Searching for recipes online? Consider these 4 food blogging realities.
You want to make vegan mac and cheese tonight, but have never done it before, so you turn to Google. 0.71 seconds later, you get 31,600,000 results, many of them from food blogs. What are the forces driving that tidal wave of recipes?
Vegan and plant-based food bloggers are wonderful humans. Many of them first started publishing the recipes behind their meals to entice their friends to cook in a way that’s gentler for the animals, the planets, and their own health. Food blogs demonstrate for aspiring and established herbivores all the wonderful dishes they can enjoy three (or six!) times per day. So many plant ingredients, so little time!
Food blogs have become powerful forces in our cooking imagination. As consumers of their online content and as home cooks, we will benefit from being more aware of the forces driving their development. It might change how we approach them.
Food blogs make money from ads
Hosting a professional, functional web site takes money and time. Many food bloggers are making recipe creation their full-time occupation, or at least a significant side-gig, pouring hundreds of hours into topic selection, recipe testing and development, food photography, blog post assembly, social media promotion, and more. Software, equipment, and supplies cost money, as does reliable web hosting — a cost that increases with the number of visitors.
It’s only fair that food bloggers get compensated for their investment… but few people are willing to pay for recipes they find on the Internet. Thus, the most common way to monetize a food blog is by placing ads on it.
The downside here is that, when the recipes are free, your attention is the product… so you are not the client. You are the audience. The client is the advertiser, usually via an “ad network” such as Google AdSense or Mediavine.
Most vegan food bloggers are well-meaning and truly want to help you cook and eat better. However, as consumers, we have to recognize that a powerful driver of their content creation process is this question: “How can I bring more traffic to my site?”
If you like a blogger’s work, turn off your ad-blocking extension so they can be compensated for their work. If you want recipes but don’t want to see ads, buy cookbooks (or borrow them from your library) or subscribe to a meal planning service that emails you original recipes.
Bloggers study your Google searches to decide what recipes to create
Google as a company makes most of its money from advertising services. Their clients are advertisers, and their product is your attention. Getting the right client (advertiser) to buy the right product (someone’s attention) is key to their success. Food bloggers can get a slice of the advertising pie by creating content that caters precisely to the searches of Google users like you, in hopes of ranking near the top of search results for popular keywords, growing their web site’s traffic, and thus their revenue.
Google provides a basic tool that allows anyone to mine their database of searches to find popular keywords. Many bloggers pay hundreds of dollars every year to subscribe to more sophisticated services that help them hone their content strategy and create tailored, income-generating content.
The downside here is that sometimes what you search for is not actually what you need. Yes, once in a blue moon, you need a recipe to make those funfetti cupcakes your daughter wants for her birthday. But cooking from recipe on a day-to-day basis is not sustainable. What you really need is to learn how to cook.
Tired of the stories before the recipes? They’re there for a reason.
“Girl, just get to the recipe already!”
Have you ever complained about how food bloggers tell long stories about how they decided to create a vegan recipe before finally handing out the ingredients and steps?
That blogging habit has a very reasonable cause: you likely wouldn’t have found the recipe’s page if the blogger hadn’t added all that extra content. Search engines like Google favor articles of a certain length (at least 1,000 words), and also those that include multiple repetitions of the target keywords, notably in headings. Having lots of comments below the post also helps rank higher on Google.
In addition, longer posts mean more room for ads.
If you appreciate a food blogger’s work, help them out by leaving a comment and engaging with their content on social media. Your engagement signals to the algorithms that determine what people see on any given platform (e.g., Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Google, etc.) that the content is valuable and worth sharing.
The food you see is not the food they eat
The recipes you see published on food blogs were photographed in unrealistic settings.
When I first started my web site about vegan meal planning and cooking, I thought it would be the perfect fit for me: I spent so much time planning and cooking meals for my own family, I might as well post on my blog about it.
I was so naïve!
Quickly, I realized that, comes 5 pm, with two tired kids and a little bit on the edge myself, it’s a miracle that I manage to cook dinner at all. How could I possibly take Pinterest-worthy photos at the same time to document the process, and style a plate to take drool-inducing photos of the results, before the hangry hordes attacked the food?
In addition, the natural light in my kitchen is insufficient to take photos at the end of the day, and artificial lights are too cumbersome to use when the kitchen fills up with after-school clutter.
Food bloggers often share recipes they have tried and tested with their own families. But when it comes to taking good food photos, they must prepare a dedicated version of the dish. For most appealing, colorful results, some of the ingredients may not even be fully cooked or prepared per the recipe itself. Whether or not the food gets eaten is secondary. If it does, it will be cold.
Don’t hold yourself to the standards of the photos accompanying the recipe. The photos are first and foremost meant to induce you to click on the link (bringing traffic to the site).
What does this mean for us home cooks?
Watching professional sports on TV isn’t associated with practicing sports, and watching adult movies isn’t associated with satisfying interpersonal relationships. Why should we as home cooks expect that looking at ad-supported food content online would help us improve our cooking? Learning can occur from recipes found online, but something more than 31,600,000 vegan mac and cheese recipes will be required if we are to transform our culture toward a greater emphasis on home-cooked healthy plant-based meals.