The Case for SEO in Advocacy
When you think about a typical advocacy campaign, what comes to mind? TV and banner ads promoting a microsite. Emails asking you to write your member of Congress. Social media discussions and debates.
Search Engine Optimization is not often on that list. But it should be.
Search engines process 40,000 search queries every second, and 3.5 billion searches each day. Many of those searchers are buying socks or looking to see when Home Depot closes, but they are also looking for information about your issue.
And they’ll find it.
Why SEO is Important
The fact is, there is a tremendous audience of people seeking information about your issue – but they do so using their own language, and on their own time. Examples of this are easy to find. My company, RepEquity, helps organizations with SEO, and so I see them all the time.
For instance, people search for “healthcare” and “healthcare reform” more than 63,000 times each month. But they searched for “Obamacare” 823,000 times per month in 2014. That tops the circulation number for almost every newspaper in the United States. People also search for “gun laws” and “gun control” 82,000 times a month, but they searched for “NRA” 135,000 times per month last year. Do you know how the public thinks and talks about your issue?
Your supporters and opponents have their opinions set. But most issues are decided by those in the “middle,” and the ability to sway people whose opinions are not yet formed is vital. Search can reach that valuable audience.
Achieving a strong online presence requires reaching these people by having your website rank highly for the terms that matter on your issue. If your story isn’t there, someone else’s will be. And it might be your opposition’s.
A Credible Medium
Search is powerful because it delivers information in a credible way. Since the invention of the newspaper, humans have been conditioned to trust the front-page news to be accurate, timely and important. While Google employs no editorial process, people unconsciously apply a high level of trust to the top search results.
Many studies have proven this, and the stats tell the story. For example, 90 percent of searchers never go beyond page one (though there is a lot to see after that) and 96 percent of all clicks and actions occur on that first page. Moreover, 92 percent of people use search engines as their primary source of information — and an equal percentage say they trust what is on page one.
A typical Google search results page shows news headlines mixed with seven to 10 organic listings. You may see images, video or “in-depth articles,” which is Google’s attempt to provide high-quality content and enhance the user experience.
Each listing on that page is an opportunity to tell your story, balance what people hear from the news media, or refute your opposition’s claims. Remembering that nine out of 10 searchers never see page two, it is important to understand that not all positions on the page are equal. Whether on a desktop or mobile device, position one will generally get 30 percent of the clicks. Position two drops to about 14 percent. Position three gets 10 percent. And so it goes. On mobile, in particular, the top five results are even more important.
Without a comprehensive SEO strategy in place, it can be difficult — maybe even impossible — to reach these well-read positions.
Get What You Pay For
Here’s another important factor: getting more for your money. As we all know, the cost of paid media continues to rise. Media companies are in business to make money and the cost to drive 1,000 visits to your site, known as CPM, will almost certainly be higher next year than it is this year.
By contrast, SEO programs drive down the cost to reach people, and drive up the return on your investment. Here’s how that works: paid media is important and paid search can be effective, but as soon as you stop spending money, the benefits end. An SEO campaign can result in more and more traffic over time, thanks to improved search rankings, increased referrals and organic outreach. Yet the CPM can decrease as campaigns are optimized and organic traffic sources take hold.
The two graphics here tell the story. Over 39 months, the paid program shows costs and results moving together. Over that same period, however, an effective SEO program saw more traffic over time. The result is the CPM was $1.80 for the paid model and $0.20 for the SEO program. The SEO program was seven times cheaper.
There are public relations benefits, too. Journalists use Google for research, just like us. Thoughtful, useful content that performs well in search may well be referenced in the media, providing your website with inbound links and valuable references in high-profile news publications.
How do you launch an effective SEO program? Well, there are some things you can do on your own, such as optimizing pages for important keywords. But what’s known as “off-page SEO” is what really makes the difference. This involves a comprehensive search strategy that incorporates tactics like strategic link building. It requires a solid understanding of how search engines work, and the risks and rewards that come with various strategies. The algorithms are constantly changing, so it’s complicated work that requires an expert hand.
But a solid SEO strategy gives you insight, and it makes you a good listener. You can measure how top-of-mind an issue is and learn the precise language your audience speaks.
If you build your campaign on a foundation of knowledge that includes search volume and target keywords, you can craft your messaging to address your target audience directly and move them to take action. And that’s ultimately what moves the needle in issue advocacy.
Eric Gilbersten is Vice President of Digital Strategy at RepEquity.