Liveblog: SEO Smackdown


Welcome to the liveblog of BlogHer Food'11 Vocation Track: SEO Smackdown!


Stephanie Stiavetti, Wasabimon. Twitter: @sstiavetti
Pamela Braun, My Man's Belly. Twitter: @mymansbelly
Geoff Allen, CEO of Ziplist, who works with clients to do recipe SEO. Twitter: @ziplist
Rene Lynch, food editor at the LA Times.

STEPHANIE: @sstiavetti
PAMELA: @mymansbelly
GEOFF: @ziplist
RENE: @renelynch and @latimesfood

RENE: We wrestle with SEO every day. Half of us say we shouldn't care, the other says we are doing all this stuff and should get it to as many people as possible.

RENE: How do you maintain your voice and wrestle with SEO?

STEPHANIE: Have keyword phrases and a voice - the 2 most important things in blogging. I tell my clients write like you're going to write, but the number one way to have a search engine notice you is with keywords. Put them on post it notes and keep them in mind until they come as naturally as your other favorite words. Using the keywords as a "meditation" works better and feels more organic than peppering keywords in at the end.

PAMELA: If people are looking to make a loaf of bread you want them to come to you. Always remember you are writing for people. The more people read and link to your blog, the more Google will come to you. But yes, keep keywords at the back of your mind.

GEOFF: Have you heard of Google Rich Snippets, or H Recipe? The best thing about a blog is emotional connection. CONTENT IS KING but STRUCTURE IS QUEEN. Search engines are trying to create structure out of unstructured information. Recipes, titles, ingredients = structure. Comments, feelings, that's unstructured. The more consistency that you have with the structured stuff the better you'll do. Always use DIRECTIONS or INSTRUCTIONS or METHOD OF PREPARATION or what have you -- it doesn't matter (as long as it's clear) but never change it. Imagine if the ingredients in a paper book were all over the place.

RENE: I was crochety about SEO at first until I had it explained to me -- as a paper the times tries to reach an international audience. Something as simple as "soda" can be called pop, sweet drink, cola, fizzy drink -- if you're writing about making homemade soda you want to make sure that all the people looking for your information can be helped?

HANK SHAW: The whole top of every post on Hunter Angler Gardener Cook has nothing to do with recipe. I have a hand coded rich snippets plugin at the bottom of every post. If you're a user and want to make the recipe, you have it.

GEOFF: Google is a search company. The difference between rich snippets and hrecipe is that you're telling Google, Hi, I'm a recipe. They'll be elevated, they'll get photos and ratings that draw people. You can also use snippets to feed Google's search by words - "less than 15 minutes," for example.

STEPHANIE: Everyone's terrified of rich snippets -- the code isn't complicated, actually. People forget that Google wants you in their registry. Their goal is to fill their search engine with quality content - if that's you they want you at the top. They're trying to make it easy for you.

GEOFF: WordPress has a lot of good plugins. I like 4 that make it really easy. Don't be afraid of it; it's one of the few things you can do to dynamically move a third page result to the top of the first page.
-Ziplist has an extension of RecipeSEO

PAMELA: If you're on Blogger, don't freak out. You can still do this stuff but you'll do it yourself manually. You can copy the code and paste your stuff in there and it's not very difficult after your initial 5-minute freakout. You can do the same things but don't have the benefit of plugins.

GEOFF: And the Google benefits are identical. We based ours on Alison Day's RecipeSEO - she has a web version too. You can go there and get the hrecipe to copy and paste into your Blogger blog. You can't edit it as easily as it creates the html for you but it's wonderful.

QUESTION: Even Serious Eats can't get in after submitting the form - the form says they won't accept everyone. Can you really not get in after doing all the work? Only Simply Recipes and Smitten Kitchen I've seen in there.


STEPHANIE: You need to be prepared. Google doesn't intend to backtrack. They're going to slowly implement these changes and when that happens you want to be ready.

GEOFF: Google does what Google does. When content mills Demand Media and Associated Content - when Google changed their search algorithms a few weeks ago one lost 20% of their traffic overnight.

STEPHANIE: But you need to be prepared.

