UGC and SEO: How to Make User-Generated Content Work for You

Ron Dodby Ron Dod

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You’ve probably seen these statistics floating around:

What these stats point to is the effectiveness of user-generated content (UGC).

Couple shopping online

At its heart, UGC is about engendering trust through the psychological phenomenon known as social proof. This theory, brought to prominence by psychologist Robert Cialdini, claims that:

“…a person who does not know what the proper behavior for a certain situation is, will look to other people to imitate what they are doing and to provide guidance for [their] actions.”

Therefore, an example of this phenomenon at work is when an online shopper is considering purchasing an item but is unsure of its fit, quality or other aspects that might result in dissatisfaction. Aiming to understand what the “proper behavior” in response to the product is, the user will consult user reviews and other resources to discern the experiences of previous buyers.

As far as customers are concerned, social proof is a much-needed trust factor in influencing the decision of whether to make a purchase. However, the power of this desire and the need for online trust has permeated to the highest levels as Google’s newly updated search quality evaluator guidelines consider a brand’s website reputation in rankings.

As the document notes, a brand can sing its own praises all day, but to be believed, outside sources are a necessity, bringing us back to the power of UGC.

If your brand is ready to understand the best ways to use user-generated content on your eCommerce site, then look no further.

Enable User Reviews

All eCommerce providers should showcase their product reviews. While some are afraid that some bad comments could tank their conversions, this is rare. In fact, when studying the psychology of consumer reviews, it appears that buyers are more influenced by four-star ratings, as a perfect five seems suspicious.

Moreover, various study statistics on consumers’ reviews show that these comments can increase sales by 18 percent. Meanwhile, 63 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from a site that features user reviews.

Site reviews help sales

However, user reviews are essential for reasons outside of pure sales.

As noted in the previously mentioned search quality evaluator guidelines, Google considers “a large number of positive user reviews as evidence of positive reputation.” Part of the reason for this is that Google also considers how closely the purpose of the page aligns with that of the searcher, and how effectively the page meets those ends. When a searcher is seeking a product, finds it with a slew of favorable reviews, the page likely meets the user’s needs exactly.

User reviews also create additional on-page, keyword-rich content. Increasing the word count and including various keywords provides search engines with fresh content to crawl, potentially helping to raise a page’s seat in the SERPs.

Supporting this notion is a study from Yotpo which showed the impact of reviews on SEO performance for 30,000 businesses. After nine months of compiling new reviews, the number of organic visits these sites received increased substantially.

If these reasons weren’t enough, another great thing about instituting user reviews is that brands can get some of this information to display in their search rankings.

Generate Traffic with Review Snippets

Nearly a decade ago, major search engines like Google Bing and others collaborated to produce schema.org. The aim of this site is “to create, maintain, and promote schemas for structured data on the Internet, on web pages, in email messages, and beyond.”

By creating a standardized means of structuring digital content, search engines effectively made websites easier to crawl and pull relevant information from to provide a better search experience for users. When a site employs the standards laid out by schema.org, they can benefit significantly by enabling engines to display increasingly relevant descriptions.

For eCommerce sites that showcase user reviews, search engines can then use the on-site data to display star-ratings via review snippets, along with other useful data such as product prices and availability.  

Review snippet example

©2018 Google LLC, used with permission. Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google LLC.

Sites that opt to employ review snippets have seen more than a 62 percent increase in their click-through rates. When eCommerce sites leverage this search feature, significant gains in traffic can be made. Assuming the on-site experience is well-optimized, these clicks can result in meaningful amounts of conversions, thereby helping to increase the business’s rankings in the SERPs.

Those who wish to employ review snippets to help drive eCommerce traffic can review the AggregateRating content on schema.org to see how to format content so that search engines can access the data accordingly.

However, it is important to note that not all user-generated content comes from reviews. Which leads us to our next point:

Utilize Content Contests

Even retailers who are religious about asking their buyers to submit product reviews will experience lulls. In such times (and even when the well hasn’t run dry), it is wise to turn to social media to run content-generating contests.

Through such events, brands can harvest tons of compelling and fun UGC, receive significant amounts of social media engagement and likely earn a variety of new followers.

eCommerce Photo Contests

A popular contest type for eCommerce sellers is a social photo contest in which customers are tasked with taking some sort of picture that incorporates the brand’s products. However, there are a variety of creative twists that can be placed on this type of event. A more infamous example is Starbucks’s Red Cup campaign.

This contest tapped users to design their own Starbucks cups and post their creations on social media. The company then picked their favorites and shared the pictures on their own channels.

Alternatively, outdoor gear merchant Backcountry launched the #Goatworthy Instagram campaign, asking their fans to share pictures of their most memorable outdoor experiences with the hashtag mentioned above. The campaign generated some epic content for the brand.

However, one of the keys to launching a contest that successfully provokes excellent UGC is to be clear about the kind of content that is desired. Be specific in the contest guidelines and a gratifying and worthwhile outcome is more likely to be achieved.

Additionally, for brands to effectively inspire their audiences to act on their behalf, it is essential to provide some incentive.

Offer Something Valuable in Exchange for Content

For eCommerce retailers who have a following of passionate, loyal brand advocates who are already sharing such content unprompted, it is a good idea to engage with them and reward their efforts. This could be something as simple as a thank you, a surprise gift or discount, sharing their image (with permission) and tagging them in the description or any other number of kind gestures to acknowledge their affection.

Contests with user submitted content

For retailers who decide to launch a campaign to generate content, it is necessary to offer an intriguing prize. However, this does not mean that it needs to be a physical offering. A 2016 survey of 100 consumers and 300 brands found that while about a third of respondents are interested in prizes, “60 percent of consumer respondents said they were motivated to participate in order to have their content ‘liked’ or featured.”

This finding is fantastic news for brands on a budget as it means that crafting a clever campaign with a relevant hashtag can potentially produce a steady stream of user-generated content for an undetermined amount of time, assuming the business’s social channels continue to highlight its customers’ creations and give them their due credit.

The more dedicated a brand is to showcasing UGC on its channels, the more motivated their audience is likely to be in crafting such sharable images.

Bringing things full circle, when an eCommerce website features this kind of UGC on its website (with permission from posters, of course), it provides powerful social proof that can help to engender more conversions from first-time buyers.

Friends using phones

User-generated content is an effective force in driving traffic, sales and increasing an eCommerce brand’s SEO performance. Additionally, such material can be a powerful agent for engendering engagement and customer loyalty as well.

To utilize UGC to its fullest, retailers should analyze their websites and establish where the cracks in their sales funnel exist and where users are falling off as these are likely to be places were customer-created content could go a long way in reeling potential buyers back into the fold.

However, for brands that aren’t sure how to effectively manage this, it is a good idea to reach out to Visiture’s conversion rate optimization experts for help in turning user-generated content into SEO gold.

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