Why Your Business NEEDS User Generated Content with Tory Gray

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Are you missing the boat on user-generated content? User-Generated Content (UGC) isn’t just for getting testimonials on social media. In fact, today’s guest, Tory Gray, says we can use it for almost anything: SEO, user research, social proof, FAQs, and so much more. And she should know! Tory is a highly experienced digital marketing consultant and the Founder of The Gray Dot Company. With more than 15 years of experience in SEO and growth strategy, Tory has helped numerous businesses achieve their goals through digital strategy with a focus on technical and strategic SEO. On top of the great advice, we walk through a scenario: building a landing page from scratch with UGC. Don’t miss it! Plus, in the PRO show, we talk about the mother of all UGC websites: Reddit.

Top Takeaways

  • You can create full pages of content from UGC, from photos to social proof, to FAQs. 
  • Your process for collecting UGC doesn’t have to be complicated. You can have a Google Form or Doc with some pointed questions, or a swipe file. 
  • If you’re not sure where to start with a new product, look at UGC for similar brands and products. People are already asking questions online. Do a social media or Google Keyword search!

Show Notes


Joe Casabona: Are you missing the boat on user-generated content or UGC? UGC isn’t just for getting testimonials on social media. In fact, today’s guest, Tory Gray, says that we can use it for almost anything, SEO, user research, social proof, FAQs, and so much more. And she should know. Tory is a highly experienced digital marketing consultant and the founder of the Gray Dot Company.

With more than 15 years of experience in SEO and growth strategy, Tory, has helped numerous businesses achieve their goals through digital strategy with a focus on technical and strategic SEO. On top of all of the great advice that she gives us in this episode, we walk through a scenario building a landing page from scratch with UGC. This is something I personally struggle with a lot, so her advice was invaluable here. Don’t miss it.

Plus, in the Pro show, we talked about the mother of all UGC websites, Reddit. So if you want to catch that part of the conversation, you can head over to casabona.org/join to become a member.

Look for these top takeaways. The fact that you can create full pages from content using UGC, from photos to social proof to FAQ’s. That your process for collecting UGC doesn’t have to be complicated. You can have a Google form or a Google Doc with some pointed questions, or even a swipe file from things that people are saying online on social media or on review sites.

And if you’re not sure where to start with a new product, look at user-generated content for similar brands and products. People are always asking questions online. So do a little social media or Google keyword research and it will set you on the right path. This is a tight episode with a lot of great advice. So I really hope you enjoy it. But for now, let’s get to the intro and then the interview.

[00:02:06] <music>

Joe Casabona: Hey everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast where you get free coaching calls from successful creators. Each week, you get actionable advice on how you can build a better content business to increase revenue and establish yourself as an authority. I’m your host Joe Casabona. Now let’s get to it.

[00:02:29] <music>

Joe Casabona: All right, I am here with Tory Gray, the founder of the Gray Dot Company. And I’m really excited because we’re going to talk about user-generated content and then later on, we’re going to talk about naming stuff, which I’m historically terrible at. Tory, thanks for coming on the show. I really appreciate it.

Tory Gray: Thanks so much for having me. It’s gonna be great.

Joe Casabona: I just realized one of the questions I… in the little how the sausage gets made for the listeners, we have a pre-interview right before the actual interview. And I usually go through how to say your name and your official title. But we had a little printer issue that was a small distraction for me. Tory Gray is correct, right? I assume.

Tory Gray: Yes.

Joe Casabona: All right. Great. Usually, if it’s words I’ve never seen before, I make sure to do it. And then you’re a digital marketing consultant and the founder of The Gray Dot Company, but you focus a lot on SEO growth strategy and data and what to do with data, right?

Tory Gray: Yeah, absolutely.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. This is gonna be such a great interview. Now we’re talking about user-generated content. In the pre-interview, I defined it one way, which I think is probably the wrong way but you had a different definition. So let’s just do a little baseline record setting. What is user-generated content?

Tory Gray: What the heck is it anyway? Absolutely. So I’d say when most marketers and business people think of user-generated content, most of the time is they think about physical products and photos of those products that your users are submitting. So branded campaigns that you’re running on Twitter or Instagram or whatnot, to get pictures with hashtag your brand that you can then perhaps leverage on your website.

But UGC can be so much more. So UGC, user-generated content, it’s anytime a user is submitting content to you, the brands, that you’re allowed to leverage. Some of those ways in which that matters for SEO or, you know, driving traffic to your website via search engines is when you can create whole pages from that user-generated content.

So big examples would be stuff like Etsy, any third-party Marketplace, including Amazon’s third-party marketplace, users are submitting those to Amazon. They’re filling out the… they’re supplying products. They’re filling out the page copy for all of those things. They’re running that and managing that on your behalf.

