So Fast Google Can't Ignore You: Donations Optimized for SEO
SOS Children’s Villages is a large, international children’s charity helping orphaned and abandoned children in 133 countries around the world. Its role is to raise funds in Canada to fund programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Using SEO to attract overseas donations
So much rides on our search engine rankings. In Canada, 3 percent to 6 percent of donated dollars go to international charities. It’s a very competitive marketplace for all nonprofits and extremely competitive for international charities. Advertising can be effective, but it’s also costly. Search engine optimization (SEO) allows us to capture the attention of the niche market of people who may want to make an overseas donation.
Most new donors don’t go looking for SOS Children’s Villages Canada specifically. A new donor typically finds us after seeing a news media report. For example, after 250 girls were abducted in Nigeria, potential donors searching for more information discovered our work operating schools and helping children in Nigeria. Any issue related to vulnerable children, protection of child rights, gender equality and orphans can drive potential donors to our website. Once donors find us, our content must clearly help them understand the need.
Why Google didn’t love our content
The search engines should have loved all our granular content, but they weren’t even seeing it. As it turned out, our own proprietary shared hosting platform was the culprit. Here’s why:
1. Slow page load times. Page load times are critical for SEO. But because we were hosted in Europe on a proprietary platform, our page load times were too slow for Google and other search engines. Users didn’t seem to notice, but our search engine rankings told another story.
2. Not SEO-optimized. In addition, our website wasn’t optimized for SEO or for usability. Google Grants gives us $10,000 a month in Google AdWords funding, which is really effective if your site is optimized. Ours wasn’t, putting a damper on low-cost marketing strategies like SEO and free advertising. For example, our page on Angola didn’t have a page rank at all because it was seen as duplicate content.
Transitioning from a shared hosting platform
When we made the decision eight years ago to pool resources with 25 other nations to share a joint proprietary platform, it seemed like a good way to save money. But it wasn’t as cost-effective as we thought. Not only were our search engine rankings suffering, but we were investing a significant development budget each year to maintain the proprietary platform, costing us 18,000 CAD a year.
We wanted to spend donors’ money more effectively so we could drive SEO and bring in more donations. In 2013, we decided to go rogue from the joint platform.
As a solution, we chose open source and Drupal. We wanted a powerful and cost-effective website that was optimized for SEO, so we engaged a Drupal Web development agency to build it.
Our page ranks are increasing, while our load times are decreasing. Like most charities, we raise the majority of our funds in the two months leading up to Christmas and just beyond. It’s still early, but we’re already well-positioned for this year. We’re slightly up over last year at this time, when we were fundraising for one-time donations during an international crisis and getting an unusual amount of press.
1. Giant leaps up in Google rankings: On pages with the exact same content, we’ve seen page ranks shoot up four full points — Angola rose from 1 to 5, for example. Now we’re indexed correctly to Google. The right third-party modules have all been configured and installed. Our new website platform optimizes page delivery within our design, allowing us to increase each page’s perceived value within the search engine marketplace. We’re actually showing up in other nations ahead of the local SOS national association for that nation — specifically, in anglophone countries. People are starting to ask us what we’re doing differently.
2. Much better page load times: Our improved search rankings can be directly attributed to the lower page load times. Getting on Drupal and using the new website platform decreased our page load time significantly, averaging 49.7 percent faster average load time. As a result, Google immediately assigned a better quality score to our pages, and to our site overall.
3. Award-winning design: Our new website was so visually appealing that it outshone 5,000 competitors in 24 countries to win the 2014 Summit Creative Award, Silver medal, for a nonprofit website.
If a colleague at another nonprofit were to ask, “What’s the best way to manage our large nonprofit website?” I would tell him or her that option 1 is hiring a team to build the infrastructure on a cloud provider. Starting from scratch, the team sets up the servers and all the infrastructures. Then, it configures everything to make it high-performing for Drupal. In the end, you pay tens of thousands a year for hosting, and your search engine rankings could still suffer. We’ve been down that road.
Option 2 is running your website on a container-based cloud infrastructure. You don’t need to worry about constant infrastructure maintenance or reconfiguring the architecture whenever your audience grows. And, because your site is so much faster, growing your audience through SEO becomes much easier. At least, that’s been our experience.
Related story: 2 Simple Strategies to Increase Donations Using Your Website