What Is User Generated Content (UGC)?

User generated content is a form of online content that is created by users or a website's audience rather than by someone affiliated with that website or business.

Everything You Need To Know About User Generated Content (UGC)

The term “user-generated content” refers to any type of online content that is created by users or unpaid contributors rather than a brand or business. Also referred to as user-created content, UGC has become increasingly popular as the internet itself becomes more accessible and more prevalent, with users turning to various websites and social media platforms to share the content they’ve created and to engage with other people. UGC may seem simple, straightforward, and possibly even inconsequential — but, like many other search marketing terms and concepts, that isn’t actually the case. 

UGC has become important in the context of online marketing, and has even become a marketing sub-discipline in and of itself. Though businesses and brands by definition cannot create UGC, they can greatly benefit from it by incorporating it into their marketing strategies. By creating content, users are engaging heavily and clearly with a given brand, and even promoting their business on their behalf. In this way, UGC can have a huge impact on your digital marketing activities, including your search engine optimization efforts.

User-Generated Content Examples

First and foremost, you must understand what UGC typically looks like. Any type of online media or content created by users, fans, or contributors for a website, mobile app, or online platform is considered to be UGC, but certain mediums are more common than others. Popular examples of UGC include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Audio files;
  • Blog posts;
  • Comments;
  • Forums and frequently asked questions/FAQ posts;
  • Images and pictures;
  • Reviews and testimonials;
  • Social media posts;
  • Videos;
  • Wikis.

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve likely already encountered UGC in some form. Between browsing social media posts from friends and reading product reviews for something you want to purchase, you probably spend more time with UGC than content generated from brands and businesses online than you realize. One recent study found that millennials spend 30% of their total media time on UGC alone, viewing it for over five hours every day. While you may not spend that much time with UGC, it’s difficult to avoid in your day-to-day online activities.

User-Generated Content Advantages & Disadvantages

UGC can be a double-edged sword, equally capable of having both positive and negative impacts on your brand and your SEO efforts. The very things that make UGC so appealing are also what can do the greatest amount of damage. To make the most of UGC in your overall content marketing and SEO strategy, it’s crucial to understand what your brand stands to gain from it — as well what you risk losing.

Advantages

  • Free content: You don’t have to pay for UGC; it comes to your brand free-of-charge. You can still use this content to your brand’s advantage in your marketing activities, if you so choose, while saving your business money. As an added bonus, the publication of new content (even UGC) on your site indicates to search engine bots that your site is active and gives them fresh information to assess and add to the index.
  • Trustworthy and reliable: In the eyes of consumers, UGC content is thought to be more trustworthy than other types of media and marketing materials. In fact, 50% of millennials trust UGC more than all other forms of media; they also find it to be more memorable and more influential in their purchasing decisions.
  • Insight into your audience: UGC provides greater insight into your target audience. When they share or publish content they created, you can get a better understanding of what they truly care about in relation to your products and brand. You can learn more about how they view your business, what they like about your offerings, and maybe even discover new opportunities to improve your products and how you serve your customers. 
  • New keyword opportunities: UGC content, especially in the form of comments and reviews, can help inspire the keyword research you do on behalf of your brand. The way your customers and fans discuss your products and brand can help you discover new keywords, and long-tail queries in particular, that you should be targeting in your content and on your site.
  • Increased audience engagement: Naturally, UGC increases audience engagement with your site, products, and content. UGC is more natural and authentic than marketing materials or advertising messages, making it easier and more enticing for users to share, like, comment, or otherwise engage with the content. In other words, UGC helps users engage with your brand, as well as with each other. 
  • Conversion: Ultimately, UGC can help drive conversions. One study found that conversions increased as much as 161% when users viewed UGC on product pages. While you may not see quite this large of an increase in conversions on your site, it’s clear that UGC can play an important role in your conversion rate optimization efforts. 

