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A cultural legacy: the removal of recipes from BBC Food

A cultural legacy: the removal of recipes from BBC Food

by Ollie Lloyd 17 May 2016

Our CEO Ollie Lloyd shares his thoughts on the news that the BBC plans to archive 11,000 of its online recipes.

The news today that the BBC will be archiving 11,000 of its recipes came as a shock to many. As part of an agreement with the Government, the BBC’s online presence is being scaled back across a number of areas – one of which is food. According to Authoritas, the BBC rank for 3.8 million keywords in the UK and capture almost thirteen percent of organic searches for food. While on the surface this might seem like a positive result for a website like ours, we are very much against this approach being taken. Those recipes are part of Britain’s culinary and cultural legacy, which have helped shape and transform the consumer’s love of food for the past decade. These are now seemingly at risk of being digitally eradicated.

The closure of the BBC Food website means the public may no longer have access to recipes from nine series of Great British Menu, fifty-four episodes’ worth of recipes from The Great British Bake Off and countless dishes from MasterChef and Saturday Kitchen. While some may be moved over to BBC Good Food, there’s a likelihood many will be lost completely, unless you know the exact URL of the recipe’s page. People – from the chefs themselves to recipe editors and website managers – have put time and effort into making these available to the public, and for an archive of recipes to vanish overnight is terrible news.

Even in the world of Michelin-starred chef recipes – our speciality – we don’t want to see already existing content disappear just because we don’t host it. On BBC Food Brian Turner has 340 recipes, Rick Stein has 103, Tom Kerridge has 100, Raymond Blanc has seventy-seven, Michael Caines has fifty-nine and Michel Roux Jr has forty-one. Whilst the majority of these recipes don’t have images, something we have always been obsessed by, they are great recipes. These are internationally renowned chefs that provide great inspiration to ambitious home cooks; having their recipes online is an incredible resource and to make them unavailable will do nothing but hinder our general cooking knowledge.

Lobster recipes Google Ranking
The reasoning behind the archiving is to stop the BBC competing against other companies on search engines
Tomato bread recipes Google Ranking
BBC Food ranks for at least 25,934 keywords on Google

We’ve always competed against BBC Food in the realm of natural search terms – if you type in ‘lobster recipes’ into Google, their pages appear second after ours, which makes them a competitor. They rank for at least 3,576 pages and 25,934 keywords on Google, which means they often appear at the top of the listings when people are searching for recipe inspiration. George Osborne claimed that data like this showed the BBC was being ‘imperial in its ambitions’, expanding into magazine-style content and local news, when it should be focusing on more distinctive online content that isn’t being covered by other companies. This is why the decision to remove the recipes (among other things) has been made, supposedly saving the BBC £15 million a year. But we think there is another route the corporation should follow.

As an alternative to removing the pages completely, the BBC could have just stopped their recipes competing with other publications on search rankings. Any website can choose which of its pages appear on a search engine, by altering meta tags or rewriting the robots.txt file. It would be very simple to quickly adjust these to ensure all the recipes remain online, but don’t come up on a Google search. That would mean they still exist for people who want to browse the BBC Food website, but wouldn’t compete with websites like ours that rely on search engines to generate traffic and ultimately advertising revenue.

At six years old, we’re still a relatively young company, with around 3,500 recipes on our site. BBC Food has been around much longer and amassed over three times that number, using resources paid for by the licence fee and taxes. It costs hardly anything to host already existing content, so by removing links to it from Google the BBC can continue to offer recipes without competing with other businesses. At a time when home cooking should be encouraged as much as possible and the UK food scene is enjoying more attention that it has ever had before, we see this move to axe such an invaluable – and beloved – resource as a sad day in the world of British food and drink; especially when the Government is encouraging us all to follow a healthier lifestyle. A petition has already been set up to try and reverse this decision, which you can sign here.

As far as Great British Chefs is concerned, whatever the final fate of the BBC’s recipes, we will continue working with Britain’s top chefs to bring their amazing recipes to the consumer for years to come. We believe it is important to preserve the content that the likes of Brian Turner, Rick Stein, Tom Kerridge, Raymond Blanc, Michael Caines and Michel Roux Jr have created and if we can, we will work with these chefs to put their content on our site and enrich it with fabulous images and insightful biographies.

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A cultural legacy: the removal of recipes from BBC Food


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