TopRank Marketing Editor

Basics of User Generated Content for Search Engine Optimization

User-generated Content [Note from Lee: User Generated Content for SEO is something we haven’t written about in a while, but now more than ever, marketers need to find efficient ways to generate content assets for search engines as well as the ability to meet customer needs to interact and share. Michelle takes an updated look that I think companies would do well to consider.]

You’ve heard it before: Content is king. But there won’t be much of a kingdom unless that content is optimized. But who is going to create it? Useful, relevant content doesn’t come cheap, especially when your goals are to publish on a consistent basis. As an internet marketer, if you haven’t tapped into the power of user generated content, you may be giving up a goldmine of SEO assets to your competition.

A study conducted by eMarketer in early 2009 found that the number of Internet users who consume user generated content and who create it will shoot up significantly in the next four years:

  • By 2013, nearly 155 million US Internet users will consume some type of content created by users, up almost 34% from 2008
  • The number of content creators will grow to 114.5 million by 2013, an almost 39% increase from 2008
  • By 2013, 51.8% of all US Internet users will be content creators, up from 42.8% in 2008

Most companies are not in the business of publishing content. But in order to compete on an internet that is increasingly participatory and social, both now and in the future, companies will need to work hard and smart when it comes to publishing useful content that both search engines and customers will love.

But just what works best–forums, reviews, blogs or social media? The answer is, there is no silver bullet. Like with all tactics that compliment search marketing objectives, what is successful for one organization may not be as effective for another. The way in which consumer generated content works within a particular company’s search marketing mix depends on a variety of factors including: content contribution and sharing needs of the audience, ability to create or update content management systems that support user content creation and moderation, a sound strategic plan for developing the software, building community and inspiring community promotion of keyword inspired content.

Keep in mind these 5 points as you explore how to integrate content created by users into your search engine marketing mix:

1. Give it time. Not all consumers will participate immediately—and some may never participate. Consumer generated content efforts, if easy to use and rewarding to users, can have a snowball effect.  The more content that is created by users, the more opportunities for non-participants to be motivated to join in.

2. If you think user generated content is just for the Millennial generation, think again. It’s true that Millennials are most likely to participate—56%, according to an eMarketer study. But 46% of Generation X and 31% of Baby Boomers are dipping their toes into creating their own content.  The key is to structure the ability to create content according to the needs of your audience. Research other web sites that offer customers the ability to create, mashup or share content and identify what appears to work and what doesn’t with audiences that are congruent to your own.

3. Broaden your definition of user generated content. Don’t simply think of content as text – blog posts, articles, reviews or comments. Instead, provide multiple media format options (that make sense) for your community including audio, images and video. Digital Asset Optimization of multiple media formats increases channels of distribution via specialty search engines as well as the density of a brand’s visibility in search results on a single query.

4. Go with what you’re comfortable with. There are many forms of content that you can take advantage of, from consumer generated article submissions to customer product reviews. So begin with what you think is right for your site and your organization. Start small by incorporating a voting feature on your website, or go big by launching a contest to promote user generated videos or photos.  Think of both your own goals for content to rank well in search engines, but especially think of your customers’ unmet needs for interaction and content sharing. Then provide options for them to meet those needs in a way that allows your target keyword phrases to be used in the content that is created and shared.

5. User generated content can have the same effect as search engine optimized content on your site. First, content can be focused toward targeted keywords by providing pre-populated categories, tags and content options that have keywords already embedded. Second, it’s the nature of a vibrant community to add new content frequently, which will attract search engine spiders on a regular basis. And third, intriguing and useful content can attract incoming links.

Adding user generated content options to a web site can help meet several business and marketing objectives ranging from allowing active and passionate customers the ability to “have a say” about their favorite topics and brands as well as employing the efforts of many, many others to create content that can do well in search results to drive traffic to your web site.

The next step is to decide what your customers will respond to, what are their content creation and sharing needs and what will it take to create a plan and to test social/content sharing features.

If you’ve added social content sharing to your web site, what was your experience? What advice can you share with other web site owners for a successful consumer generated content program?

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  1. This is so timely and I could not agree more. What an excellent post today. I'd be interested to also see what others think about the specific impact it will have on SEO from a B2B perspective and how brands in the space should leverage the assets as you have outlined them. See a posting I wrote yesterday about trends and I touch on UGC.

  2. Avatar strategic_growth_advisors says

    Smart, informative, timely and insightful. Thanks, Michelle. This is one post all entrepreneurs aiming to boost their SEO prominence will find very useful.

    Item number 3 takes the cake: most online business players, as well as rookie SEO enthusiasts, seem to view text as the only vehicle for making their content as conspicuous as possible. Kudos for pointing that out.

  3. This is a great article. I am particularly excited about what you show to be the participation of baby boomers in the creation of on-line content.

    Everyday, we hear comments that baby boomers are not players. Every day we hear information that refutes the “common knowledge”. Thanks for adding one more honest but uncommon contribution to the truth about baby boomers loving the life on-line.

    Shallie Bey
    Smarter Small Business Blog

  4. Avatar Daniel at Lynton Labs says

    Thanks Michelle for a great post. I'll be sharing this with my clients who don't take user-generated content seriously. I argue that user-generated content is by far the best means for on-page SEO and is the content most likely to attract new visitors that will keep coming back.

  5. I think many compaines (esp the “traditional business” ones) are still very unwilling to give up control of their sites and allow the public to contribute – that mindset will take very long time to change.

  6. Avatar nancyprincetoncryollc says

    I think writing the relevant content is the most important thing. Many people and businesses have are blindly promoting their website with only one mission – 1st page ranking on Google. But hey, don't forget – there are millions like you who want their site to be clicked more often.
    So, keep your eyes on the prize but don't forget the basics because that is what will make you different than others

  7. In the future, I believe that almost all business websites will include user generated content because of the tremendous upside that it gives. It is the best way to interact with people who are searching your site and creates a way to get instantaneous feedback. Also, if the content is updated on a regular basis it gives users more of a reason to come back to the site. I worked at a start-up web based company and I believe we did not do a good enough job of taking advantage user based content or SEO in general. This ultimately led to tremendous struggles.

  8. Good content is very important to get unique visitors and most importantly, repeat visitors. Depending how well you know the custom parts business, you may want to try writing your articles and content yourself because know one will know your business better than you!

  9. Great tips here, especially #3 about broadening your definition of user generated comment beyond text-based media.

  10. These are some really great tips. Writing content that you are comfortable with is important, if you are not sure what you are writing about then people will be able to tell.

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