Five years ago, I started Wandering Chopsticks.
I had no idea then that my blog would last longer than any job or relationship I've ever had.
Who knew time would pass by so quickly these days? Or does it seem like time passes by so quickly because I've been photographing and writing about the past half-decade of my life?
This blog has evolved quite a bit since its inception. And on such anniversaries, I guess it's expected to do a bit of a retrospective. So these are the five things I've learned from blogging.
1) Write from the heart.
When I started, I just wrote. Some of those early pictures and early posts were rather cringe-worthy, and I've been updating them when I get a chance.
I've been reading personal and craft blogs far longer than I've been reading food blogs. Two blogs that I've been reading through the years, that I still read on a regular basis, have been Alicia's Posie Gets Cozy, about her life and crafting in my hometown, Portland, Oregon, and Corey's Tongue in Cheek, about her expat life in the south of France and her visits home to rural Willows, California. I peek into their homes, their families, their lives. Oh dear, that sounds a little too voyeuristic. By that I mean that they share the mundane and the not so ordinary moments of their lives, and I get pulled in by the world around them, their surroundings, the people, who they are.
Like an old fogey lamenting about the good old days, I wish that blogging these days wasn't so much about trying to be a business, but about writing from the heart. It seems like more and more blogs are about getting noticed, more self-promotional. Honestly, it's turned me off of reading many blogs, especially many new ones. I wish bloggers would be less concerned with numbers than simply sharing because they have something to say, whether it's through food or crafts or their lives.
2) Good, useful posts will give you sustained, repeat traffic.
I didn't start counting visitors until more than half a year into blogging. (Or I did, but that was with a stat counter that had some issues and I lost that data.) And I didn't start using Google Analytics until May 24, 2009. So the numbers game has always been in the backburner when it comes to blogging for me.
Just write, take photos, blog and readers and Google will sort out what's popular. The #1 post that gets the most hits on the blog is my Vietnamese recipes index, which was back-posted to June 2006, followed by my 100 Vietnamese Foods to Try post, which was published in 2008.
This tells me that it doesn't matter when something is published, just the what. A good, useful link will have people clicking on it again and again.
3) Fancy photos are nice, but not necessary.
Except for the middle three pictures in the food mosaic on top, and that's only because those were updated pictures, my most popular recipes were photographed using my old Canon SD110 and SD1000 point and shoot cameras.
The top 10 recipes on Wandering Chopsticks (shown in the photo above) in descending order are:
Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup) 2008
Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew) 2009
Thit Heo Kho Trung (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Eggs) 2007
Canh Chua Ca (Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup) 2007
Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg Rolls) 2007
Bo Luc Lac (Vietnamese Shaking Beef) 2007
Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) 2007
Nem Nuong and Nem Nuong Cuon (Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patty and Vietnamese Grilled Pork Patty Salad Rolls) 2007
Bun Thit Heo Nuong Tom Cha Gio (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Noodles with Grilled Pork, Shrimp, and Egg Rolls) 2008
And the 10th recipe (because I like round numbers but couldn't fit it into the 9-photo mosaic),
Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup) 2006
Things I've learned from this?
Longevity matters. Quality of the recipe matters. Showing a final product that looks decent matters. A fancy camera does not matter. The newer photos might make the recipes look nicer now when you stumble upon them, but the traffic to those posts was established long ago.
4) Cumulative overall quality drives traffic.
My #1 recipe gets three times as much traffic as my #10 recipe. Which means that most of my recipes don't really get much traffic at all. It's the cumulative effect of the blog that drives the visits. On that note, if you want traffic from food blogging, restaurant posts don't generate that much traffic. Out of my top 100 most popular posts, the only restaurant to make the list was Banh Mi Che Cali Restaurant - Alhambra at #37.
My 2008 posts get more combined traffic than 2007. Followed by 2009, 2006, 2010, and 2011. Most of that can be attributed to my blogging having dropped a lot in recent years so there are less newer posts that get hits. But also, sustained traffic on old posts means that I can take a bit of time off when needed and those older posts will still hold down the fort, so to speak.
Also, edit, edit, edit. I still catch typos all the time, and gladly welcome comments clarifying measurements or ingredients in my recipes.
Respond to comments. I learned this from Kirk of Mmm-yoso and I try to stay on top of comments, but sometimes am not able to do so. But I do eventually respond to every comment, even on old posts. Why? Because I don't get an insane amount of comments, so the people who do take the time to respond should be acknowledged.
The cumulative effect is that when you come here, you know to expect a blog that's somewhat useful, that's written with few errors and that what you have to say matters.
5) Be yourself.
From the beginning, I've photographed and written my own recipes. If I've adapted or been inspired by another recipe, I've always acknowledged it and written it in my own words. I don't understand why that's so difficult for people to understand. Or why people feel the need to steal another's photos or words. Why would someone bother to read your copied post when they could just read the original? Also somewhat related, if you've picked up a tip from somewhere else, acknowledge where it came from. I sprinkle bits of cooking advice all throughout my recipes, tips from my mom or other family members, so it bugs me when other bloggers post about my recipe and include those tips as if they came up with it themselves. Give proper credit where it's due.
Time and again, readers have emailed me to ask for my recipes. There are plenty of cookbooks and other bloggers making all kinds of recipes. Some of those recipes may be similar, maybe not. Some of the readers said they tried recipes on other blogs with poor results. Some of them discovered we have the same tastebuds. Some of them just like the way my recipes have turned out for them. So stop copying someone else's style or someone else's recipe and just do it your way.
