We analyzed the top food blogs with the most organic Google traffic to find out the SEO secrets behind their raving success.
The food blogging niche has the most blogs with 50,000+ monthly sessions and second place is not even close.
Using data from RankIQ’s AI and Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, we identified some remarkable search engine optimization tactics that all food bloggers need to know about.
Domain rating, or DR, will be referenced throughout the results of our study. This is Ahrefs’ version of Moz’s domain authority, which measures the strength of a blog’s backlink profile.
The scope of the study covered 7643 posts, that get 39 million monthly sessions, and 7 million keyword phrases in the food blog niche.
Summary of Key Findings
#1 There is a direct correlation between organic traffic and a blog’s backlink profile. High performing food blogs with a <30 DR receive 16,269 monthly organic Google visitors. Food blogs with a DR of 61+ receive 869,273 visitors a month.
#2 There are 69,889 different keyword phrases containing “recipe” that are searched for on Google 100+ times per month. Only 5,441 of these have low enough competition where a <40 DR blog can rank on Google’s first page.
#3 RankIQ’s food niche library of the lowest competition high traffic keywords is made up of the following topic types; Recipe (54.7%), Q&A (20.2%), Sides to Serve with (5.4%), Substitute for (4.1%), Comparison (1.1%), and Best __ for __ (1%).
#4 Several ultra high traffic outliers receive 500% more traffic than the rest of the food blogs in the study. Deep keyword research was the SEO tactic that accounted for these extreme levels of organic traffic.
#5 Newer food blogs, with <30 DR, were able to achieve SEO success by writing posts on longer tailed keywords with less competition.
#6 Chicken recipes account for the highest percentage of the top 50 highest traffic posts from the blogs in our study. Chicken was followed by cake, sauce, and soup.
#7 The front end keyword title modifiers used most by successful food bloggers are; easy, best, homemade, and simple (Ex: Easy Banana Bread Recipe).
#8 Low and mid range DR food blogs receive a big portion of their traffic from copycat recipe posts (Ex: Applebee’s mashed potatoes recipe). The brands with the most low competition copycat keywords are; Starbucks, Cheesecake Factory, and Chipotle.
Let’s get into the details of the study and the actionable takeaways.
Backlinks = More Traffic
Looking at just the highest traffic food blogs alone would have top loaded the study with only mature blogs.
Instead our study identified the most successful food bloggers at four distinct SEO stages.
Stage #1 (Early) = <30 DR
Stage #2 (Traction) = 30 to 45 DR
Stage #3 (Growth) = 46 to 60 DR
Stage #4 (Mature) = 61+ DR
This allowed us to understand exactly what tactics were making the biggest difference at each stage. The chart below shows the direct correlation between organic Google traffic and domain rating.
This correlation can also be seen by looking at the median monthly volume of the top 50 keywords for each blog.
The DR 61+ food bloggers have an average Google ranking of 2.8 for their posts. The keyword phrases they rank for have a median monthly search volume of 16,000.
The <30 DR food blogs rank in position 5.8 for keywords having a monthly volume of just 375.
Key Takeaway: A well executed link building strategy can lead to exponential organic traffic growth from being on the the first page of Google for thousands of keywords.
Here are the three best ways to get backlinks.
Podcast Interviews – There are hundreds of interview based food podcasts, and they are constantly looking for guests. When they publish your interview they will link back to your food blog in their show notes, which is a short blog post summarizing the interview. Many of these podcasts have a domain rating above 60.
Help A Reporter Out (HARO) – This is how all the major news outlets find people to interview or source a quote from. When you see a reporter looking for a food related resource, send them a short pitch about why they should use you. You can get links from major outlets like The New York Times and food magazines like Eating Well.
Rank #1 on Google – When other bloggers are looking for a recipe post to link to, they link to the post that is ranking number one. The top ranking page on Google generates up to six unique referring domain backlinks every month (Ahrefs).
Only Write on Topics You Can Rank For
The second big finding had to do with keyword phrases containing the word “recipe.”
There are a total of 69,880 “recipe” keyword phrases that are searched for on Google 100+ times a month. Only 5441 of those have low enough competition where a low DR blog can rank on the first page.
For the mature food blogs with a 61+ domain rating, this is not a problem. As long as they write a high quality recipe post, they can rank on the first page of search results for any of the 69,880 recipe keywords.
