When most people think of user-generated content marketing, even including marketers, it’s branded hashtag and influencer campaigns on social media that generate assets for promotions.
The thing is, UGC is so much bigger than its social-media stereotype and a whole lot of it can have a positive impact on a site’s SEO. It’s a powerful means of scaling site content, driving traffic, and generating backlinks — all while minimizing the burden on an internal team and its resources.
Put simply, a narrow view of what UGC means - and what counts as UGC - leaves unrealized potential on the table in organic search and beyond. We’ll focus on broadening that scope by taking a lens to different types of UGC that sites are collecting and publishing as part of a larger marketing strategy.
The best part? It can all be leveraged for SEO!
If a user publishes something on brand A’s site or publishes content on a different site on behalf of brand A, it’s user-generated content. The classic example is Instagram content created by a user who tags a brand or uses their hashtag.
But users publish a whole slew of different media, resources, and feedback on sites — things like reviews, templates, music, stock photos, and product listings. All of this is just a small sample of what counts as UGC.
If it’s embedded on a page or used to create new URLs, it will likely have an SEO impact. Of course, there are SEO UGC considerations at play in making it work from the technical side. But for the purposes of this article, we can keep that context in our back pocket and dive a layer deeper.
The way sites publish UGC comes in different shapes and sizes ranging from whole web pages to even whole industries. Generally speaking, it breaks out into four levels of scale:
As the scale grows, often so does the potential SEO opportunity (and the complexity!). The right scale for a given site depends on the business model, brand positioning, and overall landscape that it plays in.
Now that we’ve broadened the scope of user-generated content ideas, let’s take a look at variations out in the wild. We’ll run through each of the scales we listed above and show how different sites publish different types of UGC at each level.
It’s pretty common to see examples of user-generated content on a page. It can provide social proof, bolster authority, contribute to E-E-A-T, engage a user so they stay on the site longer, and add value in numerous other ways. And when you’re adding value to a page for a user, you’re usually adding SEO value to the page as well.
Using UGC as a part of a page can take form in a couple of different ways.
The first is the simpler of the two implementations: UGC which is manually curated and added to a page. The screenshot below is from a small publication called the Mountain Gazette.
Here, they’ve carefully chosen a subscriber testimonial that is aligned with their somewhat cheeky brand voice and used it as social proof. It’s positioned in the most prominent place on the entire site. In fact, it’s the first copy that a user will interact with when they visit.
How can it work for SEO?
The home page banner is often the difference between a bounce and an engaged user. The more users who scroll down a page or click to the next, the better for SEO.
While “automated” might sound fancy, most of us interact with this type of embedded UGC regularly. It’s user-generated content located on a section of a page that also appears as a section on other similar pages.
The most common is product reviews on eCommerce websites. Usually, they’re located in the same area of the page template, in the same format, across multiple product pages. They add value by supporting purchasing decisions with trustworthy information from other users’ product experiences.
Another example that’s growing in popularity is customer Q&As, which operate similarly to reviews. The following questions and answers are included on an Amazon product listing page for an adorable garden gnome holding an LED solar lantern.
How can it work for SEO?
From an SEO perspective, both reviews and customer Q&A provide unique and rich context for search engine crawlers. Sites can leverage these types of on-page, user-generated content in tandem with schema markup to compete for featured snippet placements, including “People Also Ask” (PAA) questions and Free Merchant Center Listings.
Often most of this can be automated, down to the structured data, through a third-party or custom-built solution.
Let’s move on to the next rung of the UGC scale ladder, a dedicated page for showcasing multiple UGC assets. While this is another area where it’s possible to manually publish curated UGC pages, there are third-party tools that can help reduce that lift and automate publishing new content to the page.
Below, we’ll share a couple of areas where such tools can help create a community-sourced page with the potential to drive traffic from organic search.
85% of consumers find UGC to be more influential than photos or videos created by a brand. That means that the user-generated content many eCommerce companies share on Instagram or TikTok is also a powerful inclusion onsite to promote interest and conversion. After all, users are more likely to convert on your site than they are on Instagram. (Social media channels have the highest bounce rate of any.)
