I used to have comments here on CulinaryLore. One of the most annoying comments I ever got was on an article that answered a question. The commenter said that none of the article was needed. One word, yes, would have sufficed. Why was I annoyed? Not because of a trollish comment but because it reflects a huge misunderstanding of how we find information on the internet, particularly through Google. If I had written ONE word, this privileged commenter would never have seen my article! The same goes for recipe food bloggers.
Now, I have a confession. I rarely use food blogs to find recipes. Why? Because I don’t think most of the recipes are any better than those you find on recipe compilation sites like AllRecipes (with many exceptions, of course). Also, the user experience is usually terrible with too many huge images that take forever to load (because they are not optimized) and dozens of competing ads vying for space. And, yes, I don’t want to read your life story and ten pages of memories before I get to a recipe. But guess what? I’ll bet you that most food bloggers would rather not have to write a ten-page essay just to introduce a recipe!
Actress Mindy Kaling recently received a lot of flack for asking the same question:
Why do all online recipes have endless pages of the chef’s whole life story about the recipe and then on the 12th page is the actual recipe?” “I just want the recipe! I don’t need the Modern Love essay on how you came up with it!”
I get it. And, frankly, I agree. I don’t need any of that either. But, unlike Kaling, I understand completely what a food blogger is up against. You see if a food blogger just posted a recipe with no other introduction, images, notes, tips, etc. Google would not give that recipe much love. Or, so food bloggers believe (I’ll get to that).
You see, having a successful blog requires what the industry calls SEO (Search Engine Optimization). So, you have to include much more rich information in the headnotes of a recipe page. This information can include all sorts of things. The process of making the recipe, other tips on ingredients or storage, serving recommendations, wine recommendations (or beer), and, yes, personal stories or memories related to the dish.
But, also, we have to consider all those ads. As you peruse CulinaryLore you will notice ads being displayed. Those ads will tend to show up in the same places and, hopefully, not be intrusive or annoying (something many food bloggers need to note). However, if one of my articles is only a paragraph long, or, if I simply display a recipe with no introduction, there will not be any physical space for those ads. Therefore, my ability to make money and basically, be paid for my work will suffer. So, food bloggers need to allow the physical space and format for ads and other promotions to appear.
Food bloggers use recipe cards to display the actual recipe. If the only thing that appeared on the page was this recipe card, the number of ads that could comfortably appear on the page would be curtailed. Again, that many food bloggers try to display an uncomfortable number of ads is a different issue.
However, I did say that food bloggers believe that they could not compete in the food blogger industry without long and sometimes rambling stories and intros. Am I suggesting that this is not necessarily true? Yes. The truth is I ‘compete’ pretty well on CulinaryLore with recipes that contain only an intro of two to three paragraphs and then the recipe. And, the intros are only essential information.
Look at it this way. If you search for a recipe for chicken casserole, chances are one of the first results will be a recipe compilation site like AllRecipes, which do not offer detailed and long headnotes. Yet, these sites often seem to out-compete food blogger sites. So, what gives?
Well, there are billions of recipes on the web contained in thousands of sites. That one chicken casserole recipe is a sample of one. It does not represent the reality, which is that AllRecipes (or another such site) may only get one to two hits on this page per day, if not less! They make up for that through quantity. If you have 50,000 recipes, you don’t need that many hits on any individual recipe. And, some recipes will get many more. For these sites, the game is quantity and quality.
Individual food bloggers can’t compete with quantity. They cannot afford to have a recipe only receive one or two hits per day. They need all the users they can get for each and every page on their site. So, they have a greater need to optimize. And, think of all the work that goes into developing a recipe, experimenting, and, all that food photography. Your ability to ‘set and forget’ a page on your site has everything to do with the time it took you to make it. Food bloggers work much much harder than you think! Even the behind-the-scenes details of running a site can take up a lot of your time (that’s why you need a good host like mine WPX).
And, remember that commenter? The one who said I should have only written ‘yes’ on my page? Food bloggers have to deal with this kind of entitlement much more than I do.
Despite all this, I have already confessed that I get annoyed by long personal stories about a dish. But, I try to understand my biases, and this is a big one. I do not write about food this way very much. This is not how I prefer to share my passion and creativity. I relate to food in a different way. In fact, I don’t even consider myself a food blogger in the classic sense at all. Long personal stories about food don’t appeal to me and I would not enjoy writing them. I’m bored by reading them and writing them!
But if I don’t want to read a long personal story, I will try to find a shortcut to the recipe or scroll down to the bottom. Or, I will simply click away. So, to food bloggers, I say, do your thing. Write as much as you want and then more! I know I do (can’t you tell?). While I understand all the writing, there is no excuse for a page that takes five minutes to load, though!
There are many things food bloggers can do to give their users a better experience I want to share them as a reader, not in the guise of an expert, which I am not:
1. Limit pop-up or pop-over ads and make sure your ads do not slow down your page loading.
2. Make sure your ads are not intrusive and that they do not make it difficult to find the actual content of the page. When an ad appears after every paragraph, users quickly get annoyed.
3. Do not include too many promotions that make the content hard to absorb. It is often difficult to tell a promotion from the actual page content. Some food blogs have so much ‘noise’ inserted into every page that it’s almost impossible to read. There really is no excuse for a page full of distractions and noise. It reeks of desperation.
4. Optimize your images! When you load twenty full-sized images (with huge file sizes) onto your site, each one can lag and take forever to load. And, if the loading of your page is not prioritized properly, these images can actually interupt the loading of the written content (the same goes for images). Scale down your images to make the file sizes as small as possible, or use a plugin to optimize your images (I’m not expert in this but I use them).
5. Always, always think about speed! You need a fast site, especially on mobile phones. So, everything above is related to speed. The more bells and whistles you put on every page, the slower your site and the worse your user experience. You want your readers to see all that stuff you wrote immediately.
6. Realize that Google doesn’t just consider your individual pages. It considers your site as a whole. Are you an authority in the eyes of Google? Do you give readers what they want? Google may be promoting huge recipe compilation sites over your site despite your SEO attempts. Why is this?
To sum all this up, food bloggers often need to think much more about user experience. We all want to make money from our work but if you do not provide at least a pleasant user experience, it won’t matter how many ads or affiliate links you include on your page.