We identified an unserviced group in the competitive and cluttered world of recipe websites: People who are looking for ideas on what to cook, not instructions on how to cook. So rather than building a recipe site, we built a site that would enhance their relationship to food. Tablespoon.com is a new recipe website from General Mills. It was built upon the insight that recipes are one of the top 50 most searched for terms on the internet, and that General Mills’ database of more than 30,000 recipes could be turned into an asset that serves its customers while also generating advertising revenue for the company. It is a brilliant idea, one that turns marketing into a revenue generating utility and one that points directly to the future of advertising and marketing in a way that only a few other examples have. Sadly for us, it was the client’s idea. Our contribution was to figure out a way to differentiate Tablespoon from the hundreds of other recipe websites that have also been created to benefit from the huge amount of search traffic that recipes generate.
A category that builds for Google
It turns out that search traffic is also the Achilles Heel of the category. The allure of “tuning” your site to rank more highly in Google and capture more of the traffic, has been too hard to resist. As a result, most sites look great to Google, but terrible to humans. Recipe pages have small photos, tons of text and lots of links. The recipes themselves are broken out into dozens and dozens of categories that allow site owners to generate lots and lots of pages (again making them appealing to Google) but which make it very difficult for people to navigate and explore. As a result, almost all recipe websites are structured like directories. Like Amazon.com, they are great if you know what you are looking for, but they are almost useless if you don’t know what you want and are looking for ideas.
We looked at what humans want from a recipe site. This insight becomes important when you look at the category through the eyes of its heaviest users. Quantcast data show that recipe website users tend to be white, middle-class, older couples with no kids at home.
Data from a General Mills survey add to this picture. Of their most likely Tablespoon users:
90% SAID THEY “LIKE OR LOVE TO COOK”
90% SAID THEY WANT TO COOK “AS OFTEN AS NOW OR MORE OFTEN”
80% FEEL THEY ARE “PRETTY GOOD OR SKILLED IN THE KITCHEN”
Inspiration Not Instruction
So while search for specific recipes generates the vast majority of traffic to recipe sites, the vast majority of recipe site users aren’t looking for a specific recipe. These are people who live to cook, not cook to live. They enjoy cooking as a hobby, and they have the time and money to explore it fully. They’re looking for inspiration and ideas on what to cook, not for instructions on how to cook, and that was an opportunity for us.
Discovery Not Directory
We looked outside the category to learn from companies that are leaders in delivering inspiration to their users and studied how sites like Netflix, Pandora, and Behr Paint suggest ideas to their users. We realized that these sites all do one thing in common: They put the user and their life at the center of the experience. They use what they learn about you to organize what they know about movies, music or paint. We realized that this is an even more relevant approach for food. Food is intensely personal. People’s choices tend to be based on a variety of things like upbringing, ethnicity and affluence, which are deeply individual.
Make Tablespoon the website that helps users make inspiring connections between food and their real-world lifestyles. Rather than build a site about recipes and food, we decided to build a site about your relationship to food.
The Taste Profile
Tablespoon is built around a “Taste Profile,” a file that represents everything we know about you and your tastes in food. Every action you take on the site, like rating a recipe or saving it to your recipe box, adds to your Taste Profile and makes it smarter about what you like and what you don’t. In addition, features like polls, and the ability to “Fine-tune your tastes” help to make the Taste Profile even smarter.
Tablespoon is a living laboratory on people’s tastes in food, and for a food company like General Mills, that information can be useful in a lot of ways.
Tablespoon also lets users add their own recipes. All of this intelligence is fed into a recommendation engine which powers “Food you’ll love,” a personalized selection of the recipes that are the best fit for you. Throughout the site, small nudges serve to remind you to flesh out your profile and tell us more about you. Collections of group recipes by occasions and Smart Search allow you to find recipes by ingredients or cooking time, etc. In its first year, Tablespoon has already enjoyed tremendous success. According to Alexa, it is already one of the top 40 recipe sites in the world, a victory considering Alexa lists 249 sites in this category. It has also begun running ads and generating revenue, but the data it generates could potentially be the bigger win. As a recent article about Netflix pointed out, the win was not just to create a content distribution platform, but to create a business based on consumer insight and data. That’s what we’ve helped to create with Tablespoon.