Rising Above the Noise: How Your Nonprofit Can Stand Out Online

The Internet is increasingly becoming more crowded. With more than three billion people online and 3.5 billion Google searches a day, nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies alike are competing to capture the limited attention span of the modern Internet user.

Furthermore, the Internet is in the midst of a facelift. For the past 30 years, we've grown used to domains like .com, .org and .net - they're part of our vernacular. But the Internet has opened the door to hundreds of new domain extensions, giving organizations significantly more online naming options and another tool to differentiate their brands. In order to stand out among the clutter and reach key stakeholders, nonprofits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) need to adapt to stay ahead of the digital curve by revitalizing their online presence.

According to the Blackbaud Charitable Giving Report, online giving was up 8.9 percent in 2014, compared to the overall giving increase of 2.1 percent. With the growing popularity of mobile Web access, it's likely this number will continue to rise, making it important for nonprofits and NGOs to have a strong online presence that is engaging and meaningful for potential donors and constituents. But with so many different tools and strategies, where do you start? How can your organization stand out online to grow and engage your audience?

I enlisted the help of a few experts for this year's InterAction Forum - an annual event that brings together nonprofit, private and public sector leaders - to explain best practices for improving a nonprofit or NGO's credibility and SEO, maximizing its social media presence to benefit its cause, and increasing both its audience numbers and online donations. The following tips outline four recommended ways for improving a nonprofit's online presence in a competitive landscape:

1. Learn the art and science of social media. To revitalize online campaigns, social media expert Heather Mansfield of Nonprofit Tech for Good suggests nonprofits and NGOs gain an understanding of their audience's online social behavior. This means knowing the art (graphic design, photo and video) and science (when to share and how to share) of social media. To help master this, Mansfield recommends embracing visual content on all social platforms and becoming an expert news source for your cause. The savviest digital media managers understand that calls-to-action and fundraising messages need to be presented in visual format to cut through much of the noise online, and that curating the most interesting content relevant to your nonprofit's mission leads to loyal followers. Mansfield recommends creating a content strategy and researching content relevant to your cause that you can share with your followers.

2. Improve your SEO ranking. Seasoned digital strategist Melanie Mitchell has several best practices to help nonprofits rise in the ranks of top search-engine results. In published and website content, she recommends using target keywords or phrases within the first 150 words and at least three times for emphasis, while keeping a conversational tone. Secondly, studies show that users wait 6-10 seconds on average before they abandon pages. To help optimize your site, consider using a tool that breaks down how long each item takes to load. Knowing the specific images or codes that are causing delays will allow you to quickly make the necessary adjustments to reduce lengthy load times. Finally, the most important thing to keep in mind to improve SEO and make a lasting impression on potential supporters is to regularly publish compelling content.

3. Optimize your email campaign. While it's true that other Web platforms are gaining popularity, email campaigns for nonprofits and NGOs are still an extremely useful tool for raising funds. Andrew Marshall, senior director of global digital content at ONE Campaign, suggests three tactics to improve email content:

i. Ensure the design and visual appearance are attention-grabbing and clear;

ii. Ensure your email's content and format allow for mobile access - 84 percent of nonprofit donations landing pages are not optimized for mobile;

iii. Customize your distribution list to ensure the content in the email is relevant to each contact. Then, consider the journey as viewers digest and react to emails: where, when and how often do they read emails, what do they click on and take note of other ways they respond online? Think about these factors when developing and distributing your email campaigns

4. Improve your organization's homepage to boost credibility. Despite the many new online tools, research shows that having a solid website is still one of the most crucial aspects in gaining trust from your donors. We at Public Interest Registry partnered with ORC International to survey more than 1,000 Internet users about the most trustworthy ways to communicate online. The survey revealed that having a strong website is especially vital - 74 percent of respondents noted that an organization's website is the number one place they go to find information about a charity or social cause. Ensuring your website is aesthetically pleasing, loads quickly and smoothly, and clearly outlines your organization's mission are three simple ways to improve your website overall.

We also connected with more than 16,000 fellow NGOs and nonprofits in more than 40 countries to better understand their online pain points, and we learned that most NGOs agree it's important to be found, be credible and raise funds. From those conversations, we developed OnGood, a suite of online services - including the new .ngo and .ong domain names - exclusively for NGOs and nonprofits to help them connect with supporters, improve visibility and raise funds.

Employing some or all of these tactics will help ensure your online presence is strong, trustworthy and engaging, but it's important to develop a customized strategy to meet your organization's specific online goals. For more information about engaging your target audience and how to stand out online, watch these experts explain best practices during the panel discussion at InterAction 2015: Revitalizing Your Nonprofit's Online Presence.