Ten things I learned at Bristol Blog Summit

Last week I attended a fantastic workshop in Bristol’s M Shed along with around 60 other bloggers from Foodies100 and Tots100.

In the space of six short hours I successfully managed to quadruple my blogging know-how, and at the same time got to meet a whole host of very lovely and down right inspirational food and family bloggers.

There’s no way I could share here all the tips, gems and nuggets I picked up, so instead I’m whittling them down to the top ten things I learned at the Bristol Blog Summit…

1. If you’re paid to promote a brand, use no-follow links

The whole question of whether links should be ‘follow’ or ‘no-follow’ has been one I’ve been meaning to get my head around for a while now. The main thing I took away from Tom Brennan’s talk was if you’re paid to promote a brand in any way on your blog, then the links you include to their website should be no-follow, otherwise your Google ranking could be affected.

Being paid by a brand refers obviously to financial payment but can also be interpreted to mean payment in kind, such as complimentary products provided for review purposes. So my next task once I’ve finished this post is to go back through all the review and giveaway posts I’ve featured to convert all the links to no-follow. Now while this is a bit of a grey area, I think I’d rather err on the side of caution.

If you’re a blogger but all of this sounds like gobbledygook to you, it’s probably a good idea you read this Tots 100 article on the subject or this post on WAHM-BAM Features.

2. Use tabs effectively on your Facebook page

I picked up so many great tips from Cathy James from Nurture Store on using Facebook and Pinterest to build audience and boost traffic to your blog. The first is to make sure you’re putting the tabs on your Facebook page to best use and use these to direct people to your blog and  your Pinterest page. Woobox is a very helpful app that allows you to do this easily. Likewise are you promoting your Facebook page via your blog, Pinterest and Twitter?

3. Ask questions on Facebook

Questions are a wonderful way to engage with people on Facebook. For some reason Facebook gives high visibility to questions and they’re more likely to show in people’s news feeds. I tried this out recently on my page and was impressed by how much interaction it generated.

4. Schedule posts and pins

It’s easy to schedule Facebook posts. Simply click on the little clock in the bottom left-hand corner of the status update box. This is ideal if you want to share timely posts with US audiences – a good time to post is between 2am and 4am. And if you want to schedule pins, Cathy James recommends PinGraphy. I look forward to giving this a whirl!

5. Share photos from Facebook to Twitter

Use the neat IFTTT service to auto-share the photos you post to your Facebook page to your Twitter stream.

6. Pin to blog board first in Pinterest

In Pinterest, your first board should be your blog board. Whenever you pin images, pin to your blog board first and then repin later to your specialist boards. I can’t believe I didn’t even have a blog board on Pinterest, so I’ve got a bit of catching up to do here!

7. Optimise images specifically for Pinterest

Increase your chances of repinning by optimising your photographs and graphics so that they look good on Pinterest. Look at any board and you’ll see portrait images stand out most. Text also works really well and it’s useful to include a watermark with your blog name. Picmonkey is an easy and versatile way to create beautiful collages, while I like using Picasa to add text.

8. With charities, make it personal

Many bloggers are approached by charities to get involved in their latest campaign, be it to raise money or awareness. But if all bloggers end up including the same stuff on their blogs, readers are quickly going to turn off and it’s not going to do you or your charity any favours.

So if you do decide to support a charity through your blog, make it personal and creative. As Christine Mosler from Thinly Spread said, make sure there’s a tie-in with the issues you’re already writing about, retain your own voice. And in the words of Annie Spratt from Mammasaurus, you know your blog and you know how to create a buzz with your readers. If there’s a charity you really like, don’t wait for them to approach you. Take your ideas direct to them.

9. Use a halogen light when photographing food

It’s a common problem for food bloggers that by the time you’ve served up your delicious meal, there’s no natural light available for taking good photographs. The advice from the wonderful Becky and Tom Arber is to invest in a halogen light, which you can get from somewhere like B&Q for just £12. You then bounce light off a nearby wall onto your dish to create a natural lighting effect. Alternatively you can use a desk lamp or even a torch. Also you should experiment with the white balance setting on your camera or use a photo editing tool like Picasa or Snapseed.

Becky and Tom Arber - thanks to this fabulous couple I'm going to save myself a small fortune as they helped me realise I don't need to invest in a posh camera!
Becky and Tom Arber – thanks to this fabulous couple I’m going to save myself a small fortune as they helped me realise I don’t need to invest in a posh camera to get professional looking food photos!

10. Blogging events aren’t scary

I can’t believe I was actually feeling quite nervous on my way to the Bristol Blog Summit. Everyone I met was friendly, interesting, down-to-earth and at the same time really rather inspirational, and I enjoyed playing the game of matching people to their blogs and Twitter handles. This was my first proper bloggers’ networking event and I can’t wait for the next one.

There is so much I haven’t covered in this post. If you want to find out more, take a look at this very useful summary of the proceedings over on Tots100, which also includes a linky to the other posts bloggers have written about the event.

A huge thank you to the uber-talented Sally Whittle and all at Tots100 and Foodies100 for organising the workshop, as well as sponsors Actimel.

Me and the very lovely Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog
Me and the very lovely Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog

Birthday bangers

This time last year I had absolutely no idea what I was about to launch myself head first into.

Yes, it’s a year ago to the very day that I summoned the courage to hit the Publish button for the first time and with it created Bangers & Mash, complete with hand drawn pictures and dubious photography. (I do cringe a little when I look back at those early food shots.)

So I would like to take this opportunity to wish Bangers & Mash a very happy first birthday! I hope you like my little cake in honour of the occasion.

In my first post, I attempted to justify why we need another food blog? If you’re interested, and I haven’t already bored you senseless on the subject, you’ll find this post lays out my ethos of cooking wholesome, family food using good quality, seasonal ingredients, without it costing you a fortune. I also talk at length, as I am prone to do in a verging on obsessive way about meal planning, particularly how it has helped dramatically reduce our shopping bills and food waste and encouraged us to eat a much more varied, healthy and adventurous diet.

The first recipe I posted on Bangers & Mash wasn’t actually one of mine. It was my husband’s fabulous carrot cake. But in a way, that’s very appropriate, as I hadn’t a clue about cooking until I moved in with my other half. It’s funny to think back to my early 20s when I had no idea how to cook anything really and no inclination to really bother. How things change!

While I would by no stretch of the imagination consider myself a fully fledged food blogger quite yet, I do believe I have come a long way over the last 12 months.

My recipes and photography are improving all the time. The main reason for that is the feedback and support I get from friends and family, but perhaps most importantly other bloggers. That’s what has surprised and impressed me most – the support network provided by the enormous blogging community out there, through both our blogs and Twitter (a platform I avoided like the plague for quite a long time).

When I started out, I pictured blogging as a rather solitary pastime, sitting alone at a PC and broadcasting thoughts and ideas to an invisible audience. But what I’ve discovered I enjoy most about blogging is the interaction and conversation. I didn’t realise just how much I would learn from others as a result of writing a blog.

But that’s enough of that. The children will be getting up soon – as usual, I’m writing this in the early hours of the morning when the house is still and quiet – and my day must start properly. I’ll be back soon with my latest concoction. And I look forward to hearing about yours!