Features & guest posts | 10 practical steps you can take to improve your food blog

Features & guest posts

10 practical steps you can take to improve your food blog

Like most delegates to Food Blogger Connect, I'm sure, I came away full of ideas about how to improve my website. You might think as an established writer I’d have it all sussed by now but not at all. You can - and should - always learn.

I’ve already touched on some of the points in my previous post on What makes a great food blog - that blogging should be about storytelling, for example. And I wouldn’t hold myself up as any kind of expert on design, branding or photography though I did last year hire a local Bristol designer Miller Design to give my site a makeover.

But what the two days I spent at FBC5 reminded me is that - in the corny old phrase - content is king. Forget the stats, the SEO tips and tricks and concentrate on giving people a good reason to visit and return to your blog. They’ll come.

How does this translate into practical steps you can take to improve your blogging? Here are a few you might want to bear in mind:

Take your time

As a professional journalist used to having to turn round features to a tight deadline I was really impressed by the time and trouble some of the bloggers took with their posts. Days rather than hours. Regula Ysewijn of Miss Foodwise (right), for instance, blogs on British food traditions, well-researched posts which can take 3 weeks to put together (particularly impressive as she’s Belgian-born.).

You might not have either the time or inclination to spend that long or even to do it for every post but putting that extra care and attention into your blog undoubtedly pays off. Don't post for the sake of posting.

Create original content

A point emphasised by photo-journalist Penny de los Santos. Initiate stories, don’t react to them. Look out for the quirky, the unusual. Niamh Shields of Eat Like a Girl is particularly good at this, always finding a home cook on her travels who will teach her an authentic recipe.

Alright for Niamh, I hear you mutter, but I can’t afford to go on foreign trips and no-one’s offering to take me.

There are stories everywhere. Somebody is doing something interesting with food and drink right on your doorstep. Or think of an original angle like Jenny Hammerton’s brilliant Silver Screen Suppers. Don’t let your blog be hijacked!

Edit more rigorously

A point well made by David Lebovitz. Not just for typos but for sentences that are unclear or which repeat a point you made earlier. These things are sometimes hard to spot if you’ve been gazing at a piece for some time (which is why newspapers and magazines have sub-editors) so ask a housemate or your other half to read a post through before you click the publish button. (See also Blog Buddy below)

Break your text up

Not necessarily with huuuuge photos but in easy-to-read chunks. Like this post, hopefully ;-)

Test your recipes - and retest them, several times if necessary.

My notes from the conference say David tests his up to 17 or 18 times which is a bit much for us mere mortals. Emma Gardner of Poires au Chocolat, three or four.

Again those of us who have written cookery books are lucky enough to have editors who ask probing questions. Like ‘Where are the tomatoes in that tomato soup? (I managed - believe it or not - to leave them out of the ingredients list in one book I was writing. So you can’t be too careful.)

Improve your English (unless, obviously, you’re blogging in French, Italian, Spanish etc)

Especially if you’re not a native speaker. Again I was massively impressed by Regula who told me she learnt to write better English by reading Jane Austen.

Which brings me to . . .

Read, read, read...

The route to writing - and blogging - better is to read a lot. Not to copy other people’s blogs but to absorb different styles and find the one that best suits you. And not just articles about food and cookery books. Biographies, chicklit . . . anything.

Write as you speak

The best piece of advice I’ve been given about writing. OK, there are people who craft their posts in beautiful flowing prose but if writing doesn’t come easy to you imagine telling a friend about the subject you’re writing about then just type those thoughts as fast as you can. You can refine them later. Reading your post out loud can also help.

Be less self-centred

The whole point about a blog is that it’s about you, right? Yes, but . . .

If your reader has to wade through paragraphs of unfocussed waffle about what it was like when the in-laws came for the weekend they’re not necessarily going to stick around for the brilliant barbecue marinade you invented. Don't leave it too long to get to the point.

Knackered Mother Helen McGinn has this off to a tee. A bit about herself (usually very funny). Some genuinely useful tips about wine. Perfect for her audience (knackered mums).

Find a blog buddy

I know from freelancing that writing can be lonely and that sometimes you just get stuck with a piece and can’t see the way forward. It undoubtedly helps to have someone sympathetic to talk to about it. (My husband is a good, if fierce, critic.)

It’s also useful to have a fresh pair of eyes on your blog. I won 5 minutes with David Lebovitz at Food Blogger Connect and he came up with a really useful couple of things I hadn’t thought of. (An FAQ section and an email subscription box, if you’re wondering. I know. THAT obvious. We all need help.)

