The BBC have announced plans to ‘close or archive’ notable sections of their website including BBC Food, Newsbeat, News Magazine and iWonder.
The most significant of the cuts will see the entire recipes section of their website taken offline. Alas, no longer will budding bakers be able to find Mary Berry’s classic recipe for Tarte au citron (at least on the BBC website).
Evidently the BBC recipes are much loved, and there was an immediate public outcry yesterday (on the day of the announcement). At the time of writing, a Change.org petition calling to “Save the BBC’s recipe archive!” has amassed over 170,000 signatures.
This extent of the backlash prompted the BBC to address the issue further, and it’s now emerging that the archive is likely to be moved to BBC Good Food, one of the the UK’s leading recipe websites (owned by the BBC but not itself part of the Corporation). As Dan Barker wrote, this may have been the intention all along, and the move could potentially mean the movement of a highly lucrative selection of content from a non-profit making context into a profit-making one.
Many questions remain unanswered, but just how much the BBC Recipe archive is worth from a digital and SEO perspective — and what they stand to lose — is a topic worth exploring.
From an SEO perspective, this kind of ‘culling’ is a completely unprecedented move — having asked a few seasoned SEO friends if they could recall any other instance of a huge and authoritative domain, voluntarily culling a significant part of their website like this, we drew a blank.
The actions, which are perhaps motivated by competition concerns, are surprising in that such a decision is almost never made by brands or digital publishers, at least not without a significant effort to preserve audience or site equity.
As a result this is a unique opportunity to analyse the impact of the BBC’s actions from a competitive and SEO perspective. In particular, we’re going to look at how and what the BBC stands to lose by dissolving the recipes and food section of the site, how this may affect the search landscape, and which competitors operating in the space are best positioned to gain.
BBC Food by the numbers
We’re going to look specifically at BBC Food, as this is the section that the Corporation has stated is likely to be taken off the BBC website completely.
In a nutshell, here’s what the /food section of the bbc.co.uk website is worth to the BBC, as of this month:
- Pages in this section receive an estimated 326k visits per month, from organic search.
- Those visits are distributed across 6,894 pages (although our crawls suggest that upwards of 30,000 URLs exist in this site section).
- If purchased via Google AdWords, those clicks would cost an estimated £97.6k.
For the intents of this study, we excluded pages from food programming (/food/programmes) as these are expected to be preserved.
Content and pages
The BBC Food section doesn’t only contain recipes — there are numerous category, taxonomy and archive pages which allow users to browse by ingredient, chef, cuisine type, occasions (such as food for Father’s Day) and other options. It’s our expectations that these pages will also be archived or removed in line with the recipes they support — suggesting that there’s much more at stake here than a handful of recipe pages.
Of all these pages, 77.7% percent are comprised of recipes, which are supported by additional pages containing informational content about ingredients (i.e. /food/crostini), techniques (/food/techniques), and chefs (/food/chefs).
Here’s how each section of the site breaks down by share of the total estimated traffic that each section receives from organic search:
As you can see, the recipes themselves draw the lion’s share of the estimated traffic with 71.5% of the total (229,556 est. visitors), and ingredients bringing in 23.1% (74,287 est. visitors).
Rankings and Visibility
BBC recipe pages are well known for being highly visible in the search results. But just how visible are they? The following graph shows the ranking distribution across /food.
In total 2,759 of 6,894, or 40 percent, of all traffic gaining pages in the /food section rank in a top ten position when users make relevant searches. This distribution shows that a large amount of the content which currently exists on this site is of a sufficiently high quality to consistently rank highly (in the top 10 results). These are strong pages, with good content, which perform well.
As you might expect from the strength of these rankings, the BBC has a number of highly authoritative pages ranking for high volume competitive keywords, and naturally drawing a high volume of visits.
When we factor in media value, we get an idea of what the BBC website stands to lose from some of their most valuable pages. According to our calculations, the most valuable individual page in the food section is the recipe page for ciabatta (worth an estimated £8,593 per month in media value), followed by a page collating pancake recipes for pancake day (worth an estimated £4,330 per month in media value).
At scale, these pages represent lucrative content, which commercial websites could easily monetise through advertising or affiliate product sales.
At present /food wins a significant share of online visits for recipes and informational cooking content online. Much has been discussed as to whether competitors will now be able to step in and capitalize on the closing down of /food.
At present, there are a number of dedicated recipe competitors (excluding websites and brands which offer recipes as an extension of other services, e.g., supermarkets) operating the the UK food and recipes market, which are perhaps best positioned to capitalize.
BBC Good Food is the largest recipes site in the UK, so assuming the content is migrated smoothly, it should cement its position as the leading authority in the space. To put their lead into context, even if second placed competitor jamieoliver.com were, hypothetically, able to capitalize on all of the equity of BBC recipes, they would still trail in sheer traffic to BBC Good Food by several million visits a month.
The BBC recipe archive is undoubtedly popular and much loved by the British public, and the removal of the resource will result in a noticeable loss in traffic and value for the bbc.co.uk domain.
“For us, what’s particularly interesting here are the parallels between the BBC’s (potentially) political decision to make large-scale changes to their website with a seeming lack of consideration for the impact to their SEO (and to their visitors), and the kinds of decisions we often see senior decision makers in large organisations initiating.
Many SEO agencies and practitioners will have horror stories of how their businesses’ commercial and political pressures force changes to site structures, content and strategies — frequently in a way which fails to optimally consider the impact on existing, and potential future SEO performance.
So when your competitors, or other large players in the market make these kinds of shifts, the smart players make sure that they’re prepared to take advantage of the gaps these decisions create.”
Brands competing in this marketplace face a unique opportunity to mobilise their content, outreach and marketing strategies. Those who use this kind of data to identify tactical opportunities, quickly, will be able to mop up on some of the traffic and brand equity which the BBC will inevitably lose as a result of this decision. That could shift the balance of power in the market, and represent a significant commercial win.
Having worked closely with people who worked on the food site, it is sad to see the investment in research, planning and care taken to produce a resource of content that was passionately loved – with pancake day actually being a spike in traffic for the BBC (the simple pancake recipe from BBC always came first)!
in 2011 the BBC team produced a visualisation of the research they had been conducting to understand what to publish through the year – this visualisation shows the volume of data available.
I am failing to understand what is actually happening with this archive, but it seems that moving and archiving the content seems more challenging than the normal approach which is just to ignore it.
The recipes attract about 2% of the overall traffic to the BBC.co.uk site however, this it is impressive evergreen content which shouldn’t require the level of investment in maintenance that news and sport require.
Using the Linkdex platform, we conducted a domain level crawl of the entire www.bbc.co.uk domain, and investigated the /food directory, where all of the recipe and food content currently resides.
Linkdex’s visibility tools allow you to see the keywords people are using when they find pages in the Food section of the BBC website, and where those pages rank in the search results. This, combined with our proprietary clickthrough rate modelling for each ranking position, provides us with an estimation of the traffic which those pages receive each month.
Using this figure, we calculated an estimated media value for each page, by multiplying the estimated visits for each page in question by the cost-per-click (Google AdWords) of each keyword it ranks for. This is a useful proxy for understanding how much the market values those keywords, which correlates with their commercial value (and the ability of websites and businesses to convert searches for those keywords into sales or customers).