How To Create A Professional Food Blog That Converts

How To Create A Professional Food Blog That Converts

Are you starting out in the wonderful field of food blogging? Is your aim to attract businesses, brands and media? Do you want to get paid work out of your blog? 

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, then read on! I’m going to show you how to create a professional food blog that converts readers into potential business clients. And there’s also some technical and design tips at the end! 

My food blog is called Eat Drink Laos and it's all about food and travel in Laos, a little land-locked country in Asia with amazing food, people and cultural diversity. I set up my blog just before I came to Laos and now, 2 years on, I have over 2,000 organic subscribers and followers on social media.  

Eat Drink Laos food blog | Lilani Goonesena | https://www.eatdrinklaos.com

Food blogging is without a doubt fun, tasty and sociable. You’ll make friends (and influence people). It creates a community, shines a spotlight on lesser known places and newcomers. Also food photos - stunning! 

But professional food blogging is also hard work, and at times, socially awkward, tedious (especially editing and optimising photos!) and consists of many little steps. I can spend an entire day on a single blog post and that doesn’t include visiting the venue! 

Freshly baked croissants at Jeremy Herzog's cafe, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

Freshly baked croissants at Jeremy Herzog's cafe, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

If you want a food blog that converts readers, you’ve got to approach it as a professional gig, not just a hobby or something to do when you’ve got a free afternoon. I spend an age on my posts but I’m proud of each and every one. And I get a lot of interest from companies, media and other people interested in working with me. 

So, let’s get started - how do you create a professional food blog post (that readers are going to love!)?

What's your food blogging niche?

Much like choosing your business niche, your food blog needs to have a specific focus too. That's what distinguishes it from the 'random musings' that seem to feature in so many blogs. 

You want to pick a niche that you have a great passion for, and preferably some prior knowledge. The latter's not essential but it helps readers to trust your opinions if you speak with authority from the get go. 

There’s loads of angles for a food blog from to restaurant reviews to stories from the farm, rural agriculture, viticulture (wine), city bars, indigenous cuisine, and more. Pick either a type or food (or beverage), or a place where you can explore the foodie options and share them with your readers. I chose the latter, to showcase food and travel in Laos and the region. 

A traditional fisherman balances on the end of his boat on Inle Lake, Myanmar © Lilani Goonesena 2017

A traditional fisherman balances on the end of his boat on Inle Lake, Myanmar © Lilani Goonesena 2017

Once you've got your niche sorted, it's time to look out for new and interesting content. New venues, trends, events, seasonal happenings, visiting celebrities, crazes, issues and ingredients are all good types of content. 

People often ask me where I hear about new venues and places to blog on. In Australia, I’d probably get that info from local tourism agencies, social media and emails that the venue itself sends out to local bloggers. In Laos, it’s not quite so straightforward. 

Marketing and promotion of new foodie spots isn’t a strong suit here, apart from Facebook groups which are prolific but not exactly reliable for regular information. Sometimes I often only find out about a new cafe or restaurant when I happen to drive past it. “Hey… was that a… did I just see…? Oh, okay, that’s good to know” and I’ll pop away it in my head for future action. 

I confess that when I talk to people, even good friends, I’m also quietly mining them for snippets of information or possible blog post ideas. There are all sorts of nuggets of blogging gold in the most random conversations. I'll shamelessly interrogate acquaintances with questions, then jot it all down on my phone at the earliest opportunity.

If there's a new restaurant, cafe, bar, hotel, trip, event, or food-related business or activity in Vientiane, or Laos in general, I want to know about it. And if you know of one, for pity's sake, just tell me.

How to do your food post research 

Here’s my tips for solid food blog post research: 

  • Try to visit a place you review twice. This is just because experiences change and it’s good to be as impartial as possible. Unless there’s food poisoning involved (which touchwood hasn't happened to me yet) or it's just terrible (which has) in which case I for one won't write about it anyway. There are too many other good places to focus on.
  • Go incognito. Yes, it’s very tempting when you’re a food blogger to flash that knowledge around (“Don’t you know who I AM??” - I don’t really say that) but you’re going to get a much more authentic experience when you’re not trying to be a superstar.
  • Chat up the owner or one of the waitstaff for some insider facts about the venue. Things like how long they’ve been open, their ethos or vision, their style, the name of the owner (you may need to reveal your identity here), and any other little tidbits that make a post more interesting and meaty (no pun intended!).
  • Order as many different dishes and drinks as you can to sample the flavours and get lots of photos.
  • Photograph the room, the building, the decor and other details that make up the venue. There’s more to a meal than the food.
  • Take a friend or two along to help you eat everything (and make them order different things) and also to get their opinions.
Teriyaki chicken meal set at The Bowl, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

