Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to make purchases using these links, it won’t cost you any extra money, but it will earn me a small commission: every little bit helps to keep this site up and running—I am very thankful for your support. (You can check out my full disclosure here)
Let me clarify right from the get-go: I am not a web designer, computer geek, graphic designer, coding expert, etc., etc. This is simply the set of steps that I followed to start a food blog at flippedoutfood.com. It may not be right for you, it’s not comprehensive, and I am sure that there are others out there who do a much better job of explaining the process than I do (in fact, you’ll see my links to some of those bloggers below!).
This post is tailored to brand-new bloggers who are starting a food blog using WordPress as their website development platform. Although I have used Wix before (that will get a post all by itself because Wix isn’t a good fit for food bloggers, IMO), WordPress is by far the most user-friendly platform I’ve used and does all the things that we food bloggers need it to do.
Starting a Food Blog:
1. Hosting and Domain
The first step to starting a food blog is to create your site’s very own corner of the interwebs. To create this cyber real estate, you’ll first need a hosting company. I use Bluehost (affiliate) for my web hosting. Their affordable plans start at $3.95/month, with unlimited web hosting at $5.95/month. Until you know whether your blog is going to fly or flop, I suggest using the least expensive plan. It’s easy to upgrade later. Bluehost is incredibly user-friendly, allowing you to install WordPress with one click. This great series of step-by-step tutorials shows you how.
Siteground: this is another easy-to-use, very affordable option for your hosting company. I have heard nothing but wonderful things about the company from close friends and colleagues.
(There are, of course, numerous other hosting companies like GoDaddy, HostGator, and eHost, but I haven’t used them personally or known anyone who does.)
About domain names…
When you sign up with a hosting company, you’ll be asked for your domain name. This is your actual website address, or URL. If you don’t already have one, choose a URL that’s easy to remember and as close to the actual name of your blog as possible: I simply changed Flipped-Out Food to an all-one-word version, www.flippedoutfood.com. And I do suggest using “.com” rather than “.net” or anything else suggested: this the most recognizable domain extension.
Check to see if your domain is available. If so, hooray! You’ll now be asked to create an account. If your domain is not available, you’ll see some suggestions for alternatives. If you like one of them, go with that. If not, you’re back to the drawing board: try a different domain name. <Frowny face>
When you successfully create a domain name, you’ll set up an account with the hosting company of your choice. You’ll be asked to enter your personal information, along with credit card info for the plan of your choice. You’ll also create a username and password: be sure to keep these safe.
2. Installing WordPress
(These instructions apply to BlueHost, which is what I used) You will now arrive at a page with lots of colorful icons arranged in a dashboard format. Scroll down until you see the panel named “Website.” It will look like this:
Click on the icon labeled “Install WordPress”. You will now be guided through the install process: it’s very easy to follow, but it takes some time. Congratulations! You are now well on your way to creating your food blog.
3. Intro to your dashboard
When your install is complete, click through the Admin URL link to your WordPress login page. Log in with your username and password (remember the information you kept safe at the end of Step 1?).
Once you log in, you’ll find yourself in confusing waters. You’re now on your dashboard page: this is command central for your website. You can do everything here, from choosing and installing your theme, installing plugins, and customizing your site to publishing your first post. It will look something like this:
You can see that this page gives an “at-a-glance” overview of the dashboard. This is where you will see any comments that need to be moderated (at the time of this writing, I hadn’t blasted flippedoutfood.com out into the social media blogosphere yet, so the only comments I had were spam). If you want to write your first post, all you have to do is click on the thumbtack labeled “Posts”.
I have a confession to make: the first thing I did in the Dashboard was to change the color: as you see, I chose a nifty teal (if you care, hover over your admin name in the upper right until a drop-down menu appears: click “Edit My Profile” and pick an admin color scheme under “Personal Options”).
4. Installing a theme
Likely the first thing that YOU’LL want to do is to choose and install a WordPress theme. The theme is what gives your website its design: its unique “look,” layout, navigation, responsiveness, etc. Remember all the html/CSS coding that used to be necessary to build a website? These themes do it for you. You don’t have to know coding at all. I created Flipped-Out Food using a framework-child theme setup:
- Genesis Framework by StudioPress: this provides a secure, efficient, search-engine-optimized foundation for your blog.