Third-party integrations can take choice social media posts from UGC campaigns on platforms like TikTok and Instagram and serve them up in a shoppable experience on a page of the brand’s site. For instance, online retailer Parachute Home’s #MyParachuteHome page allows users to navigate directly to products shown in the media.
How can it work for SEO?
A page like this can be a rich network of inlinks and embedded media, which creates a compelling showcase of word-of-mouth authority through content creators. Additionally, it may provide an opportunity to win traffic from search queries looking for the brand’s Instagram.
Why not divert some of those clicks to a higher-converting experience on your site? Google “Parachute Home Instagram” and you can see a SERP result for the page we just talked about. It’s directly below the result from Instagram which ranks at the top.
We mentioned reviews as a section of a product page, but brand reviews lend themselves to a different approach than the former. A brand reviews page is product-agnostic, so it focuses on elevating a user’s impression of brand quality and trustworthiness.
By aggregating the reviews on a dedicated URL, the cookware brand Caraway creates a page that propels its ethos with press testimonials and customer reviews across products.
How can it work for SEO?
A SERP for “[brand name] reviews” usually includes a mix of affiliate and review sites in results. These sites are winning traffic from a term that could drive high-converting brand traffic for the brand itself.
While some of these sites competing for the term may have strong domain authority, a brand’s site is generally the most authoritative when it comes to brand terms. So with plenty of reviews in hand, sites are well-equipped to create an experience that ranks well for such queries and helps build trust.
Much like with product-specific reviews, schema markup can also help drive visibility in featured snippets for brand-review terms.
What if new, quality content pages just appeared? It’s not a dream. As the scale of UGC grows in a system that publishes automatically, sites can architect a deep and diverse UGC portfolio comprised of many pages.
Often, these include differentiated types of content that fall outside of the “traditional” scope of UGC and deliver unique value to users. By optimizing these pages to align with relevant search opportunities, a brand can leverage content it didn’t create to drive significant organic visibility and traffic.
Many SaaS sites offer products that allow for template creation. A lot of UGC creation for SaaS companies comes from these types of templates, as users create them to share with the larger brand community. Think: templates for verticals such as design, data, productivity, and development.
Templates are helpful resources that solve user problems and make using a product easier. They add value for the user by jumpstarting the content creation process, opening up a collaborative dialogue, getting users beyond a blank page, helping novice users level up, etc.
Just look to the popular design site Canva, which sources user templates and positions them alongside others the brand created internally. They also categorize these templates into product listing pages, giving users many ways to discover and interact with each.
Each user-generated template also has its own page and URL.
How can it work for SEO?
A unique URL has the potential to show up for highly customized, relevant terms in organic search, as long as the page is indexable.
However, pages for individual resources like a design template won’t always surface relevant terms in keyword research. Or the keywords may be long-tail terms with low or zero search volume. In this case, the SEO potential isn’t created by the presence of the pages themselves, but by how they’re categorized onsite.
That’s because a search user isn’t very likely to enter “neutral minimalist photo collage typography instagram post template.” Instead, users search for terms higher up the SEO funnel like “instagram post templates” or “minimalist instagram post templates.”
When UGC pages are categorized to support these terms - much like the Canva listing page above - the resulting category pages can drive traffic from relevant, high-volume keywords. In this case, Canva’s categorization efforts won it the top organic placement for “instagram post template” — a keyword that drives ~10k monthly searches.
That’s a lot of traffic and brand awareness from potential customers!
It’s not just SaaS sites that can get in on the fun at this level of scale. There are plenty of resources that users create for use outside of a digital product. Things like 3D printing diagrams, woodworking plans, and recipes are just a handful of UGC examples that fit this mold. It’s equally viable when it comes to creating value for both users and organic search.
A fun, niche example comes from the fan-favorite knitting site Ravelry. Ravelry allows users to create and submit listing pages for knitting patterns to help other knitters find them. They detail patterns that users publish or sell elsewhere, often on their personal websites or as part of a book.
