In episode 301, Megan talks with Chelsea Plummer, a 3 year blogging veteran, about which comes first – SEO or photography and we think she makes a compelling case to work smarter, not harder.
We cover information about how to invest in worthwhile SEO courses and where to absorb good information, make sure your content has SEO potential and why ingredient and process shots are valuable.
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Bio Chelsea has been blogging at Mae’s Menu for 3 years. After a year of posting aimlessly and with no regards to SEO, ChelseaI took an SEO course and grew her blog traffic over 2000% in the next year ( qualified for Mediavine within 6 months). Chelsea only posts anywhere from 4-8 recipes/month and believes in working smarter, not harder.
- Your content needs to be searchable. You can have the most amazing photography, but if no one can find it, there’s no point.
- SEO helps you build momentum on content you enjoy sharing.
- You can layer in photography courses as you build SEO.
- Take advantage of free courses and podcasts on SEO as you work to pay for courses.
- When you do keyword research well, you know your recipes have potential.
- Ingredient shots and process shots are two important keys to improving the user experience for your audience. These two pieces will help you optimize posts.
- User experience is important for your audience and it’s important to Google. So SEO is one of the main means of accomplishing that.
- Target posts that are getting a little traction but have room for growth.
- Dietary adaptations to recipes and new ways/appliances to prepare food are other good post optimizations.
- Look ahead at seasons, seasonal produce, holidays and decide what keywords you can rank for. Then as you go ahead in your content planning, look ahead for the quarter and decide what inspires you.
Chelsea offers keyword research help for food bloggers and is currently accepting new clients. If you’d like help with keyword research for new or existing recipe posts, reach out to Chelsea to see how she can help you grow your blog traffic!
Click for full script.
Chelsea Plummer: Hi, this is Chelsea Plummer from Mae’s menu and you’re listening to the Eat Blog Talk podcast.
Sponsor: Hey, awesome food bloggers. Before we dig into this episode, I have a really quick favor to ask you. Go to your favorite podcast player, go to Eat Blog Talk, scroll down to the bottom where you see the ratings and review section. Leave Eat Blog Talk a five star rating if you love this podcast and leave a great review. This will only benefit this podcast. It adds value. I so very much appreciate your efforts with this. Thank you so much for doing this. Okay. Now onto the episode.
Megan Porta: Hello, food bloggers. Welcome to Eat Blog Talk, the podcast for food bloggers looking for the value and confidence that will move the needle forward in your business. This episode is sponsored by RankIQ. I am your host, Megan Porta, and you are listening to episode number 301. Today Chelsea is going to talk to us about keyword research and SEO and how she believes that those things should take precedence over photography. Chelsea has been blogging at Mae’s Menu for three years. After a year of posting aimlessly and with no regards to SEO, Chelsea took an SEO course and grew her blog traffic over 2000%, wow, Chelsea, in the next year. She qualified for Mediavine within six months. Chelsea only posts anywhere from four to eight recipes a month. She believes in working smarter, not harder. Chelsea, it is so great to have you on the show. How are you today?
Chelsea Plummer: I am great. Thanks so much for having me.
Megan Porta: Yes. I’m excited about this topic. I know it’s a widely debated one. So I’m excited to hear your side of it, which is really the most popular side. I don’t know. It just depends. Some people come in with the polar opposite view. So I’m excited to chat with you about this today. But before we dig into all of that, let’s hear what your fun fact is.
Chelsea Plummer: My fun fact is that my late cousin, Kirk Parone, founded Jamba Juice.
Megan Porta: No way.
Chelsea Plummer: Yeah. Yeah. I was a little girl when he founded it and I was living out in California and I remember going to his first shops as he was getting it all going. Yeah, it was really cool.
Megan Porta: Oh, that is cool. Oh my gosh. It’s such a big name.
Chelsea Plummer: I think worldwide.
Megan Porta: Yeah. It’s huge, massive. That’s really cool. Ah, inspiring for an entrepreneur like you. Speaking of that, there are so many topics floating around in our entrepreneurial space. What is important, what’s not important. This debate about whether or not you focus on SEO before photography. So I would just love to hear your side of that because I think you definitely have an opinion on it. So let’s hear what your opinion is. I want to hear you talk through it a little bit.
