Search for a recipe online, and you’re bound to encounter a lengthy blog post accompanying it. In many cases, the only way to arrive at 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 a recipe-reader to throw up their hands in frustration.
“Why are food blogs like that?” they want to know. “Why can’t they just give me the recipe???”
The truth of food blogging is that it’s a massive amount of labor (for some, a labor of love, for others, a sustainable form of labor that’s meant to return dividends, in the form of income, and for many — a combination of both). And that model surrounding monetizing that labor requires… well, words.
Just ask Erin Clarkson, author of the popular baking blog Cloudy Kitchen, which she founded 5 years ago. Clarkson’s platform sees roughly 400,000 views per month, but her content is not as footloose and fancy-free as many may think. A single blog post, she says, can take several days to create.
There’s the misconception, Clarkson says, that she’s just “whipping 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 final time.” The shoot itself takes another entire day. “And then you have to do all the research for the blog, writing the actual blog post and coming up with headings, which have the right keywords.”
The keywords, Clarkson noted, are part of what make the blogs turn up in Google in the first place. Without them — and without that added layer of labor orchestrated by the author — these recipes wouldn’t come up in a search.
The same users complaining about lengthy headnotes (otherwise known as the descriptive text that comes before a recipe) have these same headnotes to thank for the recipe’s very existence.
Longer blog posts, says Anne Murlowski, who launched her blog Rocky Mountain Bliss in 2013 and gets about 30,000 monthly views, “demonstrate expertise and the value your website brings to a reader.” But beyond expertise, these posts bring compensation. “To drive a real income from a blog on impressions alone, you need to achieve hundreds of thousands of views per month.” Search engine presence, which is driven by word-length, is, Mulowski says, “the only real way people can do that.”
While many bloggers would love to deliver shorter posts that get right to the recipe, Google is more likely to pick up posts that hover around 1,000 words, and those words make the rest of the intensive labor — the recipe-development, the photography, and even the research for the writing itself— possible. (Which is to say nothing of the cost of procuring the ingredients, a built-in expense when it comes to food blogs.)
When a post is longer, it “has more chance to rank for related keywords,” says Rebecca Swanner, founder of Let’s Eat Cake, which generates over 100,000 views per month. Without visibility, these recipes can easily fall into a vacuum, never being seen — or re-created — by their intended audience. And for the blogger who created them, that means the labor that went into developing, testing, and photographing those recipes, would see no financial returns for that work.
Blog posts that are too short create “a risk for readers to leave, or ‘bounce,’ from the post 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 welcomes several million visitors a month, says good blog posts are resources that help readers “be creative, troubleshoot potential problems, provide answers to FAQs, and even include custom video content.”
Which is to say: There is a purpose to these recipe headnotes. April Blake, author of the 10-year-old blog The April Blake, says that bloggers, “do try to put information that’s useful before the post that pertains to it. Sometimes that’s substitution suggestions, or a suggestion to not sub anything,” or maybe, she says, “it’s a tip that using a wok gives you the best results.”
Blog authors streamline recipes by design. When you cook, you don’t want to read paragraphs of “if this, then that” troubleshooting — you want to see clearly what step you’re on and what step comes next. So, the information offered in the headnote contributes to the recipe’s execution.
Bloggers want their readers to succeed. They want positive feedback on their recipes, and the only way to get good feedback is to write thorough, complete recipes with lots of tips that anticipate foreseeable pitfalls.
“Baking is a science,” Erin Clarkson says. “I will often go into a lot of detail in the first part of the recipe.” Clarkson tries, in her posts, she says, to “pack as much information as I possibly can” to head off confusion when it comes to the recipe itself. So, try not to scroll past that valuable information because it may help you.
Of course, some food bloggers use anecdotes in their work too, telling stories that relate to their recipes. There is a place for that, says Darien Gee, founder and recipe-creator of the Friendship Bread Kitchen blog. Longer narratives, she says, “give readers a chance to get to know you, the person behind the recipes, and that relationship cultivates fans.”
This content, some bloggers say, is an important tool in developing a cultural connection between author and reader, a connection that reflects “their interests and values” and that encourages people to return to the site, as Gee says. “Food is personal,” Monique Volz added. “It’s filled with memories, nostalgia, and emotion, and I think sharing those things along with a recipe makes for an incredible experience.”
When it comes to operating a food blog, the labor is plentiful. And readers benefit from that labor, learning new techniques, new recipes, and new approaches to cooking that they may not have encountered otherwise.
The relationship, between blogger and reader — in a world where blog posts are long — is a mutually beneficial one: Everyone gets what they need from it.
The natural evolution of the complaints about blogs recently came to a head when a company named Recipeasly, which promised to streamline food blogs, ran into a bit of trouble at launch, as reported by 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 actually did was erase the author (and the author’s attendant labor) from the work.
This online explosion helps boil down the essential argument for why food blogs exist in the first place and why they’re useful the way that they are. What may read as inconvenient to one person is necessary to another.
Moreover, the work that goes into food blogs really is work. It’s a labor of love, but it’s still labor, and the crescendo of complaints about that labor led to a tool, in Recipeasly, that could have easily caused financial and career-related harm to real people.
“Recipe bloggers don’t need someone to come in and take from them and remove them from their work,” Erin Clarkson says. A click on a food blog is actually a choice. The writing, she says, is the “important information about the recipe,” but, if all the labor of wading through someone else’s labor is too great, there is actually a solution for that. “Invest in some cookbooks,” Clarkson says. “No scrolling or ads 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 tortoises. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Eater, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Cut, and more.