362: How to Increase Your Organic Traffic with Keyword Research with Aleka Shunk

Listen to this episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast using the player above or check it out on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Hands typing on a laptop and the title of Aleka Shunk's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Keyword Research.'

This episode is sponsored by TopHatContent.

Welcome to episode 362 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Aleka Shunk from Cooking With Keywords about how to increase your organic traffic through keyword research.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Eric Samuelson from Eat Like No One Else about how he monetizes his site and travels full-time with his family as a food blogger. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Keyword Research

Today, we’re really excited to be chatting all about keyword research with Aleka Shunk, the creator of Cooking With Keywords!

Since launching her course, Aleka has taught over 900 students about the ins and outs of keyword research, and she’s sharing her best tips to develop a strong keyword research strategy in this episode.

You’ll learn what keywords and modifiers are, how to get started with keyword research, what tools you should use, and more. Whether you’re just diving into keyword research for the first time or you’re a seasoned pro, we know you’ll have so many takeaways from this conversation. Enjoy!

A quote from Aleka Shunk's appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'Put yourself in a position to rank for a recipe as quickly as possible with the most search volume with the least competition.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why Aleka started focusing on keyword search
  • What keywords and modifiers are
  • How keyword research works
  • What the different phases of keyword research look like
  • What keyword research tools she recommends
  • How to balance passion versus performance publishing
  • Why user intent matters
  • How to get started with keyword research
  • Why it’s important to analyze and track your keywords


About This Week’s Sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our friends at TopHatContent, the sister agency to TopHatRank!

We recently had an audit done by them for our own food blog, Pinch of Yum. By working with the TopHatContent team, we were able to make strategic content improvements that directly increased our search rankings!

You can take your content to the next level using their services like:

  • Content audits
  • Topic ideation
  • Keyword research
  • And more!

If you’re interested, you can book a free consultation with the TopHatContent team, and you’ll also get 10% off your first order of any of their content services.

Learn more and take advantage of this limited-time offer.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

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Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by TopHatContent, the sister agency to TopHatRank. You know this, it takes a lot of time to create great content. And as you know, time is precious, especially as you’re working to grow your blog. And with TopHatContent content optimization services, you can make sure you’re maximizing the return on your investment of that time, that precious, precious time.

Bjork Ostrom: TopHatContent takes a data-driven approach to content focusing on in-depth analysis first, then production and promotion. So for those of you in the food blogging space, which is most of us, their content audits, topic ideation, and keyword research services will take your content to the next level. Whether you need to learn how to optimize your existing content, need help creating, or could use a game plan to strategize your content, TopHatContent is a one-stop-shop.

Bjork Ostrom: We recently had an audit done by them for our own food blog, Pinch of Yum, and by working with the TopHat team, we were able to make strategic content improvements to Pinch of Yum, which is what we’re all about, continual improvements over a long period of time.

Bjork Ostrom: If you’re interested in booking a free consultation with the TopHatContent team, you can head to tophatcontent.com/fbp, and you’ll also get 10% off your first order of any of their content services. So again, you can head to tophatcontent.com/fbp for that offer. Thanks to TopHatContent for sponsoring this episode.

Bjork Ostrom: Hey everybody, excited for you to be tuning into this podcast episode. We’re going to be talking about all things keywords, and for those of you who are like, “Ah, I kind of know what it is, but why is it important? How can I be doing it? What’s the best software?” We’re going to cover it all. We’re going to try and cover both the basics, what it is, why it’s important, how you can strategically think about keywords as it relates to the content you’re including. And we’re going to be covering some of the more advanced things, even the different philosophies around keyword research, and trying to figure out how you can balance inspirational content with strategic content.

Bjork Ostrom: And for those of us who hate the idea of keywords and just love creating content, what are some ways that you can really lean into both the strategy, but also not let go of the inspiration. And for those of you who love to geek out in keyword research is your thing, and it’s the sweet spot for you, and that is your art, we’re going to be talking about how you can do that well.

Bjork Ostrom: The purpose of all of this, the reason that we are having these conversations is because we want to help you figure out how you can do your craft better. In this case, we speak to people who publish content online. It could be a blog, but oftentimes we are talking to people about social media, we’re talking to people about business strategy. We try and cover it all, but all in the food space.

Bjork Ostrom: And the conversation today with Aleka Shunk from Cooking With Keywords, that’s her course, but she’s also a blogger. And she’s going to be talking about how she approaches keyword research from a blogging perspective at Aleka’s Get-Together. We’re going to be talking about that. We’re going to be covering this idea of keyword research and what it is, why it’s important, how you can be using it.

Bjork Ostrom: Whether SEO is the number one thing that you’re thinking about and trying to do, or if it’s a complement to something else that you’re focusing on, all of us will be able to take away different pieces from this interview and apply them to our business. I know it was true for me as I had this conversation with Aleka. There’s a lot of inspiration that came out of it for me and learning as well. So let’s go ahead and jump into this interview.

Bjork Ostrom: Aleka, welcome to the podcast.

Aleka Shunk: Thank you so much for having me. I am so excited to be here. I’ve listened to Food Blogger Pro Podcast for the last five years and it’s what got me started in the first place with blogging.

Bjork Ostrom: Look at that.

Aleka Shunk: So I am so excited to be here, and I feel like I checked off a box of my bucket list being here.

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. One of my favorite things for doing this as long as we have, which five years, it’s like, there’s some podcasts that started out 10 years ago, where it was like super early and we were right in the middle when people started talking about doing podcasts, why it would be an important thing, but we’ve continued to do it.

