The other day, I came across a discussion about recipe websites and how unnecessarily long they can be.
In short, people were annoyed at the fact that many of these recipe articles contain personal stories and long-winded introductions.
And I understand that annoyance, to be honest. I mean, I’m here to get the recipe for green pesto minestrone. I do not need to know that you are a Capricorn who likes Jazz music.
You had a Cocker Spaniel when you were 12?
Cool. Now show me the recipe.
So why do they do this? Is it to create some sort of emotional connection with their readers? Is it an attempt to carve out a unique identity for themselves? Or are they just trying to express themselves?
Unfortunately, the real answer is actually rather boring.
Why do recipe websites have stories?
Recipe websites have stories because it helps their recipe articles to rank better on Google.
This is known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
In other words, these recipe writers are optimizing their articles to rank higher on search engines such as Google.
Wait… how do personal stories help their recipes to rank higher?
Firstly, Google prefers longer content. For example, a 3,000 word article is far more likely to rank higher on Google than a short article that only has 2 paragraphs.
Note how I put the word “likely” in bold there. Of course, it isn’t as simple as just writing longer articles. However, having more content does put you at an advantage.
Furthermore, more content = more reading, which Google can interpret as a good thing. If users are spending more time on Website A than Website B, then Google’s search engine algorithm will see that as a signal that Website A has more engaging content.
Essentially, by adding personal stories and unnecessary preambles, these recipe writers are “fattening” out their content. They are taking content that is typically short (i.e. recipes) and then making it longer by adding their own personal “touch” to it.
The second issue is that Google hates duplicate content. It will always prefer content that is new and unique.
If your new article is eerily similar to another article that was previously published on another website, then Google isn’t going to like it.
In fact, it might not even show your website in its search results at all.
The problem with recipes is that they are all pretty similar. I mean, the recipe for pancakes isn’t going to change that much. It’s a recipe that has probably already been posted on thousands of other websites.
You can change a few words here and there, but that isn’t going to fool Google into thinking that you’re bringing fresh content to the table.
Furthermore, you can’t just change the recipe for pancakes in order to make your content more unique because that would defeat the purpose.
So how do you make your recipe articles more unique?
Yep, you guessed it.
By adding personal stories and unnecessary information.
Are they gaming the system?
No. They are working within the system. If they were to publish a short recipe in a bullet point format, with no preamble, it is likely that their article would fail to rank well on Google.
OK, so is this Google’s fault?
Well, not necessarily. I mean, a search algorithm cannot cook or taste recipes. As a result, it cannot choose which recipe is the best. It has to look at other signals to determine which article is “satisfying” its users.
It also has to guard against thin and duplicated content. i.e. Spam.
Unfortunately, this is not an easy issue for them to solve.