Google's Take On User Generated Content & Quality

Jun 3, 2011 • 8:56 am | comments (16) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google TweetThere is an excellent post from Google's John Mueller on the topic of user generated content and how important it is for that user generated content to be written properly. Forums and comments are known for having horrible spelling typos and horrible grammar issues. Will that impact your forum, blog, etc's ranking?

JohnMu said:

If users are creating content for your site (eg if you have a wiki or something similarly user-created), then I think it's definitely a good idea to help them to create high-quality content, be that by providing a spelling checking mechanism, or by making it possible for other users (or you :-)) to fix quality-issues as they are found.

On the other hand, if these are comments or testimonials left behind by users, then I think it would be a bit weird to modify them. Would you like to have that happen to feedback that you leave behind on other sites? Personally, that would bother me a bit. As the site-owner, I think it's fine (and usually expected) to make an editorial decision in whether or not a comment should remain on your site. Ultimately, it's up to you do make a decision on where you want to draw a line :-).

One way to think about this is to look at what users are searching for when they reach pages like that. Are they looking for the content in the comments? If so, one solution could be to take some of those comments and to keep a cleaner version within your own content, referencing the exact user comment further below on that page. For example: "Update: In response to this article, XZY left an insightful comment saying ABC. You can find the full comment below."

Another possible solution might be to allow users to "+1" (upvote) comments, and to only show the most insightful ones by default. Users would still be able to view all comments (maybe on a separate URL that isn't indexed, or through the use of AJAX), but by default, the ones shown and allowed to be indexed would be the ones that your users have found to be the most important ones. Depending on your audience, I imagine that could result in the lower-quality comments disappearing on their own.

Hope this gives you some ideas :) -- it would be great to hear back from you regarding your choice and how that works out for you.

That is advice from Google's JohnMu - a Googler I highly respect and trust.

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

Update: Google's official Google Twitter account tweeted this blog post.

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Nick Stamoulis

06/03/2011 02:46 pm

User generated content can be really useful, especially for e-commerce sites. But I can see where the concern is. Site owners don't want to get penalized by the search engines for things their customers post to their site. The easiest way to keep that from happening is to police comments and keep the spam ones out.

Michael Martinez

06/03/2011 04:19 pm

That is without question the worst advice I have ever seen a Googler provide to anyone.  I left some comments in the thread.  Most people should not attempt  to follow John's advice, as it is impractical and would not be easy to manage. Furthermore, under some legal systems, modifying people's remarks without their knowledge or permission could be construed as a form of libel in certain circumstances.  It's not a method of moderation that should be encouraged.


06/03/2011 04:37 pm

The next logical questions: who is JohnMU? Google has 15,000 employees. Who does he speak for?

Jonah Stein

06/03/2011 04:49 pm

JohnMu is a search quality engineer and one of the most candid and helpful Googler who answers questions on the webmaster forums.  To date, he has answered over 8,000 questions posed by users. It is true, however, that the webmaster technically could lose some legal protection if they modify postings by users

Andrew Hattemer

06/03/2011 04:54 pm

I have discovered Google's ranking algorithm: 1. Is it Wikipedia? (then rank 1st.)

Michael Martinez

06/03/2011 04:56 pm

I know who John is.  And his advice is extremely bad and risky.  And the webmaster won't lose SOME protection -- they'll lose it all (in the U.S.).  You can kiss the Communications Decency Act's Section 230 Safe Harbor provisions good-bye if you start editing your users comments on a routine basis. Only a damned fool would follow his advice.


06/03/2011 05:59 pm

 You missed the point: does anyone ask him when doing the algo? I seriously doubt it. Google has a habit of speaking from 100 sides of their mouth and then penalizing people for that. Matt Cutts even said not worry about duplicate content, google will sort it out for you. Panda did, but not how we would have liked it. 


06/03/2011 06:06 pm

Apparently you know better than Zappos  (acquired by Amazon and worth somewhere near 3 quarters of a billion dollars).  This debate came up a few weeks ago, whether it is ethical to correct obvious spelling and grammar mistakes, not for Google rankings but apparently well written product reviews help sales.  Either way your comment is without question the stupidest, knee-jerk-hater-I-know-nothing comment I have seen in a long time!

Rory Mullen

06/03/2011 06:08 pm

Thanks for the info. I am a us born citizen and often times have a hard time with proper grammar. I truly hope Google does not penalize small errors, or I will dead in the water.


06/03/2011 07:36 pm

I know one thing I page rank 3 now after the guilt of my server aruba on 29/04/2011 and caught fire and lost page rank or anyone knows how can I get? thank you to all who can help me.


06/03/2011 09:02 pm

After reading this, I now have a very good reason to disallow text-speak  on every community sites that I am working on. Maybe it's good to put this  on user-agreement that they will allow editors to correct blatant grammatical and spelling mistakes.

Michael Martinez

06/03/2011 09:22 pm

Dear "guest", I'll stay with the court opinions I have read on the matter over the past 10 years, but thank you for sharing your insights.

AJ Kohn

06/03/2011 11:23 pm

It's interesting to see Google's view (if we're using John Mueller as a proxy) on the quality of UGC. I recently had a back-and-forth with Bill Slawski on the validity of using spelling and grammar as the basis for identifying quality reviews - a type of UGC. I still find that practice a bit troubling since there are plenty of reviews and comments that are valuable but don't come close to being paragons of the language. In addition, the investment most people make in UGC is far less than they might in a blog post or an essay or any other type of communication. Not to mention mobile where the time factor could be even shorter and fatfinger issues rampant. So it's the first part of John's answer that most intrigues me - a desire for sites to provide more pre-post spell checks.


06/06/2011 09:19 am

Amusing to see that the most recent comments on a post about the very subject of UGC quality are complete spam. And no editing of these comments would really change that. Just proves the importance of reviewing and approving UGC on a site.


06/07/2011 12:06 pm

Interesting that Barry let this spam comment remain.

Barry Schwartz

06/07/2011 12:07 pm

I miss some but no links actually work with GoogleBot. Thanks for the heads up.

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