Ramya Menon
Jun 1, 2016 · 12 min read

Some of the things that we are constantly asked by food bloggers who are looking to grow their food blogs into successful business models, are these: How can I get my food blog’s SEO right? What should I be doing to get Google’s attention? How do I build backlinks? How do I deal with keyword competition?

Well, now we have got all the answers for you thanks to the SEO guru for food bloggers all over the world: Casey Markee.

One of the premier SEO experts in North America, Casey is the Founder of Digital Agency Media Wyse and the On-Staff SEO Expert for Food Blogger Pro. He has over 16 years experience in the field of SEO and has trained internet marketing teams on five different continents. Casey has conducted dozens of audits on some of the top food blogs in the world. Elise Bauer with SimplyRecipes, Jaden and Scott Hair with SteamyKitchen and Bjork Ostrom with FoodBloggerPro are just a few of the many well-known bloggers and blogs with which he has consulted. He has spoken at dozens of conferences including Food Bloggers Canada, Camp Blogaway, SMX Advanced, Pubcon and more.

Here he is going to tell us all about what you can do to fine tune the SEO game on your food blog. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Linkedin for more information.

When it comes to optimising your content for SEO, could you explain a little bit about long tail keywords.What does it really mean? How does it help a food blogger? And how slow/fast would these results be for a blogger?

A “long tail keyword” is just a three, four or more word phrase that is very specific to what you are selling or targeting. Since the use of long tail keyword phrases by searchers involves a highly involved intent, these tend to convert much higher than shorter keyword phrases and usually have much lower search volume.

For food bloggers, understanding what these long tail keywords are, and referencing them in their content, will help not only attract more traffic to recipes but attract a visitor who is going to be much more engaged on an average.

As for results, optimizing for long tail keywords is a low investment strategy that can have immediate benefits as soon as you hit publish!

If you were looking to take advantage of long tail keywords in your content I would start first with a tool like www.hittail.com. This tool (paid) is a great way to analyze the existing long tail keywords your content is generating. I would also pay particular attention to your Google Search Query information within your Google Search Console. Study that information and pull out the referral data being generated, then use that to refine future content options.

2. You have been a big advocate of building backlinks. Now how does one go about building backlinks, especially for a new blogger? And how important is the authority of the website that links to your blog?

Backlinks are still THE end all be all with Google. Links are the most important part of the Google algorithms, more importantly, links from unique linking root domains. In other words, how many individual sites or food blogs do you have linking back to your own blog. Sites like Simply Recipes and The Pioneer Woman have thousands of unique linking root domains. Basically, that means they get a big leg up in Google on everything they initial publish.

For link building it’s all about two things: content and promotion. Everyone is putting up beautiful photography and unique twists on recipes. That’s just not enough. You have to come up with a “hook” or long-form content pieces that pull in a lot of links naturally. A good “hook” example would be the income and expense reports that Bjork and Lindsay Ostrom started years ago at Pinch of Yum. These ended up being extremely popular and to this day, still generate dozens of new links each time they are published. That one vehicle alone has greatly helped propel the site to its current heights.

Another example would be long form content pieces like this How to Start a Food Blog piece or this Everything You Need to Know about Food Blogging resource. These are the kind of detailed content options that will pull in links more easily and do so long-term.

Bloggers need to mix in more of this type of evergreen content along with their regular recipe and lifestyle posts.

But the content itself is just the first step; then you have to promote it. That means sending it out to your email list and running some simple Facebook Ads and boosted posts or even submitting it into a site like Stumbleupon to viralize it a little more effectively. There are over 2 million blog posts published each day, to get your content to stand-out you must invest some time and money into your strongest efforts. Do that, and the links will come.

Finally, authority is not something the average food blogger should worry about. Sure, a domain authority site of 30+ would be a good target, as well as making sure those links are in the end FOLLOWED so you can garner some ranking authority, but in the end any link is a ‘good link’ it if sends you quality traffic.

3. How effective are link parties for building links? There are rumours that most of these are actually “no-follow” links or that they are changed into no follow links after a while.

First, checking whether a link is followed or nofollowed is a simple matter of downloading a quality browser plugin. I recommend the NOFOLLOW add-on for Chrome and the NoDoFollow add-on for Firefox. All food bloggers should have one of those installed in their browser whenever possible for this very purpose. Again, a nofollow link passes NO AUTHORITY with Google. So it’s important to be able to view those in real-time.