Bjork Ostrom: And I think that’s the one thing, if you look at podcasting stats, it’s like … I’m making this up. 80% of stats are made up on the spot. This is one of them, but it’s like, it’s a high double-digit percentage of podcasts make it like three episodes and then they fizzle out.

Aleka Shunk: Oh wow. Well, you should be proud of yourself.

Bjork Ostrom: So the reason I say that though, is because one of the things that’s really fun about having done something for five years and done something in the space of working with other business owners or creators is I feel like three, four, five years is the mark when it gets to the point where you can actually do something substantial.

Aleka Shunk: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: You can learn something. You can start to work on it. You can get traction. And then you can get to the point where you are, where you’re coming on, because you’ve developed an expertise, you’ve developed a skill. And it’s probably in the category of that 10,000 hours, Malcolm Gladwell talks about that, where you’ve been able to dedicate a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of learning around a skill and now you’re able to come on and teach other people about that and also have a successful business in that space.

Bjork Ostrom: So what did that look like for you when you were starting in that early stage five years ago, listening to the podcast and now where you are now? What did that transition look like? And what were you doing at that time five years ago?

Aleka Shunk: Yeah. So I think a lot of bloggers, including myself, can agree that we start off blogging thinking, or I should say food blogging, thinking that all of our recipes are going to get seen right away and they’re better than everybody’s and we’re going to be the exception and we’re going to get all this traffic immediately, which completely didn’t happen.

Aleka Shunk: I think that’s the norm, but it takes a year or so for you to realize that your recipes are not going to rank on their own. They take some work and there’s strategy behind it. And for the first year I wasn’t seeing much success at all. And I think it took me at least two years, if not three, to really get completely comfortable with keywords.

Aleka Shunk: The first, I think it was two years in, I was stuck at about 10,000 monthly sessions. And I know we’re not supposed to compare, but I would always compare with other bloggers and I would think I’m so behind, but I think that’s more normal. But I knew that at that point going on to the three-year mark, I wanted more success. My goal was to make money off of it, which I feel like everybody’s goal eventually is, and to make it my full-time job, right?

Aleka Shunk: So I started to take it a little bit more seriously and really focus specifically on keywords because I’m not a huge blogger and I feel like that is something that smaller bloggers, those that start off have complete control over, unlike backlinks to an extent, and other things involved. So only a little bit control, but keywords, if you know what you’re doing and you have the right strategies, you can really outrank a lot of other bloggers. I was like, I’m going to take this little piece of SEO and I’m going to run with it and learn everything I can about it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. One thing that’s great about that, it actually ties into a question. We have a Food Blogger Pro Podcast Facebook group. So if anybody’s interested in joining, you can just Google Food Blogger Pro Podcast, and then you’ll see that group. I think you have to apply. I don’t know what it’s called on Facebook. But people-

Aleka Shunk: Request?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, request. Thank you.

Aleka Shunk: Okay.

Bjork Ostrom: But one of the things that we use that for is to get questions from people who listen to the podcast, because otherwise it’s just me asking from my perspective, which works out okay some of the time, but other times I forget perspectives from other people. And one of the questions from Sanilla Cammy, she says, it tied into this, how can smaller bloggers use keyword research to their advantage? And she says, what you talked about here, we know that food blogging is very competitive and there are already plenty of big food bloggers in the food niches that occupy the coveted top spots in Google.

Bjork Ostrom: So you already kind of addressed that, but can you talk about, number one, what is a keyword? We’re going to start basic. And then number two, what is keyword research? This is a three part question, which is a terrible interviewing tactic. But number three, why is it important for people in the early stages who might be beginner bloggers to think strategically about keyword research?

Aleka Shunk: Okay. I’ll try to remember all those questions.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Aleka Shunk: So first, what is a keyword? And it’s so funny you say that or you ask that because you think you know what a keyword is. I talk about it in the course, right away, off the bat in my intro, because no matter how long you’ve been blogging, sometimes you assume things, and you don’t really know, or you’re afraid to ask simple questions like that. So you don’t want to come across like … There’s no stupid questions.

Aleka Shunk: What is a keyword? It’s what users type in Google. It’s a query. And it’s something that took me a long time to figure out, it can be more than one word. Even though keyword is singular, a keyword could be two, three, four words together. So that’s something that took me a little bit to understand. And it’s something that it’s very important because the ultimate search engine, Google is what people use every day, multiple times a day, and it’s how our recipes are going to be organically found by typing in these queries, these keywords.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Aleka Shunk: What was the second question? See, I forgot.

Bjork Ostrom: So a keyword’s basically anytime that somebody’s going in and searching something?

Aleka Shunk: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: So a keyword, it could be blueberry muffins, it could be how to make blueberry muffins, it could be best blueberry muffins, it could be healthy blueberry muffins, right? We could go on and on and on.

Aleka Shunk: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: To your point, it’s a little bit confusing because it sounds singular, but really it’s a query that people are typing in to get a result. And to draw the full picture, as publishers, one of the strategies, one of the main strategies is figuring out how we can rank for a specific keyword and that being it’s free to get that traffic. And so if for every person that visits, you can make one penny and you get a thousand people to visit, then you’ve made $10, or a thousand page views, however the number’s you want to use.

Bjork Ostrom: So you can start to play the numbers game a little bit. If you’re monetizing the ads, if you have a product, it’s even better because you might get more money or more revenue when somebody visits. So we understand keyword, it’s keyword, it’s queries, essentially something that somebody searches using what we’re going to assume to be Google.

Aleka Shunk: Any search engine.

Bjork Ostrom: In a search engine.

Aleka Shunk: Yeah, yeah. That’s the one.

Bjork Ostrom: So then the second part of the question is keyword research. So we know what a keyword is. What does it mean to research a keyword?

