You’ve done banners, letters, annual reports, even made a twitter account for your nonprofit. But what’s next? Where is the next frontier for nonprofit marketing?

Let’s talk about Search Engine Optimization. Search Engine Optimization can include constantly updated content, targeted keywords, pay per click advertising (such as Google Adwords) and more.

Today I did an interview with Kevin Lee, CEO of Didit, the largest search engine marketing agency in the USA, and founder of WeCare, where you can shop with a purpose. I interviewed Kevin because I had been wondering about the return on investment for Search Engine Optimization for nonprofits for a long time. When you are a development, communications or marketing professional at a nonprofit, you are called upon to do so many things that SEO marketing can seem like a far-off dream, or something you can’t make time for. With so few resources at our disposal, each dollar counts in marketing on and offline. Why should you make time for SEO marketing? I wanted to find out if SEO marketing was catching on with nonprofits, and if so, what returns they were getting from it.

Mazarine Treyz: Hi Kevin! Thank you for letting me interview you. Let’s begin. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) marketing has gotten a huge amount of attention in the last several years. Small nonprofits are mostly left out of this movement, despite being $1 Trillion of the US economy. There’s potential here. Do you see a movement in nonprofit marketing towards Pay Per Click advertising or SEO?

Kevin Lee: Definitely, nonprofits have been discovering the power of search, both SEO and PPC (Paid Search) for several years. The early adopters of SEO best practices have built themselves sites that deliver thousands or sometimes hundreds of thousands of visitors, many of whom become donors or volunteers. Plus many educational nonprofits (such as universities) can really reap returns from the promotional aspects of high visibility within search results. (Think University of Phoenix) SEO encompasses marketing and PR driving donations and volunteerism as well as general awareness of the cause. Some niche nonprofits benefit from the fact that they have little in the way of competition within the search results for key terms and phrases. Other causes face competition from both the nonprofit and for-profit arena, making SEO a more complex initiative with an unknown ROI (Return on Investment).

MT: Do you think being in the first page of a Google search can translate into more donations for a nonprofit?

KL:When a nonprofit comes up at the top for searches relating to their mission and name it drives highly targeted visitors. Some of those visitors turn into donations or volunteer registrations. But we can’t discount the general awareness lifting benefits of good search position. Nonprofits can’t expect to be top for every search word or phrase. Good SEO is broad-based and holistic. The traffic is a byproduct of SEO best practices.

MT: Have you heard of Google’s Adwords Grants program, and what do you think of it, if so?

KL: My team and I have managed Google Grant programs for nonprofit clients and advised others on setting them up. It’s a great program and the biggest challenge for some causes is the fact that to truly optimize a campaign to drive donations and registrations takes time, energy and expertise, not to mention technology. The Google team are great about getting campaigns set up the first time but I’ve seen many instances where the AdWords Grant account runs on auto-pilot for years and could have delivered far more benefit to the cause had it been actively managed.

MT:I certainly didn’t have much time to manage the Adwords account in one of my previous jobs. There was just too much to do! Is there any benefit for a nonprofit in buying a Yahoo directory listing for $300?

KL:In the past Yahoo has waived the site submit charge for nonprofits. That page seems missing the last time I checked. Many people recommend Yahoo directory inclusion for the SEO benefit, but that alone doesn’t generally justify the cost.

MT:Thank you for that money saving tip! What would the highest potential ROI for a nonprofit be with SEO marketing?

KL:The ROI on SEO differs. However, if a nonprofit can generate large quantities of highly relevant content or get its supporters to do so, it has a great chance of capturing a ton of organic search traffic. SEO isn’t about targeting one or two search terms and focusing myopically on those terms. These days, it’s important to apply SEO best practices to all the content a nonprofit has under its control, including video and audio assets. SEO best practices work best when they become a part of the everyday management of content within an organization.

Nonprofits also have a huge asset in a willing supporter base. Supporters can link from blogs, twitter accounts and Facebook pages directly to relevant content, driving both direct traffic and an increase in relevance as perceived by the search engines. If the nonprofit is comfortable with user-generated content then even the content generation strategy can include supporter-authored content.

MT: Thank you very much Kevin for an extremely informative interview!

Does your nonprofit have an SEO marketing plan? If so, what is it? How do you drive traffic to your website? Do you make blog posts? Can users generate content on your website? (For a good example of this, see Kiva.org) Do you make viral videos? Do you use Twitter? How do you get donors and volunteers online? Do you have a Google AdWords grant? Is it working for you?

We would love to read your comments!

PS. Do you want SEO resources? Stay tuned for the next post!