This blog has moved to http://jenny-marie.co.uk!
Check out this post on the updated site here: http://jenny-marie.co.uk/vegan-blogging-tips-resources-and-an-old-persons-manifesto-on-blogging
Dear Blog Readers:
In writing this post I have two aims:
- To pass on Stuff I Have Learned Lately about blogging from scratch, or trying to inject some new life into a slightly stagnant blog.
- To absolutely NOT give the impression that I know all there is to know about blogging. I do not! I don’t have thousands of Twitter/Instagram followers, I take (at best) mediocre photos, I have not embraced the flatlay, I still remember the LiveJournal days, I am nearly 35 years old and my life is not exciting, my home is perma-shaded and not photogenic…..shall I go on? My point being, there are folks out there who have established themselves very successfully, so, depending on your own measure of success, you might be better off taking advice from the folks with the followers and the $$$$….. In reading this, bear in mind that it is definitely not a guide to quitting your full time job so you can lounge in folds of crisp white sheets taking photos of flowers and Paperchase stationery…
Some thoughts on modern blogging
As mentioned above, I certainly do remember the Livejournal (hey)days. I remember the pre Livejournal days when we had to learn HTML and make our little websites in Notepad to have any sort of a presence on The Internet. We made pages about our favourite bands and stuff; mine was littered with pictures of Shirley Manson I think…… Probably there was some poetry in there. We used Geocities to host ’em. When inline frames came along it was like WOAH. I dearly wish I could’ve taken screenshots of some of those designs to show you how godawful they were.
Of course there were the brief MySpace days. And then there was the day an invite to THE FACEBOOK popped into my University email account circa 2004/5.
I think Livejournal pretty much had my heart though, and I’d say that’s where those proper blogging roots were planted nearly 20 years ago (oh gad).
Things have changed though, ain’t they folks? Cor BLIMS things have changed. Blogger was a good old jaunt for a while. I actually started this blog on Tumblr in 2012, and then transferred over to Blogger. Eventually I hightailed it over to WordPress on the promise of superior widgetry and a recipe tag (and I’m glad I did; I definitely recommend WordPress.com for starters).
For whatever reason, in the last few weeks/months I’ve been thinking a bit more about my blog, whether it’s actually any good, its reach, etc. I continue to enjoy posting and looking back on old posts, but of course one does occasionally wonder what all the effort is for, besides just keeping busy.
Recently (I know I know, I’m slow) I’ve noticed that there are a huge, GARGANTUAN number of lifestyle blogs out there these days (vegan ones an’ all) that tend to follow a basic formula:
- Predominantly clean, white backround (er, shut up).
- Pretty heading with florals and/or cursive font (SHUSH I HAVE A DONUT).
- An absolute BANQUET of flatlay photos (that may or may not actually relate to the content of the post) feat.;
- White wooden table OR bedsheets
- Flowers/plants (succulents are popular)
- Notebooks with pretty cursive writing on the cover
- Pineapple (wot?)
- Other stuff I dunno
- Lots and lots of “My top tips for….”, “How I managed to….” sort of posts (like this one, LULZ).
- A PR policy and sometimes AN AGENT.
Folks, I soooooooo missed this memo. I SO missed this memo. And these bright young thangs with their white backgrounds and florals and flatlays are totally flipping raking in the readership (and often, I guess, the money) so it seems that this stuff really really works! Maybe when you’re raised on HTML in Notepad you never got used to putting aesthetics quite so front and centre? (I would say a little ‘substance over style’ mantra here but lord knows much of my blogging history has probably featured very little of either…)
Anyhow. Blogging has changed. A LOT. And it all leaves me feeling rather torn. All I ever wanted from the experience was to connect with other super vegan folks, perhaps to build up a nice wee readership and to be part of a community. I’ve never ever been particularly interested in working with brands, blogging for profit, affiliate links, PR opportunities, or any of that jazz, and I suspect I’d be a very unlikely target even if I was!
