SEO for food blogs isn’t magic. It’s also not guesswork.
Again and again we hear from new and prospective Foodie Digital members that they just don’t know where to start when it comes to SEO. Knowing where you’re at, and where you’re going reduces overwhelm so that you can instead start taking action.
This post is that action plan for you.
We want to help you identify where you’re at, and then outline the steps and actions you need to take to help you begin to accomplish your SEO goals, as quickly as possible.
What stage of the SEO process are you in with your food blog?
Once you’re clear on the stage you’re in, you’ll know exactly where to put your time, and what to work on—or what to invest in—next.
Our approach to food blog and recipe SEO
Why is SEO so hard?
We’re asked this all of the time.
It’s because SEO is dual in nature. You’re expected to do a thousand little things right each day while also keeping your eye on the big picture. Throw in life and consistently creating new amazing recipes into the mix, and it’s incredibly easy to de-prioritize SEO.
That’s why we don’t drop a 65-page SEO audit report in your inbox. A report like that is challenging to digest, and even harder to implement at home alone behind your computer.
Guided implementation is how we approach food blog SEO at Foodie Digital.
We guide you toward improving your site’s technical health and SEO potential with manageable monthly assignments.
Like any recipe you test, success with SEO for your food blog takes time, effort and a commitment to see the process through. SEO is not a quick fix or a perfect science and your willingness to execute and test concepts, monitor and interpret data, plus your commitment to produce compelling food and recipe content that satisfies search intent all matter a great deal.
In the past, a lot of fuss has been made about keywords for food blogs. Today using the right long-and medium tail keywords for your food blog is only half the battle.
A significant amount of SEO happens off the post (or page) and under the hood, making site speed and page experience, user experience design, crawl accessibility, a great category structure, and properly configured plugins all powerful and important.
Stage 1: Start
A strong technical foundation is necessary to succeed in food blogging. Investing time and effort in the Start stage pays off in the long run.
During our series of onboarding audits for new Foodie Digital members we catch a lot of mistakes with how food blogs are set up, which we share here for your benefit.
Here is how to start off (or restart) on the right foot:
- Use a fast WordPress web host
- Enable SSL (i.e., https)
- Install and configure Yoast SEO
- Install and configure a credible recipe card plugin
- Sign up for Google Analytics and Google Search Console
- Submit your sitemap in Google Search Console
- Use the block editor
- Get set up to optimize and compress images
- Use a simple permalink structure
- Decide on a category structure
Use a fast WordPress web host
Your choice of WordPress web host has a big effect on site speed, up-time, security, your sanity, and much more. Take extra time and research the best web hosts for food blogs. The extra due diligence will pay-off in the long run.
For the record, we back:
Enable SSL (i.e., https)
A secure website address that begins with https is a must. Credible, professional web hosts hand out free SSL certificates like candy so don’t wait to make the change. If your web hosting provider has a dashboard or cpanel that you can access, it’s very likely you can enable SSL yourself. Otherwise, hop on live chat with your web host and ask that SSL is enabled.
Once SSL is enabled, log into WordPress > Settings > General and replace http with https in the WordPress Address and Site Address fields.
Then, watch out for mixed content.
Enabling SSL (i.e., https) can cause a cascade effect, known as mixed content. Mixed content is when you have both http and https on site. Once you switch to https, everything, including pages, posts, images and ad network tags, needs to be running over https.
Resolving mixed content requires expert-level understanding of WordPress.
To resolve mixed content we strongly recommend working with a seasoned WordPress web developer who can complete the fix for you.
Install and configure Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is an easy and completely free way to begin basic SEO. Once you’ve installed the Yoast SEO plugin, pay special attention to the plugin’s configuration settings under:
- Search appearance > general
- Search appearance > taxonomies
The settings should be adapted to suit your site’s content and taxonomies. Auditing how Yoast SEO is configured is one of the very first SEO audit tasks we do for new Foodie Digital members.
Install and configure a credible recipe card plugin
Using a recipe card plugin grants you the keys to the Google kingdom. Structured data, more specifically JSON-LD Schema Markup, unlocks a long list of possibilities for your recipe content. Rich snippets for your recipes is just one of the many big wins.
Which recipe card plugin is the best and easiest to use?
We’ve broken down the pros and cons, costs and main benefits of the best WordPress recipe card plugins to help you make a decision about which option is the right one for your business.
