After a somewhat productive week, Sunday rolls around, and with it your weekly special dinner. For some, like me, it involves a trip to Costco, a general memory of a recipe from your childhood, and an ambitious meal meant for 3 that ended up feeding the neighborhood.
And somewhere along the way, you probably searched for “Best Chili Recipe Made With Heinz Baked Beans Because Asian Costco Doesn’t Sell Kidney Beans” or something along those lines.
And of course, being the internet with ~2 billion webpages, you’re sure to find “some” recipe relating to your query.
You know the rest of the story:
Google Search: Best chili recipe made with Heinz baked beans because Costco in Asia doesn’t sell kidney beans
Webpage Title: Best Chili Made With Beans EVER OMG
Paragraph 1: “I bet you’re here to find the best chili recipe ever! Well, look no further! We have the ABSOLUTE BEST CHILI RECIPE EVER! Got beans? You got chili recipes!”
Paragraph 2: “The heartbreaking story behind the best chili ever started when I was but a figment in papi’s netheregions…”
And so on for 3 pages until the recipe is finally revealed.
Ever wonder why that is?
Why do these food bloggers, with ostensibly good taste and a hunger to feed the world their own unique culinary dish decide to affront our eyes with repetitive drawl and heart-breaking stories almost no one ever reads?
Well, have I got the BEST STORY ABOUT WHY ONLINE RECIPES ARE SO NEEDLESSLY BORING AND LONG just for you.
Look no further friends, because a question you’ve probably only thought about (and sighed) two to three times in your life is about to be answered for all of your hungry intellectual delights.
Why are food blog recipes so long?
To put it short—unlike the subject of this article—online food recipes are so incredibly long-winded because:
- Some people love the stories
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- It’s a business
- Recipes aren’t copyrighted
I’ll start with the obvious and perhaps even the opinion of many people reading this. Some people love the chefs. They enjoy the read. They like their stories. Without the context, tales, and personal mentions of “why” the recipe was made, those amazing readers would probably find their meals elsewhere.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of SEO, may whatever god that’s out there bless you—it’s why the internet sucks.
Think of Google as a giant answering machine. No, I don’t mean the type that answered spam callers while you were at work or got me in trouble for playing hooky as a high-schooler. I mean a machine that answers all of your questions.
That is what you type into Google every time you search for something. That something you’re searching for is an answer.
Most searched phrases online are brands and companies and services. Then come the common questions—what’s the weather like today in Philadelphia? What are the highest-rated Thai restaurants in Antarctica? What are the best places to visit in hell? These kinds of queries. Then come all of the other infinite questions that pop up in 8 billion people’s 8 billion different lives led.
Now say I want to show you my cat’s favorite recipe for meatloaf. According to one of my SEO tools, “meatloaf” is searched for over 800,000 times a month in the US alone.
My cat’s gonna be famous!
Except that same tool then showed me 770 individual webpages that had recipes for “meatloaf”. And those are only the ones that made it onto Google—there’s likely thousands if not tens of thousands of recipes for meatloaf out there.
So what is a poor monopoly like Google (and my cat) supposed to do?
Well, if you’re Google, it’s spend billions and billions of dollars trying to come up with an incredibly complex series of algorithms that measure and pick which meatloaf recipes are actually THE BEST ON THE INTERNET.
And unfortunately for Captain Tiggersworth III, a page consisting of the words “25 cans of tuna + heaping portions of catnip mixed in a bowl sent to my address right meow” probably isn’t going to make the top of that list.
And since Google’s algorithms are essentially a software program trying to decide what humans prefer the most, well, it’s going to act like a software program trying to tell you what you like. (Hint: HOT SINGLES ARE IN YOUR AREA!)
As in, it is a flawed system, and the flaws that are exploited the most come out on top.
So, if Tiggersworth was worth his weight in catnip, he’d make a meatloaf article that has a far likelier chance of doing really well on Google:
- Full of 100% unique content (not just copied from other sites—this is a form of “duplicate content”)
- A personal story, possibly lending authority and trust on the subject
- Lot’s and lots of words related to “meatloaf”, giving Google a far higher confidence that your recipe is about actual meatloaf and not Michael Lee Aday
- Something that’s more likely to be shared on social media
- Possibly a good recipe at the end (as assessed by a robot that can’t taste)
And then there’s all the hundreds of other bits and pieces that would take a good few months of solid study to understand about ranking to the front of Google, but let’s move on.
#3. It’s a business:
Most of these online recipes are on neat little blogs that somehow haven’t been monopolized yet (although I bet there’s a network or two doing that beneath the surface).
As in, like me, they desire to make an income from their online writing and teachings. That’s why there’s almost never a paywall.
And since Google prefers longer-form content (even though they say this isn’t necessarily true), online food bloggers write lengthy content to get higher up in Google rankings and provide more space for ads to pop up—so that you reading their stories of how they first learned to tie their shoe before going on to cooking the best foie gras this side of the Atlantic can make them an extra $0.01 or two.
(Note: I’m not sure which side I’m on, being in Taiwan).
#4. Recipes aren’t copyrighted
According to the Copyright Alliance, basic recipes aren’t copyrightable in the United States. It’s related to something called the idea-expression dichotomy, where the expression of ideas can be copyrighted but not the basic idea itself. Color me confused.
Their article goes fully into detail on the idea, but basically:
“Recipes can be protected under copyright law if they are accompanied by ‘substantial literary expression.’”
So, without any jazz or story or context around the recipe, it looks like a lot of food bloggers’ recipes—if they were bare bones—could just be legally swiped from the internet! That’s crazy.
And there you have it, why online food blogs are so long and almost always have oddly personal lengthy stories before providing what many of us actually want—the recipe.
Google’s software tries to pick the most appropriate recipe for you —> More keywords and more authority help them choose these —> Food bloggers learned this through trial and error —> They need to make a living and also copyright their work.
So, if the next time you’re sighing in frustration searching through food blogs just to see the damn formulaic recipe so you can feed your family, perhaps give a grain of salt to those who wrote the content, knowing they spent hours and hours creating that post so they could feed theirs too.
Or don’t and buy a cookbook instead.
- This food blogger wrote about an experiment she conducted. She listened to some of her readers and actually tried just putting the recipe up top before everything else. All of the articles in her experiment went lower in the rankings.
- I think the only potential fix to something like this is one of the hardest to overcome—brand name. If you’re searching for Gordan Ramsay’s Jammed Turkey or Rachael Ray’s Glimmering Sunflower Seeds, they can probably get away with 0% fluff content. The rest of us humble content creators probably cannot (until we’re dining with the stars, that is.)
- I do this too. Any online blogger/content creator/writer/lazy-person named JJ has to—to a degree. Just look at how this post was structured. I’m sure some of you noted the irony. At least it’s Substack, where SEO doesn’t *have* to matter.
Just remember, when it’s a bit too cold outside, there’s only 1 solution: Fight chilly with chili.
Heinz Tomato Beans Chili Recipe
- 3 cans of Heinz tomato beans
- 2-3 pounds of heaping Costco ground meat
- A sh*tload of Taco seasoning
- Lots of cut-up vegetables
- Add tomato paste until the giant slow cooker now looks like a flooded toilet bowl (which may or may not occur later after eating this)
- Serve with cheese and sour cream
This was the first time I’ve used Heinz tomato beans to make chili. It was awesome. They truly are the magical fruit.