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User Generated Content

Most sites are able to attract some first time visitors, however few are able to lure back these first-time visitors again and again and thus turn them into loyal and regular visitors.  One factor such sites have in common to drive repeat visits is new and engaging content regularly posted. However this can be difficult to maintain on an ongoing basis, especially for ecommerce sites which are often limited to posting new products if and when they become available and updating their blog. However there is another way of providing fresh and engaging content to visitors on a regular basis – by both allowing and enticing those same visitors to provide such content themselves. This is what is known as ‘user generated content’ (UGC) and can have many benefits for all manner of sites out there.

There are many benefits of opening up your site to UGC from improvements in search rankings as part of your SEO strategy to improving the performance of your business if you’re site is commercially focused.  Simply allowing users to comment on your content is not enough to reap the full range of SEO benefits of UGC, this requires different strategies for different types of UGC which will be discussed in detail later in this article. However by employing best practices you can improve the ranking of your site on relevant search terms faster than if you were the only one generating the content – such is the power of user generated content.

UGC can offer a number of benefits to ecommerce sites in particular. For instance visitors can provide feedback on the product range of such a site by posting user reviews. These reviews can then be analysed to determine whether a particular product should remain in the product range. Furthermore other types of UGC such as forums can alert the business owner of gaps in their product range, industry trends, alternative uses of their products and a whole manner of other material the site owner can either use to improve their offerings or as topics for future blog posts.

Webmasters with sites not focused on ecommerce can also take advantage of some of these aforementioned benefits of UGC. For example a blog site can get ideas for future blog posts from the user discussions that organically spring up in the comments section of blog posts. Furthermore, entire sites can be based completely off UGC and more often than not these sites are the most popular sites of the web, such as Instagram and YouTube just to name a few.

There are not only many types of UGC, but there are many mediums such content can be presented in. For instance, a customer can simply post a review of a product they had purchased from your site, or they could record a video review of them using the product, which can be far more engaging and useful to other users. Customers could also post reviews that include other visual elements such as photos; however for such visual UGC to be beneficial to your site from an SEO perspective such content must be tagged and labelled correctly, which is completely in your control. For instance, make sure to optimise the title, header and introductory/description text of each video users post on your site with phrasing aligned to your SEO strategy.

UGC can offer many SEO benefits to sites from the long tail types of keywords however optimising UGC for the main head terms you are targeting within your SEO strategy requires a completely different approach to managing such content. The best way to optimise for such head terms is to create relevant category pages that you can filter relevant UGC into, whether automatically or manually depending on your CMS and level of expertise in this area. For instance, if you are optimising towards the phrase “hiking tents” then you should create a separate page for such content, filtering in videos, photos and personal accounts of customers’ experiences with hiking tents they had purchased this hypothetical site, all correctly tagged for SEO purposes of course.

Although all of the above sounds great in theory, many webmasters find out after opening up their site to UGC that very little content actually eventuates. Hence there are many ways to entice users to generate such content such as running competitions. Competitions are a great way to do just that as they usually require very little outlay and can result in a flurry of entrants supplying targeted UGC, some of which can actually gain your site even more exposure in the rare event that it goes viral. The type of competition you run is only limited by your imagination. For example borrowing from the example earlier, the tent site could run a competition for users to submit photos of the most extreme place they have camped in a hiking tent they had purchased from the site. Better yet, that site could run a competition called ‘Pimp My Tent’ where users can submit photos or videos of their tents they have customised in their own special and unique way.

UGC can offer a variety of SEO and user experience benefits to sites, several benefits being unique to ecommerce sites. Therefore webmasters should look into the many ways they can employ UGC on their site and ensure they utilise SEO best practices when it comes to tagging visual forms of user-generated-content not easily crawled by search engines.