Another example would be for Canva. Canva provides their own templates for users to be able to leverage but they also enable third parties to be up to add additional ones. You saw for the branding, users know that it’s different. Your blog can have guest content. And depending, that can be user-generated content. Moz, for example, a very big popular SEO tool has a “you blog”, quote-unquote. And that’s a specific branded place where they enable people to submit their very own content.

So if you as a brand are enabling people to self-service, submit you content that you can then leverage for your marketing purposes, that would be UGC. You as a user might have also participated in UGC by creating your Etsy or Amazon listing or submitting your course on a Coursera or other course platform. So it goes both ways. But I have historically worked on the side of the brand that’s collecting it and have to leverage that for SEO.

Joe Casabona: Now this is really interesting and important point. Because UGC is not necessarily new. Right? There are some old websites like AwkwardFamilyPhotos, is one website that’s all UGC, right, people are submitting their awkward family photos to display. I wish I could remember this idea. But it’s been like 13 years now where people would submit terrible stories from when they were intoxicated. This was when I was in college, obviously. They could be anonymous.

I had some friends though just put their names in. And I’m like, You know you don’t have to include your name. But like text from last night… this is stuff like maybe pretty early UGC.

Tory Gray: All social media is user-generated content. You’ve been able to platform. But the platform where no one’s there, and no one’s participating and no one’s creating their tweets or their Facebook posts or whatnot is a wasteland and it’s not useful. Facebook is a user-generated content platform in its specific capacity.

Joe Casabona: That’s exactly right. Which is probably why like Mastodon hasn’t really taken off as an actual heir apparent to Twitter, right?

Tory Gray: Mm-hmm.

Joe Casabona: People are still on Twitter. And I as a tech-savvy user tried going on Mastodon and it’s just like-

Tory Gray: There are barriers.

Joe Casabona: There are a lot of barriers. And even when you get on there, you can only search for search terms and like your server.

Tory Gray: Yeah, it’s hard to find other people on different servers to follow them. I tried it as well. It feels a little bit like an echo chamber. There’s just not enough happening. I feel like all the big people from Twitter, move to Mastodon, and if you could find them, it’s still just them talking. But there’s no engagement. So UGC can be as big as that. It can be a whole industry. You know, it’s even what Stack Exchange, or GitHub, right? People are submitting the content to these companies.

So it can be huge. But it can also be a section of your website. It can also be those images that people submit. It can also be stories. It can be from big to small. What I’m probably talking about here is stuff like for example, the Amazon Q&As on their product pages, that users can submit the questions, and users can submit the answers as well as the seller. So there’s lots of parties participating in the content that goes into an Amazon product listing page.

So is it content on a page or is a section of your site that you can enable? Like if you’re a Coursera, and you want to enable people to upload their courses to sell on your own site, can you enable that kind of functionality? Testimonials, reviews, those are also user-generated content.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. One more note on this that I just had. Well, first of all, in the Pro show, I would love to talk to you about Reddit. Because as we record this, they’re very in the news.

Tory Gray: It’s an interesting story.

Joe Casabona: Lots of user-generated content. And yeah, it is a very interesting story. So if you want to catch that part of the conversation, you can sign up over at casabona.org/join. But you’re exactly right. We have these whole marketplaces. I mean, Apple, their App Store is only mostly UGC. And they’re taking like 30% of all sales. So it could also be very lucrative to them. But for most people, it’s about the SEO benefit, as well as others.

So I think we talked about this a little bit already but the importance to brands and user-generated content, one is probably time-saving. Like they don’t have to create the content. They don’t have to go out and do a professional photo shoot that doesn’t look like a professional photo shoot, in your example. For my early products, my FAQs were not FAQs. They were just questions that I thought people might ask. Those were not frequently asked. Those are just questions that I thought might be asked. But with UGC, you’re getting actual questions that people are asking.

Tory Gray: Yeah, absolutely.

Joe Casabona: So, I guess how can brands… This is a lot easier in the social media age. But how can brands elicit and gather UGC? And then what kind of permission do they need to reuse it? I guess that’s a two-parter.

Tory Gray: A lot of it is the technology to enable it. There are certainly third-party out-of-the-box plugins that enable you to leverage the sort of social media product image use case and to embed them on your brand’s website. That’s one of the very few rare existing software support for UGC. Most of the time what we’re talking about is custom development to enable this. I’ve also seen some, you know, using Google Docs to submit your name and your author bio, and all these things, if you’re going to submit, say, a guest post blog. And then you might have to agree to some terms and conditions.

So per your permissions comment, you need to work with a lawyer, and you need to figure out how you want to be able to use it and what permissions you need to enable to do that. And then the user is simply opt in. Its terms and conditions just like anywhere else on the web. They’re submitting content to you, they’re allowing you to market with it. It doesn’t belong to you, it does belong to them. These are questions to answer. It’s not as complicated as you might think, honestly. It’s like working out a privacy policy for your website. It’s that level of detail for how you’re going to be able to leverage this content.

