VOC, UGC & SEO – Work it baby! (’cuz it really does work…)

UGC (user generated content) is fast becoming more and more important to the success of online retailers, and to businesses that rely on their website to drive brand exposure and generate contacts.

 

Which forms of UGC to leverage, why, where and how can be a challenge to even the most professional marketing team.  Please read more about UGC and SEO here.

 

VOC (voice of customer) is another part of the same puzzle. Traditionally:

 

  • “…[VOC] is a market research technique that produces a detailed set of customer wants and needs, organized into a hierarchical structure, and then prioritized in terms of relative importance and satisfaction with current alternatives.” Wikipedia

 

Usability Study

I was recently provided detailed information as part of a team knowledge sharing initiative on a usability study that one of my colleagues spear-headed across Canada and the UK.

 

It’s interesting that no matter how objective you try to be, once you have been working on a specific account for any period of time, you will be myopic on certain points, complacent on others and oblivious of yet more.

 

Some feedback from these studies that I can freely share include the following three general points:

 

  1. Don’t ever assume that your online market is nearly as tech savvy or internet experienced as you or your team are. Issues with misunderstood navigation, unseen buttons, confusion on how to even begin to find the site from the engines were not uncommon, even though most issues identified seemed like total no-brainers to the more internet experienced internal team – even those not on the accounts in question – we’re not (in most cases) selling to our technical/internet peers. I’m not saying that our target markets are less intelligent, I’m saying that they don’t spend all day working in html, refining Google advanced searches, using Google and Yahoo operators, visiting numerous completely diverse sites for research, competitive intelligence or pure interest reasons.
  2. Don’t assume that features and functionalities you think will be of great interest and benefit to the customer, actually are. Mistrust, uncertainty and the pure search and swap instinct is very prevalent. If you are offering something fancy or informative, make sure you provide them with full information on what they are getting, whether it be in the form of information during a download, or an explanation to the effect that the retailer testimonials they are seeing are not purely self-promotion (link to the original – that simple, but so often overlooked – heck, we know it’s real… right?).
  3. Many usability victims… err, test subjects actually think that they are only expected to provide negative feedback. Make sure you ask them to tell you what’s positive. In some cases, it might be the opposite (less common) so ensure that you tell them you want feedback on both their positive and negative experiences and feelings. Try to get them to quantify all feedback via a simple scoring system including positive and negative scoring throughout to keep that top of mind.

 

What about UGC?

Well, let’s backtrack a little. This usability study was regarding test subjects’ experiences with the web site itself. Admittedly unless a site is particularly awful or particularly blindingly awesome, not too many people comment on the actual site usability of their own free will, and usability is pretty darn important if you’re involved in ecommerce.

 

BUT… what about conducting a usability test for an online application. I guarantee some of the feedback would be ‘great, fast and easy’ as well as ‘so slow’. Well sometimes, UGC is as effective if not MORE so than usability studies for gaining real time interaction and feedback from real customers as they are using your app/product/service. So what can you do?

 

  1. track the social networks (Google alerts; Radian6; Twitter Search and more)
  2. aggregate the feedback and see which comments on which features are the most prevalent (more ‘this is slow’ or more ‘this rocks with speed’)
  3. respond to every positive and negative comment and follow up with PR and feedback where possible/required and take it offline if it gets too long, or too confusing – you have other followers
  4. feed learnings back to product development and marketing on a regularly scheduled basis (don’t ping them with every tweet, post or comment; they’ll hunt you down and disconnect you)
  5. blog about interactions with the socnet including after-the-fact product/app/service fixes based on feedback with a big thank you to all followers/commenter’s etc
  6. link out of comments and twitter posts where possible and relevant to followers/readers to specific pages within your site encouraging readers to go to the site with a snippet of highly relevant info followed by an ellipsis ‘…’.
  7. Never comment or tweet/forum etc spam. Just don’t do it.
  8. get back to initial pure voluntary commentators/tweet peeps when you have a usability study or other research factor on a feature or function as a potential add to your test target market – it’s predefined and you already have an in… awesome J

 

Why bother with UGC when we have VOC?

  • It is likely that when you really impress someone on the socnets (social networks) with customer service, you may well turn them into a fan as opposed to a neutral or a potential/real detractor.
  • It is possible that you will generate a ready made contributor base for future usability studies
  • It is possible that your socnet folks are UGC addicts themselves with their own blogs, and if you engage them effectively, they may very well blog about your product, your site, or your twitter account/blog/forum etc. All exposure in the socnets that is positive is a good thing, weither indirectly or directly for SEO – both in terms of pure backlinks, but also in terms of SERP real estate and exposure… this is the minefield of the longtail, if you can harness it effectively. Referral traffic is very likely to spike if you make this work, so don’t keep your SEO analytics figures (if you use GA for example) limited to actual organic/non-paid traffic; after a socnet initiative go in and measure before and after referral traffic along with the long tail of referral sites… you may be very pleasantly surprised. I did that today for an SEO post mortem one of our sites – over a 200% increase in referral traffic over a specified period of time. (You can monitor Twitter backlinks currently with BackTweets – one of my faves).
  • MOST importantly, if you have free VOC in the socnets, track it, harness it and use it as real time, real people studies of how your real customers feel about your offering (product/service/app etc) in real time. It’s the best kind of VOC out there from a purely qualitative point of view if you record and feed it back accurately and appropriately. It may not be quantitative, but you can assign values to comments (positive and negative) and thus determine a mean value as well as outliers and other statistically significant data to provide some form of non-qualitative data to your stakeholders. Make sure you explain your methodology, but don’t blind them with your process.

 

Conclusion

UGC and VOC are part of the same puzzle – they’re just on different sides of the board. Don’t lose one, or you may scupper the other.

 

 

 

Follow Laura on Twitter :)


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