How To ‘SEO’ Forums, Communities And UGC

16 September 2019

Posted in: BSEO

User-generated content such as forums and online communities are boons for businesses. They offer better visibility on SERPs, higher organic traffic, and better targeting for long-tail keywords. But how do you optimise those assets for SEO success? Steph Whatley offers us some vital guidance and direction.


Speaker’s name: Steph Whatley
Job role and company: SEO Manager at Blue Array SEO
Twitter profile: @SEOStephW
LinkedIn profile:
Link to the slides:

What was the talk about?

While forums and their online communities offer a plethora of benefits for businesses, they are not without their issues. Every brand using a forum should employ logical and consistent URL paths for each thread. Without these, forum management becomes chaotic and demanding.

Steph worked on a number of forums in health and lifestyle industries that were affected by two major updates, Medic and YMYL. The areas impacted included:

  • Duplication
  • Trust
  • Crawling

While these areas resulted in a drop in organic traffic post-update, it is possible to wrest back control by implementing some solid SEO practices.

When it comes to duplication, try adding a minimum title length for each new thread. Include the forum section and website name too to provide greater context for the post. You might also use autoprompts to suggest existing threads to the user to save them creating a new thread entirely. Guide your users and shape their journey to help limit duplication on your forum.

If you’re faced with crawling issues, use disparate sitemaps for each forum section, centralised within a sitemap index. This gives you an overview to help identify any lagging areas for faster resolution.

Similarly, conduct an in-depth log file analysis with two weeks’ worth of data to help spot problem areas too.

Finally, the issue of trust. Steph suggests relying on moderators (whether voluntary or paid) to help remove duplicate threads, kick out spammers or trolls, reinforce forum rules, and keep threads on-topic. Technical solutions include blanket-applying rel=nofollow to all outbound links as a rule, as well as regular backlink profile reviews to disavow any bad links.

Favourite quote

“People. Are. Selfish!”

Potential impact on the industry

The importance of online communities is crucial for brands. Providing a place for your customers to interact with each other and engage with your brand is vital for branding and growth.

But managing forums for SEO can be a daunting task, particularly after Google’s rigorous core algorithm updates. Consequently, Steph’s talk is virtually a necessity for websites with forums. She provides logical and actionable tips that make forum management straightforward and achievable.

In fact, Steph’s talk was so on-point, even John Mu gave Steph a shout-out:

High praise indeed, and a testament to the value of Steph’s advice.

Key takeaways

  1. Combat content duplication by guiding user actions, leaning on autoprompts where possible.
  2. Fine-tune your crawl management by conducting regular log file analyses and use separate sitemaps stored within a sitemap index.
  3. Improve trust by using moderators, disavowing bad links, and applying rel=nofollow to all outbound links.
  4. Use references and citations to signal trust to search engines.
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