Teriyaki chicken meal set at The Bowl, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

  • Take notes, even rough ones, and write them up as soon as you can. That way, if you don’t get around to doing the post for a couple of weeks, your notes will make everything fresh in your mind again.

How to get great food blog photos 

The world of Instagram and social media has made it perfectly acceptable to act like a pretentious poser and snap photos of your food at every meal. No one is likely to pay any attention to you. Which is great for food bloggers because you can totally fly under the radar. 

That's not always the case in Laos though. 

What is universal, however, is that quality photos are absolutely essential for a food blog. Which is why I spent a relatively exorbitant amount of money on my Sony RX100 iii, on top of spending the equivalent of about 20 blog posts' worth of time researching every camera on the market (I’m nerdy like that). 

Fish laab with herbs at Doi Ka Noi restaurant, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

Fish laab with herbs at Doi Ka Noi restaurant, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

But the results speak for themselves. Your food blog isn't iPhone territory. Smart phone photos and videos are great for social media promotion of your posts (see more on that below) but not what you want on your blog.  

You need to fork out the cash for a good camera. Many bloggers take it much further with big SLR cameras, tripods, fancy lighting and air-bushed imagery.

I don't go that far. My Sony is what’s known as a ‘point and shoot compact digital camera’. I’m 100% good with this. Personally I don’t want to carry around a heavy SLR and fiddle with the aperture and shutter speed, then spend hours editing the raw files.

If however, you have a cooking blog and you're concocting recipes in your own home, then yes, you'll need to look at investing in extra lighting and other equipment. But for a food and travel blog like mine, I'm happy with my choice. 

So, this is what you’ll be doing with your awesome camera...

  • Snapping photos of your meal before devouring it, and making your dining companions do the same...
Freshly made apple crumble at Coco & Co, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

Freshly made apple crumble at Coco & Co, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

  • Asking friends to order specific things so you can take pictures of their dishes...
  • Swivelling around plates, rearranging table decor and swapping seats to get the best angles and as much natural light in the shot as possible...
  • Walking around the venue taking photos like a tourist while staff look at you strangely... And then asking to peer into the kitchen and take photos of them...
Chef and owner Noi in the kitchen at Doi Ka Noi restaurant, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

Chef and owner Noi in the kitchen at Doi Ka Noi restaurant, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

  • Asking strangers on the street to be your guinea pigs (if you’re doing street food), or even an obliging table at a cafe...
High school kids sampling the Lao street food delicacy, egg babies, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

High school kids sampling the Lao street food delicacy, egg babies, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

  • And buying food you may not really want to eat so people don't mind you taking photos...
Deep fried frogs at Ban Ahou night market, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

Deep fried frogs at Ban Ahou night market, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

Then, back at home, upload your photos into your computer and ruthlessly select the winning ones for your post. I tend, on average and depending on the subject, to have about 10 images per post. Plus a really winning one that hopefully sums everything up for the feature image. 

When you’ve made your selection, resize the photos. On my site (I’m with the Squarespace platform) that means 700 pixels wide for post images and 1200 pixels wide for the feature image. 

Label them with your blog and post name (see the next section for creating your headline). For eg, the image at the top of this post is labelled “lilanigoonesena-create-food-blog-converts-eatdrinklaos”. 

Then drop them all into Tiny Jpg, a fantastic image compressor that will make the files as small as possible without losing quality. Smaller image sizes = faster loading time on your website. 

Finally, when all the research and photos are ready, it's time to...

Write an amazing blog post

Each blogger is different but for me, I start all my writing the same way, whether it's an article or a blog post - by crafting the beginning. The first sentence or two sets the stage and it all flows from there. 

