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Using UGC to Benefit SEO

jkocher Jill Kocher , Associate Director, Search Aug. 1, 2012

User-generated content (UGC) and search engine optimization (SEO) are a match made in heaven. SEO is done by marketers and can fall prey to same language issues that caused the site to perform poorly in organic search in the first place. But UGC is created by customers and uses the real-world language that other customers and searchers are likely to use.

“Why, is that our new ‘Zip-front Sweatshirt-Black-With Hood?’” asks the marketer.

“No,” replies the puzzled customer. “It’s a “black hoodie.’”

So while the marketer busily optimizes for the product name, the customer logs on to write a review about the great new “hoodie” he just bought.

UGC Gold

That review, a free bit of UGC gold, contributes to the keyword theme of the page and begins to send “hoodie” relevance signals. The more customers write reviews, the stronger the signals become.

This scenario assumes that the marketer ignores the keyword research and optimizes solely for marketing-oriented phrases and product names without using valuable keywords that real searchers actually use where possible. Our clients, if they choose to do this, are at least aware of the tradeoff they’re making in terms of organic search value. Sometimes optimizing content in the real world requires compromises that weaken a site’s ability to rank for the phrases that its customers use. UGC, when really well done, is an excellent way to have your marketing cake and rank for it, too.

In order for UGC to be valuable to SEO, it actually needs to be indexable on the page that you want to rank. For example, a set of six reviews for a hooded sweatshirt needs to be embedded into the actual hoodie product page that can convert the customers’ desire into sales. Posting the reviews on some other page is simply going to create another page that targets the same traffic as the product page, creating self-competition, but without the ability to convert. To complicate matters, some reviews features, tagging systems and other UGC modules use technology that renders the UGC uncrawlable. When considering a new feature, test other sites that currently use the feature to determine if the content is indexable to search engines.

Asking for UGC

As with most things in life, if you don’t ask for UGC, you probably won’t get it. Send a post-purchase email to customers after they should have received the product to express the hope that they’re pleased with their purchase and ask them to review it. Make sure to include the link to the appropriate review submission page to make it easy for them to accept the offer.

When they’ve written the review, why not also give them the opportunity to post that review on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or any other relevant social networks? They’re already engaged and
a simple click of a sharing button blasts that review out to their network, so friends can then visit and possibly purchase.”

Amazon, no slouch in the SEO space, executes the post-purchase review request and sharing process extremely well. Even though many of their product pages feature stock product descriptions from the manufacturer, they’ve turned UGC into an amazingly powerful tool for differentiating their content from other sites and boosting keyword signals. Granted, Amazon has a lot of other things going for them, like a stellar link portfolio, but UGC is one of the major pieces to Amazon’s SEO success.

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