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Search engines: help donors find you on the Web.

"This is the year of e-philanthropy," proclaimed Judy Kerr, director of Canadian programs with the Canadian Hunger Foundation (CHF) in Ottawa, Canada. CHF recently completed a successful fundraising campaign using search engine giants Google and Yahoo.

Some of the larger nonprofits have such a high brand identity that keyword buys are not yet cost-effective. But for smaller, regional charities keyword buys can be an invaluable tool.

CoachArt, a Los Angeles nonprofit that provides free, personal lessons in the arts and athletics to youngsters with life-threatening illnesses, has also had terrific results working with the Google Web search engine. The organization has seen an increase of 50 percent in volunteers through a Beta program with Google.

Two years ago, Google launched Google Grants. It provides in-kind advertising for nonprofits, placing the nonprofit on the Sponsored Links section of Google's search pages. By being listed on the Sponsored Links section, which is located to the right on all Google search pages, a nonprofit potentially can get more visitors to its site.

Zander Lurie, founder of CoachArt, said prior to becoming part of the Google Grant program "people infrequently tripped on our Web site" and the organization would occasionally get volunteer coaches that way. However, in the two years the organization has been part of the grant program there has been a marked increase in volunteer coaches. "Now approximately 40 percent of our coaches find us on the Web," Lurie said.

CoachArt also gets a number of volunteer coaches through referrals from other coaches and those coaches, for the most part, found the organization on the Web.

"Since we began participating in Google's program, we've lowered our coach acquisition costs by over 75 percent," Lurie said. "Instead of 'dialing for dollars' or 'pounding the pavement' looking for coaches who want to participate in the program, we can focus our time recruiting more kids to pair with our growing network of coaches. Search technology has totally transformed our operations," he explained.

CoachArt matches volunteer coaches, in areas of art, such as bookmaking, ceramics, computers, dance, drama, photography, film making, piano and other musical instruments and sports, such as baseball, bowling, swimming, tennis and yoga, with chronically ill youngsters.

CoachArt, which is also associated with Ronald McDonald House, matched 1,000 youngsters with coaches in 2004 and hopes to do even better this year. Currently only youngsters in Los Angeles and its environs benefit from the program, but Lurie said he hopes to expand to San Francisco and New York City in the near future.

The dark side

Mike Johnston, founder of the Toronto, Canada-based Hewitt and Johnston Consultants and HJC New Media, said Web search engines are another way for nonprofits to get more traffic to their Web site.

But as all Jedi knights know, the force has a good side and a dark side. The same can be said for Web searches as well.

One of the main ways that nonprofits can get noticed on Web search engines is through keywords. These are words, chosen and purchased by the nonprofit that when searched at places like Google and Yahoo! will lead a person to that nonprofit's site.

Johnston cautioned, though, that nonprofits should be careful whom they hook up with because there is always the chance that through the use of some keywords, prospective donors looking for the organization's Web site might end up some place completely different, such as Wanda's House of Exotic Delights.

While a Web search for Wanda's place reveals that such a place doesn't yet exist, a search for Free Speech Coalition turns up an organization of nonprofits at freespeechcoalition.org and for-profits that raise money to protect First Amendment Rights.

However, the freespeechcoalition.com site looks a lot like the Free Speech Coalition.org site, but it's not. The dotcom site is an adult entertainment trade association.

The same holds true for whitehouse.com, which is a portal site leading to public databases and whitehouse.org, which provides more adult viewing material.

"Make sure your vendors (brokers) exercise due diligence when setting up links to search engines," Johnston said.

Keywords

One of the ways to get traffic to a Web site is through keyword searches, Johnston said. And, the more specific those words are the better chance a nonprofit has of standing out from the crowd.

For example, using Yahoo! search for the keyword "heart" returns 224 million results while keyword "cancer" brings 82 million results. Many of those links are hits within larger organizational sites and do not mean there are that many sites. But, those numbers alone reveal how a smaller nonprofit can get lost in the shuffle, which is why working with various search engines can benefit a charity.

Yahoo! charts the number of "hits" keywords receive in a month. The keyword "heart" during March received 206,841 and the more specific American Heart Association received 96,808 hits, the less specific American heart got 12,239 hits.

