How Delish nearly doubled its site traffic by focusing on search

These days, if publishers had to choose an algorithm to rely on, better Google than Facebook.

Take Delish, a social-first food publication born in 2015 at the height of the Facebook traffic gold rush. Delish quickly built a sizable audience — it peaked at 25 million unique visitors in October 2017, according to Comscore — on the back of high-speed recipes featuring pop culture references. Those good times didn’t last, so Delish’s editorial director, Joanna Saltz, changed direction. 

“Our strategy over the last two years was drilling down into what people were searching for,” said Saltz, who continued that the focus of Delish’s digital growth strategy is now on search. “We didn’t move away from posting to Facebook, but we balanced out the spectacle with key information.”

Saltz said that the editorial strategy changed to incorporate content that was specifically tailored to answering keyword searches and inquires. For example, Delish noted that readers who come to the site and stay the longest tend to be those looking for informational basic cooking guides, so instead of creating short videos that would cover key search terms, the content strategy grew to include longer instructional videos, three to five minutes in length, aimed at satisfying Google inquiries like “how to cook bacon” or “how to cook rice.”

She said that now, rather than having 80% to 90% of its video content be digestible videos suited for social media with longer-form video taking up the other 10% — as was the case two years ago — the divide is now more like 60-40.

As for its social strategy, the number of posts per month on Delish’s Facebook page has decreased year over year as of October by nearly 25%, according to CrowdTangle, and video views on Facebook also decreased by almost 40% in that same period. Meanwhile, the number of posts on Delish’s Instagram has increased by 23% year over year, though video views have fallen nearly 30%. All that said, Delish’s Instagram followers have grown by over 100% year over year, currently hovering at 1.9 million.

The strategy is paying off. Delish has nearly doubled its audience over the past two years, hitting a record 41 million unique visitors in September, according to Hearst. That same month, search contributed 49% of its referral traffic, and in October, it rose to make up 54% of traffic. And while these numbers fluctuate, according to SimilarWeb, referral traffic from search, in general, is up year over year for the site. As of September, search contributed 45% more traffic than it did the previous year, and on desktop, it was up almost 14% year over year.

“SEO takes a bit longer to garner that audience there,” said Saltz. “The strategies that we implemented last year or two years ago are starting to build momentum now. When we [relaunched] four years ago, we had such a hard hill to climb since our competitors had all been established [on search].”

Saltz thinks that having less traffic coming from social is a good thing, generally, but notes that these numbers tend to ebb and flow throughout the year.

“The pendulum will likely swing in March,” said Saltz, adding that, after the holiday season, people’s interests tend to move from learning new recipes to food news and restaurant launches. Saltz said that search traffic isn’t coming in all from recipes, but food news tends to bring in a decent amount of clicks too.

According to SimilarWeb, search was a leading traffic source for many food publications on desktop in September, including Bon Appétit, which had close to 59% of its traffic coming in from search, Epicurious, which saw over 74%, and Allrecipes, which was over 72%. 

“Food sites are driven by advertising, so they don’t care about return visitors necessarily,” said Ava Seave, principal at media consulting firm Quantum Media. “For the content that [Delish has], it makes sense that you go for mass than for repeat.”

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