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Digital Marketing Tips for Charities

Times are tough for all of us and not least charities in a recession.  Charities are working harder than ever to justify investment in marketing but at times like these they have the much to gain from an intelligent and innovative use of digital marketing.  Here are some ideas for getting an edge online…

Be social!

It seems that virtually every charity has a presence on social media and why not?  It costs nothing to start a Facebook page or Twitter account.  It’s what you do with it that counts.  Before people decide to support a charity they need to not only agree with cause but feel some trust and connection with the charity itself.  Social media campaigns should encourage ENGAGEMENT and INTERACTION.  Compare these two Facebook posts:

“We have helped 50,000 children get access to education in Africa.”

“Tell us your favourite thing about the work we do?”

The first post, although a powerful statement, could be termed a marketing message.  Will it generate interaction or lots of ‘likes’?  The second post, being a question, is far more likely to generate valuable feedback about the motivations of supporters and get conversations started – that leads to engagement.  There is a place for both approaches but it pays to build a smaller engaged audience rather than large disengaged ones because engaged audiences are more likely to visit your site and donate.

Share your brand

In the charity sector it is crucial to have a strong and trusted brand that also translates into the digital environment.  Understandably, charities are very protective of their brands but should brands be ‘fixed’ by marketers or given the chance to evolve?  Consumers are beginning influence how brands are perceived and this may apply to charities too.  For example, if prospective or existing supporters start feeding back on the specific projects they want a charity to support or say they want to receive news and information in new formats there may be advantages to letting your online community influence the future direction of your brand.  A strong brand listens and is not afraid to evolve.

Keep active!

Until relatively recently many charities main method of communication with supporters was a six monthly newsletter about all the great work they have been doing.  Some provide quite glossy and professional publications, which have on occasions lead to cries of ‘they spend all my money on marketing!’  Charities have to communicate but the digital world allows that communication to be ongoing.  Charities have to invest time in posting relevant, high quality content frequently.  Who would donate to a charity if their website and social media presence has not been updated for 6 months?  The great news is that this can now be done for relatively little cost.  Time is the key investment!

Talk talk

FACT 1:  People love to watch short films about things that interest them (Youtube!)

FACT 2:  The internet offers a free distribution channel

For the first time charities have the opportunity to produce video content or audio in the form of podcasts at relatively low cost.  These could be a valuable tool in gaining attention and communicating the hard work that the charity is achieving on the ground yet many charities have yet to take full advantage.

This is about more than just producing good content.  That content needs to be found easily by existing and potential donors.  That means having an SEO and link building strategy to drive traffic.  It’s also important to not view this as simply broadcast media.  Include a call to action, encourage interaction and record the number of views as well as how many people share the content.  Great content could generate a viral campaigns that spread your message far beyond your core audience.

Measure success

This might sound obvious.  Clearly, charities should track their ROI for all of their digital and offline channels. It’s important to know where new donors first heard about you and track their lifetime value against those different channels.  Building a solid and loyal base of donors takes time so rather than just looking at short term revenue generation digital marketers should clearly define how they will measure success and look into the key metrics now easily available including:

  • Mentions of your brand online e.g. using Buzz Metrics
  • Search engine rankings for your website, micro-sites, blogs etc.
  • Inbound links i.e. how many other sites are linking to your content
  • Web analytics – unique visitors, page impressions, time spent on your site etc.
  • Social media metrics e.g. Tweetdeck

These are just a few tips but the most important tip of all is to have a clear and defined marketing plan for digital marketing activity which is also integrated with offline activity.  Charities who plan in this way can use digital marketing to help them through tough times while keep their marketing budgets in check.

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Getting your website noticed with keywords

Search Engine Optimisation is about getting your website ranked highly on search engines.  In this introduction I will look at the foundation of SEO – keywords.  Even people who aren’t familiar with the term will have experience of entering their own keywords into a search engine to find what they are looking for.  When a search engine displays your results it does so on the basis of RELEVANCE and AUTHORITY.

What is keyword relevance?

A search engine will pick up keywords from sources including titles, on-page text, headers and inbound links to a website.  If you are building a website and hope to generate visitors (and ultimately sales) you can’t afford to ignore keywords.  So how do you pick your keywords?  Firstly you need consider the following:

1)     Are the search words relevant to your business or product?

2)     Is there an appropriate number of searches for your keywords?

3)     How much competition is there for those keywords?

A brainstorm is a great way to come up with keywords. You want variety so this calls for some imagination.  Start with the obvious ones and then some up with as many different variations as you can.   Say you own a pet shop, some of the keywords listed below might be on your list.  The number to the right shows the estimated number of UK searches per month for each of the terms according to Google Adwords:

Did you find me on Google?

Pet shop (generic keyword) 368,000

Pet Shop London (geographic) – 12,100

Cat collars (product) – 90,500

Buying a cat (information based) 6600

Cat collars London (product/geography) – 91

These simple examples show the importance of getting the right balance between relevance and volume of searches.  The most generic search terms tend to be the most competitive making it hard to get a high ranking.  ‘Pet Shop’ might work for a major online pet retailer but not a local shop.  ‘Dog collars London’ is far too specific and unlikely to make you a millionaire.  The challenge is to find the middle ground and have fun doing it.

