In a social media world, your job as a brand marketer is to encourage people to talk about your products and services by giving them the online platforms to do so: branded and third-party blogs, ratings and reviews on your site, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, forums, ask-and-answer services, etc. But to make this customer feedback valuable from a social commerce point of view - that is, to turn this feedback into real sales - you must go a step further than just encouraging the creation of a critical volume of user-generated content (UGC) about your brand.
You need to leverage and promote this UGC to turn commentators and readers into buyers. One of the best tools at your disposal to make UGC about your brand more visible is SEO (define). Of course, UGC on its own boosts natural search results by creating a wealth of searchable content.
When companies regularly engage their customers to contribute content (questions, answers, reviews, or experiences) to their sites and branded social networking platforms, this new content automatically makes their brand sites more "findable" by search engines, delivering more traffic and potential customers. But the real value add is when marketers go a step further and index that content to drive maximum exposure to search engines and, therefore, traffic to their sites.
Marketers that have taken a laissez-faire attitude toward UGC can no longer delay in implementing a clear SEO strategy. In 2010, 70 percent of all online content will be user-generated, according to EMC. So, optimizing this information is imperative to winning new traffic and boosting conversion.
There are several ways to search-optimize UGC content, but one of the most effective is called "cross-funnel indexing" - a concept developed by search agency Range Online Media. This process involves creating and indexing UGC-rich category pages specifically designed for searchability; incorporating and indexing UGC on individual product pages; and indexing standard product pages to closely map to natural language (UGC-style) searches. Range Media offers a practical white paper on how to put a cross-funnel indexing program in place, but here are some visual examples of what these three types of pages look like:
Before you begin any program to optimize UGC for SEO, start by mining and analyzing all the user-generated content about your brand, products, or services - whether on your site or on third-party sites - to find out the most popular words and terms. You can then index and tag category and product pages to reflect these popular natural language terms so your site pages turn up more frequently in searches. Remember: people search and shop using the same language as reviewers and storytellers - favoring terms like "top-rated TV" or "flat screen with great picture quality" instead of the more standard marketing terms you might think of like "32-inch TV." Find out exactly which words and phrases people are using to talk about your brand and products, then optimize your pages to pick up these searches.
What's interesting from a social commerce perspective about UGC is the certain monetary value of the search traffic driven by UGC. We've seen a clear pattern of lower average cost-per-click and higher conversion rates from UGC-driven searches across our customer base of over 750 brand Web sites that incorporate customer reviews, stories, and answers on their Web sites.
When customers talk about your products in a certain way, leverage that. Index product and category pages to reflect this natural storytelling language, and you'll be rewarded with not just more traffic, but higher quality traffic comprised of engaged shoppers ready to buy.
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Sam Decker is founder and CEO of Mass Relevance, the leading enterprise social curation company. He speaks and consults on digital growth strategy, based on years of experience in technology and social markets. He has written two books on word-of-mouth marketing and is an award-winning blogger (www.deckermarketing.com). As former chief marketing officer of Bazaarvoice, the market leader in hosted social commerce applications that drive sales, Sam worked to help brands present the right user-generated content at the right time in the purchase path, bringing real value to the consumer and the business. Prior to Bazaarvoice he drove Dell's customer segmentation, their customer-centricity strategy, and led Dell's consumer website, building Dell.com into the largest consumer e-commerce site at $3.5 billion in annual sales.