We cover information about current effective strategies to rank on Google, including what is implied by ‘helpful content’ and why you should focus on user experience and backlinks.

Listen on the player in this post or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube or your favorite podcast player. Or scroll down to read a full transcript.

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Guest Details

Connect with UKU Digital
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Carl is an engineer who spent many years in corporate technology consulting roles which gave him a unique perspective on the application of technology, processes, and getting a return on your investments literally spent decades helping customers make sense of technology products.

Today Carl offers SEO services and the food blogging niche was an obvious fit. While he works with bloggers in many different niches, food bloggers are his bread and butter.


  • SEO is not dead: While some sites have seen traffic declines, Google is still sending traffic to food blogs and recipe sites through search results.
  • Focus on content, technical SEO, and backlinks: These three pillars are important for SEO success according to the three-legged stool analogy. 
  • Optimize ad density: Reducing intrusive ads can improve the user experience and SEO performance of a site.
  • Build your brand: Establishing a presence on platforms beyond your website signals to Google that you are a genuine content creator rather than AI.
  • Be careful with AI-generated content: You can use AI to generate ideas, but do not copy and paste AI-generated text for your blog post.
  • Evaluate affiliate links: Excessive low-revenue affiliate links may affect your site’s Google ranking.
  • Experiment with changes: Disable or turn down ads to evaluate how they affect traffic and revenue.
  • How to deal with algorithm updates: During an algorithm update, some blogs rise while others fall, so monitoring changes and being flexible is important. 
  • Focus on what you can control: Prioritize your efforts on things you can control on your blog, social media profiles, email list and other revenue streams.

Resources Mentioned

Each of these images is mentioned during the interview and Megan would like to mention the time they are referenced.


Click for full script.

EBT546 – Carl Ross

Intro 00:00

Food bloggers. Hi, how are you today? Thank you so much for tuning in to the Eat Blog Talk podcast. This is the place for food bloggers to get information and inspiration to accelerate your blog’s growth, and ultimately help you to achieve your freedom. Whether that’s financial, personal, or professional. I’m Megan Porta. I have been a food blogger for 13 years, so I understand how isolating food blogging can be. I’m on a mission to motivate, inspire, and most importantly, let each and every food blogger, including you, know that you are heard and supported. 

Megan Porta  00:38

This is probably one of the most valuable, timely, relevant, important SEO podcast episodes that I’ve ever recorded here on this podcast. I just got done with my chat with Carl Ross. He is from UKU digital. And while he delivers so much relevant information on the topic of SEO, mainly talking about this question is SEO dead? I’ll give you a little spoiler. No, it is not dead. He talks to us about why he feels it’s not dead and helps us see through the clouds that we’re all in right now. The blinding amounts of information that are being thrown at us that make us feel confused and like we want to throw in the towel honestly and just sell our blogs and run for the hills. We really talk about so many sub topics of SEO that I’m just going to let you listen instead of telling you what we’re going to talk about because I know that so many of you are going to listen to this. It is very good. I highly recommend that every single food blogger who owns a food blog right now, listen, as soon as this is published, enjoy it. And this episode is of course sponsored by RankIQ. 

Sponsor  01:57

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Megan Porta  03:28

Carl Ross is an engineer who spent many years in corporate technology consulting roles which gave him a unique perspective on the application of technology processes and getting a return on your investments. It means he spent literally decades helping customers make sense of technology products. 20 years ago, Carl started building recipe websites as a side hustle. At one point he had over 50 sites online each generating revenue he was pretty pleased with then the Google Panda update tanked every single one of the sites, which was the right thing for it to do because they were very low quality massively over optimized sites that had been churned out in mass. They deserved to get buried deep deep in the search results. Today only a couple of remain online and Carl only uses them for SEO testing purposes. Fast forward to 2019 and he started offering SEO services and the food blogging niche was an obvious fit. While Carl works with bloggers in many different niches food bloggers are his bread and butter. 

Megan Porta  04:26

Hello  arl. Welcome back to the podcast. How are you today?

Carl Ross  04:30

I’m fantastic. Thanks for having me back.

Megan Porta  04:32

Yes, you’re on the other side of the world. So you’re starting your day, I think right and I’m ending my day. 

Carl Ross  04:38

Yes, it’s seven o’clock in the morning for me. I think it’s about four in the afternoon so for you. 

Megan Porta  04:43

Correct, yeah, this is not a time when I normally do interviews so I feel a little off you know how you get into the groove of doing things at a certain time. So hopefully I Stay with the SEO topic. I’m sure it’ll be good. But we’re gonna talk about SEO today right? It is a very, very hot topic currently for food bloggers, especially I think.

Carl Ross  05:05

Yes, for sure. For sure. There’s been all kinds of updates and everything in the last kind of six to nine months. And there’s some sites are going up, some sites are going down. It’s been it’s been a crazy time in SEO.

Megan Porta  05:16

Yeah. I mean, have you ever seen a crazier time than this? 

Carl Ross  05:20

Yes. Back in probably 10, 12, 13 years ago, in the in the first rounds of the Penguin updates from Google is feels a lot like that. 

Megan Porta  05:31

Oh, okay. 

Carl Ross  05:32

Back in those days, you know, I had a bunch of sites online, and they kind of all got destroyed by Google at the time. Now, they were very low quality sites. So they should have been, but yeah, it’s very, you know, I haven’t seen anything like this in probably a decade. 

Megan Porta  05:48

Well, let’s talk about it. Because we were just chatting a little bit about how some food bloggers are like, I’m gonna sell my site, I’m done. I want out. This is too much. I can’t handle it. SEO is dead. What do I do? So can you just address that? Do you think SEO is dead? 

