For the last three years it has been my job to review every blog that applies to join Food Bloggers of Canada.
I make sure they meet our membership criteria, such as being Canadian and being 50% food related. I also find bloggers who can write for us, become a featured member, or a good fit with a brand campaign.
It may sound harsh but, now that I’ve read more than 1600 food blogs, the majority bleed into one generic blog on home cooking and baking, eating out, and healthy-decadent-special diets-grilling-budget friendly family meals. Basically it’s anything food related, and sometimes not!
And so food blogs try to be everything to everyone. Then words blur together and I skip to the next blog because this blog looks just like the last 20 I visited.
I’m wondering why so many blogs don’t stand out. The phrase “find your niche” strikes a note of fear in many bloggers. Will narrowing your focus bore you? Will it mean fewer opportunities to work with big brands? Or a smaller audience with less traffic? Or do you simply dislike limiting what you want to write about?
Perhaps most of us are bad at — and scared of — saying “no” for fear of losing out on opportunities that might promote our blogs or get more views. But saying no sometimes can open doors that otherwise would have stayed closed.
What can you do to avoid the generic blog trap? When I’m looking for food bloggers to work with us or for us, here’s what I’m looking for:
1. A strong voice. Do you make me laugh out loud or make me think? Do you make me angry? Inspire confidence or passion? Do I feel like I’m listening to my best friend? I want a reaction that makes me sit up and take note rather than simply thinking “nothing new here” and moving on.
You can write about anything if you have a strong voice. Don’t worry that you will offend someone or that others won’t find you funny. Battling against your voice won’t make you stand out, but it will make you another generic food blogger.
A strong voice appeals to editors, publishers and, believe it or not, brands. At FBC we’ve noticed many brands are now as interested in a blogger’s voice and focus as they are in their numbers, and sometimes more.
2. A strong focus. As an editor, I look for experts in their field to write or speak for us, or pair up with a particular blogger campaign. I seek bloggers who are knowledgeable in their subject matter and engaged with their reader community. Your blog is your canvas to show that you are the best resource for all things gluten-free, or vegan, or pie.
All blogs need a focus, whether fairly general to hyper specific. When I hit your site, I want to get a clear sense of who you are and what your blog is about in the first few seconds. I check your subject matter, design, logo and bio to see if they all reflect your blog’s focus. Often, I can’t tell.
When I wear my designer hat, it’s painful for me to help bloggers build a visual identity or website when they can’t tell me how they identify themselves. If you can’t tell yourself who you are, how will your audience know? And how will you tell brands, editors, or publishers what you’re all about?
3. A point of view. You don’t need to narrow your blog down writing about, say, carrots. But if you’re going to write about a wide range of topics, a strong point of view can unify them. Your point of view is your opinion, attitude, sentiments and belief system all rolled into one. It’s what makes you you. And it has to shine through to keep your writing from sounding generic.
Some bloggers have such a strong and unique point of view that their blog stands out, no matter what they’re writing about. But those few are the exception.
4. The ability to say no. Looking for more work? I’ve suggested bloggers for brand campaigns only to have brand managers say no because they felt the blogger had too many other brand commitments or conflicting brand commitments.
Saying yes to everything dilutes your focus. If something doesn’t fit your niche or your focus, say no. PR companies won’t blacklist you, and people won’t shun you. In fact, you might be surprised by how many more meaningful offers come your way when you stand out from the crowd.
If you blog with a goal in mind of earning income or growing a loyal following, finding a focus for your food blog is necessary to differentiate yourself from the thousands of food blogs all competing for attention. Defining your voice, shaping an identity, creating a clear focus and saying no to work that doesn’t fit with your focus will get you on track.
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By day, Vancouver based Melissa Hartfiel is co-founder and Managing Director of Editorial for Food Bloggers of Canada, a membership-based community for Canadian food bloggers. FBC showcases Canadian bloggers while facilitating blogger campaigns for Canadian and international brands. Melissa also owns a boutique design firm, Fine Lime Designs, where she specializes in working with bloggers. By night she is a blogger, photographer, and doodler with a serious addiction to British murder mysteries.