- Foodie Pro Child Theme: from all of the research I’ve done, this is the premiere child theme for a food blog. It’s slick, SEO-optimized, mobile-responsive, has 6 choices for layout—but most importantly, it has great recipe organization functionality. Also, if you’re looking to monetize your blog, it has customizable ad widget areas built right in. To get the theme, follow the link above to StudioPress. Press “Click to Shop” under “Just need a WordPress theme?”. Find the dropdown menu that says “All Themes” and select “Third Party”. Foodie Pro will be among the top picks.
- Brunch Pro: another sleek child theme that works well for food blogs. To find this theme, navigate to StudioPress using this “Brunch Pro” link. Press “Click to Shop”. Click the dropdown labeled “All Themes” and select Third Party. Brunch Pro will be on the first page.
- Both the Foodie Pro and Brunch Pro themes were developed by Feast Design Co., which offers workshops, installation, customization services, and support forums for its themes.
When you purchase a framework and theme, you’ll be directed to download a .zip file for each. Be sure to save them in an easy-to-find place.
Now back to your dashboard in WordPress. Click on “Appearance” (next to the paintbrush) and select “Themes.” You can browse around the available WordPress themes, or, if you’ve already purchased one, click on “Upload Theme”: you’ll be directed to upload the .zip file with your chosen theme (that you saved in an easy-to-find place!). Once uploaded, click “Install Now.” Boom.
5. Customizing your theme
This is tailored to the Foodie Pro child theme, since that’s what I used to create flippedoutfood.com (there are tons of support forums out there if you went with a different theme). You can do some basic customization by clicking on “Appearance” in your dashboard, then “Customize.” A menu will pop up to the left of your screen like what I’m showing below. As you make changes, you can preview them in the field on the right.
Going from top to bottom of the menu (beginning under “Active theme”), you can:
- Establish your site identity: put in the title, your site’s tagline (very briefly, what are you about?), and upload a site icon (a.k.a. favicon).
- Upload a custom header image: your image will need to be 800 × 340 pixels for a retina-ready logo. Mine is clearly NOT 800 x 340: I customized my header, which required changing the code—that’s beyond the scope of this post (and strongly discouraged by the developers, P.S.).
- Change the colors of your site: customize your colors, from fonts to borders to button hover colors. You can also change the background: this is completely up to you, but if you’re going to monetize your blog and place affiliate ads throughout your site, keep in mind that those ads will not match your background should you choose to change it.
- Change the fonts (typography): you can choose from several font families to customize the font used in body text, accent text, and headers.
- Add a background image: If you’d like, you can add a background image to your site. I’m of the “simpler is better” school of thought, so I didn’t choose to use a background image for Flipped-Out Food. To me they’re a bit distracting.
- Menus: this is where you can set up the basic navigation for your site. This is explained in detail in one of the tutorials to which I’ll direct you below.
- Widgets: This is where you decide what goes on your page and where. You can set up a banner ad to pop up before your header, if that’s your thing, or put a “sticky ad” at the bottom. You can show your recipes in a nifty slider. Or put blog posts on the top area of your homepage and recipes on the bottom area—or however you want things arranged. You can put your “about” statement on the primary side bar along with social media follow buttons, and maybe an ad before the fold. And on and on. Again, I’ll refer you to another blogger’s excellent tutorials (below).
I didn’t go any lower in the customization menu for Flipped-Out Food, though there are a LOT more details involved in making the specific customizations that you see throughout the site—especially involving the widgets. For that, I will refer you to Minimalist Baker: their Foodie Pro Genesis Child Theme Master Setup and Customization Guide is so extensive that I won’t re-invent the wheel here. Suffice to say that I followed these tutorials to set up flippedoutfood.com. If I can do it, so can you.
If you get stuck
The theme that you installed in WordPress should have its own support forum. For example, Foodie Pro offers a set of tutorials. If you don’t find your solution there, you can contact the developers directly.
I always start with the WordPress support forum. First, you can have a look at their supporting documentation. Then, if you don’t find the answer to your problem, search the support forum using a string of words that describes your issue (just like you would in Google search): very likely, you will find a thread that describes your exact issue and solutions for fixing it.