Carl Ross  06:04

Definitely not definitely not. I think sites have been impacted. Some sites have been very, very heavily impacted, which is really difficult to watch. But SEO as a traffic source. And, you know, SEO is search engine optimization. So we’re trying to get traffic in from search engines. And unfortunately, because of Google’s market share, you know, Google has 90% plus market share of search engine searches. Really, we’re talking about Google, but technically, SEO would have would equally apply to Bing and Yahoo, if anybody uses that anymore. So yes, SEO, you know, as search engines, but unfortunately, we really mean Google. And is SEO dead? Well, I think there’s there’s there’s two ways that people can really answer that question for themselves. And, you know, one, does, does the general public still go to search engines when they’re looking for recipes? In a do they go? And they type in chocolate cake recipe, for example? And the other one, the other question to answer is, does search engines and Google really, do they show recipe sites? Are they showing food blogs at the top of the Google results page? And if the answer to both of those questions is yes, then SEO is definitely not dead.

Megan Porta  07:26

And the answer is yes, you would say, right, absolutely.

Carl Ross  07:29

Yes. hot tip, the answer is definitely yes. You know, subject to seasonal fluctuations, they’re still the same number of food related searches being done on Google. And Google is still showing food blogs at the top of the Google results. So they’ve got the search volume is there, the food sites are still at the top. But there’s there’s things that have gone on that have, you know, some sites have been demoted, and then then other sites have been promoted. The thing about search engines is, it’s kind of a zero sum game, if the search is still happening. And if one site goes down, that means that another side moves up and takes the place.

Megan Porta  08:11

And then what about like, I’ve noticed a lot of Quora and Reddit just kind of going up for a lot of recipe related searches. Do you think that’s gonna continue? What’s up with that? 

Megan Porta  08:23

It’s hard to know what Google’s gonna do, they have done some sort of deal with Reddit. And we definitely do see Reddit before some search results. But I think you’re gonna, we’ve got some screenshots here that I’ve taken recently, I think you’re going to add in the show notes. And if you look at those screenshots, so for example, one of them is chocolate cake recipe, we don’t see Quora, we don’t see Reddit at the top of the page. So for for food related searches. I’m not seeing Quora and Reddit you know, right at the top of the page, which is where the bulk of the clicks go anyways, there are other other niches there’s other sort of search terms where they’re more prominent, but um, as long as we don’t see them at the very top of the food related search, then, you know, it’s still okay.

Megan Porta  09:10

Do you think from the user standpoint, that these are actually helpful? Speaking of Reddit and Quora, I feel I feel like if I’m looking for a recipe, that is the last place I would personally click

Carl Ross  09:22

exactly No, I think in for food bloggers, not at all. It’s it’s not helpful. There’s so many examples now of you know, basically trolls who’ve been posting stuff on Reddit in the last decade, and that stuff is getting surfaced. I mean, to do it, to cook a dish properly. To follow a recipe you’d need really detailed instructions, you need the pictures, you need all of the things that food bloggers are doing. And some random person on Reddit 10 years ago who you know, made some post really is that’s not going to be helpful.

Megan Porta  09:54

Yeah, exactly. I thought. And

Carl Ross  09:57

So far, so good. We’re not I’m not seeing Quora and Reddit at the top of food related searches, there’s definitely other niches where they’re right at the top. But I’m not seeing that in the food space.

Megan Porta  10:09

So what you’re saying instead, you’re seeing that if you maybe have a keyword that you’ve had forever, and you’ve gone down another food blog has likely gone up. So it’s like you’re switching positions with other food bloggers?

Carl Ross  10:22

Pretty much. Yeah, yeah, pretty much. Yeah.

Megan Porta  10:24

Why is that? 

Carl Ross  10:26

Well, it’s all the Google algorithm updates that we’ve had, you know, in the last nine months, we’ve had the September 23, Helpful Content Update, we had a whole bunch of unannounced or kind of unverified updates from Google at the end of 2023. Then we’ve had we had the October core update, October 23. And then we’ve had the March 2024. update, like they have been changing things so much. And that what that does is shuffles the results around some people go up some people go down.

Megan Porta  10:58

Yeah. Do you feel like things will kind of even back out? Or is that really hard to predict?

Carl Ross  11:05

It’s very hard to predict. Yeah.

Megan Porta  11:07

You don’t have a crystal ball for us, Carl?  I was hoping you’d bring that to the interview. It’s fine. 

Carl Ross  11:15

I left it downstairs. You want me to go get it?

Megan Porta  11:18

Yeah, another time next time. Okay. Well, I mean, that is good to know, though. It’s a little bit comforting to know that at least somebody’s getting the traffic that’s putting in the work, right, a creator who’s doing the work. And it’s not just the Reddit and Quora sites that are going up.

Carl Ross  11:35

Exactly, exactly. Yeah, the searches are still happening. We’re still seeing the food blogs at the top of the school pages, it just seems to be a bit of a reshuffling of the of the order of them. Yeah. And we’re still seeing people. And there’s been, there’s been certainly some some panic. And some, you know, people are very frustrated. And I totally get it. It’s It’s heartbreaking to watch people’s traffic tank. And we’re just kind of now starting to get a few people coming out and saying, actually, my traffic’s up, you know, I’ve, I’ve had the best month ever, I’ve had the best quarter ever have. I just got into MediaVine, for example. And that’s because of the shuffle. Like if the people that are losing traffic, that the traffic is coming somewhere else to another, to another food blogger?

Megan Porta  12:18

Yeah, that’s very true. I have a few people in my mastermind group who, like they’re reluctant to say this, because so many other people are experiencing the opposite. But they have had amazing month like the best month ever, in their businesses. Yeah.

Carl Ross  12:34

And I kind of wish you know, and I understand people, people don’t want to kind of brag when when other people are hurting, but I kind of wish they’d be a little bit more vocal about it might help stop some of the fear that that we’re seeing right

Megan Porta  12:48

now. That’s a good point. Yeah. Speaking out, if not in a bragging way. But just like, hey, there’s opportunity here. It’s your last yeah, exactly. Exactly. And then I’m curious to hear about the three legged stool analogy. Can you talk through that?

