Google’s recent introduction of recipe search provides a fascinating case study in how search engines are dictating tastes and trends rather than simply cataloguing them.
The efficacy of search engines means that many a traditional means of acquiring a ‘how to’ guide have found themselves sidelined in favour of the keyword search.
Every month about a billion of Google’s searches are for recipes. The dishes that its search engine turns up, particularly those on the first page of results, have a huge impact on what Americans cook.
In times of more naive Internet opinion, evidence of such distribution of knowledge away from books and onto the open network might have been cause for celebration. But Nicholas Carr provides an extremely illuminating dissection of what Google’s prime position as culinary mediator actually means.
Google only recently rolled out a dedicated algorithm for finding recipes. A “Recipe” button now accompanies the list of specialized search option staples like “Images”, “Scholar” etc. This new feature allows searchers to refine results by ingredient, calories, or cooking time. Carr stresses that these new additions, while appearing to aid the recipe searcher actually have other implications:
In particular, the changes reveal how a powerful search engine like Google has come to reward professional sites that are able to spend a lot on search engine optimization, or SEO, and penalize amateurs who are simply looking to share their thoughts with the world.
He cites a number of recipe bloggers who have witnessed their previously popular websites tumble off the first page of Google results and which won’t register in the new “recipe” section as their website lacks the code which the new algorithm demands websites provide to inform it that ‘this webpage is a recipe’.
Google has provided instructions on how to add all the necessary code trimmings to one’s website to conform to the expectations of the new recipe algorithm, but such specifications can be daunting to those with an introductory level of coding experience. As such, this can only favour the websites with the resources to employ dedicated SEO engineers.
Furthermore in setting up parameters for refining results based on cooking time and calories, Google explicitly, if subtly, gives privilege to low-calorie recipes that can be cooked quickly, as shown in the options it allows for refining a recipe search. Refining recipe search by time doesn’t result in better recipes rising to the top; rather, the new winners are recipes packaged for the American eating and cooking disorder.