Joe Casabona: I mean, for smaller creators, it could be as simple as someone makes a comment on your LinkedIn post, and then you DM them and say, Hey, can I use this on my landing pages? Like, Hey, can I use this in payments, or whatever?

Tory Gray: Yeah, it can be low-scale. And to touch back on your point about why we would do this. Yes, it’s a lot about resource and time savings because you can scale more easily if you’re not using up all of those time and resources. It’s also about social proof. It’s about trust and validation. It’s about awareness and visibility. Because if people have stuff on your website, they’re gonna want to share it on their own websites and on their own social media profiles because hopefully they’re proud of it, and they want to put it out there in the world.

Depending on who’s contributing to your site, it can build you some trust in that way. So if you have some popular influencers, you now have brand association with them that can build trust in you. And you can potentially often become the lead brand in your category. And you can get more outreach, you can get brand deals, landing on your doorstep, new people landing on your doorstep, you can get link building. There’s a million benefits that can really explain the why about why you want to be doing this. Because you’re letting people do the work for you.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. It’s kind of personal to you or your company, or the people who are seeking that content. I wouldn’t say that this podcast or interview podcasts are necessarily user-generated content. The host should be doing a lot of work. I’ve seen some podcasts like phoning in, they’re just like, Yeah, submit a five-minute clip of you talking and we’ll release it. And I’m like, I guess that’s user-generated content. I can’t imagine how well that podcast does, though. But a lot of podcasters do want to seek big guests, because it gives them that social proof, right?

Tory Gray: That’s right.

Joe Casabona: Oh, hey, Seth Godin came on my podcast. Maybe that means I can get you know-

Tory Gray: Exactly.

Joe Casabona: …whoever next.

Tory Gray: That’s your reason for other people to join you, for sure.

Joe Casabona: Right. Right. Absolutely. And then social proof and trust and validation. I think this is something that even now I still struggle with because I’m very much like a Field of Dreams marketer. Like, Oh, I’ve built this thing and it’s good, and I know what’s good, so people should buy it. That totally worked in like the 1950s. It’s like, “Buy our car. It’s a good car. But you can’t do that anymore.” There’s a lot more information out there. There’s also a lot more garbage out there to be honest. So you need the trust and the validation and the social proof from other people who are like, yeah, Joe knows what he’s talking about.

Tory Gray: I mean, it is the online version of what hopefully people are doing in real life, too.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right.

Tory Gray: Hopefully they’re talking about you. And hopefully, they’re talking about you online in ways that you can use to help grow your business.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I taught a computer literacy class at the University of Scranton for a while. And one of the things I talked about was kind of how Google works and how page rank at a very basic level… I’m not an SEO expert. But backlinks were essentially the recommendations for a long time. It was very much like, if you wanted to go to a mechanic, you wouldn’t just open the phone book and find a mechanic. You would ask your friend or your dad or your mom or whoever, Hey, Oh, do you recommend the mechanic because there’s implicit trust there. So now again, like someone tweeting, hey, this person is great at x, that that is that recommendation, that backlink?

Tory Gray: Absolutely, yes.

Joe Casabona: You mentioned custom development to enable using Google Docs. There are some automation. I’m a big automation person. So there are definitely ways that you can automate this. And then as far as the permission goes, you said like, I’m not a lawyer. Tory, I don’t think you’re a lawyer. But you do want to make sure that you get that permission. And as the user, you also want to make sure that you are clear on what permission you’re given, right?

Tory Gray: Mm-hmm.

Joe Casabona: I saw a story yesterday on Facebook. This woman posted that this brand, this dating app for single parents was using her picture.

Tory Gray: Oh, no.

Joe Casabona: …in an ad. And she has never been a single parent, and she says she happened to be pregnant in the picture, which was taken in 2016. And now it’s being used as an ad. It turns out she was using some other third-party app that was also owned by this company. I mean, I found the ads and reported them because that’s still super smarmy. But legally, it’s possible that you gave them permission, right? It’s unclear. I mean, if you’re creating this user-generated content, I just kind of assume if I’m doing something on Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever, it could show up in an ad for something.

Tory Gray: Potentially. I mean, as someone who’s worked for these brands, if you’re gonna put someone on the spotlight like that, you probably want to ask for permissions. Do you want to feature someone’s review? I’m a services-based business. I’m going to ask for reviews, but I’m not gonna feature it on my homepage and send it to people unless they’ve given me permission, above and beyond verbal permission so you’re not putting someone on blast like that.