Aleka Shunk: Yeah. So basically keyword research, I mean, it’s hard to talk about that without talking about a tool, because that’s where we would keyword research. Starting off, I just used Google itself to do research. And fortunately, Google does provide certain things to help give you an idea of what people are searching for, right?

Aleka Shunk: So you, as a user, if you’re typing in a keyword like pizza, Google’s going to recommend keywords or other links, URLs, recipes related to that because they want to serve you as best as possible. So when I started off, I used Google itself to search what other keywords or what keywords are most likely searched.

Aleka Shunk: If you’re not targeting highly searched keywords, you’re not doing it right. A lot of people say, “Well, I’m ranking in a top position for this such and such keyword.” But if that keyword, if nobody’s searching it and the volume’s not there, there’s really no point, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Do you have an example?

Aleka Shunk: Yeah. An example of a keyword that no … Yeah. Many of my recipes when I started off, my creamed corn biscuits, I talk about that in the course. Creamed corn biscuits. I loved creamed corn. It was a Thanksgiving side dish recipe, but starting off, my blog was just all bite-size food and all finger foods and I’m like, how can I make creamed corn finger food? So I threw it in a little biscuit cup and I called it that.

Aleka Shunk: Nobody’s searching for that ever. So nobody found it unless I directed them to it using social media, but organically, forget about it. Maybe I can rank for creamed corn, but that would be on the eighth page of Google. No one’s ever going to find it. And if you type in creamed corn biscuit cups, there I am at the top, but that means nothing because nobody’s searching.

Aleka Shunk: So I think that’s important to understand the difference between ranking in a top position for something that’s actually searched versus something that’s not being searched at all.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah. And maybe we’ll get here with the next question, it’s maybe a good lead in, but that becomes this complicated in between then because it’s like I could create a recipe called Bjork’s Favorite Peanut Butter Pickle Sandwich, but if only 30 people are searching that month, like one person a day in the entire US let’s say, or globally one person searching that a day, it’s not going to really make a meaningful impact.

Bjork Ostrom: But then if you go to the other end and you are trying to rank for chocolate chip cookies, there are so many people searching for that and so many sites that are really well established. So my understanding is, you have to land somewhere in the middle then. Is that then where, third part of the question, keyword research comes in?

Aleka Shunk: Yeah, for sure. The goal is to rank, put yourself in the position to rank for a recipe as quickly as possible with the most search volume, with the least competition. That’s the three things you look for. Really the two things, low search or low competition, high search volume. I think we all know that. If you know anything about keywords, I think that’s pretty obvious, but really targeting something that’s not so competitive and really focusing.

Aleka Shunk: And I know we’ve heard the term long-tail keyword many times before, but it’s basically targeting a keyword that’s not so specific, not so broad, something that will increase your chances of being found. And I talk about in the course using modifiers and really crafting the perfect title tag, because I think that is so often overlooked.

Aleka Shunk: Every word in your H1, in your title, is super important and should be used strategically and not just thrown in there carelessly. So I think that’s super … Something that a lot of bloggers … Initially, I know I did. I just crafted the title that I thought sounded good and was clever. I didn’t really focus on any strategy or any thought behind it.

Bjork Ostrom: So a couple of things that you said there that I think would be good to point out, first, modifier. So can you talk about what a modifier is and maybe give an example of what that is?

Aleka Shunk: So pizza recipe with mushrooms, the modifier can be with mushrooms or it can be homemade pizza recipe. So basically extra keywords that are not necessarily your target or seed keyword, but you’re creating that longer-tail keyword by adding these modifiers or extra keywords onto it.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Aleka Shunk: Do you know what I’m saying?

Bjork Ostrom: Yes.

Aleka Shunk: So homemade pizza recipe with mushrooms, the modifiers will be homemade or with mushrooms or something like that.

Bjork Ostrom: That makes sense. And so the idea is that let’s say you’re just starting out, maybe it’s year one, maybe it’s year two and you’re doing a pizza recipe, one of the things you could do is you could say, hey, that would be really awesome if I could rank for any time that somebody searched pizza recipe because you’d get thousands of people visiting your site.

Aleka Shunk: Oh, for sure.

Bjork Ostrom: But what I hear you saying is you could do that, but you’d probably need to be a super established site, like New York Times is probably the number one or a site like that.

Aleka Shunk: Yep.

Bjork Ostrom: And so you need to think strategically and say, if I can’t rank for that, how do I rank for something that still might get traffic, and it still might be the same recipe, but I’m focusing a little bit more by adding a modifier. So if it was a pizza recipe for me, my favorite is pineapple pizza. And also probably long tail in that, there’s not as many people doing pineapple pizza as pepperoni pizza. And so you would add a modifier and there’d be less people searching for it, but also less competition.

Aleka Shunk: Sure.

Bjork Ostrom: The other things that you had mentioned that relate to that are being really intentional, you said with your H1 and your title tag. So can you talk about what those are?

Aleka Shunk: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Why that’s also important when you’re thinking about keywords?

Aleka Shunk: Sure. Well, your title tag is basically the result that comes up in the SERPs, in Google on the pages. That’s what shows up and-

Bjork Ostrom: Sorry, SERPs being, just as a real quick explainer, search engine result page?

Aleka Shunk: Yep. Yep.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep? Okay, great.

