Look up a recipe online and you’re bound to come across a lengthy blog post that accompanies it. In many cases, the only way to get to the recipe itself is to scroll through hundreds of words describing the dish, its method, or a story tangential to it. This path of more resistance has encouraged many recipe readers to give up in frustration.
“Why food blogs Like this?” they want to know. “Why can’t they just give me the recipe???”
The truth about food blogging is that it’s a huge amount of work (for some a labor of love, for others a sustainable form of work meant to pay dividends, in the form of income, and for many – a combination of both). And this model surrounding the monetization that work requires…well, words.
Ask Erin Clarkson, author of the famous baking blog cloud kitchen, which she founded 5 years ago. Clarkson’s platform sees around 400,000 views per month, but its content isn’t as free and fancy-free as many might think. A single blog post, she says, can take several days to create.
There’s the misconception, Clarkson says, that she’s just “pulling out the cookie recipe and putting it on the internet.” But in reality, quite the opposite is true. The recipe is tested “at least three or four times, and that’s before I make them for the last time”. The shooting itself takes another full day. “And then you have to do all the research for the blog, write the actual blog post, and come up with titles that contain the right keywords.”
Keywords, Clarkson noted, are part of what makes blogs appear in Google in the first place. Without them – and without that extra layer of work orchestrated by the author – these recipes wouldn’t be found in a search.
The same users who complain about long topnotes (otherwise known as descriptive text that precedes a recipe) have those same topnotes to thank for the recipe’s very existence.
Longer blog posts, says Anne Murlowski, who started her blog Rocky Mountain Happiness in 2013 and gets around 30,000 monthly views, “demonstrate the expertise and value your website brings to a reader”. But beyond the expertise, these positions bring remuneration. “To make a real income from blogging purely on impressions, you need to achieve hundreds of thousands of views per month.” Search engine presence, which depends on word length, is, according to Mulowski, “the only real way people can do that.”
While many bloggers would love to post shorter posts that go straight to the recipe, Google is more likely to pick up posts that hover around 1,000 words, and those words do the rest of the heavy lifting – recipe development, photography and even the research of writing itself — possible. (Which is to say nothing of the cost of buying ingredients, an inbuilt expense when it comes to food blogging.)
When an article is longer, it “is more likely to rank for related keywords,” says Rebecca Swanner, founder of let’s eat cake, which generates more than 100,000 views per month. Without visibility, these recipes can easily fall into the void, never being seen – or recreated – by their target audience. And for the blogger who created them, that means the work required to develop, test, and photograph these recipes would see no financial return for that work.
Blog posts that are too short create “a risk for readers to leave or ‘bounce’ from the article very quickly,” says Monique Volz, Founder and CEO of Ambitious kitchen. Readers “are more likely to revisit a blog when it has more content.”
Volz, whose blog receives several million visitors a month, says good blog posts are resources that help readers “be creative, troubleshoot potential issues, provide answers to FAQs, and even include content personalized video”.
That is to say: there is a purpose in these recipe notes. April Blake, blogger of 10 years April’s Blake, states that bloggers “try to put useful information before the relevant message. Sometimes it’s substitution suggestions or a suggestion not to substitute anything,” or maybe, she says, “it’s a trick that using a wok gives you the best results.
Blog writers streamline recipes by design. When you’re cooking, you don’t want to read “if this, then that” troubleshooting paragraphs – you want to clearly see what stage you’re on and what stage comes next. Thus, the information proposed in the summary contributes to the execution of the recipe.
Bloggers to want their readers to succeed. They want positive feedback on their recipes, and the only way to get good feedback is to write complete, in-depth recipes with lots of tips that anticipate the foreseeable pitfalls.
“Pastry is a science,” says Erin Clarkson. “I will often go into a lot of detail in the first part of the recipe.” Clarkson tries, in her posts, she says, to “gather as much information as possible” to avoid confusion when it comes to the recipe itself. So try not to scroll through this valuable information as it might help you.
Of course, some food bloggers also use anecdotes in their work, telling stories related to their recipes. The is a place for it, says Darien Gee, founder and recipe creator of the Friendship Bread Cooking Blog. Longer stories, she says, “give readers a chance to get to know you, the person behind the recipes, and that relationship cultivates fans.”
This content, say some bloggers, is an important tool for developing a cultural bond between author and reader, one that reflects “their interests and values” and encourages people to return to the site, as Gee puts it. . “Food is personal,” added Monique Volz. “It’s filled with memories, nostalgia and emotion, and I think sharing those things with a recipe makes for an amazing experience.”
When it comes to running a food blog, the workforce is plentiful. And readers benefit from this work, learning new techniques, new recipes and new approaches to cooking that they might not otherwise have encountered.
The relationship between blogger and reader – in a world where blog posts are long – is mutually beneficial: everyone gets what they need.
The natural evolution of blogging complaints recently came to a head when a company called Recipeasly, which promised to streamline food blogging, ran into some issues at launch, as reported BBC News.
As one of the site’s creators, Tom Redman, tweeted, the site was designed to provide “your favorite recipes except without the ads or life stories”. What Recipeasly has actually done is erase the authorship (and accompanying work) from the work.
This online explosion helps sum up the essential argument for why food blogs exist in the first place and why they are useful as they are. What may seem awkward to one person is necessary to another.
Plus, the work that goes into food blogging really is work. It’s a labor of love, but it’s still work, and the crescendo of complaints about that labor led to a tool, in Recipeasly, that could have easily caused financial and professional harm to real people. .
“Recipe bloggers don’t need someone to pick them up and take them away from their jobs,” says Erin Clarkson. A click on a food blog is actually a choice. Writing, she says, is “the important recipe information,” but if all the work of wading through someone else’s work is too much, there’s actually a solution for that. “Invest in cookbooks,” says Clarkson. “No scrolling or advertising there.”
Hannah Selinger is an IACP Award-nominated food, wine, travel and lifestyle writer based in East Hampton, New York, where she lives with her husband, two sons, two dogs and two turtles. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Eater, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Cut, and more.