Looking for Blogging Success? If you're looking to start a blog or level up your blog like I did, these are the 6 tools that will help you achieve your goals!
Owlbbaking.com was launched in 2016 and it was nothing like it is today! My website was a very part-time hobby and a means for sharing recipes with family & friends. As I learned more and more about the world of blogging, my goals for my blog began to stretch further and I wanted my blog to be a lot more than what it was.
I always admired professional blogs and it became my dream to one day be as big as they were.
Naturally, I discovered that there were many elements missing from my site.
Why my blog wasn't working
- I wasn't self hosted
- I wasn't writing or promoting my posts properly
- My site had zero design
- My content was not visually exciting
I realized that if I wanted my blog to be more than just a recipe source for my friends & fam, I had to devote my time and energy into learning everything there is to know about blogging. Now, my little corner of the internet is A LOT more than a hobby! It has become a side hustle and a real product of passion and hard work.
These are the tools that took my blog from womp, to whoa
Once I signed up for these 6 tools, my blog evolved from a tiny, limited, bleh website to a beautiful, well-designed, money-making, millions of of monthly viewers on Pinterest, ever growing, endless opportunity website.
If you're looking to start a blog or level up your blog like I did, these are the 6 tools I found that are essential for a successful blog.
1. A-Z Blogging Education
Learn Every nuance of becoming a Food Blogger
If you have the resources, I highly recommend signing up for an all inclusive blogging course. The world of blogging is a big one and it can be very time consuming & overwhelming to develop a path on your own, and that's an understatement.
A good blogging course will help provide you with all the resources you need to get you off on the right foot when you're starting your blog, and it will help you refine and strengthen your existing blog.
For me, I had already started my blog before I purchased a course. Going into it, I thought I knew a lot, and I did have familiarity, however the layout and structure of the course helped me regain focus and find ability to complete a task start to finish.
When you have a blog, it's easy to fall into the trap of wanting to do everything all at once, which can be distracting when you need to accomplish your goals.
I found myself bouncing around from Pinterest to plugins to writing, to graphic design to fixing old posts, all in one hour. It felt like I was accomplishing a lot, but it turned out I was actually just really inefficient.
Having an actual guide to follow was crucial for me. I work a full time job and I need to maximize every second I can when I sit down to blog. Plus, of course I learned so much more in the course than I ever could have on my own.
You'd be reading this page all day if I started getting into everything I've learned from the Food Blogger Pro team. To sum it up, if you are truly serious about your blog AND you're serious about making it a real source of income, then I highly, highly, highly recommend exploring Food Blogger Pro.
Lindsay & Bjork are excellent teachers and they have created a fabulous, structured course to walk you through every nuance of starting your blog, maintenance and building your blog. They'll also teach you everything you need to know about photography, writing and publishing Ebooks, shooting recipe videos, proper income techniques and they can help with all the techy lil' tidbits (easily explained) which keep your blog efficient & growing.
Plus (and probably most importantly) you'll get to join a community of amazing, like-minded creators!
Other Recommended Reading Material on Blogging that I've Read:
How I Made 40K My First Year of Blogging, by Chelsea Lords. Click here to visit Chelsea Lords.
The Best Little Darn Guide to Starting a Profitable Blog, by Isaac Kronenberg.
Make Money Blogging; 9 Proven Strategies, by Joseph Hogue, CFA.
I actually got those last two books as audio books. Audio books have been instrumental in my blogging education!! It is just SO easy to play an audio book through my smartphone on my way to and from work. Not only does it keep me engaged during my commute, I'm able to pack in a lot more 'blogging' time into my day and it has advanced my abilities a lot faster than if I hadn't.
2. A Solid Hosting Company
The first version of my blog back in 2017 was set up through a plug and play website builder. For all basic purposes, providers such as Wix or Squarespace are OK. It’s great because you don’t have to bother with the hosting-side of things which can be time consuming and seem complicated when you're just starting out.
But, if you want to have complete control and the ability to fully and completely customize your website (you’ll see why having full control is so crucial once you start), as well as implement, multiple money-making strategies, you must be self-hosted and use WordPress.
As far as self-hosting goes, there are a lot of companies out there that are fully reputable. You’ll have to do some research and read reviews to find the one that is best for you.
I started with Host Gator.
Why did i Choose Hostgator?
When you're shopping for a hosting company, the advantages you should be looking for are reliability, support & price. You never want to experience downtime, you're going to want support whenever you need it and let's be real, we're all on a budget!!
- Host Gator is one of the top 10 largest hosting companies.
- Award winning, 24/7 support for Phone & Live Chat (...and you can bet I took full advantage of that when I first started!). Considering I work full-time and end up blogging at weird hours anyway, that's pretty important.
- If you are currently with another hosting company, Host Gator help transfer your site for you. I tried to do this on my own; it's very complicated! My advice? Let the experts help!
- Online Support with hundreds of tutorials, in video & text formats.
- 99.9% up time guarantee (in my three years as a customer, I have not experienced any downtime).
- 45 day money back guarantee (What do you have to lose?)