During this past March, the keyword "cancer" received 271,527 hits while the more specific American Cancer Society got 106,029 hits.

While the single words, "cancer" and "heart" received more hits than the specific words American Heart Association and American Cancer Society, those single hit words might have taken the Web surfer to sites that have nothing to do with what they were looking for. However, the more specific American Cancer Society words took people to where they wanted to go.

So if your brand is known, they will find you; however, if you're a smaller charity looking for traffic to your site, then a keyword buy is imperative.

More focused keywords, as opposed to genetic ones, are best. For instance, while using the word "cancer" as a keyword brought millions of hits, narrowing it to "prostate cancer" brings 220,000 results. "Prostate cancer treatment" reduces that to 138,000 results. East coast prostate cancer treatment brings it down to 57,300 and as the words become more specific, the number of pages is lowered.

Lurie said that because of the Google Grant program, which places CoachArt high on the Sponsored Links list, his organization stands out from the others. More than "90 percent (of the coaches) find us by typing keywords like 'volunteer,' 'cancer patients,' 'arts,' 'lessons' into Google," Lurie said.

Google Grant is a free program for nonprofits. However there is an application process. To get to the site go to www.google.com/grants.

For commercial companies and nonprofits that are not a part of the Google Grant program there is the commercial Google's AdWords program. Yahoo! has a commercial program called Sponsored Search. Each site has simple easy to understand instructions on how an organization can make use of the services and how to pick keywords to bring people to their sites.

Search engines offer different ways to get "key" keywords. Yahoo! runs an auction where organizations bid on keywords. Gaude Paez, senior manager communications for Yahoo! search marketing, said bidding starts at 10 cents and can range up to more than $1. Successful bidders get in the prestigious Sponsor Results section, which like Google's Sponsored Links section, is to the right on each search page. Being on the right side of the search pages separates those organizations from the rabble who don't pay for keywords and, in the case of "cancer," end up being somewhere in the middle of 82 million results.

Paez, who joined Yahoo! from search engine Overture.com, which was acquired by Yahoo! two years ago, said that Internet users are becoming more sophisticated when it comes to using search engines and the more focused the keyword, the better the results will be for an organization.

Users of Yahoo! pay only when someone clicks on their site, Paez said, and those who bid the most for a word are put on the top of the Sponsor Results section.

For Google's AdWords, an organization can pay as little as $5 to start an account and then can bid to pay anywhere from 5 cents to $100 for keywords. The higher the bid, the better positioned the ad. Pay for AdWords is, like Yahoo!, on a pay-per-click bases.

The Canadian Hunger Foundation conducted its first keyword purchase campaign this past December 16 and it ran through February 15, Kerr said. It was called the Bright Future Campaign and had a budget of $2,000 through Google and Yahoo!

"We did it over the holiday, because that's when people are feeling generous and looking for charities to donate to," Kerr said.

However, right after launching the keyword campaign, a tsunami hit Southeast Asia. The CHF quickly launched a second online campaign to help raise money for relief efforts.

The Bright Future Campaign did well, Kerr said. When prospecting for new donors via direct mail an organization can expect between a 0.2 and 0.5 yield, Kerr said. The yield for the e-philanthropy campaign was 1.66, more than three times what would be seen with direct mail. An online yield is determined by the number of clicks through to the site divided by the number of times the nonprofit's banner is displayed on Google or Yahoo!, Kerr explained.

Most of CHF's budget went to buy words that would get the charity on the front page of each search engine, Kerr said. "It's important to be in the top 10 list of sites on the front page."

A nonprofit can determine the success of keywords by testing, Johnston said. Nonprofits should try different words in different combinations. The best way to tell what words are working is the number of clicks an organization receives. "It is important to optimize keywords," Johnston said.

Such testing is "important to determine what keywords you should use," Kerr said. "The words should be true to your message. We spent a lot of energy coming up with our words."

The leaders of some organizations are reluctant to use keywords that will portray the organization in a light in which they do not want it to be shown. Johnston, who consulted on the CHF campaign, said they wanted to be shown as a more progressive agency and didn't want to be associated with search engine keywords such as "hunger" or "poverty."

