Get flexible!

In professional, strategic search engine optimization, calibrating a site to attract Google or Bing’s interest is a lot like “optimizing” your appearance before going out on the town. When you open your closet to select what to wear for a night out, you’re trying to choose something that looks great on you—not something labeled “one size fits all.”

SEO is an art, a race and a puzzle—and the pieces change shape every week (sometimes, every day). No universal formulas exist for making a site perform well in search. This is especially true when integrating user-generated content (UGC) into a site that has already been strategically-optimized. When leveraged properly, UGC can have a profound impact – in some cases triple digit growth in search traffic.

“Contortionist-like flexibility” became a guiding principle as we developed Smart SEO™ over the past year. This focus on extreme agility resulted in configurable options for seamless integration across thousands of client websites, each with distinct architecture and requirements. No “one size fits all” tag here.

It’s a fact that search traffic will increase when the pages of your site are kept fresh with UGC. However, the exact strategy, location, and volume of UGC will vary depending on your site’s approach to SEO. Here are some questions to address as you determine how best to leverage UGC as part of your 2011 SEO strategy.

How many reviews should I put on my product page?

As Google and Bing algorithms have changed over the past 12 to 18 months, content freshness has become a major factor in the pursuit of top search rankings. As algorithms change, techniques and best practices change. Right now, the most common practice is to feature the most recent six to eight reviews on product pages to inject freshness, while also developing an interactive archive where the rest of the content is indexed in perpetuity.

If you do product page keyword and content optimization, follow this norm. The same tip applies to user-generated questions and answers. If your product pages are not optimized, display 20 to 25 reviews to maximize freshness and content richness.

Is it better for my UGC archive to be part of my main site, or is a microsite (on a separate IP address) preferable?

At many companies, SEOs work diligently with content writers to optimize most pages on their site for specific keywords. A couple years ago, the idea of diluting well-optimized pages with UGC caused fear and trepidation for the average SEO. Rather than driving up healthcare costs for SEOs, we offered an option to make UGC indexable via subdomain microsites, like http://reviews.homedepot.com.

Although microsites perform well in many cases, the most recent search algorithm updates make developing interactive archive pages as part of the main site most favorable. In either case, it is important for the interactive archive to have a unique URL from product pages.

Should I push my reviews to review aggregation sites, or keep them on my own site?

Philanthropy is good, but not in this case. UGC is a key differentiator for your site against competitors. We recommend exercising caution when sharing UGC.  One acceptable case is between manufacturers and retailers; because content syndication within the distribution network can add value to the relationship in many ways.  Feeding review content directly to Google is another acceptable case, because it helps Google Products properly organize the content with attribution links and logos.  Be very cautious with review aggregation sites, many of which were hit hard by the Google Panda update.  They love to take your UGC, republish it, outrank you in Google and Bing, and then charge you for traffic that goes through their site. That’s just wrong. It’s your content!

Be creative as you design the next generation of your SEO strategy. Leverage content written by consumers extensively, and do not fall for one-size-fits-all thinking. Remember that search algorithms are always changing, and don’t assume that a successful strategy developed a year or two ago is the best solution for SEO in 2011. Finally, make sure that your UGC is indexable on product pages. If it’s not, it’s time to upgrade your UGC into the latest version of your provider’s implementation.

  • http://twitter.com/CathyHalligan Cathy Halligan

    Michael, work arounds are not strategies. Respectfully, key word rich, UGC indexed directly on the product page is the highest performing SEO program one can deploy. Why? Google is clear about what the algorithm favors (watch Matt Cutts 3 min video on YouTube).

  • http://twitter.com/stormseo Michael DeHaven

    If SEO were as simple as dumping a plethora of random words, phrases, and sentences on product pages, there would be no need for search optimization. This blog post highlights the fact that professional SEO is a strategic, highly competitive, ongoing battle — and that UGC can be leveraged in different ways to enhance sites no matter where they fall on the SEO spectrum.

  • http://alt-team.com/ altteam

    Creative and flexible all the time… SEO specialists should be always in progress. One of the most developing professions, I mean you just can’t stop somewhere and do something in the same way for a long time.

  • http://www.benblogs.com Ben Chin

    Its true. Things change and they change fast in the world of search. You are right when you say we need to be creative. More of then not, people just stick to old methods and get stuck there.

    Be adaptable!