Does User-Generated Content Belong on Your Website?

Mike Ibberson on Sep 19, 2016

Professional writers spend hours researching, drafting and editing copy. Whether for lead generation (i.e. landing page) or education (i.e. blog), writers must adhere to various standards and stylistics preferences. For example, some news outlets mandate the use of digits for all numbers (i.e. 10 versus ten). Most readers may overlook such details, but these rules enforce brand uniformity.

Understandably, many businesses hesitate to publish external content because of copy-editing concerns. But beyond quality control, brands worry about diluting themselves with non-affiliated voices. It comes down to message control more than quality control.

In our social age, businesses paralyzed by these fears are missing out on huge content opportunities.

The Meaning of User-Generated Content and How It Benefits Brands

All websites need good content to succeed, and one criterion of quality is authenticity. Now ask yourself: what’s more authentic than content created by your own customers and users?

By definition, user-generated content (UGC) is any media devised by an unpaid contributor. It can exist on your website, partner websites, social media properties, sub-domains and more. Regardless where, UGC prompts conversation about your brand. For instance, someone might want to share likeminded views or comment on a product. The reason doesn’t matter; it still counts as engagement.

When effective at collecting user-generated content, you build an inbound community. This is a reactive, interactive space where people come to learn and discuss industry-related topics. While some content will engage your business directly, most of it nurtures more generally.

As Inbound Marketing Agents writes, “There’s a big difference between a company with a social media presence and a company that’s managed to build a vibrant online community.” A social media presence increases brand recognition but not always the emotion towards it. Communities connect with individuals on a deeper level—the identity transcends the brand and roots itself to the people instead.

To qualify as community-centric, UGC requires three features.


A community offers a wide collection of information. Thus, it must be easily navigated. Consider that 64 percent of customers proactively search for reviews before making a purchasing decision. Displaying UGC prominently and logically could boost conversions.


Maintaining an archive of old UGC improves the visibility and utility of your community. It defines it as a space for building relationships and not just disseminating single-serve content.

Indexing your UGC also improves SEO. Fresh content—likely keyword rich, too—aids in your overall search strategy. Note that this only applies when the UGC exists on your primary domain.


When your UGC is exclusive to customers or members, you limit its potential. A closed space always narrows the audience and increases the barrier of engagement. In hiding UGC behind a registration form, you risk losing its key benefits:

  • 70 percent of consumers prioritize UGC above professional content;
  • 84 percent of millennials find UGC influential;
  • 86 percent of millennials believe UGC indicates brand quality.

If the majority of your visitors values UGC, then why hide it?

That said, private communities do mitigate concerns surrounding spam, inappropriate content and unlawful content. But we’ll discuss this later.

User Generated Content Ideas and Examples

UGC comes in many forms. To build a true inbound community, you needn’t accept all types—just what makes sense to your brand.

For inspiration, let’s go over some popular types (and platforms) of UGC and highlight companies that have successfully implemented them.

User-Submitted Product Photography

A professional photographer can capture the best features in a product, but the pictures sometimes lose the lifestyle. That’s where UGC fills the gap. Showing prospects how current customers use your products and services adds another dimension to your professional content.

While I don’t recommend eschewing professional photography, UGC should bolster your current marketing collateral. Doing so many even strengthen your social media integration and social proofing.

For example, MVMT Watches integrates Instagram with its product photography. Rather than seeing white backgrounds and models’ wrists, you see the watches in a plethora of settings and outfits.

But what does the research say about this?

Offer Pop, a company that surveyed more than 100 consumers and 300 marketers, validates the approach. In a recent study, the company found that 85 percent of consumers find visual UGC more influential than brand photos and videos.

Customer Reviews and Testimonials

Conglomerates like Amazon lean heavily into their customer testimonials because they have such an active customer base. But small businesses shouldn’t shy away from UGC opportunities. Even on a small scale, customer reviews and testimonials can increase conversions and introduce new long-tail keyword variants.

When it comes to differentiating testimonials and reviews, we can define each by its application. A review is often product- or service-centric. Thus, it should appear near its subject (i.e. below product gallery). A review can encompass all facets of the shopping experience—the shipping, customer service, product quality, etc.

LA Music expertly solicits reviews on its website. It allows users to either rate or comment (or both). For those with little to say, the rating system lifts the barrier. Likewise, each review can receive likes and dislikes from other users. This increases the engagement potential and utility of the review section.

Conversely, a testimonial is often a broader. They are excellent soundbites for landing pages, home pages and case studies. Customer service representatives usually collect testimonials manually while interfacing with the customer.

Desk, under the Salesforce brand, showcases testimonials in the middle of its homepage. The company can do this effectively for one reason: its associated brands are notable. For example, Desk works with Asana, Disqus and SoundCloud. This is important to note—testimonials are best when the brands or people behind them are recognizable.

Guest Blogging

Back in 2014, Matt Cutts—the former head of web spam at Google—wrote, “If you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links…you should probably stop.”

Admittedly, guest blogging has become somewhat spammy but only when done improperly. If focused on SEO, then, yes, it’s a bad idea. But when you seek quality UGC, hosting guest posts offers two benefits:

  1. Extended readership—the guest likely comes with his or her own audience and social networks;
  2. Pointof-view diversity—contributors bring an external look into industry happenings and trends that can complement or challenge those typically espoused by staff.

There are guest blogging caveats. The biggest is duplicate content. Ensure that your contributors submit original content, including any graphics or videos. Failure to check for plagiarism can hurt your website’s rankings.

Knowledge Base Forums

Forums are fairly easy to implement with a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress. Even without a CMS, there is no shortage of free forum software available.

Many brands turn to forums for customer support. Threads document previous customer problems, providing quick answers to others experiencing similar issues. It is a public approach to support that makes customer relations transparent. Similarly, forums can act as Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) databases, rounding out the user experience.

Starbucks manages an interested community with a two-fold purpose: to enhance brand culture and to inspire new ideas. On the My Starbucks Idea website, customers can submit new ideas concerning any aspect of the business—recipes, store configurations, promotions and more.

Users can browse and interact with existing suggestions or leave their own. There’s even a scoreboard for the trendiest ideas as well as those that the company has adopted. This is a phenomenal way to demonstrate how Starbucks listens to its customers.

Common Problems with User-Generated Content for Small Publishers and Brands

As with anything user-generated, brands face myriad moderation woes. On one hand, brands must censor inappropriate material. On the other, they should not filter UCG for dishonest reasons (i.e. negative feedback).

Quality control consumes resources—someone needs to moderate the incoming content. Catching spam, duplicate content, scams and other bad submissions is essential in keeping your inbound community healthy.

When exercising moderation responsibilities, you need a UCG Terms and Conditions policy. Such a policy grants you the right to prohibit and reuse content. Common clauses include ownership of content, copyright violations and usage rights.

Interestingly, posting guidelines for what users should submit can improve the quality and frequency of your UGC. According to another Offer Pop survey, 50 percent of consumers interested in providing content wanted more guidance yet only 16 percent of brands provided it. Simple instructions on how and what to send in can markedly boost your response rates.

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