Carl Ross  13:04

 Yeah. So the three legged stool analogies is used to illustrate concept that, you know, you need a combination of three essential items or three essential elements. And when it comes to SEO, those three things are one content, two, technical SEO, and three backlinks. Right. And, and those are big topics in of themselves. But you have to have the content, you need good content, good quality content that people are looking for. And this kind of means targeting the right keywords. So we need to be, we need to be producing a piece of content that people are looking for in terms of the search volume. But also and probably equally as important, that keyword needs to have kind of a difficulty level that your individual site has the ability to rank for. And by that I mean, you know, there’s kind of no point in a say a brand new site, which doesn’t have very many backlinks, putting up a chocolate cake recipe. Because those who have been on the internet since you know the internet began, that’d be very, very difficult keywords, the sites that are at the top have very strong backlink profiles. So you could put up a fantastic chocolate cake recipe, but it’s probably going to be too difficult, the key will be too difficult for you to rank for. So in that that’s super fast overview of content, technical SEO. There’s a lot that goes into technical SEO, including user experience, but it can be things like the site navigation, how easy is it for both site visitors, as well as search engines to crawl through the content and to find the content? You know, are you is your navigation setup in such a way that Google can easily crawl and get to all of the content quickly? Or is a piece of content. You know, if you’re standing on the homepage, and you’re clicking the navigation, does it take you 6, 7, 8, 9 clicks to get to a piece of content? So we call it we call it site architecture of how is the site navigation laid out? How do people get two pieces of content? User Experience is big, you know, and I think ads ads have a lot to do with user experience. But and then, of course, the other. The other element is back links, you have to have a strong backlink profile. And I think this is an area that people don’t always focus on. It’s it’s hard building, building good backlinks is really hard. And it’s, you know, it’s not, it’s no fun people. People like to make their recipes, they’d like to do the photography, trying to build backlinks is hard and no fun. So it’s definitely an area I think sometimes gets gets neglected. 

Carl Ross  16:03

And it takes time it takes I mean, it’s like a long game, right? You can’t I do know people who really dig in and build backlinks pretty quickly, just because they put a focus on it. But I think if you’re going to just create content and put peripherally your eyes on it, then it’s going to take you some time. So you have to be patient. Yeah. Do you have thoughts about that? Like, do you have tips about ways to get backlinks? Yes.

Carl Ross  16:32

So in the food blogging space, of course, there, there’s roundup groups, they’re a great way to get backlinks from other related sites, going on podcasts, you know, coming on your your podcast, or if you can, if you’re a baker, and there’s baking podcasts, typically podcasters will link back to your site. Engaging with the media is is also a good way to get backlinks. Probably better to start small. Like if you live in a small town, for example, or in smaller areas, smaller state, you’re going to have a much easier time trying to engage with with smaller local media. Then with you know, the New York Times, for example, what else write a cookbook, you know, take your existing recipes, put them into a cookbook. And then from a link perspective, there’s a whole bunch of websites out there that you can sell your your cookbooks on, and they have author profiles. And from the author profile, you can link back to your own website. So obviously, this is this is good for backlinks. But I also like it because it demonstrates to Google that you’re you’re an expert in your field, you’re not just putting up content, but you’re you have a book and you know, it’s distributed across these various sites. And Google’s like Aha, okay, this isn’t just some, you know, AI generated content. Because those people don’t do any of these things. They don’t do any of this off site stuff. So I think that’s a that’s another really good way that people can and also monetize it. I’m thinking about this from backlink perspective. But of course, some people do very well, in terms of generating revenue from from the sale of their books as well.

Megan Porta  18:14

Right? Yeah, you kind of hit a bunch of different areas there. And then you’re not even talking about hardcover book. This could be an ebook.

Carl Ross  18:22

Yeah. Digital, a digital copy. Yeah, there’s lots of sites that will let you sell digital copies. So yeah, I mean, of course, if you want to go hardcover, go for it. But from from the backlink perspective, it’s really just getting up on those sites and getting your author profile filled out. 

Megan Porta  18:38

Yeah. And it’s a good way to diversify, just revenue and so many things that you could hit with doing that. And then for the technical SEO that you mentioned, do you have any tips for food bloggers about any of that? I know, you kind of said like user experience navigation? Do you have any little details to mention that might be helpful within that number?

Carl Ross  19:01

Yeah. So So I mean, I think if you’re running ads, I think ad density is really important in terms of put yourself in the shoes of the site searcher. And if they search for chocolate cake, and or whatever your keyword that you’re targeting, if they land on your site, and they can’t find your content, because you’re running the default ad company in a recommended ad density. People, people can’t find the content. And what happens is they do what’s called pogo sticking, and they will immediately hit the back button, go back to Google, and then click on a different result. And that’s a really poor user experience signal to Google. We know, we know that Google’s monitoring all of the users. So I think I think ad density has a lot to do with it. So I always recommend that people. You know, if you’re in the United States, pull up your site and your mobile phone and go to one of your posts and just scroll slowly from that. Up to the bottom. And really watch for what on your screen is content. And what on your screen is not content. So you know, we have email, signups we have and of course ads, right? Sticky video ads covering the screen, if you have an email pop up, which covers the screen, that’s something I always recommend people don’t run is the pop up. You know, can visitors even see your content? Unfortunately, I think the the ad companies push far, far too many ads, they see, you know, the solution to every problem is more ads. So it’s really important that people that people keep an eye on their ad density and essentially turn it down. And some of the people that I’ve been working with have turned down their ad density. And they’ve come back and they’ve said, You know what, my my revenues has either stayed the same or gone up, because they get more traffic, right? So it’s this win win situation where we end up with a better user experience. So the visitors happy, the site owner, their RPMs go up or they get more traffic, they get more revenue, so they’re happy, and everybody’s happy.

Megan Porta  21:14

Is there a certain magic number for that? As far as add density that you recommend?

Carl Ross  21:18

No, not really, in the audit, the company all do it differently as well. So it’s really it’s really hard to say, Oh, this, this is the number, right, but and sometimes it’s not necessarily the percentage, but also the different elements, you know, so for example, MediaVine, I think still loves their ad arrival unit, you know, you click on the jump to recipe button. And they don’t take you to a recipe they take you to an ad. Ad Thrive or Raptive on mobile, they’ve got this huge sticky video that sits at the top of the screen that completely covers the content. So it’s not always just about a number. It’s more about having a look at the the individual elements, add add items in play. 

