog being online.
The Google Sandbox is not a real digital sandbox, it’s just a combination of factors that will keep most blogs from ranking or getting much traffic until they have proven themselves trustworthy in the eyes of Google. Once you “exit the sandbox” you should see a steady climb in site traffic if you’ve done everything right.
Google Analytics is one of the first things you need to set up on your blog. It allows you to see how your traffic is progressing, where it’s coming from, what posts people are visiting, etc. It is also the only accepted proof of traffic when you apply to join an ad network.
Cloudways has a great tutorial on how to install analytics, which I highly recommend. Unfortunately, Universal Analytics, which we all know and love, is being phased out and will stop functioning on July 4th 2023.
Therefore you’ll probably be better off installing the new GA4 property, which none of us know how to use properly yet.
In the meantime, it will take your analytics a while to start gathering information on your website so install it as soon as possible. Once you have it installed a day or two, log in to Google Analytics GA4 property, and click on reports in the left pane.
Then click on acquisition –> traffic acquisition and you’ll see a report showing you a snapshot of your traffic by sessions, users, and where it’s coming from. You can modify the dates of the snapshot in the top right corner.
I don’t find any of the current GA4 reports that useful and prefer to create my own in just a few minutes, following this really quick tutorial. The only different thing I do to the tutorial is I add in views (page views) in the metrics and only keep Views, Users, Sessions, Engagement Rate, and Engagement Duration per Session.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console will show you your organic and Google Discover traffic. Google Discover traffic is when one or some of your posts get featured in the curated screens that appear when you open Chrome without typing in a web address and can result in a lot of temporary traffic.
You can also see terms people are actually using to find your site, check your sitemaps, see if there are any issues blocking your site from being crawled, and request posts be indexed.
Most importantly of all, you can discover how your site is doing in page experience, core web vitals, and mobile usability. You need to do well in these areas for Google to see you as worthy of ranking.
Search Console is easier to set up than GA. Find out how to set it up.
If you have a keyword research tool, like Keysearch, you can use it to track keyword rankings as well. You don’t get much of an allowance for tracking keywords so use it wisely and only track one main keyword per post, two if you really need to.
For other tools to track how your website is doing outside of paid ones, I highly recommend Ahrefs Webmaster Tools, which is free.
You’ll be able to plug your URLs into the search bar and see if they’re ranking, and what they’re ranking on, track the overall progress of your website from the dashboard, and also run free technical audits on your website to pick up on any issues.
Your mailing list is important because it’s yours and yours alone, unlike traffic which comes and goes, or social networks which can be shut down or kick you out whenever they please.
You should start growing a mailing list from the very beginning. Consider offering a “freebie” like a mini recipe ebook or a meal pan to entice people to sign up.
You will need an email marketing service to store your email list and send out emails. Mailchimp and Mailerlite are ones you can use for free until you have over a certain amount of subscribers. Personally, I find Mailerlite much easier to use.
Cull your email list regularly. You don’t want to have to start paying for your list when it hits over a thousand subscribers if a third of the subscribers are spam bots and another third have never opened a single email from you.
In order to convince people to sign up to your list for whatever freebie you’re offering, you’ll need to insert a form into your blog to collect their details.
Pop-up forms tend to get the best results and attract more sign-ups but are honestly quite annoying and can be heavy and slow down your site.
I’ve tried many different kinds of forms in different places on my website, and honestly, Spotlight Subscribe is the one that works best for me, is much lighter on your poor website, and is part of the Grow.me super cute suite of free goodies.
The Grow.me suite is run by Mediavine and also includes a pretty strip of recommended recipes at the top of the page and recommended content tips inserted into your posts, linking to other recipes of yours. These can increase your session time, and it’s free to sign up for Grow.me.
The only downside is that it doesn’t connect super well to email services yet so you may have to manually download your new subscribers and add them to your Mailerlite or Mailchimp subscriber list.
You should try and send at least one mail a week, otherwise, subscribers will forget they signed up voluntarily and you’ll get a lot of unsubscribes when you do eventually send out something.
