Photo by Helaina Thompson
Every once in a while a cartoon will come across my Facebook feed. It’s of a person sitting at a computer screen, reading a food blog. The reader is looking for a recipe, but first, they are assaulted with a story about the blogger’s grandma. By the time we get to the last cartoon panel, the reader is nothing but a skeleton and the recipe still isn’t present.
Without fail, whenever it gets shared there are always numerous comments underneath it, agreeing wholeheartedly with the sentiment. I’ll see friends and strangers liking the cartoon or chiming in underneath with comments like:
“Why don’t food bloggers shut up and get to the recipe?”
“I don’t care about their grandma!”
“Get to the food!”
It isn’t long before I see the sentiment repeated in one form or another on Twitter and forums, and everywhere that people go to share their pet peeves (i.e. the entirety of the internet).
I’ll tell you something – it’s not my favorite criticism. It hurts my feelings.
As a person who has been blogging for 9 years, I’ve seen the world of blogging change a lot.
One of my early food photos in 2010.
What started as a web log (hence blog) of people documenting their lives with simple snapshots and slice-of-life stories has become an industry.
With that, the expectations along with it have changed as well. Pictures have to be “Pinterest worthy.” There’s a growing demand for better lighting, more shareable recipes, and a pressure to grow all of your social media channels if you want your work to be seen, and to get more opportunities.
And of course, you want your work to be seen. It’s fine and good to make something in your own kitchen, but the whole point of putting it on the internet is that you hope other people will engage with it too. Otherwise, you could have just left the recipe in the notepad in your junk drawer.
So why don’t bloggers just get to the recipe?
I blog because I love writing.
When I started blogging, it’s because I’m a writer by nature.
I wrote a magazine as a kid for my International Pen Pal Club. (The name of my club was a bit of a misnomer since the vast majority of my readers were in the greater Des Moines area.) If only you’d had a subscription to Stickers & Stuff Magazine circa 1986, you may have seen it mentioned there.*
It was all about writing and pen pals. My mom printed it out at work, and then I stapled the magazine together.
I had pen pals throughout my childhood, teens, and into my mid-twenties. I wrote the restaurant review column in my high school paper, and in college, I minored in English. I literally spent over a decade working for a company called, We Tell Stories, in which I visited schools and performed plays for kids.
So for me, blogging was about storytelling first and foremost. Before the food, before the photography, before the recipe creation, blogging was a creative outlet to share a part of myself. It was like pen palling with a megaphone.
I could talk about why I choose to be vegan and to help others who have similar concerns. Through searches and shares, people who are curious about that kind of information could find me. I could share some of my favorite foods, and hopefully find other likeminded people who are interested in the same kinds of things.
I want to hear other people’s stories too.
And when I went looking for other blogs to read, that’s what I was looking for too. I tend to not be as interested in a recipe alone. I want a good story. I want to know why it matters, and who you are, and why you needed to make this recipe at this moment in time.
It’s no coincidence that the blogs I read religiously are long-form and detailed about their travels, home cities, relationships, and personal struggles.
Because let’s face it, I’m not going to actually make most of the recipes I read. I might read 5 or 6 different blog posts in a day, and there are only so many meals. Since I am usually in the process of creating my own recipes for this space, my cooking leisure time is limited.
But I do have time to read about recipes, and that doesn’t require more grocery shopping. And since I am a food enthusiast from birth, I can still learn something when I read about someone else’s passion, experience, or expertise in a food.
When a favorite blogger in Paris, Berlin, or Abu Dhabi talks about the food market stalls in his/her town, it’s transportive. I see a part of the world I might not otherwise.
And even though I still haven’t visited Memphis, I don’t miss a post about the burgeoning vegan food scene there and the Southern food that a favorite blogger is cooking. I want to see all of the cute doodles of another favorite’s furry family.
And I feel catharsis when I read about bloggers who have faced challenges and are brave enough to tackle those things in an online space, where I can glean insights from their struggles.
So if I were making a cartoon panel, I’d actually be more likely to say, “Can you please tell me MORE about your grandma? You got to the food measurements far too quickly.”
People have strong attachments to food precisely because food has history and memories attached to it. There’s sentimentality, tradition, and ritual. More than anything that’s why food speaks to me and continues to inspire me. So to take that part out of it really strips away not only the pleasure, but also the motivation.
Why do bloggers write long posts?
Photo by Helaina Thompson
First and foremost, because it’s their creative space.
Whenever you create something, there’s no guarantee that the audience is going to want what you’re sharing. That’s the risk of creativity. It may not be what people want, understand, or desire.
But as a creative, that’s not on me.
There’s no way that I can please every person – especially in the age of the internet where everyone has an opinion on everything, and it’s frankly often not that positive. If pleasing every person was my goal, I’d go mad. It’s impossible.
The only thing I can do is create a blog that I’m proud of, that represents who I am and what I’m about. At the end of the day, if I can put up recipes that I think are worth making, writing that I took time and care to craft, and photographs that meet the goal post of my creative eye then that’s a good day.
So the “shut up and sing” attitude that I see in the comments section of cartoons like the one above rub me the wrong way, but they’re not going to make me change what I’m doing. I may not have the biggest blog out there, but it’s one that I’m proud of and reflects who I am.
Second, Google likes long content.
There’s a joke that goes something like, “Where’s the best place to hide a body? On the second page of a Google search.” That’s because like it or not, Google has a monopoly on what people see. (Don’t ding me for saying that, Google gods!)
