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Running a food blog can be a tough job, especially when you are first starting out and trying to drive traffic to your website.
Having started two new blogs from the ground up, I've learned a lot about how to build a successful library of content and generate income from it. I've grown this blog to over 1.5 million monthly page views and I grew my second blog, Eating Instantly, to 100,000 monthly page views in 4 months (from Sept. 2018 to Jan. 2019)
If you want to learn how I did it, then read on because this page is an all-encompassing guide to all of the products and services I've used to build my two blogs and build them right.
I was able to build my second blog so quickly because I already had years' worth of knowledge from running The Girl on Bloor – I knew what worked and what didn't work when it came to starting a blog.
So without further ado, here's a list of the products I've used and tools that I find necessary to construct a successful food blog. It's not always a cheap venture (hey, you're running a business so you've gotta invest, right?) but there are ways to minimize costs in the beginning until you can afford to invest in more.
SETTING UP YOUR BLOG
Bluehost – Bluehost is the hosting company I used for both my websites in the beginning because it's great for anyone with little knowledge of the technical side of running a website. They offer an easy way to get up and running with your blog on WordPress.org, as well as free domain name registration and super cheap plans, so it is the perfect place to start. Through me, Girl on Bloor readers (you!) get a huge discount on the monthly membership cost if you purchase through one of my links! Before I knew about the domain name registration, I had paid $25 for a domain on WordPress.com, where you can host a blog for free. Learn from my mistakes, and take care of your domain name and web hosting all at once with Bluehost.
The Genesis Framework – The Genesis Framework is what I currently have running on my blog. Genesis is one of the popular frameworks used by food bloggers, but does cost a little bit more than your basic free theme. It's best to get set up with Genesis once you have established an audience and are ready to start further beautifying your website with a theme that you buy.
Child Theme – Along with the Genesis framework which costs $59.95, you'll need to purchase a child theme – I love Restored 316 and once used their Tasteful Theme ($50.00), and the developer has a TON of handy tutorials that help you further customize your site on your own. Most child themes are around $50-75 on top of Genesis. It can be pricey at first to customize, but the Genesis framework does allow you more options, and is your best choice if you ever want a more professional makeover later on down the road.
Pixel Me Designs – Speaking of custom website design, Laura Nicholson of Pixel Me Designs has designed both my blogs. Her work is absolutely beautiful for such a reasonable price. When you're ready to go pro, I can't recommend her enough! She also has child themes for the Genesis Framework if you want a lower cost solution.
WP Ultimate Recipe – This is the WordPress Plugin I use to enter my recipes and it helps me rank for keywords on Google.
Sassy Social Share – This is the social sharing plugin that I use so readers can share my recipes to Pinterest, Yummly, Facebook, etc.
LiteSpeed Cache – When your traffic exceeds 50,000 monthly page views you should have a caching plugin to help speed up your website. I use LiteSpeed Cache linked above.
Yoast – I use Yoast to help me write meta descriptions and analyze my blog posts to ensure I'm writing for SEO.
Pop-Up Ally Pro– This plugin enables you to install a pop up for your website so that visitors can be prompted to sign up for your newsletter. You can also design and install custom pop ups with it then embed them within your blog posts. I use the paid version because it allows you to make more custom designs that are also mobile responsive, saving you on custom design work,
Google Captcha (reCAPTCHA) – Unless you upgrade to a paid plan with Askimet, spam comments on your blog can be relentless. I've found a way around paying for a plan with Askimet, one that adds both security for the login on my website and prevents spammers from commenting excessively. Google Captcha makes visitors type in a verification code to comment on your website, which prevents most spam from getting through.
Vaultpress – You'll need this plugin to back up the content on your site. This is definitely an annoying part of being a blog owner, but you don't want all your posts to be deleted and unrecoverable should something happen.
Canon Rebel T5i Digital SLR Camera – This is the camera I used when I first started blogging. It was a great starter camera and you just can't beat the price. I used a 50mm 1.8 zoom lens along with it. This camera is one of the more inexpensive, high-quality cameras you can get, and you can produce some really beautiful images if you hone your skills and learn your manual settings.