Some bloggers send two emails a week. You can do a newsletter-style email or just let your subscribers know about new content or recipes on your blog.
If you’re still not sure what to write I recommend signing up for the mailing lists of well-known food bloggers and learning from their formats.
Social networks are not really what they used to be. The most useful ones for food bloggers tend to be Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, although TikTok is also growing in importance. Some bloggers also use Twitter.
Traffic from social networks can help send signals to Google that your content is worth visiting and is trustworthy, so you do need to spend some time on it.
Remember that content is king and SEO efforts will pay off much more in the long run than social media efforts. If you are spending 40 hours a month on Facebook but are only getting 500 visitors from there, that’s not a good ROI when you could have created a few new pieces of content instead.
I guarantee you that whichever network you are most familiar with and use in real life is the one you’ll end up spending the most time on.
One of the early steps of setting up your blog should be signing up for and securing your social media handles for your blog. Make sure you link out to your blog’s social media profiles from your blog as well.
Pinterest is not really a social network, it’s more like a visual search engine. It used to be absolutely amazing and send a third or even half of people’s traffic, but sadly those days are gone.
It’s difficult to get traction on Pinterest now, but it should still send you some decent traffic. You can expect it to take at least 4-6 months for your pins to rank on Pinterest.
Start with a Pinterest Business account, and just a handful of well-keyworded boards, one should have the name of your blog, and the others should cover your main categories and have keyworded descriptions.
How do you do keyword research for Pinterest? Simple. Just go to Pinterest and type your main keyword into the search bar and see what suggestions come up.
For example, if you type in “poofy pasta” the search box drop-down will show related long-tail keywords like poofy pasta recipe, poofy pasta no cheese, poofy pasta salad, etc.
It may also throw out a few good related keywords while you’re typing e.g. by the time you’ve written poofy you might see poofy spaghetti, or poofy noodles which are also related. Take all those extra words and add them you your keyword description and also write a CTA (Call To Action).
For example “This delicious poofy pasta recipe comes together in minutes. Use whichever type of pasta you like but it’s particularly good with spaghetti noodles. It has no cheese so it’s suitable for vegans, and leftovers make a great base for pasta salad. Try it and let me know how much you loved it in the comments“.
You’ll also need a lovely pinnable image with clear text that can be read on mobile. Pinnable images are usually made in Photoshop or in Canva. Look around Pinterest and study the top performing pins (these are the pins at the top of the feed whenever you perform a search).
Use the top-performing pins for inspiration to put your own pins together. Once you’ve hit on a style you like, save that pin as a template in Canva or Photoshop and quickly make pins in the future by just opening it, editing the text, and swapping the photo out.
The current Pinterest guidelines for pinnable images are high-quality 1000 width x 1500 high pixel images. For a better user experience, hide your pins instead of showing them as extra images on your post.
If you’re using Grow Social, there’s an option at the bottom of the post while editing in WordPress to insert the pin and hide it.
If you’re not using Grow Social, insert the image after your recipe card. Then open the options for that block by hovering over it and clicking on the three dots, and click edit as HTML.
Then simply copy paste <div style =”display:none;”> at the very start of the code, and place </div> at the end. You’ll also want to add your keyworded description Inside the image tag, insert data-pin-description=” keyworded pin description for poofy pasta etc.”
Similarly, there might be some images on your page that you don’t want people pinning, like ingredient images (especially for very simple recipes), process images, or other images that haven’t been optimized for Pinterest.
Again, with a plugin, you can just click on the block and make it unpinnable, but manually you’ll need to edit the code and add nopin = “nopin” inside the image tag.
They’re used to be many courses on how to use Pinterest and do well, but it’s not worth taking anything now as it has changed so much.
To start out with, just follow my tips here and pin one new image per post to a keyworded board after posting, as pinning more images or repinning to boards doesn’t get much traction.
Consider testing an idea pin or two. Spend time on Pinterest, and initially, when you have very little pinnable content, pin high quality pins from other bloggers in your niche to your relevant boards.
Rich pins – it’s up to you whether you want to enable them or not. I tested with and without and saw more traffic, more eyes on my content, and more ads without them.