So there’s a legal permissions and then there’s just the moral and brand sort of trust relationship that you want to build with them if you want to feature them in an ad. There’s plenty of people that would be stoked to be in an ad are gonna want to share that. So you can ask them and… you know, legally, you might not have to but that doesn’t mean that’s not a good idea to build your brand trust. And to make sure you have the right person that’s going to be shouting that from the rooftops, Look, I’m on the featured ad. That’s really exciting. Don’t you want that as a benefit to what you’re doing?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I love what you said there. Not just verbal permission. Get it in writing. Get them excited for being featured. Again, from like a creator kind of brand deals point of view, I just want to point out… This is something that Justin Moore—I’ll link to his episode—told me about. Be explicitly clear about if you do brand deals where… Because I guess the one thing that user-generated content isn’t necessarily is when a brand pays me to create a reel. That’s no longer… It looks like UGC but it’s really a paid ad, right, if they’re paying for me to do it?

Tory Gray: Yeah, it’s just services rendered.

Joe Casabona: But still they might want to use that in paid advertising because it looks like UGC or whatever.

Tory Gray: Oh, see, so an example would be there was a platform Talenthouse and they ran the social network Ello. Ello is a social network for creatives. So people would share their art. And they would run these branded campaigns. So say, it’s Absolut Vodka or Ferrari, who are actual examples of brands they worked with.

So they have this database of artists, and they can say, Hey, do you want to try and help us create these social sharing images? And I think there was a prize. So lots of people’s would submit their content and then certain people, if they won, would be paid. You know, like, we’re gonna pick one. We’re gonna pick five. We’re gonna pick five major winners, and then ten sub-winners. And then suddenly, they have a bunch of different content that they can share with all these different brands.

So that would sort of be an edge case, that’s much more user-generated focus than I contracted with one user to make my content and I paid them and now sharing it and they don’t get their put their name on this. Whereas this sort of in between, you know, there’s a lot of different variation, a lot of different users who may or may not be being compensated.

Joe Casabona: It’s almost like 99designs. Do you remember that website?

Tory Gray: Oh, God, flash. Flash.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right? 99designs, for some of our younger listeners, was a website where you could basically submit like a logo brief and say, Hey, I need a logo for this thing. And then people would design logo and then you would pick the best one and pay them. But like that still gave 99designs a bunch of different designs to use and display or the person who created the brief to use and riff off of too.

There are a lot of really interesting edge cases there. But for the most part, UGC can be really powerful, both for the brand and for the creator. Now, let’s do a little case study action. This is not something that I prepped you for. But I thought of this as we were talking, right? Because a lot of our listeners are creators or small business owners, they likely have a digital product, like a course, or a membership. And something that you said a few times now struck me as user-generated content could be really good for research, figuring out what questions to ask. Do you mind if we do this exercise?

Tory Gray: Sure.

Joe Casabona: All right, great. We’re doing it live as a disgraced TV personality on set. So let’s say I have a membership, I have the basic outline, I have what I want to give the users or what I want to give the members and I’m building the landing page. I or the listener, where do we start as far as user-generated content? Because maybe I haven’t launched the membership yet, so I’m not getting testimonials. Am I going for FAQs? Am I going for people I’ve worked one on one with? What’s my first play?

Tory Gray: I mean, pre-launch you’re probably looking for a select group of people to review it. So you can get reviews and testimonials. You might even be paying them a professional or an influencer to put their name on it to help you get it out there. But as you grow and as you start to have members who are participating, then you’re thinking about adding, Okay, you have you can submit your questions. Maybe that’s their customer service and maybe you’re obfuscating that and generalizing it and putting that on your site as FAQs. So that the source of that is actual user-generated information but it’s not like you’re leveraging their content live.

I actually worked at a… Of course, it’s online courses, education, but it was in the crafting space. So this is craftsy, circa 10 years ago. And we had crafting classes that people could participate in. So this is literally courses people are enrolling in. So one form of user-generated content was we enabled people to ask time-stamped questions within the platform. And that meant that the instructor could see it and could potentially answer those. They might comment on I don’t understand, can you explain more about what you did there? Or why did you do that, or Hey, that’s a great new tip. I love that.

And then other users can see it who are also participating in this course. So maybe they run across the same question, and maybe they have the same thought. And then they can participate. And you’re adding these sorts of social media elements to it. This is not exposed to search engines, this isn’t gonna help you with your SEO, but it does help with user engagement. And it was really, honestly hugely compelling. And it was a beloved brand.

I’d say this is a key reason why. There were timestamps, people were just participating, they were having the same issue at the same time and they could figure that out, and get over that hump and learn that much more. And I think that that very much applies to any course that you’re getting. Whenever you’re educating people on, where does that question pop up? If one person thinks that probably other people are going to.

Plus you’re talking about all these different edge use cases? So maybe it’s a very popular question, but maybe it’s this, that only happens to three people in this very small edge case, and now you’ve helped them too. And now you have less work to do because you’re not answering all of those individually through customer service, you know, all of those individual questions.

