I had come across Rahul Prabhakar’s work when I became a part of a bloggers group and I was really impressed by the quality of work that he has been doing. So I, with much apprehension, approached him for an interview and was super excited to get a Yes for an answer.
Rahul’s blogging journey has been for over a decade. He started blogging in 2006 and that makes him a very experienced blogger. Also, the quality of work that we get to see on his blog is just amazing. So I thought it would be great if he could share some of his experience with us and we could get some inspiration and insights as well.
So here is how the interview went. (Note: I had to edit the conversation in some parts because it would become too lengthy for the readers. However, I have kept the original words of the conversation so as to not lose the essence of the interview.)
After the greetings and a bit of chit chat, we started with the interview.
Me: Rahul, walk us through your blogging journey. From how you started to where you are today. Tell us everything.
Rahul: When I was in South Korea, I started writing blogs as a way to keep my family updated on my life here. But later there was a magazine editor who approached me. The circulation and the distribution of this magazine was huge. So the editors started approaching me and said that they have seen my blog and that I write very well and if I would like to write for their magazine. I said ok. I was not sure what was happening. I didn’t even plan my blog. It was a very arbitrary way of reaching out to my folks in India but when the blog started gaining traction, I was surprised that this could reach out to potentially so many people and my blog was getting so much significance. So I was invited to write for this magazine and I started writing columns for them. So that is how the visibility became much more. But when I really started taking the blog seriously is when “Korea Tourism Organisation”, they had organized a blogging tour and it was a large group of people, mostly bloggers and influencers from all over the world. They were living in Korea. Some of them were students some of them were working and some were professional journalist. And I was invited and I was the only person from India. So they took us to places within Korea which even locals didn’t have access to. It was a road trip for 3 to 4 days and we were given the tour of the “Confucian Culture of Korea” during the Japanese colonization. Korean’s kind of developed their own culture and some bits about how the language evolved so it was very interesting for me and I was surprised to be in a good company and thought that “ok” my blog is taking me places and that’s when I started realizing that there can be more to this whole writing thing and that I must start taking my writing a bit seriously. So that’s how my blogging started. Once I started more regularly, I started getting more information required, I started writing for “Seoul Metropolitan Government“. I was invited on radio to speak about my blogging skills so lots of great things started to happen. I was also on TV where they did a feature on me like how a guy from India came and took a group of bloggers to Seoul. So I was really enjoying that short stint of fame in Korea. Suddenly from a non-journalism background, I was all over the place. It was fantastic. So that’s how I started.
Me: Its awesome to be recognized in a foreign country that to where media and people have started knowing you and you have become famous.
Rahul: Ya, and there were perks also. So initially I didn’t commercialize the blog as such. So I was not really writing for brands per say and no PR was involved but there were definitely perks and incentives. Like I got hitched in 2006 and suddenly these magazines started saying why don’t you write for us. Well the magazine had the first publishing right and then I could leverage it on my blog, and then they said they would pay for my 5star hotel bills and all. So I was like this is cool. My wife and I would love to stay in 5star and dine in good restaurants and it was really exciting. So this is how I started. Also the fact that I was meeting so many new and interesting people from different countries and walks of lives and my horizon was rising.
Me: So Rahul, when you write about any topic or thing that comes to your mind, how do you go about. From topic to concept and putting it to words, how do you streamline your blog?
Rahul: So I am still very old school. I carry a diary and pen and people think why is he coming with a typical journalistic mindset. But that is how it is for me. I am a sucker for details. That’s why you see my blogs are detailed and I cover minutest of details. Also, I want to make sure to paint a holistic picture. So I like to sit with the stakeholders of the property, or chef, if I am going to a restaurant or the general manager of the hotel or somebody who could give me a walk through of their business. I want to have a different spin. Everyone has their own spin to the same story. So I want to experience and then write. I have few standard questions, which are common for all and I keep on adding to that list. Also, since I am a trained photographer, I take pictures but it takes a lot of time so I have stared making videos. I don’t post them generally on Instagram but normally post on Facebook. So when I interview a chef, I really want to get to know that person inside out. Lot of these people are so talented and some of them come from such different and humble background and made it to the top. I want to give due credit to them by sharing about them. I generally go live also when I am at a property. So I try to make sure, I give it my best shot and not just standard food writing.
Me: What should be the frequency of posting on a blog? How frequently do you post to keep it up and running.
Rahul: This is one area where I am guilty as charged. I have not been posting very frequently. But ideally it should be 1 or 2 post in a week. If you really want your readers to come back on your blog again and again, that’s how much you should be posting. And there is no such thing as word limit of 1k or 10k words. If you can post relevant content like in 500 to 800 words and maybe some days pictures and some days videos to stand out from the clutter of too much content, just keep it relevant, that is good. But I would suggest frequency should be 2 blogs per week. I was following that up until I got a new job in April and then my frequency dropped. Till then I was publishing about 8 blogs every month. This year my frequency has not been that great. I have only published 16 blogs so far. Now we are on 7thmonth so its like average 2 blogs a month but last year it was good as I published almost 55 blog which was more than average of 4 blogs a month. So its been going up and down and highest being 66 in 2016. So year to year I have been publishing around 60 blogs to an average of 5 blogs a month but my blogs are very detailed. I like to write long post and also editing takes time and now I have started doing videos as well so editing will take time plus I have a full time job too.
Me: How do you manage to attract traffic to your page? Some specific words, hashtags and links that you use to get footfall on your blog.
