Mar 21 2012

SEO -Vs- Social Networking for Charities

Social NetworksWhat is most effective for you and should you be concentrating on SEO or Social Networks?

In this article I hope to cover just a little about the advantages of each and use some case studies to illustrate when and how to use Social Networking to best effect for you project or business can bring spectacular results with out facing the difficulties and complexities of SEO.

SEO what and why?

SEO (search Engine Optimisation) is all about building your site the way Google wants you to and targeting specific keyphrases. Get this right and anyone using “size 7 pink widgets with green trim” as their search phrase will find your North East pink widget shop. Get it wrong and nobody will find you unless they happen to type in the name of your shop or domain. Well that’s the jist of it anyway. Unfortunately Google’s goal posts are on castors and Google leans on them or just gives them a big old push on a regular basis.

For the last few years I have had a lot of success with driving traffic using SEO and for many commercial sites with a broad customer base and a lot of competition it remains the best alternative to paying for Google ads, but if your not sure what you are doing it’s a big learning curve and very time consuming particularly for smaller resource stretched charities.

What Can Social Networks Offer?

Having recently run a hugely successful campaign to find supporters to help prevent the closure of Bill Quay Farm, a local community project under threat, I sat back to bask in my glorious success and reflect on what I had achieved and how. I was very surprised when I realised that I had done very little SEO on the new website I’d developed. Yet, there it was, with some great quality traffic, lots of support and moving up the rankings. A brand new domain registration, with hundreds of quality visitors a day and all within three or four days!

While SEO can provide relatively stable and long standing rankings and traffic especially if you work hard at it. It can be difficult to get instant results when you need them and the traffic is not always the best quality, by that I mean, visitors who are not your target audience who have little or no interest in your website.

What I have found is that when done right with an appealing cause, campaign or project a twitter account can instantly bring a huge volume of best quality traffic to your website and they will bring all their friends and followers with them.

If you don’t mind, in order to illustrate the power and effectiveness of this I will refer back to my recent campaign for the local community farm at Bill Quay, it went something like this:

  • Day one: Register new domain name, set up hosting & build new website
  • Day two: Set up emails and register with social networks such as twitter, FaceBook, Stumble, etc. and set up links between the website and the networks – every website post shows on the networks and tweets show on the website.
  • Day three: Start the social network campaign – follows, posts, tweets, repeat, (I used my existing established accounts across all the networks to push this process along at an increased rate).
  • Day four: Check results, website receiving a few hundred unique visitors a day and increasing by a hundred or more each day, Local media including radio, TV and Newspapers have all visited the project, (after finding it on twitter) and running news stories.
  • Day five: Training, show the client how to keep it all running and what to do to drive any new campaigns or to keep the existing campaign fresh

While I did back up the campaign with a few bits and pieces like poster designs for supporters to download that single weeks work as illustrated above was all it took to get a new website established and moving up the rankings.

Why do Social Networks bring traffic?

SEO has become quite difficult to keep up with, every week a client will ask me, “are my meta tags not the most important thing to get traffic?” Well not as important as they once were. Meta Tags and keywords are no longer the one defining thing that Google wants to see. Meta tags help, as everything you do correctly will help but they are no longer the holly grail of SEO. More important would be inbound links from quality websites and regularly updated content as well as a sitemap, terms and conditions page and a policy page along with many, many more things Google is telling you to do to your site.

The first thing that Social Networks do is to negate all this by sending you quality traffic direct to you site, not via any search engine. This might be low volume but it is traffic that has been referred by friends or people with a similar taste or outlook on any of the Social Networks. It will not send your site statistics through the roof, but is that what you want? While recently experimenting with SEO techniques I increased the traffic to one site from 500 visitors a day to 3,000 unique visitors a day, sales, business and interest did not increase, because the the additional traffic was not good quality, (not people with an interest in that website).

Just 10 visitors looking to support your cause or access your service are better than 1,000 visitors with such little interest they won’t even tell anyone else about your site yet alone stay on the site for more than 2 seconds.

But that’s not all

If all Social Networks could offer was a small amount of direct traffic (visits by followers & friends) each time you tweet a link of interest, I would not be wasting my time writing this article.

If you have any understanding of Social Networks I’d like you to take one moment to think what might happen to that “link” in your tweet. That link to your most important post or web page. Because of the very “viral” nature of social networking some will visit your link some will share or pass on your link or both, Just think what that can do for you.