Disadvantages 

  • No quality control: Perhaps the largest issue with UGC is that you have no control over what people create, publish, and share. People will post whatever they want, regardless of what you or your business feels about it. This freedom, while part of the beauty of UGC, can result in irrelevant or inappropriate content, content created by bots instead of humans, or just spam.
  • Unaligned with branding: In a similar vein, the content created by users may not be completely aligned with your organization’s brand and messaging. A user may share a bad review or negative experience they had with your business, which may sway other customers away from you and instead toward your competitors’ sites. Further, if one negative review or experience gains popularity online, this may be the only knowledge other potential users and customers have of your business or product.
  • Need for moderation: Because of the freedom that UGC affords, you’ll need to monitor, manage, and moderate it on your site. On the one hand, doing so will ensure that you aren’t stuck with spammy or low-quality content, but on the other, it does take continuous time, effort, and attention. 
  • Credibility: While UGC is often thought to be more authentic and trustworthy, that may not actually be the case. Anyone can go onto your website and publish whatever content they want, without needing to verify their identity or credentials. For example, someone could post a negative review about one of your products without ever buying or using it. Everyone has different levels of knowledge and experience, but it’s almost impossible to determine a user’s credibility, especially before they publish UGC.
  • Issues of ownership: Who owns UGC — the creator or the host? Generally, if you want to use UGC in your social channels or in another area of your website, you’ll need to reach out to the creator, get their permission to use their work, and give proper attribution to them when you share their content. Laws about intellectual property on the internet aren’t always clear, making it important to cover your bases if you do choose to repurpose UGC.
  • Unreliability: UGC can be inconsistent and unreliable. Users are free to create and post whatever they want, whenever they want, which means there may not always be a steady flow of content. If you become too invested in UGC for your domain, you may find yourself without new content when you need it. While you can enjoy UGC when you have it, you cannot rely on it, and you must find the right balance between brand-created and user-created content.
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The Relationship Between UGC & SEO

Nowadays, UGC doesn’t have as direct or powerful an impact on your SEO in the same way that high-quality content, fine-tuned technical elements, and exceptional backlinks do. 

Historically, though, UGC did have a direct effect on SEO, as it played a hugely important role in link building. SEOs and link builders would post a comment on an article, a blog post, or a forum that contained a link to their own or their client’s site. Search engines would consider this to be a backlink, passing authority and link juice to the linked domain. This used to be a highly successful way to build links, until Google’s 2012 algorithm update, Penguin, targeted and penalized manipulative link building tactics. Links built through UGC in this way are now considered a form of black hat SEO and may end up having a negative SEO effect rather than a positive one for the linked domain.

Further, many editors, site owners, and webmasters have taken further steps to address links built in UGC: the nofollow tag. Many sites have placed a blanket nofollow tag on their UGC content, including comments sections, reviews, and forum posts. Using this HTML attribute indicates to search engine crawlers that the host of the content does not endorse the link. This prevents (or, at the very least, dilutes) any link juice from passing to the linked page. Though you’ll likely still encounter built links in UGC content, particularly in comments on articles or blog posts, they likely come from bots or black hat link builders, rather than trustworthy SEOs who focus on ethical, sustainable practices.

Google’s New Attribution Codes for UGC

The relationship between SEO and UGC continues to evolve to this day. In September of 2019, Google posted on the Webmasters Central blog about an update to the nofollow attribute. In their post, they announced the introduction of two new link attributes: sponsored (for sponsored links) and ugc (for user generated content). These tags are meant to work in conjunction with the existing nofollow tag to signal to search engines which links should be included or excluded in search. 

Additionally, they will be used by Google “as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems,” including looking at how language is used in anchor text and identifying inorganic linking patterns. Essentially, the new sponsored and ugc attributes can be used to help train, teach, and educate Google’s entire search algorithm. All in all, Google doesn’t anticipate the new attribute to have a major effect on link building in UGC. They think it may even be a “further deterrent” for this black hat tactic, as well as spam, and explicitly state that UGC links won’t be considered a ranking factor. 

As always, you can still use UGC and its new attribute to support your SEO. UGC in and of itself is a powerful tool that is highly complementary to SEO, and can be hugely beneficial for your business’s online presence — and your bottom line — so long as you use it wisely.

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