Google’s search algorithm has undergone significant updates in 2023. And website owners have met results with delight or dismay.
Luckily for today’s SEO case study, this food blog found itself as part of the former.
Meet Handle the Heat, a baking blog that recently became a member of the 1-million monthly visits club.
We’re revealing how it effortlessly navigated algorithm updates to come out the other side—with a boost in rankings.
Let’s dive in.
In This Article
- About Handle the Heat
- Historical Performance
- The Catalyst: How Handle the Heat Reached 1.8M Monthly Visits
- Standout SEO Wins
- Steal Our SEO Winning Strategy: A Checklist for Your Website
- Craft High-Quality Content & Boost Your Traffic With AIOSEO
About Handle the Heat
Tessa Arias started Handle the Heat in 2009. She graduated from culinary school as food blogging was beginning to take shape.
Handletheheat.com was born, nodding to her Phoenix, Arizona roots.
This baking blog is a sweet-treat destination for homemade recipes with a dash of baking science.
Today, Handle the Heat is a household name for baking enthusiasts.
Tessa regularly shares new recipes with her loyal followers and has published cookbooks and a magazine.
She also offers an online baking course called The Magic of Baking that teaches how to perfect your recipes each and every time.
Handle the Heat has been featured in TIME, Glamour, The Huffington Post, and more.
Making a name for oneself in the competitive food blogging world is no easy feat.
14 years of work and dedication went into Tessa’s blog, and 2023’s performance is the fruit of her endeavors.
Let’s review how Handle the Heat performed pre-traffic-explosion to see how she got here.
Semrush historical data reveals that the blog didn’t pass 10K monthly visits until September 2013.
That’s 5 years into Handle the Heat.
Then, 2014–2018 multiplied this number tenfold. Handle the Heat received 108K monthly visits on average during this time.
But it was 2019–2021 when Handle the Heat experienced its first real traffic growth.
These years coincided with the COVID pandemic when many people cooked at home.
Handle the Heat’s traffic felt the influx of new home bakers and reached an average of over a quarter million monthly visits (533K.)
Unfortunately, traffic retreated post-pandemic.
Now, as we analyze this website in 2023, Handle the Heat is charting unprecedented success.
This is particularly true for the latter half of the year.
While the first 6 months averaged 444K monthly visits, June through November has grown this average to 1.2 MILLION.
November has set a record at 1.8 million organic visits.
So, what exactly happened in the latter half of 2023 to skyrocket Handle the Heat’s organic traffic?
We’re revealing those answers next.
The Catalyst: How Handle the Heat Reached 1.8M Monthly Visits
Handletheheat.com grew its organic traffic by performing the following:
- Creating people-first, helpful content
- Winning higher rankings from Google algorithm updates
- Connecting with her audience on social media
Let’s look at how each of these factors contributed to Handle the Heat’s organic growth.
1. Creating People-First, Helpful Content
When we first started analyzing Handle the Heat’s performance data, it wasn’t easy to pinpoint what happened to cause the new traffic.
In fact, we couldn’t find anything that was so different from the previous years to say “Ah, this is it.”
There were some fresh recipes, but that’s naturally been a regular throughout the blog’s lifetime.
The website looked the same and hadn’t undergone any rebranding or redesigns, nor did the Wayback Machine reveal any host changes. There was also no evidence of a domain migration.
So, instead of focusing on what was different, we pivoted to focus on what was the same.
And that’s Tessa’s commitment to high-quality content.
Handle the Heat is full of engaging, easy-to-follow recipes. Her site is easy to navigate, allowing users to find the treat that satiates their sweet tooth.
When you explore one of the recipes, Tessa leaves no stone unturned or cooking tip unshared.
Let’s look at her most popular recipe for bakery-style chocolate chip cookies as an example.
From the get-go, readers know exactly what to expect from this recipe. From what it tastes like, how much time it takes to prep and cook, and how many cookies you’ll get.
