User-Generated Content (UGC) allows online properties to grow in size and depth through an open-relationship with online users. It can be used strategically in any digital marketing campaign to learn about a particular audience in greater depth, to engage customers, and to build loyalty. What’s often overlooked, though, is the social SEO benefits of UGC. Many companies look at UGC as something exclusively controlled by their users, and consequently miss opportunities to take specific steps to help the online conversations boost your SEO rankings.
With a proactive and agile approach, however, UGC is a powerful asset in any SEO arsenal. By making a deliberate effort, you can improve the user experience while concurrently improving your SEO results.
The UGC Basics
- Problem Processing
- Social Chatter
- Social Engagement
- Consumer Relationship Development
Content forms that can be turned into UGC include, but are not limited to:
- Q&A Databases
- Digital Video
- Open Forums
- Review Sites
- Social Networking
- Social Media Environments (Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.)
- Mobile Photography/Video
The Role of UGC and Its Relationship with Social SEO
Social SEO is about optimizing social signals in order to increase search visibility. Therefore, UGC is the perfect complement to any social SEO campaign. The reason for this is that UGC platforms literally speak to, attract, and entice action from social audiences, in a way that maximizes overall search visibility for a particular digital campaign. Optimization takes place when audiences actually interact within a given environment, and create content through dialogue, interaction, and other reactive behaviors.
The number of individuals that engage in some form of UGC action at least once per month was projected to have grown by 32 million new users between 2008-2013. Consumers’ increased use of UGC environments has significantly reshaped the way brands develop their digital marketing and search strategies, as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has replaced the former marketing model of Top of Mind Advertising (TOMA).
Motivation for Consumers to Utilize UGC
User-Generated Content can be created on non-branded third-party digital environments like WebMD or Wikipedia, or live within a branded domain, either directly or indirectly in areas that are monitored and managed by administrators.
Users participating and developing messaging within UGC environments are motivated to create content by:
- Connecting with Peers: Users collaborate with other like-minded members to develop and edit content in ways that allow for new advances to take place and be expressed. A great example of this is with the website/community message board, iVillage. This domain allows like-minded users to discuss their personal opinions on various themes that range from entertainment to issues regarding pregnancy and parenting. Users are not given any credit and do not receive any type of reward in exchange for offering their opinions.
- Self -Expression: Users create content that speaks to and promotes their personal views, opinions, likes, and dislikes. The e-commerce giant Amazon is a great example of this as users are able to discuss and present their personal beliefs on a variety of products that they interact with and purchase. The point of their interaction is to connect and inform other like-minded users who are interested in the same or similar products. They are offered no rewards in return, but are able to boost their own personal profile with Amazon.
- Fame or Prestige: Content is created by users who are not necessarily of a particular background or of a specific discipline. Content is developed by users without the expectation of profit or remuneration, but increasing personal equity and reach. Motivating factors include: connecting with like-minded peers, gaining personal notoriety, expanding personal reach and recognition, or self-expression. AMC held a contest where the viewers of their popular television show “The Walking Dead” were able to enter for the chance to become an extra in one episode. This particular contest drove offline users to their site, by offering a specific type of reward in exchange for users registering for the contest.
- Monetary/Rewards: Users either create new forms of content based on expectations set by the brand, or expand upon existing content through personal contact in order to receive something in return. This example is exemplified by a contest held by Peugeot Panama and reflects the desire for users to interact with a social contest that motivates users to engage with it, based on the exchange of prizes for the top winners.
Incentives for Consumers to Engage with UGC Opportunities
The value of UGC to the consumer is:
Opportunities for the individual user to describe and express their personal thoughts, feelings, views, and expertise allow them to feel good being a part of the online community.
Additional common social incentives are status, access to levels within a site, or something a user earns when they reach a certain level of participation, which may or may not come with additional privileges.
Content creation incentive programs can include point systems and Q&A platforms that reward users for creating and offering the “best” answer, as with Yahoo Answers.
Social incentives connect like-minded online consumers with each other, to create a system of epistemic closure where users are surrounded with other agreeing users and thus, the conversion process is easier to support and follow.