As for link parties, no, I’m not a fan. These parties are entirely reciprocal linking in nature: you link to me and I link to you. In fact, these would really fall under the “excessive link exchange” link scheme section of the Google Guidelines. Because of that, they have very limited value with Google. I would use them cautiously, nofollow the links, and if they aren’t sending you any traffic, stop them all together.

4. When you are linking to other articles in your blog, does that affect SEO in any way?

Internal linking does provide SEO value in that it creates new link paths for users AND provides you the ability to tell Google where your most important content is for consideration.

Good internal linking has a lot of benefits including; increased crawl rates by Google, ability to highlight new events and content by linking from existing popular content, provides enhanced resources or related content to your readers, and most importantly you can INCREASE the ranking of certain pages by linking to it with a target anchor text.

That last strategy above, linking to pages with target anchor texts, is an important one. If you have a recipe on your site for “banana cream pie” then you want to make sure you link to that recipe via the anchor phrase “banana cream pie” from other related recipes on your site OR as would be helpful to readers as they are reading your content. These internal links reinforce that “banana cream pie” recipe and the root authority of your site will help push that recipe higher algorithmically.

All Cucumbertown Powered Blogs Facilitate an Excellent Internal Linking System

5. How can one find a balance between chasing trending keywords and fighting competition from the big bloggers. I mean, even though I may really want to do a hugely popular stuffed brownie recipe, mine is going to be lost in the crowd if a Pioneer Woman or Simply Recipes does the same, right?

This is a good question and one of the BEST ways to combat this is to research and publish a recipe that has your own unique “twist or spin.” Even better, you want to research the questions people may be asking around this recipe and seek to ask and answer those questions specifically in your content.

A fantastic way to accomplish this is with a tool like www.answerthepublic.com. Use that tool to type in the root keyword of your proposed recipe. See what questions users have had about that topic and what they are searching for in Google. Then, pick out those questions and make sure that YOUR recipe asks and answers these in a way that sets your recipe apart. Even better, is that if you do this well, you can generate these new Featured Snippets in Google at Position Zero which can lead to a boatload of traffic.

Google wants to rank complete pieces of content in competitive verticals like recipes. More than just putting together a recipe, consider also including a section in that recipe with popular questions that users may encounter when preparing that recipe. That to Google, is SEO gold!

6. How important is the meta description in terms of SEO? Is it more to do with increasing CTR or does it also have a role in where your recipes shows up on google search?

You NEVER want to leave the META Description blank. If you do, Google will just pull up the first crawlable text from the page and in most cases, that’s not a great user experience. Whenever possible, you want to control how your site appears in Google. There is no easier way to do that then filling out a quality META Description that tells the user in simple terms “this is what you are looking for, stop scrolling!”

The text seen under the title and rating is what you assign as the meta description

META Descriptions are not used algorithmically by Google but as you said, it can increase CTR and although Google says it doesn’t use CTR in the search results to re-rank results, there is plenty of evidence out there that implies they do. Personally, I tend to take the approach that if Google CAN know something assume they DO know something. And that includes CTR and click data.

7. Is there an optimum image size that you need to assign as the cover of your post, which is considered more SEO friendly?

Google has a Top Heavy algorithm that has been run infrequently with Google and which many believe may also be part of their new Phantom Tremors that have been pushed out randomly by Google starting in 2015. These seem to negatively impact sites that have huge image headers, run multiple ads, and generally provide no discernible content to users on desktop and mobile above-the-fold.

I tend to use a tool called www.foldtester.com in my site auditing and it’s a tool I recommend all food bloggers check-out quickly. Put your URL in that tool, see what the average user is going to see of your site on Desktop. Can they see nothing but a big header and ads? Is it worse on Mobile? If so, ask yourself: is that a quality user experience? In most cases, it is not.

To answer your question, is there an optimum image size for a cover post, the answer is: it depends. If you are loading in a 2000px wide image that you are just causing your Wordpress system to resize down to 700–800px in width for display then that’s something that is not a best practice. All you are doing is taking up resources by having that resized within the browser. And worse, that leads to a very large image size that can add up and impact bottom line page load times. And page load times are a ranking factor with Google.