Facebook, or Meta as it ‘s now known, takes time to grow but can be a good source of easy traffic.
Reach has dropped quite drastically from last year so while you should spend time on it, don’t spend a lot of time, always keep in mind what kind of traffic you are getting from your efforts and whether it’s worth the ROI.
You’ll need to set up a page for your business with a profile photo (either you or your logo), and a banner which is usually a collage of photos.
Fill out as much of the information as you can for your page, and then launch it. You should post new recipes to your page, and interact as your page on related bloggers’ pages.
How do you get followers? Post from your page to groups in related niches. People can click back to your page and like your posts, and you can then invite them to follow you.
As time goes by, the analytics in the Meta business suite will help you know which time of day is best to post for engagement as well. You can also schedule your Facebook and Instagram posts in the same suite.
Note that most serious bloggers have their blog in their personal Facebook profile as well, you normally need to verify you’re a blogger to join blogging groups on Facebook and this is a quick way of doing that, as well as building authority and connections between the blog and your name.
There are tons of blogging groups on Facebook, but most of them are trying to sell you services or push their own projects. By far the best one is Food Bloggers Central.
It’s the biggest food blogger group and is completely altruistic. It has a mix of new, experienced, monetized, huge, and mega-huge bloggers and everyone is extremely helpful.
If you’re unsure about anything, do a search and chances are it has already been answered in this group.
I don’t have a huge amount of advice for Instagram because I don’t like it and it’s not a good ROI for me at all so I spend very little time on it.
It’s important if you want to attract sponsors, but sponsorship opportunities are rare if you don’t live in the target country. Images are still important on Instagram, but videos, reels, and stories are now key for increasing engagement.
At the very least you need to set up an account, with your blog name, a description, and a link, and publish new posts there. You’re only allowed one link, so Instagram is not very useful for driving traffic to your blog.
You can be smart with that link though, sign up for a free Later account and use their cool Link.in.bio option to add to your description instead of your blog homepage. You can check out how it looks in the link in my Instagram account bio.
Click on the link and you’ll see a replica of my Instagram feed with the difference being that when you click on an image it will direct you to the post on my site.
I am super clueless about TikTok. Some early adopters saw huge success with it, but now it seems to be kind of like Instagram where it doesn’t drive much traffic to your website.
I never adopted it because I hate doing videos, and everyone was always saying it was about to get banned in the USA.
I know Foodie Blogger Pro has a new TikTok course in their paid content but they also have a free webinar on TikTok strategy for food bloggers where for sure you can learn more about it than I can teach.
Getting and accepting feedback
If you have implemented everything I have talked about in this post, your blog is over seven months old, and you still aren’t seeing any upwards traction, then something else is going on.
It’s time to ask for… the dreaded feedback.
You can ask other blogger friends, but be cautious of the blind leading the blind. As I said before, there is a lot of misinformation aimed at keeping newbies in the dark and scrambling for expensive solutions so if your blogging friends are on a similar level to you, well, you need to level up for advice.
I would advise asking for honest feedback in the Food Bloggers Central Facebook group.
But do not put your site up for feedback if you know you need to work on SEO, photos, structure, a good theme, a good host, etc. because those are probably what is holding you back.
Remember that there is a mixture of levels in the group, always look at the bona fides of the people giving advice, and when in doubt, stick with advice from bloggers who are already monetized with the bigger ad networks.
If you have genuinely done everything you could, you’d be amazed what others can find for you. Issues on different browsers, technical problems, sitemap errors, speed issues, etc.
Methods of monetizing
You can monetize your website through ads, affiliates, sponsored posts, or by selling products like recipes or menu plans. For beginner bloggers, ads and affiliates are where you will want to concentrate your attention.
One easy way of starting affiliate marketing is to sign up for the Amazon affiliate program. You do need to make three qualifying sales in the first 180 days or you’ll get kicked out, so I wouldn’t add it until you are out of the sandbox.
You must disclose affiliate links, usually at the top of a post, and the link itself must be marked nofollow or you risk a manual penalty from Google.