KALYN, of Kalyn's Kitchen: Think long and hard about whether you want to be doing this. I'm making a living from my blog and I compulsively track my stats. My search results haven't gone down one bit since they unrolled Google Recipe Search. GRS only works if people are using it. Regular Google search has a lot of other factors. I have 888 recipes so it's a lot of work and I'm not going to do unless it's going to helpme.

RENE: How many agree? (Just a couple.) How many are doing the snippets? (Just a couple.) Everyone else is one the fence? (YES.)

GEOFF: The most important things are easy to do:
- Stick to the exact same verbiage and placement for recipe elements, like time and instructions.
- Don't just type and space ingredients and instructions. Use list code with list items. It's code that puts each item on a line and tells search engines that they're related.
- Use unordered lists for ingredients. One item per line with or without bullets. (HTML code is UL.)
- Use ordered lists for instructions. Numbered list in order. (Html code is OL.)

NANCY BAGGETT: I'm stumped by time. How do you count the baking time, the resting time?

RENE: We use an assumption of a reasonable amount of tame. 2 hours + 30 minutes cooling time.

GEOFF: Rich snippets and HRecipes support three fields:

Prep time
Cook time
Total time

If you're not going to use a rich format always use the same words. Always call it Cooking Time rather than sometimes Cook Time and sometimes Cooking Time. Always use, or don't use, a colon.

STEPHANIE: Figure the average human being who doesn't have pro tools. But Nancy, you are pro recipe maker; you probably have it down better than us.

PAMELA: Google is like an unruly 4-year-old. You know how you need to structure your child's time? That's exactly what you need to remember with your blog. I have clients that want everything conversational. That's fine … until you get your recipe. It's irritating to the reader AND irritating to Google. There is a lot of structure that needs to be done and I understand that's not creative. Think of yourself when you're reading a recipe - it's set up the same way in print.

GEOFF: Take a look at Hoosier Homemade - doesn't use Rich Snippets but a great example of structure that Google can guess at well.

STEPHANIE: The first thing I develop for a client is a recipe template. Every recipe going forward. It takes you no extra work and all your recipes will be beautifully formatted. It's just basic html. Have a header tag for your title. Have your em tags for Yield. Line items for ingredients, ordered lists for instructions.

GEOFF: h3s for instructions. We'll twitter our ebook! (Liveblogger's note: Here's the link to the Ziplist recipe ebook)

LORALEE of Loralee's Looney Tunes: I work at Where Women Cook Magazine, and am breaking out in hives hearing all this structure. We feature all sorts of women with all different methods. Would it be really insulting to change someone else's recipe?


GEOFF: You can just add it at the end too.

LORALEE: That's OK? Great, go BlogHerFood!

PAMELA: Send a template to your bloggers. You'll help them!

AUDIENCE: Also standards for T vs Tb vs Tbls vs tablespoon.

AUDIENCE: Do WordPress tags play into SEO?

STEPHANIE: Yes, tags are very important. They are another opportunity to stick valuable keywords around your post. If you're writing a post about French pastry you could use Paris, France, Montmatre or wherever -- stuff that you associate with the recipe and the audience but that you didn't get a chance to use in the post itself.

AUDIENCE: Google is an unruly child and that child can grow up. SEO tricks are for content farms. Have good content that is nicely formatted. Sometimes it's the quality of your blog. Are there some SEO gone bad stories - from changes in Google or in general?

STEPHANIE: Google "macaroni and cheese" and hit page 100.

GEOFF: Here's how to fail.

- Have your URL different than
- Have your title NOT be "Braised Lamb Shank"
- Name your photo DSC00001.jpg instead of braised-lamb-shank.jpg
- Don't use

-- the biggest font size -- for your title.

TORI of Tuesday Recipe: I come from the old media world, am a cookbook author and editor and designed my site traditionally and didn't know it would have a benefit. My tech guys told me that dashes are a problem for search engines.

GEOFF: For photos, no, you want the hyphens.

TORI: For recipe titles. If I have Lemon-Lime Chile Chicken (ugh) I shouldn't use the hyphen in the title, right?

GEOFF: You need to be able to distinguish in photos where the words start and end. It does not hurt you in the url.