Megan Porta  21:18

It would be interesting to experiment with that because you’re right. I go to my site on my phone. Sometimes I’m like, What is going on? This is way, way, way too much. It’s crazy. Exactly.

Carl Ross  22:14

No, I definitely, definitely recommend people experiment with it, you know, turn turn it down or disable something. Take notes on you know, when you do it. What day do you do it? Once your RPM for a couple of days? What’s your what’s your revenue for a couple of days and see what happens?

Megan Porta  22:30

Yeah, that’s great advice. Okay, anything else about the three legged stool analogy? 

Carl Ross  22:36

Content, technical SEO, backlinks. I mean, it’s a massive, massive topic, each one of those we could probably spend a day talking about. Yeah, but I think that’s probably that’s probably the the overview. 

Carl Ross  22:52

That’s perfect. Yeah. Should we move on to each HCU? So I know you mentioned this a little bit earlier. But HCU is the helpful content update. And you’ll have to fill me in about when Okay, so was that first rolled out in 2022? Correct?

Carl Ross  23:09

So yes, there was a product review update or a review update. And I think it was August of 2022 is the first iteration that I saw. It didn’t really have any impact on food bloggers, there was a couple of sites in different spaces that I saw that were impacted, but didn’t really seem to touch food bloggers at all. And then, of course, we had the September 2023, which was when the when basically Google moved the rollout of the helpful content update the first one that they started calling it helpful content update. And that had a massive impact on on some sites. That was kind of when we first saw the big report of sites that were losing significant amounts of traffic.

Megan Porta  23:57

And then March of this year was another?

Carl Ross  24:00

Exactly. And now what they’re saying is that they’ve kind of rolled it into their overall process. It’s the same going forward. It’s not going to be a standalone update, like we’ve had the last couple of years.

Megan Porta  24:12

Okay, well, yeah. And the whole naming of that is confusing for me, because I feel like, is it helpful? And I think a lot of other people agree, like, what do you think, Carl, is this actually helpful for users?

Carl Ross  24:25

I think the advice that you get from various sources to make your content more helpful is probably the most unhelpful advice we could ever get. And it’s kind of offensive, actually.

Megan Porta  24:39

Yeah, I agree. Yeah.

Carl Ross  24:41

So if somebody’s putting in the time and the effort to make good content, and then they’re, they’re kind of getting this message or your content’s not helpful. And, you know, how would Google actually even be able to determine this determine if some think is helpful. They’re there to Google’s an algorithm that is essentially reading the text on the page. They don’t know if you know you’re supposed to cook a chicken at 375 degrees or 400. And, you know, how long do you do it for? Basically, they consume the text on the page they’re looking for, for certain words, and they’re watching the users, right? I think this is this is critical. And we kind of touched on this before, we learned a lot. Well, we learned, I guess, we had confirmed in Google’s anti-trust trials last year, just how much they’re watching what people do so. So that basically what you want to do is what’s called ending the search, right? So you want to be the piece of content that stops people searching. So what I mean by that is, if I go to Google and type in chocolate cake recipe, what most people do is they open up, you know, they’re clicking a link to go to the site. And they might go back to Google. And then they click on another result. So you will, Google is watching that. And you want to be the side that people then no longer do any more searches for, you want to end the search. So essentially, your content is so good, your your ad density is so low, that your users are happy, you’re making users happy. They don’t need to go anywhere else. And Google sees that.

Megan Porta  26:25

Yeah, that’s such a good way to look at it. Just be the search ender, be the one that people end on. So that you yeah, they’re not going back to anywhere else.

Carl Ross  26:35

Exactly. And your content is “so good:. And so you know, I’m doing air quotes, but we’re not in video “so helpful”, that you that you end the search.

Megan Porta  26:44

And ways to do that, obviously, you deliver quality content, you don’t have a ton of ads that are annoying, maybe you don’t have email pop ups everywhere. What else can we do to end that search?

Carl Ross  26:58

make it make it easy for people to find what they’ve come to look for. And you can use the opening paragraph on the page, to essentially, you know, let them know that they’ve come to the right place. So what I mean by that is, if they’ve searched for chocolate cake recipe, they land on your page, most of the time, we’ve got like an opening paragraph above a hero shot. And make sure that that in that opening paragraph, you kind of reassure them that they’ve come to the right place. So of course, you you reiterate that this is this is a page for chocolate cake. And you might give a really brief overview as to why yours is so good. Yeah. So that they they come to the page and they go, Okay, I’m here, I found what I want. You know, we have the jump to recipe button, we have all these things that reassure the searcher that they’re in the right place.

Megan Porta  27:53

I love that. And I love what you said earlier about just that being offensive. I’ve heard a handful of SEO experts say this too. They’re just repeating what Google is saying. But it’s like make your content more helpful. And then you’ll be in the good graces and I feel like are you joking, we work so hard. I don’t know anyone who works harder than food bloggers that almost makes you want to cry. I’m like, I am extremely offended by that. If I look at everything I’ve ever created, I have poured my heart and soul into it. So to be told, make it more helpful. It’s like what? So I have to go back through all of my content with new eyes and somehow make it even better than better. Like I don’t I just don’t get that.

Carl Ross  28:39

You’re right. It’s offensive. It’s it’s terrible advice. I think, unfortunately, some people just kind of parrot what Google says, you know, and they just they just repeat whatever Google says. SEOs tend to end up in in one of two camps. You know, one, the first camp is they take everything that Google says, they believe it and and they basically just repeat it and regurgitate it. The other camp looks at what Google says and goes, really? And then they go away. And they do tests, right? And they’ll they’ll test something and like, Okay, what if I do this to my title tag, then what happens if I put my keyword in this spot on the page and that spot on the page, what happens? And they essentially trying to reverse engineer the algorithm. They don’t believe anything Google says, or they take it with a very large grain of salt. I’m very much in the second camp. I don’t necessarily believe what Google says, and I either do my own testing, or there’s people out there that their entire career is testing the algorithm, and then they charge for for those results. So you know, I pay for those the access to that information, run my own tests, and then trying to draw my own conclusions.