What we also enabled outside of the actual courseware, you know, obviously, ratings and reviews. We can do that once people are taking it. But we also enabled stuff like projects and patterns. So in the crafting world, you need a pattern. If you’re going to knit something, you’re going to follow this template. So people sell these on Etsy. But we enabled people to sell it, and we weren’t going to take a cut. But that meant pattern providers were going to build a store on our site, and they were going to upload everything, they were going to describe everything, and they were going to sell everything, and then they’re gonna link to it. That’s a huge benefit for SEO.

We also enabled projects. So you built this thing, either from the pattern or from the course, and you’re excited and you want to celebrate and you want to show it off. So you’re going to submit what this is, you’re going to submit data about what it’s associated with, is it tied to the class, there’s good internal linking the top of our SEO, and here’s the pattern that it’s associated with. And here’s the group that it’s in. So we can say suddenly, I can start to rank for this particular kind of knitting, you know, baby blanket pattern, for example. Yes, suddenly you’re showing up for that because you have a bunch of things in that category. So you’re showing up for that. And people are happy and celebrating in their projects so they’re sharing that too.

So these are the sorts of things that are ancillary to your product. But suddenly, people have to give you their email to sign up for the services. Suddenly, you can start to email back at them. The ways that fits with your other channels is lovely. Because then we could also share these great projects, and celebrate these people on social media, where we had communities to say like, User ex shared this amazing and beautiful project, or this amazing pattern, you should go buy it. Don’t worry, we’re not taking a commission.”

There’s all sorts of like lovely brand, trust and love building associations with letting people to participate and show off and show all their individual use cases. This is the pattern that’s really specific that they really love that’s rich, original content for your site, which is really, really important for Google and search engines in general.

Joe Casabona: If we take a step back and generalize it a little bit, you know, if you create courses, if you give a talk… I’ve seen this in talks too. People at the beginning of like conference talks they’ll say like, “Hey, here’s a link, ask questions. I’ll have it monitoring up here. I can even add the questions onto the projector… the projector. This is like 1990… Onto the screen, you know, during the Q&A section. Stuff like that.

Now you don’t need to remember the questions that people asked during your talk. Now you have a log of that. Again, as people go through your course in your membership, you want to make sure to ask them… you got to ask for the testimonials. Most people aren’t just gonna willfully give them to you. This is great. And then again, it gives you a little bit more like user research, right?

Tory Gray: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: This is why people will tell you to drip out a course live the first time you give it because you don’t want to make a course in a silo for six months, and then realize this is not what people asked for, when you could have just did the first lesson didn’t understand what people were asking for. Right?

Tory Gray: Yes. Yeah, absolutely.

Joe Casabona: I have a very relatable story here. Again, I taught at the University of Scranton. I was teaching a programming course two MBA students. So this was not computer science. But they had a prerequisite of HTML and CSS. So they had a prereq of the beginner web development stuff, and I was teaching the advanced web development stuff.

And on the first day of class, I said, All right, so you all took the prereqs. So you know, HTML and CSS, right? And they went, No. And I said, you know what a web server is? And they said, no. Like, you know how to use FTP? And they said, No. And I said, “What happened?” “We all just got written into this class because it’s our last year, and we had to take it.”

So if I just forged through, and taught my original lesson plan, they would have been completely lost. So I actually had to rework the whole semester and also write like a very strongly worded email to the head of the department going, “What did you do here?” But again, in the classroom, you can get that feedback. Online, you need to ask for that feedback and ask, what are your biggest struggles? How can I help you the most? Things like that.

Tory Gray: So critical to meet people where they are like that, or you’re not taking them on the journey with them, and you’re not helping them—you’re just alienating them.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I guess this is another thing I want to ask you about too, because it comes up on the show a lot. Like, you need to talk to your customers, you need to talk to your potential users. I feel like there’s still resistance in that. People are almost afraid to get the real opinion of their potential customers. They just want to build something. Have you ever worked with a brand where there was hesitation in that and how you talk them through it?

Tory Gray: I think that’s a sort of early launch problem. Because I think you get over that pretty quickly if you’ve grown. I tend to work with bigger companies, transparently. I’d actually say there’s a way you can step into that that might help you with your comfort level, which is people are already asking things on the internet, people are already asking questions. That is data that you can get. You can understand what people are looking for on Google.

Google provides that to you via the keyword planner. So if you’re a paid advertiser on Google, you can get access to that data. You can also purchase a third-party tool like an Ahrefs or a SEMrush, and you can see again, what questions are people asking, and how often are they asking it? And then you can kind of answer those questions.

So if you’re an established brand, if you’re Costco, you can see specific to your brand and all these different questions that your users are asking that you can go about answering. You can also look, if you’re newly launching, but you have an established service line, whatever category your business is in, if people already do that out in the world. You can see what people are asking about the service line or the industry in general, or specific to your competitors. And you can understand where they’re frustrated with their competitors, where you can then meet that need.