Aleka Shunk: Search engine results. So the results that Google’s providing all the pages. And then your H1 is your actual recipe title, what shows up on your post itself. And usually they’re the same. A while ago, I would encourage people to tweak your title tag a bit to entice people, to click on your recipe by adding certain words, which sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t, but I’d encourage them to keep them as similar as possible, but crafting it so that …

Aleka Shunk: And you have to think about things, like the title tag, I think it’s like 60 characters they give you. You don’t want it to cut off. And especially if it’s an important keyword that people are looking for, if you cut off the pineapple on your pizza, people don’t see that, they’re not going to click. So trying to keep it short and sweet, but still add those long-term keywords and make it the perfect length and targeting the perfect keywords is important.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk a little bit about adding in the items that encourage people to click? Because I think that’s a little tip that not as many people know about. And is that something that you do? Is that something that you see a lot of other people doing?

Aleka Shunk: Yeah, it is.

Bjork Ostrom: And how do you do that in a way where it separates from the blog post versus a search result?

Aleka Shunk: So it’s something that I do occasionally when I feel like it’s super necessary and maybe I feel like something that will make it pop from the other results, the other 10 results on the first page. It does, for example, a word like the best, right? Well, first of all, you better make sure it’s the best. You don’t want to just throw this into every recipe title, but that, obviously if I’m the user, I’m going to probably click on the best pizza recipe, as opposed to just a general pizza recipe. It’s going to make me more interested in that.

Aleka Shunk: Easy, quick, from scratch, five minute, those are those keywords that are going to really make your result pop, stand out. And I usually will examine all the results on the first page first and the titles and see. And I don’t want it to blend in and look just like everyone else’s. So that’s usually the cases where I will add a word or something to my title tag.

Bjork Ostrom: And it reminds me of in the early days when I was figuring out what does it look like to be an entrepreneur, I would wholesale shoes from Chicago. So I’d get shoes shipped up and then would list them on eBay. And then eBay, you’d have to pay additional for putting a little star by it or getting it bold or to change the result in a way that looks-

Aleka Shunk: Gives you a leg up.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And the nice thing is with this it’s you can do that and it’s free. If you’re intentional about adding some of those things to your title tag, then it might encourage people to click, which obviously is a great thing because more people are then coming to your site. So are you doing that with Yoast and how do you do that in a way where it doesn’t also update your blog post because the title in the H1, the blog post title wouldn’t include that, but what I hear you saying is the title would. Is that right?

Aleka Shunk: Yeah. I know that it’s something recently that we’re encouraged as bloggers to keep the title tag in H1 as closely related as possible, but if we were to change and add a word or something, then … And if you’re not a food blogger, I feel like with a food blogger it gets a little bit tricky. But even if you’re not a food blogger, it’s something that you can take advantage of.

Aleka Shunk: The Yoast plugin on the bottom gives you the opportunity to change it, or in that bottom window, above the meta description. And you can easily just change it there and it will not affect your H1 at all. But more recently I’ve been thinking if I’m going to add quick and easy in my title tag, most of the time, I’ll just throw that in my H1, too. Really, what’s the difference? So, yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that makes sense. Cool. Love the little tips, the tricks, and I think those are the things where if you add those up over time, if you think strategically about how you’re titling something, if you look at other search results and see what are other people saying, how are they structuring things, if you do keyword research and find, hey, here’s something that has the potential to have a decent amount of traffic and isn’t super competitive, all of those things add up over time.

Bjork Ostrom: And the one thing we haven’t really dug into yet, which is kind of the sweet spot of this interview is the actual keyword research process. So what does that look like? Do you brainstorm once a month, all the different recipes you could create and then go in and research ones and try and find ones that are in your sweet spot? How do you go about doing keyword research? What is it and how do you do it?

Aleka Shunk: So do I do it in advance? I wish I was that organized. I do not. I literally will keyword research words every day just because I love doing it. And if I find a keyword, and I randomly come across them every day, I’ll search it up quickly and see if it’s something I’m going to add to my … And I do have an ongoing list. Then I do it every day.

Aleka Shunk: But you don’t have to, you can do it in monthly increments because I know it takes time. To do quality, thorough, deep keyword research should take you a couple hours, and I feel like people don’t. And it does depend, the recipes. Some recipes are a little bit more to the point and you don’t need to dig that deep. If there’s more variations of the keyword, then you definitely want to spend time looking through it.

Aleka Shunk: So what I would do is, say, talk about how there’s three phases of keyword research. The first phase is the best phase to research, that is from scratch, when you don’t have any recipe idea in mind. You’re just starting with a clean slate and you have a wider net to cast of keywords and you can target whatever you want, according to your niche, and you go from there.

Aleka Shunk: And you can do your research ahead of time and collectively write down all the keywords that come up for, maybe you start with a chicken recipe and you notice that these keywords keep popping up, or this cooking method keeps popping up, or this flavor, this something keeps popping up, or this ingredient, and you’re writing it down, and then afterwards you craft and put together.

Aleka Shunk: It’s so much easier to target that way because you’re not held back or restrained by a recipe, whereas in phase two, is what I call it, is after you already have a recipe. So it could be a recipe that you’ve been making for your family over the last few weeks or one that’s been passed down and you want to share it with your users. And in that case, that phase is a little bit harder to keyword research after the fact that the recipe’s already developed and you already have a set ingredients and cooking method.

Aleka Shunk: I mean, if say it’s a chicken marsala recipe and it’s delicious and you definitely know you want to share it, what direction are we going to just target chicken marsala, because I’m sure that’s super competitive. If you’re a larger blogger, maybe you can rank for it, but definitely not if you’re starting off.

Aleka Shunk: So it’s harder to tweak the title and your keywords when a recipe’s already developed. So that’s not the ideal phase to be in, but it’s still possible. You can maybe research certain cooking methods, and if you happen to do it in a cast iron skillet, and that looks like a keyword that is highly searched for that recipe, you can throw that in your title. And it happened, coincidentally, it worked out that way.

