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How Do Non-Profits Handle SEM? Straight Talk With The American Cancer Society

   By: Rob Sullivan1

I recently had the opportunity to discuss SEO/SEM with a non-profit organization. The conversation didn't start with SEO/SEM but I got to thinking - how does a non-profit do SEO/SEM?

Having been in the industry a while I have a pretty good idea what the going rate is for professional SEM and I find it hard to believe that a non-profit firm would invest in it, knowing that in some cases it's hard to measure.

What you are about to read is an interview with the Director of Online Communications for the American Cancer Society High Plains Division.

Let's get the formalities out of the way. What is your name and title?

My name is David Neff and I am the Director of Online Communications for The American Cancer Society High Plains Division

What does the director of online communications do?

Basically, my job is to manage all the website design and maintenance including any upgrades as well as any email campaigns we do. This includes any e-commerce that we get into.

Do you do any type of search engine positioning on any of your websites?

Not really. Besides submitting to DMOZ and Google we don't actively pursue any search engine marketing at this point. Most of our promotions are done through print ads, Internet ads like Google Adwords, banners and stuff like that. We don't proactively go out and position.

Now, we've talked before and you mentioned that the American Cancer Society has a few sites, including some which you are more responsible for. Why doesn't the Cancer Society invest in positioning?

It's not on our priority list at this point. We are quite busy promoting our sites through the offline promotion that I mentioned earlier.

Is there a reason that SEM isn't a priority?

Decisions like that are made at a higher level and it's not well known how it works. There is no real "baby steps" that you can take to get into it. In fact they [management] probably don't even know about it that much. It's really not on [their] radar screen.

I've dealt with large organizations like yours and I've found that usually in order to get an SEM campaign off the ground there needs to be an "SEM Evangelist" on staff. One person that is the spearhead behind the campaign. Has there been anyone in your office trying to push for it?

Not at the moment but I'm seeing results from stuff I've talked to you about and the early results are quite impressive. Also, other media I encounter has had me considering it. Maybe 2006 will be the year to start pushing for an SEM campaign.

You mentioned earlier that you do other Internet advertising. What type of Internet advertising do you do for the American Cancer Society?

We've done banner advertising on a PDA tool and a ton of the major sites. Finding PDA things that doctors read like and We actually contacted as well and we've done a lot of ads on a whole bunch of partner sites for a free product, yet we had to pay full price for those ads.

Next, we are planning to sell a golf pass to get you discounted green fees no matter where you golf across Texas. So we will be placing ads for those soon as well. We will also be placing Google ads for these when the timing is right.

As a search engine marketer I know that Google ads are generally pretty good traffic tools. How effective have they been for you in the past?

The Google ads have been really great for us in the past - lots of clicks over the holidays. They have been better than banner ads in some aspects.

What would those aspects be?

Rate of return. We've found that some banner ads generated a lot of traffic and interest in the past. We did notice, though, that during the holidays we got lots of views but not as many sales.

So what you are saying is that you are getting better conversion rates on Google ads?

Yes definitely.

Who looks after your Google program?

(Chuckles) I do unfortunately.

Why do you say "unfortunately"? Is it a difficult job?

No it's not difficult, it's just that I only check on it when I get a bill because I have too much other stuff to do. We just don't have the manpower to properly manage it.

How did you go about choosing keywords for your Google campaign?

We got together in the communications department and sat down and and just started searching. We used the words we thought people would use to search for our product and just made a list.

Then we used the Google sandbox to help with other keyword suggestions and from there we put our campaign together.

So you are satisfied with Google. Is that the only paid advertising engine you use? Or have you/do you use Yahoo?

No, we haven't had time to investigate or anything like that. I'd like to at some point, but like I said: I'm the only one doing it and I just don't have the time right now.

How many sites do you look after?

I have nine in all that I look after.

And are all the sites you maintain Cancer related?

No. We have a blogging site called which is for college aged kids. It helps them with quitting smoking and all the pains they go through to quit. The second site is< /A> - We've just redesigned the site and are ready to relaunch it. With that site it is used to get parents involved in kids schools to get kids more healthy. And then there are a bunch of others.

So how are these sites doing?

We're getting a ton of response to the quit now blog. It seems to be very popular with the target audience we are trying to reach.

With all these sites, do you do cross promotion?

Yes, definitely. When we do a quitnow blog and print campaign for example, we ensure that and print material such as brochures and ads match the site.

For another site we do,< /A>, it too has been redesigned and matched to posters, brochures and so on. We definitely try and do complete campaigns to ensure the themes are consistent throughout.

So, do you feel they've been successful using this branded approach across multiple media?

Definitely. We've really stepped it up to ensure that our websites match our print campaigns. It is one of our strong points right now.

What would you like to do differently with your online campaigns?

The main thing would be to investigate Yahoo ads and everyone else out there besides Google but my main challenge is that I don't have enough time to do that.

I'd also like to investigate search engine optimization but I need to find a way to sell it to management. I need a one page "This is why you need to do SEO" that I can take to them and show them that we need to do more.

Do you think that your management is resistant to SEO?

No, not really. It's just an education thing. I need to find a way to show them why it is so important and I don't know where to start to show them at a non-technical level.

Thank you for your time David, it's been a pleasure talking to you. One more thing, if there is one thing anyone in our community can do for The American Cancer Society, what would it be?

Gosh, I don't know. I know we do need help but there are so many areas we could use it. Being a non-profit group, our budgets are always tight. I guess just help us get more well-known. We have all these sites we use to help spread healthy messages, and at the same time we have others we use to help raise money. Any help that we can get for these would be greatly appreciated.

As he said, if there is anything you can do to help out this worthwhile cause, they could really use it. Whether it's supplying some links to the smaller sites like the golf pass sites or quit now site, if you can use your SEM experience to help get the word out they would really appreciate it.

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