So is a way to step into how do you get that feedback? How do you understand what people are looking for? That data is freely available to you, or you can work with a company like us that can help you process that and put that in a meaningful, more actionable package for you. But bottom line, this data is out there. Work with someone smart, that can help you answer those questions, put that out there. Then once you’re in front of users, there can be some give and take. Usually, they’re gonna submit their questions to you and their issues with you whether you like it or not, so…

Joe Casabona: yeah, really good point. So leverage social platforms, Twitter, Reddit, Google, and see what people are saying about starting a podcast, podcast automation, whatever, like whatever it is you do. I just came up with what I do. I also want to do a quick full disclosure since you mentioned Ahrefs. Ahrefs is a former sponsor of this podcast. I feel like I need to disclose anytime it’s mentioned.

Tory Gray: Totally.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. So summing up here, everything we’ve talked about with UGC so far, first of all, really important. Second of all, it could fill a lot of different roles in your content strategy, right, from people submitting full blog posts to helping you generate content for a landing page visa vie testimonials or FAQs, things like that. If someone wants to get started with user-generated content today, would you say like just asked on your social platform of choice? Is that a good starting point for, let’s say, the individual creator? Who is posting on LinkedIn or Twitter regularly?

Tory Gray: Yeah, I mean, they’re sort of already doing it. Like they’re submitting their own user-generated content to LinkedIn and then they’re eliciting user-generated content from users who might ask questions or [inaudible 00:32:07] support and might share. You can ask if you can leverage that on your website. You can start enabling, you know, actually, in the software, you know, building a way for users to submit those questions, or to fill out a contact form. You could have certain fields where you’re asking specific questions, so they can answer it. Will survey ask, but you know, asking pertinent things about their use case, and how that matters to them so you can exhibit that.

So if you want your testimonial, for example, you could ask what industry they’re in, or their seniority, or their location is a common one. So if you have that as a separate field, then you can then use that to share that information as all these specific use cases. And as you grow, you can talk about, hey, we have a lot of people in this industry in this industry. So let’s help for marketing so I can target them. And it’s also helpful just messaging to people and ranking in those specific regions because now you have those words on your site.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s such a great point. My friend Cat Mulvihill emailed her list—I hope she’s cool with me telling this story, actually. I mean, she told it at a conference, so I guess she’s probably good—where she emailed her list, and she learned that there was like not a majority but there were a lot of priests and pastors in her audience. And she helps people with their online video presence, right? So it makes sense because if you’re doing a weekly sermon, or whatever. But she had no idea until she emailed her list and was like, Hey, what do you do? What are your struggles?” So it could really unearth interesting data for you.

Tory Gray: Absolutely. They’re people, they’re unique. And you can figure out how they… you know emotionally, how they connect, or industry how they connect, or location how they connect. There’s all these different data points. I would also make the point that as Google moves towards SGE, the search generative experience that they’re working on releasing here soon, Google wants to do a better job with all these unique use cases that people are looking for.

So when they announced it at the I/O conference, they talked about, you know, the woman who is looking for a dress and shoes to go to this Miami wedding. And before she might have to look for dresses that are comfortable in hot weather and can handle sweat and were gonna be colorful and fun enough in Miami. So all these very specific use cases.

So as we look forward to this future that is very specific and longtail, think about leveraging that data from your users so you can show those use cases on your site. So if you’re scared about the future of SGE and you don’t know how to handle it, explore UGC and explore having users collect all those individualized use cases for you and share their experiences.

You can have the prompts where you can say is this for an event? What event? What’s the occasion? What was important to you about this? The color? The sweat factor. Whatever it is. Like, don’t just enable people to do it as big open fields. Get specific about the different use cases. Suddenly that prompts people to think about it. People also like gamify, if we want to go back to some retro marketing tech. Like you’ve filled out your profile all the way. This is an amazing article. Look, you’re giving the best review ever. Whatever it is, you can give them points, you can tie that into a referral or couponing system.

But you can get people to submit this information to you and then you can share that experience and use that. And maybe think of things that your marketing team didn’t ever think of, to your exact example.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, I think this is a really good point to make, especially with the like give them prompts, right? Because if you give people… if you put them too much in a box, but also if you put them too much in an open space, they’re not going to enter it. I’ve always heard, like, don’t ask, what’s the biggest problem you’re facing? Because now people are gonna be like, Oh, what is the biggest problem I’m facing?

Tory Gray: How do I decide which one?

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Just say like, what’s a problem you’re facing? Now, it’s like, Oh, okay. Good. So it’s like, if you give them certain prompts that’s like, not what did you like about this dress but how did the dress fit or how did this t-shirt fit, oh, well, that’s a very… what did I like about this dress? That I look nice and I got a lot of compliments or whatever. It’s comfortable.

Tory Gray: Exactly. People will just be like, Yeah, I liked it.

Joe Casabona: I liked it.

