If you do your own cooking, you will find yourself googling recipes. This sounds like a boring, rudimentary task. If you are trying to make chocolate chip cookies, you won’t merely find a website telling you how to combine flour, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Instead, you find paragraphs of complete nonsense and inane observations for paragraphs on end that precede that actual recipe.
For instance, one of the top Google search selections for a “chocolate chip cookie recipe” takes you to the website “Two Twenty One Net” where you encounter this prelude:
“My friend Rachel, from Maybe Matilda, did crack me up by saying, ‘Your baked goods are the Victoria’s Secret models of the culinary world. Mine are the Danny DeVito’s’. I think part of the reason why my cookies come out looking like the Victoria’s Secret models of the culinary world is because of my AirBake cookie sheets. I love them so much I could marry them.”
Why is this person telling us that she wants to marry a cookie sheet?
Without any background knowledge, the assumption would be that the person is either bored and turning to blogging as a source of personal fulfillment or has a misplaced sense of self-importance in guessing how much the world cares about other bloggers’ opinions of her cookie shapes.
While those may be true, there are two incentive structures in place that explain why you must wade through paragraphs of gibberish before getting to the content that you seek.
The first is the unique copyright laws relating to recipe. In nearly all countries, and under nearly all circumstances, the mere listing and description of a cooking recipe is not copyrightable material. The mere listing of a recipe online can, legally, be stolen and published elsewhere for commercial purposes without any remedies available to the original creator.
However, if a recipe is accompanied by a story, “We use white chocolates because Grammy visited a Hershey factory in 1975 and she thought it tasted better”, the recipe itself is now copyrightable because it is a component of a larger work product that receives copyright protection. The originality of the inanity inoculates the recipe.
And secondly, in order to receive the benefit of a wide audience, and presumably higher advertising income and sales, Google rewards articles that are at least 450 words in length. Articles less than 150 words, which would include many recipe descriptions without any fluff, will not usually rank well in Google’s search algorithms unless the recipe purveyor is well known or the post is widely cited on social media.
The incentives are perverse. Google usually benefits from giving its users what they want efficiently, and yet, the recipe algorithm is designed to reward clutter. Usually, copyright protection aids the core of the content, but with recipes, is only protected to the extent that it is part of a less on-point spiel. If the Google algorithms change and/or the copyright laws carve out an exception for unique recipes, the day-in-the-life preludes may also taper.