Building a Successful Vegan Recipe Website

Lots of people are searching for recipes online. Everybody has to eat, and we do it several times a day.  Changing our diet is probably the highest impact activity that we can do to improve our health, positively impact the environment, and become a more ethical human being.

Maybe they are planning their next meal, wondering what to prepare with the ingredients they have in the kitchen, or searching for recipes to lose weight or improve their health – their computer is often their first reference of choice, even more convenient than reaching for a cookbook. You enter your ingredients into the search box, click SEARCH and voila – pages and pages of relevant results. For every search term, there are thousands and thousands of pages, even though the searchers rarely go past page one.

Recipes get lots of searches, but search terms such as “recipe for sweet potato soup” or “easy pizza dough recipe” are not very competitive, therefore, with some work you can reasonably expect get to the top of Google, Yahoo and Bing for at least a few food-related terms and start getting visitors to your website.

Here are a few tips on how to begin:

1. Create a self-hosted WordPress.org based blog

This is the best option if you want to have full control of your site content and how you make money with it.  Don’t use the free Blogger.com or WordPress.com platform, as you don’t own that site.  Also, if you want to make money with your site, owning your own site will give you the most freedom from the design and monetizing perspective.

It’s quite easy to set up a WordPress-based website. All you need is a domain name and hosting account (for tips what are the recommended resources, see the Resources section at the end of this document.).

If you already have a Blogger blog, WordPress.com blog or another hosted blog, you may consider migrating to self-hosted site.

2. Choose a topic/ingredient or angle for your site

Here are a few thoughts about choosing the topic.  These are not rules set in stone, so take them with a grain of salt.

I recommend to – at least initially – concentrate on a handful of ingredients or choose a theme for your site to narrow down your niche. For example, desserts, juicing, smoothies, quinoa recipes, pizza recipes, juicing recipes, or gluten-free recipes. Perhaps posting vegan versions of your favorite mainstream dishes, such as lasagna, pizza, or meatloaf. Select something that you like and would be easy for you to write about. A topic you are familiar with or are willing to experiment and learn.

Choose a specific topic, not just “vegan recipes” or “vegan diet”. It’s a subtle difference between writing about “vegan food” and “recipes that are vegan”. If you write about vegan food, your blog posts will most likely be found only by people who are searching for vegan recipes, i.e., they are already vegan or interested in becoming a vegan. We want our recipes to be found for all kinds of people, vegan or not. I think some people may be turned off (at least initially) if you talk about “vegan food” or “vegan ingredients”.  For lots of people this brings into mind images of imitations that are inferior in taste and nutrition to what they consider “real food”. They might be suspicious of ingredients, such as tofu or tempeth. Choosing a topic like “soup recipes” and posting delicious recipes for soups that don’t use animal ingredients will help people start experimenting with vegan food without any reservations.

I would also recommend not focusing on and overusing exotic or hard-to-find ingredients. Recipes for tempeth, seitan, and tofu burgers are great, and we certainly need those too, but most  omnivores will be turned off by recipes containing such rare (what they consider “weird”) ingredients, so I believe there is value in just creating simple, vegan versions of every-day dishes, using ingredients that are easy to find in any grocery store.

Personally, as a new vegan, I have to say I still don’t love some of these foods, especially the processed soy-based burgers or sausage (which, by the way aren’t very good for you anyway) and I eat them rarely.  I have tried to sneak them into various dishes for my omnivorous husband and son, and they were immediately suspicious, and refused to eat them.  Of course, they can be useful when transitioning to veganism, so I’m not saying avoid them completely.  However, for greater readership, don’t make rare ingredients the cornerstone of your recipes.

In order to attract more people to this compassionate way of eating and lifestyle, we need to show people that make it simple, delicious and easy, which it really is.

3. Make it fun attractive to an average person

Perhaps you’ve started a home compost bin, set up a rain barrel, and make your own sandals from old truck tires.  That’s fine by me, but many people will find this bizarre, and it will just confirm what they already know: that vegans are a bunch of weird, judgmental, and often angry people sandals and dreadlocks, drinking carrot juice, munching on tofu.

We need to make veganism the new normal, bring it to the mainstream, and that means being appealing to an average person (but not boring!).

4. Take lots of good pictures

Good photos are a must for a health/nutrition-related site, and especially for food/recipe site. Most recipe pages I see contain at least one picture. It’s definitely worth taking a few pictures of your ingredients and final result. I would recommend learning some basics about composition and technique.

Videotaping recipes would work too, but you’d still need to put pictures on your site to make your posts easy to share in the visually oriented sharing sites, such as Pinterest and the like.