Megan Porta  29:56

Yeah, no, I appreciate that. I appreciate the different ways that different experts go about that too. Because does it feel like Google even knows what’s going on? Sometimes I feel like they say something, and then it doesn’t align with something they said a month ago. Like, do they even know what’s going on? Does anyone know what’s going on? 

Carl Ross  30:16

Yeah, I think I think sometimes they don’t. Yeah, it’s just gotten, it’s just gotten so big. And so really, there’s so many moving parts, I don’t even know, you know. Like they recently was it a month ago, you know, they’re the representatives were saying our backlinks aren’t very important anymore. And it’s just kind of at what, oh, gosh, what are you talking about? That is so misleading, so deceptive, that it’s just really shaking my head at that one. 

Megan Porta  30:47

Yeah, seriously. And I get it on one hand, because there’s so many things happening right now. The updates are putting out but then also there’s AI, and I know they’re trying to protect sites against that. So I kind of feel for them. On one hand, it’s like, yeah, they’ve got a lot going on, and a lot to figure out. Do you agree with that? 

Megan Porta  31:08

Oh, for sure. For sure. They have a big problem on their hands, you know, now with generative AI. So things like Chtd GPT or Gemini, or there’s, there’s a whole bunch of them out there. Anybody can go to these AI systems and then say, you know, write me an article on on chocolate cake and include a recipe and you click a button, and then out comes this body of text, which, you know, they can it’s got all the right keywords, and they can publish it. And Google’s got a big problem on their hands trying to figure out how is what is AI generated garbage, which is really just rehash regurgitated text versus genuine quality content. So yeah, that’s they do they do have an issue on their hands for sure.

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Megan Porta  33:34

So I’ve heard recently that a lot of or not a lot, but there are some people who are creating these sites that are generating a lot of traction and revenue from AI alone. Is that right? 

Carl Ross  33:47

There certainly was at the end of last year before we had the March 24 update there. And there was people that not in the food space. But people in other spaces were kind of building these sites and showing what they were doing on YouTube. And they would generate millions of page views. And they all got destroyed in March their traffic all went to zero. I think a lot of that was actually manual penalties from Google. Google’s like you know, no, you can’t do this. You can’t just use a bot to to churn out 1000 articles and post them in a day. So but that said I think there you know there are still people that are using AI and AI has its uses don’t get me wrong I’m not saying you can’t use it but I think the sites that are just you know saying write me an article and then copying pasting the text. They’re in trouble. But even for foot bloggers, if you if you go okay, you know I’ve been in the kitchen all day and do nothing photography. It’s late at night my brain is fried, you can use AI to identify maybe topics that you hadn’t thought of, like, you know, give me an outline, or say, identify 10 important things, right? And then quality check them, it’d be like, You know what, three of these are garbage, I’m going to completely ignore that. But there might be one or two nuggets in there. You’re like, oh, I hadn’t thought about that, or I’m tired. I forgot about that. Yes, I will write that in my own words in my own text and include that. So it has uses, but I would be be very concerned about anybody who was just generating a body of text and then copying and pasting that onto their website.

Megan Porta  35:35

Right. And I think most food bloggers are not in that camp. And they are, you know, it’s upsetting to hear that people have made that work. But very relieving also to hear that Google has found those sites out and that they can distinguish who is doing that and who’s not. So I actually love hearing that. 

Carl Ross  35:54

It’s definitely a space that’s that’s evolving. And you know, we’ll have to see what happens going forward. 

Megan Porta  35:59

Yeah. And then images too, or it’s crazy what AI is doing with images. I can’t even believe like, how does that even work? It just blows my mind? 

Carl Ross  36:09

Yeah, I haven’t I haven’t really played with that much at all. I haven’t either other than Yeah, other than doing some sort of outside of work things. You know, I had Chat GPT generates some images, some cavalry images for my daughter. And they’re kind of cartoon like, you can really tell.

Megan Porta  36:25

Yeah, yeah, it’s one of those things, I don’t need another thing to do. So I’m just like, I’m not even gonna. I’m not going there yet. But it is kind of crazy. What I see on social media like this is AI generated. And I’m like, what? That’s, that’s insane.

Carl Ross  36:39

Yeah, yeah, it’s getting it is getting better and better, for sure. Yeah.

Megan Porta  36:44

And then something I’ve been hearing a lot lately from different experts, not just SEO, but all across the board is just focusing on your brand, like being a brand. And establishing that as your business. What do you think about that?

Carl Ross  37:00

I’m totally in favor of that. I think that’s one of the ways that Google is able to distinguish quality content creators from, you know, essentially AI spammers, because if you’re, as well as you know, publishing your content on your website, but you also have a Pinterest account, and maybe a Flipboard account, and you know, you’re publishing content in other places, that then generates clicks from those other sources as well. So especially with Google Chrome, like Google’s watching everything. And if Google, if somebody’s using Google Chrome browser, and they click on something in Pinterest, and they come to your site, they spend a bunch of time on your site, Google soccer hat. This is quality content, because, you know, not because they’re actually reading the content, but because they’re watching the users. So absolutely, I think building a brand is important. And really, that means, you know, being in other places other than just putting out content for search engine. So do the things that the brands are doing be on other platforms, you know, build that digital cookbook we were talking about earlier, and push that out to all the different sites.

Megan Porta  38:13

I like what you said about that is signaling to Google, that you are more than just AI, you are a brand when you are on, you know, Pinterest and Facebook, and you have an ebook that somebody downloaded, that those are all signals that you’re a human producing quality content. 

Carl Ross  38:31

Exactly, exactly. Google, you know, Google sees people interacting with your brand on other places that aren’t just your own website. And because of the Google Chrome browser, they literally see everything across the internet. 

Megan Porta  38:45

Yeah, that’s a good reminder for all of us. Yeah. What are your thoughts about affiliate situations? I know a few people who have, they were heavily focused on affiliate like product reviews and things like that, and they were hit really hard in March. So I’d love to hear about it.

