February 6, 2019
Ryan Henry
Leveraging the SEO Power of User-Generated Content on Your Website

As search engines continue to improve their ranking algorithms, manipulative search engine optimization (SEO) processes like the use of doorway pages, private blog networks (PBNs), keyword stuffing and backlink spam are becoming less effective. To secure a first-page ranking on Google, you now need high-quality content that's better than your competitors'. While you can always produce your own content, user-generated content offers several unique advantages that can help strengthen your website's SEO strategy.

What Is User-Generated Content?

Also known as user-created content, user-generated content is text, images, videos, and other forms of website content that's created by visitors rather than the webmaster or someone hired by the webmaster.

Social media networks, for example, are driven by user-generated content. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram rely on users to produce content for their website, which attracts other users to the platforms. The local business review website Yelp also relies on user-generated content. Users can create reviews of service-oriented businesses on Yelp, filling the website with unique content.

The SEO Benefits of User-Generated Content

User-generated content can help you secure higher search rankings for your website in several ways. When a visitor produces content for your website, search engines will crawl it. If the content is an image, it may appear as a separate listing in Google Images, Bing Images or other image search engines. If it's text, user-generated content will add information to the page on which it's published to encourage higher rankings.

An SEO benefit of user-generated content that's often overlooked is its ability to boost visitor engagement metrics like time on page on session duration. Visitors may create content in the form of questions, and other visitors may read and respond to these questions. These interactions encourage visitors to spend more time on your website, resulting in stronger engagement metrics. This is important because average time on page, average session duration and similar visitor engagement metrics are used in most search ranking algorithms.

Content freshness is a ranking signal used by both Google and Bing. If you frequently publish new content, you'll have an easier time outranking a competitor who rarely or never publishes new content. But while creating new content yourself can be time consuming, user-generated content requires very little time or effort. Just monitor and approve visitor-submitted content to maintain a fresh website that ranks high in the search results.

The Different Types of User-Generated Content

Visitor Comments: Whether you run a traditional website or a blog, allowing visitors to leave comments on your site's pages is an effective form of user-generated content. Visitor comments can compliment your website's existing content by adding new, relevant information.

Visitor Photos and Videos: Visitor-submitted photos and videos is another type of user-generated content to consider using on your website. If you run a pet-related website, for example, ask visitors to email you a photo or video of their pet. You can then create a special page featuring these visitor submissions.

Product Reviews: If your website sells something, implement a review feature, so that customers can share their experience with other visitors. Seventy-seven percent of consumers search for product reviews on the internet. With a review feature, visitors can access unbiased opinions regarding the quality and performance of your website's products.

Social Media Posts: Monitor social media networks for mentions of your website's brand. If you discover a social media post conveying your website's brand in a positive manner, grab the embed code and publish it on your website as a testimonial. Most social media networks allow users to share content on their website via embedding. Just copy the social media post's embed code and then paste it into your website's code where you'd like to display it.

Forum Posts: Even if it's not the primary focus of your website, you can add a forum to your site where visitors can create threads on related topics as well as respond to other users' threads. A forum allows visitors to directly interact with each other using an online message board, with each new thread or post creating fresh content for your website.

Survey Results: You can also send visitors a survey and then publish the results of those surveys on a separate page. This doesn't offer as much user-generated content as the other methods listed here, but it's still one more way to ease the burden of content creation as a webmaster.

Beware of Low-Quality User-Generated Content

If you're going to accept user-generated content on your website, you should moderate it for quality-assurance purposes. Publishing every piece of content submitted by visitors isn't a good idea for several reasons. First, there's the possibility of duplicate submissions. A visitor may unknowingly submit the same piece of content twice, and if you approve both submissions, it will create duplicate content on your website.

Second, you must maintain your website's integrity by prohibiting user-generated content that contains illegal or unethical content like threatening messages, profanity, nudity or acts of violence. To reduce the risk of such submissions, create a terms and conditions section that lists all types of content visitors are prohibited from submitting. But some visitors will likely ignore these rules, which is why it's recommended that you moderate all user-submitted content.

Third, spammers target websites that accept user-generated content by submitting advertisements, links and other forms of content with commercial intent. If you don't moderate visitor-submitted content, you may unknowingly help spammers peddle their questionable products and services to your website's visitors.

Attempting to manipulate your website's rankings using black-hat SEO won't work. Google's and Bing's algorithms have evolved to identify artificially popular websites, lowering their search rankings or, in some cases, removing the sites from their index. To stay on Google's and Bing's positive side, you must shift your SEO strategy to producing high-quality content. You can even tap into your website's visitors to take advantage of user-generated content. It's an easy and effective way to fill your website with fresh content that search engines love.