Advanced SEO for Food Bloggers: An Interview with Casey Markee

Casey Markee, the CEO of major PR firm Mediavestment, is an expert in all things related to digital marketing. He’s a highly educated and experienced food blogger who shares his insights on how to achieve high ranking for your blog posts and more.

When it comes to SEO areas that are very competitive, food blogging is often at the top. The competition is severe since there are so many comparable recipes, guidelines, and instructional videos. If you want to be successful as a food blogger, Casey Markee is the person to speak to.

Casey Markee is the Founder the digital consultancy  Media Wyse and the on-staff SEO Expert for Search Engine News and Food Blogger Pro. Casey has over 20 years experience in the fields of SEO & Digital Marketing and has trained digital marketing teams on five different continents.

1. You’ve worked with a number of food bloggers before. Could you tell us a little bit about the industry’s size?

I wish I could give you a sense of scale, but even I have trouble coming up with precise figures. There are millions of food blogs spanning dozens of culinary specializations, but there is no current demographic statistics on how many there are.

I’ve personally reviewed hundreds of blogs ranging from sweets to gluten-free recipes to vegetarian dishes to beef jerky to Indian food, but that just scratches the surface of what’s available in the niche.

2. Do you notice a lot of people failing to utilize AMP and Schema? And what is the repercussion?

Well, AMP hasn’t really taken off in the recipe world, and I wouldn’t suggest it to the great majority of food blogs.

For most recipe sites, AMP is inconvenient, difficult to deploy effectively, and gives a poor user experience. Furthermore, the primary purpose of AMP was to qualify for particular carousel consideration on mobile, but when Google stated that carousel benefits will be extended to non-AMP material, the necessity to switch to AMP waned significantly.

Although AMP provides a performance boost, for the typical food blogger, employing image compression, a great cache setup, a tier one server, and avoiding filling their sites with adverts is much than enough to counterbalance any apparent gain from converting pages to AMP versions. In reality, since Google’s mobile ranking upgrade in July 2018, an AMP-enabled recipe site has had no discernible performance advantage over a non-AMP-enabled recipe site.

However, for the ordinary food blogger, schema will always be of crucial significance, and getting it “correct” is what I fiercely target in my audits.

In the past, the food blogging sector has tended to DRIVE the majority of new schema modifications with Google. The recipe niche has been at the vanguard of all those advancements, from the introduction of JSON-LD syntax to the adoption of carousels to voice search optimization.

This makes sense since the development of rich snippets in search, which are visual expressions of structured data, is the lifeblood of recipe sites. How can you stand out in a search for a banana cream pie when there are so many various methods to make it? To raise the CTR of your current Google search snippet, enable breadcrumbs, completely enhance your recipe card to provide calories and cook time, and generate star ratings.

This is why it’s critical for bloggers to use the best plugins available. WP Recipe Maker and WP Tasty are head and shoulders above the competition thanks to their adherence to Google’s ever-changing schema standards, outstanding customer support, and optimization for WordPress’s next seismic change, Gutenberg.

3. What are some other typical SEO blunders you’ve seen among food bloggers?

Unfortunately, in the food blogging community, there is a lot of “herd mentality.” A larger or more successful blogger will make the mistake of telling another group of bloggers that “this is working for them” or “I was told to do this,” and other bloggers will take that advice or recommendation to heart, even if it is completely incorrect or contradicts Google’s public statements.

Take, for example, ALT Tags. For years, food bloggers have been grossly misinformed about ALT Tags. They were frequently advised that ALT Tags are used to repeat your most critical keywords or to squeeze taglines or Pinterest descriptions into them.

As you can expect, this was bad news for anyone who used accessibility tools like screen readers to “see” what was in the photographs; it was also in direct opposition to what Google has been suggesting for years (like in this 2007 video from Matt Cutts).

Fortunately, larger sites such as Pinch of Yum gradually recognized they were making similar errors in public and even established tools like Tasty Pins to help writers optimize for both Pinterest and Google. On each picture inserted in a recipe article, this program generates unique ALT Tags and Pinterest Attribute Descriptions.

What Google Is On The Lookout For

Another problem I often see is a failure to write for the user. Nowadays, most food blogs want to be the next AllRecipes.com. The issue is that most of the recipes on AllRecipes.com are genuinely terrible. They have little substance, a poor user-intent, and few images. They succeed, though, since AllRecipes.com has more than 99,000 linked root domains. Most people reading this don’t need me to inform them that “link equity” is still a key aspect of the Google algorithm.

The issue is that smaller blogs incorrectly believe that they, too, can produce these “thin content, low-user-intent sort of recipes” and hope to rank on Google’s first page. They are swiftly let down.

And educating bloggers how to use that method is the major emphasis of my auditing service.

4. I often come across a dish I’d want to evaluate, but there are so many advertising that I have to work hard to obtain the information I need – why is this so common? 