(The mouth-watering image also doesn’t hurt!)
Once you scroll down, a recipe rundown shares even more details to reassure readers that this recipe is for them.
This clever approach builds anticipation while reinforcing users’ choice to visit this page.
Then, Tessa begins introducing the recipe. She writes in the first person, sharing personal anecdotes and in a natural, friendly tone of voice.
She may share a story behind the recipe, why she loves it, or anything that makes this recipe special.
She’s genuine and it’s no surprise her followers have grown fond of her down-to-earth approach toward home baking.
As she discusses the recipe, there are plenty of images to engage readers. Oftentimes, we see her sprinkling science by sharing images that demonstrate a point she’s making.
Take the example below, where she shows the difference between baking cookies immediately after preparing the dough and chilling it for 24 hours.
Tessa also includes FAQs within each blog, addressing common questions or baking concerns.
We love the example below, which demonstrates her answer to how the baking pan affects cookies. Talk about detail!
She even includes helpful how-to’s.
Here are a few examples:
- How to keep cookies soft
- How to refresh stored cookies
- How to make chewy chocolate chip cookies
Near the end, Tessa includes a recipe card and an embedded YouTube video of the recipe.
We also want to point out that comments and ratings are enabled on every blog.
This cookie recipe has 1,689 comments with a 4.93 rating from 869 votes!
The Handle the Heat team is quick to engage with its audience and respond to comments, further enhancing these relationships.
Why this matters:
We’re highlighting these components to demonstrate how thorough Tessa is in her blogs.
They are extremely comprehensive.
And it’s an incredibly rich user experience.
From engaging stories to clear recipes and multimedia, each blog is well thought out and genuinely helpful.
High-quality content is the cornerstone of SEO success. Tessa presents a lot of information in a way that is easy to digest for people first and search engines second.
How to craft people-first content on your site:
People-first content is all about the user.
Google wants to reward websites that deliver a helpful, reliable user experience—not websites that are just trying to rank.
They developed a self-assessment to help website owners determine if their content meets standards for helpful, people-first content.
Here are some things to consider (extracted from Google’s self-assessment):
- Does the content provide a substantial, complete, or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Does the main heading or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
- Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- Is this content written or reviewed by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?
- After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
In our assessment of handletheheat.com, we can confidently say ‘yes’ to all of the above.
Can you say the same for your website’s content?
Here are some resources for ensuring your content meets the mark:
- What Google Considers High-Quality Content
- Aligning Content With Search Intent
- How to Format Content for Scannability
- How to Improve Your Content’s Readability
Tools for writing people-first content:
Writing people-first content depends on your niche, but there are tools for optimizing content for any audience.
All in One SEO (AIOSEO) makes it easy to tailor your content to your audience while being search-engine-friendly.
TruSEO Analysis is one of the standout tools that makes this possible.
TruSEO is your optimization companion for writing comprehensive, clear, and SEO-friendly content.
This innovative tool analyzes your content against several SEO checks. You’ll get actionable insights and easy-to-follow recommendations.
Here’s an example of one element of this tool, called the Readability Checklist:
It also helps you check your keyword placement with the Focus Keyphrase Checklist:
Both tools help you understand the state of your content and make improvements to maximize its reach.
Now, let’s see how Tessa’s high-quality content made a difference in a year with several algorithm updates.
2. Winning Higher Rankings From Google Algorithm Updates
2023’s algorithm updates were particularly volatile and stirred a commotion among SEOs.
But for Handle the Heat, these updates were a turning point in its online success.
We’ll use the chart below to demonstrate how these updates impacted Handle the Heat’s keyword rankings.
Let’s start with April’s update, which marks the beginning of Handle the Heat’s growth.
April 2023 Reviews Update
- Google’s review system aims to reward in-depth, comprehensive reviews over thin content.
- From Google: “Evaluate articles, blog posts, pages, or similar first-party standalone content written with the purpose of providing a recommendation, giving an opinion, or providing analysis. It does not evaluate third-party reviews, such as those posted by users in the reviews section of a product or services page.”