Aleka Shunk: And then the third phase is the worst phase to be in, but it’s still possible to do research, that’s after your recipe’s already published and on your site and has been sitting there. Then you have to think about, well, I have to go back and I have to update it. And I realize it’s not really ranking for any keywords, so how can I update it and optimize it to target a better keyword?

Aleka Shunk: Do I need to change the entire post? Do I need to delete it and just start over? Do I need to just tweak the recipe title of it? Do I need to add some more subsections or maybe some other questions addressed to better optimize for another keyword that I originally didn’t think of?

Aleka Shunk: And that’s definitely the hardest and something that a lot of people ask me about when I do my coaching sessions is we go through all those older posts and think about, well, what’s worth updating? How can we update it? Is it even possible to update this and target any keyword? And if not, then we go in a different direction.

Aleka Shunk: So that’s really the ideal process or phase is the first phase from scratch. And when I do that, I use a keyword research tool. It’s a must. If you’re not using a tool, you should definitely consider investing in one. There’s Keysearch out there, which is I think $30 a month. Very manageable, it’s not super expensive, like the other ones are. Don’t buy some Starbucks coffees for a couple days and you can afford that. It’s not going to break the budget and it’s very user-friendly and just a must when you’re keyword researching. So you use that. You get an idea of the competition level and if it’s really worth going after.

Aleka Shunk: And use Google, always use the actual results to compare and see if it’s actually worth it, because I think we rely too much on keyword research tools. Although, and I’m on it every day, I’m on multiple tools, it’s super helpful, it should not be the end-all, be all for deciding whether you should target a keyword because it’s just a machine. It’s just going to tell you things based on numbers. You are going to be the best person to evaluate whether that keyword is worth targeting. And you can see if the recipes are meeting user intent. If they’re helpful, if they’re optimized well, which the tool doesn’t do that.

Aleka Shunk: So I think a lot of people just look at a score and they’re like, “Oh, there’s no way I’m going to be able to rank for this keyword.” And you do a little bit deeper research and you actually read what’s on the first page, and you’re like, “Oh, just because they have, say, a high domain authority doesn’t mean I’m not going to be able to outrank them.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So you mentioned tools and I think that would be one thing that people would be really interested in hearing about. You mentioned Keysearch is one, a lower-cost entry-level one that can do the job. What are the other ones, just so people know the lay of the land? And if you could rank order them, or are they all pretty similar in terms of what you’d need?

Aleka Shunk: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Is one like a Lexus and the other’s like a Ford Focus? What is the landscape of actual tools that you’d use?

Aleka Shunk: So there are so many tools, some free, some paid, and I literally break this down in my course, the free tools, the paid tools, and I do a side-by-side comparison and a chart and tell you what the pros and cons and what I like from each tool, because I think that’s super important to understand before you invest in a tool, what it’s going to offer you and what’s going to be the best one.

Aleka Shunk: The most popular and the most used are going to be Keysearch, Semrush, and Ahrefs. Keywords Everywhere is also a tool that a lot of people use, which is an extension and is pretty reliable, but I feel like it’s not as popular. It doesn’t give you as much as the other tools do. I use a extension, Keyword Surfer, that also helps and it’s free. While you’re on Google, it’ll just give you a quick idea of an approximate search volume. And those are really the top four that I talk about in my course. Well, really just those three.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And then can you talk about data as it relates to those tools? Because I think one thing that I found to be true for myself as I started to just get more into the world of all things online was I had this belief around all data being accurate. And I think, especially in this world, you start to realize, oh, this is incomplete data. And you reference that a little bit by saying you need to check and look on your own to verify when you search that keyword, what does that look like, what are the results like.

Bjork Ostrom: So to the extent that you know, how do these tools get this data? How much do you trust it? And what should publishers have in mind when they think about using a keyword research as it relates to the accuracy of the data?

Aleka Shunk: Well, what’s recommended is Keysearch because apparently it does use Google APIs, which is basically an interface that talks with Google and gives just more knowledge and more accuracy directly from Google. I think Keywords Everywhere also uses APIs. But from my experience I’ve seen across, compared to Semrush and Ahrefs and Keysearch, which I’ve used them all and compared, just out of curiosity, they’re pretty close most of the time to each other. So I haven’t seen a huge difference in those.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Aleka Shunk: You had asked about …

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think that addresses it. Is one considered more premium than the other? And the nice thing about a tool like Keysearch is it’s created with, I think solopreneurs in mind a little bit more, whereas the Semrush, I think Semrush is a public company.

Aleka Shunk: Companies, yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: So it’s more enterprisey in terms of its pricing. It’s a department that would not blink at spending $500, whereas if you’re early in your blogging, you probably don’t want to pay $500 for a tool.

Aleka Shunk: Yeah. But with that said, and I agree, I think when you start off, you have a small budget and you need to invest wisely. But I do think if you really want to bring your keyword research game to the next level and you’re serious about this whole blogging thing, Semrush and Ahrefs are hundred percent worth the money, in my opinion. They can do so much more quicker, give you so many more. They have so many more features.

Aleka Shunk: My favorite thing is really I’ll very often research a competitor. So if Keysearch says you can maybe rank for this keyword, and this gives me an approximate volume, I will check out the top results, really the first or second result in Google for that keyword and then pop that URL into an Ahrefs or Semrush and see what traffic they’re actually getting, what keywords they’re actually ranking for.

Aleka Shunk: And you can do this in Keyword Explorer as well in Keysearch, but it doesn’t give you as much information as Ahrefs and Semrush. It’s really awesome, they can tell you your keyword history and if you’re trending upward and on the right track, because a lot of us wonder, should we update a post, we’re not getting traffic, where does it lie in the SERPs, is it ready to update?