Sponsored posts are also a possibility but generally, sponsors want significant traffic and a strong social media presence. I highly recommend reading this fantastic piece on how much bloggers earn and how to see what’s going on with blogger earnings in 2023.
Unless you are an advertising whizz, you’ll be better off getting an ad company to manage your ads for you. Let’s go into the different options for food bloggers.
All ads slow down your site, but higher-tier ones at least pay you enough to get some help speeding your site up, so I chose not to monetize until I had hit Mediavine levels.
Keep in mind that a slow site will slow your traffic growth, meaning it will take you even longer to qualify for premium ad management.
I’ll be mentioning RPMs here, which stands for Revenue Per Mille and is how much money you earn per thousand pageviews.
There is no minimum amount of traffic required to set up Adsense on your blog but I advise against having anything to do with it. It pays peanuts, we’re talking just a handful of dollars a month here.
If you accidentally click on your own ad or a family member does, then you can get banned from it.
Google also runs ads through most ad management companies so an Adsense ban means you won’t be able to join ad networks later when you have more traffic. It’s not worth it, hard pass. The average reported RPMs are around $3.60.
Gourmet Ads require strong US, UK, Australian, New Zealand or Canadian audiences with at least 10,000 monthly pageviews. You must also have a top level domain name like myblog.com, they don’t accept blogspot or wordpress.com URLs.
I haven’t been able to find any positive reviews from food bloggers on Gourmet Ads and payouts have been described as extremely low, on par with Google Adsense despite having a pgeview threshold for joining.
Ezoic used to have a minimum threshold of 10,000 monthly pageviews but has since removed it. They get very mixed reviews from bloggers. The average reported RPMs are around $7.99 with a significant reported effect on site speed.
To join SHE Media, your site has to be at least 90 days old, have a minimum of 20,000 page views a month, and have a high percentage of US-based traffic. You do need to sign a contract committing to one year with this company. Average reported RPMs are around $10.57.
In order to join Monumetric, you have to have a minimum of 10,000 pageviews a month, apply for approval, and pay a $99 initial setup fee. Your site must be a WordPress or Blogger site and have at least 50% traffic from the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. The average reported RPMs are around $20.00.
A lot of bloggers dislike having to pay a setup fee, as most ad companies earn money by deducting a percentage from our earnings, but apparently Monumetric doesn’t do this so your earnings are in the clear.
Mediavine requires a minimum of 50,000 page sessions, not pageviews. Average reported RPMs are around $25.04.
They do serve ads faster than the lower threshold networks, and you have more control over ads and placements with their fantastic dashboard. You also earn an extra 1% of revenue share per year you are with them.
Raptive, formerly known as Adthrive or Cafemedia, requires 100,000 monthly pageviews. Average reported RPMs are around $22.10 for 2023. They are usually comparable to Mediavine.
Raptive manage your ads minutely to maximise income, although you can reqeuest they ad more or less ads, and invest a significant amount if paid for email marketing, keyword research and other courses for their members.
It’s worth mentioning that they also have a really great closed Facebook group which isn’t as heavily policed as the Mediavine one, where qualifying bloggers are free to share information.
Summary (in a nutshell)
There has been a lot of information thrown at you in this post, but hey, at least it’s free information. In summary, you need to build your blog from the ground up and ideally in the following order:
- Decide your niche and pick a domain name.
- Purchase decent hosting with WordPress.org included and a .com domain.
- Install a fast light theme.
- Get or make a logo, and pick a few colors.
- Install the bare minimum of necessary plugins and set up basic site structure and pages.
- Learn how to do keyword research and create a list of recipes to do posts on.
- Learn the basics of photography and editing.
- Test and shoot recipes, edit, and upload optimized images to your WordPress library.
- Write your first SEO-optimized post. Publish it and go live with the blog.
- Set up Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and optionally, Ahrefs Webmaster Tools.
- Set up social sharing accounts and share your first post there.
- Rinse and repeat steps 8, and 9.
I hope you found the information on this post useful. I will continue to refine and update it, but don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments if it’s missing something you think beginner food bloggers really need to know, and I’ll do my best to add it.
Awesome post! Thanks for sharing, Also looking forward for more!