In summary, we back:
Sign up for Google Analytics and Google Search Console
Google Analytics and Google Search Console are two must-use tools. Sign up for both of these tools right away. They’re leaned on heavily in the remaining stages.
Submit your sitemap in Google Search Console
Submitting your food blog’s sitemap to Google is a basic but important task for SEO. It’s one of the first things we verify when a new member joins Foodie Digital because it’s a task that’s so easily overlooked.
In Google Search Console, go to Index > Sitemap and submit your food blog’s sitemap.
Use the block editor
Far too many food bloggers still use the classic editor. We’re big fans of the block editor and all of the ways it makes publishing easier.
But before you switch to the block editor, it’s important to verify that all of your plugins are compatible with the block editor. A lot of plugins are not, so do your homework first.
Most of the time, a simple Google search will reveal if a plugin is compatible with the block editor, but if nothings turns up we recommend contacting the plugin developer directly.
Get set up to optimize and compress images
Optimized and compressed images impact site speed and performance significantly 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, such as ShortPixel, right away. Not all image compression plugins are created equal.
To save you time, we’ve compiled a list of our top WordPress plugins for food blogs, including two options for image compression.
Use a simple permalink structure
Using dates and category name in your URL isn’t ideal. Ending your URL with the post name is the preferred permalink structure in the food and recipe niche.
- foodiedigital.com/seo-tips-for-food-bloggers (yes!)
- foodiedigital/2020/11/24/seo-tips-for-food-bloggers (no!)
- foodiedigital/2020/seo/seo-tips-for-food-bloggers (no!)
But, if your website has been around for years changing the URL structure will result in 404 errors for readers and search engines. Search rankings can also be affected if top-traffic generating posts all of a sudden lead to 404 errors.
To remove the date and/or category name from your URLs, we strongly recommend working with a seasoned WordPress web developer who can test and then set up necessary redirects.
Create strong category structure
Is your category structure long, jumbled and all over the map? Unfortunately, a messy category structure impacts food blog SEO in several ways.
Unclear or cluttered site categories confuse the reader, and results in a negative user experience. This affects how long a reader stays, or dwells, on your site and their desire to clickthrough to more content. It also hurts your crawl accessibility.
A site with great category structure, does the opposite.
Readers can quickly and easily find what they want, which improves dwell time and pages per session if your internal linking strategy is strong. Also, the better your category structure, the easier Google can access, crawl and index your content.
Plus, to power a dynamic recipe index (i.e., https://www.walderwellness.com/recipes/) your category structure needs to be in tip top shape.
Again, if your website has been around for years changing the category structure will result in 404 errors for readers and search engines. Search rankings can also be affected if top-traffic generating posts all of a sudden lead to 404 errors.
To clean up your category structure, we strongly recommend working with a recipe taxonomy specialist (that’s us!) who can test and then set up necessary redirects.
Stage 2: Prepare
With the start stage done, it’s time to prepare.
To succeed in food blogging, it’s important to understand niche-specific concepts and strategies. Food blogging is a competitive niche: the more you know, the more you grow.
Here’s a list of niche-specific concepts to study:
- Keyword research
- Competitor SEO
- Satisfying search intent
- Nofollow compliance
- Editorial planning
- Internal linking
- Crawl budget
- Link building
- Site speed and Core Web Vitals
Good E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness) both on and off your website can potentially help improve Google rankings.
Marie Haynes is one of the foremost experts on EAT in SEO. Set aside 30 minutes to read through this helpful and detailed overview of EAT. Then, consider all of the ways you can use your unique E-A-T to your advantage.
For example, are you a subject matter expert in gluten free, dairy free or vegan recipes? Maybe it’s meal planning or make-ahead meals. It’s important to send clear signals to Google about who you are, what you do, and what you’re a trustworthy authority in.
Then bake your subject matter expertise into your category structure, your editorial calendar and your site’s user experience. Google wants to offer the best possible answers and results to user queries, so if you’re an authority in plant-based diets or desserts make it crystal clear.
Learn basic keyword research
A lot of seasoned food bloggers say that they wish they published SEO-optimized recipes earlier, rather than publishing only the recipes they wanted to. Striking a balance between pleasing readers, search engines and yourself is important.
Keyword research helps.
One of the best and most affordable keyword research tools available is KeySearch.