I hate spamming folks on social media with my blog posts and getting all #hashtagwanker. I hate BEING spammed on social media with posts I know full well were queued up using some service/app or another and if there’s one thing I’ve come to hate more than anything else where blogs are concerned, it’s those with 2 popups asking me to sign up to updates within 5 seconds and pages that are so saturated and dripping with adverts that I can barely wait for the content to load (apparently being raised on dial-up didn’t leave me with any patience, who knew……)
So…..I dunno. Am I just getting old? What I love is really interesting, engaging content; something with substance and depth and a real life experience. I love discovering new recipes, new products, and reading about people’s lives. I get so bored by pretty photos that relate very little to the content being shared, and the content itself being sponsored/paid for/a PR opportunity. I have been experimenting a bit more lately with Twitter chats, hashtagging to heck, creating Pinterest ‘worthy’ images and trying to improve my photography a bit, but this is really all for my own interest and benefit.
If the day ever comes when I start using photos of my own diary next to a cup of coffee to illustrate a post about my new meditation routine, please take me out back and have me shot.
THAT SAID. I have learned some useful stuff lately about sharing content and seeking new readers (as well as discovering new blogs) and here it is. I hope you find it handy and will forgive me for my old lady rant!
If you’re reading this I assume you’ve already got a blog or have an idea how to get going with one. If you already have a blog, here’s my number one piece of advice:
IF YOU LIKE YOUR BLOG AS IT IS, BY ODIN AND BY THUNDER, YOU CARRY ON WHAT YOU’RE DOING, JUST THE WAY YOU’RE DOING IT.
If you aren’t quite sure how to get going, or feel like maybe you’d appreciate some new ideas about blogging, then maybe these links will be useful for you? (I am assuming you know how to register for a free blog with either Blogger or WordPress and have a very basic grasp of how to use each of these.)
- Blogging University is a free resource from WordPress featuring short ‘courses’ on how to get started with blogging.
- BlogHer is a platform for female bloggers and features its own ‘University’ section giving all sorts of general advice about blogging.
- The Writer’s Diet is a great little tool to test how ‘good’ your writing is; it’s a quick and not-too-dirty analysis of your grammar, sentence structure, etc. THIS DOES NOT REPLACE A SPELLING AND GRAMMAR CHECK! It’s more about your ‘style’. (And mine is apparently ‘fit and firm’ OH YEH.)
- Blogging Basics 101 is a decent first stop if you are brand new. Look to the list of popular posts on the right and you’ll see content on how to get started, which platform to choose, mistakes to avoid, etc.
- Bloglovin‘ is a ‘feed reader’ (RIP Google Reader) very popular amongst the young ‘uns and the lifestyle bloggers (#lbloggers) because you can follow one another, save posts, etc. I used to use Feedly but I tend to use Bloglovin’ now; the format is handy, other bloggers know when I’ve followed them, and it’s nice to have followers innit? (Even if it’s only eleven, shhhhh.) You can set up or ‘claim’ your own blog so you can track followers. Oh, here’s mine by the way. *whistles*.
- BlogHer is worth registering on, I think. You can publish your posts (copy and paste from the ‘edit’ screen in my case) and they do get visits. Curiously, the only post of mine that ever got ‘picked up’ on BlogHer so far was something I wrote for Depression Awareness Week, but it was viewed nearly 4,000 times, so it’s worth publishing there incase the BlogHer bots deem your post worthy of featuring on their front page(s)!
DIY Food Styling & Photography
Holy crapping ball pants, I am so flipping bad at food photography you guys. You want a nice landscape? Oh, I am definitely your gal. Want some good city shots? Yes, I am still ok with that! Want a nice Instagram-worthy shot of your own dinner? AVOID ME, AVOID AVOID.
Pretty much all of the advice out there about food photography has one common denominator: GOOD, NATURAL LIGHTING.
It seems I’m cursed to live in shady houses. Certainly, my current house (and particularly the kitchen) is tremendously shady. I have little chance of taking good shots except early morning (in the winter) and the window opens up a little more during the summer months for early evening.