Canon 6D Body and Canon EF 100mm F2.8 L Macro lens – I now use this camera combo for most of my food images (as of 2019) and I also use a 50mm 1.4 lens for video and overhead shots. I personally think this camera is a good compromise for those looking to upgrade to a professional camera but can't quite afford to shell out the $5000 or so for the top-of-the-line Canon 5D Mark iii. From my research, the Canon 6D and Canon 5D are very comparable in image quality – what matters more in my book is what lens you use.
Indoor Lighting Unit, Lowel EGO – I live in a small apartment in downtown Toronto, so trying to take food shots isn't always easy even when there is natural light. That said, I also don't have a lot of room to store a light set-up. Since I used to work full-time outside of the blog, sometimes I ended up making recipes later at night. I bought this light after reading a recommendation on one of my fave food blogs, Pinch of Yum, and it's become a great investment. I don't use it as often anymore since I'm able to shoot during the day now, but it's always good to have a spare compact lighting set up.
Studio Softbox kit – This is the lighting set up I upgraded to when I had more space to shoot…it is honestly SO worth it to have a dependable light source you can count on, especially in the winter. These lights produce really amazing natural light if you learn how to use them – I position one light in behind my food, and one further away off to the side on an angle then bring in a reflector to bounce the light back on the food from the front.
Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling – this book is what I use to learn food photography and is a comprehensive guide. It teaches you about white balance, soft and harsh lighting and more, and is also applicable to any kind of blog that uses close up shots and food/product styling. I would highly recommend this book to boost your photography skills in general.
The Food Photography Book by Recipe Tin Eats – created by a food blogger FOR food bloggers, this e-book is another comprehensive resource for improving your photography and is great for beginners/intermediate photographers alike.
Adobe Creative Cloud – I use Lightroom Classic (NOT Lightroom CC) to edit all my photos and then I use Photoshop to create my long pins along with some other graphic overlays for my photos. I also use Premiere Pro to edit my videos and Illustrator to create PDF products like e-books. Needless to say, Adobe does it all!
Dropbox – I don't know WHY it took me so long to invest in cloud storage but this has become integral to my business. I use Dropbox for EVERYTHING – I upload all my photos and videos there, and keep all of my blogging files in different folders. It's helped me share files with clients and contractors, and it was also a lifesaver for when I spilled coffee all over my Macbook (LOL yep, I did that). Everything was all backed up and I lost none of my work. For $13 or so a month it's been one of the best expenses in my business.
Video Crash Course – Video is key to ranking higher in search, getting extra traffic from Facebook and overall just providing readers with a better user experience. If you want to learn how to do video, you'll want to take Brooke Lark's food video crash course. It's super easy and very cheap for a course, plus you learn shooting AND video editing!!!
Food Photography Crash Course – I haven't taken Brooke's photography course myself but based on her video course and watching some of her Lightroom tutorials I'm going to guess that her food photography crash course is a great way to learn more about food photography in a hurry. She's such a talented photographer and if you're looking for more free resources from her she has an awesome photography Facebook group.
Erickson Woodworks – these custom made wood boards are a bit pricey but they are BEAUTIFUL and really take your food photography to the next level. I own 3 of their double sided boards and love them!
IKEA, West Elm, Crate & Barrel, Homesense, CB2, Target – these are the main stores I shop at for food photography props! You really only need to pick up some basic bowls, plates, cutlery and containers. Build up your collection slowly over time…you'll quickly come to realize you have a fave style or are only making certain types of food that need one kind of bowl or side plate. Give yourself some time to figure out your style and slowly add over time (it took me 4 years to build my prop collection!)
Tripod – And of course you'll need a tripod if you're looking to shoot video. I shoot free-hand when I'm doing my pictures but a tripod is essential for hand shots or action shots too. Plus they're so cheap there's no reason why you shouldn't have one if you have a camera!
Blackboard & chalk pen – I have this blackboard calendar in my room that is essential for keeping track of my schedule and when I'm publishing everything. It's also magnetic to you can stick notes to your board. I have this at my desk and love it!
Business planner – I would be lost without this thing! It helps me keep track of my schedule and goals week by week and there are end of week reflection space with guided questions to keep you constantly thinking about the bigger picture of how to keep your business moving forward. They also have end of quarter goals/budgeting space so if you're really treating your blog as a business and want to stay organized, I highly recommend this planner (I'm on my third one right now!)
