“Communicate from a place of authority,” says every single so-called expert on blogging out there. It’s a thinly-veiled attempt not to educate you, but to convince you to pony up $179 for his or her “webinar,” where the author will teach you how to quit your day job and become an internet thousandaire, all without ever changing out of your jammies.
“Choose a niche,” the author will say, and then choose an even more specific niche. After all, it’s not enough to blog about what you made for dinner anymore; those websites multiply by the thousands every single day, each fighting for the same handful of recipe-seekers and competing with ever-escalating pro-level standards for photography, food styling, and gosh darn it, the kind of bland, whitewashed charm that’s nonthreatening and drives pageviews. Instead, aspiring food bloggers are taught that it’s not enough to write about healthy eating; they should write about veganism, or even better, sustainably farmed veganism, or even better STILL, sustainably farmed veganism for divorcees with a passion for kayaking.
But there’s an elephant in the room plaguing traditional food blogs, that makes it impossible for all but a few big players to ever gain a traffic foothold, and that’s this: People who are searching for recipes just want the recipe, and not a thousand word preamble describing the first time the author ever tasted an oyster. And yet, that’s precisely what Google wants to see, when its algorithm is determining which sites have value, and which do not. The post with the thousand word essay about wild mushroom foraging will always get more organic traffic than the post with a simple, introduction-less wild mushroom frittata recipe, even though that’s not what someone who’s hungry on a Sunday morning is looking for. Food bloggers are working their collective asses off on long, winding, Google-friendly essays just to collect a brief visit from a reader who, for the most part, doesn’t care; they just want to learn how to cook some eggs and skedaddle.
Food bloggers are faced with a choice. Either post the internet’s ten thousandth version of a recipe for no-knead bread, knowing that someone else has already written the recipe more concisely, taken better photos of it than you ever will, hired an army of virtual assistants to promote the post on social media, and likely already established search engine dominance for that term, or just…don’t. Instead, what if you applied that same effort to telling a story, taking risks, communicating with and connecting to your readers, making decisions based not on potential pageviews and clickability, but on actually sharing the stories and experiences you have had that define who you really are, instead of some sort of sterilized, mass-market version of yourself that mostly exists only to sell e-cookbooks? Who in their right mind wants to sell e-cookbooks, anyway? How is that even a thing?
Before this devolves any further into Gen-X finger-waggling, let me get to my point. I had a moderately successful food blog in the first half of the 2010s, which at its peak, generated about 150,000 visits per month. That’s not a smashing success, by any measure, but it brought in enough income via banner ads and sponsored posts to augment my young family’s income quite nicely. We sold the website in 2017ish, and since then, I’ve tried (and failed) to plug the same old food blogger formula into a few different new sites, which followed the same structure I describe above. Take a decent photo. Write a long-winded anecdote. Submit it to photo sharing sites and Pinterest. Get bored out of your skull. Wait for that sweet sweet banner revenue and those Pillsbury sponsorships to start rolling in, right?
That formula may have worked in 2010. But it doesn’t work anymore, and frankly, it hasn’t worked for this site. And you know what? It shouldn’t, because as an online culture, I think we can all agree that WE HAVE ENOUGH OF THAT, THANK YOU. I’ve had enough of writing it, and you’ve likely had enough of reading it. And that’s when I started thinking about “communicating authority.”
I’ve never felt particularly comfortable declaring myself an “authority” on anything. But when I look at the last ten years of my life, I realize that I’ve done some stuff in the food business that’s completely unrelated to taking the perfect photo of a stack of Nutella pancakes, and that maybe that’s what I should be talking about. Maybe the next wave of food blogs should be focused on the aspects of the food business that don’t include step-by-step photos of the author cooking dumb meals and shoving them in your dumb face; maybe we should be talking about the experiences we’ve had, the things we’ve learned, the triumphs we’ve enjoyed, and the failures that we’re too embarrassed to talk about. Maybe the way to truly connect is to share ideas, instead of recipes*; information, instead of “12 Unexpected Ways to Use Brussels Sprouts.” Maybe now that “food blogging” has exploded from a weird hobby with just a few participants, to a huge business with a few big players and millions of others chasing scraps, it’s time for it to return to being a weird hobby again, and for all of us to quit worrying so much about “keyword density” and “long-tail search terms.”
*Realistically, I’m still probably going to publish recipes once in a while. But that’s only if I come up with something particularly cool, and not just the latest recipe from Rachael Ray’s magazine rephotographed with an extra clove of garlic added.
I don’t know if I’m an “authority” on anything. I was an internet marketing wang who was terrified by the carpal tunnel creeping through his wrists and destroying the nerves in his fingers, and instead crowdfunded a food truck, quit corporate life forever, got divorced, and now earns a living running a tiny restaurant in midcoast Maine. If I’m an “authority” on anything, it’s how to be a professional fuckup with lofty aspirations. But I HAVE learned a few things along the way, and going forward, that’s what I want to share on this site. And maybe THAT’S what all of those pro-blogger types are talking about, when they implore you to “communicate authority.” Let’s give it a shot.