At SES San Jose, I spoke on a panel with Matt McGee and Andrew Goodman about user generated content with SEO benefits. During the conference and after, the topic of UGC has continued to stay top of mind and therefore, I have this post to share, which discusses the trends towards information consumption involving user generated content (UGC) and why it may be a good fit in the search marketing mix.
In the world of natural search optimization, content is King but there’s a price to pay for the ongoing creation of useful, relevant content. Passionate customers and communities are increasingly tapped by web site owners for their content creation benefits but it’s still new territory for most marketers as to what works best. Is it forums, reviews, blogs or social media?
Traditionally, consumers of information looking for content and answers online would go to their search engine of choice and perform a series of queries to find what they were looking for. Search engines were the gatekeepers of information. That pretty much summed up the “searcher” experience.
Today’s consumers expect not only to be able to find what they’re looking for via search, but are increasingly becoming accustomed contributing the very kinds of content they’re finding in search results. A recent “State of Media Democracy Studyâ€œ by Deloitte & Touche in 2007 indicates that 40% all consumers have the expectation that they will be able to create their own content online.Â In contrast, 58% of the “millenials”, the coveted 18-25 year old demographic, expect to create their own content.
It’s not just the young, hip kids that want to upload photos to Flickr, videos to YouTube and participate in social networks. 25% of “matures”, the 61 to 75 age group indicated a preference to contribute online as well.
Marketers would do well to note and act on this trend by creating opportunities for consumers to create and share content within the context of the brand experience. Not all consumers will take part, but for those that do, it creates an opportunity to satisfy their needs to contribute and share content. At the same time, this content helps the business web site create a broader footprint on the web.
Perhaps as part of the creation and sharing of content, it follows that consumers prefer user generated content over formal marketing communications. The same study from Deloitte & Touche revealed that UGC is where consumers are spending their time with 51% of all consumers indicating they spend time with user generated content such as blogs, social networking and video sharing sites. As you would expect, a much larger percentage (71%) of millennials spend time on user generated content sites.
Why the attraction to user generated content? Perhaps it’s an issue of trust. In a recent study (ITtoolbox and PJA Advertising + Marketing “IT Social Media Index, 2007) of over 2,000+ IT professionals, 66% reported trusting UGC over traditional sources. Consumer distrust of formal marketing communications has in part been facilitated by the alternatives offered through user generated content.
For example, to find out what the best digital camera is for purchase, a buyer can rely on reviews from strangers as well as friends through product review and social networking sites as an alternative to advertising on TV or print. Reviews, both good and bad, are deemed more trustworthy than polished marketing messages.
Product reviews are not only useful for consumers, they’re profitable for merchants. Product reviews increase retail conversion rates and consumer satisfaction as reported in e-consultancy and Bazaarvoice’s “Social Commerce Report 2007â€. In that report 78% of online retailers reported increased conversions and 73% reported improved retention and loyalty.
User generated content shares many of the characteristics of proper content optimization for search engines by providing focused, frequently updated content likely to attract incoming links. A few of the most common benefits of user generated content for web site optimization and better search engine rankings include:
- Leveraging a like-minded, enthusiastic community for the creation and sharing of topically focused content in multiple media formats: text, audio, images and video
- Additional web site content attracts traffic through long tail phrase queries
- UGC increases the breadth of overall content available to consumers, increasing the chance they’ll find what they’re searching for
- The opportunity to contribute content in a meaningful way fosters community and can result in an effective feedback loop – motivating the creation of more content and participation.
Whether it’s adding content sharing and voting features, enabling product reviews or launching contests to promote user created media such as videos or photos, meeting consumer demands beyond search and information retrieval through interaction is what will characterize successful web sites in the near future.
Are you facilitating user generated content as part of your SEO strategy? I’d be curious to see other examples, especially those from in-house SEOs.