With that said, not all of the posts you publish will turn into huge SEO wins; and they shouldn’t. It’s impossible to hit a home run each time you step up to bat.
That’s why you should always write for your readers. Content is highly varied. Some types are great for optimization while others aren’t. This doesn’t mean that the latter type isn’t worth creating. If it serves your audience and connects you with your readers, it’s of value.
Keyword research is a necessary and important part of SEO for food blogs, and a specialty of ours at Foodie Digital. But far too many food bloggers stop after doing initial keyword research.
You have to go a step further and look at the content your competition has already created.
The food blogs that show up on the first page of Google for the keywords you’d like to target are the competition. For example, if Bon Apetit, Allrecipes, Delish, The Food Network, The Kitchn, and other big name publishers own the first page of Google’s search results, and if their recipes have hundreds of star ratings, consider chasing another keyword opportunity.
But if you think you can compete, and potentially outrank another food blog (or publisher) for a keyword opportunity over time, inspect the content and structure of the competitor’s post.
Your post and recipe will need to be as comprehensive, as informative, satisfy search intent, and earn star ratings to get a spot in the featured recipe results.
Satisfying search intent
It’s a big part of successful on-page SEO for food blogs. Learn to satisfy search intent in your SEO title, recipe card title and post body copy, and you will get more traffic.
Compliance isn’t the sexiest topic, but it’s an important one. According to Federal Trade Commission and Competition Bureau of Canada regulations, if you:
- Create sponsored content for companies
- Use affiliate links
- Review free products
you’re required to apply a nofollow tag to external links that link back to the sponsor company’s website, products and social media accounts.
Wisely, the recipe card plugins Tasty Recipes, Create and WP Recipe Maker have added the nofollow tag functionality to their product offering, though the experience of applying a nofollow tag is a little different in each plugin. For detailed instructions on how to tag a link nofollow in the block editor, read our post about nofollow compliance.
How far in advance do you plan your food blog’s posts?
We encourage Foodie Digital members to set their editorial calendars for the month ahead by the 5th of the month they’re in (i.e., September’s editorial calendar is planned for by August 5th).
This gives them (and us!) time to do valuable keyword and competitor research and adjust for opportunities.
Internal links establish a hierarchy of information on your site.
With a solid internal linking strategy in place, you’ll proactively show Google the posts and pages on your site that are related, as well as which articles are the most informative and valuable to your audience. One of the best resources on the power and importance of strategic internal linking is this Whiteboard Friday article and video from Moz. It’s a must watch.
Your site has a crawl budget and it needs to be used to your advantage.
If your site is relatively new, we encourage you to simply study the concept of crawl budget for now. But if your site is medium-sized, or contains a lot of quickly expiring content, it may be time to consider how to optimize your crawl budget.
Full disclosure: optimizing crawl budget is an advanced technical SEO tactic. We strongly recommend working with a seasoned SEO professional when it comes to crawl budget.
For example, it’s important to know if your tags are indexed or not. In Yoast SEO > Search Appearance > Taxonomies check and see if your tags and paginated content are indexed.
As a general rule, tags should only be indexed with Google if your tag category archives are full of high-quality content. If your tag list is random and not helpful your tags should not be indexed.
Leaving these site elements open, infringes on the ability for your post and category archives to rank well. You’re allotted a crawl budget, use it wisely.
Pro tip! If you choose to no-index tags, make sure that any existing internal links to tag archives are updated so that the links lead to relevant and related content, rather than dead ends. When you no-index tags search engines can no longer crawl through those tag archives to discover other content.
Link building is when you earn links from other sites to your own. It’s one of the biggest factors associated with higher rankings in Google.
In the absence of a financial partnership or receiving free product from a company in exchange for exposure, you can earn a dofollow backlink for your food blog.
A dofollow backlink passes the SEO strength of the site that’s linking out on to the page or post that it’s linking to. Nofollow backlinks do not pass on SEO strength. Nofollow backlinks are great to increase exposure, but they have no SEO effect.
The goal with backlinks is to have diversity in the domains linking to you.
Earning a backlink from the same site over and over is nice, and may send you referral traffic—which is good too!—but when it comes to straight up SEO, it’s better to acquire links from lots of different credible sites in your niche.
Site speed and Core Web Vitals
Put simply, site speed and Core Web Vitals matter for food blog SEO. At best, performance optimization is a puzzle. If there’s one area of technical SEO to invest in, this is it.
