In 2006, Time named its Person of the Year: You. What warranted such an honor? The article commended regular people who contribute to the growing world of user-generated content online. They produce content on large websites like YouTube, Facebook and Amazon and have revolutionized the way smaller businesses and personal websites operate. And user-generated content can help your website grow too.
But first, a vocabulary lesson: user-generated content is a blank term for anything created by users and published online. As "conversational media" becomes more common, users can access website owners more easily and communicate with them directly, often providing them with quality content for free. This allows for more interactive content online and has facilitated more productive conversations.
User-generated content can take many forms, including comments in forums or blogs, videos uploaded to YouTube, product reviews and podcasts. Website owners often reserve the right to monitor the content users create, but for the most part user-generated content has improved the quality of the sites it populates. The availability and affordability of technologies like cameras and video editing software allow non-professionals to create quality content, and they're often willing to give it away for free.
Allowed user-generated content on your website helps create a sense of community around your brand and can provide excellent benefits to you. For one thing, content from users keeps your website fresh without requiring hours of work from you.
Engaging with your site's visitors also improves the overall experience people have on your site. When people read your blog posts, for example, they may have expertise to offer or additional points to add. These contributions can make your content more engaging and, in many cases, bring your ideas to life. Users usually care more about what they contribute to a conversation than what is provided, and if they can contribute to your posts they will be more likely to follow them.
User-generated content can also help your website's rankings on search engines. Links and the use of certain keywords help your website rank better on search engine results pages, and users can help provide both. Often, people will link to your content from their own blogs or use keywords in comments. The more on-topic content you can get on your website, the better off you'll be.
The Internet has changed the way businesses run, but it remains true that the best businesses are those with loyal customers. Sometimes that has never been truer than now, when a site's visitors are truly its greatest asset.