I figured I should start out easy and that meant reaching out to Dan Berman. After working at ad agencies in San Francisco for more than a decade, Dan moved to Albany, New York to become a food blogger. From his home base in the deep, deep snow, Dan has crafted a reputation for insanely deep knowledge of tons of food topics on blog: The Fussy Little Blog.
I figured people have the questions about food covered, so I wanted to talk with him about the approach he has taken to building a popular blog, aside from writing great blog posts. Here is my interview:
1) How did you decide this topic? Was there a process you went through?
I’ve always enjoyed talking about food and sharing good food with others. I used to be very popular at my old ad agency for both assembling cheese plates for department tastings and bringing in some of the best pastry in the area for birthdays.
But the blog was the direct result of my moving to Albany, NY and arriving in a place where the expectations and standards of restaurant food were so much lower than what I had grown accustomed to in and around Berkeley, CA.
All the same, I was convinced that there was good food in Albany, and the trick would just be to find it. So I hit the ground running, and wrote Yelp reviews for every place that looked to have some promise. There were some hits but a lot of misses.
I found menus posted online to be a very good tool for determining whether or not to try a mid to high tier restaurant. It’s one thing to be fast and loose with cafés, pizzerias, and diners, but I am loath to spend a lot of money on a mediocre meal. And I believe you can tell a lot about a restaurant from how they present themselves on their menu.
The problem is that many of the menus were just awful.
And then all of a sudden Yelp was no longer sufficient for communicating the food issues that were important to me. I couldn’t review a restaurant without having eaten there. But on a blog, I can have an in depth analysis of a menu and explain why I don’t think a restaurant is worth the time, money and calories.
2) How did you pick the name? What was the process like for that?
In my early twenties I lived in a house with a few of my closest friends. Occasionally I make reference them on the blog as ADS and Raf. We are like family. And you can say things to family that you can’t say to other people.
Of the three of us Raf is the fussiest. And sometimes when it got out of control, we would call him a FLB. You can say these things to family. But you cannot really put that into a public space. So when I found that I could use the acronym and own the FUSSYlittleBLOG, I jumped on it.
Honestly, I couldn’t believe it was available. It was perfect.
It was broad enough that I could include a lot of different subjects. It also immediately establishes and justifies an editorial voice.
3) Did you have an explicit plan for building awareness of the “Fussy” brand? What was it? What worked best? What didn’t work? What would you do different? What has driven the most traffic for you?
My plan was to leverage my social networks and the relative local notoriety I had achieved by being the most prolific Yelper in Albany, NY.
And that worked pretty well.
I showed up to an AllOverAlbany.com event, and met their editors. When I introduced myself they said, “Daniel B.? You are the king of Yelp.” I assured them I was no king. But they featured my blog in a big way on their site, and that really helped me establish a local foothold like nothing else.
That relationship grew and grew. In the fall they selected me to be a judge for their 2009 Tournament of Pizza. And at the end of the year I was one of a few people profiled as “Interesting in 2009.”
At the same time I have been involved in the local food blogging community, reading and commenting on several prominent sites, and attending local food events.
But you never know what is going to yield a lot of traffic. My best-read post is “The Secret to Oddly Tender Chinese Meat.”
4) How far ahead have you planned for your posts? How far in advance are they generally written? Walk us through a typical week.
Planned? I did do a lot of planning in the beginning. I really wanted to make sure that all of my categories received equal amounts of love. Now that the blog is more populated with posts – well over 200 at this point – I worry less about that.
I do keep an ongoing list of post ideas. But more often than not, I’m not particularly in the mood to write about any of them, and go off and write something else instead. On a good week, I’ll sit down on Saturday night and map out the posts for the next week. Although to be honest, that hasn’t happened for a while.
Ideally I like to work with one post in the can. So on Monday morning I’ll sit down with Mrs. Fussy to copy-edit Tuesday’s post. Lately I’ve been writing them on a daily basis. Which means on Monday night I’ll be writing Tuesday’s post. It keeps the blog dynamic, but it’s exhausting. Luckily I don’t need too much sleep.
5) Why no ads? What is the revenue model? How has the store worked out?
I used to work in advertising because I hate ads. It’s a long story. But at my current traffic level I really don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze. I have no revenue model. The store is there to help contextualize some of the items I mention in posts, but I never had any illusions that it would be a profit center.
The FUSSYlittleBLOG isn’t a business, it’s a tool. I don’t quite yet know what the tool does, but I’m playing around with it, and hope to figure it out before too long.
6) How much of your traffic is local? How much is San Francisco? Do you regret not starting this in San Francisco?
My back of the napkin estimate tells me that 75% of my traffic is from within New York state. I have a bunch of my old peeps following the blog in San Francisco, but I also have friends who check in from all over the country. The blog is currently hosted on WordPress using a standard template, and as far as I can tell, I have no tools at my disposal to actually track users by geography.
It is a difficult balance between trying to affect change locally while still being appealing to a broader audience. This is one reason why I recently accepted a guest-posting slot on one of the blogs hosted by the major local newspaper.
Technically speaking, all of this did start in San Francisco. The region played a critical role in shaping my thoughts about food, wine and spirits. All I am doing is what many have done before in the past. Taking what they learned out west, and helping to spread it to the rest of the country.
In San Francisco I was much happier about food. But happy-about-food-blogs are a dime a dozen.
Pretty good stuff. I will admit, I didn’t exactly have hard-hitting questions. We will have to work up to that, I suppose.
One interesting thing I took away from this is his use of WordPress.com. While it is an incredibly easy way to start blogging, WordPress.com doesn’t support Google Analytics. I don’t think anyone that was trying to make money blogging could actually be happy with their analytics on WordPress.com. The fact that Dan kind of glosses over this implies to me that even someone like Dan, with tons of advertising experience, fits into that bucket of bloggers so happy to be blogging they have not really (as he says), thought seriously about monetization.
I did a great interview with Pioneer Woman after her big “Blog of the year” award at SXSW (which I subsequently lost to a hard drive crash). When I asked her what her CPMs were like, she said, “What are CPMs?” She barely knew how much money she made from her blog. This is the blog of the year, folks.