Blogger Resources is a free list of tools to help you build an efficient, well-designed, successful food blog.
We’ve been fortunate enough to run a food blog business for 3+ years fully employing two people. Even if self-employment isn’t your dream, we’ve learned a lot through our journey and think we can offer some killer advice to help you along the way, too.
Quick Guide: The order of these resources is intuitive to how you would build a blog from start to finish, starting with website hosts, and onto themes, plugins, and tools. Eventually you’ll find sections like how to monetize your blog. Work your way through this list as you see fit – either from start to finish, or choose where to jump in according to your present needs.
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To setup your site, you’ll need a place for it to “live” on the internet. While there are many options, a self-hosted WordPress site is easily my top recommendation. It is the new blogging standard, allows you access to an amazing amount of free add-ons (called plugins), and will be able to grow with you as your blog grows. The following are the hosts I recommend for a self-hosted WordPress site.
SiteGround: I’ve been so impressed with this host lately that this is where we now host Minimalist Baker! I’ve also moved our 31 Meals Cookbook there. They are responsive, helpful, have great uptime, and will migrate a site for you if you’d like their help. They have a vast range of services including budget shared hosting as well as bigger plans for larger sites.
If a friend asked which host I’d recommend, I’d suggest SiteGround.
Bluehost: This was our first host and is a great budget host. I include a setup video in my 5 Minutes to an Awesome WordPress Site tutorial and my How to Create a $5,000 Website for $500 tutorial. (note: I’ve negotiated a lower rate for subscribers that use our signup link – as low as $3.49/month.)
WPEngine: We switched to WPEngine when this site started receiving around 100K/visits a month. Although we’re on a custom server now, using WPEngine during our transition from a budget host to higher traffic needs was key in helping us grow without slow load times or website downtime.
Using Blogger and looking to move to WordPress? Check out my Moving Your Blogger Site to WordPress guide!
Next, you need to make your site look good. Thankfully, adding a theme makes this a snap. A framework + child theme setup is ideal (for reasons of security, seo, efficiency, etc.) and how we have our site currently setup.
Foodie Pro: This is an amazing food blog theme that sits on top of Genesis with its uniquely powerful recipe grid index. I was so impressed with it, I created a detailed review and 17 video tutorials on setting it up and customizing it.
Want more options? Check out my 100+ Best WordPress Themes for Food Blogs
The availability of third-party plugins is one of the biggest benefits of using a WordPress site. Here are my top recommendations, however, I also keep a full list of all the plugins we are currently running here.
Easy Recipe: Allows you to format your recipes for your site and search engines. This shouldn’t be overlooked, as it helps your recipes become more searchable to sites like Google (one of our biggest traffic drivers).
Gravity Forms: We use this plugin to host our contact form and some other forms on the site. Compared to free alternatives, this runs a bit more lean and bogs down our database less.
Search WP: The default WordPress search is terrible for recipes for some unknown reason. Free search alternatives took up way too much database space, so we switched to Search WP and have had great success.
Simple Share Buttons: Share buttons on the bottom of posts make it easy for your readers to share your content on social media.
Subscribe to Comments Reloaded: Allows commenters to subscribe and manage how/if they receive comment replies.
VaultPress: Our go-to offsite backup plugin. The $5/month “lite” plan is sufficient for almost all needs. If you want hourly backups (instead of daily backups), go with the $15 “basic” plan. This helps ensure you never lose your valuable content.
WP Rocket: This is a tool that allows you to speed up your site load times and enhance overall performance by doing a bunch of fancy, behind-the-scenes computer work – one function being “caching”. I use MaxCDN and Cloudflare (resources I mention below), and WP Rocket makes it a breeze to install these, and other functions, to your site.
WordPress SEO: This plugin does two powerful things: 1. It creates a sitemap (a list of everything on your site) that google likes; and 2. It gives you the power to improve SEO data. SEO doesn’t matter at all if your content isn’t good (sorry, but you’re not smart enough to trick google), but it can be helpful if you can more accurately describe your content for readers that might find your site via search.
We use a variety of tools aimed to make our website run fast, keep it online, and keep things running smoothly. Out of all of these options, hosting your mailing list offsite (not directly in your WordPress blog) would be my top recommendation.
Drip: This has been my go-to email service this year. We’ve been moving our lists over to this service as the intense functionality is very powerful.
Mailchimp: For a long time, this has been considered the standard of email marketing. However, they haven’t been great at adding helpful tools in the past few years without charging extra for them. They have an easy RSS-to-email feature, which is what we previously used to send readers updates of blog posts as they are posted.
