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
Let's get the formalities out of the way. What is your name and
My name is David Neff and I am the Director of Online
Communications for The American Cancer Society High Plains
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
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
It's not on our priority list at this point. We are quite busy
promoting our sites through the offline promotion that I
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
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
We've done banner advertising on a PDA tool and a ton of the
major sites. Finding PDA things that doctors read like http://www.webmd.com
. We actually
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
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?
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 http://www.quitnowblog.org
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 http://www.schoolhealth.info/<
/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
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
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, http://www.texasgolfpass.com/<
/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
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.