8 Tips For Establishing Your Web Presence

This is a story written by the NBBQA (National BBQ Association) that was published in one of their special interest group newsletters. The target market is small barbecue businesses and hobbies in the barbecue community looking at starting their own webpages and/or blogs.

Interviewer: Mallory Phillips
Transcribed and Edited by: Chris Marchesano

Published in NBBQA Newsletter – December 2017

Few people manage to successfully marry their disparate passions as seamlessly and successfully as Saffron Hodgson. Earlier this year, the Australian-born competition cook and self-proclaimed ‘closet geek’ launched BushCooking.com—an incredibly sleek website dedicated to outdoor and live-fire cooking techniques and recipes. The website quickly gained momentum, and now hosts over 200 unique and delicious recipes from 29 industry experts.

Saffron recently sat down with the NBBQA and was generous enough to share her wealth of knowledge in everything from competition cooking to the nuts-and-bolts of building a beautiful webpage and SEO optimization.

1) Find a Way to Marry Your Passions

I’ve been doing competition cooking for about seven years, starting off in Dutch oven before expanding to BBQ, chili, steak and other areas. One thing I always noticed traveling around, whether in America, Australia or Canada, was the number of questions about certain outdoor cooking techniques or recipes. It made me realize there was a big information gap out there. There were some great books and information online, but felt there was still opportunity to improve so started my own webpage to act as a better portal for outdoor cooking.

BushCooking.com was designed to have all the basics on outdoor cooking, while also serving as a central place where if someone wants more information – a recipe or cooking method – it’s either easily found or navigable to someone else’s blog or webpage.

2) Pretty Ain’t Everything

Webpages are a bit like icebergs-a small section that sticks above water that everyone sees, where you employ your graphic designer and user interface specialists. Some webpages look beautiful but if you try to navigate within them, or search for them on Google, they fall short. That’s where the ‘backend’ side of things, that big section below water, becomes critical.

I did a ton of research and training to make sure the ‘backend’ was correct – the design, site map, code and architecture. If you need a recipe from BushCooking.com, I wanted to make sure it could be found easily. In some respects, I was ruthless -interviewing multiple programming and developing companies before I found one that fit my needs, and had the skill-set depth I was looking for. I had to find a person who could not only build a beautiful site, but also one that was beautiful in a technically geeky sense. There’s a lot to balance.

3) The Money Dilemma

Only ~5% of bloggers make money. If you’re going to start a blog with the intent of making revenue, you need to treat it like a business. Too many people view blogging as a hobby – they only produce content about what they want, when they want. As any business, it is all about the consumers; in this case it’s about your readers, their interests, preferences and the information they are looking for.

If running an e-commerce, product, restaurant website or similar then a focus is needed on how to use the site to leverage greater sales, brand awareness or visits.

4) The Custom Route?

The next thing of critical importance was the decision to use either a platform with plug-ins or something built 100% custom.

Building a custom web platform can give you lots of flexibility, but could be a nightmare to create as it is time consuming and can be thin on capability. You need to be very IT savvy to even know what to ask for when it comes to the backend functionality.

When using a pre-built platform be aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Some cost a little more upfront but can save you a lot of money later. The cheap and/or free platforms such as Wix, have a strength in a pretty looking interface that can be quickly built, however are very week in SEO, functionality and ease of ongoing editing. WordPress, a more robust platform, that uses plugins to increase its capabilities easily and comes packed with SEO, however sometimes can be constraining in the interface options.

5) Good Content is Key

Here’s the bottom line: write good content. I tell people to think of Google as a gatekeeper,
Google’s advice to rank higher in search results is to create good content. They are always honing their algorithm to create results that people want to click on. It is easy to get bogged down in the shared ‘rules of thumb’ based on word count and frequency. I believe you should know your audience and give them the content they want, as frequently as they want it.

Make sure the key information you want is on each page. When reviewing I always ask myself, ‘if someone came to only this one page on my website, will they understand my site?’ Could they find the content they were searching for? Do keywords pop out right there in front of them or do they have to chase around and search the page for important content? My goal is to make it as easy as possible to find the information they need and want.

6) SEO: Should You Pay?

The next thing you should be thinking about is SEO [Search Engine Optimization]. I know many people claim you can’t do anything without paying. My opinion? I think it depends on the competition in the search engine area you’re entering.

So, if you’re trying to sell barbeques, it’s going to be almost impossible for you to get that top position, there’s too much competition, it’s too broad a term. In that case, you’ll want to pay. However, if you have something unique-like BushCooking.com is-not many people look for those exact terms. Once my page was around long enough and I built up integrity, I naturally got into the top ten. So, there was no need for me to pay.

When I built my business plan, I identified areas in SEO where there were low levels of competition to target first, simply so that I didn’t have to dedicate a lot of financial resources to get some views.

7. Your Vision Must Be Adaptable

You must always be prepared to change the vision of your website to meet customer needs. It’s a business, remember?

I started off telling myself that this wasn’t going to be just another recipe site-that I would highlight one recipe per every five skills or cooking methods. But when I built BushCooking.com, the recipes quickly became the bits that were getting the interaction and drawing people in, so that ended up being a higher priority over techniques.

8) Know Your Target Market

In terms of presentation, there are no hard rules. Just know your target market. How you would present content to programmers and engineers should be completely different than presenting to artists and designers. For the general population, you may need to mix styles a bit. But before you start, know who composes your target demographic and try to use them as a gauge for your website. If feeling particularly enthusiastic doing a persona exercise to understand you audience is worth the effort.