Ever been catfished by a recipe that ranks at the top of your Google search but turns out meh when you make it yourself? Google does mean well by favoring longer, keyword-rich posts, videos, and studio-quality photography in its algorithm. However, the result of this is a conveyor belt of food blogs with uniform content, written to meet ever-changing search engine optimization (SEO) criteria. For amateur cooks, it can be hard to find recipes that taste as good as they look online.
My relationship with this issue is complicated: As a writer, cookbook editor, and recipe tester, I’m gut-punched by the lack of creativity on food blogs these days, and I notice more and more recipe developers prioritizing SEO over quality and accuracy. At the same time, as a food blogger reliant on monthly ad revenue (based on page views), I’m an unabashed contributor to that conveyer belt of formulaically structured recipe websites, and I know firsthand that—at least for now—tailoring posts to Google’s search algorithm is essential for digital content creators’ income. Finally, as a busy human and my household’s head of food and nutrition, I just want to find trustworthy recipes fast so I can get on with my life.
Here are five pro tips for searching more efficiently online:
Use Specific Search Terms
It’s tempting to type “best spanakopita recipe” into Google, but what does that even mean?
“I think the biggest challenge with SEO is that when it comes to recipes, there really isn’t one ‘best’ option,” says Ann Baum, cofounder of Spillt. “Google ends up showing you the recipes that are most likely to be clicked on and have time spent on their pages, but I think we all recognize that there are times when that proxy is not a perfect representation of the quality of a recipe.”
Start by asking yourself, “What qualities am I looking for in this recipe?” If quickness is your top priority, search “spanakopita recipe that can be made in 30 minutes or less.” If you want to make the dish in its most authentic form, search “traditional Greek spanakopita recipe.” If you’re planning to make it for a party, not dinner, search “handheld spanakopita appetizer for 12 people.”
Compare Different Options
Not all creators are as good at recipe development as they are at SEO, and vice versa. So when you’re researching a dish you’ve never made before, it’s helpful to compare a few different recipes—maybe even from different pages of the search results. I like to choose an eye-catching, well-produced one from the top five, then one or two others that sound good but don’t rank as well. Then I skim the recipes side by side. Does one have a wildly different cooking time than the others? Are there helpful variations, time-saving tips, or ingredient substitutions in one post that I can apply to the other recipes?
“It’s so easy to just grab somebody else’s recipe and alter it a bit and slap it up on your own blog,” says food writer and cookbook writing coach Dianne Jacob. As you compare posts, you may discover that most of the first-page search results are based on the same original recipe. “Then,” she suggests, “you can decide what you like,” or find the original version and make that.
Read the Comments (With a Grain of Salt)
As a food blogger myself, I am well aware that not all comments are to be taken seriously. Some reviewers have given me 1-star ratings because I “made them” click a link to make the pizza sauce in the ingredients list of a pizza recipe. Others have admittedly not made the recipe, but insist that “there’s no way this pizza dough will work,” branding the post with their indignant review.
Nevertheless, when I’m spelunking through the depths of the internet for a specific recipe—especially for a dish I’ve never made before—I do find reviews helpful (at least the real ones). For example, sometimes readers report that they discovered a substitution or variation that made the dish even better. Or when a recipe says “season to taste,” commentators might offer more exact seasoning suggestions. The more thoughtful comments a recipe post has, the more it has been tested and approved by real humans like you and me.
Stick With Recipe Writers You Trust
Before you open up your search to the whole web, ask other home cooks you respect for their favorite food bloggers and recipe creators, or search for them by name. This will help support the creators who care most about quality—every click matters!—and it will increase the likelihood of a successful supper.
“There are lots of ways that recipes earn trust,” Baum says. “Maybe you recognize a particular blog and have made their recipes before, or maybe your friend sends you the recipe and says, ‘I made this and it turned out great.’”
Baum also recommends seeking out reliable recipe developers on social media, where you can “see the behind-the-scenes action and get a sense of the thought and work that goes into developing great recipes.”