User-generated content — words and images provided by visitors to a website instead of its publisher — is an effective way to boost the SEO ranking of your company’s website.
Requesting reviews of your products and services, answers to frequently-asked questions, and customer participation in company-sponsored contests encourage people to engage with your brand and give them an opportunity to contribute to the online community at large.
Here are six ways to cultivate user-generated content:
1. Request product or service reviews. Consumers love to share their opinions, which makes user reviews an effective means to gather user-generated content. Tools and applications like Demandforce and Grapevine make it simple to incorporate a review component into any website. There are also some rating-system coding tutorials for tech-savvy business owners.
2. Solicit testimonials. Testimonials are similar to reviews, except that you’re specifically soliciting praise from your clientele. This can be done using any standard web form that allows website visitors to enter their name, company, and a few lines of text with their take on your brand or skills. Always include a moderation system that lets you review the submissions before they’re published; otherwise, you could end up posting spam or nasty comments for all to see.
3. Run contests. “A strategy I like is using contests to encourage readers to submit images and articles related to your industry or product,” says Corey Post, founder of Content and Contests, a content marketing and social media consultancy. “It creates an engaging user experience and helps the publisher attract quality, long-tail content.”
Contests can run the gamut from asking followers to write a caption for a funny photo to requesting that they submit full-blown essays or “manifestos.” Use contests to link your company’s website to your social media presence, boosting interaction across networks. Note that Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and other social networks have distinct policies regarding contests, so be sure to review the rules carefully.
4. Offer incentives. An incentive differs from a contest in that you offer a reward to every participant. This can actually increase participation, because visitors know they’ll get something for their time (vs. taking a shot in the dark in the hopes of winning a grand prize). Many small businesses use this strategy successfully on websites and social media profiles with simple calls to action that offer a discount, a free sample, or some other perk for posting a comment, submitting a photo of someone using your product, or contributing to the discussion in some way.
The incentive tactic also may be used to attract more Facebook followers and gain email subscribers. The same best practices apply: Make an offer that’s difficult to refuse and test or vary your messaging for optimal results. Never use incentives in exchange for positive reviews, however, which would put you at risk of crossing legal and ethical boundaries.
5. Create a FAQ page. “The well-known ways of creating user-generated content [include] allowing for reviews and comments and encouraging a platform in which people can engage in conversation,” says Jocelyn McLean, social media and community manager for Kolody, a creative-services agency that specializes in digital media. “The problem is, you often want to promote user-generated content by making it seem valuable to the user.”
McLean suggests establishing a Q&A or FAQ page to which the public may contribute. This supports customer engagement and simultaneously helps you compile a valuable asset for other visitors. “Create a place on your website for users to submit (moderated) questions, and send them a notification when there is a response,” she advises.
6. Enable comprehensive user profiles. McLean says another way to cultivate meaningful user-generated content is to enable comprehensive user profiles. “A lot of ‘user profiles’ for news or other sites just ask for the basics: name, location, and a URL (if applicable),” she explains. “Asking people more questions and allowing them to fill out information about themselves does two things: It creates a sense of identity within a community, and it creates more content that can be searched and found online.”
Any business with an online community can implement this tactic effectively. For instance, if you’re implementing a FAQ, why not allow those who register to create a user profile and share more information about themselves? Experts participating in the discussions earn a little self-promotion, and your business benefits from their credibility. It’s a win-win.
Cultivating user-generated content isn’t just healthy for SEO; it’s an effective way to increase brand recognition and get people talking about your business. Any of the methods above may serve you well.