Shelving unit – I have one of these heavy duty garage shelving units for my props and I can't tell you how easy it's made my shoot days. Everything is out in the open for me to see all at once (as opposed to digging through drawers and cupboards figuring out what I want to use). Plus, even if you live in a small space like me, you are bound to find some wall space to put this. Trust me when I say it's changed my workflow for the better!
GROWING YOUR BLOG TRAFFIC
These are great for getting that initial little boost of traffic. FoodGawker is probably my favourite and if you don't have time to do all, just do FoodGawker. If you land on the front page you could see up to 100-200 hits a day!
Yummly: This is a foodie website dedicated to food blogs and can again be a nice boost of traffic when you're first starting out. Copy and paste this Yummly button and remember to click it to share to your Yummly account every time you post a recipe. It's so easy!
Facebook groups: I've linked to the Instant Pot Community group as one example of a group that helps your photos/videos get seen by more Facebook users. You will have to look up groups yourself using different keywords (low carb, healthy, desserts, appetizers, slow cooker, etc) but being part of these groups and sharing to the right niche when you have content that matches it can be a great way to get a little boost in traffic!
Pinterest: This is my second top referrer besides Google! Join group boards like the Food Porn Share Feature board and start other boards applicable to your topic. Simple Pin Media has a ton of great resources and a podcast all dedicated to learning how to use Pinterest to grow your traffic. I've taken the Pinning Perfect course too on how to get Pinterest traffic and it's worth every penny!
Tailwind: Tailwind is the software I use to schedule out my pins and their Tribes feature is an awesome way to share others' pins and get them to share yours! This way you can reduce the amount of time you spend live pinning and start to plan out your content seasonally.
Silently Social: You can also use a Pinterest management team when your website is bringing in enough cash to invest. I LOVE using Silently Social – they schedule my Top 20 pins monthly and then they pin all my new content and manage my Tailwind Tribes. I've got so much time back by outsourcing this task and it's really allowed me to focus on other areas of my business that need development.
SEO – SEARCH ENGINE TRAFFIC
SEO for Food Bloggers: If you are BRAND NEW to SEO and have no idea where to start, this ebook written by a fellow food blogger is very helpful. It teaches you all the basic stuff you need to know in a way you can easily understand it. If you already have some understanding I would skip it and go right to Hashtag Jeff.
Hashtag Jeff SEO Course: I absolutely SWEAR by Jeff – he really knows his stuff when it comes to search engine traffic for food bloggers. He runs you through all kinds of ways to republish content and target different keywords and makes it easy for you to plan out all the recipes you'll be posting all year long. I always had a basic understanding of SEO but I learned so much more from Jeff's course. I would say this is for intermediate level bloggers so maybe hold off on this in the very beginning.
SEM Rush: This is the keyword planning tool that I use when I'm looking to develop ideas for new recipes. It really helps to know what people are already searching for on the web so that you can create content that people will want to click on and content that will show up in search. Again, this is for bloggers who have been at it for a little while and have some understanding of SEO.
GROWING YOUR EMAIL LIST
MailChimp – MailChimp is the email marketing website I used to use – it's a great price point for beginners and is pretty user-friendly. Remember, you don't control social media algorithms, but you do control your email list. It's the best way to keep in touch with your readers and it's the first thing you should build as you build your blog.
ConvertKit – ConvertKit is now the email software I use because it's got more features and I can segment my email list into sequences. For example, when someone signs up for my list I can send them a sequence of helpful emails related to the topic of my blog over the course of a week or two. This allows more intimate access to my audience and figure out what they want from me in terms of content. It's more pricey so I recommend you start with Mailchimp then move over to Convertkit.
Hello Bar – I use Hello Bar to collect email sign ups. It's great for desktop, tablet and mobile because it's a sticky adhesion bar at the top of my website that everyone sees immediately. It's actually where I get the most sign ups on my website so even though it's fairly pricey, I collect SO many more sign ups than with just popups alone.
Pop Up Ally Pro – Speaking of popups, Popup Ally Pro is the best way to design custom email newsletter forms to put on your site. I usually have the forms on my homepage, at the end of blog posts and I also embed them near the top of my blog posts to increase the number of people who sign up to my site.
List Surge – If you're not sure how to grow or why you even need an email list then you should take Melyssa Griffin's course on email list building. She runs through the basics such as where to put your popups, how to get more subscribers and how you can use your email list to diversify your revenue. It's pretty reasonably priced and a good introduction to email list building.
