Recipe Indexes: Examples and Best Practices
The recipe index is undoubtedly one of the most important pages on a food blog. A good recipe index should be organized and user friendly, and present your best content in a way that makes it easy for your readers (and search engines!) to find exactly what they are looking for.
We’ve been designing and building custom food blogs, and therefore recipe indexes, for well over a decade, and the core principle of these kinds of pages hasn’t changed, even if they’ve gotten decidedly fancier over the years.
Like cookbooks, recipe indexes are often made up of more general ‘sections’ or categories (like courses or seasons, for example), and sometimes as specific as individual ingredients.
The ideal structure for your recipe index depends a lot on your niche and what kind of recipes you publish. For example, if you’re a baking blogger, having lots of specific dessert-type subcategories (Cookies, Brownies, Cakes, Cupcakes, etc) would make sense, whereas a more savory food blog may only have a single Desserts category. Likewise, health-focused content would benefit from having diet-specific categories to allow readers to browse all your recipes that adhere to their specific diet (gluten free, whole 30, vegetarian, etc).
The primary organizational structure of your recipe index is based on your category structure.
A multi-level, hierarchical category structure will ensure your recipes are well organized and allow your readers to drill down their searches to find exactly what they are looking for.
Regardless of the type of recipe index you choose, your category structure will determine the organization and ultimately, the effectiveness, of your recipe index.
Having multiple category ‘trees’ allows us to organize your recipe index into different sections, for example recipes by course, by diets, and by holiday/seasons.
Having one main ‘Recipes’ category as your primary parent and default category also allows us to utilize an “All Recipes” menu link, if you want readers to be able to browse all recipes in one place.
For example, here is a basic example of what a good category structure might look like:
- Ice Cream
- Special Diets
- Valentine’s Day
- 4th of July
With a structure like this we can start to build a useful and versatile recipe index.
This is something we’ll review during the planning stages of your project, and make suggestions where necessary.
Types of Recipe Indexes
Now that you have your category/tag structure in place, you’ll want to decide how best to organize and display those categories to your readers. There are a few different styles of recipe index pages depending on how you want your categories and content displayed, and how you want your readers to interact and navigate that content.
The most basic type of index page is little more than an outline, a visual representation of your hierarchical category structure.
Adding images is a great way to add a bit more visual interest to a recipe index page, highlighting some of your most popular and practical categories and sections to better direct your readers.
This type of index page is often displayed in combination with a basic/text style, with featured images for the most popular categories appearing first, and then a text outline with all the available categories/tags below that.
For food blogs with a lot of recipe content, it is often very helpful to your users to allow them to apply multiple criteria to their search (for example if you’re looking for gluten-free cookie recipes, or vegetarian main dishes, or fall dessert recipes with chocolate in them).
For this kind of functionality we utilize a premium plugin called FacetWP, that allows us to create “facets” or sections of filters that users can then check off and narrow down their selections.
While this style of recipe index is extremely useful for users, it’s not as appealing to search engines because of the query strings in the URLS (a query string is when you see ?= in the URL, and google has trouble indexing these). For that reason we recommend having a more basic text index page inn addition to the filters page to appease both your users and the search engines.
Dropdown/accordion menus link to your individual category pages, providing more SEO-friendly page URLs compared to the query strings that filters create.
The main difference between this and a filter-style page is the ability to select multiple criteria (for example, can a user search for Appetizers that are Gluten Free and feature Zucchini?) Filters allow for multiple criteria; dropdown/accordion menus do not.
In addition to the index itself, we can add functionality for other ‘sections’ or Blocks to the recipe index page, allowing you to highlight popular content, specific subcategories, featured videos and more, turning the recipe index into a robust landing page (almost like a mini homepage). Any block/widget that is used on the homepage can also be used on the recipe index.
(This enhanced functionality can be used in combination with a basic, thumbnail, or accordion-style recipe index page; but not filters. If you want a filter style index too, we recommend having that on a separate page.)
If you’d like your users to be able to see all recipes that use a specific ingredient, tags are often the best way to achieve this, though doing so means you cannot use tags for other things (and you’ll want to delete any tags that are not ingredients).
We can then display the tags alphabetically to allow users to browse and see all recipes that use a specific ingredient. This style of tag-based ingredient index can easily be added to any Basic or Thumbnail-style index page.
While tags can technically be used on Filter-based index pages or shown in Accordion menus, we often limit it to just the most populous tags to keep it from getting too long and unwieldy.
Conversely, if you just want to highlight a few primary ingredients (maybe the main dish proteins like chicken, beef, pork, and seafood), then using a category might be a better option (for example, the “Recipes by Ingredient” section on Downshiftology is set up with Categories).
Category Landing Pages
Once a user clicks over to a category page, a list of all posts within that category appear chronologically with thumbnails. This is default wordpress behavior, and new posts are added to the appropriate category pages automatically as they are published.
But these pages are actually quite valuable in terms of SEO, and upgrading or enhancing them to show more than just chronological content is becoming more and more popular as of late. (Note that category landing pages are not accessible directly from filter-style index pages.)
By default, all archive pages on our custom sites support category descriptions, and that’s a great place to start, by entering a keyword-rich description for your most valuable categories, you make it more likely this page will appear in search results.
Categories will also show a list of subcategories by default as well, allowing a user to drill down their search to be even more specific (say, a Desserts category with subcategories for Cookies, Cakes, and Ice Cream).
But it’s possible to go even further, adding space for featured posts to highlight the most popular posts within a specific category, adding featured images (to show in rich results), space for video, custom H1/title fields, and more, or even go all out, creating robust content-rich landing pages using blocks and more. You can read more about enhanced category landing pages here.