Food blogging has come a long way in the past few years, and I'm sad to say that our themes had fallen behind the times.
These will be the changes moving forward:
Mobile is King
Most customer sites we've dealt with over the past few months have one thing in common: mobile traffic. Food blogs are now seeing 70% - 80% of their traffic from mobile. That means that our theme development moving forward will be focused around how to best lay out critical content on mobile, with desktop content being a nice-to-have.
In practice, this looks like:
- no important content in side bars
- smaller header images
- no above-the-fold ads (see this article)
- delivering the content visitors are looking for, before asking for something (newsletter signups)
We expect that ad networks might push for more in-content ads and header ads, rather than sidebar ads. In-content ads are fine (below the fold), but avoid header ads at all cost.
Theme action plan: remove above-the-fold widget areas.
Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness
This has been gradually implemented with a broad search engine update in March, and the recent update in August that came with updated web rater quality guidelines. Google's quality raters (real people) want to be able to tell right away why your particular recipe is better than everyone else's. A critical part of this is who the author is - why are you qualified to speak on this?
Theme action plan: without the "about me" sidebar being at the top, we'll now need to develop a small before-the-content section to explain who you are.
The flip-side to this is that if you have low-quality, not-really-relevant pages (like thin category pages, or tag pages), you could have a low quality score assigned to them, which may affect your site's overall reputation.
If you look at the top search results for recipes, you'll notice a distinct pattern: on average, they contain many more comments than recipes on page 3, 4, 5 and beyond. It's difficult to tweak out cause-and-effect here (are they rated frequently because they get lots of traffic, or vice versa?), but it's safe to assume that more engagement via comments+ratings might be a quality signal at best, and not a factor at worst.
Theme action plan: improve the styling of the comments section.
This is especially relevant since the recipe metadata includes an "aggregate rating" field: how many people have reviewed your recipe, and what score have they assigned it?
So should you just start accepting spam comments to boost comment count? Or write your own comments? No, of course not.
It's not far-fetched to believe that search engines could treat comment sections as mini pieces of content, identifying which recipes use low quality or fake reviews and comments (this is actually already done by fakespot for Amazon product reviews).
The best course of action is to get authentic, genuine reviews and comments.
These are also a source of important content for your post. If someone asks about whether your home-made icing is better than store-bought icing on cinnamon buns, go ahead and update your post with why you think your fresh, home made recipe is better than cost-engineered, mass-produced icing that sites on a shelf for months at a time.
Understanding Your Page Structure
When you log in to your Webmaster tools, under the Structured Data section, have you ever noticed how Google knows which parts of your website is the footer, the header, the sidebar, the breadcrumb, and the content? This is all done by schema embedded into our themes (via Genesis).
Google has disregarded (or significantly downplayed) website pieces outside the content ("creative work"), and instead focuses on the actual page content. This simple change is part of the reason that food bloggers with a better cinnamon bun recipe can outrank Martha Stewart.
Theme action plan: focus blogger's efforts on recipe posts!
Note: secondary content is still used for other purposes, but your main content should make up the majority of the above-the-fold space. For more details, see: Recipe page quality guidelines for food bloggers.
With a mobile-first approach, Google wants to see as much of that content above-the-fold as possible. This means that the header isn't important, the sidebar isn't important, and the footer isn't important - the effort and expertise you put into the post is important.
Previously, the website structure was overly complicated, with recipe pages, archive pages (what are these?), recipe index pages, tags, categories, homepages, and one and on. A lot of these overlapped, and caused duplicate content issues.
Theme action plan: Provide better guidance for how to use the homepage, categories and recipe posts.
In 2019 and beyond, we'll be significantly simplifying food blog site structure into:
- Posts (your recipes)
- Categories (your "recipe indexes")
The full details can be found on our Food Blog Site Structure post.