As we embark on the start of our second year, we thought it would be fun to look back on the first year of Cooking and Beer and revamp the site a bit. Well, as you can tell, it has been changed quite a lot. So, today, I (Zach that is) will walk you through some of what we have learned over the past year, things that we are still learning, and give you all a quick tour of our awesome new website design. Before we dive into the details, I just wanted to take the time to personally thank everyone for all the support over the first year, it truly means everything to us and we cannot wait to see what our second year brings!
We sort of started Cooking and Beer on a whim. The original plan was to blog about Skype dinners while Justine and I were living on opposite coasts. However, it turns out that it is quite difficult to build a site while writing a PhD thesis and so the concept was pushed to the back burner. Once we moved in together, it seemed rather silly to have a blog about Skype dinners while living in the same house. After some brainstorming, the consumption of several delicious beers, and a few fun runs, Cooking and Beer was born. Initially, progress was slow and, to be frank, our photos absolutely sucked. I will be the first to admit that if there was a competition for worst food photos ever, we would win with some of our first recipes. However, this is where the learning aspect of this whole venture comes into play. We learned quickly that lighting is everything and the camera itself comes in second. Take a look at the two photos below, the first is from one of our first posts last July and the second is from a post just this past week. Can you tell the difference!? Given that we are doing this on a very strict budget of about $15 per month, there are no funds to buy a new fancy DSLR camera with 83 lenses. No way. So, we have stuck with the same old point and shoot 12x optical zoom Panasonic camera that my parents bought for me quite a few years ago. It is amazing what some good natural light can do to your photos.
Some other things that we have learned over the course of the first year is that it is necessary to be persistent. What I mean by this is that when getting the food blog rolling, persistent posts are crucial to success. A few times over the last year, for various reasons, the frequency of new posts dropped off. At the same time, our traffic dropped off too. In the first year (and most likely in years two and three), content, content, content are the three magic words for a food blog. As soon as you let things go to the wayside, people slowly stop coming.
We have also learned that it does not matter to us what the big food porn sites think of our pictures. Honestly, many of them have begun to provide very little traffic to our website compared to the up and coming food porn sites and so wasting hours and hours editing photos so that they meet the specific needs of a single person sitting in a rocking chair in Orlando is absolutely foolish. If at first we don’t succeed, we try again, and maybe a third time, and then throw in the towel and focus on other things. The key here is that one cannot get frustrated when photos are rejected by the big food porn sites. Some of it comes down to whether the editor finds the food appealing. It really should depend on whether the photo is a great photo and not if the person likes grilled cheese or not. It also should not matter if you hamburger bun is too close to the edge of the photo. That is silly. And, as I write this, I just received confirmation that our Pulled Pork Grilled Cheese photo was rejected again by one of the major food porn sites . . . this time for being unsharp when resized. Honestly, if they make the photo unsharp by resizing it, then that is on them, not us. Brilliant. The biggest lesson to learn here though is to not get discouraged when your photo submissions don’t get accepted. Don’t take it personally and just move on. It’s not worth the time and aggravation. You will just drive yourself crazy in the end. There are many other great ways to get traffic to your site.
As we move forth we will continue to learn new ways of marketing Cooking and Beer and providing ourselves with revenue to both keep the site going and to feed our hungry stomachs. We hope that you will stick with us through the years and continue to enjoy the awesome recipes and fantastic beers! Our marketing strategies will start by hiring SMR Digital to help improve our website.
Now, the part that I know everybody has been looking forward too: The new layout. Obviously, the website has changed quite a bit. We think that the changes will make it easier to navigate the site and share your favorite recipes and photos.
Below is a screenshot of the top of a page containing a recipe. Notice that the navigation bar is stuck to the top of the page. Once you scroll down, the navigation bar will stick and a social media bar will drop down. In this bar you will find links to share the recipe on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I cannot take all the credit for the share buttons since a majority of the coding came from Giles Bennett. However, we do think that these are the coolest share buttons in all of food blogging. Additionally, on the left and right, you will find links to the previous and next recipes, respectively. These links allow you to browse through the recipes one at a time. If you are looking for something in a specific category, just mouse-over “Recipes” and magically a list of categories will drop down. Click on your favorite category and you will get a list of recipes that fit that criterion. If you are looking for something very specific, just search for it in the upper left. It is really that easy to get around Cooking and Beer now!
At this point, you probably have already notice the links in the sidebar. However, below is a screenshot showing these links as they will appear from now on. The links in the sidebar are popular new posts in a specific category. We will change the category once a month just to keep things fresh!
You may have noticed the recipes have changed a bit in the last two weeks. We have made the switch from Easy Recipe to KitchenBug. I think you will find the KitchenBug layout and information far more useful. The screenshot below describes some of the big changes. The primary reasons for making the switch were the following: KitchenBug gives nutrition facts in real time, adding the Ziplist button to save the recipe and generate a shopping list can be done for FREE, including pictures is free, and having multiple recipes in one main recipe is ALSO FREE. If you are not familiar with Ziplist, head on over and check it out. Basically, when you see a recipe that you like, just click the save button. Once you have a Ziplist account set up, the recipe will be saved on Ziplist and your shopping list will be populated with the necessary ingredients. Super cool, huh!? Another nice feature of the new layout is that if you are not familiar with an ingredient, most of the ingredients are linked to a description about the item. Now you do not have to go googling to find out what we are using to make these awesome dishes.
One last change is that we have all of the photos in a recipe pin-able. What these means is that you can pin any photo that you like by just hovering over the photo and then clicking on the little button that appears. Cool, huh!?
Well, that was a lot to take in for one day. We hope that you find the new layout more visually appealing and easier to navigate. However, if you find that something is not working properly, please do not hesitate to let us know. As I said before, we are doing this on a very very low budget and so ALL of the website design and coding is done by me, myself, and I. There are no guarantees that I fixed all of the bugs. Thank you again for your support and we look forward to many more years of fun at Cooking and Beer.