"More for less" is already the catchphrase for 2011, and we're all feeling the need to become more competitive and sustainable as a result.

Traditional marketing methods don’t seem to be working, though. Newspaper circulation is down, the local notice board has disappeared along with the library it was in, and when was the last time you saw a phone book that wasn’t propping open a door?

With a whopping 60% of adults using the Internet every day, the web provides an answer. You can get your messages out there quicker and cheaper than traditional marketing can, and even deliver services and find new supporters right there online.

It’s time to start spring cleaning your organisation’s digital comms. But where should you start?

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Forget the fads, the nerdy new tricks and the toys, here’s the 5 things you need to focus on to get the web working for you in 2011…

1. Be findable

Just because you’ve got a website doesn’t mean people are going to be able to find it.

Offline marketing

One of the easiest ways to drive traffic to your site is to make sure your web address is on all of your existing marketing. Everything from annual reports, to support leaflets, to TV ads should feature the address and a quick call to action: “Find out more on our website”, “Donate now by visiting”, “Join our enewsletter for more”.

Unfortunately, offline marketing is limited to the number of leaflets you print or business cards you hand out. The real power of the Internet is in reaching thousands of people you wouldn’t have reached before.

Social media

To do this, you have to find where your target audiences are, and promote your organisation there. Social media services like Facebook and Twitter provide a way to find and connect with (generally younger) people who are passionate about your cause. They’re also likely to be reading blogs and participating in forums about your cause, so look to engage with them there too.

This is all pretty hard work though, and requires constant interaction with communities. It’s not as simple as posting a link to your site – you could be accused of ‘spamming’ if you do this – but actually making a genuine, honest contribution to the community in the form of advice, interesting insights and signposting to other useful information.

Search engine optimisation

If you don’t have time to do this, you’re going to need to find a way to set of a stream of passive or ‘organic’ traffic to your digital communications. The way to do this with the help of search engines. Google is the most popular, with almost 90% of UK searches going through the site. Most charities are the first result for a search of their name or acronym, but how prominent are you for searches relating to your cause, or to the services you provide? Probably not very.

It’s pretty obvious when you think about it. How often do you search for the full name of an organisation, rather than just a topic on Google? Probably not very often, and neither will your target audience. Think about what the people you’re trying to reach might be tapping into the search bar and try it yourself. Are you on the first page of results? Are your competitors higher up the rankings?

40-50% of people will just click the first result, and around 90% of people won’t get past page 1. So getting on that first page for relevant search terms is crucial, but how do you do it?

Whilst it’s true that well-built, modern websites are intrinsically more friendly for search engines, the biggest difference you can make is with what you write about, and how often you write about it.

Google lives or dies by its ability to put the most interesting, most relevant stuff for any given search term at the top of its list of results. So let’s start there. Let’s make 2011 the year we become interesting.

The easiest way to improve your website’s performance on search engines is to write interesting, relevant articles about your organisation’s area of expertise. This can bring in tens of thousands of relevant visitors to our site each month. If your still struggling with search engines, then feel free to get in touch to see if we can help.

2. Be interesting

We charity workers are part of the lucky few involved in helping improve people’s lives as a day job. It should be easy for us to inspire, inform and interest the public. Yet by-and-large, companies that make trainers or yoghurt are beating us hands down at online engagement.

The single biggest reason most charities fail at being relevant to a wider audience is that their comms focus on the organisation, and not the cause. People are interested in you not for your campaigns, not for your CEO, not for your sustainability headaches, but for the subject you’re involved in.

Writing things people want to read about this cause is key to being found, and to be engaging and valued. Interest is the currency of the Internet.

Only you can know what kind of articles, newsletter stories, tweets or videos are likely to attract the right kind of people to your organisation. Be brutal, ask “if I didn’t work here, would I want to read this?”

If you can commit to putting on article online that focuses on your cause, and links your organisation to it second, you’ll see a month on month increase in your traffic as search engines pick up on the content, people share links to it, and check back next month for something new.

It can be hard to come up with ideas for content that will appeal. Think about who your audience is, and what about their situation, needs or interests might lead them towards your cause and organisation. Taking a half day out to bring together staff, volunteers and supporters to brainstorm can give you content ideas for years worth of articles in a matter of hours. If you’d like our help to run a content workshop, or to find someone who could write content for you then get in touch with us.

3. Communicate impact

Unless you’re lucky enough to be working for one of the biggest charities, it’s likely you’re going to have to work harder than ever to convince supporters, funders and commissioners to give you their backing. You need to show people what the world would look like without you.

Once you start attracting people to your website through interesting content about your cause, provide information about the difference you make to society. At a time when people have less time and money to give to charity, we have to make a simple, understandable and compelling case if we’re going to turn strangers into long-term supporters.

Find what motivates people

But what motivates people to trust your charity?

Total donations are down 11% due to the recession, and we need to be able to provide answers to questions such as “why should I support you, and not someone else?” or “should we continue to fund this charity at the same level this year?”.

