SEO – When bad user-generated content happens to good businesses

SEO - When bad user-generated content happens to good businesses

Undoubtedly, the rise of user generated content (UGC) is one of the most compelling phenomena of the digital age. The ability for everyday people to become publishers through reviews, visual storytelling, tweets, and other forms of content has equaled the playing field between consumers and businesses and given a voice to millions. But not all UGC is good-quality content – which is a problem when poorly conceived and composed UGC appears on a business’s digital real estate. Put another way: no retailer wants to see a poorly cropped and unflattering photo of their storefront posted by an amateur shopper on the brand’s Google My Business (GMB) page. But when bad consumer content happens to a good business, the brand suffers by association, and the brand doesn’t always have easy ways to fix it. Here are a few examples:


One of the most exasperating problems businesses face is the uploading of user-submitted photos on their GMB pages. David Mihm recently tweeted, “#1 SMB concern overheard = The (user-submitted) photos of my business are terrible. How do I get them to go away?” For example, here are some less-than-ideal photos you’ll find on the GMB of a grocer on the north side of Chicago:

Nothing says, “come shop here” quite like a dark, blurry shot of your store, right? And the close-up of a shopping cart full of random products is hardly a call to shoppers everywhere to visit. It feels unlikely that many of the people who upload photos like these are trying to spam the business but, whatever their reasons are, the business is powerless to stop these photos from suddenly appearing on their GMB profiles. At best, they can hope someone flags them as being poor quality in the hope that Google will take them down — which is hardly a certainty given that Google already has its hands full policing more serious content violations occurring on Google and YouTube. 

Q&A forums

As the name implies, Q&As are designed to give users a forum to ask questions about a business, and other users may reply to them. The questions can solve legitimate customer questions such as whether a business is keeping special hours for a holiday. But sometimes the Q&A forum is unhelpful, as this example about an automotive business shows:

In this case, a user wants clarification on a business’s hours. The first answer provided is not only vague, it’s probably wrong. And the second response is no response.

Scrolling down the screen, I found that a user who provided a more direct and accurate reply (the store’s posted hours show it closes at 6), but it was not the first reply (until I later upvoted it).

So what gives here? What’s likely going on is that users are chiming in with answers, even unhelpful ones, to give themselves more points and rank higher as authorities on Google due to the volume of the content they produce. But more is not better.

Google has made some steps to improve Google this by autosuggesting answers based on content that exists within Google reviews. This is yet another reason that requesting reviews from customers is more important than ever. The more reviews you have, the more likely you are to have content that will answer your customer’s questions. Which leads us to the last example of poor UGC that can exist on Google.


Reviews, of course, have become such a popular form of content sharing that they’ve become foundational to building a business’s reputation and crucial as ranking signals for local search. Reviews remain compelling tools for anyone to understand a business and for businesses to have a dialogue with their customers. As we know, reviews incur their own set of challenges, and I am not referring to negative reviews, which a business can address in a number of well documented ways. Just as problematic are reviews that are off topic, such as a customer discussing issues that are beyond the control of a business (say, traffic conditions or weather), writing reviews that are difficult to understand (because they are poorly written), or raising points that are more appropriate for a Q&A.

What you should do

Unfortunately, businesses on platforms such as GMB are facing a couple of problems that are getting more pressing by the day:

  • The rise of UGC – in itself a good thing – creates a strain when the volume of UGC exceeds a business’s ability to manage it.
  • Platforms such as Google lack the resources to address poor-quality UGC. 

I don’t see those problems going away anytime soon. I suggest that businesses:

  • Monitor your most important platforms and create a triage for how you’ll handle questionable UGC content. I’d suggest in this order: 1) reviews because they have the biggest impact on your reputation; 2) photos because of their increased importance in search visibility; and 3) Q&A content. And I’d place your GMB page higher on the priority list of platforms to monitor given it’s the most critical ranking signal for local search.
  • Rely on your employees to act as your eyes and ears, monitoring content and flagging off-topic comments and questionable-quality content. Get everyone on the same page and show them how to upvote good UGC and flag bad UGC.
  • Develop a close relationship with Google or find a partner who has one. Google does listen. It does not move as quickly as businesses would like, but the company has every motivation to make its user experience the best it can be. Poor-quality UGC helps no one.
  • Consider an automated tool to help you monitor and manage your brand’s content online.

You may lack complete power over your brand on sites such as GMB. But you can exert influence.

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

About The Author

Adam Dorfman is a technology and digital marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience. His expertise spans all aspects of product development as well as scaling product and engineering teams. He has been in the SEO and Local SEO space since 1999. In 2006, Adam co-founded SIM Partners and helped create a business that made it possible for companies to automate the process of attracting and growing customer relationships across multiple locations. Adam is currently director of product at Reputation where he and his teams are integrating location-based marketing with reputation management and customer experience. Adam contributes regularly to publications such as Search Engine Land, participates in Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey, and regularly speaks at search marketing events such as Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West and State of Search as well as industry-specific events such as HIMSS. Follow him on Twitter @phixed.

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