This is one of the main reasons why higher DR blogs do not rely on just a couple of posts for most of their traffic. We can see this in the average percent of organic traffic that is sent to the top performing post in each of the four stages.
The <30 DR blogs have the highest percentage of their Google traffic going to their top post. Twenty-two percent of all their traffic goes to just one post.
When looking closer at the top 50 posts of <30 DR food blogs, a clear trend stands out. Many of these bloggers are essentially writing recipe posts on the foods they like or know how to cook. There is very little keyword research strategy involved.
This subset of the lower DR food bloggers get lucky and end up writing on a low competition keyword phrase about 3% of the time. These “lucky” food blogs had as much as 69% of their overall traffic going to a single blog post.
Key Takeaway: Food bloggers that have a domain rating less than 61 need to invest time and money in the right keyword research tools.
Here are the two types of keyword research tools that produce the highest ROIs.
Full Database – The best full database tool is Ahrefs. With these tools, you will need to search and choose from 6 million recipe keywords. They are great for expert SEO’s who know quite a bit about keyword research.
Targeted Keyword Library – RankIQ is the market leader in this area, with keyword libraries in over 50 blog niches. Instead of searching through 6 million recipe keywords, you choose from 5000 recipe keywords that you know you can rank for. These handpicked libraries are great for bloggers that want to save time or have trouble understanding the keyword research process.
The Lowest Competition High Traffic Keywords
RankIQ uses advanced algorithms to identify the 10,000 keyword phrases in the food niche that have the lowest competition and the highest traffic potential.
The chart below breaks down the 10,000 lowest competition food keywords by post type.
While every food blogger knows about the recipe post type, they might not be aware of the other three post types.
Here are blog post title examples of all three.
Q & A
What to do with Leftover Taco Meat
Best Side Dishes for Meatloaf
Substitutes for Ground Ginger
Key Takeaway: Food blogs with less than a 61 domain rating should be writing 20% of their blog posts on Q & A, Side Dish, and Substitute For keyword phrases.
Ultra High Traffic Outliers
Our study went through thousands of food blogs getting significant traffic from Google. We then chose the top 10% from all of those blogs.
What was surprising is that even after narrowing it down to the best of the best, there were still outliers receiving up to 500% more traffic than the other blogs within their stage group.
Although the outliers were excluded from this study because of the deviation, we decided to do a smaller breakout study just on the outliers.
Below you can see how much traffic some of these outliers are generating on a monthly basis.
After looking closely at the SEO performance of every single post, one thing was very apparent. The reason for their ultra high traffic was due to expert level keyword research.
Outlier #2 has a DR of 28 and is getting 197,545 monthly sessions from organic Google search. Every post on this blog is targeting a low competition high traffic keyword phrase.
There are no one off anomalies. The #1 post gets 3,901 monthly sessions, which accounts for only 2% of their total traffic. That significantly outperforms the DR 61+ blogs in our main study, whose #1 posts were accounting for 9% of their traffic.
Key Takeaway: Even if your blog is brand new with a low domain rating, then you can still get 100,000 monthly sessions by targeting low competition high traffic keywords.
Here are some specific keyword tactics that the outliers were using.
Non-recipe posts made up 50% of total posts. The highest percentage of non-recipe posts on the outliers were; Q & A, Side Dishes, Substitute for, and Comparison.
30% of posts were copycat recipes. This sub style of recipe posts is considerably easier to rank for. I will be discussing copycat posts in greater detail later on in the study.
The rest of the posts were recipe keywords that included a tail end modifier. The majority of these recipe post keywords used the “without” modifier (Ex: waffle recipe without milk).
Successful Low DR Food Blogs Target Long Tails
Newer food blogs, with <30 DR, were able to achieve SEO success by writing posts on long-tail keywords with less competition.
Below you can see the average number of words in the top traffic producing keywords (for their top 50 blog posts).
Key Takeaway: Food bloggers with a domain rating below 46 should target long tail keywords made up of 4+ words.
You can leverage this be using two of the strategies that the ultra high traffic outliers were using.
“Without” Modifier Recipe Posts
Sloppy Joe Recipe without Ketchup (5 words)
Copycat Recipe Posts
McDonalds Chicken Nugget Recipe (4 words)
Almost every “without” and copycat recipe keyword phrase has 4+ words.
