How important is being highly ranked in search results? Research from popular marketing software company, HubSpot, suggests that 75% of Internet users never even bother clicking through to the second page of results, which means being highly ranked could make or break your organization.
How can your company rank higher in search engines? Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and other black-hat SEO tricks. The key to getting ranked and found in today's SEO-driven world is content.
As the backbone of inbound marketing, having quality content not only gives your business credibility with your prospective customers, it also positions you to become a thought leader in your industry. Plus, improving your SEO ranking can improve your conversion rate. SEO leads have a reported close rate of 14.6% in comparison to outbound leads, which have a 1.7% close rate.
Unfortunately, even though a compelling content strategy is crucial to marketing in the digital age, it can still be a costly and time-consuming process. According to research from The Content Marketing Institute, B2B marketers listed 'producing engaging content' and 'producing content consistently' as their top two marketing challenges.
What if you could enlist your customers and partners to create valuable content on a regular basis for little to no cost to you? It may sound too good to be true, but it's what happens when you have an active and engaged online customer community. When customers and partners participate in your community, they create content in the form of discussions, blog posts, and user-created documents that can have a positive impact on your SEO ranking.
Let's investigate the benefits of community-created content, and how you can encourage your community members to contribute.
Search engines take the frequency with which you publish content into consideration when ranking your website. The more regular your publishing schedule, the more reliable you appear to search engines.
If you've already done the work to create an active and engaged online customer community, the creation of the content may become almost automatic in its consistency. Every time a customer posts in discussion forums, uploads a file, or publishes a new blog post, they're contributing to your content bank. With this content added to your online community daily and weekly, search engines will see that you have a steady stream of fresh content and factor that into your ranking.
Encourage consistent content creation by adding participation badges and incentives to make blogging and answering community questions worthwhile for your customers. Make sure community member questions and comments receive responses as well. This will help show members that their contributions are noticed and valued, and will encourage them to continue participating.
Search engines don't directly consider how cost effective your content is, but they do evaluate content volume. The more content you have, the more the search engine has to look through and give to searchers.
More expensive content strategies that involve hiring a writer or outsourcing to a firm force your content volume to be limited by your budget. In contrast, customer and community-created content is extremely cost effective, meaning that you get larger volumes of content with no direct extra cost.
Drive more user-generated content by providing outlets such as blogs where customers can create long-form content. Include discussion forums for in-depth peer-to-peer conversations, or consider adding a dedicated Q&A section to encourage regular, high-volume conversations about inquiries and best practices.
The age of your content matters. Search engines will give you a higher ranking if your content and pages are kept current or published recently. Like consistent content, this is all about finding content that's updated and relevant to searchers.
Since the discussions and uploaded content in your online customer community are happening in real time, you know your content will always be on top of the latest trends and news stories. You won't have to worry about putting out new content at the right time—your customers will generate it for you.
If your customers are engaging consistently, then they're already creating timely content. To jumpstart any lagging sections of your online community, you could also post questions or blogs about recent events to give your members timely content to discuss.
Content in a community often has syntax that can score you brownie points with search engines. Search engines are starting to give extra weight to content where the main SEO factors align with how people search. Here's an example:
'How can I upgrade my Windows 3.0 OS?'
'Everything You Need to Know About Upgrading Windows 3.0'
The first form is ideal because many prospects type similar questions into the search bar. Your discussion forum posts are often also phrased as questions and written in the first person, matching those searches. For instance, if someone searches 'how can I upgrade my Windows 3.0 OS?' then your online community may have a discussion post that addresses that exact question, verbatim. The more closely your content matches Google searches, the better it will rank.
Make sure your customers have plenty of areas where they can post these kinds of questions. Discussion forums, advice columns, and Q&As are good sections to build out in your platform.
Search engines love customer-created content, so why hasn't your community helped your SEO rankings already? The most likely reason is that your online community is private. This means that all that excellent content is hidden behind a login.
Keeping your community private is not a bad thing. Your online customer community is meant to be, first and foremost, a secure place for your customers to add value to their consumer experience. Take that into account, and ensure your community retains the exclusivity your customers crave while allowing search engines access.
To overcome the exclusivity challenge, open up only specially selected sections of your online community to the public where prospects and other members of your industry can discuss the general issues impacting them. These sections will be searchable and will turn into an SEO marketing tool. As long as you don't open up the entire online customer community, you will still give your customers exclusivity.
When deciding what to open to the public, think carefully about which sections of your online community would appeal the most to prospective customers. You might have discussion forums about product uses, a resource library detailing service benefits, and an 'Ask an Executive' corner that would help prospects make a final decision, for example.
These are all areas that can be used by prospects, but make sure you keep existing customers involved as well. As you encourage existing customers and new leads to participate in this part of the community on a regular basis, your available content will grow.
While content accumulates, pay attention to successful keywords and search terms that bring prospects to your community, then track what content they explore while they're there. This ongoing activity data tells you the type of content that resonates most with your target audience and you can develop a new content plan that encourages your community to expand on those topics.
While creating quality content is too important of a task to ignore, the leadership team and other subject matter experts in your company already have a lot on their plates.
Reduce some of the pressure on your marketing department and content team by enlisting your online customer community to do some of the work. You'll be able to demonstrate the value prospects can expect from becoming a customer and make real strides with the 'SEO Powers That Be.'