I’m also terrible at styling/adding props, make a huge mess as I cook, and I always want to eat my damn food once it’s made. So……really, my photography leaves a LOT to be desired. But as I’ve found, there are still some basic ideas for method/improvement. Here are a few I’ve discovered:
- Food Photography Tips on a Budget
- How to use your iPhone to take Blog Photos
- How to use Backlighting for Food Photography
- 13 Tips for Better Food Photography
DIY Light Diffuser
If you want to dabble in DSLR settings and white balance and wotnot, I’m afraid I am not your gal. However, I did make a quick and easy light diffuser all by myself not long ago and it’s very cheap and simple, so I thought I would share.
Just get yourself a LARGE quilting hoop (like an embroidery hoop but massive) for around £6, and buy a half metre or metre of some cheap, sheer fabric (less than £5). Secure the fabric in the hoop, trim the edges, ET VOILA.
I’ve never actually used mine but, hey ho, it’s there if I ever want to give it a go!
(There are also lots of great DIY lightbox tutorials out there, just give it a Google.)
Graphics, Photo and Design Resources
If, like me, your food photography is not the best, then by all means edit that darn photo into a brighter, sharper, cropped version of itself.
Lately I’ve started using Fotor, which is free to use online and free to download for Mac. There’s even an app. I use set filters to adjust the lighting, sharpness, etc., of photos taken using my own DSLR camera (which is an ol’ faithful Panasonic Lumix at nearly 6 years old, and I always use manual settings).
To source free/cheap stock photographs you could try Pixabay, and to source all sorts of interesting graphics you could check out the Graphics Fairy (slightly grim website but some nice vintage images).
This is also a great list of free image resources from Forever Amber.
If you want to create some super duper design pieces, say a post header, or a Pinterest graphic, then head on over to Canva right now and check them out. Hours of fun once you get going! I’ve used Canva to create Pinterest-type images for some of my old blog posts, which I’ve added to the posts and pinned to my own board. If you really want to get fancy you can register to create rich pins, which feature more information than the image alone.
I tend to do all my editing, etc., on my Macbook but there are a number of free apps out there that can be useful for image editing and other stuff too.
There is an abundance of tools and tricks you can use to promote your blog and its content via social media. Twitter and Instagram have become massive potential drivers of traffic, as well as Pinterest.
As you can imagine, it tends to be about the hashtags. There are also Twitter chats or ‘parties’ you can join in with, and accounts that exist solely to retweet blog posts for you, if you tag them. Here is a little list of useful hashtags/accounts/other stuff I have discovered lately (this list is certainly not exhaustive and will change often, I am sure!)
- #lbloggers (=Lifestyle bloggers)
- #bbloggers (= Beauty bloggers)
- #fbloggers (= Food bloggers)
- #cfbloggers (= Cruelty free bloggers)
Twitter can be tricky because it’s difficult to fit a meaningful tweet + image + link + tags/hashtags into 140 characters. To fully utilise these hashtags I feel it’s hard to avoid being super-spammy. If you have no shame and want to queue up your spammy tweets using Hootsuite or Crowdfire then you can probably make good use of all these accounts. I couldn’t bring myself to be so spamtastic, and honestly, once I’d followed all those “RT” accounts I quickly turned off retweets because they were so annoying in my feed (I know, I could use lists, but it’s easier to just remove what I don’t want instead of cramming what I do into a list I have to curate/update!) I guess if there was a “VeganBlogRT” type account I would follow it more closely because it would be much more tailored to my interests (maybe this is already a thing?)
I’ve found it more fun and interesting to usefully engage in some of the Twitter ‘chats’. I enjoyed both #veganhour and the @CFBloggersChat. I picked up a few new followers each time, and I think that was because I was meaningfully taking part instead of robotically churning out tweets with links to blog posts and as many hashtags/mentions as I could cram in.
In terms of Instagram, I haven’t really used it to drive blog traffic in a big way. Obviously using this medium you are free to throw in ALL the hashtags, and in a less spammy way. A quick google for “hashtags for bloggers” or “Instagram hashtags for bloggers” brings up oodles of suggestions. You could easily copy and paste a bunch of these into your phone’s ‘Notes’ feature and then paste them into Instagram posts. Why not?