Carl Ross  39:02

Absolutely. So there’s been some articles that have made the rounds, people might have read an article from a site called House Fresh, which was a product review site. And they if I remember correctly, they were reviewing home air conditioning or home air filters or something. And essentially, what they were doing is they were they were getting the products in and they were testing them and they were writing up reviews, and then they would drop an affiliate link. Right. That’s how they monetize their site. And those product review sites have been completely decimated in the last few updates. So what I’m really concerned about is okay, how do we relate that to food bloggers, what I’m quite concerned about is the sort of just general tend to drop affiliate links into your recipe code drop affiliate links into the post. And a lot of people that I talk to, and I say, okay, you know, if I’ve run a scan on your site, I found across the entire domain, I found 20,000. Amazon links, how, what kind of revenues that generating for you is this, you know, is this a revenue source that we need to worry about? And they’re like, no, I make $25 a month. Okay, let’s pull all of your affiliate links. So in that situation there, there are some sites that do very, very well with affiliate links. But I would say 90% of sites that I look at, there’s hundreds of 1000s of affiliate links, and they’re generating no revenue, you know, are such small amounts of revenue that these days, I’m looking at this from a risk management perspective, and we’re clearly seeing an impact in the product review space, other people who are using affiliate links. So I’m kind of at basically, today, I’m saying, if you’re not generating any revenue from your affiliate links, or any, you know, reasonable amount of revenue, I think there’s a case to pull them off. We just don’t know if they’re, if Google is looking at your site as a pure affiliate site.

Megan Porta  41:12

That’s a really good point. I hadn’t thought of that. But I’m one of those people who makes like $10 a month or 15, maybe on a good month, and I don’t have a ton of affiliate links, but enough that I could probably go back and just get rid of those. That’s a good point. 

Carl Ross  41:29

And they tend to creep in over the years, you know, we just get to kind of get into the habit. And, and sometimes when I’m when I’m asking people, you know, why are you doing this? And they’re like, well, because all the other food bloggers, I see are doing it?

Megan Porta  41:41

Okay. Find a good reason, probably. Right. Yeah. 

Carl Ross  41:45

You know, if it’s not generating revenue, I think, from a risk management perspective, I would be inclined to pull them now that like I said, there, if somebody’s listening, they’re like, oh, I make 1000s of dollars a month from for affiliate links. Okay, you’re in that sort of 5% 10% of sites is doing very well with affiliate links. I’m not saying that you should pull them. Yeah. But the people that just put them in, and they’re not even really sure why or they, they think that they’re helpful to the users. But they make $10 $15 $20.

Megan Porta  42:19

A lot of people do fall into that category, I think. 

Carl Ross  42:22

Yeah. And they just build up over time. 

Megan Porta  42:24

Yeah, they do. They do add up, we probably have more than we think on our sites. In my mind, I think I only have a few, but I probably have much more than a few. 

Carl Ross  42:32

That’s why I started including a list of them. You know, I start so when I when I’m auditing is hot, and I run my scans on the site. One of the things I give people is a spreadsheet. And they’re like, Oh, my God, it Yeah.

Megan Porta  42:45

Yeah, right. Sometimes we’re just blissfully unaware of what’s going on. Do you recommend food bloggers do the product reviews? Because I know some do like cookware reviews and blender reviews and things like that? Are those kind of done,

Carl Ross  43:01

I wouldn’t want to make a blanket statement saying that they’re done. It’s definitely something that I would be concerned about. But I think if you had, you know, a few pages, like one or two or three pages on the site doing that, I think that’s okay. It’s when we just end up with 1000s and 1000s of links across the domain. That’s what I’m, that’s what I’m concerned. Okay. Yeah. But if you if you have a page, which is reviewing blenders, and then that one page might have some affiliate links on it, you know, I think that’s, I think that’s fine. Yeah. But again, if it doesn’t make you any money, then then the question is, well, do you still need it? And, you know, not not even thinking about that from affiliate link perspective, but just across all of the content, you know, stuff that’s just been around for a long time, have a look at the page views have a look at if you’re monetized, you know, have a look at the revenue that it’s generating? And and kind of go well, do I even need this anymore?

Megan Porta  43:59

Yeah, good to evaluate. Something else. I heard that it’s not in our notes. Somebody was telling me the other day that an expert told them. So I’m getting this very thirdhand. That if you are one of those people who gives your recipes, a five star rating, like your own rating, that those people are being dinged by Google? Have you heard anything like that?

Carl Ross  44:22

I’ve seen a lot of confusion about this. I’ve seen people saying that Google has made statements about this have gone looking for Google statements, and I can’t find them. And I have a feeling that this has really been blowing all out of proportion. Okay. Question was if you rate yourself, right, how would Google know Google would have no idea? There’s nothing in the code on the WordPress page that tells Google who did the review right so inside of your your WordPress dashboard in the admin area, you can actually see the IP address of the person who wrote the comment. But that’s not visible to search engines. 

Megan Porta  45:02

Okay, so they wouldn’t know if you went through the back end. Like the people I were was talking to were talking about. They put up their recipe and then maybe like WPRM recipe card on the back end, they go, and they give themselves a five star rating that way.

Carl Ross  45:20

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I actually recommend that people do that. The reason I recommend it is because we want to that one, even if it’s just one star rating, we want that to flow through to the Google page. So if you look at the recipe carousel, and your listing in the recipe carousel, we can see the stars there. And if you don’t have even one star rating, then for your listing, that line is blank. Right. And I feel that that can impact the click through rate. But I’m not saying it’s a ranking factor. But I do believe it’s a click through rate factor. So yeah, I’m aware of that discussion. And I know people who say, you know, again, like what you just said, is come second hand, third hand. And I’m like, somebody show me where Google has actually made an official statement on this. I’ve been looking, I can’t find it. Okay, so I really, from what I’ve seen, it seems to be blown out of proportion. 

Megan Porta  46:23

Okay. Well, that can happen, right? Lots of people talking about lots of different things. Yeah.

Carl Ross  46:28

And that’s secondhand third hand. Information, right?