As if all those reasons aren't already enough, you can pick up this offer:
That's less than a LATTE. Plus, you're going to want that free SSL to make you look official (those normally cost around $40 bucks!)
Host Gator checks off the reliability & support boxes AND does it for an affordable price.
3. A Beautiful Theme
My blogging vision became a reality when I installed a professional WordPress theme. I always admired gorgeous, light & bright, organized blogs and I thought that you needed to hire a professional web designer to have that. My blog looked so sad compared to these lovely, happy blogs. Until, I figured out that a theme does all that and then some.
Once you purchase your domain and have access to WordPress via your hosting, the next step is getting a theme, which is basically the structure of your site.
There are two elements to developing your site; the parent theme & the child theme.
The parent theme helps to set the stage for the look and feel and helps WordPress sites to perform their best (SEO, accessibility, security & so much more). The child theme helps to make your website personal and works as more of the design function. I currently use the Genesis parent theme & the Brunch Pro Theme, which I purchased through StudioPress Themes.
The industry standard (and my personal recommendation) for a parent theme is the Genesis Framework.
Then you get to have even more fun finding something that suits your style for your child theme. The Brunch Pro Theme was a perfect match for me and I see it used by A LOT of pro food bloggers. It's airy, clean and organized which helps to showcase your yummy photography.
Most importantly, this theme displays beautifully on mobile.
...and, most people visit websites on mobile that is a priority (70% of my traffic is via mobile).
It was super easy to put together. You don't need to worry about learning coding and it works seamlessly with WordPress. If you're not into the Brunch Pro Theme design, check out any other of these stunning StudioPress Themes.
4. High Quality Photo Editing
When it comes to blogging, you've probably heard that "Content is King".
It ABSOLUTELY is.
Successful blogs have high quality content. Always. And for food bloggers, content is photos.
In this day and age when everything is visual, you have to step up your photo situation if you are taking photos yourself.
As content creators, we have it especially hard because we need to nail it from both ends; our copy & photography needs to be great. However, out of the two, I would say photography should be the priority. Creating great text is not far behind, but a sentence about how delicious a cupcake is, isn't going to grab reader's attention. A photo of a cupcake will.
I would argue that nearly all of food bloggers promote traffic via photos, whether it be on Pinterest, FoodGawker, Instagram etc. Photos are the key to promoting your blog and gaining traffic.
This program is essential for editing your photos. I absolutely love using Lightroom.
Rather than taking on the task to completely learn Adobe Photoshop (I used it once in high school, it is downright confusing), I purchased a subscription to Lightroom. It is VERY user friendly. I was editing photos within the first few minutes of downloading. It's so easy to start with.
As much as I thought my photos were great alone, Lightroom took them to the next level. It's absolutely amazing what you can do. You can easily tweak the lighting, color, clarity and more with complete control, precision and accuracy.
My favorite feature is being able to remove any warmth (I prefer the look of cooler/blue photos) and amp up the exposure & color levels. Check out an example below.
As a non-professional food photographer, I don't always have the proper lighting set up at home to take my photos. I try to grab an area in my house with the most daylight, but that's tough to guarantee when you also have to align your schedule with baking.
Lightroom saves my butt all the time. Cloudy day? No problem. Extra shadows? No problem. Now that I'm totally experienced with using the system, I love trying out creative ways to alter the exposure, contrast and more.
During my photo shoots, I take anywhere between 25-50 photos. For me, it's easier to pick out which photos to publish once they are all edited (otherwise, how can you really tell what to keep or toss?)
Do I have time to sit and adjust the exposure and color on 50 individual photos? Heck NO. Another great benefit of Lightroom is you can quickly apply a preset filter to all of your photos saving you a lot of time. Meaning, I can go through the editing steps on one photo, save those settings as a 'preset' and apply those settings to the remaining 50 photos within a few clicks.
Now, they're all looking perfect and I can properly go through the photos to decide which ones I want to include in the blog post.
I also wanted to give a shout to food styling. Food photography & styling is a whole art on its own. To learn more about lighting and styling, I also picked up Nicole S. Young’s book, Food Photography. This is an EXCELLENT book if you’re coming into this with little or no knowledge. My photography skills improved tremendously.
Nicole does a great job breaking down the process and it was very easy to understand. My favorite thing about this book is that she lists out the exposure & shutter settings for each photo so it feels more approachable on how to recreate the same look.
The worst part about Food Photography is how intimidating it all felt. It's easy to feel deflated when you're constantly surrounded by extraordinary food photos. But I promise you can get to that level too, and it's a lot easier than you think!
5. Intuitive Graphic Design
I think making pins is one of my favorite things to do in the blogging process.
I love taking a blank rectangle and adding in my photography and creating awesome text graphics to go with it. I'm always challenging myself to make even more eye catching pins. So far, I have several viral pins that quickly gained over 10,000 shares on Pinterest.
PicMonkey is the tool I use to help me do just that. PicMonkey has a host of perfectly sized templates for each of the major social platforms. It takes all the guesswork out of calculating the right pixel size for a Facebook Cover vs. Instagram Post vs. Banner ad etc. You can start off with a blank slate or search through their library of modern, fully designed templates as a point to kick off your creativity.
