Sunday, 26 February 2012

Make Crowdsourcing part of your SEO Strategy


One of the best things I have found about working in search engine optimisation and internet marketing, is that you come to really come to appreciate the great ideas and innovations on the web that might pass by people whose understanding of SEO is relatively limited.
I was recently shown a blog hosted by Starbuck’s called ‘My Starbucks Idea‘, where members can suggest ideas they have for products.  These ideas are then voted on and discussed; as the suggestion gains the attention of the community, it also gets the attention of the company, and ideas that aren’t well received are eventually vetted out of the system.  This seemed to be a great idea for several reasons – it creates almost a constant stream of user generated content that might attract long-tail traffic to the Starbucks website or at least remind them of the strength of the Starbucks brand, it’s a great example of crowdsourcing (which I’ll discuss in more detail later), and it is costing Starbucks practically nothing.

I’m more than aware that very few businesses have the resources, or the brand reputation to host this kind of blog on a scale the size of Starbucks, but I’d like to explain the principles in a bit more detail, and how it could be applied on a smaller, more manageable scale.

What is Crowdsourcing?

I’d like to stick to the Wikipedia definition of crowdsourcing – it is the act of sourcing tasks traditionally performed by specific individuals to a community or crowd in an open forum.  So, essentially Starbucks are using ‘My Starbucks Idea’ almost like their own Research & Development department, by having people suggest ideas, then getting feedback on those ideas directly from their target market – it functions almost exactly like a focus group.  This means that ‘My Starbucks Idea’ is exploring problems and generating ideas for new products quickly and inexpensively, they are building their brand reputation around this community and also gaining valuable insight directly into their target market.  It also means that they don’t have to reply on the in-house talent for all their innovation, as they can handpick and adapt the ideas that the community are suggesting.  It really is a fantastic idea, and I think lots of businesses could benefit from taking a similar approach to their SEO or web marketing strategies.

How can I apply crowdsourcing to my SEO strategy?

It’s really quite simple, and you don’t need to host a separate blog or micro site to do it.  Here are a few suggestions:
•    Ask for ideas on your blogs – Many modern businesses now host a blog on their website.  It’s a great SEO tool because it means (if you update it regularly), that it is going to be a good source of fresh content, meaning that your website gets crawled and indexed more often.  It’s also a great place to discuss any ideas you might have relating to the products or services that your business offers.  Through these blogs you can ask the community of blog readers you have to discuss the idea, providing your website with additional long-tail content as well as extra insight into the suggestion you have made in the blog.  It’s not on the same scale as Starbucks, but you are adopting their approach and it could potentially be very beneficial.
•    Consider hosting a forum on-site or at a microsite – Depending on the scale of your business, or the resources you can place on search marketing, it may not be possible to create a microsite.  If this is the case, it might be worth considering hosting a basic forum on your website, where users can publically ask questions, and receive answers from you as well as other members of the community.  Hosting a forum as a microsite minimises the opportunity and effect of spam, but a fully systematic administration of the forum may drain a lot of resources meaning that this approach may not always be possible.
These are just a few suggestions, but there are many others that businesses can use to create and promote user-generated content.  As I’ve mentioned, this can be a highly effective strategy because it can mean that ideas for products or services can be analysed quickly and in a cost-effective manner.  The additional long-tail content that is a by-product of crowdsourcing is an additional SEO bonus.  So, with that said, I’d love some discussion on whether you think crowdsourcing is a viable SEO strategy.  Please feel free to comment, and I’m sure members of the SEO Consult team will get involved.


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