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 as marketing. 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 images connected 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