However, during last year's tsunami relief efforts, people looking to donate typed in "hunger" and poverty and found the foundation's Web site, Johnston said. "They ended up spending 59 cents to raise a dollar" he added.

The more a charity is willing to experiment with various words and phrases, the more likely that charity is to lower the cost of acquiring a new donor, Johnston said.

"But sit back and think about the keywords, make sure they are the words you want," Kerr said. "Then test."

Hard sell

Even though using Web search engines and keywords as tools to help acquire donors has been proven to be successful, many nonprofit direct marketers are reluctant to join in. "It's hard to spring some money loose from direct marketing budgets for keyword buys," Johnston said.

However, "just this year people are seeing that it works and beginning to take advantage," of this marketing tool, he added. Johnston said he has seen nonprofits generate between $300,000 and $400,000 online using search engines and keywords.

"They are seeing that this is another arrow in the quiver, "Johnston said.

For the CHE the site received 9,270 hits and existing donors found online donating so easy that they contributed $5,000," she added. Once CHF officials saw how successful the campaign was, Kerr said, they were ready to do additional keyword buys. As of press time, the CHF was in the process of developing a new campaign. "It's one more way of capturing new donors," Kerr added.

Brand matters

Despite the success of charities raising money online with search engines and keywords, what has always been the most successful and is still the most successful way to get people to a Web site is brand recognition, Johnston said.

When people search keywords and several different sites come up, the one that will receive the most clicks will be the site with the most recognizable brand name.

"You will do a whole lot better if you are known," Johnston said. "People will type in a word, see the brand and click on it. It's uber important in the online world," Johnston explained.

Michael Drobnis, the chief technology officer for the Alexandria, Va.-based Meals on Wheels Association of America, concurred with Johnston. MOWAA doesn't use keyword buys or search engine optimization. "We've looked into keyword searches but it doesn't make sense for us at this point," Drobnis said.

MOWAA, which has affiliates throughout the country, works to create public awareness about seniors going hungry, Drobnis explained. Keyword buys and search engine optimization can help build brand identity for a charity. "But Meals on Wheels already has great brand awareness," Drobnis said. So after looking at the cost-benefit ratio, MOWAA had not yet decided to test the keyword and search engine waters.

However, investment in that type of technology would better benefit small regional charities, he added. "These smaller organizations don't have the brand identity that larger nonprofits have."

Because most people know about Meals on Wheels, if they are looking for its Web site they will type Meals on Wheels into a search engine and immediately be taken to the site. "People don't need to type in keyword searches to fred us;' Drobnis added.

However, MOWAA is looking at jumping in and buying keywords, Drobnis said. But right now, the cost to benefit is not there.

"There are millions of Web pages out there;' Drobnis said. "And, if the charity is not known, it will need to get on top of those pages to build brand awareness."

Getting started

There are a number of helpful Web sites all with clear, easy to understand directions. The big four, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft MSN and Ask Jeeves are simple to navigate and will lead you through a systematic process to register and set up an ad or sponsored link. Smaller search engines such as FindWhat.com also provide easy-to-use services.

For organizations that are unwilling to either go it alone or don't have the staff to do the work, there are a number of consultants well versed in the art of keyword purchasing. There are also brokers who will help nonprofits get exposure on a number of Web search engines.

Stand and deliver

Kerr and Johnston said no matter how successful a nonprofit might be in picking the right keywords and in getting the masses to click on their site, if the Web site doesn't deliver the goods, the masses will leave. "Your Web site is the organization's real face to the electronic world" Kerr said. "If your site doesn't deliver, then your keyword budget will be depleted with no return."

A Web site should be easy to navigate, it should be informative, and it should be compatible with your other marketing channels, Kerr said.

Moving to keyword buys on search engines should also be done slowly, Kerr added. "The time is right for e-philanthropy, but a nonprofit must have a comprehensive strategy. It's all about integration. Sit back, and think things through and make sure everything (all channels) work together," Kerr explained.
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Title Annotation:Online
Author:Ford, Robert
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 15, 2005
Words:2550
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