In this way, Ravelry acts as a sort of knitting pattern directory made up of thousands of user-generated pages. (Knit baby boot patterns, anyone?)
How can it work for SEO?
Despite the different end goals these resources support for users (interacting with a digital product versus achieving a goal offsite), their value and considerations as SEO drivers are largely the same as user-submitted templates.
Additionally, templates and downloadables are strong drivers of conversion, including email capture, subscriptions, and purchases.
The interesting thing about UGC publishing is that as the scale grows, so does the variety of UGC. So when we talk about entire sites and even industries built on UGC, there are more examples than one might assume.
In large part, it’s because sites that are built on user-generated content build themselves for their specific vertical. They also have sophisticated user-publishing systems that automate collection and moderation.
So while it might be easy for a website to add text, images, video, or other simple embeds to a page, not a whole lot of sites can deliver user-generated vacation rental listings. Airbnb can because they built a UGC platform to do it.
Music streaming sites like Soundcloud, crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter, review sites like Yelp, long-form publishing platforms like Medium… they’re all built on UGC. Let’s look at a few examples in a little more detail.
Marketplaces like Etsy are made up almost entirely of user listings. Etsy is effectively a robust self-merchandising platform that allows small businesses and creators to connect with consumers. The product descriptions, details, and images all come from the user.
How does it work for SEO?
Many sites at this scale use automation to map the content that users submit in form fields to key SEO elements of a page, including the URL, metadata, and even schema markup. You can see that the markup Etsy includes for the page above allows them to compete for free product listings on the SERP for “handmade ceramic pot.”
Similar to what we talked about with templates, third-party marketplaces can also group product pages into category pages aligned with user search behavior. Etsy does, which is why they show up as the top organic result for the same search query, alongside their free product listings (talk about taking up real estate on a SERP!).
This industry isn’t the most out-of-the-box example of building a site on UGC. But when it comes to publishing sophistication, moderation processes, and other facets, social media often leads the innovation charge for platforms that leverage user-generated content.
Take TikTok, the part search engine, part video library, part social media platform that is 100% changing the way users interact with information. It’s not the first place someone would have gone for a salsa recipe in the 2010s — but it is today for many users.
TikTok videos have unique URLs that allow them to show up in Google organic video listings. Pinterest pins show up in Google image search. But beyond this, the true SEO value of both TikTok and Pinterest is that they’re search engines in and of themselves.
As each became popular, it pulled volume for certain types of terms (like say, “salsa recipes” or “wedding photo display ideas”) out of Google and into its platform. They generate and leverage UGC at such a level of scale and strategy that they fundamentally change user behavior.
It’s a large part of the reason that TikTok has overtaken Google Search as the world’s most visited web domain.
If you’ve ever had to tackle something that takes special or trade knowledge, chances are you may have ended up on a Q&A site. They’re forum-esque platforms where someone with a tough-to-answer question can receive answers from experts - or even fellow non-experts - in the same community.
For instance, the user below had a question on the Q&A site Quora covering the best places to go on a weekend vacation from Toronto. Many of the results for these types of queries lead to Q&A sites like Quora.
How can it work for SEO?
Q&A sites benefit from authoritative and differentiated answers from expert users. The unique value of the answers gives them a good chance of competing in organic search. Plus, similar to how schema markup is added to customer Q&A, these types of sites can add microdata to drive PAA placements on SERPs.
Now that we’ve broken down some examples, you’ve probably started to think of a few of your own! The list goes on when it comes to the many ways users can create content and value for other users. Here are some other examples of sites, brands, and UGC that make for great inspiration:
The first step in leveraging UGC for SEO growth is understanding just how vast the playing field is when it comes to the types of content. Still, just because a site is able to generate content from its users, doesn’t mean that the pipeline is a ticket to instant organic traffic.
Alongside strong user-generated content ideas, it takes the right mix of search potential, technical considerations, and on-page optimization. Once you know what can work, it’s time to dig in and understand how to make UGC work for SEO.
Between UGC, SEO, business, and beyond.