The majority of SEO and user experience best practices for blogs aren’t niche specific. But when it comes to food blogs, there are certain strategies we see work with our partners that are specific to this particular type of content. There are also certain general best practices that are more applicable to food websites than other niches like news, lifestyle or health sites.
One of the challenges with food blogs is that there are so many of them and only so many recipes and recipe variations out there. Plus, recipes, while many are unique with certain ingredients, there is a lot of overlap and the question of ownership of recipes is complicated. To give you an idea of the recipe competition in the search results, here’s an example. Google lists 8.1 million results for the query, “peanut butter bark”. There just can’t be that many different variations of peanut butter bark, we have to assume the actual recipes are very similar across the board. So, who makes it to the top and more importantly, why? We took a look at the search results, the content within our network and our own recipe user experience preferences and here are the similarities amongst some of the top ranked recipes.
For food bloggers, the image is everything! There is so much competition, even among the first page rankings. The image of the food is the very first thing that the user is drawn to. When looking at the results pages, recipes ranking in top positions seemed to have custom photos. If you’re a food blogger who is actually cooking the recipes, make sure you’re taking photos. There are many great resources on taking high-quality food photos.
Take photos in brightly lit areas.
Choose an angle that compliments the food, like from above.
Make it more interesting by adding props around the food.
Make sure the photo is crisp and clear.
Edit afterwards to make sure the colors and lines are as vivid as possible.
The majority of the top recipe rankings included recipe card formatting to display the actual recipe. There are benefits of recipe card plugins for bloggers: print functionality, an image, nutritional facts, serving size info, recipe structured data code (this is what generate the thumbnail image in the search results), rating functionality, cooking instructions and even an easy way for users to get the ingredients. Having that recipe structured data code included on your page is very important. This is the code Google users to enhance the recipe results with the rating, cook time, calories and other recipe info, known to drive up the CTR by over 60%.
These are typically on sites built in WordPress but are available in other, similar CMS plugins as well. Several options include WP Recipe Maker, WordPress Ultimate Recipe and Recipe Card.
I was actually surprised to see how many of the top recipe rankings have videos on the page. It was pretty much all of them. And the videos on the page were relevant to the recipe they appeared on. Videos are an excellent way to drive up your average RPM so if you don’t have a video strategy yet for your recipes, Google seems to like them, which means users like them.
Comments are very important when it comes to recipes so make sure your users are able to leave theirs on your site. With so many different recipes to choose from, readers like to see what other people say about your recipes. Ratings too, these are big trust signals to your users. Google’s search algorithm includes engagement signals like time on page, time on site, bounce rate and pages per session. User comments should be encouraged!
A Passion for food
One thing that stood out to me was how infrequent recipe lifestyle publishers appeared in the top spots, it wasn’t always like this. Throughout the years, as Google started using brand authority more in their search algorithm, niche sites began to edge out the ones that covered a wider range of topics. When I meet with SHE Media partners, I stress the importance of honing in on their passion and focusing their writing in that direction. The more focused your content is on recipes and other food-related content, the more your users will trust your site. Users may not want to get their fried chicken recipe from the same website that’s giving them financial advice and celebrity news.
Fast page speed
The recipe results on page one were FAST! I did most of my testing on mobile, but desktop results were the same. But one thing noticeably absent from these recipes was the teeny lightening bolt indicating Google accelerated mobile pages. At one time, Google was claiming that to appear in the recipe carousal on mobile (which is now in more of a “card” format than a carousal), you had to have AMP enabled. My opinion on Google forcing publishers to adopt their code (that then loads in their framework, not yours) to appear at the top of their search results can be saved for another day, but it was a pleasant surprise. Page speed matters, make sure your recipes load fast.
Jump to recipe
This functionality is newer to the game, and it’s getting popular. I see it on both mobile and desktop but it seems more prevalent on mobile screens. Typically located at the top of the post, when a user clicks the button – Wa-Lah – you’re dropped down past the content (and the ads) to just above the recipe. Allowing your users this option does result in potentially less ad impressions but it’s great for user experience. As I clicked on at least a hundred recipes to write this blog post, this one was less common than the other seven items appearing on this list. But I am seeing it more and more on our partner pages.
content on page
Remember that ‘Jump’ button we just talked about? Well, this is why. Content on the page is good for SEO, it’s true, but it can be a challenge with recipes. Knowing full well that your user just wants the recipe, it seems oddly against the “think of the user” advice I so often give. Most of the recipe results at the top had some story before the user gets to the actual recipe. Try to make this content as natural as possible and don’t overdo it. Content on the page does have benefits. The longer the user scrolls, the more ad impressions they see. The longer the user is on the page, the better the engagement signals are to Google. It’s also a chance for your user to get to know you better, turning from a casual reader to a brand loyalist.