Welcome to my 19th monthly blog update, all about what I got up to behind the scenes of Charlotte’s Lively Kitchen in January 2016. This month I’m going to talk about experimenting with low-light photography (a.k.a. how to take decent pictures when you live in North Wales and the sun isn’t shining) and learning all about SEO.
A little bit of background…
For anybody that’s new to these updates and is wondering what on earth I’m going on about, I write these posts each month as a way to keep me focussed on building my blog (fear of sitting down to write the report and finding I have nothing to say is great for ensuring I keep trying new things), and also to try and help other bloggers (or people thinking of getting started) to learn from what I’ve tried and to copy the good bits and avoid some of my mistakes. I also share all of my blog’s key stats so you can see how it’s going and decide whether my advice is worth listening to or not!
What I got up to in January
Experimenting with low-light photography
Regular readers will know that for the most part I’ve tackled bad natural light by using my Lowel Ego lamp. Then a few weeks ago I came across a really great Facebook page which introduced me to another method. Corinna Gissemann is a professional food photographer who uses natural light for her pictures. The great thing about her Facebook page is that for each post, alongside the finished photograph, she shares a picture of her setup and the camera setting she used.
If you look at her setup you’ll see that she seems to surround the food with boards to direct the light exactly where she wants it, you’ll also see that she always uses ISO 100 (the lowest possible setting). If I did these two things my pictures would be a big black square.
The secret to her photos being so beautifully lit is that she uses a shutter speed of 2-3 seconds which allows plenty of light into the camera. Unfortunately all of her posts are in German, but she includes enough information that it’s still easy to figure out what she’s done. I’m gutted she’s based in Germany as she runs food photography workshops and I’d absolutely love to go to one.
I’ve used this approach on a few of my recent pictures and I’ve been really happy with the results. It’s especially good if you don’t have any artificial light and natural light is thin on the ground, or if you want your picture to be relatively evenly lit (using my lamp I tend to have one very bright side and one much duller side (which I brighten as much as I can with reflectors). With such a long exposure it’s important that the camera is 100% still when you take the pictures or they’ll look horribly fuzzy. To achieve this I always use a tripod (or have the camera on a stable hard surface) and I have a remote control instead of clicking the button (yes, the tiniest wobble caused by clicking the camera button = blurry, blurry, blurry). If you don’t have a remote control then you can also use the timer on your camera. Here’s a few pictures from my recent posts where I’ve tried this approach.
My lamp still hasn’t been ditched, it’s invaluable at times when I have to have a fast shutter speed, such as my pouring and dipping shots.
Learning about SEO
If you’ve no idea what SEO is, it stands for search engine optimisation, and it’s basically about doing things to improve your chances of your posts being highly ranked on Google. About a month ago I was emailed by Howie from Hurry The Food Up who’s just published an e-book all about SEO for Food Bloggers, to ask if I’d fancy giving it a read. Hurry The Food Up was started at about the same time I started this blog but my monthly visitor numbers pale in comparison, and a lot of the reason for that is that they take their SEO very seriously. I’ve always had an awareness of SEO, especially with regard to how I write my posts, but I’ve never done a great deal with link building or keyword research. I think my problem was that a lot of the posts I’ve read about it are written by internet marketeers and SEO experts who are looking simply at ranking as high as possible on Google by any means necessary. This book is written by a food blogger (admittedly with a history in internet marketing) and so all the suggestions sit much more comfortably with me. It’s written both from the perspective of ranking well on Google, but also considers your reader experience and what’s morally right to do too.
What’s good about it?
The book covers the four key areas of SEO – structuring your blog, how to write your blog posts, keyword research, and link building.
- It’s as untechnical as it can be so even if you’re new to SEO, it’ll still make sense.
- Each tip is ranked according to how important it is, meaning you can focus your efforts on the areas that are going to make the biggest difference.
- Howie uses his own blog as an example, you can see exactly what they did and what impact it had.
- I’ve read so many posts that say things like “build links to your blog” without giving any indication of how to do it. This book goes into much more detail giving you practical things you can actually go out and do (…or sit indoors tapping on your computer as we bloggers do).
What’s not good about it?
Nothing really, it’s actually very, very good! I was a bit worried when Howie wrote and asked me to have a read because it’s always awkward to review something for someone you like just in case it’s rubbish, but this book is truly excellent. I’ve been busy testing some of the tips out over the past few weeks and been feeling more enthused about SEO than I have done in ages.
Who should buy it?
I’d recommend this book for anyone who hasn’t got the foggiest idea about where to start with getting their blog to rank on Google, or anyone that knows the ideas behind it but needs practical tips that they can actually go out and do. One thing I would say about Google is that you need to make sure your content is really good. If Google ranks you highly and lots of people click, only to decide that what you’re writing isn’t what they need, they’ll go back and click on something else. Google will soon realise what’s going on and knock you back down the rankings again.
Where can you buy it from?
If you head over to their website you can find out a bit more about it, as well as browse a few pages to see what it’s like and then snap it up if you like what you see (just so you know, this is an affiliate link so if you decide to buy it I’ll earn a bit of commission). As I said before, I’ve been busy trying out some of the tips from the book during February so make sure you pop back next month to see how it’s going 🙂
All the numbers
I was worried about how January was going to go as I’d had such a boost from Christmas in December but it turns out that I needn’t have been concerned as it was another record month with 56k visitors and 70k page views. Whilst I hadn’t expected 70k page views at the start of the month, Jon and I were both a little tense on the 31st knowing how close we were and seeing if it would just tick over.
Don’t forget you can find all of my old reports in my monthly reports index if you want to figure out what caused any of the changes in the past.
Charlottes Lively Kitchen – Visitors
Charlottes Lively Kitchen – Pageviews
And they came from…
- Google – 23,812 (+12%)
- Pinterest – 14,071 (+29%)
- Direct – 11,798 (+21%)
- Yummly – 1,296 (-6%)
- Foodgawker – 577 (+49%)
- UK Pinterest – 572 (+284%)
- Hurry The Food Up – 550 (+414% – featured my Banana & Almond Breakfast Smoothie)
- The Prize Finder – 290 (no visits in December – my The Juice Premium giveaway)
- Facebook Mobile – 249 (+171%)
- Recipeshubs.com – 242 (+17%)
It’s lovely to see Facebook popping up this month as I know it’s not one of my strongest areas. This was predominantly driven by Vitamix featuring my Coconut, Banana, Chocolate Breakfast Smoothie on their page. I’d tagged them on Instagram and just from that they asked to feature the post on their social media and sent me a new cook book and some lovely Ball jars which I’m looking forward to using in some photographs soon.
My coconut, banana & chocolate breakfast smoothie was shared by Vitamix
You can see that I had a nice growth in followers across most networks in January. This was really helped by running a giveaway where following on Twitter, Instagram and by email were all additional entry options, as well as visiting my Facebook page (which quite a few people decided to like while they were there). I keep pondering whether to remove Google+ from this chart, I’ve tried (sort of) to love it but I just can’t. I’m sure once you get settled in and find an active group of people to chat to then it’s great, but where are those people??? I’ve decided to leave it on here just because it makes the report more complete if I do and I don’t like to hide anything, but I very much doubt it’s going to move anywhere far from where it is now.
Thanks for reading, if you’ve got any questions then I’m always happy to help xx