This is the third post in a blog and webinar series called 101 Digital Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits, written and presented by Heather Mansfield. Please sign up for Nonprofit Tech for Good’s email newsletter to be alerted of new posts. Thank you!
Related Webinar: Website & Email Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits
With more than 500 million blogs worldwide, many nonprofits may think that the world does not need another blog, but that’s simply not the case. Brands that blog report 97% more links to their website and 434% more indexed pages in search engines. Fresh, timely content is more vital to the success of your nonprofit’s digital campaigns than it has ever been.
First, blogging allows your nonprofit to have a consistent stream of new content use in your e-newsletter and share on social media which increases traffic to your website and awareness of your nonprofit’s brand. News articles on your website can serve the same function as blog posts on your website provided they are dated and written like a blog post, not a press release.
Second, search engines are consistently searching the web to index fresh content. Nonprofits that regularly post new content with keywords in the title are much more likely to get noticed by search engines, especially Google.
Third, as discussed in Email Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits, a pop-up on your blog posts shared on social media can quickly grow your email list – and if your nonprofit is not making a concerted effort to grow your email list, online fundraising success will remain elusive.
Finally, and of course, to effectively reach all audiences your blog (and website) must be mobile-compatible.
Blog Design Best Practices
1) Understand and embrace modern blogging.
The first blogging platform, Blogger, launched in 1999 and it signaled the birth of the Social Web. For the first time, readers could comment and share their opinions publicly on a piece of online content. At the time, it was a completely new concept whereas today our daily internet experience is one based on social commentary and feedback.
Blogging of the past was usually editorial content, such as an opinion piece or report back by an executive director. Blogs were most often written in first-person, more than 1,000 words, and many nonprofit blogs of the past embraced the concept that a blog post had to be published daily for the blogger to be taken seriously. Comments were taken very seriously, and in some cases, coming up with response was an agonizing, overthought experience.
Today’s blogging couldn’t be more different. Most blog posts are now written by multiple staff or guest bloggers with the occasional editorial piece written by an executive staff member. A nonprofit can blog once a week or every other week. The concept that a new blog post must be published daily is definitely a relic of the past. Posts can be as little as 250 words with a featured image or as long as a 5,000-word photo essay. Most blogs are no longer written in the first person and serve more to tell the stories and news commentary of a nonprofit, rather than the opinions of its leadership. In fact, the NRDC navigates to its blog in its primary header with “Our Stories” and doesn’t use the term “blog” though their stories have the primary characteristics of a blog: dated content, an attributed author, and news content that is not in press release format.
Also interesting about today’s nonprofit blogging is that many nonprofits have turned off commenting. With social media, comments are increasingly rarely on blogs and there’s a good chance that the comments you do get are spam or argumentative for the sake of being argumentative. The conversation has shifted from blog comments to social media.
2. Embed calls-to-action within your blog content.
A growing trend is to add large, visually prominent calls-to-action to the body of blog posts approximately halfway into the post. Below are three examples from three different nonprofits:
3) Maximize your blog’s sidebar.
Think of your website’s sidebar as free advertising space and utilize the space for important calls-to-action and to feature key content. For example, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network makes wise use of their sidebar by prominently featuring a call-to-follow on social networks and an e-newsletter opt-in.
4) Feature “Most Popular/Viewed Posts” and/or “Related Posts.”
Once a blog post makes its way to the “Recent Most Popular” module featured on the right of this blog, it consistently receives more traffic than other blog posts – even if the post is months old. Ensure that your nonprofit is strategically driving traffic within your blog by prominently featuring your most popular or viewed posts. “Related Posts” are usually featured at the end of a post and are less effective because many readers don’t read your entire post. Ideally, your blog features both “Most Popular/Viewed Posts” and “Related Posts.”
5) Format blog content for easy reading.
Visitors to your blog will be unlikely to read your blog posts if they find it difficult to mentally and visually digest i.e., large blocks of text in a small font that lack visual context. Blog posts that are 2,000 words or more have the best SEO and social sharing rates, but small nonprofits that can not invest that much time in blogging should feel comfortable wiring posts that are 250-1,000 words. That said, here are some basic best practices for formatting blog content:
- Write short paragraphs.
- Break up text with bold, large headings.
- Bold hyperlinks.
- Use bullet points or numbers to break up long sections of text.
- Embed images and videos that are consistent in size.
Blog Content Best Practices
6) Share commentary and CTAs about current issues in the news.
One of the more effective ways to generate traffic to your blog is to tap into the news cycle. If an issue relevant to your mission and programs (local, national, or international) is in the news, write up a summary of the issue, add your commentary with a call-to-action (CTA), and then share your post to your online communities and in your e-newsletter. People are much more responsive and likely to share your blog post if its subject matter is related to a current news story. For example, the National Parks Conservation Association recently blogged about a rollback of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and included a prominent CTA.
7) Tell the story of a community served by your nonprofit.
Supporters and donors want to hear positive stories about how your organization is making an impact. Today’s news is often negative and overwhelming to many people, so positive stories stand out and inspire to give and get involved. Reading and seeing (include photos and videos!) your organization in action can gain the loyalty of many readers. In this blog post, First Book tells the story of distributing tens of thousands of books to veterans receiving care in VA hospitals and facilities.
8) Share resources and useful tips related to your mission.
Blog posts that share resources and useful tips are some of the most popular on the internet, yet very few are written by nonprofits. For example, if you are a health nonprofit, write a post about foods that help lower blood pressure, or provide tips on how to exercise at home. If you are a nonprofit that works with low-income communities, write blog posts that share recipes for low-cost meals and energy-saving tips. In the example below, the Rainforest Alliance published a guest post about sustainable tourism. Online news outlets and magazines publish these sorts of posts regularly because they generate buzz. There’s no reason why nonprofits can’t capture some of that buzz, too.
9) Publish numbered lists.
Many readers now scan online content rather than read it thoroughly, thus listing content in a numbered format ensures easy reading. Numbered lists also pique the curiosity of potential readers since they often click to see what’s on the list. It’s a strategy that has worked for Nonprofit Tech for Good as our numbered lists are consistently our most trafficked posts on Nonprofit Tech for Good. The National Wildlife Federation regularly publishes numbered lists, such as “6 Ways to Support Wild Birds at Home.”
10) Feature staff, volunteers, and donors.
Whether it’s in the form of a guest post or an interview, featuring the people behind the online brand can add a human persona to your nonprofit and inspire others to get more involved. In the example below, the Northern Illinois Food Bank shares the story of one of their regular volunteers.
101 Digital Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits is a blog and webinar series (written and presented by Heather Mansfield) on website design, email marketing, online fundraising, and social media best practices for nonprofits, NGOs, and charities worldwide. Sign up for Nonprofit Tech for Good’s email newsletter to be alerted of new posts.