Being a lifestyle blogger can be a tough job, especially when you are first starting out and trying to drive traffic to your website. Here's a list of some of the products I use and tools I find helpful to constructing a successful lifestyle website! Check back here often as I'll continue to share more tips & tricks to building your personal brand and taking great photos!
SETTING UP YOUR LIFESTYLE BLOG
Starting your blog – If you have no idea what you're doing on the technical side of things, my How to Start a Blog page goes through the steps of setting up your blog. I highly recommend you take a look for some technical help.
Bluehost – Bluehost is my current hosting company, and is great for anyone who has little idea of the technical side of running a website. They offer an easy way to get up and running with your blog on WordPress.org. Bluehost even has free domain name registration, so it is the perfect place to start. Through me, Girl on Bloor readers (you!) get a huge discount on a 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 theme-wise. Genesis is the framework used by some of the most popular 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 paid-for theme.
With Genesis, you'll need to purchase the Framework ($59.95) along with a child theme – I use Restored 316‘s Tasteful Theme ($50.00), and the developer has a TON of handy tutorials that help you further customize your site on your own. Most 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. And the best part is that it is a one time cost. To make money, sometimes you gotta spend money!
MailChimp – MailChimp is the email marketing website I use to send readers my blog posts via email. MailChimp is relatively simple to understand, and has account options for smaller bloggers starting out that are completely free. Why should you sign up with an email marketing platform as a blogger? We all lead busy lives, and naturally some of your readers may forget to check back in with you from time to time. Receiving an email every time there's a new recipe or blogger resource post can be a great way to attract a reader back to your site. It may not be much at first, but over time it can be a powerful traffic driver if you start your blog and email signup at the same time.
NOW TO TAKE SOME PRETTY PICTURES…
Canon Rebel T5i Digital SLR Camera – This is the camera I use to capture my food and restaurant photos, and I love it! I use a 50mm 1.8 zoom lens to shoot my food photos, and an 18-55mm lens for restaurant reviews and food events. I ultimately love this camera because it is professional, easy-to-use and it also captures high-quality video! 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. And it is user-friendly!
*UPDATE*: As of January 2017, I use a Canon 6D body and Canon EF 100mm F2.8 L Macro lens with an image stabilizer for the majority of my food photos. I love the crystal clear close-ups that the macro lens allows you to get, though the two certainly aren't the cheapest combo on the market. 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. I still use my 50mm 1.8 lens here and there for pictures and now mostly for my food videos, though I'm thinking of getting one specifically for video in the near future as my 50mm 1.8 doesn't zoom in or out.
Indoor Lighting Unit, Lowel EGO – I live in a small condo 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 work full-time outside of the blog, sometimes I end up making and testing recipes at dinnertime, long after the sun has gone down. 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, but it also serves other purposes such as lighting for head shots and product photography.
UPDATE: As of November 2016, I use the Canadian Studio 1600 W Video/Studio Softbox kit to shoot my photos. I still switch it up between natural and artificial light and am constantly experimenting to see which I like better, but it is honestly SO worth it to have a dependable light source you can count on. I used to live in a light-filled condo in Toronto up until March 2016, and when I moved home to my parents' house in Hamilton I discovered that their house is much darker and it's harder to get the right lighting, especially in the winter. These lights produce really amazing natural light if you can 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 relector to bounce the light back on the food from the front. I also use these lights for my food videos to avoid the unreliable light from passing clouds, etc. during the day. Needless to say, these lights have been a life-saver on more than one occasion!
Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling – this book is what I have been using to improve my photography skills over the past couple of months and is a comprehensive guide to the world of food photography. 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. It's very reasonably priced on Amazon – just click the link above to preview the content inside or grab a copy to borrow from the library if you're short on cash!
Easy Recipe – This is the WordPress Plugin I use to enter my recipes. You don't have to use a plugin to put a recipe up on your blog, but I highly recommend doing so because it ultimately helps with your SEO rankings when people search for recipes. The plugin helps Google scan your posts, and will include your recipe among the rankings when someone searches for a recipe.
Disquis – I used to use Disquis because it is a free and reliable plugin that blocks the majority of spam comments. I also like it because it keeps your account logged in, making for easier commenting. Readers won't be likely to comment if every time they have to type in their name, email address and website. Readers are also more recognizable this way.
Comment Luv – I initially started my blog with Disquis, and love the fact that it is a free plugin designed to minimize spam comments. However, for food and style bloggers it can be helpful to have a comments system that allows other bloggers to share their newest posts via a preview in their comment, which will encourage commenting on your website and help with your SEO.
Pop-Up Ally – This plugin enables you to install a pop up for your website, so that visitors can be prompted to sign up for your newsletter, which can be a powerful driver of traffic as it gets built up over time.
WP to Twitter – I love this plugin because automatically tweets whenever I put a new post up, and it also creates a handy short link to use for social media.
Google Captcha (reCAPTCHA) – Unless you upgrade to a paid plan with Askimet, spam comments on your blog can be relentless. Most of us bloggers don't have a ton of money to spend on our websites when we are already working for free. 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 definitely don't want all your posts to be deleted and unrecoverable should something happen. I mean, $7 a month is a small price to pay for reassurance.
HOW DO I START GETTING VISITORS?
Here is a list of the food photo submission sites that I use. There are a ton of them out there, but you just have to find the ones that you can get the most traffic from and are worthwhile submitting to. I get most of my traffic and accepted submissions through Food Gawker and FoodYub, averaging between 500-1000 people visiting in a day between the two of them! Editors from Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and more often peruse these foodie sites to use photos for their round-up posts, which will also drive a significant source of traffic to your blog!
If you're more of a Style and Beauty blogger, or a DIY-er, you can use these style photo submission sites below:
OTHER SOURCES OF TRAFFIC
Yummly: A foodie website dedicated to food blogs. This website has recently surpassed Foodgawker as my top referrer on Google Analytics and is a strong driver of traffic. 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!
Social Media: Take a look through some of my social media resources. I'm always adding more and more, but social media will definitely help drive traffic to your blog, especially if you start your social channels right away.
Pinterest: I just mentioned the power of social media in driving traffic to your website, but Pinterest is worth mentioning on its own. Join group boards like our Food & Drink board and the Food Porn Share Feature board (or other boards applicable to your topic) and start pinning your best content. You will definitely get 2-3 times the shares you would get if you were pinning to your own boards, mostly because you will have your content in front of thousands more people. It may take you some time to research different boards that are right for you, and you may need to email/message the admins of the boards to be added as a contributor, but Pinterest and group boards can be a powerful driver of web traffic!
Disclaimer: Please note that a couple of the links above are affiliate links and I will earn a commission if you purchase through those links – this is money that helps keep The Girl on Bloor up and running! I actually use, or have used, all of the products above and genuinely recommend them. Most of them are products I have discovered on my own or through other bloggers. Please contact me if you have any questions!