STEPHANIE: That's a design flaw. You need a delimiter in the URL. You don't want That's really bad. Google's going to give you the finger. Out of the box, WordPress will take a space and turn it into a dash. Through my own research I found dashes are better than underscores, by the way.

RENE: When I start the title of my post …

STEPHANIE: The title is different from URL.

GEOFF: You can set your blog up so that if your title is Braised Lamb Shanks, WordPress adds the dashes automatically.

SUSIE from Return to Sunday Supper: In the title, you shouldn't include the word recipe?

GEOFF: Yes, that's just noise. It's not keyword stuffing; it's just redundant. IF you do, delimit with the vertical bar.

STEPHANIE: I have a different opinion. Unless you have "recipe" in your permalink structure Google MAY get that it's a recipe. But Google gives primary importance to your h1 tag and secondary to your URL -- and they should match.

GEOFF: Great point. The URL structure should reflect.

STEPHANIE: A big decision, if you want to change your URL structure. Google is also an inflexible little old lady who hates change. I recommend working with a consultant if you decide to.

PAMELA: You can screw up your permalinks if you do it. A consultant can go back and make your permalinks redirect.


KALYN of Kalyn's Kitchen: I could not disagree more about not having "recipe" in the title. Go to Simply Recipes which is the most trafficked recipe site and every title has recipes.

GEOFF: There are ways to do it that don't use the word. Whatever you do, do it consistently.

PAMELA: Recipes is in the title of the blog which is a great upside for Elise. That is a help.

STEPHANIE: If you're planning on developing a new blog, it is a good idea to have a url with keywords in it. Stephanie Manley has for copycat recipes of chain. She hit on keyword gold - millions of people search for that every day. So it's definitely something worth consideration of primary keywords in the url itself.

KIKI from BEAUTY AND HER FEAST: 2 questions. I was told with WordPress that once it's set up you can't change it.

STEPHANIE: Not true.

KIKI: About tags and different words that bring you into the post. How important are categories and how specific should you be?

STEPHANIE: They're important for organization but people go overboard and have too many which is confusing to readers and Google. A smaller number of keyword-rich categories that you use consistently is better. Nuanced keywords are better for tags.

KATY from KATY SHE COOKS: I've always thought of SEO as separate from the content itself. I write whatever and use custom title tags that are more straightforward than the sentence title I used for my real title, and use meta tags.

STEPHANIE: Meta tags are antiquated. That's not to say that new search engines will use them again. Using them won't hurt you, why not. It's a convenient way to track the keywords you will use in the post. But you need your keywords in the content.

AUDIENCE: Is there value to paying for Scribe?

STEPHANIE: I like Scribe. It will analyze each post you write and tell you what needs work. It's not a catchall and you don't need it forever but it will help you learn what's not enough and what's too many in terms of links, keywords, title length, meta description length. So I highly recommend you buy into it with several friends - you get a good number of analyses per month.

PAMELA: I really like Scribe; it's really thorough though you feel less than adequate when it tells you you are all wrong. There's a free WordPress plugin called Keyword Statistics that's a dumbed down version of Scribe - but it does a live time analysis that tells you how often you've used your keywords. Handy to track!

AUDIENCE: Is it better to change our categories to something that works for our site or something that's classic keywords? If I have a recipe for braised lamb shank, what are your thoughts about using


tags in the body of the post and repeat Braised Lamb Shank on top of the recipe?

GEOFF: The title is the title and that's your h1. I would not replicate the title. Put ingredients and instructions in h2 -- they're the next most important information and should get h2 without repetition of the title.

STEPHANIE: Keep your categories simple. The shorter the URL the better. If you want Quick and Easy Pastries, make your category Pastry and your title Quick and Easy Eclairs.

GEOFF: Look at All Recipes. Good artists copy; great artists steal. They've spent money on this. Look it and take what they do that works for your blog and audience.

AUDIENCE: Does capitalization matter?

STEPHANIE: No. That's a personal choice.

AUDIENCE: Does it matter if you use a lot of tags, a couple of tags, one word, or multiple words?

GEOFF: All your tags better be related to your post or you will be penalized for bait and switch. But synonyms are great. Conceptual relevance is great. For pastries: Sweet, dessert.