- Emphasis on Experience from Google E-E-A-T, demonstrating that the author has first-hand experience in the topic.
Resource: Google’s guidelines on how to write high-quality reviews.
Note: Google E-E-A-T stands for Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.
Handle the Heat: The chart below demonstrates the growth of Review Rich Results. From April to November, Handle the Heat ranked with 244% more review snippets (65.7K to 225.9K.)
August 2023 Broad Core Update
- General algorithmic update to revise how content is rated.
- Designed to provide more relevant search results and could improve previously under-rewarded pages.
- It could also have the opposite effect on websites that were previously ranking.
Resource: Google launches August 2023 core update.
Handle the Heat: Below, we see how keyword rankings improved significantly following August’s algorithm update.
September 2023 Helpful Content Update
- Designed to reward pages with high-quality, people-first content.
- From Google: “The helpful content system aims to better reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience, while content that doesn’t meet a visitor’s expectations won’t perform as well.”
Resource: Google’s guidelines on how to write helpful content.
Handle the Heat: Following this update, Handle the Heat started to receive many more SERP features.
Handle the Heat received many SERP features for recipe snippets and people also ask results.
November 2023 Updates
- Google released 2 updates this month: Reviews and Broad Core.
- They also revealed that this will be the last announcement for a Reviews Update since it will now be a regular, ongoing initiative.
- Users who experienced an increase or drop in rankings may find it difficult to determine which update contributed to the change.
Resource: November Algorithm Updates FAQs
While it’s still relatively early following this update, November’s keyword rankings are already promising. The first week of December also reveals a positive trajectory.
Why this matters:
Handle the Heat’s bump in rankings, coupled with the fact that the rest of the site’s strategies have remained largely unchanged, suggests a positive correlation with the year’s algorithm updates.
Prioritizing high-quality content and user satisfaction is one of the best ways to take on unpredictable algorithm updates.
By focusing on these qualities and adhering to SEO best practices, you do as much as possible to safeguard against a drop in performance following an algorithm update.
How to monitor SEO performance after an algorithm update:
There are several metrics to track when analyzing your site’s SEO performance.
For WordPress users, we recommend reading how to monitor the impact of a Google algorithm update in WordPress. This tutorial uses an SEO plugin that we’ll be recommending next.
Tools for monitoring SEO performance:
AIOSEO’s Search Statistics tool makes staying on top of your site’s SEO performance easier than ever.
You’ll get a timeline view that helps you visualize your site’s performance.
Plus, Google algorithm update markers allow you to pinpoint when an update could have affected your site.
Each marker also has an option to read more and learn about the update.
Next, let’s look at how Handle the Heat leverages social media to further fortify a resilient online presence.
3. Connecting With Her Audience on Social Media
Over the past 14 years, Tessa has cultivated a strong relationship with her followers.
In addition to the blog, Handle the Heat is on several social media platforms. Some of the most popular include Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.
She has 748K, 330K, and 32.5K followers on each platform respectively.
Tessa posts and engages with her audience on a daily basis. Sometimes, even posting several times throughout the day on some platforms.
In 2022, one of her recipes went viral with 3.3 million views on Instagram and 2.2 million on TikTok.
Why this matters:
In an era where social media plays a crucial role in digital presence, Tessa’s success underscores the reach of authentic audience engagement.
Interacting with your audience is a powerful tool for growing your following, building brand loyalty, and establishing a strong online presence.
How to integrate social media on your site:
This tutorial details how to integrate social media into WordPress.
You’ll learn how to:
- Add social media profiles to WordPress
- Enable Facebook thumbnails
- Set Twitter cards
- Embed social media review widgets
- Add YouTube video testimonials to your content
Tools for social media:
You can add up to 11 social media profiles with AIOSEO’s social media integration.
