Understanding User-Generated Content (and Building your Community) | Sustainable Monetized Websites

Welcome back to the series Sustainable Monetized Websites, a series for online content creators and content managers. Who also handle monetization. 


I'm Monetized. And I'm Organica. In this episode, we'll talk about user-generated content and building your community. Organica, do you also feel there's someone missing? Yes, where's Aurora? Aurora? Aurora?


Hey, ladies! Have you seen Aurora? We haven't. What are you doing here? Oh, right. I'm Martin Splitt. I'm an Open Web Cheerleader. And I received a special invitation from Aurora to participate in an episode on user-generated content. 


What is User-Generated Content?


That's so 2008, by the way. How is that still a thing? User-generated content is a great way to engage your users on your website. Let me start by explaining what it is. User-generated content is content that users contribute towards and that is visible to at least a subset of other users of your site. 



User-generated content can include comments at the bottom of your pages, images, video, discussions between users, or complete pages created by users. This is content submitted by users who operate independently from your site. Frequently, user-generated content is different to the content that you create and, hence, it can be difficult to supervise. 


Any content published in your website created by you or your users will generally be considered together as a whole for monetization policies and ranking purposes. Let's deep dive into user-generated content in comments, forums, photo, video, and file sharing, and online dating sites. 


How Comments Impact Your Site?


Wait. Did you say comments? Really? 


Is that still a thing people do? What's the deal? If you want them, enable them in your CMS or block system, and you're done! 


You've got to take this more seriously, Martin. Comments are a great way for site owners to build community and readership. Because of that, comment sections are often used by spammers who run automated programs that post spam to abuse them. 


If you've come across comments that looked like an advertisement or a random link to an unrelated site, then you've encountered comment spam. Google might not always be able to differentiate between your content and the user-generated content on the same page, so you want to make sure that it meets the guidelines. Otherwise, these spam comments on a page can impact your site's rankings.


If you allow automated spam to appear on your site, you'll be violating our AdSense program policies and risking demonetization. Right, so comments are valuable, but I should take care of them so that they are actually constructive and useful. Exactly! Remember, your content can be undone by hateful or vulgar comments from users. Beyond violating monetization policies, this has the potential to hurt your brand and offend your user base. 



What is User Generated Content


That's why you should approach user-generated content with care, creating a thriving community while minimizing the risks. How can I stay on top of all the comments that users are posting on my articles? There are a few things you can do to that end, like exercising active moderation, for example, by publishing the respectful comments and filtering out the hateful or abusive ones.


Consider using a trusted third-party plugin for commenting. Many of these have robust moderation and content filtering functionalities. Having said that, another way to tackle this could be through a simple design change. Rather than placing comments on the same page as your content, you can transfer comments to a separate page with no ad code.


Managing Site Forums


At the end of your monetized content, place a call to action, such as "User comments" or "View comments." When a user clicks on this, they are taken to a new page with no Google ad code. What about these good old bulletin boards? Are they still around? You mean forums? Yes! They're still a very important place for online communities to gather around a variety of topics. 


That is good, right? Well, they can be an excellent way of fostering a community. People will share text, images, and videos with each other and get to know each other. Unfortunately, sometimes automated bots invade these communities and spam users. Yeah, I understand that, but moderating an active forum on your own can be a little overwhelming. Well, if there's an active community, you can rely on it and create different levels of trusted users. 


For example, consider giving moderation abilities to trusted community members or limit posting for new users. As your users provide their trustworthiness, you can progressively allow them to post directly. A variation of this could be to limit the types of content nontrusted users can submit. For example, allow them to post text but not images or links. Yeah, that certainly helps build trust in the community. 


Photo, Video & File Sharing


Also, keep an eye on non textual content, like photos, videos, or other files. These can be problematic in terms of adult content, copyright, malware, or even illegal content, and, therefore, violate publisher policies or cause issues in Google Search. Right, but... I do like sharing my diving photos and videos with other content creators and seeing theirs. Is there a risk there? 


As with text, they can be a wonderful way to build a community around shared interests or creativity, but you want to take similar measures as you do for textual content to prevent unwanted content from showing up on your site. That makes sense because Google might not be able to distinguish between the user-generated files and those I put on the page. Precisely! 


