Should I start a food blog?
March 1, 2011 8:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of starting a food blog (recipes, photos, etc) with the aim of earning a little money from ad revenue. Is such a thing feasible these days?

The blog would focus on a popular, everyday, cooking method which I'm keen to try out. I'd post recipes accompanied by a photo or two and a bit of chatty preamble. There are already a few blogs about this cooking method, but they're pretty ugly, with unappetising photos—I'm no Smitten Kitchen, but I think I could do at least a little better. The existing blogs are monetised and their authors claim to be earning money. I don't expect to rake it in, but it would be awesome to earn a little pocket money while learning a new cooking method.

I'd love to hear your thoughts:

1. Is this a stupid idea?
2. Is anyone earning money from blog ads these days?
3. Any advice? I know nothing about monetisation, SEO, etc. I'm not a natural hustler, and have a fairly strict code of ethics (i.e. I don't think I'd be comfortable doing sponsored posts or giveaways). Will Google ads suffice?
4. Can you point me towards any helpful resources?

Thanks for your help!
posted by anonymous to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't do this for the express purpose of earning money, especially if you don't know anything about monetizing a blog. At best, you could use the blog as a platform to get freebies (cookbooks, equipment, maybe specialty ingredients) related to items you're promoting or reviewing. I doubt that google ads and the like would get you more money than the value of promotional items.
posted by Sara C. at 9:16 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a food blog and I love writing for it, taking pictures, coming up with new ideas for it, but I think the idea of making money from a food blog is tricky. I've only had my blog for a few months and I've been featured in FoodPress and my local newspaper is running a story on it next week. I've made lots of new friends, but my stats are still around 10-50 unique visitors each day (I've had the occasional bump of 1-200) and I've only been offered money once and they eventually withdrew the offer once they found out how sparse my traffic is. Some food blogs have 5-10 thousand each DAY, and those are the bloggers who might pull in a few hundred bucks each month. I have no idea how they get their numbers that high. I have a pretty decent site IMO (it's linked in my profile if you want to see it), but luck may be a factor in the grand scheme of food blogging.

The only decent info I've read on the topic is Will Write for Food and the author got me a little excited about the idea of companies sending me gadgets and books to review, but again, I've never once had anyone ask me to review anything. Maybe it just takes time, but I think making money off of a food blog is unusual and probably takes some long dedicated hours of writing, research, etc. Most of the sites that you run into about "how to make money from [insert topic here] blogging" are written by bloggers working for content farms.

Some direct answers to your questions:
1. It's not a stupid idea if you're doing it because, like me, you're obsessed with food and you live in a cold dark place with nothing else to do but obsess about food.
2. I've had a VERY hard time trying to find the answer to this one. It's hard to find sortable data that is not merely anecdotal.
3. I'm not a natural hustler either, so maybe blogging isn't the right field for non-hustler?
4. Will Write for Food (above) is good as are articles like these. Read the "Meet the Food Bloggers" links and see what some of these big deal bloggers have to say about how they got started.

Don't let the challenges I've faced scare you off completely, but I know you will run into lots of cheerleaders in the world of food blogging, and for me it just hasn't been that easy.
posted by madred at 9:22 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can make money doing this, but you need to be good and you do need to have hustle. And you need to stick with it--it won't take off overnight. Darren Rowse at Problogger has a lot of good info on how to monetize your blog.
posted by phoenixy at 9:53 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know a couple people who, less than 2 years in, are now making some money food blogging (not enough to quit their job by any means, but a dependable stream of funds for say, a monthly car payment and pocket money). From my vantage point it isn't impossible at all, but it is a lot of work. The most successful friend I know--she's been winning national contests and being flown to conventions and whatever and getting the promotional goodies and has been written up in local papers repeatedly--works her ASS off planning, cooking for hours and hours and throwing away less than perfect runs many days each week, photographing, writing and rewriting, staying connected to the food blogging community, call places up and doing restaurant reviews. It looks really stressful and it served to remind me I don't want to do it myself because I think I'd stop loving it in the first place. But that's just from my perspective. Anyway, it can be done, it's just a lot of time and effort.
posted by ifjuly at 10:16 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Food blogger here. I don't run ads on my site (it's a hobby for me, not a source of income) so I can't say how easy/hard or lucrative that is. However, I do know that if you're going to try to monetize your blog you'll need traffic - the more, the better.