Chelsea Plummer: Yeah. So I was thinking about this and some of my other thoughts to share. I was like, this could probably be subtitled unpopular opinions about SEO. It’s really interesting. So when I started doing SEO I think it’s important to have legible, clear, lit photos. Stuff for people who know what they’re making, can discern what they’re making. But in terms of it from an SEO perspective, you need to have the content be able to be found in the first place. You can have the most amazing photography, but if no one can find it, that’s really the point of that. I think it’s really important to do SEO work as well. Then from there, once you start ranking, if you really want to work on improving your photography, of course that’s amazing. But when it comes to that question of what’s the best way to get started, I really think SEO is a great way to build that momentum so people can even find you and then maybe layer the photography on top of that.
Megan Porta: I love your perspective, actually, because if you get too caught up in the photography side, I feel like it could take you a really long time to get up and running. But if you just dig into the SEO and then dedicate your time to working on your photography and improving it, that does make sense. That is such a good case.
Chelsea Plummer: Thank you. I think it’s one of those areas too, where food blogging when you get started, can feel so overwhelming. Focusing on one thing at a time can also just help you to tackle little by little developing it so you’re not getting overwhelmed and feeling like you have to have everything perfect in order to get started.
Megan Porta: Yeah, totally. Figuring out SEO because SEO can be really overwhelming. It’s such a broad topic with so many little subtopics underneath it. So really digging into it. You can find free resources, but it can be an investment. So what are your thoughts on that? Is it worth investing in, is it not?
Chelsea Plummer: Yeah, I definitely think that SEO is worth investing in. There’s so many areas within the blogging world that you don’t always get back what you put into it. With SEO, I’ve gotten back tenfold of what I’ve put into it. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was fortunate to find this AHrefs course that they were offering for free. But I took a few days to really dive into the course and then I signed up with a subscription. Side notes, they started offering that course for free now, indefinitely. So it is available again. But even having that, the subscription. Continually like spending time learning SEO, reading Google webmaster articles, listening to podcasts, you name it to continually be learning more about the Google algorithm updates. It’s an area that’s always changing and evolving. So I think it is really important to learn these things, make that investment so we can work smarter with our posts, not harder and get better results from the effort that we put into it.
Megan Porta: Oh, that’s what blogging is all about. I feel like we can work so hard and our wheels can just spin all the time. Or we can take a step back and evaluate what we can do to work a little bit smarter, and then our efforts actually start paying off. So I read in your bio that you only post four to eight new recipes a month, which is really impressive because I think for the traction that you get, that’s really great. So talk to us about some of the ways that you use SEO to work smarter.
Chelsea Plummer: Yes. I think one of the biggest ways that SEO helps me to work smarter is that I know that by doing keyword research, I know that the posts that I’m creating have potential and that I can be competitive for them. So that way I am not just basically throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. I know that there are good chances that if I do the post well that I will rank for them. So with that four to eight recipe posts a month, I’ve been able to get places. I’ve also shared that there’s been months I’ve taken completely off from posting. I still have been able to build that traction.
Megan Porta: How far do you plan in advance and schedule your content when you do that?
Chelsea Plummer: That’s a great question. For a while I had a plan, but I found that it restricted my creativity. So I would find that I just would get to something and I would be doing it just cause it was supposed to, I really wasn’t feeling inspired. So what I’ve started doing instead is I have a running list of all my ideas, approximate months I can do them. Then when I’m at the month scheduling out my month ahead, I will then insert them based on what looks good based on my overall database of potential keywords or topics to go after. So I guess it’s a little bit more of a hybrid. But it works for me, whereas I have the information, I know that there’s potential there, but I’m also going off of where I feel inspired or where I feel like I can create a really good recipe that I feel good about and hopefully my readers will enjoy.
Megan Porta: I like that. So you’re adding in, you’re keeping some creativity in the mix instead of just completely making it a robotic situation.
Chelsea Plummer: Totally. Totally.
Megan Porta: That’s really smart. So let’s talk about some of the little pieces of SEO. Some of the parts of a blog post, for example, like including process shots. I know that is a great way to make the user happy. That’s our ultimate goal, right? So I would love to hear your opinion on process shots and ingredient shots and whether or not we should be using those consistently.
Chelsea Plummer: Yeah. So I will start right out and saying that I do not enjoy taking process shots or ingredient shots, but I think they are so important. In my work helping other bloggers with their keyword research, I have seen a theme that most often the posts that need to be optimized or aren’t performing well, usually nine times out of 10, they don’t have process shots and or ingredient shots. From my own experience or from bloggers I’ve helped, when they’ve added just those alone, it’s helped their post performance. So to me, that shows a really important and from like you were saying, with a user perspective, it’s really important. As a user, if they’re scrolling through a post to be able to see high level what the recipes are about, understand it. If you have that and a competitor doesn’t, it’s automatically going to give you that advantage. So I think it can add extra time. They don’t have to be super styled and fancy, but it really the process shots or the ingredient shots is what matters is that they’re clear and people can understand and conceptualize what they need for the post and how overall this recipe is going to come together.