Another one of my favorite features of PicMonkey is the fact that I can save my creations to their 'Hub' and access them via mobile for on-the-go edits and downloads.
It makes it INCREDIBLY easy when I need to create a graphic and post it to Instagram. I can download it directly to my phone (not to mention, their photo filters are way cooler than the standards on IG, and you can quick touch up photos...hello white teeth).
When it comes to making viral pins, design is key.
If your pin doesn't catch the eyes of your audience, it's going to get missed. It's the cold, hard truth! At the same time, not everyone is a pro graphic designer, I know I'm not! No joke, I have been able to create effective, beautiful pins within minutes (check out my post on How to Design the Perfect Pin for more). I also love having the ability to add my logo as a watermark on each pin.
Because the majority of my blog traffic comes from Pinterest, PicMonkey is absolutely, absolutely a must. If you're interested in starting a food blog, or any blog, make sure subscribing to PicMonkey is at the top of your list!
6. A Pin Scheduler
Tailwind. My key to cracking traffic success.
Literally thee most important service for bloggers who use & rely on Pinterest for traffic (next to PicMonkey for creating the actual pin).
When I first launched my blog, I worked so hard at getting Pinterest traffic. I was pinning like a maniac.
By the end of my first few months (yes, months) of using Pinterest, I had less than 50 monthly viewers.
It felt hopeless.
I did more research and found that the magic formula for success on Pinterest stems from your level of activity (creating new content or pins and pinning). After hearing that some bloggers pin up to 50x a day, I already felt defeated.
Can you imagine how time consuming that would be? It felt even more impossible to plan those pins at the exact times when your engagement is at it's highest level (my brain already hurts thinking about how I would figure that out on my own).
When I discovered there was such a thing called a 'Pin scheduler', I dove in right away to find out more. I soon discovered that Tailwind is the exact solution I was looking for.
What is Tailwind?
In short, Tailwind is an online tool where you can schedule pins from Pinterest & posts to Instagram. But it doesn’t stop there. In addition to that, Tailwind gives you everything you need to get analytics from your pins, boards, profile, website and more, helping you understand the ‘why’ behind your traffic which you can leverage for even more success.
You also get access to Tailwind Tribes, which allows you to share and re-share quality content from other members in your niche so you can grow even faster.
Why do I need a pin scheduler?
If any of your blog traffic comes from Pinterest, then you need a scheduler.
About 80-85% of my traffic comes from Pinterest and once I figured out how to properly share pins, my traffic counts exploded. I owe nearly all of my success to Pinterest.
Pinterest favors active users. If you only create pins, then the platform is not going to display your content as much as it could be. In order to gain the most impressions possible, you need to re-pin other people’s pins. From what I’ve researched, you want to pin at least 15-20 times a day for optimum traffic potential (some bloggers do even more than that).
Can you imagine how time consuming that would be? I have a full time job and a bazillion other blogging tasks to do daily. The last thing I need is to worry about finding quality pins to re-pin every day. Furthermore, it would be really tough to plan those pins at the exact times when your engagement is at its highest level (my brain already hurts thinking about how I would figure that out on my own).
With Tailwind, you can hop onto Pinterest and pick a bunch of pins to schedule for the future. You can create specific time slots of when to post those pins at peak traffic times so that your engagement is automatic.
Once you start using Tailwind, the program will automatically suggest other popular pinning times for you which can be easily added to your schedule, optimizing your content for even MORE traffic.
Other Tailwind Features
In addition to that, they have this product called Smart Loop, which acts as a ‘set it and forget it’ for your pins. Basically, I can add the pins I create from my blog to the Smart Loop, and the program will set a perpetual schedule (which you can edit at any time) to share your pins so you never have to worry about adding your own pins to the regular schedule.
This is a game-changer when it comes to sharing your own content. I love love love having the peace of mind knowing that I never forget to add my own pins to my schedule! Sounds silly that I would forget to share my own stuff, but trust me, my mind is constantly swimming in blog-to-dos, and things like that are easy to forget.
So that covers most of the scheduler advantages of Tailwind, but I do want to let you know about the other AWESOME features of the program:
- Analyze metrics on your pins, boards, profile & more
- Create board lists; allows you to group boards together so you can pin to multiple boards in one click
- Link your Google Analytics to measure referral traffic from Pinterest
- See which pins are being pinned straight from your site
- Get stats on the most clicked, pinned & engaged pins
- Measure & track scores on your virality & engagement
- Identify popular pins & find similar pin content, helping you understand what works and why
- …there’s plenty more!
It's even easier with the Tailwind Chrome Extension where I can load up a bunch of pins and click which ones I want to schedule to my boards. To put it into perspective, it takes me about an hour on a Sunday to schedule about 30x pins daily for the next 10-14 days.
Getting back to it, I signed up for Tailwind and used it religiously for the next 30 days.
Then, I gained over 113,000 viewers.
How did that help traffic to my webpage? I had a 92% increase in traffic to my page and all of that traffic came from Pinterest.
I hope you enjoy exploring these recommendations! Be sure to leave a comment below, I'd love to hear about your blogs!