Online Communities: A Bonanza of Content for Searchers and Search Engines

March 26, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

More social media on the way, kids, so hang in there. Up on stage we have Rebecca Lieb moderating solo presenter Barbara Coll

Michael Gray is seated to my right and playing with his iPhone. I’m thinking of all the horrible things I could do to his phone. Like dumping his Coke on it. Hiding it under one of the seats in this large room. Throwing it like a football. Or maybe punting it. Accidentally stepping on it. Using it to barter for a chocolate bar. Hmm, okay, on to the session.

Rebecca says the first words of any great presentation are, “is this thing on’. Heh. And just like that, Barbara is up.

What are communities? She started looking for a definition. It’s a discussion. An enagement. A place to start a conversation. That’s the easy definition. The harder is that it’s a dream. They’re a marketing tool. A customer support environment. Communities are a feedback tool into the product development life cycle.  Lastly, they’re food for search engines.

Gartner Group talked about platforms that the communities were built on top of. Communities are information knowledge capture. Capitalize on community involvement to drive higher leverage and productivity. Delegate to the community what the community can do more quickly and effectively. Relevant for improving business processes that rely on access to people sharing best practices. They’re driving change.

Suggestions for external community support

  • Jive Software – VMWare, Nike, Apple
  • LiveWorld
  • Telligent
  • Small Word Labs
  • Vinette

Lithium:  Promotes itself as something that will give you ROI. They say their platform will encourage people to innovate. She thinks that’s a great thing to think about. They run the Nintendo Tech Forum.

So What Do You Need To Have a Forum?

  • Customers talking about you – or seed it
  • Searchable content for users, for search engines
  • Consumers – travel is the classic
  • Restaurants – try search for [bin 36] on
  • Apparel – Nike Online
  • Business site – the best and first DELL

The first step for building a community is making sure it’s indexable.  You can screw it up really easily by making it members only, password protected. You want people to find the community so they can be engaged. You want to have content outside of the signed up membership.  If you put a nofollow or a noindex on, you’ve just killed your community. A lot of people are doing that to try and aid duplicate content.

Optimizing the Content

  • Moderator/Community Manager: To create topics/threads (that help with all things mentioned in defintions) with top keywords. Must be relevant.
  • Tag and categorize entries by community. It adds keywords the page. Tends to be reused if they are suggested by the system.
  • Breadcrumb of thread with new headlines
  • Dynamic creation of meta tags and titles.

Case Study: VMware Forums

Goal: Create a robust community platform for VMware’s enthusiastic forum crowd.

  • What happened on launch?
    •  SEO Perspective: Jive has the most recently accessed pages in cache – which is correct
    • Google fills the Jive cache with old posts because the bot touches every page – makes them all recent
  • Solution: Mirroring the software just for Google.
  • Platform: Jive Software
  • Current status: Mirror still in place, looking to use canonical tag to help eliminate duplicate content. 

Tangent: More and more people are searching with more and more words. Eight+ words are on the rise.

Don’t leave it to the search engines to figure out what are the most important pages of your site. Use an XML Sitemap for the key, permanent forum areas.

Domain Usage

  • Subdomains
    • Keep the possibility of another listing to dominate the first page.
    • Continues the power and influence of the main site.
  • Directory
    • Internal linking opportunities of power transfer and sharing are higher
    • At root is a powerful position
  • Separate Site
    • Doesn’t take advantage of company domain name
    • Another (!) site to manage


Community content is super rich, but as a company that needs to sell products do you want to drive people deep into the site where there may not be much marketing selling and maybe even negative stuff going on?

Barbara: She’s a direct response marketer. She doesn’t want to take someone where there isn’t some upselling situaiton. She doesn’t really have an answer to that question herself.

[Rebecca goes into the audience to get answers and opinions. Oh, Jesus.]

One audience members asks if that wouldn’t help with company transparency? Barbara agrees that it might. This isn’t all about search. If we’re going to be transparent to people, then we’re going to be transparent to the search engines, which means people will see the nasty stuff, too.

If a company has recently launched a community, do you have tactics for how to build it with limited resources?

Rebecca: You can build them for little cost. It’s social media.

Barbara: Yes, but can a search engine see a Facebook group?  How do you populate a group? You buy people. She’s a marketer. She’d go in and start most of the discussions herself. The trust and the transparency will come, but you have to get it started.

Rebecca says that there are company’s that promote the most active/intelligent members of their community with benefits. Barbara agrees and says that once you find them, you have to empower them and nurture them. If we’re talking about transparency and trust, you’re going to have to clean it up sooner or later. You can moderate your forum. If people say they hate you, you can edit that out. [feels uneasy. doesnt like where this is going.] Again, she restates that she’s a marketer. Clearly.

One audience member [suddenly we’re on a game show] says he doesn’t try to script anything, he goes external to the community to find where similar conversations are going on and inviting them into THEIR community. See. I like that a lot better.  He asks a really good questions and says just because marketers CAN start a community on their own and manufacture it, does that mean they SHOULD. I’d argue that no, we shouldn’t. It’s back to the fake avatars thing. I don’t like it.

One of the things we find is that you have a bounce rate on the community pages. How do you drive people into the rest of the site?

Barbara doesn’t know.

Another audience member says they have the same experience. People come into the communities but the forum is a walled off garden and they have a hard time driving people into the site. They’re agnostic about their communities because they know that section of the site isn’t diving deeper. Those people are near impossible to sell or monetize with any type of advertising platform.  And then once a month, there’s a big drama that someone has to spend their day putting out the fire and wondering what they did all day. [Hee. So been there.] These communities have traction, but what do we do with them?

Barbara says that as the search engines get smarter, they’ll be indexing deeper pages and we’ll be able to bring people deeper into the site.

Do you want to put ‘marketing/selling’ deep into the site in the forums and communities?

Barbara: Coupons are just the hottest thing in the world online right now. Can you not offer a person a coupon if they dive deeper into their Web site? Just an idea. She knows that the B2B sites list all the white papers and data sheets that are discussed on the products. They offer incentives.

Rebecca: You can make selling part of the community. It’s people talking about the uses of the product or the service. The potential add ons, etc.

And audience member says one of the issues with this session is that the term “community” is just too broad. There are too many types of communities. We’re talking B2B, B2C. We need a more focused session that talks about the different scenarios.

Another audience member says that benevolent information marketing is not hated by most forum people. Any person who is on a forum and thinking its NOT being monitored by company is naive. She likes the coupon idea.

What about communities that have public and private content? How do you feel about those? Are they ethical?

Barbara laughs at the term “ethical”. Again reinforcing that “marketer” thing. I dont understand why being a “marketer” trumps being human. Is it just me? Probably. Anyway, Barbara thinks you should definitely have public and private information. There is an elite-ness of being a member of something.

One audience member says its a marketing strategy. You can collect customer information and offer rewards.

How does a new company start a community?

Barbara: She doesn’t know. She gets jaded by people who try and can’t follow through on it. Rebecca says to watch other communities and look for pockets where you can join in.

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