Fresh orange juice at Malibarn Flower Shop, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

Fresh orange juice at Malibarn Flower Shop, Vientiane, Laos © Lilani Goonesena 2017

So, whatever works for you - plan it ahead or write as you go. Here's a few things to keep in mind: 

  • Use your notes for a bit of extra flavour in your story.
  • Break up your text into smaller 2-3 line sentences and add subheadings. It’s better for readability.
  • Save a draft - I write my posts in Google Drive first, which saves everything automatically. And then I also have a saved copy of all of my posts in a single folder.
  • Insert links to relevant articles and your own blog posts for further reading.
  • Proof read your post when it's done. 

And most importantly, remember - 

  • Not every post has to be a massive missile with multiple photos and research. You don't have to reinvent the wheel or produce magazine-worthy content on every post. Short posts, photo-posts, inspiration posts, news stories and more - all of these make great content. 

Finally, hit publish and relax.

Well, almost. 

I did warn you that professional blogging is a process! But it does get quicker over time. So, now your amazing post is done. Let's look at sharing it with the world...

How to promote your blog post

After you've crafted your masterpiece, you've got to bombard it across all of your social media channels and your newsletter (if you have one). What's the point of all that work if no one reads it, right?

  • Add social sharing buttons to every post, and to your blog homepage. Put them in a prominent position at the top and bottom of each post. Make it easy for people to share your content.
  • Set up at least one social media page or account for your blog. Whether it's a Facebook page, or Instagram or Pinterest account, you need to have a social media spot that's separate to your personal accounts where you can share your posts and plug your blog. For Eat Drink Laos, I have both an Instagram account and a Facebook page

  • Promote your post across all of your social media platforms. If you’re posting on Facebook, copy and paste your post URL into the Facebook debugger tool first to ensure your featured image comes up.
     
  • Coin a catchy phrase for each post, include a couple of hashtags and tag any venues or brands you’ve focused on or mentioned in your post. Read more about social media marketing
The Eat Drink Laos Facebook page © Lilani Goonesena 2017

The Eat Drink Laos Facebook page © Lilani Goonesena 2017

Finally, and this is the last part, I promise! Let's have a quick chat about your blog platform, layout and design. 

What should your food blog look like

Well, naturally, your food blog has to look a) attractive, and b) professional. 

What ‘attractive’ means to you is just your choice though great photos will certainly help. Again have a look around at other food blogs and emulate the elements you like. Then add your individual personality and style - they play a huge role in the success of any blog. 

On the professional side, you’ve got to think about website functionality - you want people to find your site engaging, interesting and easy to navigate. So don’t add every button, plugin and image you can think of to your layout; rather keep it simple and intuitive.

The Eat Drink Laos homepage grid layout © Lilani Goonesena 2017

The Eat Drink Laos homepage grid layout © Lilani Goonesena 2017

Here’s what you need to consider...

  • Choose your blogging platform - Blogger, Wordpress, Squarespace, Tumblr, Medium are all big names in the blogging world. I suggest getting a paid theme or template over a free one. I chose Squarespace for its gorgeous, minimal and clean templates. Read about all the reasons why Squarespace rocks
     
  • Pick a URL that describes your blog's focus. This will hugely increase the chances of your blog's ranking on Google when people search for blogs in your niche. 
     
  • The layout of your posts - I’ve kept my homepage deliberately simple with a search function and social media icons followed by my latest posts in a minimal grid layout. It works for me but you may prefer to include more information such as a sidebar, popular posts, bigger feature images, etc. Look around at food blogs you like and emulate some of their style elements. 
  • Make sure the font is easy to read; at least 16pt is standard, and choose either a sans serif or a common serif font; don't go with anything too fancy. 

  • Definitely have a white background; coloured, black or even grey backgrounds make reading difficult. Read more on the essential elements of every website.

  • Do include a search function and categories. Few people will be equally interested in everything you write about - they want to find their key passions quickly and easily.

Phew! There you have it - how to create a professional food blog that will garner you readers and business opportunities! Now go forth and get blogging. 

About the author: Lilani Goonesena is an Australian freelance writer, Squarespace web designer and blogger currently based in Vientiane, Laos. She loves helping freelancers and small businesses get online with web design and contentblogging and her awesome weekly newsletter on digital marketing, social media, blogging, web design and "all that online stuff". She also writes food and travel articles for businesses and magazines, and blogs at the delectable Eat Drink Laos.