ConvertKit: The newest player in the email marketing world and quickly becoming a top choice by professional bloggers. What started out of a frustration over the lack of features on Mailchimp, this service is set to become the new standard. We haven’t fully switched to it yet, but several professional blogging friends have, and they all share rave reviews.
MaxCDN – This is a service we started to use as our site grew in size and would see occasional traffic spikes. It keeps our site running fast by duplicating assets that are large and take longer to deliver (images, style choices, etc.) and spreading them out over lots of servers all of the world. Our site runs incredibly fast partly due to this setup (and Google likes fast sites and it helps overall user engagement).
ManageWP – I’m still testing this service, but it is significantly cheaper than other similar services and boasts relatively big offerings – primarily uptime monitoring, security, and backup. Although it’s mostly built for firms that manage lots of websites, I’ve found it’s still helpful for managing our site.
Codeable: This service offers single project jobs based on your needs (theme customizations, fixing something broken, etc.). All the freelancers are vetted and do solid work (something that can be really hit and miss on other freelance sites). It’s been very helpful to get some small jobs done quickly (i.e. – add a new rss feed, fix a plugin conflict, etc.) that are otherwise outside of my comfort zone.
Google Apps: We use google apps for hosting our email accounts (think: gmail accounts using your own domain name, like firstname.lastname@example.org), and find it’s very easy to set up with SiteGround or Bluehost hosting.
Cloudflare: This is another tool that was helpful as our site started to grow. It helps save server bandwidth by using a unique technology (which ultimately helps maximize our site uptime), but more importantly blocks malicious traffic and has tools in place if your site were to go under attack so you can fight back (hi-ya!). The free plan is likely sufficient for most sites, but we currently use the pro plan.
Google Analytics: The free and pretty much industry standard tool for tracking website traffic and stats.
Google Webmaster: Another free resource from Google to help you watch out for broken links and give you insight into how people are ending up on your site via search results. This also allows you to manually submit a sitemap, which is a helpful tool for getting indexed fast (check the free SEO plugin I use above or on this page).
Design and Photography Tools
Adobe CC: We primarily use photoshop, but others really like to use lightroom for photos. We also use InDesign (working on ebooks and PDFs) and Illustrator (for logos, etc.). The monthly subscription is an amazing deal and ensures you’re always up-to-date with the latest software.
Food Photography School: Although there are lots of great photo tutorials and books on the subject of food photography, we hadn’t seen anything that taught food photography visually. So, we created Food Photography School, an entirely visual course with 140+ video tutorials to help you learn food photography faster, better, more efficiently!
We try to keep our camera equipment simple and have only upgraded when we’ve been able to afford to do so.
For food photography, we’d suggest getting a Canon DSLR & 50mm lens (lots of options to adjust to your budget). The extension tube is a minimal investment that adds great flexibility to this setup (namely that tight-in zoom shot).
Our Current Setup:
If you’re curious which brand to go for, find out why we switched to Canon from Nikon for Food Photography.
Wave: This free online software is a decent option for accounting and expense tracking.
Small Business Bodyguard: The reality is, there’s a lot of legal stuff in food blogging that can get complicated and confusing. This is the only comprehensive legal resource I’ve seen targeted to online businesses, and covers an amazing amount of very relevant issues. We wrote more about this in Dealing with the Law and Food Blogs and 7 Rookie Legal Mistakes Food Bloggers Make.
There are entire blogs dedicated to talking about this, and honestly, I think talking too much about money upfront can thwart your potential and throw you off from your main focus (your content). If you make something great, you can figure out a way to monetize it (and everyone does it differently). However, we have a couple articles on the topic that might give you some direction.
The reality is, staying consistent and continuing to produce content is a struggle, especially if you’re not seeing the growth and results you want. However, keeping at it is key to making this blogging thing work. We have many more articles available, but here are some of our top choices to help you get started and keep the fire going.
The One Thing Behind Every Great Blog
The Miraculous Way to Cut Through The Noise and Be Heard
How Should I Manage My Time?
My Biggest Tip for Bloggers
How to Create a Blog Editorial Calendar + 5 Planning Tips
Hustle Hustle Hustle – The Grit Behind Making it Work
Want more? Check out our Food Blogging Course on Fizzle. We partnered with the talented folks at Fizzle to create an entirely video-based course with 16 lessons – taught by both Dana and John – to help you learn the essentials of building a great food blog.
Looking for more? Check out all the articles we’ve written here.