Lee Odden

User Generated Content for SEO


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 Study“ by Deloitte & Touche in 2007 indicates that 40% all consumers have the expectation that they will be able to create their own content online.  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 2007”. 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.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Lee – we just launched a research project here at Yahoo! Bix that compliments this post.


    It’s UGC with a voting twist and discussion. Please forgive the UI….still just a project.


  2. This is a great article, Lee. I would add only one option to your list of what new marketers might consider: “forums, reviews, blogs or social media?” I’d also say “traditional static content”. There is plenty of room for it left on the Web and some sites will always be able to make better use of static content than of CMS-driven content simply because of the needs and capabilities of the people manning the sites.

    I have a site where I manually vet user-generated content and I post it by hand in occasional updates. While that seems inefficient, it meets my need to control the growth of that site because it’s not a resource that can be monitored by a traditional moderation team.

    On a small site, this is a viable option and a very helpful one as that particular site generates a lot of email for me.

  3. I think user-generated content is an issue that deserves more attention as it is becoming more relevant online marketing everyday. The fact that consumers now have the expectation that they will be able to contribute to the content they are finding in the search results, through such means as product reviews, marks a significant change from the traditional notion of search engines. I believe that it has the potential to only help both consumers and sellers alike.

  4. Interesting Michael B., I’ll check it out.

    Thanks Michael M., you make a good point. There are plenty of small biz sites managed with FrontPage or even Adobe Contribute that make it easy for site owners to add content they’ve received from enthusiasts. I’ve seen quite a few examples of this in the auto industry where vehicle owners send in photos of their souped up cars or in another example, newlyweds sending photos of themselves in rented vintage limousines.

  5. One of the most overlooked sources (IMO) of UGC is classifieds. Imagine, user generated long tail localized phrase queries, including photos. You may think the space is too saturated, but in niche markets there is plenty of opportunity.

  6. Sure, relevant, honest UGC is priceless, but without control over the content being submitted, how can anyone truly weed out the true contributors and the affiliates? UGC is quickly becoming (if not already) a crock thanks to affiliate marketing.

    After managing several affiliate campaigns in my time, I don’t trust a word of any UGC unless the publisher keeps placements moderated. However even with moderation, user reviews of products and services are usually bunk – twisted and conceived by marketers at the publisher themselves.

  7. Honestly what Garry is saying has to be correct. Just a quick look at Yahoo Answers will give you an idea of what is true UGC and what is Affiliate Links and Spam.

    However I must say, when searching for a new apartment I relied on user review sites like mad when making my decision. This is a tough cookie…

  8. Greg,

    You brought up another great point. Depending on the type of site, UGC’s are by nature honest and trustworthy. If you read a good review on an apartment you went to see first, you would quickly learn whether the original poster was honest or full of it. There would be no point for the original UGC to be dishonest because there is nothing in it for them, plus the comment could be disproved easily.

    Lee, I’ll give it to you, this thread is an interesting discussion…

  9. Nice thread for sure. It seems there must be some descretion made by the reader when it comes to the post. Does the author have something to gain by making this post?
    If yes, there is a usually a sales driven hyperlink included in the post. If not then the author most likely has a more conversational tone to his message and is passionate about their opinion.

    Any more ideas on how we as marketers can acquire more honest UGC without disallowing links to be posted?

  10. Ya gotta love this industry with all of its SEO, or was that SEM, or was that SMO, and now UGC… I thinks its all so funny, especially this one, UGC, that is so close to being my initials… That’s what caught my eye, and now I understand UGC.


  1. […] Odden has laid out the reasons for UGC, citing some of the many studies that point to […]