Unfortunately, all of that information isn’t available for free. Although most food bloggers begin their blogs as a pastime and because they are passionate about the topic, their ultimate objective is to provide for their family and to turn their hobby into a “company” if feasible. As a result, most food bloggers’ ultimate purpose is to monetize via advertisements.

However, as you said, the amount and frequency of advertising on desktop and mobile have risen SIGNIFICANTLY in recent years. It’s something I have to physically fight back against with many of the blogs I deal with as a site inspector. The majority of bloggers are at the mercy of the ad business they use.

“We have an algorithm that informs us how many adverts to use,” they are informed. Despite this, 9 times out of 10, the “algorithm” generates so many adverts that the user is sure to get physically disgusted. When you glance at the page and think to yourself, “Wow, that’s a lot of advertising,” you know it’s time to trim them down.

With adverts, I attempt to convince food bloggers that “less is more.”

Ad companies exist to monetize a site so the food blogger can make money. But they are also there to make THEMSELVES money as well. With adverts, I attempt to convince food bloggers that “less is more.” I have dozens of cases where I have convinced the bloggers to cut their ads by 20-50%, and their traffic has gone up 200-400%. It is like taking the parking brake off the site.

I sympathize with bloggers and want them to earn as much money as possible from their blogs. However, compromising user experience, page speed, or even basic logic in the sake of higher ad income is never a good idea.

5. With so many comparable recipes, what does it take to get a high ranking? 

That’s an excellent question! There are only so many ways to prepare a banana cream pie, as I indicated before. However, there is an ideal manner to deliver that material in order for it to have the highest chance of “sticking” on page one for such a competitive query.

The first is the content.

  • Is it possible to produce a good banana cream pie using this recipe?
  • Are the directions easy to understand?
  • Is there a step-by-step guide with images and instructions to help me make this dish right the first time?
  • Is there any user feedback on the recipe’s validity in the form of ratings or reviews?
  • Is it safe to trust this recipe and its author?

Second, there are technical elements that go into competitively rating a recipe.

  • Is the recipe using a good recipe plugin that creates the approved and recommended JSON-LD driven schema with all the necessary attributes?
  • Is the cook time, prep time, and nutritional information on the page properly marked-up and accessible to both users and Google?
  • What about the page’s loading time?
  • Is this website responsive on a normal 3G or 4G connection?

The difference in ranking between a page with a 20-second Time To Interactive load time and one with a 40-second Time To Interactive load time cannot be overstated. What’s the deal with the Speed Index? If at all feasible, a good recipe page should have a Speed Index of 10-13 seconds. In the grand scheme of things, someone with a Speed Index of 20 or above may struggle to compete.

Finally, what elements from outside the site contribute to this recipe’s ranking?

A site like AllRecipes.com has a lot of earned authority and credibility, and each of their recipes generally has dozens, if not hundreds, of distinct linked sites. Is it possible to compete with that?

Parade Magazine’s Community Table, the Huffington Post’s Huffington Post, or Better Homes and Gardens’ Better Homes and Gardens?

For the ordinary recipe blogger, the idea is to BUILD-UP their proven skill. As a result, their recipes will have an elevated degree of success in Google.

6. How would you advise a food, DIY, or lifestyle blogger on who to turn to for SEO advice?

As you and I both know, the degree of advice, experience, and service you will get from an SEO who is not involved in a certain business differs significantly. And, as they say, your mileage may vary.

If I ran a food blog, for example, I would seek guidance from someone who does a lot of audits in that sector or talks at food-related conferences on the subject. I’d also want to find someone who is active in culinary, DIY, or lifestyle forums who is willing to offer their time to answer queries from that demographic. You’ll want someone who is invested in the niche’s development, not simply in filling their own calendars or selling a course.

You should also avoid receiving advise from marketing agencies or SEOs that specialize in a field where they don’t have real-world experience to offer with culinary, DIY, or lifestyle blogs. Someone whose advise may be of little use in addressing your requirements is an in-house SEO for an e-commerce firm or someone attempting to sell a self-starter course and performing minimal “hands-on” SEO work.

Above all, don’t be scared to do a Google search. Where has SEO been mentioned? Where did they get their information? Do you see any citations from inside the niche in which they’re offering advice?

Check out their reviews as well. Look for REAL-WORLD comments on a Facebook or LinkedIn profile. If they know what they’re talking about, they’ll have hundreds of real-life instances to show you that this person (or gal) can be trusted!

7. Are there any Google misconceptions that bloggers should be aware of?

Wow, there are quite a few. I just recorded a podcast about SEO fallacies, which you may find useful. But, in a nutshell, these are my top three that I often encounter with audit clients:

1. Bounce Rate Is a Ranking Factor: Google has said that bounce rate is a murky signal that is insufficiently accurate to be used for ranking reasons. Google has said openly that they do not utilize Google Analytics data in their algorithm, and we have found no evidence that a food site with a 90% bounce rate performs better than a food blog with a 60% bounce rate.