I have posts that don't get many, or any, comments. I still write them anyway. I've said that restaurant posts don't get much traffic. I still write them anyway.
Because there are things I want to write about and share.
Because if blogging were about how many visitors I got or how many comments I received, I would have stopped blogging a long time ago.
People become invested in you, whether it's you as a person or your recipes or what have you. Not everyone is going to love you and that's OK. I don't force people to follow my blog or to become a Facebook fan or whatever new social media hits. So those of you who read, who visit again and again, who comment, who check in when I'm off the grid for a while, who try my recipes and give me feedback, you're the reason why I keep blogging.
What began in isolation has connected me to more people than I ever thought possible. And I thank you so much for being there from way back when and for continuing to read, even when my blogging is in fits and starts.
I compiled my five year summary on the actual day, not when I got around to hitting publish, and it still boggles my mind there are that many of you reading and commenting.
Total recipes: 496
Total restaurants: 367
Total posts: 1309
Total comments: 11,282
Total visits: 4,853,733 Although, I didn't start counting until seven months after I started blogging.
I meant to make you some Ukrainian cherry vareniki or perhaps a gateau Basque. Because cherries were in season and I wanted to try out and share some new recipes, but I got tired and never did get around to making the dough part of the desserts.
And then I thought, well, enough about me! I mean, after so many years, I'm stumbling over new things to say because the old stories keep repeating themselves. So do the recipes. I mean, how many different versions of mac and cheese do you really need to see? :P
So tell me about you. I've surveyed my readers before, but that was three years ago. Have you been reading since then? Are you new? Have I taught you how to cook or become better in the kitchen? Why are you here? I'd really love to know.
Who are you? (If you're another blogger or regular commenter, you obviously already have a name. If you're de-lurking to answer this survey, you may use your real name or make up one. Are you Vietnamese? Half-Vietnamese? Married to a Vietnamese? I'm always pleased to hear from people rediscovering their roots or trying to learn more about their significant other's food and culture.)
Where are you from? (You may answer this in however much detail you wish ie. your ethnicity, the country where you were born, the country and/or city you live in now, or all of the above.)
How did you find my blog? How long have you been reading? How often do you check the blog? (Were you searching for a recipe online? Clicked over from another blog? Read me every day? Several times a day? Do you check every morning or every night?)
What do you like? Don't like? Want to see more of? Less of? (I make no promises to change the blog because of your answers. Just wanted to see what items were and weren't popular. Want more Vietnamese recipes? Less? More restaurants? Less? What do you feel about the non-food stuff like traveling, gardening, quilting, random musings?)
Have you made any of my recipes? Or visited restaurants because of my blog? Which ones? (If you have cooked my recipes, which ones did you make? What made you decide to try it? Did you have to make any adjustments to the recipes?)
What would you like to say that I haven't asked? (Say anything you wish. Really!)
If you don't want to comment below and have your answers be public, please feel free to email them to me at wanderingchopsticks (at) gmail (dot) com .
This survey is purely for my own edification. The answers are not being used for marketing purposes or sold to anyone or anything like that. I just want to know more about you!
Oh, and about the embroidered purses. Lil' sis was helping me clean out my house (an endless task to be sure) and came across these souvenirs I bought her on my last trip to Vietnam. As far as I can tell, they're all made of silk and hand-embroidered. The black purse is about 12 inches long with hand-embroidered lotus blossoms. The blue bag is kind of fun with three rings made from coconut shells and you pull the strap through all the rings to close it. The pale green wallet is made of very soft, delicate silk. They were purchased in Hanoi and Saigon, Vietnam, although I can't remember now which was bought where. Lil' sis has never used them. They've just been sitting in storage this whole time.
So instead of letting them continue to languish, I thought they'd make the perfect giveaway since my blog was borne out of my reminiscing of that summer in Vietnam.
Just leave a comment telling me which item you'd like, in descending order, if you win. So for instance, you could say black purse, blue purse, green wallet. Or if you don't like all three purses, just tell me which one or two you'd like. Hopefully, this way you'll get your first or second choice if you win. If you don't specify any purses, I'm assuming you're just commenting and don't want to enter the giveaway.
And it's definitely not required, but if you chose to answer my survey questions, leave the purse preferences as a separate comment so you have two chances to win. If you email me answers to the survey, please be sure to leave a second comment here telling me you've done so and under what name so I can cross-reference. And men, feel free to enter if you'd like to give the purses as gifts, or for yourself (I don't judge!).
Giveaway entries end at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, July 25. I'll draw three winners from random.org and update this post. If I don't hear from you after three days, I'll pick another winner.
And yes, I'll mail worldwide. Yay! So everyone is eligible. You're responsible for any customs fees if you choose to accept this.
I know it's not much, and I really don't want my personal giveaways to be used as a promotion. It's just my little way of saying thank you so much for reading.
July 26, 2011 update:
Congratulations to #18 Canine Cologne, #22 Unique Schmuck and #17 Scrapper Al. Please email me your mailing addresses so I can send you your prize.
1 year ago today, Hong Kong-Style Macaroni Soup with Spam.
2 years ago today, McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant Giveaway.
3 years ago today, terrible twos!
4 years ago today, Wandering Chopsticks turned 1 and I posted about how and why I started blogging.
5 years ago today, because I was too embarrassed to take out my camera, my sad little first post about Claro's Italian Market - Upland.