I had the opportunity to chat with Barbara "WebMama" Coll recently. Barbara is a true web pioneer in the search engine marketing industry, launching her SEM company, WebMama.com Inc, in 1996, as well as founding the industry's trade association Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization (SEMPO). We can also claim Barbara as a Canadian success story – she grew up in Ottawa and attended Carleton University for her B.Eng. before moving to Silicon Valley.
At the upcoming Search Engine Strategies San Jose, Barbara is going to be on a panel discussing how to ignite your viral campaign by leveraging consumer-generated content. She took a few minutes to share some of the thoughts that she wants to cover on the panel.
One Degree: What's the relationship between consumer-generated content and viral campaigns?
BC: Well, you really can't "go viral" with consumer/user-generated content without getting your customers engaged in the first place. You need to get your customers talking about you online, in some kind of community fashion – whether a review site (like TripAdvisor) or a support forum or a community you've created. Search engines are getting smarter in displaying CGC results in brand and product searches. Being in the top pages of search results can contribute to the virulence of your campaign.
OD: How do I get my customers talking about me?
BC: Ask them! The onus really is on the business to ask for the review – particularly if you are a local business. If you're a restaurant, make sure you let your customers know that you're on Yelp and you'd love their feedback. Give them a card with their bill that has a reminder to submit a review. You also want to make sure that you're doing this on a regular basis. It seems to me that search engines are really starting to value currency – the business or product that has the more current reviews will get better search engine rankings.
Take for example a Bed and Breakfast in Yosemite. They have had a few negative reviews so the owner is no longer reading TripAdvisor, and certainly not recommending that happy clients post their reviews. This leads to the negative reviews being highly visible in search results – not a good thing for a small business owner.
OD: What do you think about incentivizing customers to write about you? Free product? Chance to win? Etc?
BC: This practice would tilt the reviews positively towards the business which many would say is unfair. On the other hand, it is common practice in many lines of marketing and advertising to give discount coupons, freebies, and awards to encourage customers to return to the business, purchase from the business online, or provide material for case studies.
OD: Besides product reviews, what are other suggestions do you have for encouraging CGC?
BC: Another key area is support – where can you offer your expertise and help other people solve their problems? Take a look at support and developer communities. VMware, the virtual cloud computing company, has a huge community of developers that are constantly asking and answering each others' questions; fodder for search engines, product managers, and customer support.
Another suggestion is Sales CRM systems that help manage your online presence. You can also create a controversial blog or at least blog on a current topic.
Comments to blogs are perfect CGC and indexed by the engines along with the blog post.
OD: What are your favourite resources for staying up to date on SEO and CGC?
BC: Attending SES Conferences of course.
Thanks, Barbara! You can see her at the upcoming SES San Jose conference. Or, if you can't make it to the conference, check out some of her previous SEO presentations that are online.