Megan Porta: So it seems like a no brainer to just comb through your old content that has potential. So maybe not your old content that’s just completely dead, not getting any traction. Just add those, right? Add the ingredient shots and the process shots.
Chelsea Plummer: Totally. I actually tell friends or people this all the time. If you want an easy add to optimize without even having to do keyword research, just go through and take process shots, ingredient shots. It’s one of the biggest, I think, bangs for your time box, when it comes to SEO and optimizing old posts.
Megan Porta: Wow, I feel like we can stop right there. That was gold. That was so good because you hear how important it is but if that could be a really huge factor in just getting the old posts with potential, giving them a little bit of a boost or even a big boost, then why not. Especially for stuff that has really common ingredients, maybe that you could just make really easily.
Chelsea Plummer: Even, let’s say you want to start with just ingredient shots and, you have like a bunch of baking recipes and you have all the supplies. You could even just go through and shoot ingredient shots. Then maybe the next week you do some process shots. So you can even schedule it out, however it works best.
Megan Porta: Yeah, I love that. Okay. So let’s talk about some other ways to optimize old posts. What are some other things that you do as you comb through the old continent?
Chelsea Plummer: So as I comb through old content, one of the first things I look for is a good, easy what’s the word for this? Like you were talking about not the posts that are old and dead and have no potential. I tend to go through and look, what are my posts that are ranking three through 10 or top of the second page. Go through those and work on those first. So from there, I can look at, what keywords am I targeting? Am I targeting the best ones for my competition level? I can go into a post that I optimized last year, but now if I can handle more competitive keywords, I can go in and reoptimize that old post with new keywords that are a level up competition-wise and usually a level of competition wise also means higher potential traffic or keyword search volume. If you already have all the information on your posts you could go in and just improve the keywords as your domain authority improves. As you find that you’re ranking better for more competitive terms. That’s an easy way that you can improve and level up your content. So at the beginning of last year, I cut my new post back to only two or three posts a year in the spring. Instead I just focus on optimizing like tons of posts. I was doing 10 or 12 posts a month, optimizing. But only two or three new ones. Maybe even less, eight, eight to 12, depending on the month. When June came around, there was a June and July core update, my traffic doubled. So it was a matter ,once again, I was just seeing that I had a lot of older content that I needed to redo my keywords. It really made a huge difference for me when that algorithm update was published.
Megan Porta: What are your thoughts on bloggers who’ve just been around for a couple of years? Is it worth it to go back to their quote old content, even though it’s not that old?
Chelsea Plummer: Definitely.
Megan Porta: Always improvements to be made.
Chelsea Plummer: Always. I’m not an old blogger. I’ve only had my blog for three years. The way I like to look at blog posts is that they are living documents. Because they are. The great thing about blogging is we don’t just publish it once, like a magazine and then there’s no changing ever. So taking advantage of that, continuing to make it competitive. If there’s an old post, say even two years old, where there’s a new way of doing one of the steps. Or there’s a new tool, or let’s say I have an old chili recipe, but it was made for the stove top, but I want to add directions for an instant Pot directions. Always thinking of what can I add to this post to make it the most relevant, to make it the most user-friendly, to make it the most up-to-date, doesn’t even have to be huge changes. Maybe I add those Instant Pot directions, or maybe I add dietary adaptations. If I want to show how a recipe can be made gluten-free, if I have readers that are asking about it. If I find the search terms, or there people are looking for gluten-free variations. Just always thinking about how to keep those posts relevant and the most competitive and the most beneficial for the readers.
Megan Porta: You framed that really well. I loved hearing all of that because you never know what is new. Like you mentioned new tools. I didn’t even think of that. Maybe there’s something that’s recently come onto your radar that is really helpful for the recipe. You have an affiliate link or something along those lines. There’s always things you can update. I create new content. I go in three months later and I’m already like, oh, I can update this. It feels like that’s way too soon, but it is completely true. There’s always something. Once you do your first sweep through the recipe, you do your initial post, that is the hard work. You are just finessing it from there
Chelsea Plummer: Yep. You’ve already done the hard work. So it’s just a matter of tweaking it up, making it as relevant as possible at the time that you’re updating it.
