How User Generated Content Helps SEO

As a site owner, you understand the importance of quality content. It’s what helps to get you to the top of the search engine results pages. You don’t need to write all of your own content to accomplish this – but don’t think that means you’ll get out of working for it.

I’m talking about user-generated content, of course. This kind of content gives you something your competitors don’t have. But that’s not the only reason you should enlist the help of users and visitors to your site to add content.

When visitors to your site leave comments in your forums or on your blog posts, they use their own terms for your products and services. This can help you  tremendously with keyword research.

User-generated content can provide other users with valuable information about your products and services. Sure, there’s the classic case of new forum members asking questions and getting answers from more experienced members. But that’s not the only way to use and present user-generated content helpfully.

Amazon handles UGC wonderfully. I searched there recently for a DVD video series to give a friend as a gift. As soon as I clicked through to the product, the e-tailer showed me links to the “most helpful favorable review” and “most helpful critical review,” with a paragraph from each and the option to click through to read the full review. That’s an awesome way to give users exactly the kind of information they need, when they need it, using user-generated content.

So how do you go about capturing this kind of action for your website? As Eric Enge noted as a guest writer at Search Engine Land, you can’t just slap up some text. “Take the time and effort to figure out what content will add value to the user experience on your site,” he wrote.

If you’re running a website that caters to amateur or professional cake decorators, for example, do your readers want to share recipes? Talk about techniques? Review cake decorating kits? Think about what your visitor is trying to accomplish, and then structure the UGC on your website to make it easier for them to get their tasks done. Again, it’s hard to top Amazon here.

If you already have a blogging platform and lots of traffic, you’re ahead of the game here, as your users probably leave comments. Blogging platforms automatically come with commenting platforms. Enge notes that you’ll also want some anti-spam protection in place; you can get a free system such as Akismet.

But this isn’t your only option. Enge points out that the Facebook Comments platform is also worth considering; indeed, it’s used by Techcrunch. It offers certain built-in advantages, according to Enge: “Facebook Comments provides a certain amount of natural anti-spam protection as you need to be logged into your Facebook account to use it. This certainly gives users with real accounts an incentive to avoid being a spammer with their accounts. Likewise, Facebook has a strong motive to remove bad accounts as well.”

Google and other search engines index your comments; that’s one way they help with search engine optimization. But if you want to engage your visitors, you need to do more than just write engaging posts. You need to actually ask them for their opinions. You’ll be surprised by how much feedback you’ll get.

Enge offers the example of using a poll, as NFL.com does. “A poll is not going to give you reams of text on your page, but reams of text is not the goal here – added value is. Relevant polls do a great job at increasing user engagement with your site,” he explains. You can even write a post about your poll results, thus generating more interest, and hopefully more engagement.

You might also consider installing a comment rating system. Let’s go back to the Amazon example for a moment. It presented me with two reviews; both were the “most helpful” for their type. How did Amazon know which ones to show me? Well, whenever a customer writes a review for a product, he or she awards the product anywhere from one to five stars (five stars being the best rating). That tells Amazon what the customer thought of the product. Readers of reviews can also rate the review, again from one to five stars (five stars being the most helpful). I’m not a programmer, but even I can see in principle how one might go about writing a program to use this data to present customers with the most useful reviews.

You can even engage your customers at your brick-and-mortar location, if you have one. Enge suggests that you ask customers to fill out a short survey, and offer a small discount to those who do. You can publish the data from your survey on your website, turning it into a thought-provoking post – or even, with the right survey, using it to guide the content you write about, and the kinds of questions you ask your visitors. Enge recommends that you “Design your survey to collect data that is relevant to visitors to your website.”

If you’ve established a strong presence on social media, you have another audience you can leverage for user-generated content. With a good-sized audience, you can run polls and get a decent response. Or ask your social media audience for their best tips on how to use your product or service. You’ll get some great data that you can use on your website in a variety of ways.

But always, remember that this is about engagement. You’re trying to engage your audience, not stick up lots of text. That means you need to put yourself in the shoes of your customer, find out what kind of information they’d deem useful, and then get it. “The hardest task is to come up with ideas that fit your audience on your site,” Enge notes. So what should you do if you’re stuck? Believe it or not, you can always ask your audience what they’d like to see. That should get you off to a good start.

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