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How user-generated content improves SEO

User generated content book

UGC is a great way to improve SEO performance

The internet has irrevocably transformed branding and marketing by placing the power in the hands of consumers in a way that simply wasn’t possible before. Social media and other online platforms like forums and consumer review sites have made it possible for anyone to become a publisher. From a simple recommendation on Facebook to popular blog posts and buyer’s guides published by leading industry influencers, the power to shape purchase decisions now lies in social interactions between customers.

That’s where user-generated content comes in. Consumers make the best marketers because they have the power to influence others, and they can do so through a variety of mediums like third-party reviews and peer-to-peer recommendations. Today, 88% of consumers trust online reviews and suggestions from their personal networks over anything published by the brand, sponsored ads included. For sales and marketing teams, the challenge lies in maximising the effectiveness of UGC and SEO, which includes boosting UGC SEO, or search engine optimisation.

Fashion UGC for SEO

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Search engine optimisation is about more than mere keywords

Until a few years ago, SEO was pretty much all about keyword optimisation and link-building. Brands would plaster their content with keywords and phrases to match what they expected people to enter in Google. They’d also rely on link-building tactics like guest blogging to boost visibility through links posted on established, high-authority websites. Both of these methods, though still core components of SEO, unsurprisingly led to exploitation by spammers hoping to game the search engines into displaying their websites in the first page of the results.

Things have changed, and Google’s ranking algorithms are far more sophisticated than they once were. Instead of focusing on keywords and links, they’re looking for trust signals with a view to matching search results with user intent. And what better way to instil a sense of trust than having your biggest fans do the job for you? UGC is more authentic because it’s far less likely to be biased. Of course, this also means it won’t always paint your brand in the most flattering light. But that’s a fact modern brands have to contend with now that transparency is a major selling point in its own right.

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How does user-generated content boost SEO?

The fact that your customers don’t think about SEO when publishing content is perhaps the biggest advantage of all. Instead of being about marketing, it’s about authenticity. UGC might not be deliberately keyword-optimised, but that matters little now that keywords are a relatively minor ranking factor. Instead, UGC provides new and relevant content for the search engines to index, provided the content is visible. That means you need to keep at least a part of your community open so that search engines can crawl it. Anything that’s gated won’t be visited by the crawlers and therefore won’t be indexed.

Even if your online community is gated, you might still be able to showcase UGC on your blog or website, provided you ask for permission from whoever created it. You can, for example, repurpose UGC in the form of a testimonial or case study and have it published publicly so the search engines can find and rank it. By leveraging UGC in this way, you can save time and publish more content. While the importance of branded content is still as great as ever, there’s no denying it takes a lot of resources to generate, which is why UGC can augment your efforts.

Surprisingly, UGC can help with keyword optimisation as well. That’s because relevant, long-tail keywords often come naturally, and they’re far more effective and less competitive than broader terms. In many cases, these long-tail keywords refer to products or product categories directly. Another way UGC and SEO interacts is by boosting visibility on social media, which itself is a significant ranking factor. After all, word-of-mouth marketing is what powers SEO in today’s consumer-centric world – not how many times you stuff a key phrase into an article.

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Taking the bad with the good

With UGC, the power to influence lies entirely with your customers. That’s why some brands are still afraid of enabling people to leave things like reviews and comments on their websites. After all, given the high visibility of UGC, a single bad review from a customer can have quite the opposite effect to what you were hoping for. Spam and trolling are other risks, particularly in larger online communities like those on mainstream social media. All these together could result in UGC causing more harm than good.

That’s why UGC needs to be managed correctly, and that includes content posted in your own online community, as well as that posted on third-party platforms like Facebook or Trustpilot. Fortunately, most people put more weight into how brands respond to negative feedback than the nature of the feedback itself. Sometimes, it’s even possible to turn a bad review into good one by listening to and acting on the customer’s concerns. On the other hand, trying to block out any negative UGC is exactly the sort of tactic that customers will wise up to eventually. What you should do with your own communities, is adopt a robust moderation process to weed out any spammers and  keep the UGC and SEO relationship positive.

It’s important to manage your brand reputation both inside and outside your own community. Social listening tools can help you keep track of how people perceive your brand on Facebook and other major social networks. But there’s no better way to engage and nurture customers than by doing so through a community of your own. Whether it’s a website forum of a private social network, having your own community lets you retain a degree of control by cultivating a loyal customer base and encouraging the creation of UGC.

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Showcasing user-generated content

The more visible your UGC, the higher its chances of appearing in the search results. That’s why you should encourage your customers to leave feedback in the first place, as well as join the community discussions. One of the most powerful things about UGC is that it can enable product ideation – and who better to ask for advice on your next big product launch than your customers themselves? For example, Lego Ideas offers a platform where Lego fans can share their constructions and vote on their favourite ones. Those which receive enough votes end up on the store shelves. In doing so, Lego’s recognises its most valuable community members and turns them into brand advocates.

Holding competitions and events that encourage the creation of UGC is a great way to get customers talking about your brand. For example, British fashion company Burberry launched a highly successful UGC campaign in 2009 called Art of the Trench, which showcased photos of their customers wearing the Burberry trench coat (with their permission of course). Their ecommerce sales skyrocketed by 50% year after year following the launch of the campaign, and it’s still going strong a decade later. Just like outstandingly crafted branded content, UGC can provide impressive benefits for years to come. As well as a UGC and SEO boost over the shorter term.

Having your own branded community app from Disciple is a great way to develop user-generated content and brand engagement.

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