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ABCs of Getting More Traffic to Your Nonprofit Website

Wouldn’t it be great if you could design and build a great website, and then visitors would just start streaming in? This is a marketer’s fantasy! Unfortunately, the “if you build it, they will come” model only works in movies. For websites, the reality is more like, “If you build it, Google will (probably) know.” And even Google can be a bit fickle at times. Beyond that, it’s up to you and your team to grow your website traffic.

Nonprofit Website Traffic

This is great news, by the way. By thoughtfully developing a plan to promote your organization’s website and the content on it, you get to draw quality users and future supporters into your community – those with the highest potential to help you accomplish your goals. If you balance the use of both “pull” (pulling users to your site with great, optimized content) and “push” (pushing users there through strategic messaging and promotions) techniques, you will begin building meaningful traffic in no time.

Good Content is Critical

Before we even start talking about getting people to your site, we need to start at the very beginning – why would someone want to come to your site to begin with? The content.

Content, broadly, is anything on your website – not just the words! It can take many forms and typically fall into one of two categories: information and action.

  • Information: Content about your organization and your mission.
    • Blog posts: Timely updates, commentary, behind the scenes glimpses, and newsworthy stories updated regularly and optimized for search.
    • Stories from people you serve: Human-interest stories that demonstrate the power of the work that you do. Inspiring for new members of your community and future donors and advocates.
    • News, Reports, and Press Releases: Up-to-date information from your research teams, field teams, or communications department. Show your community what you’re up to and how you’re making waves.
    • Videos: The best way to tell a story and convey emotion and impact quickly. Keep users on your site longer with video, a medium that is becoming more cost effective to employ and essential in any content marketer’s toolbox.
    • Infographics: Highly sharable graphical interpretations of your data, insights, and impact. Use an infographic to show how your organization works and how their money is put to good use in an easy to understand way.
    • Polls & Quizzes: Educate and entertain with interactive opportunities on your website.
  • Action: Content that enables a visitor to do something or engage more deeply in an activity; usually triggered by filling out a form.
    • Newsletter sign up page
    • Donation forms
    • Volunteer opportunity locator
    • Event registration form
    • Pledge or petition
    • Chapter finder

Informational and Action-oriented content don’t exist in a vacuum, rather they work together in an engagement ecosystem. Informational content has calls to action woven in, and action pages sure have information on them. The interplay between the two is what makes visitors stick around and move through your site. Some come to learn and are inspired to act. Some take action, then spend time learning more… and then act again!

Here’s the thing: your content HAS to be good. I know, I know. “Good” is so subjective. But if I’m a potential supporter and you ask me to come to your site to see something/learn something/do something, when I get there, I should be delighted by what I find. The content has to be something the user would want to read. It has to be interesting, designed and written well, and be easy to absorb. Think about not only what you want to tell them, but what they’d want to know. This is a nuance, but it’s critical.

In addition to being good, it has to be fresh. Sending users to the same content over and over again can get stale. If a new statistic comes out, update it! If a new report is released, post it! If you’re in the news, promote it! And keep a blog to ensure that there’s always something fresh on your website for users to come back to. If they’ve read everything and it never changes, they’ll stop coming back, and you don’t want that!

Measures of Success 

So you’ve been tasked with increasing traffic and gaining exposure for and awareness of your organization and its mission. How the heck are you going to know if you’ve been successful? Great question!

An analytics platform installed on your website will help you measure your impact. Most organizations use Google Analytics. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the dashboard and reports. Look at your baseline traffic during various periods of time. Explore where users are already coming from. Set up site goals to know which traffic from what source is yielding the highest value. Learn about adding link parameters so you can trace upticks in traffic to specific efforts.

It’s also important to become familiar with the various metrics available for your team to use in analyzing progress. For instance, are you trying to get new people/potential supporters to the site (metric: new visitors), increase the number of people who visit (metric: visitors), or increase the number of times a visitor comes back (metric: repeat visitors)? Are you trying to get visitors to look at a bunch of pages during each visit (metric: page views) or come back a bunch of times over the course of a week (metric: visits)? Looking at your analytics reports can be dizzying, so do yourself a favor and learn from nonprofit measurement gurus like Beth Kanter about getting to the heart of your most meaningful data.

Next, set some realistic goals for improvements in traffic over a certain amount of time. Decide if you want to increase traffic to certain pages or sections, or if you want overall traffic to your site to increase. This will determine your strategy. For instance, will you promote certain topics during certain months? Will you focus in on one goal like increasing leads or donors? Will you promote everything equally to gain exposure across the board? There are no right or wrong answers, but it’s important to ask these kind of questions around the strategy table.

Site Traffic: Free, Paid, Pushed, Pulled

Now, the fun begins. Let’s get some folks to your site!  There are a few ways to accomplish this.  Remember, it’s a push and pull. You can pull people to your site through quality content or push people to your site by telling them about it. You can pull and push people to your site using free and paid methods across various channels online.

