As I apply for jobs post-grad school, I want to make sure that my blog can be an asset I present to potential employers as a writing and recipe development sample. Unfortunately, I started this blog as a sort-of public recipe diary, where I and others could go just to get recipes, without any know-how of running a high-quality website. I took all the shortcuts I could, like using a non-self-hosted platform, using unplanned photos I happened to have on my iPhone, and writing recipes in no particular format. I never expected to enjoy writing this much, or really even to stick with it this long. Of course I’ve learned a lot and, I hope, improved my blog over the years, but my photos and posts could still be much more carefully crafted for optimal quality and popularity. If any of you food bloggers out there have any tips for me, please share in the comments! I need all the help I can get.
Since it seems like I’ll continue doing this for a long time, I might as well do it right! I’ve been studying a lot about food photography and blogging and I’ll be applying what I’ve learned to new posts as I go, but I’m also going to go back and improve my old posts (all 169 of them!). That said, I won’t be publishing as many new posts in the next few months as I work to improve my older posts, but stick with me for a much-improved future!
Now, I’m not just going to babble endlessly about this stuff. Here, I’ll share with you all what I’ve learned and what I’m going to do to improve my blog.
- One thing I really wish I could do is shoot primarily in natural light. Unfortunately, I have only a few windows in my apartment and none of them are conducive to setting up a photo shoot. Also, since this isn’t my actual job, most of my cooking is done at night… not the best time for natural light. You’ll notice that most of my photos have awkward shadows because I’m relying on indoor lighting- not ideal. In fact, I take a lot of photos on my stovetop because the lights in my vent are the most like natural light. Some of my photos from older posts, when I lived in other apartments in Boston, are actually much better, despite poor staging and a bad camera, because those kitchens had fabulous natural light. Someday I’ll have that again!
- I shoot all my photos on my iPhone 5s. Someday I’ll invest in a DSLR and all the lenses, tripods, and accessories to go with, but they’re really, really expensive! For now, I’m working on optimizing my phone’s photos. I recently downloaded the Camera+ app (actually, it appears as though there are two slightly different ones… confusing), which allows me to alter much more about my photos as I’m taking them. Unlike the normal iPhone camera, I can adjust focus, exposure, setting, and even shoot in macro (useful for food detail!). I’ll be replacing old photos as I remake recipes so my posts are more visually appealing.
- I also found a two editing apps- VSCO and Snapseed (you can also take photos in these apps). They are about a thousand times better than Instagram filters, but you can still easily upload photos directly from the apps to Instagram (follow me: @foodsciencenerd). I still don’t have a preference between the two apps, but I do like to take the pictures with my iPhone and then edit on my iPad- less eye strain and more similar to a computer screen, where the photos ultimately end up. I’ve also started playing around with Pixlr, which has a web-based editing system in addition to an app. That may turn out to be the easiest. Unfortunately, only VSCO allows me to store pictures within the app (as opposed to in my photo albums), but I’m having issues signing in to multiple devices. That said, any thoughts on flikr out there? Do I need it if I also have iCloud/photostream, etc.?
- I just heard the term “SEO” for the first time about a month ago. Actually, I’m sure I’d heard it before, but I ignored it. Search Engine Optimization is exactly what it sounds like- making it easier for search engines to identify key aspects of blog posts and match them to internet searches. It is a great and easy way to drive traffic to your blog- if you do it right in the first place…
- Fortunately, I got one aspect right- text that is hyperlinked to another page should be descriptive, for example: “I like this recipe for Potstickers” rather than “find the recipe for grilled romaine here.” Luckily, that’s what I’ve always done.
- Unfortunately, I’ve been doing a few things wrong. First, I’ve been ignoring the opportunity to tag photos. This makes the photos, as well as the recipes, searchable online. Also, I can put recipe titles and a direct link to my website as the tag, which makes captions on Pinterest automatically indicate what the picture is of and who took the picture (me!). It also reminds Pinterest users of my domain name so they come back for more recipes later!
- Speaking of Pinterest, aside from social media, I don’t interact much with other bloggers, which I should really do. Even when you aren’t face-to-face with people, it’s worth networking with people who have similar passions and hobbies. It opens up opportunities for blog growth and guest posts, both of which drive up ratings for search engines. I’ve decided to use my elliptical time at the gym to go through a selection of my favorite blogs so I can learn and discuss outside of my own bubble.
- I also haven’t been taking advantage of keywords or precise titles. The title and one of the opening sentences should contain one or more words that a Google-bot can use to characterize the post for searches. You’ll notice some of my post titles changing to make them better reflect the content.
- Usually, the slug for my posts, i.e.”2016/01/04/skillet-pizzas/” in “http://foodsciencenerd.com/2016/01/04/skillet-pizzas/” reflects the title. Since this is also searchable by Googlebots, it should be a concise summary of what is in the post. These will change along with the titles to become more accurate as well.
- Finally, I have no consistent recipe format. Sometimes, I do paragraphs, sometimes bullets, and sometimes an introduction followed by actual recipe. Only the last of these is recognized by Google when people search for “recipes”, so I’ll be doing what I can to add a formal recipe to the end of each post. It’ll be a lot of work, but it’ll be worth it in the long run! I also need to be more careful about little things, like how I annotate units (i.e. T vs. tablespoon vs. Tbsp) and how I describe certain cooking techniques (i.e. saute vs. cook until softened and brown).
Ok, that was a lot. I’ve got my work cut out for me while I’m also doing research, writing a thesis, and applying for jobs. It should be fun though, going through three-year-old blog posts, and hopefully it will drive more traffic to my blog into something lucrative and popular!
And any food bloggers out there- please help me out! What are your opinions? What has worked for you? Comment below to share your thoughts! I’m also considering moving the whole blog over to a self-hosted site for more freedom- have any of you done that? Any tips?