I made a beer sorbet earlier in the week, or at least I tried to. It didn’t set so we drank it like a frozen cocktail. It was OK, but not what I was going for. I am in the process of making it again with a slightly re-jiggered recipe and process that should overcome the issues. I am going to use this recipe for an example of Google’s new Recipe Mode. Here’s some background on that.
Last night I had a vibrant exchange with several food bloggers on Twitter about Google’s new recipe mode. It started because I saw a tweet that said it was unfair to small bloggers. I asked to have that clarified because I wasn’t sure what the angle was, even though I was fully aware of the open debate on this new service and recipe posting requirements. It boiled down to small bloggers not having the time or skills to reformat recipes, old and new, into this format in order to have high ranking in the search engine.
Here’s my problem. Google's search engine is free to use and they don't charge for rankings. There has been plenty of debate about companies that spend money on SEO and trickery trying to gain and keep the top spots. Fair enough. We do still live in a world where money talks and people who think community trumps that obviously don’t even know their own communities that well. Google looks for and punishes offenders so it is as “fair” as it can be. Ad banners and stats monitoring breeds competition, and it can be fierce. I hear a lot of people say they do it because they love it, but then fuss over traffic and comments. Get real!
For food bloggers though, not having the time or skill to use a new service that comes along ends up being a choice. The service is free (I am going to keep saying that) so people have to decide if they want to participate or not. Not participating because you feel as though your creativity and style is where you want to focus is a solid personal AND business oriented decision. This doesn’t mean what Google is doing is unfair. You can’t have something for nothing and this age old rule applies here.
The debate rages on, but there are also solid examples and “how-to” posts that are supportive of how to make the choice.
Google Recipe Search - http://www.google.com/landing/recipes/
Food 52 - http://www.food52.com/blog/1838_googles_new_recipe_search
Bon Appetit Hon (rebuttal to Food 52) - http://bonappetithon.com/2011/03/24/a-rebuttal-to-food-52/
Dianne Jacobs - http://diannej.com/blog/2011/02/new-google-recipe-search-means-extra-coding-for-food-bloggers/
Meathead at AmazingRibs.com - http://www.amazingribs.com/blog/google_rich_snippets.html#example
That said, the issue of Google’s move being antithetical to food blog style and creativity is way overblown. And I know why. The format and examples of the new Recipe Mode are technical because it uses markup language (code for the non-techies) under the hood and it looks menacing. I agree that code can be a bear to deal with. I’m and IT guy and I live and die by being able to code for my customers. But that isn’t the end of the story. Guess what, some enterprising folks have already created helpers to ease some of the pain. And more will come. And then everybody will be doing it and taking it for granted! Oh, and did I mention this is all free and the format being put forth is almost entirely optional so the tags (code) you are required to use is a short list?
The missing piece is for someone to demonstrate that the examples you see are a guide not a literal interpretation of exactly what every recipe has to be formatted like. They aren’t saying that, and food bloggers need to stop and think for a second about why they have gotten that impression rather than investigating how the creative and tech worlds meld here. I don’t know why anybody has to say this to people who use blogging platforms, SEO, ad banners, search engines, Twitter, URL shorteners, smartphones, etc. We use so much technology to be creative already, what’s the difference here?
I am going to take the long hand approach. That is to format my recipe as would normally format it in my post and then switch to HTML mode and make some changes to the recipe tags so that when Google scans it for Recipe Mode that it works. Ultimately a helper that could generate the different pieces in code so that you could copy and paste where and how you wanted would be even better.
You do need to add the style definitions to your blog’s stylesheet, but that is a onetime change and something that is done regularly by bloggers who want a pretty site. A complete list of all the possible tags exists for convenience. And get this, there is a test tool to allow to see what the preview for a recipe would look like and whether you have all the required information. This would seem to be a clear example of breaking down the barriers to this process. It clearly is a choice and not one with a burden that is too high for tech-savvy bloggers to bear in my opinion.
1 pint bottle of homemade Trappist Dubble Ale
2 cups simple syrup
1 Tbsp Meyer Lemon juice
1 vanilla bean
Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and combine with the first 3 ingredients.
Process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Published: March 25th, 2011
Now, some of you might look at the recipe above and say “I style mine differently and that format is too rigid!” What format? The above is how I post my recipes all the time. I added some tags for a more complete recipe for the search engine, but they don't really affect how my post that contains the recipe looks! Google’s required code is in there and it didn’t require me to change my recipe at all. Furthermore you could stretch the ingredients out over a whole post, instead of in a list, and the instructions could be paragraphs of steps intertwined with greatest prose ever to exit your fingertips. Google doesn’t prevent this. You can still be creative and get ranked.
Here is the recipe and process I am using for my second attempt.
1 14.9 oz can of Guinness Draught
1 cups simple syrup
1 Tbsp Meyer Lemon juice
1 vanilla bean
Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and combine with the first 3 ingredients. Chill in the freezer for 1 hour, stirring twice. Process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Total time: 2 hours
Published: March 25th, 2011
As I said above, a helper tool to facilitate some of the code generation and even plug-ins that hide all of that for you will go a long way to making this process seamless. And they will come. I am sure some enterprising IT foodie is out there right now improving on everything that has already been done overcoming the issues that remained. For now folks that don’t have the IT savvy to do this should keep an eye out for contributions from those who do and wait until it gets easier for them to participate. Don’t cry foul, this is a free service that is technology based. You can’t have your cake and eat it too!