In August 2011, as news of the famine in Somalia unfolded, a nonprofit group that delivers medical and humanitarian aid to people in crisis sprung into action. Ted Davis, the Web Development Director for the organization, hoped to reach lots of new donors so they could raise enough to mobilize an immediate and sustainable relief effort in the region. The problem? Very few people had ever even heard of this organization and their cause: AmeriCares. It turns out that AmeriCares is a deeply committed organization “that does amazing things with less money than the big name charities,” as one donor puts it. But no one knew about them.
So, Ted and his team at AmeriCares set about building an aggressive brand awareness campaign. They decided to use contextual targeting on the Google Display Network to reach their target audience in a powerful and cost-effective way. Contextual targeting meant that wherever and whenever online users were reading about the famine, AmeriCares could show their ads. The group decided to use display ads with both images and text to make sure they stood out when it counted most. AmeriCares also used search advertising to bid on important keywords for searches related to the famine as well as to their own brand. This guaranteed that they could capture any rise in search traffic from their display ads and from other media coverage.
“With 80% new donors coming to our site from our AdWords campaigns, we really see the value.”
– Ted Davis, Web Development Director, AmeriCares
Advertising with Google turned out to be a very cost-effective way to raise awareness of the AmericCares brand and their cause. As for results, they broadened their donor base at an especially crucial time. Ted put it well when he said: “The need was so profound and every day, human lives hung in the balance.”
Like AmeriCares, many nonprofits today suffer from low or no brand awareness. This happens for many reasons: limited media and marketing budgets, insufficient insight about target donors or constituents, lack of internal digital marketing expertise, and so on. Regardless, these nonprofit brands are unable to achieve their full potential to raise awareness for their cause, attract donors and volunteers, and ultimately, deliver on their mission.
It all begins with brand awareness. If your target constituents don’t even know about you or your cause, success is unlikely. Let’s explore 3 simple ways that nonprofit marketing or development teams can increase brand awareness.
3 Ways NPOs Can Boost Brand Awareness
1. Redesign Your Website
This may sound painfully obvious, but I am always amazed at how many nonprofits fail to keep up with the times when it comes to their web site. Afterall, it’s the first stop for most people who are trying to learn about your non-profit and its mission. These days, a poorly functioning website can be detrimental to the health of your organization. Research has shown that people will usually spend about six seconds on your home page. If they don’t understand your brand story and you fail to give them a reason to listen, a reason to care, a reason to look further, you’ve lost them. And they’re probably not coming back. Therefore, you need to grab their attention as quickly as possible with a simple and clear brand story that spells out your mission. If you can convince users to stay for a minute, then there’s a greater chance of them staying for longer, learning more about your cause, and perhaps, if you’re lucky, making an online donation. People will bounce from your site for many reasons, but the most common reasons cited include unclear messaging, confusing navigation, poor visual design, lack of call to action, and slow loading time.
“Awareness without action is worthless.” – Dr Phil McGraw
Most engaging and successful non-profit websites are minimalistic in design. They have intuitive navigation, visually appealing color scheme, easy to read text, and engaging videos or images that tell the story of the organization’s mission.
Check out the impressive design of the AmeriCares site today. It’s the simple story about the destructive hurricane in Texas and Louisiana and the clear call to action for support for disaster relief.
2. Implement Onsite SEO
Once you’ve created an engaging and effective website, you can focus on the most critical success factor for brand awareness in the digital world: Search Engine Optimization (SEO). To start, it’s important to understand the distinction between “onsite” and “offsite” SEO.
You need to make sure that the copy on your website is “SEO-friendly” so that Google’s crawlers find your site and rank you appropriately in their search algorithms. The best way to start is to formulate your SEO strategy. Part of this work will include auditing all of the content on your website to assure that the appropriate search-related keywords for your organization and its mission are consistently used on your site. Effective onsite SEO is all about naturally placing keywords (individual words as well as short phrases) throughout your content that are highly relevant to your mission. Look at the AmeriCares donation page, for example.
You need to be careful because if you try to load your pages with an unnatural amount of keywords to try to boost your search rankings, Google will flag your website. Even worse, if you repeatedly employ practices like this (what people call “black-hat SEO practices”), Google will tag your website and apply a penalty that will reduce your website’s search ranking. If your non-profit finds itself in this situation, the best way to get Google to remove the penalty is by removing the black-hat SEO issues that caused the problem in the first place. Delete any keyword stuffing, excessive backlinks and make your overall website more natural and appealing to your target audience. If your non-profit finds itself in this situation, the best way to get Google to remove the penalty is by removing the black-hat SEO issues that caused the problem in the first place. Delete any keyword stuffing and excessive backlinks, and make your overall website more natural and appealing to your target audience.
3. Implement “Offsite SEO”
Offsite SEO can be thought of as all of the relevant content marketing that happens off of your website but that is still intended to drive traffic back to you. For this part of SEO, it helps to form professional relationships with journalists and bloggers who cover the parts of the world where you work and the specific causes you support or the people you help. It starts with asking them to review your mission and author original articles that include specific links and relevant keywords that tie back to your brand and your mission. Not only can offsite SEO help improve your website traffic, it will also help to increase awareness, generate credibility, and enhance your reputation online.
Check out the story about the impact that AmeriCares is having as they ramp up disaster relief for Hurricane Harvey. The relationship with CBS drives significant awareness for the brand and its causes.
The power of offsite SEO rests on the fact that you are getting other people to tell your brand story – the story of your mission and how you help others. The more organic keywords included in your offsite SEO, the higher your website will rank when someone searches Google for that specific phrase.
Poor website design and haphazard SEO could be standing between you and prospective donors. If you’re lucky enough to draw them to your site and capture their attention, you only have 6 seconds to give them a reason to care, a reason to engage, and a reason to give. But, if they can’t find you, or you’re buried on “page 2”, you won’t even get your six-seconds.