Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tips for Food Bloggers (or Wannabes) from a Master

It seems that everyone's a food blogger these days. But when Nicole Weston started hers in 2004, she had only come across a handful of other food blogs and just thought of it as a hobby, never dreaming it would become a full-time profession.

"My intention was to motivate myself to bake more," she told a class of would-be and novice food bloggers at the New School of Cooking in Culver City recently. "I really liked baking and thought this is a chance to enter into a community and to do a little bit more of what I liked to do and meet some other like-minded people."

Weston's little writing enterprise--at the time called Bakingsheet--morphed into the wildly popular blog Baking Bites, which also has a prominent Facebook presence. Named as one of the top 50 food blogs in the world by the London Times, the blog gets more than a million views a month and tops 2 million during the holidays. It's easy to see why, what with a large repertoire of imaginative and delicious recipes (like the Sticky Toffee Pudding she baked for our class and served with her signature Vanilla Bean Brown Butter Ice Cream and toffee sauce). The site also offers ingredient, gadget and product reviews (example: Candy Corn Oreos); baking tips and how-to's; comments and links to some favorite recipes from other blogs; and useful social media highlighting her own take on food.

Add to that this accomplishment a cookbook--The Baking Bites Cookbook--and you have to wonder how this woman looks so relaxed when she clearly works like a fiend! Could it be that in addition to her cooking and writing life, she's an avid horsewoman and partakes in the competitive equestrian sport of dressage? Obviously, that's the secret of burning off a few of those baking bites!

And what's Weston's advice on how to create a successful food blog?  Here are some points she made:

1. Content is key.  "For me, bar none, it is the writing that is the most important thing. You need to make it clear to the reader why they should come back." Her main concern when she posts a recipe is, "Is it simple enough to make?" Her favorite response from readers is that they made the recipe and it came out perfectly. Her second favorite? They changed everything, and it still turned out great!

2. Good photos are a big plus. Excellent pictures will help entice people to check out your site, but without consistent, useful and interesting content, photos alone probably won't hold readers. You don't need a big expensive camera; your iPhone or a point-and-shoot can work.

3. Find your voice. Whatever your interest--whether family recipes, restaurant reviews, road food, home cooking, or, as in my case, a mix--putting your personal stamp on the blog is crucial. The writing and focus will likely change with time, growing more defined as you find your way.

4. Post regularly. Your readers need to know they can to find new and interesting content on your site and when to expect it. Weston recommends posting at least two or three times a week. She writes daily, usually in the early morning, baking and taking pictures of the goodies in the late morning and early afternoon. As for what to post, Weston finds it helpful to have a list of stories, subject to change based on reader feedback and her own inclinations.

5. Use social media. Without it, it's hard to get the word out about your blog and to get the feedback that helps you build it up. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are the most important; Weston's website has links to all of these, as well as to YouTube. As part of this effort, check out and learn from other people's blogs, post comments, and seek connections with other food blogger interest groups.

6. Look for what's trending. If everyone's writing about Cronuts or bacon cupcakes, then jumping on the bandwagon with your own version might just draw more attention to your blog. Tying into holidays, seasonal ingredients and celebrations in a creative way is another avenue to readers. Not surprisingly, Halloween themes are front and center at her blog right now, with plenty of pumpkins, apples, and a particular favorite, vampires! Check out the recipe for her Vampire Cookies, pale white cookies with a bright red jam filling.

7. Just do it. "Even if it's not perfect, push that publish button," Weston advised. Sticking with it and paying attention to the consistency and quality of your blog will eventually bring visitors. "Don't be discouraged. Keep putting out that quality content. Keep making it better. Keep educating yourself and share that information with your readers and you're going to build an audience."

At a million page views and counting, I'll take your word for that, Nicole!
Weston making Guava Cream Cheese Bacon Puffs, New School of Cooking 

Listen to a sound clip from my brief interview with Nicole Weston:

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