Aleka Shunk: All of us are so anxious to update posts, but sometimes if you see that keyword history just going up like a rollercoaster, just hold off a little bit longer, because sometimes it takes longer than 12 months or so, which is usually the recommended time to wait before updating and it’s on its way up. And Ahrefs allow, Semrush … Keysearch is starting to allow things like that as well, but I find they’re not as user friendly as the more expensive tools.

Aleka Shunk: So I do love them. And if you can afford that, you definitely want to. And even if you can’t afford it for 12 months straight, I encourage people to just buy one month subscription and do as much keyword research in that month as you can, and then you can cancel it. At least you’ll get a good amount of knowledge or information from there.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, batch it.

Aleka Shunk: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Bjork Ostrom: And to be clear, those tools, the default isn’t $500 a month. That would be more the more expensive plans. I think they’re-

Aleka Shunk: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m looking at Semrush and it looks like 120.

Aleka Shunk: 199.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, 119.

Aleka Shunk: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: And I think Ahrefs is similar and to your point, come with more features and functionality and whatnot. This is more of a less technical, but just a curiosity. So in this world, people are doing similar things like publishing content on a blog, on social media, but they’re all coming to the table with different skills and interests. And I think for some people, the idea of keyword research is in their sweet spot. They love the idea of doing that, finding something that ranks well or has a potential to rank well, spending time creating a recipe around that and seeing it perform well. Like I have friends who, not in this niche, but they love that. That’s what they do. If they could just spend all day in Ahrefs, they would.

Aleka Shunk: Me too. Me too.

Bjork Ostrom: And then there’s people on the other side, who it’s like, “Please no. What I want be doing is I want to be in the kitchen, working on a recipe that is inspired by a meal that I had when I was traveling in Italy last week. And I just want to create that recipe and not do keyword research against that.” Do you have advice for the people who would fall in that latter camp around inspired creation? How can they still do that, to not give up on the thing that gives them joy, but to still be smart about it from a strategy perspective?

Aleka Shunk: That’s a great question. When I started food blogging, I would literally lay asleep or awake in bed at night just thinking of all the different recipe creation possibilities. And once I realized that those ideas weren’t being found and that keyword research sucks the inspiration out of us a bit, it was a little bit disheartening and made me a little bit sad about the whole idea of food blogging. I’m like, “I really have to strategize? Why can’t I just publish everything and anything that I want? Why can’t I be creative?”

Aleka Shunk: But that’s the reality of it. We are competing with so many other people, so many other blogs, so many other websites, and this is the way it is. Do you have to sacrifice all creativity and inspiration? No, for sure, definitely not, but think about maybe doing a balance. I still create and share recipes that I truly love, even though I know that there’s not much volume out there.

Aleka Shunk: I will be honest, I rarely create a recipe that has zero search volume. I will somehow try to get in some type of keyword and there are ways around it. If you’re doing the right research, you can still share that amazing, nostalgic recipe that you had when you were a child and still target certain keywords, you just have to do the right research.

Aleka Shunk: And even if it involves maybe throwing one extra ingredient in, or maybe cooking on the grill, as opposed to in a skillet or using an Instant Pot as opposed to a Dutch oven, certain things just to tweak it just so you get the traffic, it’s completely worth it. And that motivation is going to keep you going, if the inspiration is not always there. You know what I’m saying?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think that idea of balance is a great one where you’re not maybe necessarily doing things that are a hundred percent inspiration and you’re also not doing things that are a hundred percent search, unless you are somebody who loves that process, doing keyword research and creating content around that.

Bjork Ostrom: I think the other thing that’s important to point out is it’s like, what game are you trying to play? And if you’re trying to play the game of search engine optimization, but you don’t love the process of optimizing for search, then as a creator, it’s probably worth looking at a different game to play or strategy, if you want to say that.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s lots of different ways that you can be successful as a creator online, like I see a lot of incredible, artistic, wonderful creators doing Substack. Their strategy is they know that they have followers, they know that they don’t want to play the game of search and try and outrank, and so what they do is they say, “I’m going to speak to my followers and create in a way that feels really organic, and it’s an email.” You don’t have to optimize an email for search.

Bjork Ostrom: So I think it’s an important thing to point out as we, as creators, think about what is our best path. And if we’re like, our only path is search, I think it’s important that we remember there’s lots of different ways that you can play the game. Search obviously is a really important one, people talk about it a lot in this niche, but lots of other avenues to explore as well.

Aleka Shunk: Yeah. I think it’s also important to point out that there are recipes that will go viral or get a lot of traffic on other social media, like Pinterest and those. It’s funny because the more unique you are on Pinterest, the more successful I found. So it all depends. If you really like a recipe, it could … I’ve had recipes that zero keyword, but Pinterest traffic is still, even though Pinterest stinks right now, I think the traffic still is coming from those pins.

Aleka Shunk: And then, if you do publish a recipe that you really like, and you had zero keyword research done, you can analyze what keywords Google thinks is good for that recipe in matching user intent and you can work off of that. And when you update it the next time, tweak it according to what Google is ranking you for.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about user intent? What does that mean?

Aleka Shunk: It’s so tricky because with recipes, and this is the biggest confusion when it comes to food bloggers and probably the most common question I’ve had in regards to certain recipes and ranking and updating. It’s basically creating what the user is looking for and what they’re expecting. So if you’re not giving the user what exactly they want or are searching, they’re not going to click on your recipe, or they’re not going to spend a lot of time on your recipe. So the dwell time will be super low, right?

