Why Food Blog SEO Isn’t Magic
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Readers, hello! A little change of pace today.
It’s been years since I’ve talked about the “blogging” process here, but in the interest of helping any food bloggers out there, I’m sharing something different today: a Q&A with one of the co-founders of Foodie Digital, a company I’ve been working with for a little over a year now.
As I reflect on 2019, I realize the biggest mistake I’ve made as a food blogger is this: Not getting help sooner.
I love cooking, photographing, and writing, which was what food blogging was 13 years ago, when I started. Today, it’s so different; there’s so much more: social media, SEO (search engine optimization), email, to name a few. Outsourcing work is an investment, yes, but it’s foolish to think you can do it all yourself or, I should say, to think you can do it all well yourself.
Foodie Digital focuses on WordPress support and SEO for food bloggers, and before I was introduced to them at the end of 2018, if you asked me if I thought I needed SEO help, I would have said: what’s that?
I was clueless. Before we dive in, let’s start from the top …
My Introduction to Foodie Digital
A little over a year ago, an old friend put me in touch with a woman, Liane Walker, who was in the early phases of a tech start-up.
We chatted, and while the conversation was nice, I hung up the phone thinking we would never speak again. At that point, I had been blogging for 12 years, and I felt I could mostly handle my blogging responsibilities.
As a thank you for my time, Liane took a peek into my google analytics, then gave me a few simple tasks I could do to 7 of my posts, which she said were performing well, but which she thought could be performing better.
I made the suggested changes, which included things like edits to body copy, to blog post titles, and to the meta description (a field I mostly had neglected). And while change didn’t happen overnight, within a month or so, I noticed a considerable difference in how these posts were performing. One of these posts, in fact, has since become one of the biggest drivers of organic traffic* to my blog.
Upon seeing this change, I signed up immediately to work with Foodie Digital. And as soon as I did, I realized how poor of a handle I had on my blogging “responsibilities.”
My site, in fact, was kind of a mess: it was filled with broken links and unnecessary plugins; it had a messy, unfriendly organizational structure; and it was slow (to name just a few of the issues). Foodie Digital’s work began here, tackling all of these technical issues. When they felt the site was structurally sound, we began the SEO repair work by targeting the high-impact opportunities first (i.e. posts receiving the most traffic). This work was followed by manageable monthly assignments, which I still do today: every month I “repair” 5 posts, posts the Foodie Digital team sees potential in based on analytics/performance.
From the start, Liane has emphasized this idea: “It’s not woo-woo. If you do the work, things will happen, and it might be a slow-burn, but it will work.”
A year later, I can tell you this: it works. My organic traffic* has more than doubled in one year; my pageviews have reached an all-time high.
*Why organic traffic, meaning the visitors who find your website after using a search engine like Google as opposed to being “referred” by any other website, is important is explained below.
Q&A With Foodie Digital’s Liane Walker
1. Can you give people a quick background on your story? How did you get into this? Why food blogs in particular?
I had the idea for Foodie Digital in March 2018. I was in a very full season of life—3 kids under 5, I was just starting to feel the fog of my postpartum anxiety lift, and I was working remotely on 2 big corporate contracts. I was happy and tired, but fulfilled and slowly starting to feel like my clear-thinking self again.
I was doing a lot of nutrition-related research at the time as a systems analyst, and noticed that the online recipe content I was looking at was broken.
Every food blog and nutrition-related site I visited had something—gaps in structured data, slow page speed, piles of broken links, unoptimized posts, tags that were indexed that shouldn’t be, a jumbled mess of categories. You name it.
I wasn’t sure why stuff was broken though—there are so many e-courses and blog posts out there about tech support, SEO, page speed and more. So I signed-up for three different SEO courses to see if the material was any good for food bloggers.
Honestly, I didn’t finish any of the courses.
I couldn’t justify spending 40 hours watching pre-recorded videos, and the content was so boring. I had school lunches to make and laundry to fold; I wanted to exercise. I wanted to meal prep. I wanted to spend time with my husband, and friends, after the kids were in bed.
As someone who loves SEO and deconstructing content, I knew that if I didn’t feel like taking these e-courses, a lot of other women probably felt the same way.
My first phone call about Foodie Digital was to my friend Carla Ullrich, the single most talented web developer I’ve ever worked with. Carla is a master in the kitchen, and knows her way around a recipe. I told her what I’d noticed, and after a few days of looking at this stuff on her own she called me back and said, “This is crazy. I’m in; when do we start?”.
She was so sure that we could help. I had a co-striver!
That same afternoon I posted a message on Facebook asking if any of my friends knew someone who runs a food blog.
Alexandra’s Kitchen, plus a handful of other food blogs, showed up in the thread. I reached out to everyone in the list, and heard back from all of the food bloggers right away.
The first time you and I spoke you were walking home after dropping your kids off at school. I also fit phone calls in after I drop my kids off at school because—like you— I need to juice every small pocket of time I get.
Instantly I knew Carla and I were on to something. Those 40 hour-long e-courses were not meeting the needs of the women who run food blogs.
They were too long, too complicated, too boring, and the tactics were too hard to implement at home alone behind the computer.
Six short months later, Foodie Digital incorporated.
2. How is your approach different than other SEO companies?
Gosh, so different. Results are great and necessary, but at the end of the day we want our members—all of which are women—to feel seen and heard. We’re building a real community, and without those two things the soufflé will fall.
We also focus 100% on food, nutrition and recipe content.
