Every so often I get an email from someone with questions regarding blogging and where to begin. This blog is in its 12th year of existence, and I’m still learning and tweaking all the time.
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1. First things first: you need a name. If only I had given the naming process five minutes of thought, I could have prevented years of confusion. When I named this blog Alexandra’s Kitchen, the URL “alexandraskitchen.com” wasn’t available, so I chose alexandracooks.com, which has confused people over the years — is it Alexandra’s Kitchen? or Alexandra Cooks?
My advice: Match your blog name to its URL. Before you commit, run the name by some friends. Keep it short and snappy. Make it memorable. Be clever. Not too clever. I have failed on all accounts.
And before you get your heart set on a name, check to see if it’s available:
2. You need a publishing platform and a host. I have used WordPress — a Content Management System (CMS) for years — which I love for a number of reasons: ease of use, community support (answers to any question can be found online), and plugins. There are many CMS’s out there, but I can only speak with any knowledge about WordPress.
There are two routes you can take: wordpress.com (free) or wordpress.org (not free). WordPress.com is a great place to start if you want to test out the world of blogging. If you discover you like blogging, you can easily migrate your content to wordpress.org. You can compare the differences in more depth here, but in short, wordpress.org gives you more control over the design, plugins, and themes for your site.
When you use wordpress.org, you need a host (someone you rent space from). I used Bluehost when I first started because it is extremely affordable. Monthly fees for hosting are nominal: $3.95/month to start. If you find your traffic growing and you need more support, WP Engine is a great option.
If you go the wordpress.org route, your host company (Bluehost, WP Engine, Liquid Web, Flywheel, etc.) should be able to install WordPress for you. Don’t struggle. Get on the phone; let someone walk you through it.
3. Designing your site. The beauty of WordPress is that there are thousands of themes out there, many of which are free. Think of a theme as this: a basic framework or layout. Colors and fonts can all be tailored as can layout. But the most important requirement you should consider when picking a theme is this: that it’s responsive, meaning the layout of your site will adjust to the device on which it is being displayed. Not only does google care if your site is responsive, but many people now appreciate — expect — a responsive site when reading websites from their phones and tablets.
I used Feast Design Co. for my most recent Alexandra’s Kitchen logo.
With the release of Gutenberg, WordPress’ new editing experience, it is important to pick a theme that is Gutenberg ready.
Four Essentials to Keep in Mind During the Design Process:
• Speed: A fast site is imperative.
• Search: A good search function clearly located at the top of the page is essential. This search function should be easily accessible in the mobile arena (phones, tablets, etc.) as well.
• Organization: Assigning categories — the beauty of WordPress! — to each post you write will allow people to browse your archives. You can then create links for these categories — for example: Breakfast, Salads, CSAs, Desserts, Bread — and make them accessible from your main menu. I only just found a way to display my categories in a way that I like with good-sized thumbnail images: see, for example, Vegetarian.
• Printer-friendly: People really appreciate when recipes can be easily printed (a feature I failed to provide for years). I use the WP Tasty recipe plugin, whose printer-friendly display I really like.
5. Photography. There are countless resources on the web for photography. I have compiled my tips here and have created this Pinterest board which features images from some inspiring food photographers. Word of advice: don’t get overwhelmed. I find myself feeling two things these days: The photography on the web has gotten SO good. 2. It’s also gotten too good. I almost don’t trust a site when the photography is too styled or perfect looking. I suggest finding a few photographers whose work you really like, study their photos, then start practicing. You need to get comfortable with your camera. Props such as cloths, bowls and vintage silverware aren’t going to make the image.
Photo-editing software, however, will help. I use Photoshop, which I love and highly recommend. If you go the Photoshop route, I also recommend taking an online course (I did) to learn the basics — it’s not intuitive. Lightroom is also what many photographers recommend or even prefer to Photoshop. There also are a few free options out there. I’ve heard good things about gimp.org.
One other thought:
Vertical vs. Horizontal images. Pinterest is one of the largest and fastest-growing social media sites. Vertical images shine. Horizontal images get lost. Moreover, people are using their phones and tablets (vertically oriented) more and more. Having a mix of both horizontal and vertical is a nice option, too, though in my opinion, a majority of vertical images is probably best.
Editing in Photoshop:
5. WordPress plugins/features I like:
Search box: This is trickier than you might think. Some themes come with built-in search functions that are great. Some themes come with the default WordPress search function that is not so great, especially in the way in which it displays results. My advice: find an example of a search function you like; then hire a designer to do the same for your site.
6. Social Media. As I mentioned above, blogging and social media are nearly inseparable. Create a Facebook page and set up accounts with Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram. Even if you don’t use these various social channels that often, you never know which channels your readers may prefer for gathering and sharing information.
7. Make friends. Reach out to bloggers you admire. Find bloggers whose cooking styles align with yours. Maybe you have taken an interest in vegan or gluten-free cooking. Maybe you like baking or gadgets. Maybe you’re interested in food policy or reviewing cookbooks or starting a podcast. For every interest, there is a community out there. Learn from bloggers who spread the “link love” and keep the content fun.
You’ve got this! Let’s review:
1. Pick a name.
2. Pick a CMS such as WordPress.
3. Design your site.
4. Create profiles on social channels.
5. Start cooking, photographing, writing, posting.
Let me know how it goes. Questions? Thoughts? What have I forgotten? Good luck!