So, you wanna know more about the behind-the-scenes side of blogging? Here are the blogging resources I’ve found to be the most helpful along the way. One of the best parts of being a blogger is discovering and sharing information with other bloggers and wannabe bloggers. I’ve found a vast community of friendly, helpful people and it’s my pleasure to try to contribute to what’s already out there.
Please note that some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you use those links. I only recommend products that I personally use and trust.
HOSTING & DESIGN
Bluehost – This is the site I used to purchase my domain name and host my site. It was easy to set up and the customer service was initially great. However, recently the customer service has been dismal and I can no longer recommend them. After many customer service emails back and forth, I ended up finding fixes on the internet for what I needed to do. It’s like when you call Comcast about an outage and they’re all “Have you tried unplugging and re-plugging??” Just guesswork and a waste of time. I was thinking of moving to HostGator, but I learned it is actually the same company as Bluehost! The search continues…
[Edit 01/07/15 – The search is over!! So long Bluehost, and hello Siteground! Hosting fees were cheaper, site performance is WAAAAY faster, excellent customer service and they transferred over my entire website for free in a single evening. To give you an example, right after I signed up I had a question about when to redirect the name servers and within minutes, I got a message back from a rep with the answer and several helpful tips. I could see the rep’s name and face and even read his little bio. Also, as I asked more questions, everything was visible in a dedicated support ticket thread, so anyone who joined in later could see everything that happened up to that point. Don’t you hate it when a new rep joins in on an issue and you have to regurgitate everything you said previously?? We went back and forth quickly and efficiently and ENTIRELY ONLINE. Woo hooo!!! I absolutely DESPISE having to call up customer service lines for help. I am loving Siteground so far.]
Genesis Framework – Once you install WordPress, you can start blogging right away, but after doing some research, I felt it was best to run my site on the Genesis framework and use a Genesis child theme for customization. The advantage of this is that I do not have to worry about losing changes to my site when wordpress updates. You should never edit the framework.
Foodie Theme – Foodie is a super popular Genesis child theme. Using a child theme means I can make lots of changes to the code without disturbing the stability of the Genesis framework and I could select a child theme that was tailored to the kind of blog I want. There are a bunch of child themes available for purchase, but the Foodie theme is optimized for food blogs – neutral coloring that makes the food stand out, mobile responsive (looks good on a phone or tablet), visual recipe index. The visual recipe index is so important. When I go to food blogs that just have a written list of available recipes, I’m totally at a loss for what to click on and what to try. It’s like a cookbook with no pictures. With a visual recipe index, your readers can immediately see what all of your recipes look like. You’ve already taken the pictures, so you might as well use them in a way that adds to your site’s usability! Another selling point for me was that Shay Bocks, the designer, has a bunch of tutorials for setting up the theme with your content. It can be so overwhelming to download a theme and then when you install it, you realize that you have no idea where anything goes and how to make it look like the demo version. Shay walks you through every step with her tutorials and her team has a very fast response time to emails and support tickets.
w3schools – The downside of using the Foodie theme is that so many people have it and you don’t want your blog to look like everyone else’s! You can hire a designer to make changes for you (mo money, mo money, mo money!), or you can do it yourself. You can do this by downloading plugins or by editing the style sheet for your child theme, found under Appearance -> Editor. I prefer to edit the code directly because using a lot of plugins drags your site down and there is always the potential that a plugin update will be incompatible with your site and destroy it or that a plugin you are using starts to do weird things without your consent, like the recent Shareaholic controvery (see Pamela Hazelton’s article “When You Realize That Plugin You Love Is A Lying Cheat”). If you are like me, w3schools is an amazing resource for learning html and css coding. The easiest thing to do is to start playing around with colors by changing the six-digit hex values from Shay’s presets to something else. From there, you can progress to learning how to install new fonts and change the layout.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GFC3w with Pancake Lens – This is the camera I use to photograph the things I put on the blog. It’s not as pricey as the DSLR cameras some other bloggers use, but I think it takes wonderful pictures and it is very easy to use. It comes with photo editing software but I prefer to use a separate program. All you have to do to focus on something in a shot is point at it on the camera screen. PRO TIP: The white version is much cheaper than the black version.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 – I use this program to edit my picture for the blog and make them pop! It really could not be simpler to use, but if you need some help Kevin and Amanda have an excellent Lightroom tutorial on how and when to use the most impressive features. This program has enabled me to quickly get my shots onto Foodgawker and drive traffic to the blog.
PicMonkey – I create photos with text of what is in the shot using PicMonkey. It is web-based and very easy to use. You upload the photo you want to edit and then you can walk through each menu item selecting changes. The program lets you preview changes before it applies them. You can also use this program to do more traditional photo editing like picture cropping, fixing exposure, adding an instagram-type filter, etc. The features are free with a trial sign-up now. Fotor, Ribbet and FotoFlexer also work the same way and have slightly different fonts and graphics from each other and PicMonkey.
Canva – This website is AMAZING for creating graphics. Specialized pins, Facebook cover, instagram posts, you name it, Canva can do it beautifully. You can pay to use certain pictures (and this is disclosed before you click on anything that requires payment), but I just as easily create fabulous graphics without paying a red cent! You pre-select the type of image you want to make so the dimensions are perfect, and then you start customizing.
One of the best ways to glean tips for creating a succesful blog in terms of increasing blog traffic and/or monetizing your blog is reading income reports. A lot of bloggers out there are very forthcoming with what their blogs earn on a monthly basis and what tips and tricks have been working for them that month. They’re also an excellent way to track progress and see how long it might take for your own blog to reach certain goals. Below are some of my favorites:
Pinch of Yum – This is the granddaddy of food blogging income reports and nearly everyone who sees the incredible profits they make runs straight to start a food blog. Lindsay’s husband, Bjork, is super knowledgeable on every topic imagineable, from ad placement to creating your own products to social media strategy.
ifoodreal – Olena doesn’t do them anymore, but definitely take a peak at her past reports. They are a WEALTH of information and so full of tips that I’d never seen anywhere else (stay away from linky parties!). Another thing I like is that Olena writes them herself, which makes me feel empowered to stay on top of all aspects of my own food blog. Most of these types of reports are written by the husbands of the food blogger. [Edit 2/10/2015: It looks like she’s taken down her old reports. Bummer! Fortunately, she still has a number of awesome tips here.]
Jessica Gavin – Everyone’s gotta start somewhere! Written by husband Jason, these reports start at the very beginning of attempting to monetize a blog. The internet has changed considerably since the days when blogs like Pinch of Yum were starting out, so it is very helpful to see what a beginner’s landscape looks like now and what new opportunities there are for promoting your blog. Real Food & Ice Cream is another newbie blogger who has just started both blogging and monetizing.