Aleka Shunk: And you can check that in Google Analytics if you want, but that’s a sign that it’s not matching the right intent. Meaning, if say somebody is searching meatball sandwich and maybe you’re using maybe frozen meatballs and they don’t want frozen, they want homemade meatballs or from scratch. And you can compare with the other recipes on the first page, and if it’s not matching up, you’re going to fall in the rankings.

Aleka Shunk: And I see this so often, especially with dietary niches and vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free niches all the time where bloggers will think that they have the right keyword down, but they’re not realizing that somebody may be ranking for … What was one of the …

Aleka Shunk: I was working with somebody one on one a few months ago and the keyword was so specific and they basically took two modifiers or two long-tail keywords and put it together. And I said, “Well, people may be looking for gluten-free scones with blueberries, but are they …” Well, that was a bad example.

Aleka Shunk: Basically, the idea is that the user needs to know what to expect, and if you’re not giving them what they expect, it’s not going to be found. You got to make sure both keywords together are being found. Yes, they may be searching for this type of recipe, this type of muffin, gluten-free, but are they searching for gluten-free pistachio scones? Do you know what I’m saying? Pistachio scone recipe could have a super high search volume, but if gluten-free pistachio scone recipe doesn’t have a high search volume, the users are not going to be staying on the result and Google’s going to push you down. Does that make sense?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s almost like I think a lot of times come back to this core foundational piece of what we’re trying to do and what Google’s trying to do. And what Google’s trying to do, what any good search engine’s trying to do is successfully match a search term to a result that’s going to be the most helpful. In our world, it’s like, how do we give people the best recipe? Or maybe it’s a food process, how do we give them the best explainer for how to make tofu? And that’s what Google’s trying to do.

Bjork Ostrom: And I think sometimes we get lost as publishers by thinking about what does Google want, but that’s what Google wants is how to best serve the piece of content that is going to fulfill the intent of what the user is searching. And I think if we can keep that at the front of our minds, you can layer that with technical best practice around search, which is important, it’s foundational.

Bjork Ostrom: But I think that as an explanation of user intent, to your point of, hey, give somebody what they’re looking for. And if you are going after a keyword, just because you see it’s really good, but then the content that you’re serving doesn’t match that, then Google is going to through whatever means, figure out this actually isn’t-

Aleka Shunk: Yeah, Google’s smart.

Bjork Ostrom: Even though you’re saying by all the technical things you’re doing that this is the keyword, when it comes to it, that’s not actually what that person needs or what they’re finding helpful. And what I hear you saying is in those scenarios that will be impacted by your ranking being pushed down or not as performing as-

Aleka Shunk: Yeah. Yeah. I use the results. I mean, Google tells you what it wants, right? Just look at the results on the first page and get an idea of what other bloggers are offering. If they’re offering most of the recipe cooked in the oven and yours isn’t in the oven, yours is maybe in the air fryer, maybe that’s not what users are going to like, because either they don’t have an air fryer or they weren’t planning on that. So certain things like that I think is often overlooked by a lot of bloggers, especially in the food niche. It’s right there and it’s free information, so take your time and analyze all the competition.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. So Chelsea from the Facebook group asked when should I be worried about competing with my own recipes, for example, if I’m trying to rank for blueberry muffins, shooting myself in the foot for also making a lemon blueberry muffin recipe.

Aleka Shunk: Oh boy. So that’s a great question. I feel like something that I used to always get confused, because we’re encouraged, I feel like to keep doing similar things. So I think we think in the food blogging niche, similar recipes, right? But that’s not necessarily true.

Aleka Shunk: I mean lemon blueberry muffins and blueberry muffins are very similar, but if you think about it and keep in mind that our recipes are going to rank for the same keywords, many of our recipes, and it’s inevitable. And that’s okay to happen when it happens, but it’s important that our target keywords are not competing with the other target keywords, right?

Aleka Shunk: So lemon blueberry muffins, we could be ranking for blueberry muffins with lemon, lemon blueberry muffins, blueberry muffins, just blueberry muffins lemon without the with. So different variations of that keyword. And they all could have high search volume.

Aleka Shunk: And most of the time, your blueberry muffin recipe won’t rank for lemon because that’s a key ingredient. You can see the results on Google are going to be all blueberry muffins, no lemon. And the results for lemon blueberry muffins will be most likely all lemon blueberry muffins. So there’s so much competition out there that Google’s not going to rank your blueberry muffin recipe for lemon because you’re targeting an entirely different keyword even though the recipe’s similar.

Aleka Shunk: So to answer her question, I wouldn’t be so concerned. It’s very difficult to compete unless it’s super similar. But just to be safe, I probably wouldn’t do or create a recipe that similar just because there’s bound to be other smaller volume keywords, like homemade muffins that essentially both recipes could rank for that keyword or moist muffins or from scratch muffins.

Aleka Shunk: So do you want those keywords to compete? They could. And usually we don’t want that to happen. So it depends on the recipe. I haven’t found it to be much of an issue, but it is something that you have to keep in mind. And when you can control it, try to make them a little bit more different than that.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that makes sense. Variety is probably going to be a good thing compared to something that is so close. You don’t want to do 10 iterations of blueberry muffins unless they’re-

Aleka Shunk: No, probably not.

Bjork Ostrom: … drastically different.

Aleka Shunk: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: So let’s say that somebody comes to you and they say, I’ve never done any of this, I don’t know where to start. Obviously your course, which we can talk about is going to be super helpful in walking people through that, but just at a high level, where would you say the outline of how people can navigate next steps for starting to dip their toe into keyword research and start to learn a little bit? What would the outline of those next steps be?