For those of you who have no understanding of Social Networks here is an example of how it might work:

  • Get your web designer or take it upon your self to create a page or post about your recent achievement, service, or most important news ever! Be sure to write it well, as interesting and exciting as you can and yes, apply any SEO knowledge you have, if you have no SEO knowledge do nothing, avoid lots of bold text and writing in caps. Get some nice eye catching photography in there as well.
  • Now you tweet, digg, like, thumb up, pin, etc. Just share the link to your page on your chosen Social Network’s (be sure one of them is twitter) ask your followers to share, like or re tweet, (RT) your link.
    If it’s of interest to your followers and friends on Social Networks they will visit your site and they will share your link to many like minded people. This in it’s self can bring a lot of interest and good traffic if someone shares with a celebrity or an internet marketer with 10,000 or more followers – how many of them will share your link or maybe have contacts in the media.
  • Watch how you link/tweet travels through the internet. I do not have 10,000 followers but I do manage, (on other projects behalf) several accounts that do. So, if little old Design Aid takes a shine to your tweet/webpage I will not only share but actively ask others on almost all the social networks to do the same, you now have links on social networks you don’t even have an account with.
  • Now look at what you have done, found some interest and supporters maybe clients. Forget all that, take a look at what you have left behind on the internet. If you get it all just right . . .  and you will! If not this time, then the next time. If you can’t, then ask someone who can.
    . . . If you get it all just right, you have left a trail of “one way” (non reciprocal) inbound links to your website and all of them from very high ranking and well respected quality websites like FaceBook and twitter. Google loves these links and will be trying to place your page in its search results.

 When does Social Networking Beat SEO?

Lets Face up to some facts here. If I could get the same results from twitter for a double glazing company as I did for the local community farm I’d be a very rich individual by now.

The Farm has lambs, piglets, goats and many other cute things as well as open spaces loved by all, so even without the fantastic cakes and coffee people are already drawn to it a lot more than they would like to support a double glazing company.

So, SEO and advertising might always be the way forward for double glazing and maybe you have a good cause that has an equal lack of social appeal. However, in my experience if you can bring to your project or good cause any aspect that people would enjoy getting behind and supporting or seeing and being associated with then you too can beat all your best SEO efforts with a simple tuned in website and well run Social Network Campaign.

I hope these views and experiences prove to be of some help to you when deciding on how you and/or your website provider should promote your website. Of course Design Aid would be delighted to create a website and campaign that works for your project, just drop me an email or give me a call for an informal chat about what you need to get started.

I would also like to hear from you if you are based in and around the North East and would be interested in attending a seminar or presentation about how you can best use twitter and other social network tools to benefit your project, good cause or business. I have already talked with potential partners who would like to help me deliver such an event. Please contact me, Bruce Allinson at Design Aid if this would be of interest and what value (£10, £25?) you would place on this kind of support and information.



  1. Hire a Hero UK

    Do you find that there is a difference in user profile and the way people use your websites depending on whether they come via a Google search click or a social media click? I have found people clicking via Google are more likely to leave quicker via an advert or an external link, whereas social media followers are more likely to come back to the website more often, as they have a stronger connection with your cause. This will be important for us as we are launching a new charity website in aid of ex service personnel. We will be running a social media campaign for Hire a Hero UK Charity over the coming weeks and months. Will be interested in seeing the impact of how the different routes to our site affect the users over the long run.

  2. Design Aid

    Your right, and that is the reasoning behind my writing this article for the North East Hub while internet marketeers continue to drive traffic from SEO and Google ads playing a numbers game with thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of visitors per sale this low quality traffic is not likely to bring any benefits to a charitable organisation so why would you invest time in it.
    You will find a better quality traffic from Social Network activity especially from twitter and while you are at it this activity in its self will eventually help your general ranking on search engines anyway.

    It really is like the difference between a leaflet drop and a personal referral from a friend, we all know huge numbers of leaflets are wasted no matter how they are distributed while most personal recommendations will result in some kind of action or sale.

    Good luck with your campaign

  3. Sam Apex

    Social Networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are a great way to get the word out about your charity, for example my local charity used teenagers to promote the charity on their facebook pages, The charity was set up to help people from ex special forces jobs, get back into work by allowing them to get all the qualifications necessary to make them stand out amoungst the competition when applying for a job. The result of this marketing scheme was that we received over £1000 in donations within the next week, all due to the vast amount of people who looked at the charities advert on facebook.

    Sam Apex

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