Nonprofits, Google Grants, and Search

Most of us in the SEM (define) business are doing quite well. Our skills, expertise, and technology are in strong demand. Some of us can even be selective about which clients to pursue or accept. This is great news, but how do we give back, both to fulfill our social responsibility and to live fulfilling lives?

Perhaps 2008 is the year we should think more about the nonprofit ecosystem than some of us have in the past. Nearly all the search marketers I speak to who’ve been in business for more than three or four years have done some pro bono or reduced-fee work for a nonprofit organization on either the organic search or PPC (define) search side. Yet these nonprofit clients come to us randomly or through a referral. Those of us who perform pro bono or low-fee SEM assignments generally take on the task because we agree with the charitable or other mission of the nonprofit (not all nonprofits are charities).

If you want to use your valuable knowledge and skills to help nonprofits, you have several choices. You can reach out to the nonprofits directly. But even if you plan to offer complete pro bono services, you still have to “make a sale” because the nonprofit doesn’t know you. There are two online options as well. The first is SEMcares.com, the brainchild of Gregory Markel, founder and president of SEM firm Infuse Creative. SEMcares started immediately after the 2004 tsunami that devastated Indonesia and surrounding shorelines. Markel wanted to provide a place to match SEM professionals with the nonprofits who needed help. Any search marketer can sign up, as can any nonprofit.

SEMPO‘s another great resource. I brought the issue of nonprofits up with the rest of the SEMPO board of directors recently. We agreed the request for services form should be changed to include an option for the requestor to indicate nonprofit status. If you’re an agency or independent SEM/SEO (define) provider and want either nonprofit or for-profit leads, SEMPO’s request for services site function is a great additional reason to join. After all, SEMPO gets a ton of visitors because of its location in the SERPs and as the industry trade association.

Once you take the plunge and bring on nonprofits as clients, you may find your team gets a positive morale boost when it has an opportunity to work on a nonprofit campaign or project. Succeeding there has even more of a psychological benefit than delivering killer results for a for-profit client.

Last week I attended the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA’s) 2008 Washington Nonprofit Conference. This conference afforded me an opportunity to chat with marketers at organizations that are household names in the nonprofit world. I was there on a mission to discover where the nonprofit community was with respect to SEM.

Here’s a quick primer for those of you at nonprofits or at SEM firms who haven’t had an opportunity to look into the world of SEM and nonprofits.

Many search marketers are aware of the Google Grant program. Google’s very generous with its grant program, and I applaud it for taking this initiative. However, many nonprofits also pay for PPC ads in Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. PPC search for nonprofits isn’t just about the Google Grants program; it’s about the business of running a nonprofit organization, which has a mission statement and often a values statement, just as for-profit businesses do.

Nonprofit organizations have marketing budgets (often much smaller than they’d prefer) and make many of the same media mix allocation decisions the rest of us make for our profit-driven clients. Savvy for-profit marketers have realized PPC search isn’t just about the conversion (even though the conversion is the primary driving factor). They also gather data about success metrics correlating with positively influencing the consumer toward eventual purchase, larger purchases, or higher-profit purchases. Nonprofit marketers often put donations at the top of their list of success metrics. They have no choice because many charity-rating organizations place fundraising efficiency at the top of their rating scale. Of course, many nonprofits also strive to raise awareness of an issue and therefore marketing communications including PPC, SEM, and SEO efforts are part of their core mission. Dollars spent there shouldn’t count toward the fundraising effectiveness ratio.

Nonprofits at the DMA conference expressed significant interest in improving both their organic and PPC search effectiveness. I hope to see increased activity on the SEMPO request for services section as well as within SEMcares with both nonprofits and the search marketing industry embracing search’s power for social good.

By the way, today is the final day to take the SEMPO State of the Market Survey. I urge you to spend the 20 minutes to support our industry with confidential data; you could win an iPod or SES conference pass.

Join us for SES London February 19-21 and for training classes on February 22.

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