And after I’ve spent hours and hours testing a recipe, photographing, editing the photos, writing, posting, and sharing on social media, I would really like someone to come visit my blog.
Google then uses an algorithm to rank how useful that content is and how well it answers what people are looking for. If Google thinks you answered a question well, you may find yourself on the first page of a search. If it doesn’t, you may be withering away on page 5, never to be found.
A couple of ways Google measures a post’s value is by seeing how long people stay on the site – did they get what they wanted? Or did they leave right away? And another is by searching the text to see how thoroughly it answers questions that people have.
If you have fewer than 300 words on a post, you’re going to have a hard time getting seen at all. Google is going to bury you under loads of pages, because it thinks that a long answer is more likely to answer the question. There are also stronger odds that with a lengthier post you used language or keywords that Google reads as helpful.
So with Google as the gatekeeper, chances are bloggers are going to keep writing lengthy posts, because “here’s the recipe!” is suicide when it comes to keyword searches.
Third, long posts pay the bills.
While people read blogs for free, they are not free to create. There’s hosting to pay for every month, website design, plug-ins to keep your site safe from hackers, photo editing software subscriptions…
There’s the food, of course, which often is much more than I’d typically make for my personal use, because a vegan tomato soup recipe, for example, may take making multiple times before it’s just right. (Hence, that’s why I have huge containers of soup in my freezer…)
There’s cameras, lenses, lights, food props… And it all costs money.
For over 8 of the 9 years I had my blog, I had no to minimal ads on my blog. And from a purely aesthetic perspective, that would be my preference. I’m not crazy about having a space that I spend a lot of time and energy curating interrupted with ads that I don’t get to pick.
(I do have settings to not allow certain types of advertising, but it’s not a perfect system. Sometimes ads get through that I would prefer not be there. I flag those specific ads to stop them from reappearing, but until there’s a designated vegan ad agency, it just won’t be a foolproof system unfortunately.)
Anyway, for many years I tried to find other ways to pay for the costs of blogging, and hey, maybe also things like rent, insurance, and save for retirement… I kept ignoring the most obvious way of making money, which is through ads on my site.
With ads, if people were going to see my recipes, they covered some of my costs by scrolling past ads.
I thought about writing an e-book that I sold to generate income. But that’s a bit like saying, “Hey, why don’t you sell movie tickets to pay for your play?” I’m already working to build recipes for a blog, and so making another separate thing for moneymaking, is that much more additional work.
And then there’s sponsored posts. That’s another way that food bloggers generate income. I do some of those, but as a vegan food blogger, I have to be pretty choosey.
I only promote products that I actually like and use. You’re not going to see me promoting foods with meat, dairy, eggs, or animal byproducts in them, and very often those are the companies with larger marketing budgets. So that takes a lot of sponsored post opportunities off the table. I don’t mind that my options are more limited, I’m choosing this lifestyle for a reason after all, but it does affect my bottom line.
Ads are the main way that I make money from blogging. Longer posts means more space for ads, which means more money to put towards creation costs. Scrolling is payment for that free recipe. As costs go, I don’t think it’s an outrageous one.
Like I said, I’ve been writing long content for the entire time I’ve been blogging, so that isn’t the reason I write long-form. However, it also means that I don’t see any benefit in switching over to 300 word posts anytime soon.
But what if you really don’t want to scroll for a recipe?
Buy a cookbook.
For many of us, a lot of our days are spent scrolling – through a Twitter feed, Instagram feed, Facebook feed, text chain… So when people complain about scrolling some more to get to a recipe, it seems like a seriously small price to pay for free content. You just have to show up and there it is.
But if you don’t want to scroll, buy a cookbook. The blurb is short. You paid for the author’s time and costs by purchasing the book, and now you don’t have any of those annoying memories to sift through.
And if you don’t want to buy a cookbook, hey, libraries are free. Lots of them have vegan cookbooks right on their shelves ripe for the taking.
One food blog has many audiences with a variety of needs at a given time.
Look, I get it. Sometimes a person is just looking for how to air fry a baked potato, and they need that information now. It’s time for dinner, they’re hungry, and the potatoes are ready to go.
It isn’t the time for a thousand word dissertation on the history of Russets. At another time, the person may have the inclination to read about your trip through Asheville when you tried boiled peanuts for the first time. But right now? Time and temperature, please.
Needs and desires are always shifting. What works at one time won’t at another. That’s life.
Sometimes on the internet, it’s easy to forget that there’s a person on the other side of the screen. There’s someone who has spent a lot of time and energy creating something, and it may or may not resonate with you or be something you want to make in your own home.
I can’t stop people from being annoyed about lengthy posts or anything else on my blog that doesn’t suit them – like what I chose to call a dish or that I used an ingredient they don’t like. That’s their prerogative. But when they do get annoyed, I hope they’ll remember that there’s someone on the other side of the screen just doing their best.
*Funny story. As I mentioned, most of the subscribers to my pen pal magazine were friends and family. But one girl on the East Coast subscribed after hearing about it in Stickers and Stuff. I was so excited! She paid her whole dollar to get a year-long membership.
After she received her first copy, she sent me a handwritten letter telling me that she wanted to cancel her subscription. She didn’t need her dollar back. She just didn’t want any more copies of my magazine coming to her in the mail! Haha!
I guess that was an early lesson on writing for the public. You can’t please everyone… In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have written so much about my grandma. 😉