This post was contributed by Tom Schwab of Inbound for eCommerce.
Too often it seems like every new SEO trick becomes the thing that Google punishes on the next algorithm update. While you can argue on the existence of negative SEO, there is no debate that having more user generated content on your site is good for SEO.
After talking with the community managers at companies like King Arthur Flour and Sephora at the IRCE conference earlier this year, we beta tested our own online community site for our direct-to-patient, B2C ecommerce site. The engagement results were promising, but what really spurred us on was the analytics we saw. We knew the search engines saw them too and would reward us.
Here are seven reasons we found that adding an online community to our website is one of the best things you can do from an SEO perspective:
Google loves content. An online community continually adds new unique pages signals that the site is alive and increasing in value every day. We built 12 pages on our community site. Over the next six months, the users added over 643 more pages!
Traffic to our online community site now accounts for just over 5% of total traffic. While this is still a low number, our beta test proved that we can grow traffic with an online community. While we expected most of the traffic to be returning visitors from our ecommerce site, we actually found more than half found our ecommerce site via the Community Site.
Visitors on the online community site interacted to a much greater level than our standard product detail pages or even our blogs. The community site saw a 25% lower bounce rate compared to our overall site. This helped the SEO of the entire domain.
The community site had 50% lower exit rate. Visitors were staying longer, seeing more pages and clicking through to other portions of the site. A study by the University of Michigan even reported a 19% increase in revenue with sites that used a community site.
We've found an abundance of natural links from sites we would have never approached or considered. As people share what they have learned and promote what they have written, we've seen an increase in links back to both the online community site and the main website.
As marketers, we are often accused of overstuffing keywords or using them in a less than natural fashion. When the visitors create the content, they can be nothing less than natural. We find users using different words, which we incorporate into our campaigns. Even the misspellings they use are forgiven by the reader while being indexed by the search engines. If one person spelled it that way, you can be certain someone else will search for the same spelling.
One of the most challenging parts of content or inbound marketing is the significant time and cost to create quality content with context. Most who abandon an inbound strategy report doing so because it was too hard or they didn't have the time. That is why User Generated Content is the Holy Grail of Inbound Marketing. Many of the post are over 600 words, making them like a blog post that would take us hours. Instead of curating content, we let the experts (the customers) find, post and promote what they feel brings value.
An online community site is a long term investment in your customers and your brands. We found it takes the most effort to start the conversations. Once members are active and engaged, it's still important to be an active participant although the community can handle most of the day to day activities.
If you are looking for a quick traffic surge just through some more money at Pay Per Click. If you are looking to build a business, a brand, and a tribe, we have found no better way than using an online community site as part of your strategy.