Underwriting the success of charity digital marketing

The charity sector is slowly embracing digital marketing. Even though best practice needs to be developed further within the sector, charities are nevertheless keen to develop top performing digital campaigns. The first thing that they need to focus on is accountability which is key for developing really effective campaigns; it makes the data behind campaigns clearer and more transparent.

It also sharpens expectations, energises delivery, and incubates a “test and learn” approach. This ensures partners are aligned and the focus turns to continuous improvement. As a result, the campaign strategy and associated tactics can pivot and develop as required.

Clear and focused objectives

An accountable campaign strategy begins with clear and focused objectives and it’s important to get this right from the very beginning. Often, charity campaign objectives are to raise awareness and increase supporter acquisition too. However, these are very different objectives, so in order for campaigns to be successful there is a need for clearer focus and “smart” objectives relevant to each campaign and target.

The hardest part is understanding what is attainable. Charities need to work with their digital agencies to look at the information available to them in order to set the right expectations.

Good data feedback

With clear objectives and a strategy based on those in place, it’s important to ensure that there is good data feeding back from the campaign. This is vital for a test and learn approach, which is needed to optimise campaigns and ensure a good return. The key to this is using Google Analytics. Unfortunately, too often Google Analytics data isn’t effectively set up by charities ready for their campaigns to start.

Even the very biggest of charities can benefit from implementing better practices. If “accountability” is one of digital marketers’ greatest allies, then it needs to be armed with accurate and extensive data.

Covid-19 has sped up an inevitable move towards digital and this progression is unlikely to be reversed. I mention below certain areas that are effective for charities reaching new audiences during social distancing and are here to stay.

Search engine marketing

Invariably, search is the first channel to select for any campaign. As “search” provides the information that audiences are looking for, at the exact time they are looking, it sits at the bottom of (new audience) marketing funnels so it is usually the most cost-effective medium. Search engine marketing (SEM) fits into two separate types: the paid ads at the very top of search engines, and the organic links that rank underneath them, which are achieved as a result of search engine optimisation (SEO).

Here again Google is the charity digital marketer’s friend. Often the quickest win available to charities looking for effective marketing channels is the Google Ad Grant. Usually Ad Grant accounts provide $10,000 per month of free Google Ads ($40,000 for grants pro accounts). During Covid-19 times, Google have increased the value offered to support charities during the crisis.

Search engine marketing reaches the audiences who are looking for you and paid search gets you to them immediately, so using the Google Ad Grants lets you do it for free. For some campaigns this can bring in over 1,500 clicks per day of highly relevant traffic.

Running multiple Google accounts

There are some stipulations with the Google Ad Grant, including how much you can bid, and often the algorithm penalises Ad Grant paid ads behind “paying” advertiser ads. For this reason, it can make sense to run a separate paid (non-grant) account for competitive campaigns, such as those which are targeting donations. A paid account can also run different channels such as shopping ads (for charities which run online retail).

Once PPC (pay-per-click, albeit free within the Ad Grant limit) is in place (with free ads and an immediate impact, one would usually start there), the next step is often search engine optimisation. A significant benefit of SEO traffic is that you don’t pay for clicks. Also, many of the principles of SEO are the same as those that should be utilised for improving website engagement. Generating valuable amounts of traffic through organic search usually takes a great deal of work, but it is rewarding.

Developing an SEO strategy

Preparation is key to SEO. From a financial perspective clicks are free, but you will need to invest a significant amount of time and resources into developing a strategy. This involves reviewing the technical performance of your website, developing links (digital PR) and creating engaging content.

Quite often one of a charity’s key digital marketing goals is to drive traffic to their website. This involves reviewing what their audience needs and therefore identifying useful content that will attract valuable traffic. For a website to attract visitors it needs to have the content their audience is looking for.

Improved website visibility is achieved through earning high ranking positions in organic search, generating links to that content (usually because it is so good or useful) and earning shares on social media. Good content can also be leveraged through paid campaigns.

Many successful campaigns start by providing useful content, developing a relationship with those audiences and using an effective call to action. Effective audience targeting with the right content is extremely powerful in raising awareness, providing information or raising funds. When developing content, especially when looking to then support a particular call to action, it is very important to consider user experience and conversion rate optimisation.

Conversion rate optimisation

User experience is all about the quality of the experience users have while visiting your website. Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) reviews how well your website encourages users to take a particular action. Understandably, these two are closely linked. Successful campaigns do not stop when a user arrives at a website. They need to go further and focus on the point at which the user completes the target action, or even where the user then advocates on behalf of the charity. People’s experience on websites is crucial for this.

Good CRO makes a massive impact. Conversion rates are essentially the number of people that can be driven to a website, multiplied by how well that website converts those people. Conversion rates vary wildly across different sites and it is often far more effective to start here before paying for traffic. Some website changes could increase conversions by over 50%. Other changes might only yield 5% improvements, but by making several changes, across multiple elements of the site, the incremental gains amount to something significant.

Understanding the audience

CRO is built on two main elements. Websites need to be persuasive and make actions easy for audiences to complete. It’s crucial to understand the audience and their needs. You should kickstart things with a brainstorming session to develop user personas, and then walk through the website in ‘their shoes’, detailing anything that might make things harder for them or be a deterrent.

As well as quantitative reviews, qualitative data is available and extremely valuable when it comes to understanding audiences’ behaviour. Analytics will detail who audiences are and how they interact with the website, including problem pages where visitors tend to drop off.

There are also a number of programs that will detail what users are looking at on the page. These can identify things such as: what buttons and links work best or which image has the most impact. It can also help identify which questions on the online forms are deterring the users from filling in their information.

In one case a charity tried testing different default donation options on its landing page. As a result of the improvements, the average donation amount increased by £10. It’s also important to remember that the type of content plays a really important role. It needs to appeal to both the left and the right brain. There should be a clear logical argument, but also emotive media like images and video.

Generating better engagement

When it comes to great content, video has always been recognised as a valuable content format for marketing, but now it is exploding. Organically, audiences consume information through it, it generates better engagement and is a very strong and persuasive means of communication.

On a website or social media post, video tends to perform very well. Similarly, video is very effective in paid advertising. In 2019 spend for digital paid ads grew by 8%, while spend for (digital) video ads grew by 27%. There are plenty of platforms that now run video ads, including LinkedIn and Facebook, and currently there are few organisations creating video content for these platforms. Considering how well video performs, it is a very cost-effective way to reach charity audiences.

Digital marketing is a fast-paced industry constantly evolving with new technologies and methods being rolled out on a regular basis which can benefit charities tremendously. Start simple, ensure you have the data you need to understand the value of every component and build campaigns through adopting “continuous improvement”. This one of the key elements of effective campaigns.


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