You’ll get a full preview for each post right in the WordPress editor, allowing you to customize Facebook thumbnails, Twitter cards, and more.
Standout SEO Wins
Before we wrap up, there’s an additional SEO technique we’d like to highlight at handletheheat.com.
1. They implement schema markup (and a lot of it.)
Schema markup is structured data that lives within the backend of your website. It uses attributes to give search engines more context about your content.
This information can then be transformed into a rich snippet on the SERP.
Rich snippets are search listings that display more information than traditional search results.
Below is an example of a Handle the Heat rich snippet in Google’s recipe carousel.
Handle the Heat uses several schema types on its website. The most prominent are recipes and ratings, two natural choices for a food blog.
They also use the following:
- How to
- And more
Tool: Get more clicks and organic traffic with the Schema Generator. This user-friendly tool offers several schema types that can be implemented with the click of a button. Choose the one you want, and we’ll format it properly for search engines.
In our analysis of handletheheat.com, we’ve discovered how high-quality content and audience engagement have been cornerstones of its growth during a year of challenging algorithm updates.
Now, let’s recap how you can use these strategies on your website and which ones to reconsider.
Top 3 Strategies to Emulate
- Write for people first. With Google cracking down on unhelpful content, it’s more important than ever to write with users at the forefront of your content. Aim to bring value and showcase your expertise while aligning your content to search intent.
- Engage your audience on social media. Meet your audience where they are and promote your content on social media. These platforms are a powerful way of boosting brand awareness and growing a loyal following.
- Implement schema markup behind the scenes. You’ve put in the effort to create high-quality content; now, make sure it gets the real estate it deserves on the SERP. Schema markup helps you win rich results and create more eye-catching listings that earn clicks and higher traffic.
Bottom 3 Strategies to Reconsider
- Missing meta descriptions. While Handle the Heat has meta descriptions for most pages, some do not. Every page should have a unique meta description to entice users to visit your website. They’re easy to write with an AI meta description generator.
- Having more than one H1 on a page or post. A handful of Handle the Heat’s URLs have multiple H1s. In general, pages should have only 1. This makes it easier for users and search engines to understand the main intent of your page. TruSEO makes it easy to see and optimize your subheadings.
- Not assigning image title tags. Image title tags are often overlooked by website owners, but they help provide more context to your images. And the easier it is for search engines to understand your images, the better chance they have of ranking in Google image search results. You can use smart tags in AIOSEO’s image SEO feature to write image title tags automatically.
Steal Our SEO Winning Strategy: A Checklist for Your Website
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You’ll get an exclusive SEO checklist with 50 items for ranking your website.
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Craft High-Quality Content & Boost Your Traffic With AIOSEO
What if you could skip the guesswork and enjoy a direct route to replicating Handle the Heat’s winning recipe?
AIOSEO helps you do just that.
AIOSEO is the best WordPress SEO plugin, and you don’t have to just take our word for it. With thousands of 5-star reviews and over 3 million users, you’ll be in good company as you take on the competition.
Here are some of our favorite features:
- TruSEO On-Page Analysis: Get an in-depth but easy-to-understand analysis of your optimizations. We’ll let you know where you’re hitting it in the ballpark and give you actionable items to make your content a home run.
- Search Statistics: Keep an eye on your website’s organic performance with comprehensive and easy-to-understand reports. Search statistics include content decay tracking, so you know exactly when a page starts to slip, allowing you to fix it.
- Social Media Integration: Seamlessly connect your social media platforms and share content with your audience. Available integrations include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, and more.
- Rich Snippet Schema: AIOSEO offers various schema markup options to help you claim more rich results on the SERP. It’s as simple as choosing the schema you want; then, we’ll format the structured data for Google.
- AI Title & Description Generator: This groundbreaking tool uses AI to generate distinct and highly clickable metadata for any page on your website.
- Image SEO: Turn on automatic image alt text and title attributes with just 1 click. You’ll save time from manual entries while helping users and search engines understand your images.