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Megan Porta: Talk to us about user experience. We touched on this, but I know that a lot of people say we need to please SEO and Google, but really, ultimately it’s not us pleasing Google. It’s us pleasing our user. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Chelsea Plummer: Yeah, like you’re saying so often in the Facebook groups or hearing bloggers talk, they’re like I gotta please the SEO gods. I need to do this. I need to do that. I think that the more Google evolves and the more with every subsequent core update, they’re just trying to get more and more in line with what the user wants and making the user experience the best for the reader. I always like to try to encourage people and think for myself when I’m looking at creating a post or optimizing a post, what is the best thing for the reader?
Because what Google wants is what’s best for the reader. So it could be everything from how you organize a post, to how you write the post or what subtitles you use, what headers and just really thinking through, stepping back. If I’m a reader, I might not know a lot about cooking, might not know a lot about this recipe, might be in a rush, might want to skim and get to the points where I need or want to read or learn about the article. Thinking through how you can formulate that post is the best for your reader to make it the easiest to read for readers.
Megan Porta: I appreciate that about Google because they’re reliable in that way. Because you know that they have the user at the forefront and they are getting smarter, like you mentioned. Whereas a platform like Pinterest does not have the user at the forefront of their mind. We’ve seen that play out recently. Wait a second, everyone wants this. Why are we? But yeah, anyway, that’s a whole other discussion. So I appreciate that they are keeping what’s important, which is the person searching for the content. That’s what’s important and what their needs are. Priorities are. That is number one for them.
Chelsea Plummer: Totally. I am so with you. It’s so much more reliable, it’s more common sense too. I even find when I’m using the internet or looking for recipes or whatever, I’m researching online, I get into that mindset. I’m like, okay, so I’m the reader. How do I like how they’re presenting it? Just always learning and absorbing. Other food blogs. How do I like how they present it? Wow. That was really user-friendly. Just constantly taking notes so I can apply it and think about that user experience.
Megan Porta: Yeah. So true. I think we should all keep this at the top of our minds because it’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re in the trenches, doing the keyword research, trying to figure out what to put on your posts. What do you think about planning ahead? Preparing for seasons as they come and preparing for holidays as they come. Because I feel like this has changed recently where it used to be, you have to think ahead six months. Now if you’re a month ahead, it’s okay. Put up the content and maybe it’ll get noticed. What are your thoughts?
Chelsea Plummer: Yeah. So I think a lot of it, give it like a little disclaimer on this, it all depends on how established you are as a blogger. If you’re established and you have a high domain authority and Google tends to rank your recipes right away, you can usually get away with posting things more last minute and still having them index and show up higher in the search results. But for those who aren’t yet there, or maybe Google doesn’t recognize as much, I usually recommend trying to get at least two, three months ahead of time of the seasons. If you could handle more, that’s great. But I try to do two, three months personally and recommend that as well for most of the people I work with, with the exception of Christmas. With Christmas, I tend to do three or four months. Just because there’s so much content usually to get out for the Christmas holidays. It just gives me more time to get it all together. But in general, it just gives Google time to index it, gives you time to get backlinks to those posts. So that way, by the time the holidays roll around, your post already is hopefully ranking, getting traffic in the search results for the traffic that people that are looking for it, because otherwise most of the time, if it’s not indexing, then it’s not really till the next year, the next holiday season that you really get any of the results for the work that you put into it. So it’s another example of working smarter, not harder. For example, when I’m planning out my month, this month we’re getting ready for April here. I’m already thinking, okay, July what kind of recipes will I want to be creating? So I’m looking at 4th of July recipes. I’m looking at, maybe even starting into peach season, blueberry season, like those summer produce. So thinking about what kind of recipes I want to create to capture that audience or those people that are searching for those terms.
Megan Porta: This always seems like a great concept, Chelsea, but actually doing it is like. I’m listening to you talk. That sounds so good to actually sit and plan and create and publish content ahead of time, but I don’t think I’ve ever done that far ahead. I’m a last minute girl. But I’ll make a case for doing despite having a time crunch. Because even if you are catching next year, then you have a whole year and by next year you’re planting this little seed that next year is going to be in full bloom. So do it anyway. Even if you’re thinking, there’s no way I’m going to get ranked in two months. Cinco de Mayo or whatever is two months from now is almost here. So I really respect you for doing that. Do you put it on your calendar? How do you make yourself do that? Or does it just come naturally for you?
