Ajay Tejwani
Ajay Tejwani, Social Media Strategist, USAA

This blog post is guest-written by Ajay Tejwani, Social Media Strategist for USAA. Check out his blog and find him on Twitter.

“If I can’t search it, it doesn’t exist.” – Anonymous (Year 2000)

“If I can’t find it from my circle of trust, it doesn’t exist.” – Anonymous (Year 2010)

What are the four words any Internet marketer wants to hear? “Your Content is Searchable!” Any marketer will vouch for the power of content, and that’s why you need to explore the goldmine of user-generated content (UGC).

USAAA 2008 eMarketer study showed:

  • By 2013, nearly 155 million net users in the US will consume some type of UGC
  • There will be 115 million content creators on the web by 2013
  • By 2013, almost 52% of U.S. Internet users will be content creators as well

If you want to know how UGC is being used for SEO, look no further than what the search engine goliaths are doing.

Twitter and Facebook have already made pacts with Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Bing that enables the search engines to access the social networks’ real-time data streams. And Google has implemented Social Search, which allows people to view relevant content created on Twitter or Facebook to show up in search results, based on keywords.

These social media channels have made UGC available on the entire web, and more and more users on Facebook and Twitter are keeping their profiles public, because it’s a great way to network with others.

A recent Nielsen Buzzmetrics report suggests that 26% of all search results on major search engines link to UGC. Why? Most importantly, user-generated content is deemed reliable by other users when making key value judgment decisions, and search engines have recognized this fact.

Search engine results
Search Engine Results (Source: Nielsen Online)

Businesses need SEO to thrive in this harsh economic climate, and UGC is a great resource for boosting SEO campaigns. User reviews can have a huge impact on SEO.

  • Close to 83% of online shoppers admitted that product reviews submitted by users on different websites are one of the main influences on their purchase decision. (Source: Opinion Research Corporation)
  • Nearly half of adult net users in the U.S. read product reviews and ratings at least once a month. (Source: Bazaarvoice)
  • USAA, a full financial services company that proudly serves the military and their families, estimates that the increase in application starts resulted in 15,978 additional products and policies across its five main product lines in the first year, after launching ratings and reviews on their site. (Source: Forrester Research)

The latest stats from Hitwise show that Facebook is now the most visited website, beating Google for the week ending March 13, 2010.

Facebook vs Google trafficThis should drive home the fact that social networks are gaining high popularity and people are looking for information from their friends and family more than faceless search engines.

If you are monitoring social networks using tools like Radian6, Umbria, etc., you should look for hot keywords associated with your brand. Use those keywords on your website to drive more traffic to your site. And don’t limit your search efforts to traditional search engines; look at social search engines like Delver, SamePoint, SocialMention, Serph, OneRiot and see how to get higher ranking (short answer: better and more robust content from users, not you).

Tip: Do your research for keywords in real time to ensure you are not relying on last month’s data!

In closing, here are a few things to keep in mind: –

  • The participation from even a few of your customers is truly helpful in converting a more engaged audience in the future.
  • UGC is for everyone. Your target audience also includes Gen X and Baby Boomers, who are no less conversant with UGC. So make sure that the UGC you use caters to them as well.
  • Include everything in UGC – not just text, but also images, video and audio. Digital Asset Optimization (DAO) is the new SEO. Don’t hesitate to be creative and make the most of available marketable resources.
  • Achieve your goal of a high search engine ranking by selecting the right form of UGC for your site. Articles, blogs, product reviews, etc. – all could work well if your targeted keywords are present in the content created by users.
  • Integrate UGC on your site. Create a vibrant community of people, with your products or services as the common link they use to interact and create content. The successful use of UGC allows your loyal customers to feel more “involved” in your business, and brings you closer to them.

Having defined objectives, a good implementation plan, measurable results and flexibility to adapt based on results seen will drive your SEO success.

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