It’s not a secret: creating valuable content increases organic traffic and online engagement. Done right, it’s also a low cost way for a nonprofit or marketing teams with small budgets to grow their digital presence.

Driving TrafficA few months ago we delivered a presentation to nonprofit organizations in Jacksonville, FL, titled “A Strategic Primer for Organic Engagement.” It included some of the low-cost tactics they could use to lift qualified traffic, engagement and conversions with content and SEO strategies.

Today, we’re putting the presentation into written form, summarizing the key takeaways and focusing on the ‘free’ stuff that can significantly grow engagement given the time and effort. While the presentation was delivered to nonprofits, the takeaways can be easily applied to any marketing team on a small budget.

Let’s get started.

The Changing Search Landscape

The nature of search is always changing. It’s well-documented that Google changes its search algorithms over 500 times a year. Most of these are minor, but others greatly impact how pages rank when users search.

Some of the most recent updates have affected how Google understands and rewards valuable content, meaning that brands have to be smarter, more intentional, and provide content that appeals more to the end-user.

Your audiences are smarter, too. They can tell when they are being marketed to, and with the wealth of information online to choose from, a brand has to do more to earn their attention.

This can be achieved by generating and promoting foundational and on-going content that is useful, genuine, and helps solve a specific problem that your target audience has.

Simply put, content matters more than ever.

The good news is it doesn’t take a lot of money to build valuable content and ‘win’ in search —it just takes time, effort and a little knowledge on where to start.

Here are the steps:

  1. Research your audience
  2. Know which keywords will provide the most value
  3. Know what content you have
  4. Start writing

Research your audience

The best content on the web—the kind that attracts an audience and wins in search—addresses audience needs, wants, concerns and behaviors.

This requires a certain understanding of who an audience is. What they like, don’t like, where they spend their time online and what keeps them up at night. Knowing these things is the first step to understanding how you can provide content that will help solve their problems.

At Station Four, we accomplish this by creating customized ‘Audience Personas’ that are built through audience research and interviews. Personas can be as simple or complex as you need to inform tactics.

The tools we use to create these personas are extensive, but the most valuable of them are here:

  • Consulting internal stakeholders including c-suite, sales, marketing, and subject matter experts for insights.
  • Using online tools to conduct surveys, social listening, and keyword research to understand how audiences are talking about your brand/product/service.
  • Interviewing real people like volunteers, donors, and influencers to understand their reasons for connecting with your brand.

Once you have a handle on who is in your audience, the next step is to map out your persona’s journey through your organization and identify key engagement touchpoints. These “journey maps” as we call them, answer the following questions:

  • What are they doing and when?
  • What are they thinking/doing?
  • What platform/channel are they on?
  • What content are they consuming?
  • What action will influence behavior?

Mapping out every potential journey is not required or even necessary. But it is important to identify 3 or 4 of the most important touchpoints in your audience’s journey to start. Why? Because it establishes a starting point for creating content.

For example, a persona’s journey could include:

  1. When they first become aware of your brand,
  2. When they decided to surrender their email address to receive newsletters,
  3. When they decided to sign up to volunteer at an event (for example).
  4. Knowing these 3 steps gives you the ability to make sure each is supported by excellent content.

Research keywords

Now, let’s talk just briefly about keywords. This is not extensive, but every content primer should have a few thoughts about keywords.

Keyword research gives you a starting point for creating the content your audience wants and needs. Think about it as a direct (and valuable) insight into the lives of your users.

With this in mind, here are a few tactics that are simple enough to get you started, but in-depth enough to put you ahead of the game.

  • Use natural keyword combinations. Instead of using obvious keywords like ‘chocolate donuts’, ‘chocolate’, ‘donuts’, optimize your content using ‘chocolate donuts’, ‘chocolate’, ‘donuts’, ‘bakery’, ‘baking’, ‘flour’, ‘kitchen’, ‘sugar’, ‘sweet’, ‘glazed’, ‘cream filling’, so on and so forth. Google is now smart enough to take all of these into consideration when setting a value.
  • Use long-tail keyword combinations. Long-tail keywords usually have less search volume, but what they lack in volume, they make up for in quality. For example, using ‘red Nike shoes for toddlers’ versus ‘red shoes’ will drive more qualified audiences to your product, even though the amount of searches drop significantly.

Conduct a content audit

As you go through the steps listed above, you’ll begin to get a feel for what your content needs. This is a great thing! The downside is that you’ll begin to understand that the content that’s currently published by your organization isn’t what it needs to be.

That’s not a bad thing. It means you’re ready to lay out what needs to change. We call this the “content audit.” It’s a critical look at the content that’s already in place in light of what you’ve discovered about your personas.

This is important.

At Station Four, our approach to improving organic search is rooted in the belief that if you get content right, success in search and social will happen. So, conducting an audit of your site is essential. If you find that it’s working, don’t reinvent the wheel. But if it’s not, figure out why.

Conducting a content audit will help to identify internal gaps and opportunities by asking questions like:

  • Does my content address everything a visitor would want to know?
  • Is my site design modern and mobile-friendly?
  • Is it easy to navigate or are people getting lost?
  • What keywords should I rank for and do I (be realistic!)?
  • What can be gleaned from competitors or others in the same space?
  • Technically, is the site set up from SEO success?
  • Are calls-to-action clear?
  • Are we tracking conversions?

Start writing

You’re ready to go. Now what? One of the biggest challenges we see brands face is their perceived lack of capacity to actually generate their ideas into marketable pieces of content.

The word here is “perceived.” Many times brands -especially smaller, locally-owned or nonprofit organizations- don’t feel they have the resources to produce content on a regular basis. But it just takes a little buy-in from the team and willingness to get involved to make it happen.

Sure, buy in is sometimes harder than it sounds, but we’d like to give you some tips that we’ve found helpful with getting it:

  • Create (and follow!) an editorial calendar. Using a system as simple as Excel or Google Calendar, organize the calendar by topics you want to focus on that week, or by due dates for specific pieces of content.
  • Dedicate the first 20 minutes in the office to writing. You’ll be surprised what can be accomplished in an uninterrupted 20 minutes, and day after day efforts will add up.
  • Write fast. Your fingers can’t type your ideas as quickly as your brain can produce them. Focus on typing non-stop for your 20 minutes to simply get ideas out of your head and down on paper.
  • Don’t worry about making it perfect the first time around. Focus on getting your raw ideas down first and focus on making it perfect later with help and input from co-workers.
  • Set up a system for saving inspiring, useful content. Evernote is a great resource for saving web pages to a cloud-based file system. You can create a folder within the platform for each writing project and save articles you come across, but don’t have the time to read during the course of your day.
  • Spend 10 minutes promoting content each day. Share on your brand’s social platforms and even your personal accounts. Keep in mind that improving your brands engagement is a full-time job that requires constant monitoring and responding to organic interactions. And sometimes it’s better to focus all your efforts on building a strong strategy for one platform rather than jumping all over the place with fractional efforts.

It doesn’t happen overnight, but creating valuable content is the best way to raise engagement, it really is. Taking the time to set up the right personas and keywords gives you a clear path to growth.

In future posts, we’ll layout steps you can follow to set up measuring tools to see how well your content is performing, but for now, use what we have here and get to work. Good luck!

Emily Bell Emily Bell

Digital Marketing Strategist at Station Four