Also, these services can be abused to violate copyright, spread malware or unwanted software and violate publisher policies, so constant surveillance is important. I'm a bit confused. If those things require a bit of extra care, how is it with online dating and user-generated content that's potentially quite sensitive, too. 


User-Generated Content on Online Dating Sites


Online dating sites are places where users add their photos, videos, and other content to their profiles. They can often include revealing images that are not family safe. While these types of images may be relevant to the website, non-family safe images are prohibited under our AdSense publisher policies. 


Therefore, don't monetize pages with photos that are potentially non-family safe or dating profiles that may have non-family safe content. Also, if a site is primarily oriented toward adult dating, it is likely not compliant with the Google AdSense Program Policies. Let's say, I were the site owner of a dating platform, and users uploaded those pictures, would that still be my responsibility? 


If you want to monetize your content with Google, you will be responsible for all content on your pages where the Google ad code appears. This means that to participate in Google's monetization programs, you need to ensure that all content, including user-generated content, complies with all applicable program policies on pages with ads. 


Because users can post anything, you need to ensure that what they post complies with all applicable monetization policies. Hola! Am I late? No! Not at all. We were just discussing what to keep in mind when having user-generated content on your site. 


Great! Did Organica and Monetized convince you already about how cool it is when creating and engaging online communities? Yes! They also told me what site owners should look out for. I got to say I'm a little bit scared now of user-generated content. 


Best Practices & Recommendations


Fear not. Let's look at some implementation recommendations to prevent abuse. First and foremost, assess the risks associated with user-generated content before monetizing a page that has it.


For most publisher sites, we recommend not to place Google ad code on pages with user-generated content. Any page that displays Google ads is subject to policy enforcement. Google applies its monetization policies to the entire page. 


If, for example, you have a comment section below an article, and one of the comments a user makes contains dangerous or derogatory content, which violates our policies, your entire page could be demonetized.


To prevent this from happening, you can apply a simple design change. Move the user-generated content, in this case, the comments section, to a different page with no ad code. Let your users know that they can visit and participate in that section with a call to action, such as "View comments." Unless you can actively manage user comments, this is likely the easiest solution. 


Publish a content policy on your site. Setting the rules of the game is important. Clearly let your users know what they're allowed to publish on your site and what they're not. Block user-generated content pages to be indexed by default so that you have control over what pages you want the index to include. 


This can be done with a noindex robots metatag in the head section of a page. You can remove that once you have approved the content on that specific page. 


Another great and actually underused way of telling Google when links posted on your site have been added by users and not by you is to mark such user-generated content links in, for instance, comments or forum posts, as rel="ugc". 


That discourages comments spam and prevents these links from being associated with your site. If you want to recognize consistently trustworthy contributors, you can actually remove this attribute from the links they post. 


Enable your users to report violations. Next to each element of user-generated content, add a flag or a report violation option that allows your users to report potentially problematic content. Make sure you regularly review these reports and act on them. 


Yeah! Your community can support you in running a tight ship. Definitely. In that sense, recruit moderators. Right, because as your site grows, a passionate community will, hopefully, form around it. 


Then you can recruit moderators to help you review content and maintain a healthy community engagement. Disable ad serving until a post is reviewed. Only enable ad serving when you're sure that a post complies with publisher policies. Build or use an automated content filtering system to detect the violations.


You can learn more about content filtering in the resource linked in the description box. Use a Captcha on content submission to fight back against bots. Before users can submit content, ensure that they're human beings and not bots, For example, by using Google's reCAPTCHA. 


I see, so user-generated content is not a blast from the past but it actually continues to be great to gather a community and engage people around the content we produce and publish? 100%! Yes! Also, with this great power, comes a responsibility, too, like, for instance, moderating the user-generated content empowering trusted community members to keep platform clean and safe and actually paying attention to what's happening on my site in order to make sure it does follow the guidelines for certain ads.


Bravo, Martin! Remember, user-generated content on your site may be considered as another element of it as a whole, so don't neglect it, but don't leave it out entirely either. It can be a great way to foster a community around your content. 


Thank you for entering our community, Martin, and sharing your views on user-generated content. The next episode will be around tools and understanding their benefits when creating sustainable monetized websites. 


Like and share this video and subscribe to this channel so that you're the first one to get it. Can we actually do this again? 

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