Learn the basics of taking good pictures, and photo editing basics. Take good quality, attractive pictures. I actually have seen blog posts with terrible pictures, where the author admits the picture is awful, but they post it anyway with a caption “Worst picture ever, but I promise it tastes amazing!” Maybe it does, but if the picture is terrible, do you really think I’ll be trying the recipe?

Well, maybe I will try it, but I won’t be Pinning it ;-). The point is we are competing with other recipe sites, so we need to use all the weapons at our disposal.

People are afraid that this way of eating is restrictive and borrrr-ing. We need to prove them otherwise by showing them the beautiful, tasty and healthy food in its full glory. Think about all these commercials with juicy burgers or other dishes. The food is presented in the most vibrant colors, with all its natural juices, textures, appealing to the senses, making people crave it and salivate.

Nobody in the mainstream media is doing this for kale and spinach, so that’s what we need to do. We have to entice them, make these foods seem not just palatable, but enticing, titillating, and desirable.

I started taking pictures for my recipe sites only recently. Prior to that, I was using stock photos from iclipart.com or public domain pictures from Flickr. I think taking my own photos is going to take my sites into a new dimension.  I’m experimenting with photo-editing, various textures, background, collages, etc. I think my blog will become better as a result. Plus, I’m re-using the pictures extensively in the ebooks I sell.

I have no in-depth knowledge of photography, but I own a great camera, Cannon 5D Mark III, which takes wonderful photos.  I’m ashamed to admit that, but I only use AUTO settings, and the photos are still amazing. This camera is very expensive, and you definitely don’t need a costly camera like that. You can get a much cheaper one with a decent lens (for example, search on Craiglist) and learn how to use it.  Also, learn some basic photo-editing. Everybody knows about the magical powers of Photoshop its important role in the world of advertising. I use Photoshop, but any photo-editing program will do the job (see the Resources).

If you have a self-hosted WordPress site, I recommend that you install Pinterest for pictures plugin. It allows visitors to simply pin the pictures just by clicking on the Pinterest icon – it’s important to make it easy for people to share your content.  I also like to add description, but this is more for the readers, as people like to read text under photos.

It may also be worthwhile to put your site address on your pictures. This is not for the search engines, but for people who may be finding your blog on various “pinning” sites or on Facebook.  It’s an additional effort, but I think it may be worth it, especially if you are taking beautiful photos.

5. Use Carnegie Principle and Dress Your Blog for Success

The first of Carnegie’s principles is that we should look presentable so that our appearance does not distract from our message, which, in our case, is that we need to end animal abuse.  This applies to the way our website looks, too.

If our goal is to be as effective as we possibly can be in behalf of animals, it is absolutely essential that we put our personal style second to our desire to be effective advocates. Ask yourself who your audience is, and play the part in order to attract them and not repel them. The more you and your website look like your audience expects, the easier it is for your message to stand out!

In most situations, when we reject mainstream society’s standards, we are limiting our ability to help our cause.

6. Talk about your story and personal experience

People love reading other people’s stories. Especially, if you have lost weight, improved your health, overcame an illness or a physical condition, got rid of acne, improved your sex life, etc. by changing your a diet, it’s something you should definitely talk about on your blog. Experiencing ethical/spiritual transformation is another theme to talk about. Unless you are a doctor or a registered dietitian, you probably don’t want to give medical advice on your website, but you can definitely talk about your own experiences and how you overcame your challenges and it would be interesting topic for many people to read about.

7. Get educated about nutrition

If you are a bagel-and-pasta kind of vegan and you want to post recipes for donuts and pies, that’s fine, people need those too. Being a vegan is not about deprivation, so it’s important for people to know that these foods are still available to them when they choose this lifestyle.

However, if people feel crappy eating this food, they will be less likely to stick to it. Just switching to vegan diet is not a guarantee of a health, so you still need to get educated about nutrition.  Being a healthy vegan is important because we want people on this diet to THRIVE, to feel so great that they never want to go to the old habits again. I think the best resource for that is Dr. Joel Fuhrman. I highly recommend all of Dr. Joel Fuhrman books, especially Eat to Live and Super Immunity.

I’ve had many people telling me that they tried to go vegan or vegetarian, but they didn’t feel good, they couldn’t lose weight, were feeling constantly hungry, or something similar, and they had to go back to eating meat.  The fact that they were feeling that way does not mean that vegan diet is unsustainable.  We must educate people why this is happening, and what they can do to be successful in their switch.

8. Use your strengths to your advantage

Trying to do it all perfectly can be overwhelming. Think what you’re good at or what you might enjoy learning. Photography, video, graphic design, writing, taking, organizing. Use your current skills and strengths to your advantage.

Just ask yourself how can you be using your gifts… in a way that empowers, inspires, and encourages people to step UP and stand out and pay it forward?

Remember…..you DON’T need to be an expert, or a GURU.

If not now, when?

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