I've discovered how useful having a diet buddy has been while doing the 5:2. Find someone you like and trust who'll be your blog buddy. You support them. They support you.

The message of this post, of course, is that a blog requires work if you're in it for the long haul. But don’t let it put you off blogging, just see it as a possible way out of problems you might be encountering. I hope it helps.

What do you find most difficult about food blogging and what ways have you found round it? And what ways do you think I can improve my own site and make it a better visitor experience?

If you enjoyed this post you might like to read my two other posts from Food Blogger Connect:

What motivates food bloggers?

What makes a great food blog?

If you found this post useful and were happy to get the advice for free perhaps you'd think about donating towards the running costs of the site? You can find out how to do it here or to subscribe to our regular newsletter click here.

Comments: 7 (Add)

Karen on July 17 2013 at 14:58

I have just finished reading all of your FBC5 posts and they are filled to the brim with handy tips, thanks so much Fiona, Karen

laura@howtocookgoodfood on July 15 2013 at 12:04

I have really enjoyed your series of posts about FBC5 and having just written mine up I have got to the point where all that I learned has been firmly embedded in my mind and hopefully will make for better posts from me in future!
I try to edit as much as possible and get my husband to edit posts too. I also love to read as much as possible as I think it is great to appreciate other styles of writing and to gain more knowledge on food obviously.
I will be re-reading your tips to keep myself in check. I do find I prefer the writing to the photo taking but have learned to be reasonable enough at it now. That's the best bit for me blogging keeps me learning all the time!

Ren Behan on July 11 2013 at 12:46

Another post packed with useful thoughts, Fiona. I think there is simply so much to write about when it comes to food, that sometimes, it is easy to get (or feel) hijacked. I agree 100% that telling stories is the key and that they really are everywhere. I realised that in a big way when I travelled to Italy recently, but once again, my own food stories have fallen to the bottom of the list and there are always so many other things to write about. Time for a little more editorial discipline!

Fiona Beckett on July 11 2013 at 09:58

@Emma Very good point about photos. I must say I sometimes lose the thread of a post because there are so many images, sometimes of the same shot. As you say it's good to illustrate different stages of the process - I especially like the way you use black and white for contrast in your posts

@Regula - glad you already have a blog buddy - it really does help doesn't it and Juls is another talented blogger. Good to catch up and look forward to meeting again soon

@Louise - doing a bit of work on the blog every day is a good idea. The one drawback of taking your time is that it can seem a massive task to get the big blog post you've been nurturing down. Writing a few thoughts each day makes it seem less daunting

Louise @ usingmainlyspoons on July 10 2013 at 23:29

What a great summary, Fiona. I also took away the idea that you should take your time. Instead of trying to post every week (and inevitably failing, given my other occupations), I'm just trying to make sure I do *something* towards it all every day, and to make sure I can produce things I'm proud of.

Regula @ Miss Foodwise on July 10 2013 at 17:36

Lovely post Fiona and I'm very touched you were impressed with my English learning curve. I still remember your talk at FBC 11 vividly and I was in fact the first to send you a sample post when you kindly requested to send you some on Twitter. Your lecture is still one of my favourite ones from all the FBC's I went to, and one I've taken away the most of. Mostly because your feedback was constructive and I must say I sent my little piece to you with sweating hands. Back then I had only been blogging a short while and as you know, I didn't get any schooling in the English language.
I read my posts over and over, and put a lot of effort in one blog post as I explained to you. And indeed sometimes it gets lonely, and I'm happy to have a blogging buddy in my friend Giulia from Jul's kitchen. We talk every day, ask each others opinion and most of all motivate each other. I think if you want to spend as much time on a blog post as I do - my longest being 9 months due to the research - you have to have a passion for your subject. For me I'm driven by my love for Britain first, then food. Every recipe isn't just a new blog post, it is a new discovery into British history, a little part of a puzzle I am keen to finish one day.
It was lovely talking with you Fiona and thank you again for the lovely feedback. x

Emma @ Poires au Chocolat on July 10 2013 at 17:06

This is a great post, Fiona - lots of good advice.

I think editing is really important - for writing and recipes, of course, but also for photos. I think David made a good point about this. So many blogs have lots of photos of the same styled scene (usually the finished product) from different angles but it doesn't show you anything new - why not enlighten a part of the process or give it some context? Sometimes a photo just isn't needed or drags the whole lot down. But that's just my view.

Also, I should probably say that three tests is my minimum - some things definitely take longer! Though I don't think I've ever made it to 17 or 18...

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