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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Very Early Plug for User-Generated Content Panel at San Jose

I'll be speaking on a new topic at SES San Jose on Aug. 23 - on user-generated content. The reality is, companies that have tens or hundreds of thousands of pages of *useful* content have a huge leg up in terms of natural search referrals. But how to get that, and have it be vibrant, usable, and interesting, without it being duplicate content purchased/syndicated from somewhere else?

Of course that's what has made "UGC" so interesting as a business model. But what are the prominent UGC sites? Well, of course, it runs the gamut from forums, to photo sharing sites, to volunteer edited directories. When you think about it, the most familiar brand names online are often UGC-based. Some huge success stories include:
  • The Open Directory Project (dmoz) [human edited directory]
  • YouTube [without users video it's nowhere]
  • Flickr [without users uploading photos it's nowhere]
  • Yelp [reviews of local biz, especially lifestyle hotspots, restaurants, spas, etc.]
  • Craigslist [to the commercial/transactional side, but also stretches out to all kinds of classifieds including dating, jobs, etc. - the fact is, people have to write titles and descriptions for what they're selling... so... do this en masse and guess what, you get tons of search traffic]
  • Kijiji [eBay's recognition of Craigslist's power -- same basic biz model]
  • Wikipedia [of course]
  • TripAdvisor [user reviews of travel spots, accommodations, you name it]
  • Topix [adding community discussion of news items to its basic news search functionality]
  • PlentyofFish [dating, with no subscription fee - not only do they have reams of personals with descriptions, they have very active forums]
  • Usenet [ :) ]
And yes, any type of community would seem to count - Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. - some are more accessible to search engines than others. There is obviously a user-to-user and viral component to growth that does *not* rely on search engine stumble-ins, too, but if you look at how some "classic UGC plays" like TripAdvisor grew, it was hugely dependent on long tail stumble-in search engine traffic.

Obviously the list could go on. Personally, I cut my teeth on some of the tech investing discussion forums dating back as far as 1996 (remember the differences between Motley Fool, Silicon Investor, and Raging Bull? Fool was more folksy and advicey at first whereas the latter two were more free-flowing... second and third movers in a space can grow quickly with very little investment if the community is active).

The job of search engines is often to find deep, relevant content on highly specific topics. UGC sites are often perfect fits for what searchers are looking for. Yet in the world of "SEO," talk is often a narrow, pinched description of "SEO-ifying" a corporate or small business website; or alternatively, of optimizing writer-generated and editorial-generated content for search engines. But the above are obviously the most wildly successful businesses you can imagine, when it comes to the potential for rapid growth through organic search referrals down the long tail. They have their own challenges and success trajectories, and as my friend Mike Grehan would say, it has nothing to do with an H1 tag.

I look forward to continuing this discussion.

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