Rahul: So one of the things that I do everytime I publish a blog is I cross post it at different blogging groups. Most important thing is that if you think that you just write a blog and your work is done, that’s not the way to go about it. To manage traffic you will have to be selfish about it. People will say “you are doing publicity” but if you have great content people should read about it. So no harm on going and publishing on different groups, in fact they will like reading it. I generally go to the food groups which are very active and in my region and post on these groups. It’s the 1stthing that I do. 2ndthing I do is to make sure that whenever I write, I accentuate my reach through social media. Like I have a great picture, so I post on Instagram and say this is my blog link and if you like the picture you can go to my bog and read about it or do a story with a swipe up link.
Me: So do you think hashtags work? Using hashtags in your blogs because that’s one thing I have seen people using a lot.
Rahul: I think it helps on social media but not on blogs. What you can do is use key words, which are recommended by Google. But I don’t think hashtags specifically help on the blogs. I do use labels from time to time so its easier for people to search.
ME: So from getting footfall, how do you churn them into followers?
Rahul: So people who are loyal to your blog, they will always stick to you. You should start doing reverse engineering that you want to reach to more people so what are you writing about so that more people come to your blog? So I am happy with 300 to 400 people a month. My readership on the blog varies from 20k to 50k unique page views and sometimes even higher if the post goes viral. But I am fine with same set of people coming to my blog for meaningful content.
ME: Some people think blogging is an easy way to make money online. Your views on this? Should people get into blogging just to make easy money or is it a platform for genuine writers who are not thinking about money.
Rahul: Actually a lot of people are very disillusioned if they are coming for money. That’s the reason why there is so much negativity and hate on social media because people want to bring other people down and this is leading to a lot of unrest. If there is a niche you are creating with your blog, which has a perceived value, brands are going to pay. Pay will vary from person to person but there is a risk that you may not make that much money that you made in a full time job. I would be surprised if some one said they make a living out of blogging. They will be handful of people who are doing that and may have millions of followers but people like me in 14 yrs of journey, no doubt have made great money, not denying, but its never been enough. Like the money I make in corporate world.
There is no harm in earning money. You scale up and see gradual improvement in your work also but it’s also a question of why the brand is coming to you? Because they see you as blogger with reach or because you have authority in that particular subject.
Me: Lets talk about pictures for blogs. How important are good images for a blog?
Rahul: Its very critical. I will tell you why. No1. everyone has a phone. No2. All think they are great photographers. No3. Lots of apps for great editing are available. So there is a lot of focus on pictures and editing. The angle, background, lighting, props specially for food blog you need great pictures.
Me: Yes Rahul I see you have amazing pictures on your blog. I always wonder how do you mange to get such good pictures.
Rahul: First thing is you need to learn photography. 2ndthing is you need to invest in a good DSLR and third thing is this will not happen with the help of single person. You can do substandard work with taking pictures from phone. You should really invest in photography to get good shots. Know how to capture pictures with props and lighting techniques and take help of other people. It’s an absolute mandate for food and travel bloggers to get good pictures otherwise the thing wont look appealing.
Me: Being a blogger means writing your own thing but we often see Plagiarism/ Copy paste content on Blogs and videos and no credit being give. So what do you think about it. How should one differentiate from being inspired by other to plagiarizing?
Rahul: 1stthing is plagiarism is a strict no no. Originality is very important. You could repurpose content. You may have stumbled upon a blog or magazine and find merit in writing about the same thing but please be original about it. So repurposing could be ok if you get the gist from original blog and you write it on blog but I would say you should have an experiential take on what you are writing. You just cannot write something because someone else has written about it. I see a lot of these bloggers who copy paste content from Google and pictures and all and they don’t even give credit to the original source. That’s not the right way to go. Like if you have not even sat inside or driven the car, you cannot write about it. Sooner or later your reality will come out. I think the problem with social media is that this world is very unforgiving. As soon as you make a mistake they will not give you another chance to bounce back and they label you as someone who is a plagiarist and your blogging career is over.
Me: Most challenging part about blogging that you have faced.
Rahul: People need to learn to say no. Only problem here is between demand and supply. If you say no other 1000 will do the same campaign for free also. So the bloggers are being exploited by brands and the PR’s have become rude and they know how the game is played and bloggers are partly to be blamed. Also a lot of journalist now have moved from journalism and started writing blogs and transitioned from this and moved to social media and opened YouTube pages so the numbers are going to rise and journalist have much more connection and know how the game is played so its only going to get worsened if bloggers don’t take a stand. Also, there should be a body for any bad practice in this sector. And there are PR agencies who want to get work done at any cost so this happens a lot of times and lot of times they are to be blamed for taking the money and not passing it to bloggers.
Me: Any tips for budding bloggers. Any advise?
Rahul: My advise to budding bloggers is do not be in blogging for short term gains. Build the body of work that would be in your field of interest and choose the topic that you can communicate with for long time and with passion. That’s my only piece of advice. If you are in for short-term gains, gradually brands will not approach you, as they will realize that spending money on you is not worth it. Once in a while you may get lucky but in longer run you will be disappointed. So its very important to first understand that why you are here. Are you here for quick money or for your passion and if you are really passionate about any genre then you should write about it and also be innovative about it. Look at different ways to grow like I have now started to go for podcasting. Different people will do blogging for different reasons. So find out your reason. So if you, being a mom blogger write such that helps other moms and when I write about food I do it like job as it’s an extension of my passion. Blogging is a low hanging fruit. Any one with a smart phone can be a blogger. But hard work goes in good quality content and without even asking for something. When I started blogging, the whole point of commercialization never appeared to me. I saw it like a diary for me. The whole part about working for PR has corroded the blogging world.
Thank you so much Rahul for your time and I am really glad we did this interview and I really appreciate your work and the way you present your work to your readers. Thanks a lot.