Ongoing Improvements/Driving Traffic
There are other ‘tricks’ to try and improve your blog traffic. For an established blog, I think that updating older posts can be really effective, because you can start linking to that content on social media (because it’s relevant maybe, or, just because). As mentioned above I went back and made Pinterest ‘worthy’ images for some of my old posts and then pinned these to one of my boards. At some point I’ll go through some of the older posts featuring good recipes but terrible pictures, re-cook those dishes and try and take some half decent photographs!
- 9 Ways to Increase Blog Traffic by Updating Old Blog Posts.
- How to use your old blog posts to gain new readers.
- Increasing Your Traffic
It seems to me that the best way to establish a solid and engaged readership is to just spend a lot of time creating super content that folks find interesting. Some of my favourite vegan blogs built up their presence over years and years. If you’re after the freebies and the money, this is probably not the strategy for you, but it’ll suit me a-ok.
Other Ways to Share/Network
If you’re a food blogger and you fancy your photography skillz, there are a number of sites you can share your recipes on. Finding Vegan is, of course, the number one choice for vegan food, and an acceptance there did get me quite a few views on the blog. HOWEVER. I think I went through about 15 rejections before they accepted a photo. Boy, are they tough! The food all looks stunning so I can understand this, but if your skills are anywhere around my level I can only advise buckets of natural light and the most handsome props you can dig up in a charity shop.
I’ve also included a handy round-up of ‘linkies’ for food bloggers I found. These are like blog-hops as far as I can tell. You join in with a theme and write a blog post to be included on a chain of links to the other posts in the ‘hop’. I’ve yet to get involved with any of these but if I ever manage to plan in advance and find one that’s relevant I’d be up for giving it a go.
And OF COURSE. The big one. There’s VeganMofo right? I always get loads of new traffic during VeganMofo and I love discovering new blogs every year. I, erm, have a bit of a habit of failing Mofo because life always seems to fall apart slightly during September/October but I’ve managed to successfully complete a Mofo at least ONCE (actually just once).
(I’ve also added Virtual Vegan Potluck here, though I’m not sure whether it’s still active twice a year.)
In terms of networking with other bloggers, common advice is to comment on other blogs in order to drive a bit of traffic back to your own. However, it’s uber transparent when folks leave a single line comment (Great content!!!1!) with a signature linking to their blog and every social media channel they use….. Personally, I don’t comment on a blog post unless I have a genuine reaction and want to engage with it in a meaningful way. I never leave my URL; that’s usually entered in one of the comment fields. You could force yourself to leave comments on every blog going but you risk exposing yourself as a bit of a spammer and might just put people off.
- Ultimate Guide to Food Photo Sharing Websites.
- The Ultimate Guide to Linkies for Food Bloggers.
- Virtual Vegan Potluck.
- The Basics of Blog Comment Etiquette.
SEO & Guest Posting
I haven’t even dabbled in SEO, I gotta tell ya. I use a WordPress.com hosted site with my own domain name (rather than self hosting) so I struggle to tweak the relevant bits of code and install the best plugins, etc. Add to that, my brain can barely comprehend the ins and outs of it all….. I’m sure that SEO works super well once you get a grip on it, but I don’t even have the loosest grasp! When I tried to figure it out, I googled “SEO 101”, “SEO for beginners” – the sort of stuff you would expect. This post seemed like a fairly user-friendly introduction to me.
I’ve grouped ‘guest posting’ under this last heading with SEO because I haven’t done very much of either! Most advice states that this is a great way to drive some more traffic back to your blog if you can nab a guest post on a particularly well read site. This seemed like a good guide to pitching your content, and lists a number of websites/blogs that will accept guest posts.
And finally, because, why not: 101 Ways to Promote Your Blog and Get More Visitors.
So, I dunno you guys, I didn’t really expect this post to turn into a big ‘guide’ on something I know very little about, but because I am ALSO learning I wanted to share some of the resources I had found in case they are handy!
I’ll try and keep this post updated with relevant content and any content more tailored to vegan food/lifestyle blogs.
Have I missed anything useful? Let me know!