Pretty Links – Once you have your email list (or even once you start recommending products and start earning affiliate sales), you'll want to have Pretty Links. It goes on your site and basically allows you to keep all your affiliate links in one place on your website, using your website URL. It saves so much time when you're inputting affiliate links into your newsletters and blog posts.
HOW DO I MAKE MONEY?
Gourmet Ads – This was my first ever ad network! They will accept food bloggers of all sizes and are a great way to start earning a little bit of income from ads. Even if you only earn $50 a month it's still money you can use to invest back into your blog!
Mediavine – Mediavine is the next step up from Gourmet Ads and they require about 30,000 monthly pageviews to join. They provide great RPMs (revenue per mile…aka how much money you earn per thousand pageviews) and will start to earn you quite a bit more than Gourmet Ads depending on how many pageviews you get per month.
Adthrive – I've been with both Mediavine and Adthrive and both are wonderful networks. I moved The Girl on Bloor over to Adthrive after Mediavine because I heard that they have higher RPMs. I did see an increase but after speaking with other bloggers in late 2018 I saw Mediavine had some higher RPMs on other websites. Adthrive does require a minimum of 100,000 monthly pageviews before you can join so it's worth getting with Mediavine first and seeing how you like them. If you can reach up to $15 per 1000 pageviews I'd say it's worth it to stick with Mediavine. Your RPM will tend to climb the longer you're with any given ad network.
Shareasale – Shareasale is a great network for finding affiliate programs to work with. You can search for merchants of all kinds and then get links to put on your website and in your email newsletter to earn commissions on sales. It's an extra little bit of passive income so it's a great way to diversify your revenue!
Flex Offers – This is another great website with more merchants available for you to discover. Similar to Shareasale.
CJ Affiliates – Again, another affiliate network website similar to the two others above but with more merchants.
Amazon Associates – Amazon has a great affiliates program where you can link to all kinds of products on your website and get commissions from sales. Just be careful because they don't let you use their links in your email newsletters so that's where Shareasale, Flex Offers and CJ Affiliates comes in handy.
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing – If you want to learn more about how affiliate marketing works and how to make money from it, then you have to take this affiliate marketing course! Run by Michelle of Making Sense of Cents, she also has some great blogger resources on her website to show you how she makes money blogging.
Pitches That Worked E-book: Kate Kordsmeier is a health & wellness blogger at Root and Revel but before that she used to work as a journalist pitching stories. I have her income reports listed below – they are so helpful in showing how you can diversify your revenue through sponsorships, affiliate marketing and ads. She wrote an e-book on how she pitches that is a reasonable price and way to get you thinking about pitching brands.
Pitch Perfect Pro: Jenny Melrose is an amazing blogger who has learned the ins and outs of pitching brands. Her Pitch Perfect course was one of the first courses I ever took and it really helped me work with more food brands on sponsorships as I was still trying to make money on ads. I went from working with one or two brands a month to 3 or 4 and even increasing my sponsored post pricing! I easily went from making $1000-2000 a month in partnerships to closer to the $10,000 a month mark after taking her course.
E-books Pro course: This course on e-books will show you how to create your own e-books and sell them through your email list and on social media! It's such a smart way to diversify your revenue and learn how to become an expert on a specific topic within the food world.
Teachable – This platform is where you would host a course if you ever built enough knowledge around your blogging topic to start one. Teachable has a bunch of free resources on its website but it also has a ton of crash courses by its experts as well.
Amy Porterfield – Amy is the master of online courses and list building. If you're looking to have a successful course launch, she's your girl. This is the only resource I haven't actually taken myself but I'm planning to do so mid-2019 when I'm planning on developing a course and/or membership site for readers of The Girl on Bloor.
WOOOOOOO you made it through this super long ass post, kudos to you!!!! By now you've probably realized that blogging is not *quite* as simple as taking a few pretty pictures, and over time as you grow you'll need to spend more time and money in order for your business to continue its momentum.
But I promise that if you stick with it, enhance your skills and invest in the right software/equipment, you CAN grow and build an amazing living! Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined I'd be running two blogs full-time but it's the most fun I've ever had in my life and I feel so fulfilled to be working for myself everyday.
Obviously one post can't even begin to cover what will be years' worth of continued learning, so I've linked up some of my other fave resources below. Enjoy and thanks for reading! <3
MISC BLOGGER RESOURCES