Using instructional content from contract writers to attract organic traffic from Google and Yahoo! had been the staple of eHow.com’s growth for the brand’s first seven years. When Gregory Boudewijn, General Manager, came aboard about two years ago, he decided it was time to try to take things to a different level.
Results speak for themselves, especially since adding a UGC program about nine months ago. Unique visitors are up 195% a month; newsletter subscriptions have risen more than six times; and revenue generated through ads, affiliate marketing partnerships and lead generation promotions appearing near the how-to articles have tripled.
Boudewijn and his team reached these levels primarily by acquiring user-generated articles at no cost to the company, which sparked a surge in organic search traffic.
“When we started, we had zero user-generated articles. Now we have 45,000,” he says. “It’s a testament to [UGC] that you can newly add it to a site and then have it be a significant traffic driver.”
Here are the four tactics they followed:
-> Tactic #1. Redesign the website
Boudewijn and his team overhauled the website before trying to entice people to write articles for it and sign up for the newsletter. They wanted an online destination more worthy of readers’ attention.
“The old site was very basic,” he says. “We wanted to bring a more contemporary feel to it, while improving the functionality side of things.”
Here are the five major website improvements:
- Social media tools
Good UGC initiatives always inspire a sense of community, Boudewijn says. So, they installed social networking tools for site members, such as the ability to upload photos, add friends and send personal messages.
- Post and rate comments
Facilitating viewer interaction around their how-to content to drive ad clicks was a big part of their plan, so they let viewers post comments on stories, as well as rate them with 1-5 stars.
- ‘Email a friend’ button
Next up was encouraging viral -- to grow their subscriber list. They included an ‘Email to a Friend’ button for all articles.
- Site colors
With upper management’s full support, they dramatically changed the colors on the website. They switched from primary colors to various hues of blue interspersed with touches of tan and gold to give the site what they deemed a more sophisticated look and feel.
- Left-side navigation bar
Boudewijn and his team added a cleanly designed left-hand vertical navigation bar that now features a couple of dozen content categories and the top eHow articles. Below that area, they left room for third-party marketers to appear via the Ads by Google network.
-> Tactic #2. Incentivize users
Next, they developed a “Writer’s Compensation Program” to grab writers’ attention.
“What happens is that people who write bad articles don’t get traffic and don’t get rewarded. People who write good articles do. It manages itself like an ecosystem. And any traffic that those articles get is not even by our doing. So, paying users for a share of the revenue that those articles generate doesn’t hurt us from a cost perspective.”
The program pays writers fees for their work, depending on:
o Traffic they generate
o Quality of their articles based on peer feedback
The articles also generate ad revenue, which bolsters the firm’s bottom line, Boudewijn says. Additionally, he explains that the incentive for the UGC authors to spread the word about their articles with email has encouraged viral activity and lifted newsletter subs.
“They post their articles on their blogs, where other people have become aware of our site. Whether it is a work-at-home mom contributing her stories or a professional writer attempting to build a resume, I think the blogger aspect in and of itself creates viral.”
-> Tactic #3. Promote program on writer sites
They got the word out to all of those potential writers combing the Internet for gigs by placed ads on:
o Craigslist.org (in major markets, such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles)
o WAHM.com (Work-at-Home Moms)
o TJobs.com (people who want to telecommute)
The team members did the ad buys in-house. And the ROI for these ads? Boudewijn would describe that only as “really good, especially when you consider the cost to acquire the writer and combine that with the lifetime value of the content. Most of the content getting produced is evergreen. The articles have a shelf life of five years and beyond.”
-> Tactic #4. Adopt self-policing
To help maximize ROI, they set up the UGC program to be self-policed. This let them avoid the cost of staffing with editors to review submissions. Site readers flag content abuses, such as plagiarism, spam or other low-quality submissions.
“We left it up to the community, and it has worked out,” Boudewijn says. “Anytime anyone contacted us about a potential problem, we took immediate action.” Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from eHow:
Past Sherpa articles on user-generated content -
How Online Video & UGC Lifted Conversions 27% for Youth-Oriented Site:
How User-Generated Content Drives In-Store Sales for Grocery Chain: