Some Thoughts on Getting Back to Basics

Aug-26

There’s a big difference between your food blog after year one, and your food blog after year four. The very nature of this business means that your site is constantly changing and adapting to meet the new needs of your ever-evolving status as a food blogger. After year four, you may have not just hundreds (or thousands) of posts to manage, but you may also find yourself juggling multiple advertisers, a few e-books (or maybe even a book that someone published), a couple of contributing writers, newsletter signup forms, comment widgets, social media counters, and tons of other little graphic elements all on the front page of your site, all competing for the eyeballs of a visitor that may stay on your site for only a few seconds.

Here’s the thing: Your blog is probably exhausting.

It’s exhausting for you, the blogger, who is put in the position of managing all of those ad placements, static pages, and other content. And it’s probably even more exhausting for your readers, who may be left with no safe places to rest their eyes, anywhere on your page.

Want to see what I’m talking about? Here’s a screenshot of our site, From Away, on the eve of its fourth birthday:

fa-screen

So loud! So busy! So shouty! In an effort to communicate the full breadth of our content, while driving readers to social media, we’d ended up with a site that was too loud, too busy, and too hard to look at. What happened? How did we get here?

It’s a natural road to go down, when you’re trying to entice readers to perform a few tasks native to food blogging. I realized, that by the end of year four of food blogging, I was honestly expecting readers to:

  1. Share our posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest
  2. Sign up for our newsletter
  3. “Like” our various social profiles
  4. Click on an advertising banner or two
  5. Leave a comment on a few posts
  6. Buy a copy of our book, and if there was still time…
  7. Explore our hundreds of pages of archived content

That’s an awful lot to ask from someone, isn’t it? My own mother loves me more than anything in the world, and even she wouldn’t do all of those things, no matter how much she wants to support our site.

In fact, it seemed like the more we asked of our readers, the less they actually did. Comments were way down, social media “likes” had slowed, and newsletter opt-ins were lagging.

So beginning today, we’re trying something a little bit different. Yes, even at the potential expense of lost traffic or revenue.

We’re making a focused effort to calm down. To step back. To give our readers, and ourselves, some room to breathe. To remember why we first started blogging in the first place.

Here’s the new version of the site:

New Site

Aaaaaaaaaaah. Do you see all that beautiful, relaxing whitespace? We’ve stripped out some of the ads. We’ve calmed down the pleas for social media follows, likes, and shares. We’ve looked at every element of the site, and tried to ask ourselves if it really needs to be there, before putting it back in place, with a focus on keeping our photographs at the center of your attention. The result is, hopefully, a calmer, saner place to read about some delicious food, and maybe have a chuckle here and there.

We’ll never get away from banner ads and social media entirely. But it felt like it was time to reevaluate the whole project. After all, we’re not a portal with hundreds of authors, like Serious Eats. We don’t have millions of readers, like Pioneer Woman. And we’re not a clickbait site, like Foodbeast. We’ll probably never get to turn From Away into our full-time job.

And you know what? Maybe we never should. Instead, we’re refocusing on what has mattered most to us from the very beginning: Taking great photos, learning about cooking, and using food to tell stories.

Breaking the site free from the shackles of incremental revenue generation and begging for social media shares feels good, so far. Our gamble is that, even though traffic and income may take a hit, our readers will appreciate being treated with just a tiny bit more respect, and not as clicking, sharing machines. We’ll let you know how it goes.

6 comments

  1. Padaek 3 years ago

    Hi Malcolm,

    Congratulations on the 4th anniversary of From Away – it’s a very inspirational and entertaining site. I like the new look a lot too. Thank you for all your hard work, great writing and tips. Keep up the inspired work. Best wishes! :)

  2. Nicely done! Your photos are gorgeous so congrats on keeping everyone coming back for your well-written posts, lovely pics, and fun topics.

  3. diary of a tomato 3 years ago

    With all of that newly established room to breathe, it now feels more like Maine… ;)

  4. Holly 3 years ago

    Congrats on 4 years! I laughed (and could definitely relate) when you wrote that not even your own mother could be expected to keep up with all the tasks of supporting your website, what a good standard for us all to think about in measuring what we expect from our time spent blogging and from those who kindly read our blogs. Love it!

  5. A.Lloyd 2 years ago

    If readers are engaging you on Facebook, Twitter et al why would they want to go to your website? If they engage you on your website, why send them to Twitter, Facebook et al and lose potential revenue? It’s a tricky situation for webmasters.

    Social media has the potential to bring you hundreds of thousands of visitors but you can’t get them unless you have a strong social media presence.

    I like how you are dealing with this problem as I am a fan of clean websites.

    Good luck with the next four years.

  6. Bo 2 years ago

    As a new vegan food blogger, I found this article an inspiration. Of course I don’t have the problem of too much content yet, but good to know.
    I like your clean site.