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The Search-Friendly Appeal Of User-Generated ContenT


By Robin Nobles

Content comes in all types, lengths, and mediums. From an SEO point of view, we simply know that it's important—no, crucial—to add content on a regular basis to our web sites. The content we add must be of value to our potential buyers.

But truthfully, "writing content" is the most difficult and time-consuming part of the search engine marketing process. I've been in the SEO industry for nine years, and I can honestly say that writing content is the part that most SEOs dread. Optimization isn't a problem. It's writing content that's the problem!

One solution: User-generated content.

User-generated content is just what it sounds like: Content generated by the visitors or users to your web site. This is content that you, as the web site owner, don't have to create. Think about it for a minute. If the users generate the content and get more involved with your site, don't you imagine they'd want to link to your site?

Don't get me wrong-you'll still have to create content. Success will never be handed to you on a diamond-studded platter. It will always be the product of hard work. But if you get your visitors involved with your site, the content they can create for you will make your job much easier.

Let's look at an example.

Let's say you own a hotel on St. Simons Island, Georgia. Rather than just providing content about your hotel, why not open additional windows of traffic into your site by providing information about St. Simons Island itself?

St. Simons and surrounding islands are rich with history dated back to the 1500s. Famous artists and writers live in the area, the beaches are quiet and peaceful, and fresh seafood is in abundance. People ride bicycles on trails that stretch across the island beneath exquisite oak trees that aren't found anywhere else on earth except in Georgia. It's a perfect place to get away from the world. You can feel the peace as soon as you cross the bridge to the island.

Next, let's consider your target audiences. Virtually every web site has more than one target audience. Your target audiences might be families with small children; the artsy crowd; harried business people; writers; history buffs; newlyweds; and so forth.

The type of content you provide on your web site will need to vary depending on which target audience you're considering. The artsy crowd will have totally different needs than stressed business people who want to get away from the crowds of living in big city Atlanta.

Let's take the artsy crowd as an example.

St. Simons is well known for its famous writers and artists. Bookstores have book signings by local authors and art exhibits are frequently held. Because of the laid back atmosphere, authors and artists don't go into hiding.

What can you do with this information if you own a hotel in the region? Post upcoming book signings, art exhibits, museum exhibits, art festivals, etc., in an "arts" section on your site. Why not offer to host author readings at your hotel and promote the events on your web site? Post writers' support group meetings, story tellers' meetings, area art events, and so forth. Let them have the meetings at your hotel.

Host spectacular holiday events at your hotel. Waive the meeting room space, but you'll still make money on the food. Publicize the event online, and post pictures on your web site.

Let each group have an area of your web site where they can talk about their group, post examples of their work, encourage new members, etc.

Set up a blog on your site and talk about the art community. Introduce new artists and writers. Let them talk about what's happening in the world of art on St. Simons Island.

Host contests for new artists and writers. Offer them a free meal at your hotel (or a free weekend getaway) for the winners. Either let the art community as a whole vote, or let area judges be the ones who choose the winners. Post all of the entries on your web site as well as the winning entries.

Host children's writing contests and post those entries on your web site.

Have a local sand castle competition outside of your hotel, if your hotel is on the beach. Bring in sand castle artists from around the world and comp their rooms. Make it an annual event. Let the artists write content about their backgrounds and post it to your site as well as pictures of their art. Link back to their personal web sites.

Think user-generated content—content that you don't have to create but your users are creating for you because you've cared enough about your potential customers to provide valuable information geared specifically for them.

Do you see the link popularity building naturally to your site as you create an art section that's full of valuable information for that one target audience? As you build this art section, do you see the publicity and buzz you're also creating surrounding your hotel?

Set up an e-mail list and inform your past guests of upcoming art events and any specials you're offering at your hotel. Be sure to have a calendar of events listed on your web site. Link straight from your web site to separate web sites for area artists and writers.

If someone were interested in the art community on St. Simons Island, isn't there also a chance that they'd be interested in staying at the hotel that's in the middle of the art events on the island? Of course. Plus with each page you create, with each link you build, you're making your web site that much stronger.

We're only beginning with ideas, but we're off to a great start.

We've only covered one target audience. We haven't touched any of the others. Just think of the additional muscle we could add to the site once we begin adding content, both our own and user-generated, for the other target audiences for the site.

How can you encourage your web visitors to get more involved with your site?

Eight tips for encouraging user-generated content

1. Give them a reason to participate. Offer them a discount off your products or services, for example, if you can do so. Having a contest is a reason to participate. Offering free meeting space and helping the art community become a united front is a reason to participate.

2. If you have a contest, have a decent prize. This reminds me of the time that I won a contest at Disney World and won three stickers. Three stickers. Forget that. Make the prize worthwhile if you expect people to enter.

3. Offer a question and answer area where they can ask questions from an expert.

4. Treat everyone who is involved in your "inner circle" (the ones who post to your site) with the utmost respect. These are your special people. In essence, your web site is becoming theirs. Allow it to evolve in whatever manner it needs to change to fit their needs.

5. Encourage your inner circle to write "how to" articles to be posted on your site, tips, articles, etc. In our example above, each artist could write tips or information for new artists. What wonderful information to share with the arts community.

6. Offer a poll on a subject of interest to your visitors. What's happening in the news that's related to your web site?

7. Ask your visitors a thought-provoking question and start a discussion. This could be a slightly controversial topic or not. The idea is to get them thinking and talking to you, possibly through a blog post. Be sure to post the question on the main page of your site, with a link to your blog post.

8. Finally but most importantly, don't be afraid to have ideas. One idea is the cornerstone of another idea, which can branch off into another idea, and so forth. Be creative. Creativity and the ideas it sparks can be all it takes to make your web site spectacular. Take a step and see for yourself.

Every web site needs content focused on the needs and desires of the target audiences for that site. Your goal is to get your visitors involved in your web site so that they'll help you create the content. After all, the site is theirs too, isn't it?

Good luck!

About Robin Nobles:

Robin Nobles teaches 2-, 3-, and 5-day hands-on search engine marketing workshops in locations across the globe as well as online courses in SEO. They have opened the first networking community for SEOs called The Workshop Resource Center for Search Engine Marketers, and they have expanded their Live Search Engine Academy workshops to communities across North America and Asia. 

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Copyright 2008 Robin Nobles. All rights reserved. This article was originally published in SearchEngineLand.

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