If you still can’t find the solution to your problem, Codeable is an excellent option. This on-demand service lets you explain your coding issue and specify a maximum budget. Codeable’s WordPress experts submit bids to do the necessary work for you. You interact with experts who bid on your project via chat: you can then select an expert based on the bid (and from your impression of the expert’s grasp of the issue from your chat). I used Codeable to fix a coding issue with my header; I couldn’t have been happier with the service.
6. Adding plugins to optimize your food blog
One great thing about starting a food blog using WordPress is that there’s an entire marketplace of plugins designed to optimize your site. Below is a list of plugins that I absolutely love:
- Wordfence: protect against attacks and viruses that can damage the reputation of your site with this easy plugin. I use the basic version, which is open source and free, but there is a premium version that offers support and scan scheduling features.
- Akismet: this plugin catches spam comments and puts them in a spam folder (or you can set the plugin to automatically delete them so that you never have to worry with it).
- Updraft Plus: this is WordPress’ free site back-up plugin. Backing up your site is critical so that you can restore your site in the event that it’s hacked, the server crashes, an update messes everything up, or you accidentally delete your site (yes, that can happen).
- EWWW Image Optimizer: this plugin automatically optimizes your images as you upload them. This is important because you want your pages—with all of your gorgeous food photos—to load quickly so that you don’t lose potential readers to boredom because of slow page-loading.
- WordPress SEO by Yoast: this plugin automatically does your search engine optimization (SEO) for you. All you have to do is set a focus keyword or phrase, add a meta description and SEO title, and Yoast guides you through the rest. The plugin also analyzes the readability of your post based on length, use of passive voice, subheadings, etc. The only drawback here is that it catches consecutive sentences that start with the same word, and recipes frequently do that.
- Easy Recipe: every food blogger needs this app, IMO. Your recipes not only look professional, but they’re also SEO-ready and optimized to be Google searchable. Furthermore, EasyRecipe lets you enable rich pins on Pinterest (these are the ones that show recipes’ ingredients, cook times, yields, etc.). There’s a free version here, or you can buy the EasyRecipe Plus ($24.95) here.
Building your following
- Mailchimp: this is the plugin I use to manage subscribers and send out notification when I’ve put up a new post. The plugin is free up to 2,000 subscribers.
- Popup Ally: you will see a LOT of adverts on WordPress and other blogs telling you to install OptinMonster, the most popular lead-generation software used by bloggers to convert readers into subscribers. It does this through a lot of cool features like customizable opt-in forms (the ones that pop up and ask readers to enter their email to subscribe to your mailing list). I’m all about keeping my overhead low: the $9/month fee for the most basic form of OptinMonster is a no-go for me. The opt-in form is the most important feature, IMO, and there are numerous FREE OptinMonster alternatives that accomplish this just fine. I use Popup Ally, which smoothly integrates with Mailchimp, offers customizable forms, and allows you to control when they pop up.
- Simple Social Icons: this is a user-friendly plugin that lets you customize icons linking readers to your social media profiles. You can easily choose which profiles to link to, customize the color and size of your icons, and align them however you’d like.
- Social Warfare: I can’t say enough good stuff about this plug-in. First, it allows you to select which specific share buttons you’d like to appear in each post, where you’d like them to be located, and even what shape/color you’d like them to be. The greatest part, though, is that it allows you to create customized social media messages, including custom tweets and pinterest descriptions, as you write new posts. You can upload a designated social media image and a custom pinterest collage like the one below with no need to add complicated coding to hide the collage from showing up in your text! When your readers click any of your share buttons, you can rest assured that the correct image and description will be shared. This panel appears below the layout settings in your WordPress post-editing module:
7. Join affiliate programs
An important consideration in starting a food blog is whether you plan to monetize the blog. If you do, you’ll need to join some affiliate programs. If not, skip to #8.
Here’s how it works: you join the affiliate program, which provides you with custom banners or links that contain your affiliate ID, thus allowing your affiliate partner to track sales that originate from your site. You can also place ads in your header, footer, sidebar, or within the text of your posts—another reason that Foodie Pro is such a great option: all you need to do is add a text widget to the area of the site that you want the ad to appear, add in the affiliate’s ad code, and boom. You’re good to go.