Stage 3: Assemble
Assemble is where the magic happens!
In the Assemble stage, you begin to consistently create high quality content that leans on the niche-specific concepts and strategies you now know.
- Create consistently
- Fill out the fields in your recipe card plugin
- Write alt text for each image in a post
- Write an SEO title for each post
- Write a meta description for each post
- Write keyword-rich URLs
- Use an H1 tag
- Use H2s
- Fix broken internal and external links
- Be selective about the number of images in a recipe post
- Add internal links strategically
The most successful Foodie Digital members are the ones who consistently create new content.
Not every post published rockets to the top of the search rankings. Still, these members are undeterred. Week in and week out they do the work.
They’re also very deliberate and begin with the end in mind.
Fill out the fields in your recipe card plugin
Completeness is key when it comes to success with recipe structured data. The task of entering recipe ingredients, instructions, course, cuisine, keywords and diet into a recipe card plugin is admittedly a bit tedious but, in this case, short term pain is long term gain. Be thorough, it pays off.
Again, the three recipe card plugins we back,
each have different settings and recipe meta data. We encourage you to study your recipe card’s settings closely and then use your tool’s settings to your advantage.
Write alt text for each image in a post
Alt text is an important ranking factor for SEO.
It’s leaned on by Google in situations where an image isn’t displayed to a reader or isn’t visible to a reader (i.e., the visitor is using a screen reader for accessibility).
In an image’s alt text field, describe in sentence form exactly what’s in the image so that search engines and people can make sense of it. Write unique alt text for each image in a post.
Write an SEO title for each post
Do not leave a post’s SEO title empty.
You apply a post’s SEO title in your SEO plugin (i.e., Yoast SEO). Where possible, include keywords in your SEO title as well as your brand/company name (i.e., | Foodie Digital) at the end of the SEO title. Your SEO title does not need to be the exact same as your article title.
The SEO title appears in the web browser tab. It plays a significant role in search and also appears on Google’s search engine results page. The length of your SEO title should not exceed 75 characters, fewer than 40 characters is ideal.
Write a meta description for each post
Do not leave a post’s meta description field empty.
Like the SEO title, you apply a post’s meta description in your SEO plugin (i.e., Yoast SEO). A meta description should summarize a page’s content and entice a reader to clickthrough. As a general rule, the length of a meta description shouldn’t exceed 156 characters.
Also, a post’s meta description can be re-written after a post has been published.
If you notice that a particular post is highly ranked in Google’s search results, but that the clickthrough rate isn’t great, consider rewriting your meta description to attract more conversions and clickthroughs over time.
Write keyword-rich URLs
You don’t have to use the default URL that’s automatically created for a post in WordPress. You can edit a post’s slug before it’s published, preferably to include a keyword or two.
Where possible, keep your URL length to fewer than 90 characters—between 58 and 60 characters is ideal. It’s also best to create an evergreen URL so that it never has to change, even if one day you update the article title or the article information.
Use an H1 Tag
An H1 or heading 1 is an HTML tag that indicates to search engines that a heading on a webpage, or in a post, is the primary heading. Each page or post needs only one H1 tag. An H1 (as well, as an H2, H3 and so on) is a header that gives context to a page or post.
Most WordPress themes will automatically include an H1 in the post template so adding an additional H1 is not necessary (or recommended).
H2s are a great way to improve the reading experience on mobile. Remember, most mobile Internet users skim through content. H2s are a great way to break content into separate chunks, making sentences and paragraphs easier to read.
Don’t pepper your content with too many H2s though and don’t stuff keywords into H2 (that’s called over-optimizing). H2s are a natural way to add additional, contextually relevant keywords in a post.
For example, for a ‘Vegan butternut squash pasta sauce’ recipe it’s perfectly natural and relevant to include the H2 ‘How to cut butternut squash’ plus a paragraph of supporting copy in your post. The reader will benefit.
Fix broken internal and external links
Internal links are links from one post or page on your site to another. These are helpful to users and search engines since they help them discover more content on your site. External links are when you link to sources outside of your URL.
A food blog riddled with broken internal and external links can hurt the user experience, cause visitors to bounce, and impact SEO.
A word of warning: broken link checker plugins are notoriously bloated and can impact site speed. Consider using a third party tool, such as Screaming Frog to stay on top of your broken links.