Furthermore, a high bounce rate may indicate that a person discovered exactly what they were looking for and then left the website. I often use the Google inquiry Is it Christmas. If you type in this query into Google, you’ll see that the same website, https://isitchristmas.com/, has been #1 for years. And if you go to this page, you’ll see that it’s a one-word webpage that reads “No” every day of the year, with the exception of December 25th.

Users don’t click through to any other pages on this site, hence it has a 100% bounce rate. That’s an excellent illustration of why most food bloggers shouldn’t be concerned about bounce rate.

2. That Google has a minimum word count requirement: This is a common one I receive from food bloggers, based on our “one-word website” example above. They’re constantly urged to write lengthier content, usually by their ad agencies. Because “longer content” is more effective. On the contrary, better content, not lengthier material, performs better.

What I’ve seen is that ad firms want bloggers to produce longer articles so that they may STUFF THE CONTENT WITH MORE Advertising; they want bloggers to write longer posts so that they can display more in-stuff ads, not necessarily because the blogger has more qualifying content to convey.

As Google has said several times, they prefer to prioritise quality material than quantity. There are research that demonstrate that lengthier material performs better. However, none of them address the recipe, DIY, or lifestyle niches. I know because I’ve looked. In the end, bloggers should focus on “filling the demands of their user” rather than “word count.” It may be 200 words in some recipe entries, but it may be 1000 words or more in others.

The appropriate word count for a recipe should be whatever you need to deliver the relevant information to a user at that point in time.

3. That you should avoid using Jump/Print Recipe Buttons: This is a hot topic among food bloggers. These buttons have been popular in recent years as a method for food bloggers to cater to the demands of their readers. And by that, I mean that there are a lot of people who simply want to go to the recipe card in a post, particularly on mobile. Food bloggers may give a means for readers in a hurry to get to the most important information on the page, the recipe card, by placing Jump/Print Buttons at the top of recipes.

As you may expect, ad agencies despise this concept since it has the potential to reduce viewability ratings and revenue. And because you enable visitors to JUMP PAST a lot of advertising to get to what they’re searching for, this is quite likely to happen.

But do you have any idea who is crazy about these buttons? Google! That’s because it’s the clearest example of YOU, the blogger, attempting to address the requirements of your readers.

You will always be rewarded if you match the demands of your users (especially those who are in a hurry and want to maximize their time on your site). For these reasons, I strongly support the usage of these buttons on both mobile and desktop platforms. You don’t need to “trap people” and have them read everything to get to your recipe card if your content is excellent. They’ll read what you’ve written. Simply have trust.

I usually cite the example of my wife, an immigration attorney who spends her lunch hour looking at recipes. She like discovering sites that utilize the buttons because she is short on time and wants to “qualify” it by going straight to the recipe card and deciding two things: do I have time to prepare this meal today, and do I have the ingredients? She may devote more time to the recipe after she meets those requirements.

I have hundreds of instances of sites that have used these buttons to generate more traffic and revenue than they ever had before. And that makes great sense; you’ll be more successful if you make it simple for people to execute tasks.

8. How are bloggers supposed to keep up with all of the algorithm updates? 

This is a significant one since the fundamental upgrades that Google began rolling out on August 1st had a negative effect on a number of bloggers this summer. I feel this is where a good tool like SEMrush may help, since you can monitor these adjustments in your user account’s Notes area.

There’s a lot of useful information there about “increased activity” linked to certain indexes, as well as general comments on Google’s known and undisclosed improvements.

Marie Haynes’ amazing Google Algorithm Update History website is also worth bookmarking. She does an outstanding job of following and updating Google algorithmic changes that have been reported or suspected, as well as giving links to further information where available. It’s a resource I often share with my bloggers.

Food Bloggers’ Key Takeaways

  • For the great majority of food bloggers, Casey does not endorse AMP.
  • The typical food blogger will always place a premium on schema.
  • Take the necessary actions to improve the CTR of your current Google search snippet.
  • Avoid adopting a “herd mentality.”
  • Smaller blogs may and can compete with and overcome bigger sites, but you must provide Google with what they need.
  • While monetization with advertisements is a typical end goal for most food bloggers, there are several pitfalls to avoid in order to retain your audience.
  • Ad agencies can’t provide you content recommendations since their aims aren’t the same as yours.
  • Check out Casey’s advice on how to bring your recipe to the top of the search results. 
  • Avoid the SEO fallacies.
  • Stuff that is longer isn’t necessarily the greatest content.
  • To stay up with algorithm updates, use resources. 

I’d want to thank Casey for spending so much time with us and addressing our questions. Please leave any questions for him in the comments section below, or you can reach him on Twitter.

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