July 18, 2014

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. SOS Children’s Villages Canada’s 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 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 8 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.

The Solution: Open Source & Drupal

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.

The Results

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 4 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% 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.

Parting Thoughts

If a colleague at another nonprofit were to ask, “What’s the best way to manage our large nonprofit website?” I would tell them this: “Option 1 is hiring a team to build the infrastructure on a cloud provider. Starting from scratch, they set up the servers and all the infrastructures. Then, they configure 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.”

Daniel Loftus
Daniel Loftus is the Director of Integrated Marketing for SOS Children’s Villages Canada. As a digital fundraiser for more than 10 years and an ecommerce practitioner for more than 15, he has seen and worked with many approaches to building and maintaining platforms and content management systems for organizations that need cost effective solutions. Daniel believes in data-based decision-making for both marketing and the technology platforms required to support the charity he works for.