Respondents to the 2010 Public Trust and Confidence in Charities survey said the percentage of donations spent on the end cause was the biggest factor in their trust of a charity – a change from the previous year’s results.

“I think there’s a lot about thinking how much of this money is actually going to do what they say it’s going to do, and how much money’s getting sliced off in administration.” – Female interviewee with high trust in charities, Public Trust and Confidence in Charities Survey 2010, Charity Commission.

The second most important factor was to see that charities make a positive difference to the cause they work for…

“If I knew that, for example, I was giving to breast cancer and it was going to go to a special machine that was going to help cure or find out if people have got breast cancer and help them survive, then I’d know, OK, yeah, I’ll give to that charity.” – Male interviewee with low trust in charities, Public Trust and Confidence in Charities Survey 2010, Charity Commission.

Statistics and case studies

Statistics and stories are best used together. A quick, impactful statement about the number of people you helped last year, backed up with a case study from one of those people is a great left-brain, right-brain combination. It also works for time-poor website visitors who get your headline statistics in the first few seconds, even if they don’t read the whole case study.

If you want to take it a step further, infographics and graphs work great on the web, as do videos for case study interviews or easy to understand animations that communicate your impact.

Pretty obvious stuff, so why do so many charities fail to promote this in their digital communications? As web users are likely to be finding out about you for the first time, they won’t click the big red ‘donate now’ button until you show them how important your work is.

Case studies and statistics provide an effective combination to communicate your impact. Using free tools like Google Analytics can help you count access to online support and awareness raising materials towards your impact stats, too. If you need some help with tracking and reporting your impact using the web then get in touch with us.

4. Enable action

Once you’ve piqued people’s interest and communicated your value to society, can a potential supporter take action there and then?

People rarely print and post a volunteer application form, and if they’re browsing from home late at night, your phone line probably isn’t open. If they’re inspired, you need immediacy, particularly if you’re motivating them emotionally. There’s no avoiding it, you’ve got to let people take action right there on the web.

There are plenty of free or low-cost tools that can enable action on your website, from mailing list forms and online donation, to petitions and campaigning. Keep track of our blog for comparisons of the best, and tips and tutorials on how to use them.

Don’t neglect softer actions. Although often the end goal, donations and volunteering are hard to sell cold. By capturing your supporters first on your newsletter or social media, you can build relationships with them and lead them on to these more involved asks like fundraising or legacies.

It’s important to capture people right there and then online. Donation won’t appeal to everyone, so provide softer actions like volunteering or newsletter sign up, too. Lead casual supports to donation with a series of well targeted actions. It can be tricky to get this right, but if you need more help feel free to get in touch with us.

5. Build relationships

People will rarely open their wallets or diaries just because you ask nicely.

To generate donations, volunteers or commissions you’re going to need to establish a relationship with new supporters. Give them real reasons to revisit your website, prompting them with newsletters and social media updates.

Email: one-to-one relationships

Almost everyone who’s interacting with you online will have an e-mail address. Targeted, personalised e-mail asks or newsletters provide a cheap and fast way to build a relationship with supporters, one message at a time.

E-mail remains the most cost effective way to to build relationships with supporters, so if you only have time to do one thing well, make 2011 the year you perfect your e-mail comms by following 10 rules of successful charity e-mail newsletters.

Social media: many-to-many relationships

Social media is becoming increasingly important, particularly to engage with younger people. If your target audience is on Twitter and Facebook then these can be powerful tools as you not only reach the individuals you’ve captured, but if the content you’re promoting is interesting and relevant, they’ll share it with their friends too.

Whatever channel you use, the rules are the same. Your communications must be timely, targeted, focused on audience, and link the users’ interests and needs to your impact and actions using interesting content, human-centred stories and clear calls to action.

Appreciate and thank your supporters, and make sure you consider your relationship before contacting them. There’s nothing more insulting to a new donor than an e-mail or phone call asking them if they’d ever considered donating before because they’ve been thoughtlessly bunged on an unsegmented, impersonal mailing list.

Social media and enewsletters should work towards your organisational objectives by building and developing relationships with potential supporters. If your social media isn’t up to scratch, or your newsletters are getting ignored get in touch with us for advice and support.

So what next?

Engaging with the web isn’t just an option any more, it’s a marketing must-have. Charities and social enterprises competing for funding are required to demonstrate more value for less money, so engaging with the web becomes more vital by the day.

Despite all the chatter about Twitter, Foursquare and mobile giving, getting the basics right will make the biggest difference to your charity this year, so ask yourself about the 5 foundations of digital communications:

  1. How will people find our website?
  2. Is it actually interesting?
  3. Does it demonstrate our value?
  4. Can people take action on it?
  5. How well are we building relationships?

Free and low-cost tools are available to help you almost every step of the way if you know where to look. If you don’t, subscribe to our blog for tips and tutorials about each of the fundamentals and the best tools and techniques to use.

Next month we’ll take a look at Google Analytics, a free way to find out who’s looking at your website, and if the changes you’re making are having an impact on its success. See you then!

If you want more advice and tips on making the web work for your organisation, then sign up to our newsletter or get in touch with us for help and advice.

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