Tory Gray: What did you like about it?

Joe Casabona: Right? Yeah.

Tory Gray: And E-commerce sites have already started collecting height and weight information because different clothes will fit different people with different proportions. So I think we’re moving towards that direction but I think there’s a lot more to be desired in terms of, I don’t see people collecting occasion, I don’t see people collecting style. So if it’s a couch for a living room, I want this couch and it’s gonna fit my aesthetic of blank. That’s information you can collect and you can share and you can start to rank better for the term when people are looking for their edge case. It’s important to them.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s a super interesting point. Because services like Stitch Fix exist for that reason. It’s like, I don’t know what clothes are gonna fit me as a five, five bulky guy who was tan or whatever. But if I tell Stitch Fix all that, they have experts, hopefully that you can find me the right t-shirt or whatever. But having that collected by the actual brand will be kind of cuts out the middleman. For some people. I’m sure other people will… Personal shopping is probably never going to die, I reckon.

Tory Gray: Nobody wants to do that. I don’t always want to do that. I get it. But sometimes you need this special occasion. Like, do you need clothes in general or do you need special occasion clothes?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, exactly.

Tory Gray: People shop different ways. Thank goodness.

Joe Casabona: Yes, absolutely. So let’s touch on really quick, since you mentioned it, SGE. Google announced this at I/O. And you said it stands for Search generative-

Tory Gray: Generative experience. So it’s their introduction of the LLM or the large language models. The ChatGPT’s their version Bard within search directly rather than searching Bard separately.

Joe Casabona: Oh, gotcha. So you would say something like… let’s not prom… Oh, pretend you’re a New York, Italian male who’s five-five and overweight or whatever, you’re going to a wedding, what would you buy? But it’s more like that, right? It’s like, this is my build, this is what I’m doing, show me stuff. Right?

Tory Gray: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: Interesting.

Tory Gray: I mean, it’s broad. I think it’s mostly in applications of like local and shopping a lot of night.

Joe Casabona: Nice. That makes sense.

Tory Gray: So instead of trying to search for “I want to look for…” Because when you think about it, you’re going to a specific occasion and you have specific needs or requirements around what you purchase for that event. You know, even if it’s like a car. So for example, I took a vacation in the Caribbean, and we obviously… I wanted a convertible. How come? That’s an aside. But rental company is like, Why the convertibles? I’m literally in the tropic. When would I not be in a convertible? But like I’m seeking very specific information.

And, you know, marketing and corporations and big businesses don’t necessarily… they want to talk to the masses in general because that’s where the volume is. But there’s so much in the longtail and in the specific individualized use cases that they’re not serving because that’s not what the marketing team thought of and that’s not what they’re putting marketing out about. So UGC enables us to cover those different use cases and talk about them and use all the different words that people would use. Even regionally, people are going to call things different things in different areas.

Joe Casabona: Did you know that in the Midwest they call sneakers tennis shoes? Maybe you didn’t know that. First time I heard tennis shoes, I was like that’s a really specific use case for your sneakers. What?

Tory Gray: To me, Tennis shoes is just generalized. Like it’s not for tennis. They’re tennis shoes. People are like, Are they shoes? Are they sneakers? It’s a kind of a shoe.

Joe Casabona: On the East Coast, we say sneakers, I think in the southern Eastern area, they say gym shoes. And in Georgia all soda is coke, right? So like, I want to sprite coke. That’s what they’ll say.

Tory Gray: Just the popping coke.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah, popping.

Tory Gray: The plastic debate. I don’t know anyone calls it pop anymore. But-

Joe Casabona: I know. I live outside Philly now and they call Italian ice water ice, water ice, which is like crazy because that’s like the same state of two different. That’s the same state.

Tory Gray: That’s the same thing.

Joe Casabona: It’s water and water. Anyway, that’s super interesting. I just wanted to touch on that really quick, because I hadn’t really dug into it yet.

Tory Gray: Oh, it’s coming.

Joe Casabona: Awesome.

Tory Gray: It’s a thing we all need to prepare for. It’s gonna be interesting.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. I want to wrap up here. Before we get into the Pro show, of course, I want to wrap up with something I teased at the beginning, right? Because you do a lot of stuff with data. Obviously, UGC is just a ton of data that you’re getting as well. But you specifically mentioned in the pre-show, like using data to determine what to call your product.

This is something I am notoriously bad at. My members know that I’ve changed the name of my membership, I think four times in three years. Because I’m just like, Oh, I’ll call it How I Built a Pro. But it’s really the Creator Crew. Now it’s How I Built It Pro again. Now it’s maybe like the Automator workshop. I haven’t asked anybody. I’m just like, this feels right to me. So where do you get data to, let’s say, help you name a product or help you position a product? Like, do you just say like, what should I call this for?