STEPHANIE: Too many tags is obnoxious to your reader and will cause Google to suspect.

RENE: Let's look at the other side. How do I know what people are searching for? How do you find what people are looking for?

STEPHANIE: Google AdWords keywords tool is free. If you spend hundreds of dollars on keyword research they'll just talk to Google anyway. If you type "Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches" and hit enter it will give you 10-15 permutations of your search phrase. It tells you exactly how many people search it each month globally and locally. It will give a rough idea of the competition for those keywords; you can take the terms that pop up, plunk one into Google and see who dominates the results. If superhuge sites dominate all the results, go back and find other terms, and do the same thing: plunk them into Google and find a keyword or keyword phrase that isn't so dominated. That's the low-hanging fruit.

GEOFF: If you have AdSense on your recipe pages and find a place where there's low-hanging fruit, look at the long-tail keywords related to your post and take the one that's highest paying.

PAMELA: Long tail keywords, do you know what they are? You have the keyword "peanut butter and jelly" -- and the long tail keyword would more specific, like "Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread."

STEPHANIE: And that's where you will be likely to be able to compete. Fewer people will search it, but they know what they want.

GEOFF: You're not going to win "peanut butter and jelly." You won't win. Give it up.

PAMELA: You don't want to be too specific and drill down to like 10 people. But if you have a specific audience like autistic kid diets, being specific works. Even if it's just 200 people - these people will go to your site. I check my own site to see what people are searching for on my site. I don't use Google Analytics for that. I use StatCounter; it's free (there's a paid version that gives you more records). That lets me see where people are clicking and everywhere they went and how long and what they clicked on and what search term they used to find my site. I can see the most popular recipes people searched for over a month. Sometimes the recipe you think is most popular really isn't. It's good information.

GEOFF: It's a chance to show your voice again. You need to be creative to find these relevant keywords that won't be stomped by Food Network.

PAMELA: You started with coq au vin. Maybe you need to specify, Coq au Vin with a Kick.

STEPHANIE: Make a running list of keywords. Go to Google AdSense and type in How to Make. Keep track of these extra keywords for later.

GEOFF: One recipe per page! One recipe per page! Super simple. Content is more focused and you get more page views.

AUDIENCE: What about a cake and a sauce?

GEOFF: They're compound recipes. Say you have chocolate lava cake. You should type For the Cake: with an unordered list. For the Sauce: with another unordered list. Easy for the readers, easy for Google. Always use the same words. Always. It's not creative content anyway. There is nothing creative about that.

AUDIENCE: Do you mean per post, when you say one recipe per page?


AUDIENCE: You have to go and select the unordered list?

GEOFF: It's just like in Word - you have to select the bullets or 123 or it's just a paragraph.

STEPHANIE: you'll create a template and literally just type your ingredients into each line.

PATRICIA from MOM: 80% of us have never been to a blogging conference. Don't be intimidated! There's no expectation that you do it all at once. Always use the structure but for the rest of it, pick one post a week. Choose one and work on it with keyword research.

AUDIENCE: Unordered and ordered list. Does it make a difference if you click the bulleted button first?

GEOFF: Click the bullet button first. It's fewer clicks for you and you make sure you always do it.

AUDIENCE: Is there value in creating a jump vs. whole recipe in post?

STEPHANIE: I always put it behind a jump, but it's a personal decision right now. That could change in the future.

AUDIENCE: What's the difference between tags and categories?

STEPHANIE: A category is a box in your kitchen. You have boxes for baking, spices, eggs. Within each box you have labels on each of the things. The labels are tags. The boxes are categories.

AUDIENCE: For example I categorize spring lamb as Spring and Lamb.

STEPHANIE: It's a personal choice to create seasons as categories. I would say nobody searches for Spring recipes, really. You want your categories to be prime real estate. Seasons make sense organizationally, but not from an SEO standpoint.

GEOFF: Holidays would be better. Cinco De Mayo Holiday Recipes, Thanksgiving Holiday Recipes. People do search that way.

RENE: Bug everyone on Twitter for more tips and tricks. Thanks!


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