Recipes can help bring people to your website—and ultimately, win their interest in your products, services, and even tourist destinations.
Jason Burnett is the founding editor of MyRecipes.com, a digital brand that brings together over 70,000 recipes from titles such as Cooking Light, Southern Living, Coastal Living, AllYou, Real Simple, Food & Wine, Health, Sunset, and Time Inc. Books. In July 2015, he started his own venture based on his passion for oysters—Oyster Obsession—and in just over a year, it’s grown into an audience of over 30,000 people, in part, thanks to recipes. I asked Jason to share how recipes can help small businesses win online.
Q: You’ve been doing a lot with oysters lately. Tell us what you’ve got going on!
A: Oyster Obsession launched in July 2015 and quickly became the largest community of oyster enthusiasts online. We share a daily recipe from favorite chefs, magazines, cookbooks and food blogs, plus oyster news, raw-bar discoveries, and products. Our primary goal is helping home cooks enjoy this delicious, sustainable seafood with confidence. A wildly-engaged and ever-growing audience (30,000+) enjoys Oyster Obsession on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Flipboard, YouTube, and at Oyster-Obsession.com.
Q: You helped build MyRecipes into a success. What were some of the things you learned there that could help small food businesses compete in the digital space?
A: Whether you are serving an audience of 25 million or twenty, remember that your content needs to provide value. In a marketplace that is flooded with food photos and recipes, the best way to stand out is to understand your consumer and consistently address their needs.
Next is to present quality material. Quality doesn't need to be expensive and highly produced. Quality food content is honest and has a purpose. It delivers what the headline promises. When thoughtfully presented, recipes connect with people in two powerful ways. Every recipe tells a story (of culture, of ingredients, of family memories...) and every recipe grants permission. It may be permission to indulge, to try something new, to take a shortcut, or just to dream of cooking.
Q: Not every food business has the resources of a company that publishes a stack of food magazines with halls of test kitchens, and a large staff to develop, test, and photograph recipes. What strengths do food companies have?
A: A reputable food company doesn't have to be a full-fledged media producer to make an impact with content. Their strength is expertise and an understanding of their consumer. If a company doesn't have the resources to develop, photograph and shoot video of recipes, they should consider using their knowledge to curate content for their consumer. Identify recipes, ingredients, or products that align with your company and your consumer. The audience appreciates the information and your expertise is reinforced.
Q: A lot of people still think that search engine optimization (SEO) is about tags and keywords and adwords. How do recipes help SEO?
A: Search engine algorithms are continually enhanced and get smarter every day. In addition to looking at keywords and links, they now look at perceived quality of content. They consider everything from word count to whether your writing is active or passive voice. When it comes to recipes, remember that you are competing for the long tail.
Before you publish a recipe, search for it. How is your recipe different from the existing variations? What will make it stand out? You're not likely to beat out any of the big players with "Chicken Soup," but you might capture a bit of traffic to "Classic Thai Chicken and Coconut Soup" or "Foolproof Tom Kha Soup." Also, as we get used to using Siri and Google Now, everyone concerned with SEO should think about how voice command search changes the language of queries.
Q: What are some other ways that food companies can use recipes to connect with their customers?
A; Embrace platform agnostic programming. You may not need to publish content on a (or any) web site. Publish your content where it makes the most sense. Depending on the content and your audience, this could mean you publish on social media channels, YouTube and Flipboard. If your consumer needs a searchable archive of recipes, by all means publish them on your website.
Q: When you have a mission behind your food product, such as health or sustainability, how do you find the right way to communicate that message without turning people off?
A: This is a great question. The primary message with food has to be flavor. Will you enjoy it? Healthfulness, sustainability, the chef or restaurant, even ease and cook time are secondary considerations. In the case of health and convenience, audiences are more open to balancing these with taste. If you are trading flavor for a secondary consideration, you MUST make the "why" clear to the audience. We all make these decisions every day (canned chicken broth for time savings), but want reassurance that they are worthwhile.
Q: What do you think is the future of food in the digital space?
A: As recipes and food photography become more commoditized, differentiation and a clear reason why your content matters becomes more important. If there are 6,000+ "best chicken recipes" in Google results, consumers will look for more granular recipes. The 4th most popular "chicken pasta casserole" search suggestion is "chicken pasta casserole without canned soup."
Q: If a food company could only make one investment in digital or content marketing, what would you recommend?
A: This will vary depending on the company's goals. Start with clear goals, identify the consumer, and invest in the social media platform that best aligns with your consumer.
Q: What things about food do you think will always endure?
A: We will always look for food products and information that help us cook with confidence and enjoy dining at home.