Tory Gray: So there’s two primary use cases, or places types of places to look at. So you can look to search volume data. So again, that’s the Ahrefs, the SEMrush, the Google Keyword Planner, Moz, or whatever tool that’s going to give you data about what people are looking for. And then you can see how often they look for this thing versus that thing and then you could compare them.

You can also see, you know, Googling to Google directly, is this already taken? Are people already talking about this? How competitive is it? Are there people in my category attempting to already rank for these things. Because that’s gonna make it harder to show up. And it might mean you’ll have trademark issues. It’s similar to you have to go to your Secretary of State’s site, you have to do the trademark search. That’s another data source to understand what’s already taken.

Another data source that we really love to use is kind of the web as a whole, and especially social media sites. So I’m talking YouTube, I’m talking TikTok. Anywhere that I can crawl, I can get data from about how people are engaging with information. So, we’re talking watch data. How long do they view this video? How do they comment on it? Did they like it? Anything that’s externally available that you can get at scale.

So we can use the YouTube API to get a lot of this data to understand how people are engaging. So we use that for a lot of different use cases, one of those things is around brand positioning. So do you want to call this, for example, a web series or a podcast.

There’s gonna be people a different number of people calling it different things. So a web series can be also a podcast, right? Obviously, there’s some form function difference between those terms. But the example I use is the public HR company that I’ve worked with that wanted to figure out, do they call it HR consulting? Do they call it an HR platform? Do they call it an HR service? Do they call it something else that’s not HR? Do they call it human resources?

So it’s not changing their brand name, per se, but it is how they classify themselves and how they position themselves in the industry. So across all of your data that you’re looking at, because this is not the only data you’d want to consider for that, you know, there is branding, there’s the legal implications, there’s all these other things to consider. But are people looking for one thing over the other? And do we think that those people are your customer? Do we think that they can afford you?

Because people that are looking for an HR technology platform might have a different willingness to pay than an HR consulting service. So you can deep dive into the data there. You can also to my example, earlier, look for your competitors. So it’s a different use case about ‘what do you want to build in your course’? How do you want to be different, what topics are not covered? What topics are most popular within your course material?

You can see if people are looking for courses on XYZ, and you can see how frequently that happens. You can look at competitors and see if it’s different there. And you can use that to determine your content programming decisions. What do you want to make next? There’s a million different use cases if you can understand user behavior and what they hear about and how you want to leverage that?

Joe Casabona: First, really good point about “are these people your customer, right? Because your customers might use… especially if it’s like very industry or niche specific, they might be using different terms than Gen pop would, right?

Tory Gray: Oh, yeah.

Joe Casabona: So that’s really interesting. And then I like how you mentioned just search the USPTO… or the trademark office in your country, I guess to make sure… Again, I named a program recently Podcast Mastery. I just asked ChatGPT when I should name it. But since it’s an LLM, it’s pulling from other… it noticed that mastery just showed up a lot, probably.

So one of the things I did was go to the USPTO, make sure Podcast Mastery wasn’t trademarked. It was not. I tried to buy the domain from the guy who owned it and then he told me he had a trademark on it. And I said, Oh, that’s really interesting because I actually checked the USPTO. And he never responded to that. Obviously. You got to be using the trademark to get it. So really interesting stuff.

Tory, this has been really fun. I feel like we’ve covered a wide range of topics here. But I think the big takeaways are talk to your customers or potential users-

Tory Gray: Listen.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, listen. Listen. Very good. Listen, encourage UGC not just for the sake of testimonials or social engagement, but also to create better products and create better positioning for your products. I love that. So if people want to learn more about you, where can they find you?

Tory Gray: You can google Tory Gray or The Gray Dot Company, we will show up. You can go on Gray Dot Co. You’ll find us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Joe Casabona: Nice. I love how you said Google Tory Gray. That’s like a flex, right? Like Google and I’ll show up.

Tory Gray: It is what I do. If we don’t drop our name, there’s a problem.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure. And then also your URL is thegray.company. That’s the URL, which and it’s called The Gray Dot. It’s-

Tory Gray: Instead of a .com, it’s a .company. You can also go to .co. I got…

Joe Casabona: Love it.

Tory Gray: …because not everyone. That doesn’t translate well audibly. Visually, it’s-

Joe Casabona: Very cool.

Tory Gray: It’s a plan for brand. It’s a whole deal. It’s great.

Joe Casabona: So good. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time today. If you want to hear us talk about Reddit in the pro show and get that ad-free, you can head over to Casabona.org/join. I will include all of the links that Tony mentioned and some other relevant stuff in the show notes over at howibuilt.it/324. Going back to earlier, that’s why I didn’t want to change the name because the URL is just too good. So howibuilt.it/324. Tori, thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

Tory Gray: Thank you. It’s been wonderful.

Joe Casabona: And thank you to everybody listening. Thanks so much to the sponsors of this episode. And until next time, get out there and build something.

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