Does the third sector understand search?

Over the last 15 years the media and communications landscape has been subject to a revolution. Access to cheaper and faster broadband, mobile devices and memory have built an almost limitless commodity and introduced some fundamental questions about how campaigns communicate with a newly empowered audience.

Search has been at the heart of that revolution. Google receives almost as many searches every day as there are people on the planet; its YouTube platform receives 48 hours of uploaded content every minute. Google has become a truly phenomenal business by organising the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful (it just so happens that’s also their mission statement). Put simply, Google really has changed the world: data, speed and relevance are now the pillars of twenty-first century publishing.

For those of us in the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors, then, the question is: do we understand that remarkable influence as well as we should, and do we know how to use it to help us meet our objectives?

To get to grips with that question, we should begin to think of search asmarketing. Targeting specific search queries to specific adverts, with the hope of sending users to a certain web page can be a hugely valuable strategy for a small NGO in particular. Users are not necessarily searching for any given brand; instead, they may be searching for people, issues, information or even imagesconnected to a specific area of work, or they may stumble across a site by accident.

Given that, it is important for campaigners to ask whether they have the right internal digital framework in place to track how and why new users arrive to a particular website, which content users are engaging with and which is less successful, and even how Google and other search engines understand the nature and opportunities of the campaign.

In most cases, third sector organisations still have some way to go with this task, and in placing the web at the heart of all their communications and marketing and integrating it through every aspect of what they do. Although there are of course exceptions, within the sector as a whole there are too many poorly designed websites. Content can be structured poorly. And many sites have too few updates, with not enough creative content.

So it’s important for campaigns to reflect.As always, content is king. Organisations should study how often new content is published; how often Google “crawls” a site in order to update its index; and the variety of content and social media on offer, including video.

Finally, it’s important to understand how many people link to a particular page, and to nurture those important relationships over time. Inbound links are the most crucial element to search; each inbound link should be seen as a vote of influence – the more links a website can harvest, the more influential it becomes.

There is no single strategy for building the most searchable website or campaign. But as funding streams narrow and budgets shrink, third sector organisations should grasp the opportunity to improve how they communicate online, and how they provide smart content and conversations relevant to their audiences – and that means creating an inviting home which people arrive at organically, through search.

Scott Williams is a consultant at Champollion Digital

  • Lee Willows

    Being friends with staff while you’re a board member can be difficult, as is being friends with staff when you are their manager or part of an organisations SMT. Such isolation is a fact of life if you put yourself forward for such roles I think. Having good external friends – especially ones whom work in the same sector has been one coping strategy for me over the years. Additionally as Chief Executive of Trailblazers (www.trailblazersmentoring.org.uk) my relationship with our Chairman is absolutely key in ‘picking me up’ when things do not quite go to plan. Similarly I ‘pick up’ our Chairman and other board members to keep everybody invigorated no matter what is thrown at us.

    Leon also makes a very good comment around time management – again this is a fact of life if you put yourself forward as a trustee, but a regular and ongoing dialogue between the Chair and CEO is important to help you get the balance right.

    You are unique in putting yourself forward Leon as a trustee of TWO charities, while studying and all this at your age. I think your drive and commitment is outstanding and I would say keep charging as you are a future leader within our sector and will inspire others.

  • Ivor Sutton

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Javed.

    Unlike in the 80’s and 90’s, when business owners use to be available for ambitious individuals like me, who would put on their suits, shiny shoes and go armed with a CV to knock on the doors of local businesses seeking employment opportunities, now it has all changed – and not for the better! The third sector has lost its way in this area. But why, given the strong ethical and Community-related stance it has?

    Now dominated by HR, third sector director’s need to engage more with front-line staff or ‘TEAM’ members, as well as encourage their own engagement with skilled job seekers who are ambitious enough to ‘reach out’ to them for opportunities. But, then again, with this dominance by HR, one might ask why is it therefore necessary for the CEO or director of a third sector organisation to show their faces.

    Do I feel that third sector CEO’s and director’s have lost the plot in this respect? Of course I do. It should be clear to the third sector that private sectors skills in their organisation is critical to the long-term goals they seek for their organisation, both in policy terms and financial security. Thus, business owners to get back to what they are meant to best at… Running the Business and Inspiring Change on the ground by sustaining a fundamental engagement with staff, and with those ambitious enough to want to sit down with them, and promote the values they can bring to their organisation.

    Finally, I would also like to add that this lack of presence by political figures or, at least, inspirational ‘business’ figures within the ‘heart of our community’, is clear. As I strongly believe it is this failure by such figure in society (political or otherwise) to engage with the challenges and encourage innovative solutions that has to be the biggest failure of all.

    I get the picture. I am in focus. It’s very clear to me.