We've talked about how blogging can improve your site's SEO because it's a great way to add tons of new content for search engines to index. Basically, the more pages about different topics you have on your site, the more long-tail keywords you're targeting and the more search traffic you'll get. While blogging is great for this, it's not very scalable. It's definitely worth spending a few hours each week writing blog posts, but what do you do if you want even more content? You could spend more time blogging, find guest posters, or even hire writers. The problem with all of these methods is that they don't scale. The cost of creating content will quickly exceed the value of the additional content.
As far as I know, there is only one truly scalable way to add content to your website: User Generated Content (UGC). If you offer your followers a way to speak their minds on your website, you'll be able to build up a respectable source of information without any ongoing work on your part.
For example, let's say you write a blog about local music. You could let bands and venues log in to your site and build their own profiles and enter information about upcoming shows. This would benefit the bands/venues because it's a free way to promote themselves. It benefits your readers because they now have even more great information all in one place. It benefits you because now your site has tons of new information for search engines to index. Someone might do a Google search for a certain band and find your website even though you've never written about the band before.
Now I don't want to give you the idea that building a community of users to contribute content to your site is easy. It takes a lot of hard work and luck to create the perfect community, but if you're successful, you'll have a self-sustaining content generation machine. That's SEO gold.
If you're interested in encouraging UGC on your website, here are a few common techniques that you might consider:
- Message Boards and Forums - These have been around for a long time, but they can still be pretty handy. Create a section on your site where people can post new messages and have conversations with others.
- Community Blogging - It's possible that your audience would like to contribute blog posts related to your main topic. The two best examples I've seen of this are SEOMoz's YouMoz (notice the "ugc" in the URL) and SB Nation's FanPosts (the link goes to a St. Louis Rams site, but all SB Nation blogs have fan post sections).
- Q&A Sections - I wrote about Q&A sites a while back. They're like message boards but each topic is meant to be about a specific question. This can be incredibly powerful for SEO because so many people type questions into Google, so your content will match the search queries exactly.
- Wikis - I mentioned corporate wikis in an old post, but there are also public wikis where anyone that visits the site can contribute information. The most famous example of this is Wikipedia.
- Reviews - If you sell or review products on your website, you can let your users write their own reviews. Here are some good examples of UGC review pages on Amazon and Backcountry.com.