With lossy compression tools like TinyJPG or Smush.it, there is just no reason to load in images to your blog these days that are 500–700KB or larger. You can still get fantastic quality images that are 70–120KB in size and look GREAT on retina displays and which aren’t going to bog down your page load times.

Cucumbertown food blogs have inbuilt image compression, so bloggers need not worry.

Also, remember that Google LIKES content. So if you have a large image as the first thing users see when visiting your recipe pages, consider adding just a sentence or two above the image to “capture the attention” of the user. Even simple “Print Recipe” and “Jump to Recipe” buttons above the photo do one thing very well: cater to the user. And Google LOVES when you cater to user experience.

You can choose which image should be indexed by Google on Cucumbertown food blogs

8. In one of your podcasts, I believe you mentioned posting content immediately after publishing, to high authority content sharing platforms like Reddit. Could you elaborate on this?

Reddit is incredibly under utilized in the Food Blogging Niche. But it’s also a hard platform to use effectively. Reddit HATES self-promotion but if you go in to Reddit and build up quality profiles on food subreddits like /r/Recipes, and /r/Mommit and /r/mombloggers or others, this can end up being a fantastic way to promote your recipes and yourself as an authority.

The same goes for sites like Stumbleupon and Tumblr. Building up audiences on these platforms and then sharing your recipes as links or as abreviated posts that link back to your site can drive a lot of traffic. These three networks are just a few of the many that I don’t see embraced by food bloggers as a class.

Everyone seems to be laser-focused on Pinterest, and that’s fine, I get it. But what if your Pinterest traffic should disappear tomorrow? What would you do?

9. Finally what are the three cardinal sins with SEO, and what are the three things that you should be doing religiously for love from Google?

SEO is really all about doing the little things. It’s about making sure you have quality descriptions, and good page titles, and specify ALT and H1 tags, and make your site a QUALITY result to Google. If you want to get good long-term love for Google focus on the following:

  • Focus on Speed: Use a managed specialty host who understands the important of Time To First Byte and optimizing your site for lightning fast speeds on mobile. If your pages are taking more than 10–12 seconds to load (with ads), that’s too slow.
  • Optimize your Images: You should be using a quality CDN and you should optimizing your site via a server-based API. TinyJPG is a great option.
  • Update your Content: If you have content on your site from 2014 and earlier just accept that MOST of your current audience hasn’t seen it. Also, it most likely can be improved with better and faster loading graphics, more clear instructions, and increased information. Update that and republish.

As for cardinal sins to avoid, there are several. But here are there I see a lot of in audits:

  • Top Heavy Design: bigger is not better with headers, site graphics, and ad networks. Google is still using desktop signals for mobile calculations. If Google can’t find actual content on your site pages, or they have to first render dozens of lines of CSS and JS to reach that content, they can’t algorithmically score that content effectively. Less imagery and coding is not a bad thing. Take a content-first approach.
  • Failing to Block Taxonomies: leaving tags, categories and paginated content open on a blog saps the ability of your existing recipes to rank as effectively possible. These should be blocked via a NOINDEX,FOLLOW robots tag within your SEO plugin.
  • Excessive 404 and Broken Links: when you remove dates from URLs, change the URL or remove a post you create “broken links and 404s.” Many times these result in broken external and internal links. This is bad for SEO and should be corrected where possible in your Search Console.

Again, long-term success in Google is all about making your site a quality result. A great backlink profile can act as spackle to cover a lot of mistakes on your site. But if you don’t have a strong backlink profile then doing all the little things I’ve outlined here and above is a good place to start.

Now, doesn’t that answer most of your questions? The good news is that many of the things Casey has mentioned, including focusing on page speed, adding CDN, and making sure the design is mobile optimised and SEO friendly, is taken care of by the platform for Cucumbertown bloggers.

So if you apply a few of the other golden nuggets of wisdom in this piece, your blog’s SEO game will change altogether. Let me know how these little tips turn out for you. And a huge thanks to Casey Markee for deconstructing SEO for every food blogger out there! Don’t forget to pin these tips for later, because, trust me, you are gonna wanna come back!

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Ramya Menon

Written by

Journalist, writer and dreamer. Now combining all three with a dream team @Cucumbertown

Cucumbertown Magazine Archive

Stories of Inspiration from the World’s Only Platform for Food Blogging