You should spend plenty of time researching your keywords before beginning any SEO project.  A great place to start is with the keywords tool on Google Adwords.  Experiment with your keywords and be creative.

Beating the competition

Don’t forget that unless you are providing a very niche product you are up against competition for the attention of the search engines.  Don’t be tempted to emphasise traffic over relevance.  You might feel great ranking higher than your competitor but if you are receiving so many phone calls you can’t deal with any other customers you will soon regret that approach.  Look for ‘long-tail’ keywords which deliver less traffic but have a better chance of ranking highly on searches.

How do you use your keywords?

Why not just pick one or two keywords and repeat them frequently to get the search engines interested?  This is the way things often used to work.  This sometimes made for uninviting copy which turned customers off.  Google became aware of this and started to look for keywords based on natural language patterns rather than mechanical repetition of terms.  This meant that webmasters needed to be much more savvy and creative in how they come up with and use keywords.  Today it is advisable to write your web content without worrying about SEO in the first instance then adapt your content intelligently.  Your content needs to be natural because search engines have gotten clever.

The importance of authority

So you have picked your keywords and you set about building your web content.  It won’t be long before you are at the top of the Google rankings!  Sadly, it’s not that easy.  Rankings are also driven by authority which is based on the ‘link profile’ of your site.  Links to your site from other websites help to build your authority.  If you get links from websites which themselves have high levels of authority better still.  Youtube has 565 million external links.  Twitter has 2.1 billion.  Adobe.com has 334 million but it ranks highest on the web for ‘trust’ because of the reputation of the sites that link to it.  Link building deserves its own post.

Is SEO harder than you thought?

In principle SEO is not too difficult.  In practice it can be challenging.  However, it is as much an art as a science and far from being a sterile pastime for computer nerds it requires innovation, imagination and creativity.  The relevance aspect comes from keywords and the authority aspect from link building.  The web is full of companies large and small that have built their success on an intelligent use of SEO so it remains a key area for any digital marketer and any company planning to sell online.

Is customer loyalty possible online?

The emergence of digital marketing and its impacts on customer loyalty have been massive and far reaching.  Customers will display loyalty for many reasons and the core reasons are the same now as they were in the pre-digital era.  It’s still about indentifying your target market, providing products they truly want or need, making them easily available and then building a relationship with customers.  So why has digital thrown the cat amongst the pigeons?

Go back a few decades and loyalty was often based around face to face human relationships.  To use retail as an example, think of the romantic image of a lady visiting her local grocery store in the fifties. People got to know the people working in their local businesses.  Even if they didn’t there were other reasons for loyalty, not least accessibility.  If there was only one grocery store within 5 miles of home the chances are you would use it.

As we all got richer and the economy developed we started to get far more choice about what we buy and who we buy it from.  Supermarkets, rather than just relying on attracting customers who lived nearest to their store realised that in a more competitive world they had to do more to attract and KEEP customers, hence the rise and success of the various loyalty card schemes.  Then the internet came along, bringing unprecedented changes such as:

  • Increased competition – The products and services you offer to customers can be compared not only on price but one a mind-boggling array of different characteristics.  Look at PC specs for example.
  • Increased choice – There is next to nothing you can’t buy online so products and services have to fight harder than ever to get noticed.
  • Ease of accessibility – you can buy a car off ebay, from your phone, while taking your dog for a walk.

These are just 3 of the reasons it has been said that the concept of online loyalty is a myth.  Consumers are savvy in the digital age and will seek out what is best for them.  So what can we marketers do about it?  In order to survive and thrive companies need an online value proposition (OVP), a rarely used term coined by Chaffey et al.

Suppose you build a new website selling music CD’s and downloads.  There are thousands of other companies doing the same thing.  You might work very hard on SEO to get high up the search rankings.  Say you managed to get it into the top three on organic search results on google (quite a challenge!).  Would that guarantee success?  You would probably acquire some new customers but would you keep them as you frantically tried to maintain you position on google?  Not without an OVP.

I tend to buy lots of music online so I started thinking about why I use the sites I do and discovered the following:

Site Main OVP Secondary OVPs Weakness
Amazon.co.uk Price Choice, personalised   recommendations Faceless corporate – no brand  engagement
Boomkat.com Music reviews Listen to audio clips, high brand engagement Cost, limited choice
Juno.co.uk Listen to any track before buying Choice, fast despatch Badly packaged products.
Databloem.com Niche selection Personalised service Lack of choice, overseas   location.

It was only when I sat down to look at the reasons I use these sites that I realised that they all have characteristics that differentiate them from their competitors.  My perception of each site’s OVP may be different from what each of them intended but all provide a strong reason for me to return.  Think about the sites you use and ask why you use them.

So why don’t I just use one site?  Is this true loyalty?  True loyalty can only be defined by buying 100% of a product from the same company.  That is certainly far more difficult in the digital world but perhaps rather than defining success by ‘loyalty’ online companies should just focus on developing something, fresh, engaging and if possible unique that keeps enough customers coming back.  They should embrace the opportunities that digital channels offer rather than being frightened of new challenges.  It’s never been tougher to succeed but companies need to keep two words in mind if they are going to keep customers – ‘add value’.