Aleka Shunk: So I think there’s, other than purchasing a tool, Keysearch, we can start off with that, get to learn and know the tool as best as you can and become an expert at the tool because a lot of us will use the tool and we’ll only use one feature over and over again. But there’s so many things and the tools are constantly being updated with new features that you’re never going to be able to be an expert in keyword research or anything if you’re not really fully learning it to its fullest capabilities.

Aleka Shunk: And I am going to create a course on just Ahrefs and Semrush, because I feel like those two tools are super complicated and you almost need some guidance with that. But know the tool that you use. And you learn by doing and learn from your own rankings and your own blog.

Aleka Shunk: Once you have recipes that have been up and you think that you’re doing a good job of keyword research, go back and revisit them and check out your traffic on Google Analytics and see if it’s worth what you’re getting. Check out your keywords, what you’re ranking for.

Aleka Shunk: And the most important thing, a lot of us will be satisfied with ranking on the first page of a mediocre keyword that brings us decent traffic, but we fail to pursue that top, highest volume keyword and it’s sitting on the second page and we don’t even know, say it’s in the 11th spot. So it’s at the top of the second page and we don’t even know it’s there because we don’t analyze and track our keywords, which I talk about in my second course.

Aleka Shunk: It’s so important and something that a lot of people don’t just … I don’t know if they don’t think it’s worth it or they don’t know how to do it, but it’s so important because if that keyword is hanging out in the 11th spot, it’s so close to being on the first page. And once it’s on the first page, now it’s going to start getting exposure and hopefully move up.

Aleka Shunk: And you can do things like push it out, maybe promote it on Pinterest or push it out to social more or update it a little bit or add more links to it, to just give it a little boost. Don’t give up until that keyword is in the top spot on Google. Don’t be satisfied with just ranking mediocre keywords.

Bjork Ostrom: And I think that’s where the strategy piece comes in. And if you are thinking strategically, and even if you just layer in. If it’s not the kind of thing you’re super excited about doing, but hey, you’re going to get your favorite drink and sit down at Starbucks and look at what piece of content is on the second page of Google for a keyword.

Bjork Ostrom: And simply going through that process once a month, you’re going to be able to save a lot of energy around generating traffic by thinking strategically how you can move that from the second page to the first page. So I think that’s a great point. And one of the ways that you could use those tools is to say, hey, where is this sitting right now, when I look at where rankings are? And how do I strategically then lift that ranking? And that could be an entirely different podcast episode with all the strategies.

Aleka Shunk: Yes, I know, rather than just-

Bjork Ostrom: Strategies with that-

Aleka Shunk: … blindlessly updating. Blindlessly? That’s not a word.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Aleka Shunk: Blindly. Aimlessly. I combined-

Bjork Ostrom: Aimlessly and blindly.

Aleka Shunk: I made my own word.

Bjork Ostrom: Which I’m sure we can relate to feeling like we’re blindlessly working sometimes.

Aleka Shunk: Oh my gosh. But yeah, rather than just doing it with no strategy behind it. You’re wasting your time essentially. So yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. So you had mentioned your course a couple times. Are there places that … Or there are places. Where are the places that people can check those out? If they want to dive deep on this, how do they do that? Would love for you to be able to give a promo on that so people can find that.

Aleka Shunk: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Cooking With Keywords is basically the umbrella of the school. So I have a keyword research course that I launched a year and a half ago. And that really is for beginner bloggers, advanced bloggers, everyone in between. It’s my master course on keyword research. And you can find that on my blog. There’s a link directly to the Teachable site.

Aleka Shunk: And then I have my second course that I launched this year on rank tracking and analyzing keywords, which I think is a nice segue from the first course. After you’ve been established for a year or so, I think that course would really be perfect for you because like we said, you have to know where your rankings are sitting or else you’re putting your effort into posts that really aren’t worth it.

Aleka Shunk: And then I also offer coaching one on one to go and go through your keywords one at a time and see what’s worth putting effort in, what keywords may need a little tweaking, what keywords really are not doing it for you, and if user intent is being matched, all of that. So all of that can be found on my website, at alekasgettogether.com.

Bjork Ostrom: Great. And we’ll include it in the show notes as well. Aleka, so great to chat with you. Thanks for all the information. Really appreciate it.

Aleka Shunk: Yes. It was so great to be here. Thank you guys so much and reach out if you have any questions.

Leslie Jeon: Hello. Hello. Leslie, here from the Food Blogger Pro team. We really hope that you enjoyed this episode of the podcast. Before we sign off, I just wanted to quickly let you know that Aleka has kindly offered a 10% deal on Cooking With Keywords for all Food Blogger Pro members. So if you are a Food Blogger Pro member, you can head over to our deals and discounts page and scroll down to the bottom to take advantage of this deal. There’s a link you can click and then you can enter the discount code to automatically get 10% off your purchase of the course.

Leslie Jeon: So if this episode really resonated with you, if you want to get more into keyword research and just dive deeper into everything that Aleka and Bjork talked about in this episode, we really encourage you to take advantage of that deal and really dive deeper into this topic.

Leslie Jeon: And if you’re not a Food Blogger Pro member, and you want to join today to get access to this deal, you can do so by going to foodbloggerpro.com/membership. So just a huge shout-out goes to Aleka for offering this deal on Cooking With Keywords to the Food Blogger Pro community. We’re so grateful and we really think it’s going to give Food Blogger Pro members the opportunity to dive deeper into this topic and just take their blogs and businesses to the next level.

Leslie Jeon: All right, that’s all we’ve got for you this week. As always, we really appreciate you tuning in and listening to the podcast. And until next time, make it a great week.

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