What's Not to Love About Google's New Recipe Search? Plenty.

BlogHer Original Post

Whether you’re a food blogger who publishes recipes or you’re trying to find a great mac and cheese recipe for dinner, you just might not love Google’s new Recipe View.

I don’t love it.

Now, I’m neither a programmer, nor a webmaster, nor an expert. I’m a magazine food writer turned part-time blogger five years ago. I have two food blogs, a decent page rank on the more established blog, and a published archive of more than 800 recipes -- not one of which you’ll be able to find with Google’s new recipe search feature.

Google intends Recipe View to be a more refined search. When you type something that Google thinks is food related into the regular Google search bar, the new Recipes category appears in the sidebar. Click on it, and you’ll see checkboxes to help you narrow your search by ingredients, cook time, and calories.

Want to see how it works? One of the most popular recipes on The Perfect Pantry is this shrimp, lemon, herb and feta macaroni and cheese:

The Perfect Pantry shrimp, lemon, herb and feta macaroni and cheese

Below, you’ll see the results of a regular Google search for “shrimp lemon mac and cheese”:

screen shot google search

The recipe posted on my own blog comes up first and second in the results. In the top seven search results, my recipe hits seven times. In other words, you can’t miss it.

Using Google’s Recipe View and identical search terms, here are the results:

google recipe view screen shot

The third result (Tastebook) is one that used my recipe without crediting the source. (I didn’t know about it, but I’m glad to know now.) The other six results are from mega-recipe sites, and not one is a recipe for shrimp, lemon, herb and feta mac and cheese.

Why the discrepancy, when both searches are Google searches?

In order to have recipes included specifically in the new Recipe View, blogs need to code their posts using “rich snippets” -- blankets of HTML wrapped around images or at least two elements of text (ingredients, cook time, calorie counts, or ratings). Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes explains this in a post she wrote on Food Blog Alliance.

For the most part, only the largest and most tech-savvy food sites (Allrecipes.com, Food Network, Epicurious, etc.) and blogs like Simply Recipes have undertaken the massive job of coding their archives, so theirs are the recipes you’ll find with Recipe View.

I know what you’re thinking.

So, just get all of your recipes wrapped up in rich snippets, and you, too, will be included in Recipe View.

Here’s what I’m thinking: I’m not sure I want to do that, because I’m not sure Recipe View is good for food bloggers.

1. Cooking isn’t a fill-in-the-blank template. On The Official Google Blog, product manager Kavi Goel writes, “My parents follow the art of cooking by intuition, where the right amount of each spice is measured out by gut feel, but that’s never worked very well for me. As a math geek and computer engineer, I prefer to work with concrete numbers and instructions, including when cooking.”

Would you rather learn to cook from Mr. Goel or from his parents?

Cooking should be an expression of who you are, what you create, and the traditions passed down through your family or culture. Sometimes, that can’t be quantified. In the classes I teach, I occasionally hide the measuring spoons so my students learn to trust their tastebuds. David Lebovitz of DavidLebovitz.com tested one of his recipes with rich snippets; Google would not accept a cooking instruction of “2 to 3 minutes,” asking instead for 2 minutes or 3 minutes. Cooking isn’t like that. Sometimes, at some altitudes, on some humid days, on some wonky stoves, it might take 4 minutes. That’s the reality of cooking.

2. Diverse voices and styles feed our blogging creativity. Blogger, Wordpress, Typepad and other platforms eventually might create templates to help food bloggers code in rich snippets for their new posts, but the result could be that our recipes will all look and sound the same, i.e., how Google wants them to look and sound.

While there are some conventions for good recipe writing, the best food blogs incorporate those conventions in their own style and voice. What of blogs that demonstrate recipes in video, or step-by-step photographs, or illustrations like They Draw and Cook, rather than in a traditional recipe format? Or blogs that present recipes in narrative form? You won’t find them with Recipe View.

3. Recipe View favors large sites that can hire people to code their archives. For any blogger, adding rich snippets to their archives presents a dilemma: Do you take the time to go back through hundreds of recipes, rewriting and coding by hand; or, do you hire someone to do it for you?

With more than 800 archived recipes, I can’t afford to pay someone to snippetize all of them. Food blogging isn’t my full-time job. If I spend time coding my archives (I’d have to learn how, and then how to customize for my own style), I have no time to cook and photograph for the blog. It’s one or the other. If I don’t code, Recipe View won’t show my recipes in search results (though regular Google search will). If I do code, it will be months before I have time to produce any new content.

4. Must we compete against our own page rank? As I said, I’m no expert, but it seems odd to me that we work hard to create quality content that earns a decent page rank, which places our blogs high in search results. Then, Recipe View negates all of those good page rank results unless our blogs are coded the way Google wants them coded. Even with good page rank and rich snippets, there’s no guarantee that a recipe will show up high in the search results with Recipe View.

Some day, all food bloggers might need to become snippet-savvy. I’ve kept an eye on my traffic stats since the new search was introduced last month, and I’ve not seen any drop because my recipes aren’t coded for Recipe View. So, for now, I’m not rushing to snippets until I figure out how to fit Google’s code into my style, not the other way around.

And you know what they say about technology. Never buy version 1.0. The bugs will be fixed in later versions.

Lydia Walshin
A former food writer, Lydia blogs on theperfectpantry.com and soupchick.com from her log house kitchen in Rhode Island, where she also makes pretty good mac and cheese.

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