Lesson From My Failed Attempt at Content Marketing |SEJ

Did you know that there was a forum on Quick Sprout? Well, there isn’t anymore, but there was one for roughly a year.

Before I get into my reasons for removing the forum, I want to go over the lessons I learned while running it.

If you are considering adding user-generated content as a form of content marketing on your website to increase your traffic, like I was trying to do, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Lesson #1: Google Knows What Pages Contain User-Generated Content

Over the last few months, I’ve continually received messages like this one from Google:


I didn’t realize how sophisticated Google’s algorithm was in detecting user-generated content until I received warning messages telling me which pages on my site contained spam.

The legitimate user-generated content never ranked as high as my blog posts did. It wasn’t because forum posts lacked links and the pages were indexed. It was because the quality of the forum’s content wasn’t as high as the blog’s.

Unless you have quality guidelines like Wikipedia does, it’s tough to encourage high quality user-generated content. And if you can’t get the quality up, your search traffic will be low.

Lesson #2: More Pages Doesn’t Mean More Traffic

As a website, Quick Sprout is pretty authoritative. With over 126,000 backlinks according to Ahrefs, I rank for a lot of the marketing terms.

The only issue is that I lack content. Over the last 7 years, I’ve only created 567 blog posts because it’s a personal blog. I knew I couldn’t write 10 blog posts a week, so I decided to encourage user-generated content as it would allow me to create thousands more pages and potentially rank for more terms on Google.


As you can see from the screenshot above, the forum was generating 43,467 pageviews a month. It may seem like a lot, but it is less than 4% of all the pageviews. Given that the forum makes up 89% of the pages on Quick Sprout, 4% is not very impressive.

If you are looking to generate more search traffic, adding more pages isn’t the solution unless those pages are exceptionally high in quality.

Lesson #3: Participating Helps Build Brand Loyalty

The beautiful part about user-generated content is that you, as the site owner, can participate in it. For example, I responded to almost every single thread on the Quick Sprout forum.

When a user had a question, I responded. People continually thanked me, and my participation helped build loyalty.

I even got emails from companies thanking me for my responses and telling me they wanted to work with me.

I never generated any customers as I wasn’t willing to entertain any offers, but I’m confident that I could have converted the forum into a profitable channel.

If you decide to create a forum, a questions-and-answers portal on your site, or anything similar, make sure you take the time to respond to your users’ queries. If you really care about your readers, they will feel it, and it will help you generate more brand loyalty.

Lesson #4: User-Generated Content Creates a Lot of Spam

The forum contained 346,299 users, 2,788 threads, and 12,731 replies as you can see from the stats I published at the bottom of the pages.


The number of users may seem impressive, but over 95% of them were spam users. My developer and I kept fighting these users off, but they found more ways to sign up.

Luckily, through Akismet, very few of these spammers were able to participate. Every once in a while, however, a few would get through, and I would get notified by Google Webmaster Tools through a message similar to the one you saw at the beginning of the post.

Additionally, spam comments went through the roof. Quick Sprout used to generate 1,000 or so spam comments a day, so it was possible for me to have someone go through them to make sure legitimate comments weren’t marked as spam.

Now, I was generating 50,000 to 60,000 spam comments a day, and it’s nearly impossible for me to have someone go through them. This was preventing legitimate comments from being posted on the blog.

For this reason, I removed the forum as the traffic wasn’t substantial and it was creating too many warnings from Google.

Lesson #5: People are Inherently Lazy

There is nothing wrong with this as I am inherently lazy too.

But with user-generated content, it’s hard to get people to add large quantities of high quality text. This caused forum pages to have on average 327 words, which doesn’t help very much with search rankings.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Google tends to rank pages with 2,000+ words of content on page 1.

In order to help boost the word count, I was responding to every single thread. In addition, I recruited moderators to help respond to user questions with high quality content.

But I still couldn’t get the word count high enough without adding tons of fluff, which I didn’t want to do.

For this reason, I wasn’t able to create detailed, Wikipedia-like user-generated content. When you consider that Quick Sprout gets at least 500,000 visitors on a bad month, it shows that you need a lot of traffic to build tons of high quality user-created content.

Lesson #6: Indexing is an Issue

When you have thousands of pages on a sub-section, you’ll notice that those pages don’t get indexed fast or indexed at all.

To fix the indexing problem, I implemented the following:

  • Cross-link – I manually went into hundreds of forum pages and cross-linked different threads with each other to help increase the indexing rate. I also did this with blog pages, linking them to the forum.
  • Link building – I reached out to thousands of sites over the year to encourage them to link to the forum. More specifically, I wanted other sites to link to various threads within the forum.
  • Leveraged press – every time someone interviewed me and asked me a question that was already answered within my forum, I plugged it, which helped with rankings.
  • Modified meta tags – a lot of the title and description tags on forum pages were too short and not unique enough. I fixed this over time, which helped more pages to get indexed.

Although doing the above things helped get more pages indexed, it still didn’t increase the search traffic to forum pages. The forum was bringing only 1.44% of my total search traffic.

Lesson #7: If You Can’t Build It, You Can Buy It

The one thing I was able to do with the use of cash was encourage engagement. Every day, new replies and threads were created as people participated on the forum.

I was able to encourage engagement in the following ways:

  • I announced the forum – I leveraged the Quick Sprout audience by telling them to sign up for the forum. This helped get the initial user base.
  • I paid bloggers to promote the forum – the most engaging users a blogger typically has are the ones subscribed to his or her email list. So, I was paying bloggers, such as JohnChow.com, $5,000 to announce the Quick Sprout forum to their lists. This helped encourage more signups and create more content. I did this with 32 popular bloggers in the marketing and design space.
  • I marketed the forum to new readers – every time people signed up to the Quick Sprout email list, one of the first emails they received encouraged them to sign up to the forum and create a thread. I also promised in that email to respond to their questions and help them out. This is where I got the most consistent engagement and new content.

If you have the money to spend, you can create more content by following the tactics I used above. They work and are still effective today. It’s just expensive.


I removed the Quick Sprout forum because of a few reasons:

  1. It was causing too many spam complaints from Google.
  2. It wasn’t generating enough traffic.
  3. It took at lot of time to maintain, considering the low traffic volume it provided.

I still do think user-generated content is valuable. You just have to figure out how to get your community to engage. And more importantly, you have to make sure the generated content is extremely high in quality and quantity, or else you won’t see much of an increase in ranking.

Are you going to encourage user-generated content on your site?


This post originally appeared on QuickSprout, and is re-published with permission.
All screenshots taken November 2014