Food Types Driving the Most Traffic
The blog posts on chicken recipes and chicken related post types generated the most organic Google traffic.
Below you can see the types of food sending the most Google traffic to the blogs in our study.
At first glance, you might think this list has very little relevance. The rankings are probably the way they are because there are more people searching for these types of recipes.
To test that theory, we identified the top 4 food categories across all recipe keywords searched on Google, regardless of competition.
#1 Chicken (5.2M)
#2 Bread (3.0M)
#3 Cake (2.7M)
#4 Pie (2.4M)
Chicken is still number one and cake still makes the list. The other two (bread and pie) are not in the top 4 traffic generators for high traffic food blogs.
Now let’s look at the top 4 food categories for only low competition recipe keywords searched on Google.
#1 Chicken (305K)
#2 Cake (167K)
#3 Sauce (149K)
#4 Soup (109K)
The top 4 lowest competition food types are an exact match with the top 4 food types driving the most traffic to the top SEO food blogs.
Key Takeaway: Make a strategic effort to write plenty of posts on food types that have low competition and are proven to drive lots of organic traffic.
The Top Modifier Keywords for Recipe Posts
A modifier is a keyword that is added to the front end or tail end of the primary keyword phrase in the post title tag.
Homemade Banana Bread Recipe
Pie Crust Recipe Without Shortening
Keyword modifiers are also used in the actual Google search, which creates a longer tailed phrase that is easier to rank for.
In addition, modifiers generate higher click through rates (CTR) in Google results. The CTR is a major component of the Google algorithm.
The five title modifiers below were used the most by food blogs in our study (4 front end, 1 tail end).
easy, best, homemade, and simple
In the graph below, you can see the top modifiers used by all Google searchers in recipe keywords with 100+ monthly volume.
The recipe keyword phrases with over 100+ search volume have the same top five modifiers as the high traffic food bloggers.
When we look at how modifiers are being used in just the <30 DR food blogs, we find out something very revealing.
The most successful low DR food blogs only target keyword phrases with modifiers. While they can not rank on the first page for “gravy recipe,” they can rank for “easy gravy recipe” or “gravy recipe without drippings.”
Many use both a front end and back end modifier in their title:
Easy Gravy Recipe without Drippings
Key Takeaway: Always use one front end title modifier for recipe posts and write more posts on “without” recipe keywords.
Copycat Recipe Posts
The most successful low and mid range DR food blogs receive a good portion of their traffic from copycat recipe posts. These recipe posts reproduce a recipe from a popular restaurant.
Here are some examples of copycat recipe keywords:
olive garden zuppa toscana recipe
chik-fil-a chicken sandwich recipe
The top food bloggers will either add the “copycat” modifier to the front or the back end of the post title.
Front End of SEO Title:
Easy Copycat Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana Recipe
Back Endof SEO Title:
Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana Recipe (Copycat)
Below are the top 10 brands with the most low competition copycat recipe keywords.
Earlier in this post, I revealed that the ultra high traffic outliers were getting 30% of their traffic from copycat recipe posts.
It’s a lesser known recipe post style, which means there is not as much competition. That is why the ultra high traffic outliers are publishing so many of these posts.
Key Takeaway: Publish at least one copycat recipe post per month from the top 10 brands.
From all the findings, it is clear and obvious that keyword research is the foundation for SEO success. While building quality backlinks is another important driver, it is not required.
We found food blogs with domain ratings as low as 6 getting over 1 million sessions a year from organic Google search. They achieved this traffic by becoming masters of keyword research and spending hundreds of hours searching for low competition keywords.
I have also had great personal success from using unique keyword research tactics.
Last year, my blogs received over 50 million visitors. I have combined everything I use to achieve these results into an SEO toolset, which is powered by the most powerful AI on the planet.
It is called RankIQ.
The toolset tells you exactly what to put in your blog post and title, so you can write perfectly optimized SEO’d content in half the time.
In addition to the AI content optimization, I have a hand-picked keyword library for the food blog niche. This library is filled with the lowest competition phrases that also have high traffic potential.
This means you will not have to spend years trying to master keyword research and then spend hundreds of hours searching for words. Each time you want to write a post, just find a proven word in the library and click the button to initiate the AI.
We take out all the complex language that many SEO tools have, so that you can easily apply what our AI recommends.