Megan Porta  46:32

I don’t. I was trying to think of who even told me that someone told them about it. And I don’t, I don’t even know. So yeah, it’s one of those things. 

Carl Ross  46:40

Remember, you remember that game? You know, the kid little kids play? You sit like 10? Yeah, that’s it. Yeah. You know, 10 little kids down on the ground, and you say something into the ear one, and then that’s basically what?

Megan Porta  46:53

It’s food blogger telephone. Yeah. Yeah. That’s hilarious. We should just start some, like random rumors and see what happens, Carl. I heard this.

Carl Ross  47:06

Give it a week. 

Megan Porta  47:07

Yeah, exactly. 

Carl Ross  47:08

Megan said this, Megan said that. 

Megan Porta  47:09

Yeah. Oh, no, we won’t do that. So what about SGE? I know, that has been. So it’s search generative experiences, right. And that’s been renamed to something what hasn’t been renamed to?

Carl Ross  47:24

So this is this is Google’s use of AI in the actual search result page. And for a long time, Google themselves was referring to it as search generated experience, or SGE for short. And I think they’ve been talking about this for about a year, I want to say something like that. And then this is another thing, I think that’s caused a lot of concern. People are worried about it worried what’s going to happen. And it has just been officially released, I would say a couple of weeks ago, at the Google IO event. You know, once a year, Google has this big event where they showcase a bunch of stuff. So it’s officially released now. And they changed the name. So they changed it from SGE, to now they’re calling it AI Overview. And I know, there’s a lot of people that are very concerned about this, they’re concerned about how it’s going to look, it’s something that I’ve been monitoring and trying to, of course, see what you know, see what’s changed, because what we see on the Google page is so important, right for getting traffic that if Google is changing with the way that the Google page looks, obviously, I’m very interested in you know, want to see what’s going on. Now, since I’m in Australia, I actually have to VPN into the US. It’s only available in the United States. And you actually have to go into your Google account, and and turn it on at the moment. And at some point, they’re saying that, you know, it’s going to be, this is the way it’s going to be for everybody. It’s been really, really unpopular. This has been in all kinds of news outlets, people talking about this. But essentially, the idea is you type something into Google. And instead of seeing the standard results, or seeing the recipe carousel, you actually see an AI generated overview of the topic. The thing is, I can’t get this to trigger right now for food related searches. So anything with a word with the word recipe in it? I’m not I can’t get this to come up. A couple maybe a week ago, I was able I typed in say just chocolate cake, right? I had an overview and have a screenshot of it somewhere else. I’ll send it to you so you can you can include it. But it’s it’s not what is there today. So in preparation for this call I did I did exactly the same thing of VPN into the US and made sure that I was getting overviews typed in chocolate cake. And guess what? It’s gone. So I’m not seeing it for food searches at the moment. 

Megan Porta  50:08

And this is good news, right? 

Carl Ross  50:10

Yeah. Well, it’s yes, I think so. I mean, I think it’s good in that. At the moment, there’s no change, right? A lot of people don’t like change. So, so nothing, nothing has changed that I can find, at this point in time. It is definitely something that’s evolving and changing. I know a lot of people were really concerned about it. But I think in the shownotes, you’re going to include some screenshots where I was searching for, say, chocolate cake, and then chocolate cake recipe and having a look at the Google page, right? What’s What do we see for Google? The other one was pumpkin soup versus pumpkin soup recipe. And for none of those searches, was this this AI coming up? So are they are they already starting to unwind it? We don’t know. It was incredibly unpopular, but it’s end. And there’s been all kinds of news stories where they’ve just offered up terrible advice.

Megan Porta  51:09

That’s great. 

Carl Ross  51:08

Have you seen them?

Megan Porta  51:09

I saw one funny one. But do you have any examples?

Carl Ross  51:17

Well, I mean, one of them was for some horrible ones. Don’t want to use any bad language on your show. There was one I saw it was like, give me a list of food that ends in U M. And it said, Yes, food that ends in u m, includes strawberry yum. Banana um, Apple um. Just completely made up.

Megan Porta  51:42

Oh my gosh, yeah.

Carl Ross  51:45

There was another one I saw that was recommending people eat rocks. Oh, nice. You know, it’s just, it’s just getting it so wrong. It’s so unpopular. Some people are thinking now that they might even just walk it back and and turn it off. We don’t we don’t know. We don’t know what’s gonna happen.

Megan Porta  52:06

I personally scroll right past it. So I was seeing it for a long time to for every search, I did food or otherwise. And it would just annoy me. Yes. And I just went on now. And it’s not showing up for food. I just searched a couple of different food recipes. It’s nowhere to be seen. But I would just like, ah, every time and just scroll past it, because it was just so ridiculous. Most of the time. Yeah. Useless. Yeah.

Carl Ross  52:32

Yeah. And I think you know, I think they’re getting that feedback from from everybody from all spaces. I don’t know, if it’s people really don’t like it, it feels like something that they would wind back, I guess. I don’t know, I haven’t noticed. They have no idea what they’re gonna do.

Megan Porta  52:48

Right? Well, do ya? Do we ever, but we will include those. I thought those screenshots were really interesting. So we’ll put those in your show notes page, for sure. But I feel like that is good news for us.

Carl Ross  53:00

Yeah, I think so. But, you know, on the other hand, if they do push ahead with it, the overview that the overviews that I’ve seen, you know, had a bunch of almost unhelpful text. And then there was links, right down at the bottom of the AI area, there was links, and there was probably three or four links. And as again, as long as the that’s linking off to food blogs, then that’s, that’s another way to get traffic. So will they change? Will they push forward with it? I have no idea. But if they do, then it’s going to be our challenge to figure out how to we get your site into that area?

Megan Porta  53:40

Right? Yeah, that’s a good, good. I don’t know. It’s almost like let’s just take it one thing at a time. There’s so many things. So yeah, that’s kind of my my go to lately. 