Now, a caveat. I resisted putting ads on my site for the longest time. They looked really spammy to me. But I’ve done a lot of research into the placement and behavior of affiliate ads, and you can be relatively non-obnoxious about it. The main epiphany for me occurred when I finally invested the money required for re-launching Flipped-Out Food, when I realized that monetizing was a needed step to cover my overhead—and to hopefully generate a second income.
Below are some of the affiliate programs I have joined so far, which are highly recommended by other food bloggers. I will update when I have a better idea of how well these programs work for me.
- Amazon Affiliate: this is the one that everyone seems to use, and the first one I signed up for. You can create “native ads” that relate specifically to the content of your post or add links to specific products. The great thing is that if you send a reader to Amazon to buy, say, a spice blend, but they stick around and buy a Sony PS5, you get commission on the PS5. How cool is that?
- ShareASale: this affiliate marketing network currently has over 4000 merchants. You can search for merchants who align with the mission of your website, and then apply to their affiliate program with a short pitch explaining your site and how it would market the merchant’s product(s) or service(s)—right through the ShareASale dashboard. When you get accepted by a merchant, you can grab their links or “creatives” to put on your site. These will automatically track back to your site to earn you commission.
- CJ Affiliate: Like ShareASale, CJ Affiliate is an affiliate marketing network with thousands of well-known brands. Also like ShareASale, once you join CJ Affiliate, you can search through the available merchants and apply for their specific program with a short pitch.
- Food52 offers a 6% commission per sale and a cookie length of 7 days. Their shop offers everything from cookware and pantry items to table linens and home decorations.
When you start joining affiliate programs right and left, you’ll need to keep all of your ducks in a row. Keep your login information secure, but in an easy-to-access (for you!) spreadsheet so that you don’t have to hunt for lost usernames and passwords. I also keep all of the pitch letters that I send to potential affiliates in a single Word document: it’s great to have general “boilerplate language” so that I can tailor each pitch letter to the specific merchant with whom I want to work.
8. Creating great content
This is way down in my “Starting a Food Blog” checklist, but it’s the #1 key to being successful.
First, you need good-quality writing that engages your readers. My “real job” involves technical writing and editing: based on that area of expertise, I’ll be posting tips for elevating your writing and avoiding common mistakes on Flipped-Out Food’s Blogging page in the coming months, so be sure to check back.
One of the most important pieces you will ever write for your blog is your About page. This is where you suck your readers in with an interesting story and keep them coming back for more (or, at least, that’s what we all hope to do!). When I see a food blogger on Twitter that I hadn’t heard of before, I go straight to their About page. Actually, I have to admit…I’m kind of addicted to About pages. Hmm. Maybe I should get that looked at. ANYway, spend some time on your story and explaining the focus of your blog.
Second, you need lots and lots of food porn. By this, of course, I mean GORGEOUS food photos that make readers want to keep coming back to your site and make your beautiful recipes. This is an area in which I am working to learn and grow over the next year (my blogging New Year’s resolution!), because I have a lot of room for improvement.
In order to take really good food photographs, you’ll need…
Food photography accessories
If you’re just starting a food blog, I would suggest holding off on buying the expensive equipment until you’re sure that you are going to stick with food blogging in the long term. As a complement to re-launching Flipped-Out Food, I have also (finally) invested in some decent food photography equipment. My current setup includes:
- Canon EOS Rebel T6 Digital SLR Camera: this digital camera is very user-friendly and I’ve been very happy with the quality of the pictures I get with the 50mm lens (included in this kit).
- SanDisk Ultra 32GB Memory Card: for storing your food pics on your camera and transferring them to your computer using the…
- Sabrent Flash Memory Card Reader: the memory card slides into this flash drive-like reader, which you then plug into your computer’s USB port.
- Lowel EGO light: this is an easy-to-use tabletop unit that’s fantastic when natural lighting is hard to come by. It comes highly recommended by a lot of people in the food blogosphere.
- Westcott 301 Photo Basics 40-Inch 5-in-1 Reflector: Sometimes, no matter how you position your lighting there are still shadows. This is especially true if you’re using natural lighting: you have no control over the position of the sun, after all! This is where having a reflector is a lifesaver.
If you want to learn the nuts and bolts of good food photography, check out Pinch of Yum’s Tasty Food Photography ebook, which covers everything from the basics of using a DSLR camera to lighting, photo composition, and editing.