Be selective about the number of images in a recipe post
Images are one of the most important tools for communicating a recipe’s appeal. Using multiple images in a post is also a tactic for for increasing display ad impressions, and can help keep readers on your site longer. But a food blog with too many images (and ads too!) or with images that are too large will have longer loading time.
Image compression is key. Also resizing full-width images from, say 4000px down to 1600px width is helpful, especially when image quality is the exact same.
Be intentional with the number of finished recipe and process shots you use in a post. Aim for between 5 and 7 images, if possible.
Add internal links strategically
Again, Moz’s Whiteboard Friday video on maximizing internal links sums up why you should apply internal links strategically, rather than in a way that’s willy-nilly.
Stage 4: Rise
In Rise, recurring tasks take centre stage.
Rise is where you begin to make smart data-informed decisions. It’s the stage where you begin to study what’s working and monitor metrics that matter.
A word of caution: one of the biggest mistakes that food bloggers make is looking at their data in isolation. When you oversimplify your data or look at your analytics each day, or even on a weekly basis, you can miss the magic that’s happening around you.
SEO is a slow burn. Progress takes time.
We recommend tracking certain metrics monthly. We also recommend making decisions off of quarterly traffic results at an absolute minimum.
- Metrics to track and monitor monthly
- Watch the clickthrough rate for top posts
- Audit your list of plugins regularly
- Repair existing content consistently
- Collect star ratings for recipes
Metrics to track and monitor monthly
Instead of guessing or making an emotional gut decision about why a recipe isn’t performing well, look at your Google Analytics and Google Search Console data. Numbers don’t lie.
At Foodie Digital we regularly track key metrics for members, split by new and returning visitors. This includes (amongst others):
- Average session duration
- Average pages per session
- Returning visitor percentage
If these user signals are weak, it’s a good indication that you’re not satisfying search intent.
Watch the clickthrough rate of top posts
Improving the clickthrough rate of a recipe post or article by even a percentage point or two has the potential to significantly boost organic traffic over time.
In Google Analytics, under Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages, look at the clickthrough rate (CTR) percentage for posts. There are a number of different advanced tactics that can be applied to improve a post’s clickthrough rate.
The most simple is to re-write the post’s SEO title and meta description so that they’re more enticing and click-worthy. Updating a post to more closely match search intent is another.
Audit your list of plugin regularly
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.
Repair existing content consistently
One of the beautiful things about recipes is that they don’t go out of style. A recipe published 10 years ago is just as delicious today as it was back then.
Optimizing old content can be a big win, but not at the expense of losing forward momentum. It’s important to consistently create new content.
Helping members strike a balance between creating new content and repairing existing posts is a big part of what we do at Foodie Digital.
The big question is how to know which post(s) to repair.
- Begin by looking at the clickthrough rate for your top 25 posts. A post with less than a 2% clickthrough rate may be a good candidate for repair. Always look to see what the competition is doing/has done before you begin a repair.
- Look at posts on the second page of Google’s search results. These posts are within striking distance of a spot in the featured recipe results and may be a good candidates for repair. Always look to see what the competition is doing/has done before you begin a repair.
Collect star ratings for recipes
To be eligible to earn star ratings for recipes you must use a recipe card plugin. Recipe star ratings are an excellent form of social proof, and give readers confidence that your recipe is a winner. Star ratings also help a recipe stand out in the search results.
Don’t be shy—ask readers to leave star ratings for your recipes. Also regularly test to make sure that a star rating is easy to leave for a recipe.
To be clear, there’s no ranking benefit for using structured data, such as recipe star ratings. What structured data does do—in the form of a rich snippet and featured snippets—is provide the possibility for increased clickthrough and conversion rates.
Stage 5: Bake
First, celebrate the fact that you’re here! It takes years of hard work to reach the Bake stage.
Plus, once a quarter revisit your top 10-20 traffic generating post. It’s important to keep top posts timely and relevant, and competitive. The goal in Bake is to keep top posts performant.
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This post was updated by Liane Walker on Nov 19, 2020 to provide food bloggers with the best, most relevant SEO tips available, and will continue to be updated over time.
Note: Foodie Digital participates in affiliate programs for select recipe card plugins and hosting providers. The opinions we share are based on our own in-depth research, and the ongoing need for our members to use SEO tools that are future-proofed, credible, professional and well supported.