And we do both tech support and SEO.
Tech support and SEO converge all the time but for way too long they’ve been considered separate practices. We’re changing that and giving food bloggers holistic one-stop shop WordPress support. Our development team knows SEO and our SEO team knows HTML.
We also communicate clearly, openly and with intention. No smoke and mirrors.
And we’re loads of fun! Right?
3. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a food blog? Is there space for another blog?
Niching is super important. So is patience.
Also—new or seasoned—it’s important to send clear signals to Google about who you are, what you do, and what you’re an authority in.
E-A-T, which stands for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness is real, and applies to the content that’s created as well as the person who creates the content.
If you’re like “Liane, back-up, what’s E-A-T?” set aside 10 minutes and read this helpful post from Moz (a trusted source of all things SEO) about E-A-T and SEO.
4. What are some of the biggest mistakes you see bloggers making?
We’ve audited and provided technical WordPress support for loads of sites and cleaned-up a lot of technical missteps. Based on what we’ve seen, here are 4 mistakes a lot of food bloggers make (all 4 are easy to solve with the right support):
- A lack of focus on speed, and choosing a WordPress web host too quickly.
- Improperly indexed taxonomies, like tags and paginated content.
- Incomplete structured data, and not using Google Search Console to your advantage.
- Relying on a single traffic source, rather than diversifying traffic sources.
5. What is some of the low-hanging fruit bloggers could/should be tackling?
- Definitely register for Google Search Console
- Audit your list of plugins
- Optimize and compress images
- Get help with performance optimization
1. Register for Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a power tool for food blog SEO and recipe structured data. The tool has a ton of valuable data, and configured correctly, search console shows you all of the keywords that send traffic to your food blog. And it’s completely free.
2. Audit your list of plugins
We have yet to meet a new Foodie Digital member that isn’t hanging on to a few unused, deactivated plugins. Unused plugins can negatively affect your website’s loading speed, which is an important ranking factor for SEO. It’s easy to forget about deactivated or unused plugins so audit your plugin list every few months and remove what’s unused.
3. Optimize and compress images
Optimized and compressed images impact site speed and performance by reducing the size of each image in a post or on a page while still delivering high-quality images. If you have a library of uncompressed images, install an image compression plugin. We use several image compression plugins at Foodie Digital, but ShortPixel is a favorite.
4. Performance optimization
If you want to have a shot at ranking on the first page of Google your site needs to load in under 3 seconds. At best, performance optimization is a puzzle. If there’s one area of tech support that’s worth every penny, this is it.
6. Why do you care so much about organic traffic?
Increasingly each publishing channel wants different things from you. Exhausting but true. For example, Instagram and Facebook don’t generate the volume of traffic back to sites that they used to, so food bloggers have to be mindful of how much time and attention they give each channel, and which ones actually impact on-site traffic and their bottom line. In a way, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have become silos. Necessary silos, but silos still.
This puts added importance on food blog SEO and earning traffic for your food blog from Google and other search engines that you can optimize your recipes for, like Pinterest, Google Discover, and Bing.
Knowing your pages per session by channel will help you make decisions about the channels (organic search or otherwise) that actually move the dial for you.
Based on the mountains of data I’ve looked at over the years, organic visitors tend to have among the highest pages per session, they dwell on page the longest, and they’re more likely to rate and review a recipe when it matches their search intent.
It’s also an excellent source of passive traffic, unlike Instagram which requires a ton of TLC.
7. Why do you care about returning visitor percentage?
Best question! I LOVE talking about returning visitor/reader percentage. I think it’s the single most important health metric for a food blog.
You have to know how loyal your readers are. It’s one of the key success metrics that we track for Foodie Digital members.
Although there aren’t really comprehensive benchmarks out there on the ideal returning visitor/reader percentage for a food blog, at Foodie Digital we generally believe that if your rate is under 16% your editorial strategy needs some refreshing.
If your returning visitor/reader percentage is 25% or higher you’re publishing food and recipe content that’s meeting the needs of your community.
8. Best piece of advice you’ve received?
Assume positive intent. It’s a game changing way to work.
9. Any warnings you want to give bloggers?
This is really important—today food bloggers have to hedge themselves and their businesses against algorithm changes and other updates that are outside of their control.
Earlier this year, on March 3rd, 2019, you lost a rich snippet for a top-ranked recipe. At the time of writing this, you still haven’t gotten it back. The clickthrough and conversion rate for that post has dropped significantly since March 3rd, as you know.
But with all of the traffic-generating work we’ve done together in the last year, you’ve weathered the loss of the rich snippet well.
Even with the loss, you’ve more than doubled your organic traffic in one year with the Foodie Digital method by diversifying your traffic sources and earning organic traffic from a wider range of recipes rather than a small handful of high-performing posts.
10. What are you working on at Foodie Digital that has you excited? As in: what do you see for the future? Grand plans? etc.
I can’t reveal too much, but I’m excited about something big that we’re developing for recipe ratings and reviews. (Hint hint: you plug [it] in).
Also, we’re super committed to member success and making Foodie Digital fun. A retreat somewhere sunny where our members can information share, cook up a storm, and be inspired by each others brilliance is definitely in the grand plans.
Thank you, Liane!
Readers: In closing, I’d just like to say I really, really love working with Foodie Digital. They’re thoughtful, organized, proactive, and so, so knowledgeable. This post focuses on their SEO work, but their work extends way beyond SEO… I may have to do a follow-up post.