Carl Ross  53:52

So much going on at the moment. And a lot of it is outside of our control. What’s the expression about you know, not worrying about things that you can’t control, like, we can control our site, we can control our social media profiles, we can control our cookbook that, you know, we really need to focus in on the things that we can control. And the other stuff, it’s just neat to see what happens. And the thing about Google is that in there, we didn’t come out and said that, you know, they’re still going to send traffic to sites this still, because they actually make a lot of money out of sending traffic to sites. They’re actually involved in the ad side of businesses as well. So they make money by, of course, selling ads that appear in the Google page, but they also make money from sending traffic to people’s websites as well. So their business they’ll be sitting there that’d be watching how it changes their revenue. I believe If that if they do push ahead with the AI stuff, that there will be opportunities to figure out how to get food blogs into that spot on the Google page.

Megan Porta  55:06

Yep. Well, it’ll be interesting to see it evolve even more, right? And then the last topic, I think, is this is very fresh. But you’re telling me a little bit about it, the Google leak, what is going on with us?

Carl Ross  55:21

So at the time of recording for, it’s late May, this only happened 36 hours ago, there was a leak of Google technical documentation. So this isn’t, you know, the algorithm. This isn’t the formula for ranking. But it’s technical documentation explaining or describing variables that Google uses. And there was something like 14,000 different variables, you know, in this in this documentation. And of course, right now, the SEO industry is on fire. Everybody is just going nuts about this. I think people are making a lot of assumptions. And as of course, when it came out, I was like, Oh, this is really interesting. And I spent hours reading through it, I kind of went, Well, what we don’t know, is the kind of strength of each of these variables. So we don’t know kind of the weighting, I guess is the word I’m looking for. The interesting thing is that it it does confirm the existence of some things that Google has kind of long denied. But so for example, Domain Authority, right in this Google Doc, Google has forever said they have no concept of domain authority. They have no, you know, number like Moz does for Domain Authority. Interestingly, in this technical documentation is something called site authority. So again, we don’t know how it’s used. We don’t know how to calculate it. But it appears that there is this concept of site authority that Google is using. And I think anybody who has been doing SEO for a long time, understands the correlation between backlink profile and rankings. So, you know, even though they denied that they didn’t use Moz domain authority, I don’t I don’t think everybody anybody actually expected they use that number. But I think it’s been along assumed that they had their own sort of calculation for it. So, you know, it’s yes, huge topic. Everybody’s going crazy over it at the moment. I think there’s a lot of assumptions that are being made as well, I think we need to be really careful about any conclusions that are drawn from it. And kind of after I spent a few hours looking through it, I mean, I couldn’t I couldn’t not look at it. And I kind of was like, well, there isn’t really anything new. Right. You know, there isn’t anything brand new that I’ve learned from this, it was a lot of things that SEOs have kind of reverse engineered over the years from the algorithm. It’s a bit of validation, I think for some people, but it doesn’t change the game, in terms of how we make content, you know, how we do kind of all the technical side of things we started we talked about earlier in the call. Nothing changed for me when I went to after, you know, first I was all excited. I don’t spend a few hours reading it, and I meant nothing changes. Okay, there’s nothing that I’ve learned it’s new that I would start changing.

Megan Porta  58:28

Okay. So anticlimactic a little bit.

Carl Ross  58:31

Yeah. A little bit. I mean, no, it is brand new. And that could change. There was one thing that was a little interesting. There was a kind of a, it’s a flag for highlighting if a site is it, what they call a small personal blog. And I was like, why are they doing that? Right? We don’t know. We don’t know why they might be flagging sites as a small personal blog. And we don’t know what they do. Even if, let’s say my site was flagged as this. We have no idea what happens, you know, down the track from that. Oh, I think though, it’s just another you know, we already knew that. We don’t want to be a small personal blog. We want to be a big brand. So I think it just reinforces stuff we already knew.

Megan Porta  59:16

Yeah. Wow, that is interesting. Yeah, like what exactly are we flagging here and what’s going to happen?

Carl Ross  59:24

Yeah, yeah, no, no, don’t know. Definitely something to watch but.. 

Megan Porta  59:26

Nothing to worry about. Right.

Carl Ross  59:29

I don’t know when this is gonna go up on your site. Yeah. But yeah, today it’s it’s brand new. It’s only 36 hours old. 

Megan Porta  59:36

Well, hoping to get this published sooner rather than later. I love all the information you share. Thank you so much. Is there anything that we didn’t touch on that you wanted to make sure to mention?

Carl Ross  59:46

I don’t think so. I just kind of skimming yeah, we’ve we’ve covered a lot of ground and not sure how long we’ve been going but we’ve covered a lot of ground. I’m skimming through the notes that I sent you before. And I think we’ve I think we’ve covered it. 

Megan Porta  1:00:01

Okay. So to end, I would love to hear your answer to the question again, should we give up? Or should we keep at it?

Carl Ross  1:00:10

Absolutely keep at it. SEO is definitely not dead. And I think it’s very easy for people to prove this to themselves, you know, go to Google type in your keyword, your recipe keyword, do you see food blogs at the top of the page? If the answer is yes, keep going. SEO is not dead.

Megan Porta  1:00:27

Thank you, Carl, this is going to be such a relief for so many people. I know we need to hear this right now. So we just really appreciate you showing up in this way. And in such a just gentle way to like we were talking about earlier that whole like, oh, you need to create more helpful content. That’s not helpful when we’re already emotional and feel like wrecks. We appreciate it. 

Carl Ross  1:00:51

Not at all. Not at all. You know, if food bloggers work incredibly hard, the sites that I look at the content that I see, there’s so much effort and face it that love that’s gone into making this content, it’s good content is food blogging is competitive, it food blogging is a very competitive space. And it got even more competitive in the pandemic. You know, how many people do you know that started a food blog and in the pandemic, yeah. And now those sites there are they’re four years old. They’re they’re starting to build up some authority. They’re building up their their library of content. So it’s, it’s just, it’s more competitive. 

Megan Porta  1:01:29

Well, thank you, Carl. We appreciate you.

Carl Ross  1:01:31

You’re welcome. My pleasure.

Outro  1:01:36

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Eat Blog Talk. Don’t forget to rate and review Eat Blog Talk on your favorite podcast player. Thank you, and I will see you next time.

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