Allrecipes.com, part of Meredith Corporation, is the world’s largest digital food brand, serving meal ideas in over 24 countries and 12 languages. To those unfamiliar with the website, Allrecipes has over a million recipes being uploaded and shared by at home chefs looking to engage with other kitchens and try new recipes. Although first launched in the US, the peer-to-peer site now averages 30 million unique users worldwide. First transitioning to the UK, Allrecipes has since selected a number of foreign markets to run their website.
As any international business will tell you, expansion into different markets doesn’t mean simple duplication but a lot of effort goes into selecting a market, catering to the local audience and keeping up with various changing dynamics from one market to the next.
Although Allrecipes.com acquires and posts most of their content from the local users, their international content team also creates recipes, writes how-to-articles, and localizes cooking videos. Allrecipes needs to localize their various international sites in addition to monitoring their traffic to see how locals respond to their content.
International Editors are based in Seattle but most of them visit their native country once a year to get updated information on food trends and visit grocery stores, delis, and cafes to see what ingredients and brands are trending. In order to learn more about their international recipe for success, I interviewed Elena McDonald, regional manager of international content for Allrecipes, while she was visiting her home country of Estonia before traveling to Russia and Belarus.
In addition to enjoying good local food, Elena explained, “International Editors also try to read local food blogs and bring back latest food magazines. The markets are very dynamic and trends come and go very fast. A couple of years ago Allrecipes sent out student interns all over the world to collect recipes from people in different countries. We are proud of our authentic content and want to stay true to our roots, be it Russia, Poland or Brazil.”
Obviously this year offered a unique challenge for the food industry in Russia so I inquired about the impact sanctions and food import issues. According to Elena, the past year in Russia has actually increased Allrecipes.ru traffic as people figured out new ways to cook with more limited ingredients. Elena continued,
“People are attracted to recipes that use simple everyday ingredients. Allrecipes mission is to inspire home cooks around the world, and you don’t have to inspire with fancy ingredients that are not available. Our goal is to make every recipe, no matter how technically difficult, accessible to everyone. Our International sites feature authentic content from local home cooks but we also share recipes between countries.”
Cooks around the world may be working with different accessibility to ingredients and this is really where the localization of Allrecipes comes into play. Elena gave the example of an Italian recipe posted on the Russian language site to explain how recipes are localized for international audiences.
“We do not simply translate recipes, we localize them. Take Parmesan cheese for example: In most cases we have to respect the authenticity of Italian content and keep Parmesan cheese in a localized version. At the same time, we have to serve our Russian audience and may also offer to substitute Parmesan with other sharp hard cheese. If we translate a recipe with Parmesan , and Parmesan is not essential ingredient or only very insignificant amount is used, we might not even mention Parmesan in localized version, but instead say “2 tablespoons of hard grated cheese”. Ultimately, this sort of adaptation and localization encourages home cooks worldwide to make the recipe and avoid problems such as limited ingredient supplies.
Like most industries, Allrecipes also needs to consider seasonality. Elena explained that summer in the region is the most popular time for preserves. Most of the traffic from Russia and her region comes from users looking to prepare their summer vegetables and fruits for homemade preserves. Elena said that Allrecipes prepared a number of localized video to meet the demand for the seasonal searches.
In addition to adjusting the content for local audiences, I considered that content needs to be adjusted to rank differently in the search results. For Russia, this is particularly important to consider because unlike many other places, Google is not the dominant search engine. I asked Elena if Allrecipes uses a special approach for Russia than they do elsewhere.
I learned that Allrecipes’ international sites work on one shared web platform, making it difficult to introduce variations in code for each country. In order to address this Elena explained, “what we find is that what is good for our users is also good for Search Engines. For a few years we used XML feed suggested by Yandex to improve appearance of snippets in Yandex SERPs. But since then Yandex started pulling our schema.org markup that we used for Google and we no longer need to update XML feed. Both Google and Yandex innovate continuously. We just have to have faith that we all have our users’ best interests in mind, be informed and be patient.”
Elena continued to explain that Yandex has driven their keyword research for their Russian site since it launched in February 2010. “The keyword research on our Russian site was from the very beginning using insights provided by Yandex. From a language point of view, we trusted Yandex.Wordstat because keyword suggestions and statistics were very straightforward and easily available,” says Elena, who added that the learning curve to use Yandex.Wordstat is so short.
I was curious if Allrecipes used any other Yandex tools to help promote their online business in Russia. Not surprisingly, she had a few to list.
“Well, I already mentioned my special affection for Yandex WordStat. For content development and optimization we use both Yandex WordStat and Google tools. But for Russia, we tend to lean more on Yandex. It is easy to compare apples to apples in WordStat, because search volumes are concrete and transparent, the interface is easy and intuitive. We do continuous checking because search volumes change due to seasonality and changes in food trends. For example, quinoa was a novelty in Russia a few years ago and 3 alternative spellings were used for it in Russian. We had to pick one to use in our recipes. A year later Yandex clearly showed that another spelling was becoming more common so we adjusted accordingly. It would not be possible at that point to make this decision based on Google trends because there wasn’t enough search volume yet.”
Elena continued that she also likes the Yandex.Metrica interface, Yandex’s free Web analytics tool. In particular she pointed out that the UX and visual design of Yandex.Metrica is very user friendly. To clarify, she added, “It is easy, fun, self-explanatory and intuitive. And thank you for making it available in English so we can share insights with the rest of the team in Seattle.”
Metrica has helped Allrecipes in a number of ways. Elena told me, “We often use Metrica for link audit (section Sites and External Links). This is how we found some naughty sites that were scraping our content or copying (mirroring) our whole site.”
In addition to link audits, Allrecipes uses Metrica for some of the fun and unique features that aren’t found on other analytics systems. “We use features like click map, link map, scroll map for optimizing our content. These tools help us learn what type of content is important to our users, where to focus our efforts and what to improve or revise. Tools like that can be used to model user journeys on the site and inform future product initiatives.”
I concluded my interview with Elena by asking if she had any advice for websites launching international versions (and particularly in Russia). Elena’s main advice was to utilize analytics –and Yandex.Metrica in Russia – to learn the most you can about user behavior. Secondly, she spoke of the important of language and learning the correct vocabulary used for your niche. For Elena, this means going beyond even her own Russian language skills to double check keyword stats and confirm which words are used the most.
Thank you to Elena and Allrecipes for explaining more about their international success!