Offering rewards that are tangible in nature and offer direct results for the consumer and the host alike. Forms of financial rewards, contests, sweepstakes, coupons, and even offerings of frequent flyer miles are all examples of offerings that entice user comments, testimonials, frequent visitation and engagement.
Offering tangible rewards draws significant influx of traffic from relevant consumers who are often hooked into the branded environment for the duration of a particular campaign/contest. This allows for an increase of new consumers, an increase in return consumers, and strengthens the relationship between the brand and their audience.
When hosted within a social platform, the ability to extend one’s follower list increases significantly. As followers participate in such events and contests and share their actions with their list of friends and followers, they are essentially exposing thousands of new consumers to the brand and its current campaign.
Incentives for Brands to Incorporate UGC into Their Social SEO Campaigns
Brands should include forms of UGC in their social SEO strategies to enhance consumer relationships and increase search visibility. Creating opportunities for consumers to express themselves and their thoughts on a given subject or product typically increases the amount of time they spend within a branded environment.
Fixodent Community Message Board
Setting up conversation threads, blogs, and other environments that allow for user comments and dialogue to take place encourages conversation and keeps consumers returning to see what others think about their comments. The accompanying Fixodent Community Message Board and corresponding search results page are examples of UGC driving not only increased consumer time with the brand, but also increased search results.
Increase Consumer Confidence: A report published by Search Engine Land in 2012 found that 72% of online consumers trust reviews as much as personal recommendations. This is significant for brands who offer products directly on their website, as the ability to entice additional conversions increases with the amount of positive reviews that a user is exposed to.
Creating UGC opportunities that encourage personal comments, reviews, and testimonials will increase overall conversions and online sales, as like-minded individuals read and trust each other’s views and comments regarding a particular product.
Improve SEO and Search Visibility: UGC leads to a site that constantly generates new forms of content that you can submit to search engines. Doing so is an excellent way to increase one’s search visibility and associated metrics.
For brands and companies who are limited by budget or various legal considerations, UGC platforms allow brands to still develop new forms of content on a daily basis, at minimal cost (monitoring, technology, support costs, etc.).
Strategies such as creating open forums or community message boards allow consumers to populate one’s environment, and discuss anything that has to do with the brand. The conversation within these environments can be structured in ways that allow for:
- Filtering of inappropriate/illegal/competitive material to protect the host/brand
- Indexation of branded and non-branded target key phrases
- Link growth and generation
- Social development
- Growth of online authority – increased depth of online properties
In order to generate greater SEO benefits, your brand should join the conversation. Do not sell, though. Never sell. Instead, provide answers to questions, point to solutions to users’ problems, and just be helpful. By making the online interaction as valuable to your audience as possible, you’ll drive higher engagement, higher frequency of visits and more sharing.
And on the topic of sharing, try offering links to helpful guides, eBooks or videos to those conversing online, when your offer can truly help them towards achieving their objectives. The greater the perceived value of the offering, the more likely these actively engaged online users will share your offering with others online, strengthening the social signals of your brand.
To take this approach to a deeper level, actively monitor the discussions and then develop new offerings that meet the stated and implicit needs of your audience. Get creative. You don’t necessarily need to limit your offerings to documents or videos. Offer a quick and easy contest to win products or a free consultation with a “celebrity expert” in the industry, etc. There are countless ways to engage to fuel greater online sharing. In this way, you’re in complete alignment with your audience’s interests and are continually generating highly shareable fresh content ahead of the competition.
Including UGC into Social SEO Makes Your Brand More Agile
User-Generated Content allows brands to increase their search visibility and enhance their CRM without having to allocate tens of thousands of dollars to building new content. In addition, UGC platforms allow brands to focus the majority of their time, energy and resources on other efforts within their social SEO campaigns while still benefiting from the constant stream of UGC content. User engagement takes place without (or with minimum) active moderation so online growth naturally continues in the forms of indexation, link earning, and follower development.
About the Author: Jason Corrigan is an Organic Search Manager at Catalyst, a pioneer in strategic digital marketing services for Fortune 1000 brands. Catalyst’s services include: SEO, paid search marketing, social SEO, content strategy, digital asset optimization, e-retail optimization, and more. Download the eBook Mastering the Art of Social SEO.