David Lebovitz recently wrote an excellent Guide to Food Blogging on his site. It's long, but everything he says is dead on so it's worth the read.

To generate traffic, you'll need to network. Submit your photos and recipes to sites like FoodGawker, TasteSpotting, DessertStalking, etc. Make friends with other food bloggers and readers on social networking sites like Twitter. Get your links stumbled on StumbleUpon for a big traffic boost.

Also, don't forget to take into account up front costs for your blog. You'll need a hosted website, possibly a domain name, a decent camera and ideally a tripod, plus dishes, napkins, glasses and other props in addition to the food. I'm not saying it has to be expensive, but to do it well usually requires some money.

Last but not least, you might find better answers to your questions (and more) on community sites like Food Blog Alliance and Food Blog Forum.
posted by geeky at 10:19 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, it helps to have an angle so potential readers can quickly identify who you are and whether you have much in common with their own interests and tastes, etc. It doesn't have to be super defined, but a tone or feel even--my friend focuses on Southern cuisine and primarily identifies as a baker more than a cook. Many blogs loosely focus on French-influenced food or at least highlight their personal fondness for it and its influence even in dishes that aren't French per se (Lebovitz, Orangette, Greenspan). There's many vegan food blogs, or a framework like 101 Cookbooks' premise. Smitten Kitchen to my mind has strengths in baking and food photography and talking about what worked or didn't in comments more than coming up with straight-original recipes, so I keep that in mind when I read her. Mark Bittman (not that's primarily a blogger, but just to continue illustrating this niche sort of thing) conjures up notions of the fastest or simplest most straightforward way to make something well known. Just stuff like that.
posted by ifjuly at 10:22 AM on March 1, 2011

I'm sure it can't hurt to follow Google's guide for including rich snippets in your recipes and posts to drive traffic.
posted by patrad at 11:13 AM on March 1, 2011

Datapoint: I have a food blog with a restaurant focus vs recipes. After 2 years and hovering around 8k page views per month, I make about $10 per month (which is pretty low). I did not start my food blog for advertising revenue, but it was a (small) part of my plan.

1. If you mean a blog to expressly earn money, this isn't the best way to make money. Blog because you enjoy it. Otherwise, it'll be a job. Part of creating a popular blog is about having (good) content on a regular basis. Weekly, at a minimum. If you can't maintain this, it will be really hard to achieve an amount of traffic that will generate revenue. I'm lazy and my posting cycle is anywhere from 7-14 days, but in the beginning I was posting 1-2 times per week.

2. People earn money from blogging, but it just depends on how much money you mean. A thin strata of bloggers will earn enough to make a living. You know their sites already: Smitten, Delicious Days, Steamy Kitchen, et al. The majority is far below that. I'd estimate that CPM's are probably anywhere from $1-$4 per thousand page views. So at the high end, I would make $32 a month. If this was my sole income generator on Google AdWords, it would take me 3 months to reach the payout threshold. YMMV.

3. You will have to learn about SEO. You will need to become part of food (and food-blogging) communities. Basically, be seen, be heard. Not so hard if you're already doing this. Hard if you're starting from scratch. Takes a lot of time and reading to post on various boards and generate a reputation.

4. a) Someone wrote a decent summary of what to consider if you do want to join an ad network (generally earns you higher revenue than AdSense). It's a good primer on CPM and what you need to think about when you want to make money off your blog.

4. b) If you think your photos are good enough and your ego can handle, post to FoodGawker, TasteSpotting and the like as geeky pointed out. They'll net you a ton of traffic with a long tail. Except that most of that traffic will not return. Still, law of numbers. Some of it will stick!

Again, if you blog because you can and you enjoy it, the money is gravy and will help offset your costs. If you're specifically looking for an income source, the money/time ratio for food blogging in particular isn't very high.
posted by jlunar at 12:08 PM on March 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

The few food blogs I read stay on my radar because of the gorgeous procedural photos and the conversational, easy-to-read, well-proofed writing (ie, I basically read Smitten Kitchen). If your photos are really good, that'll help a lot.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:41 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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