Chelsea Plummer: So I started doing this, I believe it was last spring and I made the jump and it was hard because I was like, okay, right around this time, I was working last minute on Easter type recipes, Easter and spring recipes. Then it all sudden, I was like, I need to start jumping ahead. So I pretty much skipped creating new content last year for me, late spring, early summer recipes. After Easter I jumped into this summer and kind of worked on this ahead of time schedule. It can be really tricky though. Especially sometimes for me, getting the mindset. Okay. What do I even want to eat in July? What do people eat in July? When it’s and it’s Easter when the weather’s still dreary, sometimes cold, like getting into that mindset. Sometimes it’s hard to find things that are in season. It’d be hard for me to find a fresh peach, for example. So with the exception of those things, I have done last minute Turkey recipes, for example. Because I couldn’t find a Turkey breast and whenever I was working on it, August. I don’t know if that helps, like with getting into that, but I think it’s just sometimes just sitting and thinking. What really, what I want at that time, what I usually eat. Sometimes I’ll do a quick search. For example, fall recipes, just to get my wheels turning, thinking about ingredients, thinking about types of dishes, and then just start brainstorming, start keyword researching. By then I usually have enough momentum or inspiration to start running with it.
Megan Porta: You’ve inspired me to at least look ahead and consider that because it would be nice to have new things to run through, or at least old stuff that I’ve re- optimized to run through the system, so to speak and be ready by summer. Because summer tends to be a huge lull for me. You inspired me today.
Chelsea Plummer: Oh, I’m glad to hear that.
Megan Porta: Is there anything else? This has been great. I think you’ve made such a great case for prioritizing SEO and working on photography as you do that. So it’s like a little side burner project, improve it, yes, for sure. Because it’s visual, food blogging is so visual. But while you’re doing that, keep SEO at the forefront and keep working on it and improving it. Is there anything we’ve forgotten? Any takeaways or anything you want to mention before we start saying goodbye?
Chelsea Plummer: I don’t think so. I think that’s about it.
Megan Porta: Okay. This has been wonderful. Thank you so much for joining me today. It was such a pleasure to talk with you, Chelsea.
Chelsea Plummer: Thanks so much for having me. It was really fun.
Megan Porta: Yes. So before you go, do you have either a favorite quote or words of inspiration to share with us?
Chelsea Plummer: I think I mainly have words of inspiration and encouragement. My main encouragement to share, to find a blogging community or some like a blogging network. Find your friends. About a year and a half ago I discovered my mastermind group and we meet every other week. They’ve been really key for me. I feel like it was a turning point for me and my journey as well. Having a network to support each other, to troubleshoot issues together was really huge, especially in those moments where it’s a hard journey growing a food blog. Not everyone understands it. Even the people that want to understand this really unique space. Also just having friends that I could talk to in an otherwise somewhat lonely job. It’s been really nice to have a community, and I just, I hope that everyone can find that and to help them in their journey and help make the journey more enjoyable.
Megan Porta: There is a gap there. I’ve noticed recently a lot of food bloggers saying that is their main, not obstacle, but downside of food blogging is that they don’t feel understood. They feel extremely lonely. The people who are in their lives, who try to understand, really don’t and to no fault of their own, because it’s like you said, it’s odd, it’s a unique space. It’s a real gap. I truly hope that everyone listening finds that group and then your people too, because you need that. It’s so important.
Chelsea Plummer: Totally. You could find those people through just reaching out to people on DMs. I was trying to remember how I found my group. I don’t know if it was a Facebook round up group or if it was Food Bloggers Central Facebook group, but I just posted. I was like, are there any other health focus bloggers that want to meet up? From there it just naturally evolved. So it can be scary. The results can really be worth it just to put yourself out there and try to get to know other bloggers.
Megan Porta: Yup. Such an important part of it. Thank you for mentioning Chelsea. We will put together some show notes for you. So if you want to go peek at those, you can go to eatblogtalk.com/maesmenu, and Mae is spelled M A E so M A E S. Why don’t you tell everyone where they can find you Chelsea, online and on social media?
Chelsea Plummer: Yes. So you can find me on my website at Maesmenu.com. As Megan said, M A E S menu.com. Then I also can be found on Instagram at Mae’s Menu as well.
Megan Porta: Awesome. Thank you again, Chelsea so much for joining me today and thank you for listening today, food bloggers. I will see you in the next episode.
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