Hari Chandana Shares What it Takes to Build a Loyal Blog Audience
By Hari Chandana and Lindsay Valdez
Here at the SHE Media Partner Network, we work with a range of partners, from the blogging pioneers to those just starting out. And in the interest of community, we love when SHE Media Partners are inspired to pass down the insight they’ve gained from years of experience to the network newbies. If you’re a SHE Media Partner and interested in writing for BlogHer U, send us a DM on our Facebook page.
I recently met with Hari Chandana of BlendWithSpices.com to talk about some of the changes she’s seen in the blogging industry over the last decade and what advice she has for bloggers just starting out.
Hi Hari, tell us a little about yourself, your website, your life?
Hello Lindsay, it’s an absolute pleasure to be here. I am a full-time professional vegetarian food blogger currently living in Madrid with my husband. I founded BlendWithSpices.com in 2008 as a hobby blogger wanting to deliver quality content related to vegetarian food to global audiences in a simple manner over the web. To date, I have created recipes with step-by-step photos and videos for more than 900 vegetarian dishes that are mainly Indian but increasingly international thanks to our passion for travel. My ultimate goal is to be able to publish at least 1 vegetarian recipe per country. I am the A-Z of my website and I truly believe that cooking is something everyone irrespective of gender and age must get their hands dirty (pun intended!) with to realize the value of food, respect those that put in the hard yards to put food on our plates and express love!
Blogging since 2008! You must have seen HUGE changes during those years. What was the most challenging aspect of continuing to blog and build your audience throughout the years?
In simple terms, 2008 was about making your content accessible to new readers on google while your current readers looked for content on your site directly. Since then, 3 main trends became very prominent that completely changed the landscape of the food blogging industry:
1. Almost every google algorithm related to organic search has changed. It is a massive challenge to remain up-to-date with these changes and make appropriate changes on your site accordingly.
2. Readers have started spending more time on social media and on their mobile devices, which meant bloggers have had to strengthen their social media presence massively to drive inorganic traffic that complements the organic traffic.
3. Content visualization in Google search results and on-site have become very important. Bloggers have had to make their site and content (new and old) compliant with the prevalent search engine optimization (SEO) and user experience (UX) standards and that’s another massive challenge! A good example are Rich Snippets.
“As a result of these trends, almost every day presents me with a new challenge and keeps me on my toes. Of course, with every challenge comes a learning opportunity.”
All of that is SO true!! Compared to when you were first starting out, how has entering the blogging profession and then staying there changed?
When I started, blogging was mostly a hobby where bloggers used their sites to exchange cooking ideas and pen their thoughts down. Creating a blog was as easy as creating an email id and publishing content was easier using free blogging platforms. Ever since, the blogging industry has exploded as blogging became a profession rather than a hobby, giving it a massive commercial twist.
“While the entry barriers to blogging are still quite low, staying relevant in blogging today equates to delivering top quality content frequently while keeping up with technological trends driven by user behavior, making data-driven decisions and staying focused.”
Relating that to what I do, blogging is my passion as I love food and photography while staying financially independent.
With that in mind, what kind of mindset is required for bloggers who really want to succeed? What does that mean for the blogging industry?
Can I just say, positive mindset? 🙂 Professional bloggers need to treat their site as a powerful content-delivery software product for which they are the CEO. They are here for the long haul as entrepreneurial mindset, technical awareness and willingness to learn constantly drive success in the long run. On a lighter note, professional blogging isn’t for the fainthearted :-).
In today’s blogging world, what does it take to create a loyal audience?
This might sound cliche, but audiences are loyal to bloggers who know exactly what their audiences want. Good bloggers consistently practice the following, keeping their audiences’ interests in mind:
1. Create quality visual and text content on-site and deliver it frequently on all relevant channels.
2. Respond to and implement reader feedback quickly while striving to improve constantly.
3. Ensure great user experience across all delivery platforms and devices.
Now for a fun questions, what do you consider your biggest success as a food blogger?
In terms of reader engagement and response, while quantity gives me a sense of direction, quality gives me a sense of accomplishment. I gauge my success quantitatively based on 11 years of blogging through dynamic times, 900+ genuine recipes and 275K+ social media followers internationally. However, when my readers try my recipes at home and they turn out excellent, I feel content for the moment and gain a great sense of accomplishment that encourages me deliver better content the next day!
What are your favorite three recipes fromBlendWithSpices.com?
Looks like I have a tough choice to make! I’ve chosen the following 3 recipes (with links) carefully based on my husband’s (who also is my recipe tester) feedback. Hope you give them a try!
2. South Indian Cilantro Lemon Rice
If you could tell bloggers who are just getting started one thing, what would it be?
I’d like to tell them many things, but first things first – Pick blogging only if you love every aspect of it, so you can enjoy the process and let the results be byproducts of your passion-filled journey. Stay focused and patient at all times!
When it comes to your blog, is content still king (or queen as we like to say!)?
My husband and I still have the occasional friendly argument over the king Vs. queen terminology 🙂 Let’s just say content is still the king while content accessibility from the user standpoint is the queen!
“Bring content to the digital doorstep of the user rather than expecting users to explore and find the content on their own.”
What role is technology playing in the maintainability and delivery of content?
Three main technological trends are heavily influencing the maintainability and delivery of content.
1. Mobile traffic has skyrocketed, overshadowing desktop traffic. Sites need to be device-agnostic with responsive designs.
2. To maintain a blog consistently in line with the technological changes, several service providers (e.g. Metadata, SEO plugins) have gained popularity by complementing content management systems such as WordPress.
3. Operations and incident management (e.g. load balancing, fixing technical conflicts between back-end code and that of a plugin) has gained popularity so the bloggers can focus on content creation and delivery instead of worrying about technical issues everyday.
Over the last 6 months, what new tool or tactic is working best for you to grow traffic and/or followers?
It’s hard to pinpoint one tactic that worked the best in 6 months, as I use multiple tools and tactics. However, I can say with some level of confidence that making data-driven decisions on creating and distributing quality content through specific channels and at specific times has definitely helped me engage my readers better. Google analytics throws a lot of data at bloggers, and that sometimes can throw us off focus. However, it is important to choose data points/KPIs that matter the most and diligently measure them for a certain period before making big changes.