When you read a blog post you can generally assume that there will be a section at the bottom of the post where you can leave your comments, applaud (or critique) the author, and/or contribute to the general discussion with the author or other readers. Including a comment section via plugins, 3rd party services or with WordPress’ built-in functionality is customary for most blogging formats. However, The New York Times recently broke the norm by integrating user comments into the body of their editorial content.
Curated, relevant user comments appeared alongside the editorial content in an effort to enhance the content of the article. The integrated comments showed a high level of editorial insights, aimed at engaging their readership and encouraging additional commentary and interaction. Now, as onsite engagement becomes a more critical signal to search engines, we became curious about how these types of content might affect a page’s SEO value. We interviewed Grant Simmons, Director of SEO and Social Product, to get his thoughts about how the integration of user-generated content with editorial content might affect content marketing and SEO.
Q. Doesn’t Google frown on blog comments due to the potential spamming?
Grant: Blog commenting has gotten a bad rap due to the ease of inclusion of keyword rich anchor text links in profiles, user names and comment body. The technique the NYT is using, however, ensures that none of this potential spamming should happen, as they’re being selective in which comments they include in the main body of an article.
Q. A few weeks ago Matt Cutts of Google spoke about content curation challenges, does this address that?
Grant: Matt spoke about ‘curation without review’ referring to the many automated systems that curate via keyword matching as opposed to editorial discretion. The difference is the value added by a human review in comparison to ‘intelligent’ dumb querying. The NYT looks to be applying its own relevance match and editorial voice in selecting what to include, so this aligns exactly with what Matt was saying.
Q. What do you see as the main advantages of this strategy?
Grant: When publishers and editors curate user-generated content correctly, by only picking relevant comments with high perceived user value and / or from high-value contributors, it opens up additional visibility, connectivity, and engagement around the article. That may manifest as additional links, mentions, or social chatter, which is all-important for demonstrating value and relevance!
Q. So does this help in other ways beyond offsite benefits?
Grant: Theoretically, these integrated comment areas could be used to improve internal crawl paths and content discovery via user profiles, user comments of other articles (linking from a user profile), outbound links to social channels/user sites, and other opportunities around consistent or improved site engagement, demonstrating to search engines additional site value.
Q. What about user-generated content? Does that still have value for SEO?
Grant: Almost any opportunity to have users create content for you can be good! Generally it’s unique, opinion based, and offers search engines a freshness quotient that Google especially likes as part of its QDF (Query Deserves Freshness) ranking signal. Having a level of curation – when done properly – further improves on page relevance, potential interaction, additional visibility and user engagement.