I have to go on a short rant here. I got really annoyed when Adobe went to a cloud-based model for its Creative Suite (now Creative Cloud). (I had an old version on my Mac that I loved, but that stopped working when I updated my operating system.) Here’s my issue: $49.99/month is a ton of overhead for a just-starting-out food blog—especially when I only really needed Photoshop. Although you CAN get a bare-bones version of Creative Cloud with only Photoshop and Lightroom for $9.99/ month, that’s still too much, IMHO.
I did a little homework and found that there ARE great, inexpensive (even FREE!) alternatives. Here are a few of the best:
Pixelmator: I have been using this graphics editing program for the last 2 years, not only for editing photos, but also creating logos and graphics for my site. It costs $29.99—that’s a one-time charge, not per month—and has nearly all of the functionality of Photoshop. For me, the best thing about Pixelmator is that it integrates seamlessly with my iPad: using the stylus is like drawing on an art pad!
Corel PaintShop Pro X9 Ultimate: PaintShop Pro was developed by the same folks who produce Painter. Paintshop Pro has been around for a while now as a Photoshop alternative, offering a great range of editing and graphics creation tools. The ultimate package is available for $49.99.
A great option for learning the basics you’ll need for starting a food blog—content, photography, social media marketing, etc.—is Food Blogger Pro: this subscription-based online community was launched by the blogging duo at Pinch of Yum. The program offers literally hundreds of instructional videos, discounts for tools and services, and access to a community forum where you can ask questions and interact with other food bloggers. Although FBP’s enrollment is currently full, you can join the waiting list here.
9. Click Publish
This is perhaps the most terrifying part of the entire process of starting a food blog. There’s a simple link that you click to publish your site “when you’re ready.” There’s no “are you sure?” page after you click that link, I accidentally discovered. The site is now live.
It was approximately 2 hours after clicking the publish link that I made the realization that my admin login was gone. If this happens to you, don’t panic! (Well, I did, but only momentarily: a simple Google search turned up the answer to my issue.) All you have to do is put /login or /admin after your site URL. For a while, I put an inconspicuous “admin” link in my footer, but WordFence reported that nasty people were trying to login through that link, so I removed it.
Keep tabs on your traffic: Google Analytics
When you’re starting a food blog—especially if you’re looking to monetize your site—I suggest keeping track of traffic to your site. This helps you see trends and hone your social media marketing to what works best. To do this, simply create a Google Analytics Account and follow their simple steps to register your website. You will be given a unique tracking code for your site: you’ll need to place that tracking code in your site. In a new browser window, go to your WordPress dashboard, hover over Genesis, and select Theme Settings from the dropdown menu that appears. Scroll down and find the header scripts area. Now, go back to the browser window with Google Analytics. Click on the Admin tab: you’ll be taken to a page with 3 columns. Under “Property Settings,” click on “Tracking Code.” Scroll down to Website Tracking, where you’ll see a box with code enclosed by <script> and </script>. It will look very much like this:
ga(‘create’, ‘UA-########-1’, ‘auto’);
To grab this code, click in the box to select everything, then copy. Now go back to the window with Genesis Theme Settings and paste the code into the Header Scripts box. Scroll down and click “Save Changes.” Boom! You’re done. I have Google Analytics bookmarked in my browser so I can easily check it (I do this at least once a week). Under “All Website Data” for your property, you’ll find all sorts of valuable data. Under Audience —> Overview, you’ll see how many sessions and pageviews your website has in a given timeframe. You can also see where your traffic is coming from: this provides critical information on whether your social media strategy is working. If I try a new strategy on Pinterest or Twitter, for example, I can drill down into the Analytics report to see if it had the effect I wanted (under All Website Data, I go to Acquisition —> Social —> Network Referrals):
Starting a food blog can be a little overwhelming. As I look back over this list, I’m actually astonished at everything I’ve gone through in the last few months. My New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to make this food blog fly: I hope that I’ve also inspired you to give it a try. Don’t forget: we are a community. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your fellow food bloggers: the worst that will happen is that they don’t respond—completely understandable, given how busy some of them are. But you’ll undoubtedly find a few who will take the time to lend some tips and encouragement.
All the best,