Feedback optimization: A user-first approach to SEO

In my last post, I shared how UGC (User Generated Content) helped my nonprofit client create authoritative articles that 1.) saved both of us loads of time and 2.) crushed it in search and social. (Update: that same client’s organic blog traffic is now up +776% Y/Y).

But the wins don’t stop there. I discovered that users’ comments on the posts themselves not only provide great supplemental content that may help the page rank, but also offer amazing insight into how to further optimize the content.

I call this “Feedback Optimization” – the process of using readers’ comments to improve a piece of content for relevancy and user intent. 

Doing this improved a top query’s click-through-rate (CTR) by +96% P/P with no change in ranking position. Intrigued? Here’s how it works:

Feedback optimization process

1. At the end of your article, include a call-to-action (CTA) to comment. A clear next step can encourage more engagement on your site. Simply ask users to leave their thoughts and ideas on the piece. 

Here’s an example of a comment CTA: “We’d like to hear it from you: what are some of the best ideas you have around this topic? Leave a comment below!”

2. Promote the article on social and email. Cross-channel promotion can spark a burst of comments from users who are already engaged with your brand. 

3. Analyze the comments, both on the article itself and on social. Once your piece has gathered a few comments, read through them and take notes of what you find. Pay special attention to ideas that multiple users share. 

And remember: it’s best to remain true to your business’s values and perspective. A user who simply disagrees with your stance may not provide the most relevant feedback. Focus on consistent, helpful responses rather than singular opinions.

4. Update the article to incorporate readers’ ideas. This can mean adding relevant tips that users share, or updating/removing content that has received negative feedback. The goal is to tailor your content to what your audience truly wants. Then, you can re-promote to get feedback on your improved article!

5. Add Feedback Optimization to your ongoing content strategy. Consider checking the comments on top pieces every 3-6 months, rather than this being a one-off project. Regularly incorporating user feedback can supply new ideas that keep your content fresh (which we know is a search success factor).

Now you may be wondering – will I actually see an SEO benefit from this effort?

The results

I tested this exact process on one of my client’s listicles. I read through the ~100 comments and quickly noticed a pattern: three of the suggestions missed the mark for a handful of commenters.

Fortunately, many of these users also offered ideas on what to replace those items with. We were able to quickly pivot the list items and descriptions to what our audience felt was more helpful. 

Note: Comment analysis may sound time-consuming, but for reference, it took me less than 30 minutes to comb through all the comments and understand what needed to be changed.

After updating the content and submitting to Google Search Console for faster indexing, we saw nearly immediate results. CTR on the best-performing featured snippet increased +96% P/P, from 14.2% to 27.8% with no significant change in ranking.

We also saw a +21% traffic boost to the page, with improvements across most keywords.

It’s interesting to consider: you can own the snippet—the holy grail of ranking positions—but if people don’t like what they see, they may simply move on. 

And even if you don’t own the snippet, user perception still impacts a variety of factors that may affect your page’s performance: backlinks, dwell time and comment sentiment, to name a few.

Short on comments? Try these 3 tips

1. If you don’t receive a lot of comments or social engagement on your own pages, try looking at competitors’ articles for the same keywords. They may have comments on their pages that would be relevant for your own content!

2. It also never hurts to directly ask (if appropriate) a few people you think the article’s topic applies to. Gathering even a few opinions can bring to light obvious ideas you may not have thought of. 

3. Finally, look at your article’s queries in Google Search Console to see if searchers are finding you for topics that you should dive deeper into in the piece. 

For example, one of our SaaS clients has an article about team meetings that started gaining traction for “online” and “conference call” keywords when quarantine began. We updated the language to be more relevant for virtual meetings – applicable not only during the COVID-19 pandemic but also as the working world shifts more and more remote. 

Final thoughts

Beyond the traffic gains, the point of this process is to listen to our audiences and create the best possible content to suit their needs.

I hope these results encourage content creators to prioritize user perception alongside the “search engine opinion.” Asking for feedback and acting on helpful suggestions is one way to create better search results that can truly make a difference. That’s something I think we can all get behind.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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