We’ll start with the (relatively) free tactics:

Search Optimized Content: Can’t drive this point home enough… Make sure each page of content on your site is full of useful information, and points to other content on your site to keep people moving around, page to page. Include relevant keywords that users would be searching for in primary places like headings and URLs. Updating content to be more optimized for search keep your website top of mind for search engines and make it more likely that Google or Bing will tell a user to come to your site to vs. another site about a similar topic. This is called improving organic search or implementing search engine optimization (SEO).

Social Media: Promote your content on the social networks that your supporters are also on such as Facebook and Twitter, of course. But what about Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, Tumblr and Instagram? Share links to content, photos, videos, infographics and more on social media with a short description and inspiring call to action to visit the site to read more, take action, sign up, etc. Don’t just post a link and hope people will click through – give them context. Break them out of their social media stupor. Social networks are happy little universes, but your website has so much more to offer. Users just need a gentle, inspiring nudge to take a break from cat pictures to visit the other side of the internet for a good cause.

Tell a Friend/ Social Sharing: On the other side of posting links to your site on social media, there’s the social sharing of content by visitors on your site. Make sure there are easy ways for those visitors to share content with their networks, via email or popular social networks. Just remember that you have control over what gets shared when someone clicks that “share” button, so ensure the content is optimized for social sharing with the proper title, image, and description.  Step 1 is definitely getting the website visitor to share the content on their network, but Step 2 is inspiring the people in their networks to click the link when they see it stream through their feed. Check out these top 5 types of posts that get likes and shares on social media. Could you do more to incorporate these styles into what you’re sharing?

Google Grants: Did you know that many nonprofits are eligible for $10,000 worth of in-kind Google AdWords through a Google Grant? There are some restrictions to what you can spend the Grant money on, how much you can bid for keywords, and where you can send traffic through Grant ads, but $10k in free search ads is nothing to sneeze at and can really make a difference for many organizations!  Learn more about Google Grants here or read this white paper from Media Cause that walks you through the Google Grants application process

Email: Most organizations include a newsletter as part of their communication plan to supporters. Include links in newsletter articles that point back to relevant sections of website. Do you send non-fundraising/stewardship emails? Say thanks and include a link to a video or success stories! Your Welcome Series is also is a good chance to introduce users to the resources available on your website. Give ‘em a tour or highlight areas for them to keep an eye on throughout the year for news, updates, events, and more.

Commenting on Articles & Blogs: You probably subscribe to industry newsletters for your cause area or the nonprofit world in general. You may also be a part of communities like Quora where people from across the world come looking for answers from experts. Become active in these communities. Engage in the conversations, respond to questions, post comments to articles and include links to content on your site that will help answer questions. If it makes sense, encourage your staff and supporters to do the same.

Now let’s move on to the paid options. Consider pulling these out of your hat when your campaign needs a boost to increase reach, find a new audience, or during key promotional time periods.

Display Ads: Investing in display ads means increasing awareness at the “top of the funnel.” Branding initiatives like this don’t always directly yield site traffic, but research has shown that display ads boost organic traffic. See most people (like you, I bet!) don’t like clicking on ads. Won’t do it. Despise it. But they don’t forget what they see in ads, even if it’s kind of subconscious. They’ll search for something they saw in an ad or the name of your organization and come visit your site to learn more. Traffic often goes up in organic search, paid search, and direct traffic when ads are in market. You can buy ads on regular ole websites, or right in social networks. Both are very targetable, but Facebook ads can be targeted in really amazing ways. (Keep your eyes peeled for more Facebook advertising soon!) You can cost effectively and efficiently get the word out about your organization and get people to click through to your website through ads. Note: It’s very important to set expectations about investing in display ads. This is not the tactic to use if you’re looking for direct conversions, but you will see an increase in traffic.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM): Google Grants are great, but as mentioned above there are limitations. There are some cases where it pays to invest in search to make sure you’re getting that top search spot, or if you’re having trouble ranking organically for important keywords. But be strategic about it. Remember, if you’re not paying to have your ads appear, another organization will be there when a potential supporter is searching for a cause-related term – or sometimes even your organization’s name. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Set a modest budget for search and test a few ads at a time.
  • Buy less expensive, long-tail keywords (ex. the keyword “hunger” is going to be more competitive and therefore more expensive. Think about how to make it more specific, but still commonly searchable, in order to find the ideal keyword on a tight budget like “end hunger in Syria”)
  • Direct supporters to the most relevant content pages from your ads. If you’ve captured someone’s attention and know exactly the kind of information they are trying to find, don’t make them hunt for that information by landing them on your homepage. Hand it to them on a golden platter. Keep ads as consistent with your landing pages as possible. For your branded keywords, the homepage may make sense. Just be strategic!

What Next?

We’ve just reviewed just a few ways to get users to visit your website, but increasing traffic is just the first step. The real goal of increasing traffic is to increase the number of people who know about your organization, your organization’s mission, and how they can get involved. So – when you have a user on your site, make sure you have a clear idea of what you want them to do next. Have links to actions on all informational pages. Have relevant information on all action confirmation pages. Once you get a user onto your site and into your community, keep them there! Always give them more to do, usher them toward reaching their goals and your goals, as well.

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Topics: Strategy Marketing